Probably a good place to start. CMS stands for content management system and it is an application that works with your web server to deliver requested web pages by combining theme files, templates and your website's content, be it media, copy, product information and more. This makes an eCommerce website more complex than something simple, like a basic brochure website.
For example, you aren’t going to hard code a webpage for every product you have on your eCommerce store. Instead, you use a CMS that receives the URL a visitor is requesting, for this example it will be a product page, and it will build out the page using a layout from a template and fill it with dynamic information from the database about the product. It will also usually fill out other page sections with more dynamic information like similar products or related blogs that it also pulls from the database, as well as any cookie based dynamic cart information and maybe a special menu if the visitor is logged in. Of course, it applies sitewide headers and footers. Then there is the whole checkout experience and processing of orders which requires a lot of backend work.
You can easily see how an eCommerce website benefits from having a dedicated eCommerce system under the hood. And Magento CMS is considered one of the best ecommerce platforms out there.
Some might consider Magento comparable to WooCommerce as it uses the same PHP coding language and a MySQL database system, but beyond that, the similarities are massive. WooCommerce is not a platform, it is a plugin for WordPress. So really it is just a fairly clunky retrofit to upgrade what was always meant to be just a blogging platform. This means a WooCommerce WordPress combination is not a dedicated CMS and as such, has lots of unnecessary code hanging off it and a database that has been repurposed.
You can’t really compare it to something like Shopify either as this is a very locked down, Software-as-a-Service ecosystem where you don’t really own your store and have limited control. Wix eCommerce and Squarespace commerce fall under this and the non-dedicated CMS category which is why you won’t find big brands with large catalogs using them.
Umbraco CMS would be a good comparison, being an open source and dedicated eCommerce system that has been built from the ground up for eCommerce website creation. Though being an awesome CMS too, It does use the Microsoft .NET framework which makes finding excellent developers a little bit more of a job.
Either way, dedicated eCommerce solutions, that are self hosted, are necessary when it comes to building out the best ecommerce sites possible as they will inherently run faster, more efficiently, scale better and provide better customizability.
If you needed a tractor, would you buy a dedicated one or some SUV that a guy has adapted to work like a tractor?
Open source means that all of the code that is used to run the CMS is accessible and editable. Whereas Shopify might let you spray your car and tint the windows, Magento gives you the ability to strip down the engine and file down the cam-shafts if you want.
Of course, while you wouldn’t let anyone but a trained mechanic mess with your cam timings, you probably don’t want to be digging around code if you don’t know what you are doing. Fortunately Magento website development is made easier by it’s use of the PHP scripting language, a simple and easy to understand language which means it is easy to get into if you want or it is fairly cheap to pay someone to do if you prefer to delegate. Magento developers can be hired as freelancers for cheap. If you know what you want altered, it is normally rather cheap to get it done.
Of course, this applies more to customizing layouts. The backend of Magento allows you to download and install themes, use plugins to add extra functionality and adjust many aspects of the design yourself and it is completely possible to build a strong and effective ecommerce website without messing with any code at all.
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