Magento is a powerful e-commerce system with the ability to add content management functionality relatively easily. This opinions I am about to express are based on my first year of experience using the system as a developer and in some instances as an end user.
The system is more than capable of powering simple online shops, I used the free version to create and manage three separate stores in the past year and I’m satisfied with the results. The full versions are, I believe, pretty much the same however there is more input from Magento developers to help make the shop you require a reality. At the time of writing this post, this can cost thousands of pounds, so for small organisations this isn’t even a consideration. The free version will suit most companys if they have a website developer to help them run the shop or even just setup the initial iteration of the website.
Magento offers comprehensive customisation oppurtunitys, developers can style the shop-front however you as the end user would like. I would recommend they spend some time learning how the file structure works as this could take up to a couple of weeks to fully understand the system.
The file structure of Magento is a little confusing at first, but once you have spent a bit of time understanding the reasoning behind it then it isn’t so confusing. The main reasoning behind the splitting of pages in Magento is that it allows overwriting with your theme in a way that only the necessary information needs to be overwritten. This probably will not make sense if you haven’t used Magento but it is still a valid and interesting point to mention.
The system also allows for easy product addition with some advanced features if additional information is required.
For basic use of the system, I could show someone how to add products and do some basic content editing in a couple of days. For full customisation of the website it would take a few weeks, to get really familiar with the system to the point where customisation would just come naturally.
From my experience Magento seems to be aimed at stores that have a large quantity of products but with some similarities with each. I say this because the addition of products does allow for specifications, download sections and descriptions that could be different from one product to another however these can be easily duplicated and altered to allow products to be similar, yet slightly different.
My initial conclusion of Magento is that while it is great as a shop management system and as a basic CMS system it does have some faults that shouldn’t be overlooked. Due to the capabilities of the system, it does run slowly when the store database of products becomes large. This being said, problems such as this would arise no matter what system you chose to use for your shop if it became large. The only way to avoid this issue is to make sure the entire site is optimised and refined to allow for fast loading.