Should You Upgrade or Replatform to Magento 2?

Four different Paul Smith coats modeled by men

Paul Smith sells menswear, womenswear, home goods and more on Magento 2

Posted in Magento, Platform Talk

When it comes to staying competitive in the evolving retail landscape, merchants rely heavily on their ecommerce platform. Much like a store’s physical location used to be critical to its success, today a company’s ecommerce platform is a big factor in its success. For over a decade, one of the most important platforms in ecommerce has been Magento. Like the retail industry itself, Magento has undergone many changes in recent history, especially with the launch of Magento 2.

With the latest developments in mind, the big question becomes: should you consider upgrading or replatforming to Magento 2? It costs a significant amount of time and money to upgrade or change platforms. So, before you take the plunge, how can you determine if Magento is the right fit for your business?

Woman wearing blue patterned leggings from Spanx
Spanx by Sara Blakely is a popular retail site on Magento 2


Magento Is Built to be Customized

One of Magento’s strong suits is that it can facilitate virtually unlimited customization. For instance, let’s suppose that you’re a retailer who wants to manage multiple storefronts, in different countries, with different currencies and languages, in a single ecommerce store. You can build Magento in this way. Let’s add that you want to be able to sell both B2B and B2C products from this single store. Again, you can create this model to your specifications in Magento.

Now this isn’t to say other platforms can’t do this; however, it will likely be more difficult to set up an ecommerce site this way on other platforms. For example, some platforms limit you to a single currency price list. To post prices in different categories, you (or your customers) have to use a currency converter. In Magento, however, you can have different product lists, each with country-specific prices offered in that country’s specific currency.

Other examples of customization include things like specific shipping rules or referral partner pricing. For instance, in some platforms, it’s difficult to set up complex shipping rules for different states in the United States. But if you need to charge customers in Hawaii and Alaska differently because it costs more to send products to them, you can configure Magento to do so. Or perhaps you have a strong referral partner for your site, such as another website that sends a lot of traffic your way. In Magento, you can offer referred customers a discount, say 10%, when they checkout on your site.

We’re sharing this range of examples to show how you can tailor Magento to your unique business needs. The precise applications are up to you. What matters is that retailers understand Magento can be used to solve highly-specific ecommerce challenges.

With Customization Comes Complexity – and Cost

All that said, customization will add complexity and expense to your ecommerce project. Some developers describe Magento as a “beast.” And we understand why. As a retailer, you will want to have technical expertise available to help you build and manage your ecommerce system. Don’t try and go Magento alone.

It costs more to work in Magento because it is a very complex system. Other platforms, like Shopify or Shopify Plus, for example, have streamlined a lot of the functionality for you. In many cases – in fact, probably most cases – the built-in functionality of other popular platforms will meet your ecommerce needs through lesser cost and easier admin on the backend. (Note: there’s much more to be said about the benefits of Shopify and Shopify Plus, but we’ll keep it to Magento for our purposes here.)

How Magento 2 is Different from Magento 1

Simply stated, Magento 2 is built with modern ecommerce best practices integrated into its platform. Let us explain: Magento 1x debuted circa 2008. It was built on the best technology of that time, but as we’ve all experienced, technology has changed a lot since then. Magento 1 kept updating, however, it was still built on an infrastructure that was increasingly outdated. It required compromises and tradeoffs to maintain compatibility.

For example, in the early days of Magento 1, the platform used a Javascript library called Prototype. But, as time went on, most projects settled on a common Javascript library called jQuery. Eventually, Magento began using jQuery, but the original reliance on Prototype continued to influence the platform. In essence, some old technology remained built into the functionality of Magento 1.

In many ways, Magento 2 feels more like a new platform altogether, rather than an upgrade. Not only have they overhauled the platform’s underlying technology, they’ve also embedded modern features into it. For instance, in Magento 1, responsive mobile design was not part of the native platform. It may be hard to believe, but back in 2008, people were not shopping on their phones. Magento added on mobile capabilities as new shopper habits developed. Now, with Magento 2, the platform’s native tools address modern mobile site needs.

The same is true for headless commerce. It wasn’t really possible to decouple the frontend and backend systems of your site in Magento 1. Now Magento 2 has headless commerce capability built into it. Similarly, the company also recently debuted native progressive web app capability with version 2.3.

Four different Paul Smith coats modeled by men
Paul Smith sells menswear, womenswear, home goods and more on Magento 2


Magento 2 Features: Performance, Hosting, and More

With its completely revamped technology, Magento 2 solves many of the platform’s long-standing issues with site performance and hosting.

One of the biggest complaints about Magento in the past was that it was slow; it’s not anymore. Site performance has been greatly improved. On Magento 1, even just two or three years ago, it was standard for a web page to load in 3 seconds or more. (Customers have been expecting faster load times than this for a while.) A lot of Magento 1’s sluggishness was based the way it was built and how pages were rendered, as well as reliance on older, slower versions of underlying technologies such as PHP. Yes, the platform made efforts to improve this along the way, but in general, sites often remained slow.

The Magento 2 team has made massive performance improvements by rewriting the underlying functionality from scratch. For instance, the platform now has full-page cache built into the core. This really speeds things up. In short, Magento 2 is rewritten with speed in mind. For retailers who experienced Magento 1 sites that were too slow, this will no longer be an issue.

Another reason some retailers shied away from Magento in the past was because they did not want to host their site on their own. (Platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce do not need a third-party hosting service; these platforms come with hosting services included.)

With Magento 2, the company introduced three new editions:

  1. Magento 2 Open Source (formerly Magento Community)
  2. Magento 2 Commerce (formerly Magento Enterprise)
  3. Magento 2 Commerce Cloud. This is an entirely new edition.

Magento 2 Commerce Cloud gives retailers the full power and capability of Magento 2 Commerce – plus hosting. As a result, if a merchant wants to be on Magento but doesn’t want to contract with a third-party hosting service, they can get hosting with Magento Commerce Cloud. This is the first time in the history of Magento that hosting services are included.

Also, some retailers may have experienced stability issues in the past on Magento. From a development perspective, it’s likely that most of those stability problems were related to the hosting service, not Magento itself. Magento, whether it’s version 1 or 2, has always been a very robust, complex system. It does not work to host a Magento site on a shared hosting service. Now that Magento is providing their own hosting service through Magento Commerce Cloud, we believe the concerns about stability are over.

Should Ecommerce Retailers Upgrade or Replatform to Magento 2?

We wish it were as simple as “yes” or “no,” but it is not. If you’re on Magento 1 now, the reasons you originally chose the platform probably remain good reasons to choose Magento 2 – plus you’ll gain all the additional benefits of the update.

At Command C, we will always advocate for retailers to do a technical discovery to inform this decision. In a technical discovery, we conduct an extensive investigation into your current ecommerce needs, frontend and backend, as well as your long-term goals.

If you have highly-specific or all-encompassing needs, like multichannel sales in many currencies under one ecommerce site, then it will be useful to take a good look at Magento 2. But keep in mind that extensive customizations will likely prove to be expensive. You may be able to solve most, if not all, of your challenges on another platform with less cost and development work. Nonetheless, certain customization just isn’t possible on other platforms like it is on Magento. And, even when it is possible, Magento still may be the best choice because of the work (or workarounds) required to implement the customization. But only a technical discovery will truly determine the answer.

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