Magento CE vs. EE: How to decide between Community & Enterprise Edition

Oftentimes, when a new Magento project is in the works, decision makers have already decided which platform edition to use.Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to carefully plan and research to determine the best version for the project.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Not understanding the differences between Community Edition and Enterprise Edition is number two on our list of ongoing Magento Worst Practices.

To many, the only difference between Magento’s open-source Community Edition (CE) and licensed Enterprise Edition (EE) is the price tag.

Price is definitely an important factor, but you’ll save yourself from many potential challenges (delays, lost revenue because the site isn’t up) down the road by understanding the differences between CE and EE.

Obviously, dollars count

As soon as you make the decision to use Magento, you need to decide which edition is right for you. How do you do that? Most people start by looking at the pricing page, so we’ll start there too.

At last check, Enterprise Edition 2.x started at $22,000 a year. That may seem a little steep compared to its open-source counterpart, which is $0. So, free or $22,000? What’s it gonna be? Time to start thinking about value and not just price.

In version 2.x, a third option is now available: Enterprise Cloud Edition, which can carry an even higher sticker price than downloadable EE. But, includes its own hosting solution which, for many, makes it worth the even heftier price tag.

Who uses Community Edition?

Magento’s open-source community edition is completely free to download and it contains the same set of core features as its Enterprise counterpart.

However, CE is designed for the small e-commerce business whose website will not demand all of the bells and whistles of an extensive Enterprise site. Smaller sites that will not require hefty modules or enhanced security should fair well with Community Edition.

Templates and basic plugins can easily be purchased and installed. As a bonus, CE modules tend to be relatively inexpensive (sometimes even free!).

But what about down the road? Do you plan on growing? Think Enterprise.

Do your ecommerce goals include rapid growth and scalability? Do you plan to enter additional markets and/or countries? Are there plans for major customizations to site functionality, such as significant product enhancements or additional layers of site security?

You will want to know this before committing to CE, as its code base is different than EE. This means that upgrading from one version to the other is not as simple as it may sound.

For example, let’s say you’ve decided to go with Community Edition. You purchased a template on which the wire frames and mock ups were based, then hired a UX developer to make the appropriate code changes.

Meanwhile, the project scope has grown (ballooned?) and now you’re in Enterprise Edition territory. Let’s revisit because people tend to forget:

  • CE cannot be simply “upgraded” to EE
  • The entire site will need to be re-skinned
  • CE templates will not work in EE (different code base, remember?)

I’ve been that UX developer; tasked with recreating a prebuilt CE template in less than three months and reluctantly reporting to the project team that certain design concessions would have to be made to fit the tight deadline.

It’s a crappy feeling as a developer and it’s an even worse feeling to see the designer’s disappointment that some of their hard work will have to be sacrificed, to say nothing of the customer’s experience.

Are you niche or simply happy with where you are and what you’ve got? Think Community.

Conversely, I’ve seen Enterprise Edition chosen for small sites with neither plans for expansion into additional markets nor the need for custom modules. I’ve seen months pass (ok, more than a year if I’m being honest) and tens of thousands of dollars spent on EE licensing, third party design teams, and adjunct developers for small-scale projects that would have operated smoothly with Community Edition.

If your implementation is going to be sort of minimal, don’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer.

“We don’t have many products, so Community Edition will work for us, right?”

Not necessarily.

Product / SKU count has very little, if anything, to do with your site’s demands from an e-commerce platform.

An example of when Community Edition is a good option

  • Store A is a widget wholesaler with more than 500,000 SKUs; all are simple products with minimal attributes
  • The store sells only within the United States, in US Dollars, and offers only 2 shipping methods
  • There is no MAP pricing and discounts are available based only on quantity
  • The store’s average user is an experienced buyer who will search by SKU

Targeted promotions and cross-selling are not considered of high importance now or in the foreseeable future. Community Edition would be a good option for Store A.

An example of when you need Enterprise Edition

  • Store B sells only widgets for the garment industry whose database contains only a few hundred simple SKUs
  • However, most of those simple products are designed as configurable products
  • Products can be customized in numerous ways. Users need to be able to create wish lists, gift registries and buy gift cards
  • The site accepts non-standard forms of payment (cash in hand, check & purchase orders) from approved clients
  • Detailed reporting and advanced inventory management are essential for this store

Enterprise Edition should be chosen for Store B, as CE’s turnkey package is not robust enough.

So, when SHOULD you choose Enterprise Edition?

Shelling out $22,000 isn’t a decision to be made lightly for a mid-sized company entering the enterprise marketplace. However, Magento EE contains capabilities that are simply not available in CE. PCI Compliance, for example, is not possible in CE. If you plan to offer advanced shopping features such as MAP pricing, RMAs, or targeted promotions, you will need Enterprise Edition.

Other Enterprise Edition features include:

  • 24/7 Magento Customer Support, as well as an account manager
  • Separate databases for Checkout, Order Management, and Product Data. This is just one of the EE 2.0 features designed to increase performance
  • More Out-of-Box functionality than Community Edition (such as reward points and targeted promotions, both of which would require extensions or custom coding in CE)
  • Improved UX with features such as gift registry, multiple wish lists, enhanced search and private sales
  • Advanced marketing and promotion (including customer loyalty programs), not available in CE
  • New admin management abilities such as easier reporting.
  • Enhanced tax calculations

Determine your site goals – now and in the future – so that you select the Magento edition best suited to your needs.

Robin Frans
Robin is a Senior Front-End Web Developer accomplished in all stages of development: from wireframes to launch and everywhere in between. Her area of focus throughout the past several years has been developing ecommerce for both the B2C and B2B sectors, primarily using the Magento platform.
Showing 3 comments
  • Bret Williams

    Interesting post, but I have to disagree with several points. First, CE can be made PCI compliant. We have accomplished that on all our CE installations, in large part because we partner with an outstanding hosting partner (MageMojo). Second, some of your feature differentials are not accurate (I’ve written 3 books on Magento — search for me on Amazon). Furthermore, although we are advocates for EE given the conditions are right, CE has been successful for even complex product types, situations and shipping rules. Yes, out of the box, EE offers more — and it becomes especially important in high traffic, high data throughput situations — but I have yet to have a situation we could not satisfy through CE add-ons and modifications. Candidly, the differentials offered by Magento’s own marketing information have not been historically accurate.

    That said, I would agree that EE is a very important platform for merchants who have high demands, very complex business rules, and for whom horizontal scalability is important. Ultimately for us, though, the decision is only partially a technical one. It takes a deep dive into a merchant’s entire selling operation (e.g., integrations, logistics, data unification, etc.) before this decision should be made. As I’m sure you would agree, core platform decisions should never be made based on a side-by-side feature comparison.

    I do commend you for writing the article. It is a very difficult topic to satisfy within a few hundred words, yet you were able to deftly approach several important considerations. Thanks for opening up this important consideration.

    • Robin Frans

      Hi Bret,
      Firstly, thank you for your comment. I always enjoy speaking (even virtually) with other Magento users and developers. The motivation behind my blog post was not to advocate for one version of Magento over another, but to advise new and potential new users of some of the differences between the two so that they can make the best possible decision to meet their needs (and budget.)

      I, too, have seen CE provide many EE functions, but it’s always come at a price; and I mean that literally – as in dollars, and a lot of them. Magento developers can be tough to find and they don’t come cheap. I like to operate by the adage that “anything is possible.” However, when it comes to e-commerce, I often trail that phrase with: “…with enough time and money.”

      A second thank you for explaining your motivation behind the decision-making process. Indeed, technical requirements are only one piece of the puzzle. As you wrote, an understanding of the merchant’s entire selling operation is incredibly important for a successful project. I would never advise anyone to make a platform decision based on a features comparison and I hope my article did not give off that impression.

      As a developer, I have joined several Magento projects at various stages of progress. I believe that one of the main reasons I’ve seen so many projects go over deadline and/or budget is due to a lack of the type of in depth research and planning you mention. It is, in fact, the reason I wanted to write these blog posts in the first place. (My previous article introduces my choice for the top 10 worst practices when working with Magento.)

      Again, thank you for such valuable feedback. I will be sure to check out your titles on Amazon and to bookmark MageMojo’s site for possible future needs.

      Best to you,
      Robin

      • Bret Williams

        Robin,
        I would like to add that I gather you’re in the minority as it comes to Magento developers that really understand the dynamics of development vs. business need. It is obvious in your writings. You get it.

        You are entirely correct that any modifications for CE do come at a price. And, like you, I have earned a great deal of new clients by “saving” them from poor implementations.

        If you don’t mind, I’d like to add one bit of advice regarding Magento — or any other e-commerce platform, for that matter: put as little as possible in terms of added functionality onto your e-commerce platform. In other words, if you need inventory control, customer segmentation, affiliate marketing or any of the hundred other tools a successful online store needs, use other integrated systems instead of asking Magento to do all the lifting. Leave Magento to do what it does best: present products and take orders — and leave the rest to other, more capable and less taxing systems. This is the single, most impactful mistake I see merchants make over and over again: piling all their e-commerce functionality on top of Magento.

        If you keep Magento as “pure” as possible, it does make the comparison of CE vs EE much, much easier and one based more on native functionality, power and scalability.

        Thanks again for your posts.

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