Practical Ecommerce

The PeC Review: Magento Is the Open Source Powerhouse

Magento is an open source ecommerce platform designed to empower online merchants and remove barriers in business process and flow. The platform has been downloaded more than 600,000 times, Magento says, perhaps making it the fastest growing ecommerce solution in the market.

Magento gets four and a half stars
With a full feature set—that now includes support for digital products—and a theme based structure, Magento looks and acts like the best of commercial solutions, yet it is free to download.

While I have certainly not used every shopping cart or ecommerce platform available, I have worked with many of them, and I also have experience with enterprise-level content management systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Magento out performed them all. It is an excellent platform worthy of the four and a half out of a possible five stars that I am awarding it in this The PeC Review.

But my excellent rating is not without reservations. In my opinion, Magento requires more design and development expertise than some other platforms or carts. For example, I ran into one development challenge that I have yet to overcome. In spite of these concerns, Magento is the probably the best, most flexible ecommerce platform I am aware of. But because of the level of skill required, it will not be the proper solution for every merchant.

Magento Video Review

Open Source

In some ways, Magento is not a typical open source solution. Yes, Magento’s open source status means that it is free to download. It means that developers can create add-ons and plug-ins to expand its capabilities. In fact, Magento enjoys all of the opportunities for growth and expansion that any popular open source solutions does. But it also has a very committed company backing its growth.

Magento is the product of Varien, an ecommerce design house that seems to benefit from Magento by offering traditional web agency services to companies that want help developing an online business or want custom features or services built on the Magento platform.

Regardless of how Varien benefits from supporting Magento, the company is dedicated to it. In my own Magento implementations, I faced some development challenges. I used Magento’s forums to look for answers and posted a “how to” question. Roy Rubin, Varien’s CEO, responded to my post with a solution in less than 24 hours.

Theme-Based Structure

Magento relies on a theme based structure that separates layouts, templates, and skins (visual presentation). The structure is similar to the popular open source blogging tool, WordPress. Once a developer is familiar with how Magento’s themes work, the act of creating a store or even several stores becomes relative easy. Compared to theme-less carts, ecommerce platforms, and content management systems, this structure alone almost makes Magento worth the effort.

Numerous Features

Magento’s feature list is clearly the result of years of ecommerce experience. The platform includes features like a built-in product image zoom capability, advanced pricing rules to support special promotions, a landing page tool to help with marketing campaigns, inventory management, side-by-side product comparison tools, and more. Here is a list of just some of the Magento features that I really liked.

  • Manage multiple websites and stores from one administration panel and product catalog.
  • Web services API to make it easy to integrate third-party tools.
  • Google Website Optimizer integration for A/B testing.
  • Flexible coupon rules give you the ability to create numerous campaigns and buddy coupons.
  • URL rewrites.
  • An option to up sell during the checkout process.
  • Support for digital/downloadable products.
  • Integration with the United States Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS for real time rate quotes.
  • One-page checkout.
  • RSS feeds for both customers and administration i.e. new order feed and price alert feed.
  • Integration with more than 50 payment gateways.
  • Customer reviews.
  • Extensive analytics and reporting options.
  • Ready to go iPhone theme.
  • Self-generating site map option.
  • Newsletter management.
  • Layered and faceted navigation for filtering.

Design Expertise Required

Ease of use is a common measure for any software tool, platform, or shopping cart. And in some ways Magento is easy to use. Its administration interface is fine, for example. But to take full advantage of Magento, developers need a knowledge of Apache web servers, MySQL, SOAP, PHP, XML, XHTML, and CSS. Arguably these skills are required for most shopping carts or platforms, but Magento is much more hands on and even a standard implementation will have you accessing files and writing code that other platforms might not require.

Summing Up

Magento is an excellent ecommerce platform. Some users may find it too complicated, but I believe it is one of the top solutions for online retailers in the market today. It earns every bit of glitter and sparkle from its four and a half stars in this The PeC Review.

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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 15 )

  1. Roy Rubin January 12, 2009 Reply

    Armando – Thanks so much for the great review. The product is indeed geared towards the mid-market and requires a good understanding and experience in the eCommerce and web space.

    We’ve got exciting plans for 2009 and look forward to continuing to innovate in the months to come.

    Roy / Magento

  2. affi January 12, 2009 Reply

    Good review. As you write Magento is quite difficult to get your hands on regarding the real backend (design, development) mainly due to the lack of good documentation. However, the more general backend where the store-owners administer their Catalog (categories, products, orders, etc) works like silk and is already more or less perfect in my opinion.

    So, even better documentation and walk-through’s will make Magento more or less perfect.

    The speed of Magento is also one of the cons, however it has been significantly increased during the last 3-4 updates (we are now down to around 1 sec response-time in average for any click on the frontend on our stores).

    All in all, Magento is by far the best ecommerce-platform to start building your new business on so don’t even spend time checking out the other to million ecommerce-solutions if you’re planning to put your products on a digital shelf.


    Roy Andre
    Ecommerce-Extensions.com

  3. VisualFrames January 13, 2009 Reply

    Magento is indeed the future of ecommerce. But it comes with a serious learning curve. However the Magento team has been great at keeping up with the community requests.

    We will continue to support Magento by providing more off-the-shelves themes throughout 2009 and taking on a few more initiatives to help bridge the training gap for store owners.

    Jay
    http://www.eCommerce-Themes.com

  4. bstn January 13, 2009 Reply

    I am considering using Magento to build an ecommerce site (I have a few different companies in mind that code Magento sites). That being said, I’ve tested out purchasing products on Magento built sites and am noticing a delay when I click on products and other links. I don’t find this with other ecommerce sites. Roy mentioned that response time has gotten smaller. Do you expect this to be completely fixed in the future? Delays in response time really concern me because I assume that it would throw potential customers off.

    I have no doubt Magento has a ton of positive qualities but am having trouble getting past the delays. Any suggestions? What other platforms do you guys recommend (especially platforms that can support multiple stores under one user)?

  5. frank65l January 13, 2009 Reply

    Hello,
    I have used Magento since v. 1.6. There are a lot of good things about Magento and a lot of bad. All the features are great, but if you customize any xml or templates, these are subject to being wiped out during an upgrade. Documentation is sorely lacking and if, like you say, don’t know all the php java, xml, html, etc.., you need to purchase their service, which tends to be more of a cost than buying a fully prepared shopping cart.

    I use Authorize.net for processing on most of my sites, but have never been able to get this to work on Magento. Most paid shopping carts seem to know what retailers need, but the complexity of Magento is not what a retailer needs, They need a cart that is easy to implement. Magento is extremely resource intensive, so if you want a fast site, you better have a very fast and expensive server. If you have tons of time to customize and debug Magento, which most people don’t, Then this the cart for you. If not, a paid or hosted cart is probably for you.

    When i first found Magento, I thought i was about to save thousands of dollars a year buy using it, after many weeks of trying to figure it out, i still have all the websites i was going to replace. The best feature of Magento, You don’t have to sign up to become a customer like most other free carts. I have never understood why you want to make a customer jump through hoops just to buy something.

    Note:
    Open source guys, talk to the end users. Everybody will be much happier in the long run.

  6. gregoryde January 13, 2009 Reply

    Free sounds great, but what if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people who would like to build an online business with a minimum of dollars? Do you think people can afford all the technology know how to run a technology platform on their own?

    That is why FastCommerce is amazing. You get a full, and growing, array of features and functions on a web based applications so their is no software support and development to pay for. You can start a business with most of the features for zero dollars, and run a great e-commerce platform for as low as 20 dollars a year.

    Scheduled updates include a fully powered search engine optimization catalog with all the tools for customizing and boosting your rankings.

  7. swburke January 13, 2009 Reply

    From a store-owner perspective, and one who has recently migrated from a different open-source store, I like the magento solution. I do have some issues w/ the back-end of the order processing module however, ie: why can’t i go directly from "pending" to "shipped" order status (and bypass "processing)? Where’s the "print" button for generating a nice 1-page order copy for my files? How about exporting groups of orders to a csv?
    …..the shipping API’s are a great feature, as well as polls and coupons. I hope some of the holes in the documentation don’t get abandoned. Thanks for the product (and sorry if i missed something in the manual….it’s a keeper.

  8. Laura January 13, 2009 Reply

    Excuse me while I bang my head on the edge of my desk…
    Why is starting an online store so darn hard? Do I really need to go back to school and earn yet another degree to launch my site?
    You know what I liked about Magento…when I pulled down a menu and saw the word training. The only problem is, is it training for someone like me? I am a graphic designer, not a web designer. I designed 16 versions of one product for the scrapbooking arena. I have them in hand, all packaged pretty, and ready to go – and I want to do is sell them online, somewhere other than Ebay type places. I want a place to call home. And I don’t have a bazillion dollars to do it. Where do I start? Now if you will excuse me…I must return to banging my head on my desk.

  9. hmmurdock March 4, 2009 Reply

    Laura,

    I have a lot of experience with various carts and ecommerce platforms. Most of which have been engineered to let people with less coding experience and technical knowledge be able to interface (even in a limited capacity) with the design elements. I was completely stonewalled while trying to do so with Magento. Just as everyone else has commented, there is a big lack of documentation and the theme aspect is rather complex compared to most other ‘carts’. The feature set however is extremely robust and the community is growing. Magento certainly is something worth revisiting once some more technical talent joins my ranks.

    If you are looking for something ‘quick & easy’ I suggest a cart like Americommerce or volusion. Americommerce is a little more complicated but is more flexible and robust as a cart. Volusion is a little less complicated (design wise), less flexible however has a stronger CRM & purchasing aspect. There are pleanty of other really good carts out there, PEC’s Cart of the Week column is an amazing source of info!

  10. effiavitan June 6, 2009 Reply

    I currently own and operate SneakerDoctor.com, an ASPDOTNETSTOREFRONT cart site. I hate ASP, expensive, cumbersome and did I mention expensive to run and maintain. We mainly sell sneakers and other sporting goods and apparel and I am in the market for a complete, easy to use and inexpensive cart solution for my business. is Magento a good fit for me? Please help

  11. Ben Rush September 13, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for the review, I am considering utilising Magento on a client site so this has proven handy.

  12. Oleg Chehovsky August 31, 2011 Reply

    Now Magento is a part of PayPal and eBay family.

    It is really great product with great feature.

  13. Future Tracy October 11, 2011 Reply

    Even though this article is almost 2 years old it is still so relevant to Magento – and it is going to get better with the Xcommerce developments – keep up the good work Practical Ecommerce.

  14. engineering December 25, 2012 Reply

    Indeed, Magento requires design and development expertise. however, most ecommerce companies have developers in-house, and there are plenty of articles/tutorials/documentation for Magento.

    One of the best eCommerce platforms. tutorials here:
    http://www.engineer-ing.com

  15. Manmeet Singh March 8, 2013 Reply

    Magento ecommerce solution has become the most demanding open source platform of today’s online retail store businesses since it provides a tremendous advantage. With Magento Ecommerce Platform, online store owners are being given the capability of handling multiple stores and facilitate a more systematized browsing of items for sale. Improved management of customer’s orders and having more developed promotional or advertising tools also comes possible with Magento Ecommerce.

    Thanks

    iLoveMage

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