7 Aug 2018

Shopify Vs Magento: Why We Changed Our ECommerce Platform Of Choice To Shopify.

I would consider myself to be fairly experienced with Shopify. I have worked on a couple of dozen Shopify websites. We are not a mass producer of stores, but a quality provider. We went through a period where we did next to no e-commerce work. The reason? We had no confidence in Magento as a platform. If a client came to us with Magento work, we turned it down. With my experience with Magento, we had some great opportunities. So why do this? 

What we did before Shopify

8 years ago, my previous agency specialised in the Magento platform. Magento could do everything. We would have worked with Magento for a period of 3 years, the largest of which had an internal budget of AUD$250,000. These were decent-sized implementations, not basic theme setup. Magento was the obvious choice for our eCommerce development work.

  • It was widely supported

  • It has a number of plugins and additions

  • It was heavily customisable

This suited the nature of the engagements we did, as an organisation, we focused more on bespoke engagements rather than cookie-cutter environments. 

How we got bitten by Magento

It is relatively common in digital development agencies that projects run over budget. It’s one of the biggest problems with fixed-cost engagements.

The agency killer

This project was an agency destroyer. The project budget went into 6 figures, but the actual budget came out to be 3 times that. When I said internally our budget was $250,000, that was not what the client paid. The project was 150% over budget. $150,000 over budget. The project was an agency killer. Moving the project through the agency vacuumed up our billable time, restricting cash that we needed to come through the organisation. It was only through later manoeuvring that we were able to prevent this collapsing of the organisation.

Normal budgets

Beyond this project, there was a range of other Magento projects we worked on. We struggled to get any of these projects close to a reasonable project budget. The problem we found was the dual-edged sword of Magento

  1. We could do anything we wanted

  2. Anything we wanted to do took time

Magento has a very complicated code base, with abstractions built upon abstractions, built upon abstractions. Changing one element on the shopping page, for example, may require that you change 4 to 5 files in completely separate sections of the code base. It was a serious complication to the development effort. This led to most changes always taking longer than expected. This led to a conversation that I initiated with my business partner where I explained that we needed to stop selling Magento solutions. It was not viable for us.

Bottom line

In the end, we just were not capable of delivering solutions within a reasonable budget. Retrospectively, I think it certainly could be possible to make Magneto projects profitable, but you really have to have a strong process around scoping and controlling the direction of the final project. But you need to be able to secure very healthy budgets that can support the development effort. While Magento gives you a great degree of free, this cuts back on you in development complexity if you try. 

And then? What led to the change to Shopify?

My previous company stopped doing Magento builds, and I moved to another organisation. Like I said before, there were a few really strong opportunities to perform eCommerce. We dabbled with a handful of WooCommerce projects as compliments to existing WordPress projects we were, but nothing serious with the exception of a major bespoke eCommerce solution. We considered eCommerce to be a gap in our service offering. It was a chance interaction with Cameron Parker that put Shopify in the spotlight for us. Cameron helped to build up Black Milk as a highly successful fashion brand locally, I was dying to do work for them. He suggested that given the quality of our work, we would do well if we were to check out Shopify. I had already heard of Shopify, as one of many names. I checked out the Shopify agency database and couldn’t find anything that didn't look great. So figured we would introduce Shopify as our eCommerce solution. 

Why Shopify makes sense

The Agency Perspective

It’s been 3 years since we first started development for Shopify. And when compared to Magento, it’s been a significantly better ride for us. E-commerce makes a chunky part of our revenue, roughly 66% of our gross turnover. Three years ago, this was 0%. Financially, it’s been a smart move. We have one of the most developed Shopify portfolios in our local market. In that time we have learned a few things about Shopify. Shopify sacrifices the open-ended customisability that Magento offers.

  • There is definitely the Shopify way of doing things. This can be a hard thing for some customers to let go of, specifically the checkout. However, Shopify is very vested in the success of its checkout and it has more money than pretty much anyone to research the most ideal structures for its checkout.

  • Scoping is critical to the success of projects. If you promise the client a feature or capability that is not possible, then you will be a problem. Also, you will need to manage the expectation of what certain features can do. This is ideally what you need to do in normal projects, but if you are reliant on plugins, then you need to push the client to understand the boundaries of the system they will be getting.

Aside from these learning elements, the rest of our experience has been very positive:

  • As an agency, Shopify have staff that are available to help with difficulties and keep you across practice and new developments of the system

  • The learning curve for Shopify is completely manageable. Our developers have no issue getting their heads around the liquid system.

  • We are able to focus more on the polish of the system rather than the mechanics of it.

  • Vastly reduced server headaches.

I recently attended the Shopify Unite conference, which was a great way that was able to embrace the eco-system better.

The client perspective

I recently completed the Ultimate Magento to Shopify Case study review. We found two major issues for clients, development costs and bugs & platform stability. In our own experience with clients, the primary issue has been hosting costs and bugs that have been the primary driver for looking at Magento. There are three major reasons to choose Shopify:

  • Make the website about the marketing and sales of the website, rather than its technical management and troubleshooting

  • Reduced development footprint for website changes

  • Exceptionally large number of plugins for functionality and system integrations

  • Will scale with your business from a boutique operator to a $100 million turnover easily

Bottom Line

From an agency perspective. Shopify projects hit their budgets, and it has seen a dramatic growth in our e-commerce-based revenue. From a client perspective, Shopify provides a reliable and cost-effective solution to online commerce.

Tell us what you think! If you would like to talk to us about this article, drop us a line at greg@lamb.com.au

Greg is the Managing Director of Lamb Agency, a digital agency focused on creating industry-leading websites.

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