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Marketing | Feb 24
Jessica Malnik on February 23, 2021 • 24 minute read
Whether you are launching a brand new eCommerce store or switching to a different eCommerce platform, this process can be overwhelming and time-consuming.
There are a lot of different eCommerce platforms available. However, two of the largest and most popular eCommerce platforms are Shopify and WooCommerce.
If you are struggling to choose between Shopify and WooCommerce, in this post, we’re breaking down the pros and cons of both platforms, in an effort to help you make a more informed decision for your online store.
Whether you are just starting out or been in the eCommerce space for already, you’ve likely heard of Shopify and WooCommerce. These two eCommerce giants are two of the top choices for running an eCommerce store and each one powers millions upon millions of online transactions every day.
In fact of the eCommerce pros we surveyed, 55.3% are using Shopify and 44.7% are using WooCommerce.
There are some unique differences between the two platforms. So, we’re sharing some of the pros and cons.
One of Shopify’s most enticing features is its large selection of quality templates, also known as themes. With over 70+ professional templates available, users can create beautiful websites without any coding knowledge. Templates are all customizable so storefronts can be designed to reflect the brand.
Shopify themes are made by well-known designers such as Clearleft, Happy Cog, and Pixel Union. This means the themes aren’t just aesthetically pleasing but also optimized for different devices and user-friendly.
While users don’t have to dig into the source code to create a beautiful website with Shopify, they still have access to modify via the Liquid framework, CSS, and HTML. You can easily make edits to the source code when necessary. This is particularly helpful for troubleshooting.
Pricing for Shopify is fairly straightforward. There are three tiers each with a flat monthly rate: Basic Shopify at $29/month for starting a new business, Shopify at $79/month for growing businesses, and Advanced Shopify at $299/month with premium features for scaling up.
Each plan charges a different fee for online credit card rates and in-person/POS credit card rates. An additional fee is charged for payments not made with Shopify Payments. In addition to online sales, Shopify offers POS tools for an added $89/month regardless of the plan size.
While the monthly flat rate, POS, theme purchases, credit card, and payment processing fees are all straightforward. However, adding different apps can quickly add up.
The primary key feature that sets Shopify apart from WooCommerce is that it’s an all-in-one eCommerce solution. The platform manages everything, including web hosting. This means it takes just minutes to start up a store and you don’t have to be tech-savvy or have coding chops to maintain it.
Intuitive templates, a variety of functional plug-ins, and a simple set-up make Shopify an easy-to-use option for any eCommerce business. The CMS tool helps you set up your shop every step of the way. The dashboard is clean and easy to navigate. Few ecommerce options are as quick and easy to get off the ground as Shopify.
In fact, Jared Hendler of BCA says, “Overall Shopify is easier to use and more turnkey for the novice. WooCommerce requires more tech knowledge and may be more costly but it ultimately more customizable and scalable long term. It depends on what you are trying to do.”
Matt Satell of Prime Mailboxes adds, “If you are new to the eCommerce scene, Shopify is a better tool because of its ease of use and simple features. You get excellent value for your money because it allows multichannel compatibility and integration.
However, if you’ve been around the industry for some time, then WooCommerce is an excellent option because it has more advanced features and customization tools. In the long-run, you can expect to save more with this platform compared to Shopify, which is a bit pricier than the former.”
Lou Liebau of The Wood Bowls agrees, “Notably Shopify is much much easier to add products and manage products for those who aren’t developers. WooCommerce has a bigger learning curve with how you add and manage products.
While WooCommerce can have more flexibility with design vs Shopify and it’s themes/plug-in restrictions, for a new eCommerce business I believe Shopify was the smart choice!”
In addition, Shopify is easier for non-technical entrepreneurs and their teams to maintain.
Joe Youngblood says, “It really comes down to a shop owners tolerance of tech stuff. If it’s a small retailer who is not very tech savvy I always recommend they go with Shopify over WooCommerce.
While both are great eCommerce platforms, WooCommerce has the biggest learning curve of the two, and when you couple that with the fact that WordPress updates and changes frequently, plugins can cause conflict, and possible web hosting issues it doesn’t make sense for a lot of eCommerce merchants who want to focus on their products inventory and their customers.
If a merchant wants more control over their design, has dreams of adding unique features or eventually building their own shopping platform then WooCommerce is the better choice because both WooCommerce and WordPress are open source.”
Shopify offers 24/7 support for its users via chat, email, or phone.
Dan Cassidy of Brandhopper Digital says, “As a digital marketing agency specializing in e-commerce web design and development, we recommend Shopify for nearly all of our brands because of the support, stability and out of the box functionality that’s built into the platform.
WooCommerce can be the right choice for brands that require a more unique setup with lots of customizations, however the tradeoff is going to be more technical coding and maintenance in the long run.”
In addition to being able to reach the Shopify team for round-the-clock troubleshooting, users also have access to the Shopify Help Center and community forums.
The Shopify Help Center has a wealth of resources compiled to address common questions about getting started, selling, managing, marketing, and expanding ecommerce stores.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for generating organic traffic to any website. For Shopify, SEO is baked right into the platform. You can add metadata, change URLs, and more, right from the individual web pages. In addition to the capabilities included right out of the box, store owners have access to SEO apps to boost their search rankings.
Through Shopify, you can utilize several payment processing options. However, the platform greatly encourages using Shopify Payments, which is powered through Stripe, over a third-party provider. With Shopify payments, customers can save their shipping and payment details to streamline the purchasing process for next time.
Though payments are flexible, Shopify is currently the only eCommerce platform that charges an additional transaction fee for purchases made outside of their internal payment gateway.
Security and backups are included with Shopify. No need to monitor or schedule site backups and maintenance. SSL certificates are also included.
Shopify has effectively made security as intuitive as possible by removing the legwork needed to run a safe, secure eCommerce shop.
Editor’s Note: Looking for a quick way to see all of your metrics? Use this Shopify Overview Dashboard to monthly sales, cart abandonment rates, popular products, average order value and more.
Want to learn more about Shopify as a platform? Check out our in-depth Shopify guide that covers the platform’s best features, metrics you should track, and best reporting practices along with ready-to-download Shopify dashboard templates.
Acquired by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, WooCommerce is compatible with WordPress. This means you have a lot more control and flexibility over your store’s design.
“WooCommerce and WordPress are both very customizable,” says JJ Selman of J2 Studio. “It is open-source software and this lends itself to allowing the modification of core code (if necessary) themes, functions.php files as well as CSS. The simplest way is to create a child theme. You do not have the same creative freedom with Shopify.”
Kevin Geary of Digital Gravy adds, “The most important criteria for determining whether you should go with Shopify or WooCommerce is how much control you want to have over your e-commerce site.
WordPress gives you near-total control where Shopify is much more limited. In addition, with Shopify, you are basically renting your e-commerce store because it’s completely contained in Shopify’s closed system. Shopify can shut your site down at any time if they want to (and it happens a lot).
With WooCommerce, you own your site completely and you aren’t beholden to the policies and features of any one system. For me, that’s the biggest difference.”
The platform also has WooCommerce Storefront with select templates to choose from, but the selection is less curated and themes aren’t as polished as the ones available through Shopify.
WooCommerce has a different pricing set up than Shopify. The open-source plugin is free, but there are plenty of other fees and costs to keep in mind with running a WooCommerce store that can add up quickly.
For instance, hosting is included as part of the Shopify package, but you’ll need to shop for hosting services outside of WooCommerce.
With Shopify, you know exactly how much you’ll pay each month with its straightforward pricing model. With WooCommerce, there’s a lot more costs to consider including hosting, payment gateways, store + plugin maintenance, additional customization, etc. If you have a developer on staff, WooCommerce could end up being more cost-effective in the long run.
WooCommerce is an excellent option for users that want complete control of the customization of their eCommerce site. Because it’s an open-source plugin, WooCommerce can be customized as much as necessary. However, there is a bit of a learning curve.
Within WooCommerce Storefront, it includes WooCommerce Blocks so you can select and display products in a modular style. Content can be created in a series of blocks so you can create customized landing pages, collections, articles, and more.
When it comes to design, WooCommerce has some easy-to-use options that require little or no coding knowledge. However, the platform does require a bit more legwork from a shop owner to get their site up and running.
Overall, WooCommerce is less user-friendly than Shopify.
Haris Bacic of Pricelisto.com says, “Choosing between WooCommerce and Shopify boils down to one important aspect — do you want a more hands-on or hands-off approach? With WooCommerce, you are going to need to have web hosting, domain, WordPress, and manage it all yourself or hire someone to do it for you.
When it comes to Shopify, it is about as hands-off as can be when you’re running an e-commerce store. They host everything for you, all updates are automatically applied, and there’s much less room for you to break something.
Although that has a lot of advantages, the one big disadvantage is that you cannot customize Shopify as much as you can WooCommerce.
By having access to direct code on WooCommerce, you can literally customize anything you want if you have the knowledge or if you hire someone to do.”
Keep in mind that Shopify is a hosted solution, so they take care of the technical aspects of running a shop online like hosting, security, and backups.
WooCommerce offers a bank of helpful resources and customer forums. Customer support is handled in the form of a ticket system. While customer support is still adequate and beneficial, it’s not as convenient as Shopify’s customer support team that can be accessed 24/7.
WooCommerce is set up with code that’s optimized for SEO. Like Shopify, a wide range of plugins are available to assist shop owners with additional SEO capabilities.
Yoast is one of the most popular SEO plugin options available. It seamlessly integrates with WooCommerce for a powerful, free SEO option.
“Running an SEO agency, I always look at eCommerce websites from an SEO perspective,” says Andrew Witts of Studio 36 Digital. “I have worked with both platforms and achieved excellent results with both. But, if asked, and for previous eCommerce websites of my own, I will always recommend WooCommerce.
Both have excellent features to create a custom online store, but when it comes to more in-depth SEO, WooCommerce always comes out on top for me. Shopify has all the essential SEO tools, but for a truly custom approach, WooCommerce can be adapted almost infinitely for store structure, product display and SEO.”
PayPal and Stripe can be easily embedded into your store for payment processing. These are the two most popular payment gateways, but WooCommerce supports additional payment providers through various plugins.
Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce does not charge an additional fee for payments processed outside of their branded payment gateway. This is primarily because WooCommerce does not have its own payment gateway.
Security options are not included with WooCommerce out of the box. While Shopify is PCI compliant, WooCommerce on its own is not. This means you’ll have to make sure your site is secure without relying on your eCommerce provider to handle it for you. You can do this through your web hosting provider or with their help of a developer. However, this is something that must be prioritized for sites that process payments.
Editor’s Note: Looking for a quick way to see all of your WooCommerce metrics, use this WooCommerce Shop Overview Dashboard to see total sales, popular products, and new customers.
In addition to knowing the pros and cons of each eCommerce platform, it is important to establish and weigh the criteria that is the most important for your business.
Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind.
While WooCommerce is free to set-up, there are a lot of costs associated with building and maintaining your store. This makes budgeting trickier than with Shopify where you know what you should expect to pay each month.
“The most important criteria when choosing between Shopify or WooCommerce platform really comes down to the size of the store you plan to build, and how much you are willing to pay for it,” says Alex Thompson of Festoon House. “While WooCommerce is free, you’ll need a skilled developer to create your store on the platform, and most skilled developers charge a pretty penny. That being said, there are no limits to WooCommerce store customization or the size of your store.
Shopify is a great choice on the other hand if you’re just getting started and don’t have a budget for web developers or designers. The obvious drawback here being the monthly payments to host your store on Shopify’s platform.”
Another consideration is how established your business is as well as your existing business model.
“The one important criteria I recommend in determining whether to go with Shopify or WooCommerce is whether you have a proven business model,” says Allen Kaplun of GreenDropShip. “If you have a proven business model that you have monetized from, Shopify carries an entire ecosystem that will help you get to the next level.
Generally speaking, if you’re still in an experimental phase and still trying to figure things out or don’t consider eCommerce to be core to your revenues, WooCommerce would be better.
I say generally speaking because many WooCommerce operators have enjoyed wild success, but that’s because they may have had a built out audience or enough technological resources that they don’t need the help of Shopify.”
Rob Howard of Howard Development & Consulting says, “The major benefit of Shopify is that it allows you to stand up a new e-commerce site very quickly, with limited technical knowledge.
For this reason, it’s been a great choice for many of our clients, particularly those who suddenly needed to pivot to eCommerce during the pandemic.
The drawback of Shopify is that, once you get past a certain level of design and functionality customization, it starts to get more difficult and expensive to work with – for example, when a client tells us they’ve outgrown the features of Shopify, we’ll often recommend they migrate to WordPress and WooCommerce since those tools give our developers complete access to all the code and infrastructure. That means we can do any type of custom design, custom feature, etc., whereas the customization options on Shopify are more limited (even though there’s still a lot you can do with Shopify).
If a company already has a WordPress site, it can also be cost-effective to add WooCommerce to their current site, allowing them to manage everything in one place.
Alternatively, they can put their store on a subdomain (e.g. store.mysite.com), and then have a WordPress site for their main site and a Shopify site for their store. If you have an existing web development budget, WooCommerce can be a really efficient choice; if you are totally starting from scratch and need a fast, attractive e-commerce site for a few products, Shopify will be a faster way to get started with a DIY eCommerce solution.”
A big difference is that WooCommerce is open-source and Shopify is hosted.
“Compared to Shopify, using WooCommerce might be a little more complicated,” says David Sheppard of HVAC Judge. “One has to deal with hosting, learning the WordPress platform, and setting up Woocommerce. However, this effort doesn’t go to waste.
For someone who sells highly customized products, the flexibility, and variety-range- in the checkout process, products, and the pricing structure- offered by Woocommerce made my decision easy.”
Jonathan Delfs of Outdoor Ahead adds, “Because I’m thinking about adding an eCommerce store to my existing blog. So what would be the best for me?
I already use WordPress for my blog. But are WordPress and WooCommerce the best solution?
The big difference is hosted vs. open source. If you want to maintain hosting and updates for WooCommerce (and WordPress) then Woo is not a problem. But wanting to go for an easier solution Shopify is the best choice. Here, you will have support and a lot of safe plugins for adding additional features.
WooCommerce is more open for developers, tech-people, and geeky people who don’t like to be limited. Shopify is easy for everyone.
The downside to Shopify is pricing. While it’s fairly cheap to start out (from $29/month) you do have a high expense, when there’s actual revenue in your store.
Let’s say you have $80,000 of revenue per month after one or two years, then you would be paying 1-2% of your revenue to Shopify. That’s like $800 per month, extra!
If we compare that to a cheap hosting plan for WordPress and a standard payment solution in WooCommerce, you would definitely be paying more for Shopify.
On the other hand, what’s maintenance, support, and security worth? $800? Compared to your monthly revenue maybe it’s fair? If your margins have room for this expense I would go with the safe and easy solution.
If you like to gamble, if you are a techie, or if you like WordPress, WooCommerce would be good.
Either way, you can combine your WordPress-blog and your e-commerce business. Just because you have a WordPress-blog it doesn’t mean you can’t go with Shopify.
You could go with a subdomain for your blog: blog.domain.com – or for the shop: shop.domain.com – having the primary part of your site on the main domain: domain.com.”
Another thing to consider is how much control and customization you need over your website.
“The main criteria for determining whether to go the Shopify vs WooCommerce route is how much control you want over your brand and platform,” says Nat Miletic of Clio Websites. “Shopify is great for getting a product launched quickly. If customization is required, WooCommerce gives users more control of their brand and enables more features to be utilized.”
Clare MacLachlan of Newman Bands says, “Simply because we couldn’t customize Shopify in the way we wanted. The platform is great until you want specific functions. They don’t allow you access to the checkout process unless you’re paying thousands. By switching to WooCommerce, we increased conversions by 43% by changing our checkout process. Also because WooCommerce is built on WordPress development is easy. You can design your store exactly how you want it.
Jessica Postiglion of Bonny adds, “We currently sell via Shopify. Before Bonny, I founded and ran another CPG start-up for four years and we used WooCommerce as our eCommerce plug-in engine on WordPress.
For any brand, eCommerce platform decision focuses on weighting the importance of speed to launch and the ability to customize the site beyond the theme. If you are a smaller brand that needs a storefront quickly with little interest in customization, Shopify is your go-to.
In my case, I invested in a highly customizable theme (not one of Shopify’s) and learned HTML and CSS to save on hiring a developer. Bonny is a design-forward brand. and we did not want a site that looked like every other Shopify site.”
While both platforms have various third-party apps and plugins you can use, how you discover and install them are very different.
“I think one of the most important criteria for determining whether Shopify or WooCommerce is the right eCommerce platform for your business is to look at the apps/tools/extensions available for each of these ecosystems because they are very different,” says Vincent Panepinto of Spently.
“I think you have to think beyond the platform when choosing and determining what your tech stack is going to look like for your business more holistically and all the tools you will need to play nicely with the platform you pick.
I would look at the tools available in the WooCommerce Marketplace vs tools available in the Shopify App Store, and once you plan the stack of tools you will need, you will be able to better make this decision.”
For example, Kinh Luat Duong of Scandinavian Biolabs says, “Shopify and specifically Shopify Plus is more powerful, more customizable and has a lot more apps to integrate whether it’s supply chain, marketing, customer service or even operation. I believe the selection of apps alone is enough to pick Shopify over WooCommerce. As a startup looking to scale, we always want to look ahead and plan to grow and expand our operations. Shopify helps with that a lot.”
On the other hand, if you are looking to build your own custom apps, you might be better off with WooCommerce.
Antonio Wells of namynot.com adds, “I would say, custom data integration with the backend. Meaning, I would recommend Woocommerce if you needed the backend to be tightly integrated with the frontend purchase flow. For example, for subscription model e-commerce websites. I would definitely opt for Woocommerce over Shopify.
I would also opt for Woocommerce over Shopify in the case of SEO. If you are not familiar, you can only gain about 80% efficacy with Shopify due to their limitations of elements such as no access to .htaccess, bad canonicals, and no access to robots.txt file, etc.”
Switching eCommerce platforms is a plan. You want a platform that you can grow into for at least a couple of years.
Anthony Chen of PaidSearch.Pro says, “When an eCommerce store has to scale as a result of aggressive advertising, it’s crucial that your platform is able to scale with the business. Shopify handles the technical aspect of your store which means you don’t ever have to worry about website traffic slowing your servers or security invulnerability, which allows you to just focus on growth and marketing.”
Chris Vaughn of Emjay agrees, “I chose Shopify because I knew that Emjay was going to grow, and fast. Shopify is more easily scalable than WooCommerce, which increases hosting costs as you require more powerful servers and often necessitates a managed WordPress hosting provider to ease the transition. This does make WooCommerce more personalized, but I’m not looking to create a tech revolution (yet). Shopify was the cheaper and easier option for Emjay because we didn’t need to hire an in-house team to manage the transition.”
A final thing to consider is your and your team’s technical chops.
“The key question to ask yourself when deciding between Shopify and WooCommerce is your experience level,” says Peter Thaleikis of RankLetter. “If you already operate a sizable WordPress-based website, you should consider WooCommerce. It could fit into your existing workflow.
If you aren’t using a WordPress site or at a level where you ask your developer to change content, you won’t get happy with WooCommerce. The required level of interaction will make WooCommerce the wrong choice for you. Shopify is much easier to use in this case and comes completely worry-free hosted by Shopify (the company).”
Danial Ashrafi of Cloudways adds, “I have used many eCommerce platforms such as WooCommerce, Shopify, and PrestaShop for my client websites. In my personal experience, WooCommerce is one of the best eCommerce platforms in the industry.
I am more of a technical guy and I like custom development and designs. And WooCommerce gave me all the options I can play with, on the other hand with Shopify, I can’t customize it based on my needs.”
However, if your team or client isn’t particularly technical, you might want to use Shopify instead.
Stacy Caprio of Renuw Skincare says, “If you or your team is unable to set up a host, connect it to your WordPress site, domain name and DNS, then set up a WordPress theme and connect it to WooCommerce as well as deal with regular updates, then you may not have enough technical expertise for WooCommerce.
In that case, you’ll want to choose Shopify which handles the entire backend and all updates for you as well as makes it much easier to set up and maintain your store.”
Joe Leitner of Rentiel Media adds, “The one big fundamental thing we take into account when choosing between WooCommerce and Shopify is whether the client wants to manage the store as much as possible on their own. I’m not saying it’s not possible with WooCommerce but it’s a lot easier with Shopify, they can easily change things and add new plugins without much hardship and mainly Shopify is a lot easier for anyone to get a feel for than WooCommerce & WordPress.”
Selecting which eCommerce option is best for your business comes down to your skills, comfort level, and goals. For example, if you’re looking to get a new idea off the ground quickly and you don’t have the time or skills to invest in learning how to customize your site, then Shopify could be your best bet.
However, if you have coding experience or want to dedicate the time to create something truly unique, then WooCommerce might be a better option. Additionally, if you already have WordPress hosting you’re happy with or a site that’s up and running already, then simply adding a WooCommerce plugin to your site could be better than switching over to Shopify’s complete solution.
No matter which one you go with, be sure to explore all of your options. Test out the different themes and search through the extensions and apps available to get a sense of the type of store you can create. And remember, your eCommerce site isn’t “set it and forget it.” You can always change your customization or theme down the road.
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