The View from England

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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