What’s the Main Difference Between WordPress, Shopify, Magento, and PrestaShop?

I was recently asked to explain the main difference between WordPress, Shopify, Magento, and PrestaShop when it comes to eCommerce/shop solutions.

Out of those four options, WordPress is the odd one out, whereas Shopify, Magento, and PrestaShop have a lot more in common.

First of all, WordPress is an “all-in-one” platform. Out-of-the-box it has a gigantic toolbox which can be expanded even further by adding Plugins (small software packages that extend your website’s existing functionality). WordPress can be used for anything, a one-pager, a blog, a gallery, or for eCommerce, e.g. by using the popular WordPress WooCommerce plugin.

Shopify, Magento and PrestaShop er not “all-in-one” products, they specialize specifically in eCommerce. So if you want to start a blog, you don’t use Shopify Magento or PrestaShop, but if you’re looking to sell products online, they’re all solid choices.

When to use WordPress for eCommerce

If you already know now that your eCommerce platform needs a number of different features, besides the most common eCommerce features, such as a blogging engine, tables, specialized SEO and so on, then WordPress + WooCommerce is a good option. But you should know that there’s always a price when launching a website with a huge toolbox, usually in terms of performance and sometimes security.

When to use Shopify, Magento, PrestaShop

If you just need a product that focuses on doing one thing extremely well, namely eCommerce, then Shopify, Magento, and PrestaShop are all solid choices. One of the benefits of specialization is that the software bundles that these products are shipped with are much smaller than the average WordPress site, simply because they need fewer tools and features to get the job done. A big toolbox that can do a bit of everything is usually heavier than a small toolbox that does a few things.

That’s not to say that WordPress’ WooCommerce plugin is not excellent, but if performance optimization is a huge concern (e.g. making your website as fast as possible) you have to consider the baggage that often comes along with WordPress sites. It will almost invariably be easier to make a fast loading online store with one of the eCommerce-specific solutions.

Shopify vs. Magento vs. PrestaShop

In case you take the path of a specialized eCommerce option, how do you pick the right one? What’s the main difference between Shopify, Magento, and PrestaShop?

If you do a quick search on Google for this exact comparison, you will find a lot of info, but it probably won’t make it easier to make a decision. The top search results will be mostly from marketing blogs (who are great at SEO and getting their articles on page 1) that want you to click on one of their affiliate links (nothing wrong with that as long as they’re transparent about it). Other results will be heavily biased due to a specific affiliation with either of those products. Bias is impossible to get around.

So here’s my pragmatic solution for you:

If you have no prior experience with eCommerce products, you have no frame of reference and no qualifications to make good decisions about this topic. This leaves you with the following options:

  • Go out and try a demo version of each product and get a feel for it. Do you like the web interface? Is it intuitive, easy to interact with? Test both the admin dashboard interface (from the shop owner’s perspective) and the visitor/customer’s perspective.
  • Go out and find a web agency/freelancer that who uses one of the eCommerce solutions you liked and ask them to showcase an example of a client who they set up a store for. Then dig through their client’s site, on mobile, tablet, laptop, and make sure everything works as you’d expect.
  • Avoid hiring developers who claim to specialize in every eCommerce solution. Find someone who specializes in one.

That’s it. Pay no attention to statements like these (which is spread all over the web):

“PrestaShop has better customization”

“Magento has better out-of-the-box options”

“Shopify is more user-friendly”

Either of those points could be said about any of the products. It’s subjective. Every context is different. It ultimately comes down to who you hire to set it up for you (if you’re not doing it yourself).

Any of these eCommerce solutions can be customized and scaled. It’s just software at the end of the day, it’s just code. However, a relevant question could be:

  • Which of these products has the easiest to understand (for you) documentation? Do you immediately understand what to do on the “Getting started” page?
  • Which has more of the exact features that you wish for your shop? There could be one of them that just seems to fit your requirements better.

That’s why you need to make a list of your specific requirements for your shop, and then make sure that the solution you pick has them. Chances are that all of them have what you need, but here’s a nice trick:

Write an e-mail to the customer support of each of those services, with your specific list of requirements. Since they’re all high-quality companies, they should have swift customer support who will get back to you quickly. This saves you the time of having to cross-reference each product.

If it turns out that each product can do exactly what you need (99% chance) then you won’t have to worry about that part anymore.

To conclude

Nothing beats testing. Try out each product on a demo page and get a feel for it. Test both the UI dashboard (where you create/publish products) and the actual website from the customer’s point of view. Even better, have some of your friends and family test it (the website, not the dashboard). If you’ve already had confirmed that Shopify, PrestaShop, and Magento has the features you need, and 7 out of 10 people prefer Shopify, then that’s a lot better than guessing.

It might turn out that your friends and family prefer the look and feel of Shopify, but you prefer the dashboard of Magento. Well, then you pick Magento, and go out and find someone who can make the UI/UX of your Magento shop look-and-feel like the Shopify option from the site visitor’s perspective. It’s a lot easier to change the UI/UX of the web interface that your site visitors see than the admin dashboard that you use (which is usually more locked-in, and harder to customize).

Whatever option you choose, the most important decision is to find a web agency or a freelancer who’s really good at communicating. Strong communication is the foundation of any successful project.

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