Migrating to Magento E-commerce Platform Against Critical Reviews

After over a year of e-commerce platform selection research, conference and exhibit attendance, and countless demonstrations, meetings and negotiations, I have decided to migrate to the Magento open-source platform. The main reasons are:

Time-Saving & Cost-Effective Scalability

There are many free and commercially-available extensions for administrative, usability and even design features as well as a vast world-wide development community with backgrounds in various industries and business technologies from drop-shipping with no inventory for affiliate stores to tightly integrated ERP-Website models.

Ever-Expanding Rich Standard Feature Set

The base community edition (free version) includes features such as:

  1. Guided navigation (also known as faceted search) which is very helpful in improving conversion rates since it allows the marketers to empower the visitors to find what they want more easily. Read more about it by clicking on faceted search.
  2. Multi-store data permeation model that allows the management of different websites in one back-end as well as the same catalog across multiple websites considerably lowering the administrative costs associated with product management and order processing.
  3. Granular promotion management tools allowing marketers (i.e. non-technologists) to run complex conditional promotions, improving conversions and Average Order Value.

Relatively Low Cost

Some of the aforementioned usually come at a very high cost, while portions of it such as a world-wide development network do not even exist in a commercial (non-open-source) model. The free cost of the community edition, as well as the ~$8,900 (as of the date of this posting) annual per-instance license fee of the enterprise edition–which includes technical and customer support–are quite justifiable when taking all of the above into account.

Pre-Sale Hands-On Demonstration Access

This is not as important when comparing to other SMB platforms, but it gets exponentially harder to have access to a demo front- and back-end on one’s own time to “play about” and “get the feel” of a application, as one delves into enterprise-grade platforms. Such vendors usually provide a sales or technical staff member to conduct demonstrations, which forces one to fit all questions and concerns into a limited number of socially-acceptable pre-scheduled demonstration meetings. It is just so much easier to throw one’s whole e-commerce department at the Magento enterprise edition demo (freely and promptly available to anyone who requests it) and have them come up with questions and concerns on their accord.

Of course, there are many more reasons specific to our situation that drove the decision. However, with the proliferation of the Magento e-commerce platform in the past year across the world amongst small, medium and large businesses, there have been many negative reviews stating the following as the top reasons to avoid or think twice before moving to Magento:

Complex Code Structure

Critics: Complex and large codebase makes the platform very hard to design and develop for.

I: That may be an issue for non-technical small-business owners planning on developing and designing their website themselves. However, the following reasoning helped me disprove this as an obstacle and see it more as a feature:

  1. There is no shortage of high-school-aged savvy hobbyists to professionally-certified development partners at all price points to satisfy all design and development needs.
  2. The same complexity of the code base, allows for very unobtrusive development of external modules that can be installed and maintained with little headache in most cases. This translates into several pre-packaged well-developed modules called “Magento Extensions” that are there to address more popular development needs such as drop-shipping and minimum advertised price policies.
  3. Again the very same complexity ensures complete separate logic and presentation layers, in fact even more segregated layers within each i.e. separate layouts and templates for design. This also translates into various widely-different scalable and modifiable pre-packaged themes that can be installed and maintained with not much hassle.

Resource-Hungry Application

Critics: It requires more expensive servers and web-hosting services to keep page load time in acceptable range.

I: Compared to faster platforms Magento provides out-of-the-box features that not only offset the initial development costs, but also for many small- and medium-sized businesses define the line between taking advantage of these features and not even being able to afford to think of them due to added setup and maintenance costs—faceted search being one. For these businesses, the improved conversion rate associated with such features would never be realized with some other platforms. This, in my opinion completely justifies the not-always-extra cost of better hosting.

Recurring Enterprise License Pricing Model

Critics: Annually-recurring per-instance (i.e. per running instance/copy of application on an operating system on a physical or virtual server) pricing model is too expensive and comparable to better enterprise platforms with perpetual license pricing models.

I: Depending on the business and its e-commerce technology needs and goals as well as available capital this can be true. However, in my experience with many high-end perpetually-licensed platforms I have never seen such a vast network of inexpensive pre-developed modules and custom development talent. While not always the case, closed proprietary development is inherent with most commercial-only (non-open-source) software, regardless of its licensing model. In plain terms: Pairing open-source with enterprise makes Magento an orange stuck in a comparison with apples!

Given the above, it was not a very hard decision to migrate to Magento hoping for the cost-efficient scalability appeal to prove to be true. My logistical approach to choosing Magento over the following platforms1 will be detailed more in posts to follow in this series:

  • GSI, Fry, ATG, Broadvision: While great platforms, most business cannot even get past the initial stages of their sales pipelines as they come in at very high price points but there are some other factors to consider as explained in the [p2p type=”id” value=”266″ text=”ATG, Fry & GSI comparison to Magento post”].
  • Prosodie, iCongo: Again, while these are great platforms for the right business, I could not compare their even more limited customer-base and inherently slower platform road map.
  • Novator: This is my most favorite, feature-rich and service-oriented platform with a great answer to my data permeation model called Retail Data Model. I have nothing bad to say about them, but read how I believe they [p2p type=”id” value=”289″ text=”stack up against Magento together with Prosodie and Broadvision”].
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  1. I must clarify that my opinions are based merely on sales and selection processes, and not actual use of many of these platforms []