Spree Commerce Storefront vs. Magento Enterprise Edition: A four-point comparison

Ecommerce storefronts might seem like birds of a feather (they list products, manage inventories, make sales, etc.), but they’re as diverse as the Avian kingdom itself. If you’ve been managing a business, or a couple of businesses, of your own, you’ve probably already had this figured out. But what about all the newcomers, those intrepid entrepreneurs in the earlier stages of launching their own online businesses?

You’ve certainly heard the word “Magento” before; who hasn’t? One quick Google search will find you millions of results from around the internet. In particular, you’ll probably find yourself one news article or another which remarks that Magento is the leader in ecommerce solutions by market-share alone.

However, does being the most well-known platform equate to being the best option for start-ups of every size? After all, small-to-medium sized business have different needs and resources than larger ones.

Let’s compare a couple of the core aspects of both Magento Enterprise and Spree Commerce that business owners might want to take into consideration before launching their projects.

Start-up Costs

Getting a business off the ground begins with a number of investments. Some are personal, but most are financial. Where rent and renovations factor into retail locations, online businesses have to deal with web hosting, security and, as is often the case, license fees for their storefront platform.

Magento Enterprise markets itself as a big business solution and prices itself accordingly. The Enterprise edition starts at $15,000 and can go as high as $200,000—never mind the wages you’ll need to pay your team as you get the ball rolling before launch. While we should note that Magento does offer a free Community Edition, which has pretty much the same basic features and source code, that version is missing a lot of the high-level perks and functionality offered by Enterprise. Notably, for anyone who’s ever used it, Magento Community suffers from awful caching and indexing issues, as well as hogging more than its share of server resources.

Fortunately, in terms of start-up costs, Spree begins at $0. You get access to the source code, extensions, community support and all the features for free. The only costs you’ll need to look out for are the ones you’ll have regardless: hosting, domain security, merchant account fees to process payments and the odd developer and staff member to help you manage the business.

Source Code

Unless you want to run a very simple shop with a small handful of products, you will inevitably dive into, or pay someone else to dive into, the source code of your storefront. Both Magento and Spree provide access to their code for development purposes, but the code itself is like comparing apples to oranges; they’re both fruits, but under the skin it’s a world of difference.

Magento is built using PhP with some elements of the Zend framework; pretty standard stuff. Spree, on the other hand, is built using Ruby on Rails, an open source web framework created specifically for online businesses and commerce. The code is even structured in such a way to ensure that it stays clean, doesn’t duplicate itself unnecessarily and offers improved overall performance.

For instance, let’s look at some numbers: Magento Enterprise has over 5.5 million lines of code, whereas Spree Commerce uses only 45k – that’s over 120 times less code required to perform the same basic commerce functions! It makes a difference on the operational side of things too. Spree can handle more than double the number of requests per second that Magento can (23.11 to 9.77), and takes care of them almost three times faster than Magento (413ms compared to 1203).

Back-End User Experience (UX)

Front-end UX is often what makes or breaks a website. Nobody wants to hunt down elusive products, deal with a broken shopping cart or any other unpolished features. While much of this has to do with a design, a storefront front-end often reflects the CMS behind it. If you and your team are having a hard time keeping products updated and in order, there’s a good chance customers will start to notice this too.

Looking behind the curtain at Magento, you’ll probably notice that the backend is a bit of a cluttered mess. With tab after sub-tab to navigate, even people familiar with the system might end up forgetting which screens controlled which settings. Even worse, some of the options have cryptic labels, making it tough to figure out what values it’s asking for (try writing a credit memo without a tutorial, and you’ll see what I mean).

In comparison, Spree’s backend is neat and tidy. There’s easily half or fewer tabs and sub-menus that you would find in Magento. Though, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the features and options aren’t there, but rather that they’ve been ordered around in a way that keeps things streamlined and focused. You’ll never have to hunt for options or keep a roadmap every time you need to make a minute change.

Multi-language and Currency Support

English, due to its prevalence as the first or second language for countless people, is usually the best bet for online business, along with USD as the most common currency these days. But realistically, you’ll never find a single region or market that is 100% linguistically homogenous or without other payment or currency preferences. This is where multi-language and currency options can help your store stand out.

Both Magento and Spree pretty much have this in the bag and honestly, considering how global our marketplaces have become, no modern storefront could really get away with offering anything less. If you want to expand your market reach, and better accommodate shoppers in their language and currency, whether at home or elsewhere, having this kind of support can really go a long way for the customer service department.

One important difference though, is if you are marketing different products to different linguistic and regional audiences, Spree comes with far more supported payment gateways and language modules right out of the box. While Magento can handle roughly 75 different solutions, Spree comes bundled with over 125. In either case, if you are in need of an extension to accommodate more, Spree offers most of them for free, while Magento extensions usually start at $100.

In Conclusion

Both platforms are filled with features and are more than capable of offering a secure, friendly shopping experience for visitors, but launch costs and development time should always be factors to bear in mind. Even if you have a team of developers and a massive budget, Magento Enterprise shouldn’t be the first choice for your business. You owe it to yourself to look at spreecommerce.com and see how many high-profile businesses are happily running Spree.

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