Medusa vs. Magento: Comparing two open source ecommerce platforms
My background for making this comparison: I worked with Magento over the past 3 years across different clients and obtained a deep understanding of its possibilities and limits. Now, I work as a technical writer at Medusa where I obviously have obtained deep product experience as well.
Magento is an open source monolithic ecommerce platform built with PHP. Magento is a platform that provides many features out-of-the-box such as multi-region support, analytics, bundled products, and more.
Although Magento is known to be a complex platform, it can be customized with modules to cater to specific business use cases.
Medusa is an open source composable commerce platform built with Node.js. Medusa also comes with many features out-of-the-box including automated Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) flows, multi-currency and region support, and advanced promotions among other features.
Medusa is built with customization and extendability in mind to provide a better developer experience and allow businesses to build brand-tailored ecommerce experiences.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the differences between Medusa and Magento Open Source in terms of ecommerce features and developer experience. You’ll also learn in which cases to use each platform.
What is Medusa?
Medusa’s main aim is to ensure that developers have a great experience while building an ecommerce platform. It allows developers to integrate and implement custom features and services without the need for hacks and workarounds.
Although still new, Medusa is a growing platform used by businesses making millions of USD in sales and serving countries across the globe. Businesses are gaining interest in Medusa due to how easy it is to customize and maintain the platform.
What is Magento?
Magento was first released in 2008 and now has over 10K stars on GitHub. It’s an open source platform used by many large corporations due to the features it provides out-of-the-box and the fact that it’s built for big businesses.
Magento is a platform that aims to provide developers with customization capabilities but requires some advanced knowledge of the platform.
In 2018, Magento was acquired by Adobe. The comparison in this article only covers the open source version of Magento, but will occasionally mention that certain features are only available in the non-open-source Adobe Commerce version.
Comparison of Ecommerce Features
RMA flows allows merchants to handle order returns gracefully within the ecommerce platform. This includes changing the order status, managing accounting and financing details, managing shipping and payment, and more.
In Medusa, RMA flows are available out-of-the-box and are automated. Customers can send a request to return an item from the ecommerce storefront, and the store operators can manage the order status, payment, and shipment details all from the Medusa admin.
Developers can also add integrations with accounting or finance services to automatically reflect returns on the business’s finances.
In Magento, this feature is not available in the open source version. It is only available either through Adobe Commerce or through community and paid modules.
Multi-Currency and Multi-Region Support
In Medusa, this feature is available out-of-the-box. Businesses can create multiple regions and choose settings specific to each region such as the currency. Then, they can manage these regions all from the same store. This eliminates the need to have multiple stores or switch between stores.
Additionally, businesses have full freedom to specify the pricing of products for each currency in their store all from the same platform.
Magento also supports multiple regions and currencies through stores. Magento allows creating multiple stores, with each store having its own settings and currency it supports.
Merchants can also specify the pricing of a product specific to a store. However, they will have to switch between stores within the admin dashboard to edit a product details. This also applies to all settings specific to any store.
Localization is currently not available in Medusa out of the box. However, it can be implemented on the storefront using CMS plugins such as Contentful. In addition to localization, the integration between Contentful and Medusa allows merchants to use advanced and rich CMS functionalities.
In Magento, localization is available out-of-the-box. On the admin dashboard, merchants can create a store for every language they want to support in their ecommerce storefront. Localization supports every aspect of the platform, including product details, CMS pages, themes, and more.
Medusa supports adding Gift Cards out-of-the-box. Merchants can specify multiple denominations and images. Customers are then able to purchase the gift card similar to how they would purchase any product, but the fulfillment of gift cards is handled differently.
This feature is not available in the open source version of Magento. It is only available either through Adobe Commerce or through community and paid modules.
In Medusa, taxes are available out-of-the-box. Merchants can manage the taxes of regions separately and add multiple tax rates.
Additionally, tax rates can include overrides to apply the taxes to specific products. In addition, Medusa’s Tax API allows developers to integrate third-party services for advanced tax features.
Magento also provides tax features out-of-the-box. Merchants can specify tax rules and apply them to specific zones. Using modules, developers can also integrate third-party services for advanced tax settings.
Merchants can specify the tax class of a product or customer which is associated with tax rules. This allows them to override the tax rate applied for specific products.
Payment and Shipping Providers
Both Medusa and Magento allow businesses and developers to integrate third-party payment and shipping providers. Also, both platforms allow customizing which payment and shipping providers are available for different regions or stores.
When it comes to ready-made add-ons to integrate payment and shipping providers, Magento has a wider variety of available add-ons. There’s an existing paid or free modules available for almost any payment and shipping provider worldwide.
With Medusa, developers can integrate popular and widely used providers such as Stripe, PayPal, and WebShipping with ready-made plugins. Developers can also create a plugin to integrate any other provider.
Medusa provides a very intuitive and easy-to-use admin dashboard. The dashboard allows merchants to manage products, orders, price lists, discounts, settings, and much more. The dashboard uses navigation layers that ensure merchants aren’t lost in between pages and can still have a full view of the entire dashboard at all times.
The admin dashboard is built with Gatsby, a static site generator. This makes the admin dashboard fast and allows merchants to browse and perform daily operations without complications.
Magento provides a powerful admin dashboard full of advanced features. On this dashboard, merchants can switch between store views to edit data related to a specific store, manage global settings, manage users with ACL support, and more.
However, many of the features are missed by merchants as there are so many layers in the dashboard. Furthermore, due to Medusa’s architecture and the languages it’s built with, the admin dashboard is slow, slowing down daily operations within an ecommerce store.
At the moment of writing this article, Medusa does not provide any analytics or reporting on its admin dashboard. However, developers can integrate third-party services to add reporting features.
Magento adds a variety of reports on the admin dashboard, with charts and data related to most viewed products, orders, new customers, abandoned carts, and more.
Medusa’s headless architecture means that the backend and frontend are decoupled. With both the frontend and backend free from the restrictions imposed by the other, they’re both much lighter and faster compared to a tightly knit architecture.
Furthermore, Medusa provides 2 starter storefronts built with static-site generators (SSG) Next.js and Gatsby. With these modern technologies, businesses are guaranteed a highly performant and fast storefront.
On the other hand, Magento stores are known to be slow. This is due to the framework’s monolithic architecture that binds the backend, frontend, and admin dashboard all in one installation and hosting.
Furthermore, Magento is not easy to use with modern technologies. When building a theme for a Magento store, developers will have to use languages and libraries such as PHP and Knockout.js. To incorporate more modern technologies for a better user experience, developers need to use workarounds that are limiting.
Alternatively, developers can use Magento’s new project PWA Studio for a faster storefront. However, it’s still under development and less mature than Magento’s default themes.
Comparison of Developer Experience
Required Developer Level
The decoupled nature of the platform gives developers a clearer understanding of where different development tasks or components are performed.
On the other hand, Magento is a framework that requires developers to have advanced and deep knowledge of the programming languages used for development as well as Magento’s architecture.
Magento is built with PHP. A good understanding of PHP is generally enough to perform different development tasks such as building modules. However, developers often need to work with libraries like Knockout.js and Less when developing themes.
As for Magento’s architecture, it is composed of different layouts, blocks, modules, plugins, controllers, blocks, and editable CMS, among other components and layers. This makes the platform more customizable and gives developers and merchants the ability to customize their store based on their business need, but it can take some time to fully understand this architecture and how it all works together.
Medusa’s quickstart guide allows developers to create and run an ecommerce store in 3 steps: install Medusa’s CLI tool with NPM, create the medusa server using the CLI tool, and run the server.
With these 3 steps, developers will have a store with all the advanced features mentioned earlier. This ecommerce store uses an SQLite database to store the data and a fake Redis instance which will not dispatch events on the server.
For a production ecommerce store or for advanced development, it’s recommended to install and configure PostgreSQL for the store’s database and Redis to handle events in the server. Medusa’s documentation on how to install these tools includes steps for all major operating systems, making the process easier for developers to get started.
Magento isn’t easy to set up and install. Before developers can start with the quickstart guide, they have to follow a prerequisites task list that requires installing tools such as MySQL, Apache, and Elasticsearch.
After following the prerequisites task list, developers can get started with the quickstart guide. However, the quickstart guide can be somewhat confusing if a developer is not familiar with server-related concepts.
A big drawback of these guides is that they only include steps specific to Linux-based systems. If a developer is using a different operating system, they’ll find it troublesome to understand how to get started with Magento.
Medusa aims to fix issues developers run into when customizing traditional monolithic ecommerce platforms. With Medusa, there’s no need for hacks and workarounds to tailor the platform to a business’s use case.
Furthermore, Medusa’s headless architecture allows for the ultimate customization capabilities when building the storefront of an ecommerce store. Developers can either use the existing starter storefronts or build their own with any frontend framework of their choice. The same goes for the admin dashboard.
Magento provides a lot of customization capabilities to its core, theme, and admin dashboard. Developers can override classes and files from the core in a custom module, run functions before or after a specific method in a particular class, and more.
However, the customization process in Magento is slow and difficult. Developers need to recompile the PHP classes or the theme’s static assets whenever they make any change. This slows down the development process and the rollout of new features.
Deployment and Upgrades
Medusa can be deployed on any cloud hosting. The deployment process is similar to the quickstart process. So, the steps are minimal.
Furthermore, Medusa provides in its documentation different guides on how to deploy the platform on different platforms such as Qovery and Heroku, with a button to directly deploy a Medusa server into Heroku.
Upgrading Medusa is as simple as upgrading the core packages with NPM to the latest version. Some versions require running migration scripts or additional actions, and Medusa provides the necessary documentation for these versions with the steps required to upgrade.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to take care of the deployment and upgrade processes, Medusa offers a managed services solution to take care of your hosting starting at 89$. You can learn more about the managed services on Medusa’s website.
Magento does not provide deployment guides specific to any cloud hosting. Magento has Pipeline Deployment documentation that is advanced and Single Machine Deployment documentation with simpler steps.
Similar to the installation process, the deployment process requires an advanced backend developer with in-depth technical knowledge of how a server works.
Upgrading Magento is not an easy process either. Many versions have upgrade guides with the steps you need to take, but some developers find it difficult to go through them or face problems during the upgrade process.
The best hosting option for Magento would probably be using Adobe Commerce which is the paid version of Magento. To get official pricing, you’ll need to contact Adobe directly. However, some estimates online indicate that hosting ranges from $500 to $6500 per year.
As an open source platform, Medusa focuses on building a transparent and collaborative relationship with the community. Developers can join the Discord server to receive help from the rest of the community and the core Medusa team and stay updated with everything related to the platform. Response time is usually immediate within the Need Help channel.
Additionally, developers can report bugs, contribute to issues, and join discussions to further improve the platform on Medusa’s GitHub repository.
Magento has a community forum where developers can send questions to receive help if they run into issues. The forum also includes announcements, events organization, and general discussions to further interact with the community.
When to Use Medusa
Medusa is a good choice for developers looking for a Node.js ecommerce platform.
In addition, Businesses of all sizes can use Medusa. There are no limitations or requirements that can stop a business of any size from using Medusa. Medusa is currently being used by everything from fresh new startups to businesses with +100 mUSD GMV annually.
Moreover, Medusa is a good choice for businesses with custom use cases such as businesses with subscription models or multi-vendor use cases. The flexibility that Medusa provides both merchants and developers makes it a platform that can fit any use case.
When to Use Magento
Magento is a good choice for developers who are more familiar with PHP.
Furthermore, it’s important to take into account the business size. For smaller businesses, Magento can become too big of a platform that slows down the business operation unnecessarily.
For larger enterprise clients, Magento has the benefit of being a well-known framework that many specialized agencies support. However, the complexity of the platform also requires more specialized developers to maintain and manage it.