Clutch spoke with Jonathan Martin, the CEO and Founder of coolblueweb, about the comparison between WooCommerce and Magento, two popular platforms for building an eCommerce store.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
I am the CEO and founder of coolblueweb, an eCommerce development agency based in Seattle, Washington. I started as a merchant eight years ago and ran five eCommerce stores myself. I quickly realized that, while I do love the eCommerce space, I liked building stores more than I liked operating them. Early into our creation, we sold off the stores and started providing client services in eCommerce work.
As of today, coolblueweb is made up of 20 people, primarily developers and one designer on staff. We are Magento and WooCommerce partners, working on both platforms on a regular basis. People typically come to us for harder-to-solve problems, not just building themes or quick sites. They’ve usually gone to a design agency, outsourced that part, and need it to function better, integrate with their ERPs, have better inventory-management systems and different order processes or better product configurators—more complicated components.
When someone is first looking at their options in the eCommerce market, deciding what platform to build, is there anything to consider beforehand?
Firstly, clients need to take inventory of the kind of eCommerce store they are—how many products they have, how those products are inventoried (multiple warehouses or a single one), how the delivery is made, and so on. Those types of decisions lead into the type of platform we will get. If we don’t think about this on the frontend, we won’t have the ammunition to make good decisions when looking at a platform.
Could you provide brief introductions to WooCommerce and Magento?
Magento is a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant enterprise-level eCommerce system. It’s geared to be the best-in-class shopping cart, ultimately extendable to handle just about any catalog size, hundreds of thousands of products and billions of dollars in sales across a single store. It’s tailored towards larger enterprises, which have more integration components.
WooCommerce was actually built as a WordPress plugin, which itself was initially a blog content management system and has become the most popular CMS on the internet today. WooCommerce was meant to add a shopping cart to the blog. That was its first goal and, over time, it has morphed and expanded from this, to being a full-fledged small-to-medium-sized business eCommerce platform in its own right. While I wouldn’t put a shop with a few hundred thousand products on WooCommerce, or one which had $1 billion in transactions per year, for a smaller volume the platform is definitely worth considering.
Who is the ideal client for each platform?
Rather than focus on the people, I would focus on the business. For someone with a complicated catalogue featuring tens of thousands of products, all with variations in configurability, and a high volume of orders, Magento really speaks well. It does a fabulous job with larger, high-demand catalogs and sales processes. WooCommerce, while it can handle larger catalogs and orders (we’ve run 100,000 orders on one store, in a 2-hour period), requires a lot more work. There is much more customization needed to get it to handle this scale.
When choosing which platform to use, I will look at the size and scale of the company, their direction and trajectory, and the complexity of their product catalogue.
Would you recommend either of these platforms to someone looking to maintain an eCommerce site themselves? Are there specific skills and resources needed in order to do this?
I would not recommend a non-technical developer for the maintenance of a Magento store. It’s a sophisticated platform which comes with a level of technical depth and expertise required for keeping it up-to-date with security patches and extending it.
With WooCommerce, if the website is simple, there are one-click-update and -install features which a technically-savvy person, but not necessarily full-fledged developer, could maintain.
Could you speak of the SEO options either platform would have?
Both follow best-practice page structure, giving users full control over title tags, headers, image alt tags, product names, links within the site and so on. Both also have friendly, human-readable URLs and a fast speed, which are important for SEO today.
WooCommerce gets a leg up on Magento in terms of being built as a WordPress plug-in. It provides the advantage of having all the SEO benefits of having lots of content on a site, in more of a publication platform model. If a site is not just a pure-play eCommerce store, its content-publishing capabilities will help drive more traffic, which can be pushed into the eCommerce platform a little easier than with Magento.
Can you speak to the search and filter capabilities of these platforms and how easy it is to find things on each one?
WooCommerce requires a bit of customization for layered navigation and faceted search, whereas Magento comes with the ability to create different attribute sets around different classes of products within the store out-of-the-box. Magneto automatically builds layered navigation in order to select subcategories like “blue large women’s t-shirts”. It can stack each of those options, one on top of another, unlike WooCommerce, which needs additional plug-ins like FacetWP.
When it comes to search, both are MySQL-based. There are alternatives which need to be plugged in, like Solr and Sphinx search, which do a better job than WooCommerce or Magento.
What different payment integration options are available on each platform?
Magento comes with many options built-in. It has connections for Authorize.Net, Braintree and PayPal, whereas WooCommerce doesn’t come with any of them out-of-the-box. There are aftermarket extensions which can be purchased for a WooCommerce store. This being said, comparing all available extensions of both platforms, they can do just about any payment gateway on the market.
Do you have any insights into making sure that these eCommerce platforms are kept secure?
The same principle holds true for both of them: they have to be upgraded on a regular basis, and have security patches applied. The internet is a dangerous place and people are constantly looking for exploits, ways in which to hack into platforms. If we’re not staying current on security patches and upgrades, we’re vulnerable to those hacks.
Both systems have a potentially bad reputation on the marketplace. There have been large WordPress hacks, but, then again, there are also sites installed in 2006, that have not been updated since. Of course, it’s ripe to be hacked. The same applies for Magento—there are sites launched 10 years ago, which haven’t been upgraded since then, so they will definitely have security holes.
For both systems, it’s important to either have internal security resources or hire an agency like ours, which can help keep the client up-to-date and make sure it’s secure.
Are there any special or unique offerings within each platform?
One of the biggest strengths of Magento is what I would call the entity-attribute-value data structure. It has the ability to hold just about any kind of product within it. We can create new attributes and add custom options on-the-fly and have multiple web stores listing the products.
Magento can have 5 or 6 different websites feeding off of the same inventory pool. This was originally designed in order to accommodate different languages and locations, all while shipping out of the same place. There can be different product descriptions in different languages, with different images depending on the marketing requirements of the specific country, all included.
This type of feature doesn’t really exist in WooCommerce. Its strength lies in the close connection it has to WordPress, in the ability to tie in an eCommerce store and have it integrated with a publishing platform. If the marketing team is constantly pushing out new content, promotions, contests, and general information about products and services, then WooCommerce can serve as a great add-on.
Are there any services which haven't performed up to your expectations, or is there any tool which you'd like to see implemented within each platform?
The multistore aspect is a deficiency which I hope WooCommerce will solve within the next couple of years. Having multiple stores draw out of the same inventory pool would be fabulous. It also has a hard time with large catalogs. It’s slow and not very responsive, based on the way in which products are stored. This is on the change roadmap and I’m hopeful.
Magento doesn’t have these product data or sales limitations. Its limitation is that, since it is such a sophisticated system, it does come with a higher level of technical depth. The overall cost of running a Magento store over the course of a year is higher than the cost of running a WooCommerce one. It really depends on scale and I would not recommend that any business with under $1 million per year in revenue use a Magento website; the technical requirements which come with this will make it cost-prohibitive.
Have you had interactions with any of their support team or support resources?
Magento has 2 different versions: open-source and enterprise. The latter comes with a technical support contract from Magento. They will not develop any new features, but they will definitely support the product and provide security patches and updates.
WooCommerce has support for plugins and extensions purchased from their website. Once a new component is installed, there is the opportunity for it to conflict with others, on either platform. Both do need an agency (preferably a partner one) to navigate these issues. Both platforms have large partner ecosystems, including WooExperts.
Do you have any final advice for people looking to start an eCommerce store, or any final comments?
The ecosystem is much more developed today than it was seven or eight years ago. People have many options to choose from and one of the important things to consider, depending on where someone is within their business process, is doing upfront research on each platform. There are hosted solutions like Shopify, which is a great option for many people, but doesn’t offer the level of customization which some companies need down the road. So, if someone starts a store, they need to think about where they will be in a year, three years and then five years and make decisions today, which will set them up for success in the long run.
We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each platform on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate them for functionality and available features?
Magento – 5
Out-of-the-box, it’s a fully-featured, enterprise-ready eCommerce platform.
WooCommerce – 4
It has the potential for all needed features, but they’re aftermarket add-ons.
How would you rate each for ease of use and ease of implementation?
Magento – 4
Once people learn how to use it, it’s very powerful, but it does come with a higher level of technical depth.
WooCommerce – 5
It’s easy to use, intuitive and there’s a ton of training material on the web for it.
How would you rate them for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?
Magento – 5
WooCommerce – 5
Both companies care a lot about their systems and clients, and spend a lot of time and energy taking care of their ecosystems.
How likely are you to recommend each platform to a friend or colleague?
Magento – 5
WooCommerce – 5
I recommend both on a daily basis to different clients, depending on who each person is, what they’re looking for, their catalogue size, and order volume.
How would you rate them for overall satisfaction?
Magento – 5
WooCommerce – 5
I love both platforms. There’s a reason we’ve partnered with Magento and there’s a reason why we’ve partnered with WooCommerce—they are best-in-class platforms. If a store has big dreams and hopes, and they plan on growing and providing a high level of user-experience to customers, both platforms are great choices.