We have been doing a number of installs on Magento and WpEcommerce and we thought it would be good to do a head to head on the two ecommerce systems. Both are very different systems that started out in different arenas, but because of the way open source ecommerce software goes, both systems are converging on the same market. That market is the small to medium business market.
These two systems are aimed are two different types of users, Wp eCommerce for novice users and Magento for enterprise solutions, however sometimes these two areas converge.
So with that in mind we thought we would write this from the point of view of our largest customer base, medium business owners who want to maintain their own ecommerce platform, and may have a developer on board for the difficult parts. We are not going to list all the features side by side because that is a little meaningless. Also we are going to mostly talk about what comes out of the box, as there are plenty of add ons for each system, and with the right gumption, you could easly add features to both system to make them match.
The short story
WP eCommerce: Good for small sites, using PayPal, selling small ticket items with shipping through the postal service. Good if you are customising yourself.
Magento: Good for larger sites, using local bank as payment gateway, selling bigger items with several shipping and payment methods.
Both are open source software that anyone could download and install right now. Both have active communities that help with problems, make updates and maintain the code in a general fashion. Both systems support most of the major functions you would want in an ecommerce platform including SSL, newsletters, buyer sign up, multiple gateways and a range of product options.
There are many HUGE differences between the systems, but the key one from a user point of view is that Magento focusses on the customer, and how they are managed. WP eCommerce focusses on the products and how they are managed/styled.
How the systems are built.
The two systems fundamentally could not be more different. Magento started as a build for larger customers and has an enterprise option that is implemented by big corporate customers. It is a complete solution in itself and is based on the Zend framework. WP eCommerce is a plugin for WordPress and started life just as a shopping cart.
The size of the systems is also different. WordPress and WP eCommerce are very lightweight, and could easily come in under 40MB and low bandwidth. Magento on the other hand needs about 250MB of space and much higher bandwidth to operate. For some this could be a deal killer if your host will not allow this amount of space to be used.
WordPress and WP eCommerce are a mash of PHP built over a long period of time by a lot of people making many additions. This makes the code a little unwieldy and ends up with massive files that are a complete mess. Magento, by contrast, uses multiple files across a huge tree of folders to control individual parts of the process. The upside for WpeCommerce is that there are only a few files that need changing at any one time, and being in PHP, almost anyone can get a handle on it. The downside is that one small change can cause almost anything to go wrong. For Magento the upside of its code is that it is very tightly controlled, changes are unlikely to break the whole system and development happens a lot quicker. The big downside is that the code is complex, and getting up to speed as a developer takes a little longer.
Back end useability.
WordPress and Wp eCommerce win this hands down, basically because WordPress has been written to allow mums and dads to blog, so the same user interface carries over. Magento is a little more complex. As an example, Magento has several places that control product pricing rules. Then if you are looking to change rules for different styles of products, you have to set up a different type of product for each style. Adding pages and products with WP eCommerce is a very simple process, which is probably its biggest draw card. Doing the same in Magento is a more complex process, and depends on the template you are using.
There are a few useability sticking points with Magento. The main one is how it natively handles products with multiple colours or sizes. You have to set up simple products, and then group them together as configurable products. This combined with the complexities of using product attributes means that sometimes you are not sure if you have set up the products correctly, and often you haven’t and have to start again.
Templates and design
Both systems have some very interesting templates and clever designs. However again, WP eCommerce wins this one because of the sheer volume of excellent looking templates available. You can have drag and drop shopping carts, flash sliders, you name it. The only downside to the system is that there are two groups of stylesheets, one for the WordPress theme, and one for the shopping cart, which means it can get a little fiddly getting it all to fit together. Magento on the other hand uses a much more complex set of XML and HTML files, with individual pages having their own styles again. This means that, as a developer, changing the website is not just a case of slicing up a Photoshop file and writing the code, there are file structures and relationships to be considered.
True ecommerce functions is where Magento shows its strength. The ecommerce flow, from sign up to transaction is very closely managed. Emails can be sent out at every stage, if you are shipping, or changing shipping etc. Every sale and customer is closely tracked. WP eCommerce is a little lacking in this area. Sales are secondary to the product set up. The system has functions for completed sales and invoicing, but they are not as easily managed as Magento. There are addons available for campaign monitor integration, and for invoicing that help bridge this gap, but again they are not native.
As far as payment gateways go, Magento has by far the largest range supported out of the box, and the addons take that number even higher. WP eCommerce is great if you are in New Zealand or if you want to just use PayPal or another payment provider. However it is just not supported well enough in other gateway areas.
Most customers we come across want some kind of a customised solution. Both have very easy to use methods for installing extensions. However Magento is, again, the more complex if you want to customise those add ons. For instance if you want to add the multi-image function for products in WP eCommerce, then you all you have to do is download the plugin, and then upload via FTP. If you want to change the position of those images, it is just a matter of tweaking the CSS. If you want to add something similar to Magento, the first part is easy, just use Magento Connect to download the update. After that it gets tricky, if your system is not up to date, if your template does not support the change etc etc then there is a lot more customisation involved.
When compared to other Open Source systems, the support for both these platforms is pretty bad for the basic user. If you look at Joomla, most questions are answered there very quickly, and by a lot of people that know what they are doing. For Magento and WP eCommerce the communities often don’t answer problems, and sometimes answer incorrectly. There is some support that exists for Magento in the community, and if you are looking for some VERY basic modifications, then there is an incomplete wiki that is available. However anything above that and you may be on your own. For WP eCommerce the support is marginally better, in that there is a a little more documentation (mainly because of the WordPress base). However you really need to upgrade to premium support if you need anything more than some basic trouble shooting.
Again, the paid support is the difference between these two systems. WP eCommerce paid suport is only $40 to get the gold plugin, for Magento it is either $15 a year if they host Magento for you, through Magento GO or $3000 a year if you host the professional edition yourself.
Social Media is THE marketing method of the moment, and most stores want some social media integration. Both systems are improving in this area, however WordPress probably does it better for now, because of the number of developers looking at this already. Magento has a Facebook log in integration module which seems to work well.
That is pretty much all I can think of for now. As you can see they really are different offerings, but a few more trial usages will give us a better idea of which one suits which implementation.