So you've decided to take your store online - that's great! But what platform should you choose out of the many options available out there?
Magento is one of the best options and here's why: In today’s world, where everyone is connected to the web – if you're not online, the chances are high that your store will remain unknown. Unless you are selling bread and milk, you should probably consider an online store for your products.
Unlike a normal store, an online store gives you great visibility to a very broad range of customers. Online, you can sell locally, nationally and, why not, internationally.
Once you have gotten this far, you are confronted with a problem: What platform should you use? Should you use a hosted solution (e.g. Shopify), a proprietary platform (one built by yourself from scratch), or use an open source e-commerce platform such as Magento, OpenCart, Prestashop, osCommerce?
Let’s look at some of these options.
Online stores provided by companies such as Shopify are a good solution if you have no coding skills or just do not want the hassle of working under-the-hood. These platforms work out-of-the-box with minimal setup and offer user-friendly interfaces to help you get your products online quickly.
They come with options of free or paid graphical themes to suit your visual preferences, they offer a couple of payment methods which are accessible to your customers, and they also provide you with web hosting.
These services, depending on how complex you would like to go start out at about $9/mo (Volusion) up to $300/mo.
The drawbacks (other than the costs – which you will have regardless of if you choose hosted or other solutions) are that they limit your ability to customize the aspect of the website and they usually have a per transaction fee or a certain percentage.
While this solution offers a platform perfectly tailored to your needs without any other bulk and no limitations, this option is usually high-cost, high-maintenance and time-consuming.
If you were to build such a platform, it would take you a good two-to-three months to have it up and somewhat bug-free. If you were to hire someone to do this for you it would cost you somewhere from $3,000 and up, depending on what you want and need.
If you want to ditch the high monthly fees, have a fully customizable and robust platform, you are in luck, because there are a couple of options out there that will get you up and running in no time.
The top platforms used by so many online stores around the world are Magento, OpenCart, Prestashop and osCommerce.
osCommerce Merchant is an open-source PHP platform, which is free to download and use for your commercial needs. The user interface, both end-user and admin, is clunky in version 2.3 so I wouldn’t recommend it but it has been one of the longest running e-commerce platform so they deserve a mention in this thread. (There is a version 3 in development at the time of this article.)
Prestashop is a newer and quite popular option at the moment. Free to download and use, one of its best features is the fact that its toll on your server’s hardware is not so bad so it can be used for smaller stores even in a shared web hosting account. It has multi-store management, stock keeper, users database, and reports of online sales and many more features. The interface is clean and user-friendly, out of the box-themes are pretty nice and there is some good support around the internet for Prestashop developers.
OpenCart is one of our picks as a very good platform for medium-sized stores, which is also very popular and here at Tuts+ we are going to start featuring tutorials on working with this platform very soon.
Magento is the biggest player in the game. It was created in 2007 by a team that used to work on osCommerce and has become a household name in the industry. It is an open-source PHP and MySQL platform with one of the most robust and complex backbone, highly customizable, easy to learn and user-friendly to manage.
Here are some of the features and reasons why Magento is one of our top picks:
Because Magento offers an Enterprise version of their software, most if not all the features end up in their Community Edition, thus giving you an enterprise level platform, constantly up-to-date with security and out-of-the-box enhancements.
The interface on both front-end and back-end are intuitive and familiar to you and your customers. While Magento is complex, it is not complicated, thus giving your clients a rich shopping experience.
One of the great features of Magento is the fact that it can seamlessly run multiple stores from the same back-end, making it easy to sell items in multiple stores (even with different domain names) but keeping your inventory in sync, managing invoices, shipping details, and payments under the same "roof".
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, an online store helps you reach a broader audience, and Magento makes it so much easier because it handles any currency with automatic daily exchange rate updates, multiple language support (translations available for both front-end and back-end in pretty much any language) which can be triggered even by user IP address, thus giving your customers a tailored experience.
From the moment you install Magento, you have the ability to choose popular shipping methods such as UPS, FedEx, or USPS (giving you the ability to print labels and have up to date shipping rates pulled from their respective websites) and payment methods, e.g. PayPal, Authorize.net, Cash on Delivery, or Credit Cards.
You probably use a separate invoicing, inventory, or sales software. While you might consider Magento's platform as a good substitute, you can also easily integrate its database with software such as SalesForce or QuickBooks with modules found in the marketplace.
Beyond the out-of-the-box features, you have access to a market of free and paid modules which can extend the functionality of Magento to suit your needs such as different shipping, payment, invoicing methods or marketing plugins to promote your products and content in a more dynamic way.
If, for some reason, you cannot find a ready made module for something you have the possibility to create your own! We will have some tutorials on how to do this in future article.
Magento's basic theme is pretty slick, but you have plenty of options for implementing themes for both desktop and mobile and the ability to change the design based on page, product type, season or holiday. You can find themes online, free or paid, or you can create your own - and we will show you how in future articles.
All this functionality does come with somewhat of a price: It is resource intensive.
Its robust and complex structure require more hardware resources than other platforms. While it may very well work on a shared web hosting account, once you start filling up your catalog and draw in more visitors, you will most likely experience a slower response from the website. It is recommended that you get a VPS with dedicated hardware to get the best user experience though this may increase your running costs.
If you need a small online shop to increase your products’s visibility, and do not want the hassles of programming and the such, a lower tier hosted solution might be the way to go.
If on the other hand you want to move your business seriously online, implementing Magento as your online platform. We consider it to be one of the best open-source platforms available.
This was an introductory article to a number of articles and series which we will bring you over the coming months. As mentioned we will help you learn how to get set up, customize the look of your site with themes, the functionality of your store with plugins, add products and pages, raise your store's visibility in search engines, and much more.