Practical Ecommerce

From Magento to WooCommerce, part 5

This is the fifth and final installment in a series of posts that describes my disenchantment with Magento and my consideration of WooCommerce as a new platform for my ecommerce site.

In “part 1,” I discussed my frustrations with Magento and the appeal of WooCommerce. In “part 2,” I explained the steps of installing and testing WooCommerce to determine if it would fit my ecommerce company. In “part 3,” I imported selected products and descriptions into WooCommerce and began choosing plugins — only to realize that one of those plugins was, in fact, not a plugin. I described that mistake in “part 4.”

I have decided to end the series in this “part 5” installment with a comparison between Magento and WooCommerce. In subsequent posts, I will concentrate solely on WooCommerce, addressing topics like security, search engine optimization, and the day-to-day running of a WooCommerce store.

Overall I have been impressed with WooCommerce. It is a much better platform for me. That said, I must emphasize that the choice of a platform comes down to individual requirements.

In comparing the two platforms, I am going to avoid the traditional approach of listing all features with ticks and crosses against each platform. This is because Magento will always win — it has vastly more features — and because such a list is meaningless unless all the features listed are necessary for you. Instead, I will compare the two products in broad terms, using key headings.

Hosting

Magento needs more powerful hosting that WooCommerce. It will likely cost you more to host Magento than an equivalent WooCommerce site. In my search for a suitable host for both, I found it much easier to find good WooCommerce options.

I have used at least five specialized Magento hosts and most of them had weaknesses. There was the one that did not run its own mail servers, but insisted that I use Gmail. There was another one that provided limited access to the server. Yet another one’s backups failed to restore, thus losing my site.

For WooCommerce, I have found two excellent hosts. One offers cloud hosting and was otherwise a good host, but it failed to fix a strange problem I was having. It tried hard with no complaint but, alas, failed. The other host, my current one, Freshsites.co.uk, is simply excellent.

Both offer all the traditional features and I would happily recommend either one. But FreshSites is my preferred supplier because the staff there managed to fix my problem. With FreshSites, you can get problems answered and resolved in minutes. I have never had this kind of service with any Magento host.

So for hosting, WooCommerce wins.

Features

Magento is, on the face of it, a clear winner here. It has far more features than WooCommerce. Magento has layered navigation, multisite capability, multi-language options, and configurable products. Magento’s offerings for these are vastly superior to WooCommerce’s.

WooCommerce has a form of layered navigation. But with Magento you can choose any attribute and even create new ones. If you have a complex product structure wherein ordinary menu navigation is not sufficient to easily find the products, then Magento wins hands down.

On the other hand, it is too easy with Magento to go too far with layered filtering and end up with a site that is too complicated for the average visitor.

If you have a simpler product range and can fit it into a standard menu tree, then layered navigation may not be necessary for you. Also, how many sites really use configurable products?

So, although Magento wins here, it’s only if you actually need the additional features it offers.

Extensions and Plugins

Both Magento and WooCommerce have many add-ons — i.e., extensions and plugins. These are third-party software modules that add functionality to the site.

If you have a specific need, it’s likely that there’s an extension or plugin available on either platform. I have found that the WooCommerce extensions are cheaper and easier to install. The ones I have used so far appear to be better integrated into the platform.

So, unless you have a specific need, WooCommerce wins here.

Themes

Both platforms have a vast array of themes. Magento themes are more likely to be ready to go out of the box, while WooCommerce’s tend to require widgets. Once you get the hang of the widgets, however, the WooCommerce themes become much more customizable. It is also much easier to edit and tailor a WooCommerce theme. And WooCommerce themes are cheaper.

WooCommerce wins again.

Day-to-day Administration

Adding and amending products in WooCommerce is simple and fast. The additional features and options in Magento make it more complicated. It is easier to train staff to use WooCommerce. Moreover, WooCommerce and WordPress come with different levels of user permissions, so you can safely allow more staff to have limited access. With Magento, it is all or nothing.

Order administration seems to be similar with both, but as I use Linnworks for order management. So I cannot really address that topic.

For day-to-day administration, WooCommerce wins.

Software Maintenance

Upgrading Magento from one release to the next is a nightmare. It rarely works. Most Magento owners rarely upgrade the extensions.

WooCommerce is completely different. Upgrades are easy. They work with just the click of a button.

This one is easy: WooCommerce wins.

Look and Feel of Website

This comes down to how you implement the theme, how you structure your navigation, and what you put in your content. It is easy to do this with both platforms. A competent designer could create a great site out of either platform.

Thus, look and feel is a draw between WooCommerce and Magento.

Scalability and Growth

I have seen nothing in WooCommerce that would prohibit the growth of an ecommerce business. Both platforms offer the ability to use a content delivery network to serve up images when a site has many visitors. Both have integrations to numerous payment gateways. Both can be integrated with multisite order management and fulfillment software, such as Linnworks.

I cannot see any reason why you need to use Magento if you want your business to grow.

Conclusion

For most ecommerce sites, including mine, the clear winner is WooCommerce. I recommend Magento only for specialized needs, such as the following.

  • Complex product navigation structure, or a wide range of similar products that would benefit from the filtering of layered navigation. A good example is televisions.
  • Configurable products, where the customer builds a final product from a selection of parts.
  • Multisite and multi-store from a single instance.
  • Thousands of products. I don’t know what WooCommerce’s limit is, but I suspect Magento can handle more.

If you require any of these, then Magento is for you. Otherwise WooCommerce is the better choice.

See Richard Stubbings’ follow-up: “From Magento to WooCommerce, 1 year on.”

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  1. JaqObot March 27, 2015 Reply

    Very helpful assessment

  2. Chuck Choukalos March 30, 2015 Reply

    Hey Richard,

    Can you clarify your comment on permissions? What permissions exactly is Magento missing that WordPress has? Can you give example(s) of those use cases?

    Thanks,
    Chuck

    • Richard Stubbings March 30, 2015 Reply

      OK, for permissons, you can read, User Access Controls. When you create a user in WordPress you can specify their role and depending on their role they get more or less menu entries in the admin. You can thus restrict all software update screens, change appearance screens, add plugin screens.
      A Magento admin user can do everything including delete the whole shop.

      • Fredrik - webexpressen.no April 2, 2015 Reply

        Thank you for an interesting seriestart of articles. In regards to permisjon, you can set all type of role and permissions in Magento. My experience is that Magento actually have more flexibility and possibilities than WooCommerce in regards to roles and permissions as you can specifiy more exact per permission instead of selecting a predefined role.

  3. Jon March 31, 2015 Reply

    Hi Richard,

    Thank you for this informative series!

    I agree that Magento is difficult to update, but I think itshould be mentioned that WP/WooCommerce is not all fun and laughter, either. The latest versions of WP now auto-upgrade (unless you tell it not to) and will do so when security issues are discovered. While that’s great in general, plaugins don’t always receive updates in a timely fashion and may break. WooCommerce is a well-maintained plug-in, but others, even popular ones, not as much.

    Let us know when you run into such an issue to see how much of a deal it really is. :)

  4. Kevin April 2, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the series, Richard. I had started writing a similar article about why I considered leaving Magento for WordPress but then decided Magento was best for my business. Some of the issues I faced we’re dirty URLs, complex mutli-lingual WPML extensions (plural), and decentralized theming, and performance issues. For a multi-lingual, multi-currency site, Magento would come out ahead. For SEO, Magento has fully customizable URLs without filler words like “product-category” or “store.” Now about hosting, I would say that Digital Ocean, AWS, or Rackspace all allow clean Linux distros with full access. On that note, Magento on Nginx with Nginx cache and FPC extension beat my WordPress installation on the same server in terms of speed. YSlow scores also better without much effort, whereas WordPress required a caching plugin with unstable server configs that required quite a few exceptions. All said and done, but I did just play with Magento 2. Amazing 99 YSlow score and built-in FPC. Looks like you’re gonna have to do this again when Magento 2 stable hits.

  5. Ray April 2, 2015 Reply

    Anyone have experience regarding the number of products (non-configurable) Woo can handle?

    • Brad Griffin August 31, 2015 Reply

      Ray: http://www.buyplumbing.net/ has a few thousand. As the site was being built, the decision was made to “juice it up” with a few hundred thousand (yes, you read that correctly) just to do load tests and performance benchmarks. This is a dev site, but look at http://dev.yourwaterheater.com/shop/ Again, there’s tens of thousands of products in that one as well.
      Both sites …. hummin’ along just fine ;-)

  6. Joe April 2, 2015 Reply

    Great analysis Richard, I’ve enjoyed your high level overview. I’ve used Magento and WooCommerce for about 6 months and agree with your points. One really frustrating thing about WooCommerce, which applies to a select amount of small merchants, is configurable products. You did point this out already. The problem though is that if WooCommerce doesn’t handle this that well and Magento is too complex, there aren’t many options in the middle. Shopify and Bigcommerce are contenders but Shopify gets expensive with lots of configurations.

  7. Justin Jeffries April 3, 2015 Reply

    MAgento does not have a limit on products but for normal shared hosting its advisable to keep it under 5000 unless your using a specialist magento host like the ones in this list http://www.magentodedicatedserver.com/a-developers-guide-to-the-best-magento-hosting/
    For the specialist hosts up to 40000 products can be added if the host optimized mysql and the php settings particularly the input vars and timeout, for anything more than this you need a dedicated server.
    As far as woo commerce is concerned you cannot go above 16044 products no matter what type of hosting or server you use. If you are listing a lot of products then you will need to consider Magento over Woo, There is another consideration which is not mentioned in your article and that is the free app that allows you to integrate your e-commerce site with amazon listings and ebay named m2e pro which you can get for free with magento. you can do the same in woo but its a paid extension and has no support.

    • Richard Stubbings April 3, 2015 Reply

      I did mention the Wp-lister. It is a great addon. It is much easier to use than the M2E extension for loading your products onto Ebay. I have never liked using any extension for adding products to Amazon. If you read some of my other blogs you will see why. In summary, its because on Amazon there may be two or more entries that match your product and it may be more profitable to list on both.

    • Leo May 3, 2015 Reply

      That’s not true. Why would WooCommerce only be able to have 16k products? There are stores with so much more

      • Richard Stubbings May 5, 2015 Reply

        I would not know either way, why not share a couple of urls of such large Woo stores.

  8. Leo April 6, 2015 Reply

    Hey Richard, I run a WooCommerce store after trying and getting frustrated with OS Commerce, Prestashop, CS-Cart and OpenCart. To address some of the issues you’ve mentioned

    1) Complex Product Navigation – Get one of the following
    – WooCommerce Product Finder – official by WooCommerce
    – Ajax Layered Navigation – also an official extension
    – Meta Data & Taxonomies Filter – http://codecanyon.net/item/wordpress-meta-data-taxonomies-filter/7002700 – $21
    – FacetWP – https://facetwp.com

    2) Configurable Products
    Do you mean this?
    http://codecanyon.net/item/fancy-product-designer-woocommerce-plugin/6318393
    Or the WooCommerce Product Add Ons/Composite Product?

    3) MultiStore – none for now :(

    4) Thousands of Products
    Check out Soul Brother Records with 150k of products
    http://www.soulbrother.com/shop/

    The exciting thing about WordPress (and WooCommerce) is the maturation of the REST-API, which together with PHP 7, enables you to scale indefinitely with the right setup

    http://jacklenox.com/2015/03/30/building-themes-with-the-wp-rest-api-wordcamp-london-march-2015/

    • cft January 13, 2016 Reply

      I believe soul brothers doesn’t use woo anymore. I remember the blog post about the large woocommerce sites (product wise). And any of the sites that we’ve contacted usually say either a) they don’t use woo anymore, b) there woo is heavily modified and isn’t really woo at all anymore.

      The most common reason for the change is performance and/or hard to manage large amounts of orders.

      We currently host over 21,000 products with b2b and b2c @ http://www.cf-t.com

      The only thing left from the public store side is really cart and checkout. All the shop/search/filters/category queries had to be re done to get acceptable performance.

      I would like to see someone load magento and woocommerce with 10/20/30k products. Bare bones, and see the performance ratings.

  9. Ollie June 18, 2015 Reply

    Did you import customer accounts from your Magento site? How did you manage it?

  10. Steve December 2, 2015 Reply

    Finally, an unbiased, comprehensive review from a website owner!! Richard, you did a great job and and I look very forward to your future updates on Woocommerce!
    Steve

    • Thomas March 25, 2016 Reply

      Just my thoughts as well.

  11. Thomas March 25, 2016 Reply

    Very helpfull.
    I was in doubt regarding using Woo-commerce before I read your posts here, but I will now try and install a version for one of my stores. As I read, there is also a multisite version for Woo-commerce, so I might try and look into that as well.

  12. Elita Barteaux August 11, 2017 Reply

    Truly informative!! Each and every criteria of comparison is well explained to help business owners make an informed decision. Here’s a blog that states that WooCommerce is not just for small ecommerce businesses and its worth your time. https://goo.gl/fPrQJr