Magento - Features, Pricing, Alternatives, and More

Matthew Guay
Written by Matthew GuayLast updated August 3, 2016

Starting an online store is not all that different from starting a real world, brick-and-mortar store. You need somewhere to showcase your products, somewhere to keep track of your inventory and sales, and ways to promote your products and get customers into your store. The only difference with eCommerce is that you need to do all of this in software—something that often means using a wide variety of tools to handle various parts of your business.

Or, you could use an all-in-one eCommerce system like Magento. One of the more popular tools to build an online store, Magento is a free, open source platform you can run on your server—something that's not so difficult with one-click installs in hosting tools like Digital Ocean. Then, customize it with the extensions and themes to make it your own. Magento is focused just on eCommerce, to make sure you have everything you need to run your store with exactly the features you need.

Magento, if anything, can feel a bit bare-bones at first. It comes with a few basic pages for your store; tools to manage products, customers, and orders; marketing tools to send email notifications and newsletters; and a Reports view to see how your store is doing. There's no built-in payment gateway, no tools to manage reusable content, and no simple way to customize your site's design. For that and more, you'll turn to the Magento Marketplace to install just the features you want. Want to accept payments with PayPal or Stripe, print shipping labels or save order info to Xero? There are free and paid tools for that and much more.

Once you've added the features you want to your store, you can start pulling in your products and planning your marketing efforts. Everything's deeply connected, so you can search for customer info while adding new orders—or create a new customer and order at the same time, while searching through your catalog for the products to add to that order. You can make any type of products you want—individual products, subscriptions, downloads, groups or bundles, and more. Need customers to select sizes or styles, or want to add products that are only available for a limited time? Magento product pages offer that and more—or you can add your own custom attributes to your product pages.

One of Magento's greatest strengths is its scheduling tools. You can make promotions or products last for a specific time, and can queue up email newsletters to go out when you want. Or, you can even add extra themes to your site, and set Magento to change the theme on a specific date to perhaps have a new design along with your holiday promotions and then have it change back to normal once the promotion is over. You can set all of that ahead of time, and Magento will take care of the changes automatically.

Then, you can add marketing pages to share extra info about your products and build your site's SEO. If you need to redirect visitors from dead pages—say, those products that were only available for a limited time—there's a built-in redirect tool. And if you'd like to offer specials based on complex criteria—say only offer free shipping if orders are over a certain price and include specific items, or to send a coupon if an order isn't completed in a certain time period—you can do that, too.

Magento looks simple on the surface–and its admin screens are surprisingly easy to use—but dig deeper and you'll find advanced tools for everything you'd want in an eCommerce store. Once you've tweaked settings and added your favorite extensions and themes, it can power your own unique store that includes exactly the features you need—one that will take care of itself automatically without you having to remember to turn on a promotion or switch back to your regular store theme.

Magento Resources:

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Magento Features

  • List and promote products, track inventory, and manage sales in one tool
  • Track every customer and order, and log notes about specific transactions
  • Set promotions and design changes on a schedule
  • Send email newsletters directly from your store
  • Build detailed reports about sales and more
  • Add extra features with extensions

Magento Pricing

  • Free Community edition self-hosted store
  • Paid themes, extensions, hosting, and services available
  • Custom pricing for Magento Enterprise editions

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