There’s so much to learn when starting an online store. You’ve probably gone down many a Google rabbithole researching logistics, fulfillment, how to get traffic to your site, how to get sales, etc. But one of the most important decisions to make early is which platform to run your ecommerce business on. You may be completely new to ecommerce or you are interested in moving away (or expanding) from a marketplace such as Etsy, Ebay or Amazon into your own online store. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution. From WooCommerce to Squarespace to Shopify, there’s a variety of platforms to choose from. In this post I will focus on the two most popular ecommerce platforms – Shopify and WooCommerce – and give you some points to consider. I will also provide a free quiz that will help you even more to determine the best platform that fits you and your business. After reading, I hope that you’ll be able to choose the right platform for you and start the exciting journey of an online store!
What exactly is Shopify and WooCommerce?
Shopify is a private Canadian company that provides a robust, all-in-one ecommerce platform. They market their platform primarily to those who are new to ecommerce and online business. Shopify has the largest market share in the United States, with 32% of all ecommerce stores using Shopify. Shopify has 5 tiers in their platform: Lite, Basic, Shopify, Advanced and Plus for enterprise customers. Many well-known and successful brands use Shopify such as Whole Foods Market, Kylie Cosmetics, AllBirds, Nike and RedBull.
WooCommerce is an ecommerce plugin that is used on WordPress. WordPress is an open-source content management system that powers over 43% of websites. WooCommerce is built upon WordPress to turn a site into an ecommerce store. The WooCommerce plugin itself is free however they offer a variety of extensions to enhance your store. WooCommerce has a 22% market share of ecommerce sites in the United States. Some well-known brands that use WooCommerce are Blue Star Coffee, Weber Grills, Airstream, Björk, and Dr. Scholl’s.
Here are the top 11 features to compare between Shopify and WooCommerce:
Both Shopify and WooCommerce support a variety of business types such as Business to Business (B2B) and Business to customer (B2C). They also support wholesale businesses however it is a little more limited on Shopify. Shopify allows approved merchants to sell on the Handshake marketplace with the Handshake sales channel, a “wholesale marketplace that connects approved Shopify merchants that sell wholesale with retailers” (Shopify).
WooCommerce on the other hand has a paid wholesale extension called Wholesale for WooCommerce for running a hybrid B2B and B2C store.
Both platforms offer themes in their theme stores. The main difference is that Shopify makes it clear that they thoroughly test the 3rd party themes they approve in order to keep the quality of their theme store high. They rely on keeping the quality high so customers can trust that they can choose a good theme and don’t need to select a theme outside of the store. While with WooCommerce, they have a list of recommended themes however they also note that any theme outside of the list is fine as long as it is compatible with WooCommerce features. This sounds great in theory, however that puts the responsibility on the merchant to choose and buy a theme that might not actually work for them.
Shopify Theme store
The Shopify theme store has a variety of free and paid themes, some built in-house by Shopify and others from 3rd party theme development companies such as Out of the Sandbox and We Are Underground that are thoroughly tested and approved. The great thing about these themes is that Shopify allows an unlimited theme trial period where you can download the theme and customize to see if it works for you, and you only have to pay for the theme (if not free) when you want to publish it. You can guarantee that the theme works exactly for you before you purchase it. You should look through the store to see what works best for you but some common choices are Dawn, Debut and Brooklyn.
Woocommerce Theme store
Woocommerce’s theme store has recommended themes from 3rd party companies. They don’t offer an unlimited free trial like Shopify but they offer a 30-day money back guarantee. There are themes for a variety of industries such as Fashion and Apparel, Food and Drink, Pets and Pet Care, Health and Beauty and more. Please note to get support you would need to contact the theme development company separately. Many themes also have compatibility with page builder plugins such as Divi or Elementor if you would like to further customize your theme.
Shopify’s only service is as an ecommerce platform, so they have all the main ecommerce functionalities that you would need right out of the box. They have an easy to use UI that helps you add new products, check inventory, send notifications to customers, set up and change shipping rates and customize your storefront.
In your day-to-day operations, you will be using the WordPress backend dashboard, which by default is organized as a content management system, not ecommerce. WooCommerce is only a plugin so it is actually a small part of the WordPress platform that you would use. You might find that you don’t use a lot of the functionalities within WordPress and it could get cluttered very fast. The UI is also not as intuitive as Shopify.
One downside is that you cannot customize absolutely everything about your store. The reason for this is to maintain platform quality and not allow merchants to break code accidentally. Shopify serves a huge variety of businesses with different needs. It has some limits but for the most part I think it provides such a strong ecommerce foundation that the few things you cannot customize don’t negate the whole experience.
Because WordPress is open-source, you can directly customize it as much as you want in the code. This could be good if you have a very specific vision for your store. However this can be a double-edged sword as there are little to no blockers preventing you from accidentally breaking your store. Because of this, WordPress and WooCommerce are usually difficult to use if you are DIY-ing your store. However, it has unlimited potential for your store if you have a developer or agency behind you that can execute your vision.
Shopify is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) and they offer the ecommerce service as 5 plans charged monthly. The 3 standard plans are Shopify Lite $9/month, Basic $29/month, Shopify $79/month and Advanced $299/month. For enterprise customers they also offer a Plus plan with the most flexibility that costs $2000/month and this is an option for businesses making over 1 million dollars per year. On top of the monthly cost, you might purchase certain apps to customize your store such as email marketing, product upsells and bundles and inventory management across stores.
Shopify offers their own payment gateway called Shopify Payments that accepts a wide variety of payment methods and eliminates many fees associated with a 3rd party payment system. The higher tier of your Shopify plan, the lower the payment processing rate is.
WordPress and WooCommerce are free. However I believe there are a lot more hidden costs as you use WooCommerce more and more and would like to customize your store. You will have to pay for a hosting provider ($120 yearly average), security plugin (highly recommended) as well as WooCommerce essential plugins ranging from free to $120. WooCommerce also has their own payment gateway called WooCommerce Payment which has no monthly fee by itself. The transaction fee is 2.9% + $0.30 for US credit and debit cards and an additional 1% fee for international cards. WooCommerce has a comprehensive guide about the costs that I would recommend you read in addition.
Shopify has been expanding their offerings in recent years to make selling cross-border as simple as possible. You can accept multiple currencies with Shopify Payments. They also recently rolled out Shopify Markets which allows you to localize your store in different countries so customers have a local experience wherever they are. You can also have your store in multiple languages which you can manage within your theme settings or with a 3rd party app such as Weglot or Langify. Lastly, you can set up international domains so that you can localize your store experience if someone types in yourstore.ca vs yourstore.it.
WooCommerce also allows you to sell cross-border but there are more plugins that need to be involved in the process. You will most likely need an automatic translating app such as WPML for WooCommerce that allows you to essentially create a separate store for each language. You will also need to download various other apps like an international tax app.
In ecommerce terms, a sales channel is a platform that you use to sell your products.
In Shopify you can publish products on a variety of channels. The main one is your online store – your website – but you can also publish your products on multiple channels such as Ebay, Amazon, Google shopping, Facebook, Pinterest and wholesale platforms like Handshake. The process of publishing products to a channel is very easy. In each product all you need to do is click checkboxes of the different sales channels you want to publish to. It is a core feature of Shopify so there is no need to worry about 3rd party app compatibility.
WooCommerce offers extensions to connect multiple channels to your store but for the most part you need 1 extension per channel. For example, Google Shopping, Facebook, Shopify, and Etsy would all need separate extensions. WooCommerce also relies on 3rd party apps to fulfill this. They have some recommended multi-channel apps on their extension store however the reviews are not stellar and this way of having one extension per channel can make your backend get easily cluttered and confusing.
Shopify has 24/7 chat and email support as well as their Help Center with numerous in-house articles and guides on every topic within Shopify in over 20 languages. They also have the Shopify Community, their forum where developers and other merchants can help with answerings questions and fixing problems. If you do end up needing developer support, Shopify has a vetted marketplace of Shopify Experts to hire.
WooCommerce’s documentation is in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. They have ways to contact support but it takes some time to find and there are many steps that they require you to go through. They really encourage you to self-mitigate the problem. There are vetted WooCommerce Expert agencies that can be hired however WooCommerce states that the investment starts at $5000. They also recommend a 3rd party freelancer platform for smaller jobs called Codeable. These freelancers are not vetted by WooCommerce so quality may vary.
When you pay the monthly service cost, you also pay for built-in hosting from Shopify. Shopify hosts your site on their global servers and manages everything so you can guarantee that your site won’t break if you get a rush of new website traffic on Black Friday. You get unlimited hosting so Shopify scales with your store. You can also buy a domain through Shopify or connect your 3rd-party domain to Shopify very easily.
If you use WooCommerce you will have to find your own hosting. It is not so complicated to do so but you will probably need to hire a developer to set this up and monthly maintenance might get expensive fast as your traffic increases. You can mitigate that early by choosing a hosting provider that will automatically allocate more hosting space for you if you get more traffic, but again the costs are unpredictable and you might get hit with an unexpectedly large bill down the line.
Shopify has a lot more SEO capabilities right out of the box and is best for those who don’t have much time or knowledge to worry about SEO. In general Shopify has quicker loading times, built-in SSL certificates and automatically generates things like XML sitemaps that describe to search engines what you have in your store. All these features improve the SEO and are built into the platform. However they do not give you all possible SEO customization options like WordPress might. However at the end of the day the built-in SEO capabilities that Shopify offers is enough for the everyday ecommerce seller to get your shop noticed and does not hinder your store dramatically.
WordPress allows you to customize and really hone in your SEO. You can achieve the same or better SEO results as Shopify but you would need to do more up-front manual work such as getting your own SSL certificate and using a plugin such as Yoast SEO to generate your XML sitemap. Additionally since all themes are built by 3rd-party providers, it cannot be guaranteed that the CSS and theme code is automatically optimized for SEO so that is a risk.
In terms of blogging capabilities, Shopify used to lag behind WordPress but in the past year they have really honed in on their platform to have a more robust blogging service. It is very simple to set up blogs and organize them within the Shopify platform. You can also edit the blog template within the theme customization area or with a developer’s help.
WordPress is a content management system at heart. Their system can create blog posts out of the box and you can adjust the blog post style with a blog theme that is compatible with WooCommerce.In terms of blogging, both Shopify and WooCommerce are good options.
Shopify is very secure for both customers and merchants. All of their software updates are automatically downloaded onto your store when released. They are level 1 PCI DSS compliant, meaning that they meet all six categories of extreme security, including maintaining a secure network, protecting cardholder data, and maintaining a vulnerability management program.
Shopify is secure for merchants but they hand off some standard security responsibility off to you. You are responsible for password security, monitoring permissions given to users and the apps that you give access to. However I believe this is a fair tradeoff and standard for many platforms considering Shopify provides such a strong basis of support and security for day-to-day ecommerce operations.
WooCommerce itself is secure for ecommerce transactions but there are many other areas on WordPress where malicious attacks can happen. Your hosting choice needs to be secure, you are in charge of upgrading WordPress, your theme and your plugins on a regular basis and you need to protect yourself against hackers and brute-force attacks. WooCommerce recommends that you prevent security attacks with a 3rd party plugin such as JetPack.
Pros of Shopify:
Shopify has more core functionalities built in and has the reliability that you need when running an ecommerce store as well as robust support in many languages. It can also scale with you as you become a bigger store. They can also support selling internationally and multi-channel. It is also easier to customize and work on the platform on a day-to-day basis.
Pros of WooCommerce:
WooCommerce is cheaper than Shopify and has more deep customization abilities. It is best for those who want to customize everything or have a very specific vision that cannot be achieved with normal templates and themes. If you have a smaller budget, a developer to help you or don’t need much platform support, then WooCommerce might be the best for you.