Shopify vs WooCommerce: Which is Right for Your E-Commerce Site?

John Saunders
By John Saunders

When it’s time to build an e-commerce site there’s a few major players to choose from, two of which are Shopify and WooCommerce. Both platforms are designed for users to create beautiful and intuitive commerce websites for your business. Each service provides a different set of features that may be good for some, and not so good for others.

However, overall the main benefit of using Shopify or WooCommerce is that for the most part, they eliminate the need for high priced professional designers and developers — you can build a wonderful online store all by yourself! Let’s review the ins and outs of both platforms.

Shopify

The main draw of Shopify is that it’s an easy all-in-one solution that provides you with a host, theme, extensions, plugins and an SSL Certificate straight out-of-the-box. You’ll have a sparkling new e-commerce website in no time.

Designs

Designers from all over have been outsourced to create modern and easy to use templates. One of the drawbacks of this is that some store owners have complained that their website looks too similar to others. Shopify does however offer the ability to change the design elements such as colors and styles. With 54 templates available, each with different alternative variations, you have roughly 100 themes to work with. All websites are mobile friendly and work great on iOS and Android. Overall, their designs are stylish and clean, which lend well to contemporary, fashionable brands.

Pros

  • Easy to set up – If you need to create an online store in a rush, let’s say for a specific event perhaps, Shopify can have you up and running in no time.
  • Free themes – Some of their free themes are well designed and you can start using it with a free trial. After your free trial the lowest price is $29/month.
  • High quality plugins – A lot of their high quality plugins are free for must have website dynamics, such as shipping and customer reviews.
  • SEO – While both platforms score high in SEO, Shopify is internally hosted, which means faster page load times because of their huge back-end infrastructure. This is a sure way to rank higher in google, giving your store more web visibility and higher traffic.
  • Tech support – If you need help with building or updating your site, helpful and friendly tech support has got your back 24/7. However, it’s so easy to use, you may never have to contact them.
  • Instant payment – For example, instead of creating a payment gateway and linking it to a bank account or Paypal, you can receive instant payment through Shopify payments. They even knock off the transaction fees if you sign up for their payment gateway.

Cons

  • Cost – Monthly installment fees can add up very quickly. It starts at $29 but if you want to build a quality site, you’ll be looking at closer to $79 a month plus transaction fees.
  • Less free designs – Nicer themes end up costing one-time charges ranging between $80-$150.
  • Weak blog dynamics – It doesn’t provide the best options for creating a dynamic blog with useful tags and intuitive display.
  • Less customization – You are limited to Shopify themes and structures. Open source coding is not an option. They do have their own template language called “Liquid” which can assist you with some customization, but ultimately it doesn’t quite match up.

WooCommerce

It’s important to note that unlike Shopify which is an all-in-one website designer and host, WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress — it requires you to have an already existing WordPress site.

Designs

The design of your WooCommerce site is based on the theme selected for your already existing WordPress site. WooCommerce was created to be compatible with most of the themes on the market available for WordPress. Certain themes are even specifically designed to optimize WooCommerce, which makes for the best user experience. All websites are mobile friendly and look great on iOS and Android phones. Overall, the design process is more time consuming, but endlessly more customizable.

Pros

  • Initially free – WordPress and WooCommerce are both free. However, there are some additional costs, which we’ll cover later.
  • Theme options – The themes are intuitively designed and come with a variety of plugins built in. WordPress has lot’s of free plugins available, however they also offer paid options for higher quality plug ins and extensions.
  • SEO – Its open source allows for plugins such as Yoast SEO, which help you fully optimize your site. Although WordPress opens the door for more specialized SEO options, the one caveat is that page load times are only as good as your  host — if your site is hosted by a smaller, slower infrastructure, SEO will suffer.
  • Control of code – If you have a basic knowledge of code, or the time to research some simple techniques, you have the ability to customize pretty much anything. This includes: colors, font sizes, SEO meta data and other stylistic preferences.
  • High quality social media – If you want your Facebook feed, or tumblr feed to be intuitively displayed, WooCommerce has several high quality social media plugins available. You can even sell directly on Facebook.
  • Reporting tools – Allows you to keep track of incoming sales, monthly expenses and overall store performance with helpful and well organized data reporting tools. Great for sales forecasting.
  • Blogging – WordPress started as a blog service so if your company does a lot of blogging it has a really easy to use and effective blog format.
  • Cross-store connectivity – You can connect your amazon store, eBay store or any other online store directly back to your website. This will help increases exposure and sales while keeping everything rooted back to one central web location.

Cons

  • Requires updates – With WooCommerce you have to use a lot of plugins which are constantly being updated. You will receive messages from WooCommerce letting you know it’s time for an update. This happens more frequently than one would like.
  • Security issues – Frequent updates opens the door to potential security issues — your customer lists and other valuable information may be breached if a plugin is not consistently up to date with the strongest bug-free version.
  • Pricey plugins – Essential plugins like auto-shipping calculators and product comparisons can add up and become very pricey. They can range from $60-$125 a year.
  • No SSL certificate – A secure server license is mandatory for e-commerce websites, and unlike Shopify who provides an SSL built into their service, WooCommerce does not offer one, thus creating one more additional cost.
  • No tech support – It’s free and open source, so WordPress does not offer tech support.

Again, due to it’s open source nature, it is much more time consuming to build and maintain.

Pricing Comparison

Shopify – It certainly has a more traditional pricing structure, with plans starting at $29/month. If your business is growing and you need high volume solutions such as gift cards, professional reports and several other features you will have to upgrade to a $79/month plan, or $299/month for the unlimited plan.

WooCommerce – While it may be a free plugin for WordPress, (which is also free) you have to consider the additional costs involved that WooCommerce does not provide — hosting, SSL certificate, template, domain name, and other relevant business extensions and plugins.

We’ve assembled this table to give you an idea of what it will cost to get your site up and running with either platform. This table is based on the least expensive plans.

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 5.01.01 PM.pngUltimately, after you factor in all the additional expenses that WooCommerce doesn’t include, it ends up costing more than Shopify. But if website customization and dynamics are important to you, then WooCommerce may be worth the price tag.

Notes For E-Commerce Websites

The best advice we can give is that you have to choose a platform which suits your specific business needs. In general, there are some benchmarks that are important for every e-commerce website to target. For instance, studies conclude that three of the most important assets for an online store are:

Quality photographs – fast loading photos that vividly and prominently display your product

Shipping – calculating the correct cost for shipping on each product, so that customers do not dispute the charges, ultimately leading to the business paying the shipping.

Payment gateway – at the end of the day e-commerce is all about making money, so it’s important to ensure that your gateway works with your server and hosting company. This way you can receive your money quickly and accurately.

Wrapping Up

WooCommerce is a little more challenging to set up if you don’t have any coding knowledge, it can be done with a little research and by following WordPress’s web building tools. It may require some additional web developer assistance. However, if you’re looking for a more advanced website with a lot of custom dynamics this is the platform for you (especially if you already have a WordPress website set up).

If you need a basic online store created quickly that works right out-of-the-box, then Shopify is the way to go. $29 covers a lot of your basic website costs, and in terms of creation, maintenance and tech support, it’s certainly the more user friendly solution.

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John is the Director of Web Development at Power Digital and thrives on the balance between creative and strategy. Using his experience in CRO, John approaches website builds with the user in mind, combining psychological and technical aspects of design.