June 8, 2021

Shopify vs WooCommerce: E-Shop Showdown

If you’re thinking of starting a new online shop, or you’re looking to move your brick-and-mortar store into the e-commerce realm, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Shopify and WooCommerce. They’re two of the most popular platforms in the world for building online stores.

Of course, as with most things in the tech world, trying to parse all the pros and cons can be challenging. But as a business owner, you know that making the right decisions from the start can make a big difference. So, which one is the better platform for selling online?

The short answer is: It depends. Both platforms offer everything you’d need to successfully sell products online. That said, each offering takes a slightly different approach in doing so, so it’s important to understand the differences. In this guide, we’ll take a look at those differences so that you can make the best decision possible for your business.

The Showdown

Before we dive in, it’s helpful to take a step back and examine each contender to understand what they provide at a high level.

Shopify, at its core, is a true e-commerce platform. It provides your business with an all-in-one solution that makes it relatively straight-forward to create and manage an online store and all that entails, including:

  • Accepting payments through various payment methods
  • Creating and managing products
  • Managing shipping and inventory

Shopify’s appeal is that it removes all the technical roadblocks and gives you a single platform to work with, allowing you to focus on building your store instead of managing the technical aspects of running a website.

WooCommerce, on the other hand, is actually a plugin for WordPress. WooCommerce offers all the same functionality as Shopify, including robust payment options, product creation, and inventory management, but it uses WordPress for its core technologies.

Yet, while it’s still considered a platform in the technical sense, it’s important to keep in mind that, with WordPress, all the technical responsibilities of managing a website fall on you and your business, including:

  • Website hosting
  • WordPress management and security
  • WordPress plugin and theme updates

As you can imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach that go far beyond the surface of what these two platforms offer. That said, let’s jump into the fray!

The Showdown

Ease of Use

We’re going to start this guide by taking a close look at ease of use. Most people looking to get into the e-commerce business are likely not web developers. Yet, even the folks who find technology comfortable are going to want something that’s easy to use and accessible. After all, you’re building an e-commerce store, not getting into web design.

While both platforms are relatively easy to use, Shopify’s all-in-one solution manages to win this battle. It’s simply easier to set up a store and start selling with Shopify. There’s no technical barrier to entry, nor do you need to worry about performance, backups, or security—at least not in the sense that you need to control it.

Shopify’s Usability

Shopify’s hosted platform means you won’t need to install any web software, perform upgrades, manage security or SSL settings, or anything of the like. You simply set up your store, choose the appropriate settings, and off you go.

Shopify even offers pretty decent drag-and-drop design system, similar to the kind of page builders you might find with WordPress. The bonus is that, since Shopify is a dedicated e-commerce platform, all the templates and design components you choose from are designed to be just this. You won’t have to worry about choosing a theme that’s not optimized for e-commerce.

Like WordPress, Shopify has a plugin ecosystem that provides ways to add functionality to your store. They cover everything from payments and shipping to marketing and analytics.

And of course, adding new products, managing your inventory, and parsing your sales information from within Shopify is incredibly easy. The entire platform is designed with e-commerce in mind and everything is made to be as easy and accessible as possible.

WooCommerce’s Usability

As we touched on in the beginning, WooCommerce isn’t a hosted platform. Technically, it’s a plugin for WordPress, though calling it that sells it a little short, given its expansive functionality.

Because it’s a plugin, WooCommerce depends on WordPress for much of its functionality. That means you’ll be choosing a WordPress theme for your store. And while WordPress in and of itself is still an easy platform to use, it decouples the setup process when compared to Shopify.

When choosing a theme, for example, there is no drag-and-drop page builder out of the box. If you want this kind of functionality, you’ll need to utilize a different plugin, such as Elementor or Divi. And when choosing a theme, you’ll need to be mindful about whether it’s designed with WooCommerce in mind. Many themes aren’t designed for e-commerce, so they may be missing key design elements for an online store, such as shopping carts and product listings.

The biggest impact on usability with WooCommerce is that you need to manage the site yourself. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to setting up hosting, installing WordPress, and managing updates for everything—not to mention security concerns.

Setting Up and Accepting Payments

One of the key ingredients in setting up an online store is figuring out how your customers will pay you for your products. Both Shopify and WooCommerce offer robust payment options that provide you with a way to easily set up and start accepting payments.

If you plan on using a third-party payment processor or gateway, and your decision rests squarely on payment processing, WooCommerce is the clear winner. But if you’re a smaller store with no intention of ever using anything beyond Stripe or PayPal, you should base your decision on other factors, as both platforms are pretty even on this front.

Customization and Expandability

Regardless of how robust and fully featured the platform is, you’ll need tools, plugins and extensions to help manage your store and grow your business. This can be anything from sales analysis to email marketing to advertising.

Both platforms offer an extensive ecosystem of customizations and extra functionality. They both have a dedicated marketplace full of plugins that offer added functionality and theme customization. In theory, you have access to a plethora of ways to customize both the look and feel of your website and the way it works.

WooCommerce, however, easily takes the win here. While much of the functionality in Shopify’s extensions store matches WooCommerce’s extensions, WooCommerce is built on WordPress, meaning you also have access to an extremely robust plugin and theme ecosystem that Shopify simply doesn’t have.

Shopify’s App Store

Part of Shopify’s platform appeal is that it has access to an App Store that includes a plethora of third-party add-ons and themes. There are hundreds of tools that you can easily add to your store.

Another feature is that Shopify offers an API for developers. If you find that you need something that isn’t present in their app store, you can always hire a developer to build a custom solution for you using Shopify’s API.

WooCommerce’s Plugins, Themes, and Extensions

WooCommerce also has its extension marketplace, separate from WordPress’s plugin repository. These include extensions for lead generation, e-commerce SEO, performance optimizations, and payment processors.

Where WooCommerce shines, however, is that it’s built on WordPress. That means that virtually any plugin you want for WordPress is likely compatible with WooCommerce. In fact, WooCommerce is so popular that most premium plugins work with it out of the box.

The best part is that, like WooCommerce, WordPress is open source, so should you be unable to find a solution that works exactly the way you need it, you can hire a developer to build it for you using WordPress technologies.

Scalability

Scalability is a vital aspect of e-commerce. In fact, it’s one of the most crucial ideas behind selling online: The point is that you can potentially serve far more customers than you’d ever be able to with a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

For a website, this means being able to accept larger and larger amounts of traffic. For Shopify and WooCommerce, things are quite a bit different in this regard. While both are perfectly capable of scaling to accommodate many visitors, from a business owner’s perspective, there are a few things you need to understand.

Shopify’s Hosted Platform

As we’ve already discussed, Shopify’s hosted platform setup means you don’t need to worry about any of the technical aspects of your website, and that includes bandwidth and performance requirements as your site grows.

Shopify’s ease of use means that, once you need more resources for your store, you simply upgrade your plan. Resource and scalability is rolled into Shopify’s plans, and their infrastructure is top-notch, so you’ll never have to worry about upgrading and managing disparate parts like you would with a WooCommerce site.

The downside to this, however, is that, as your store grows, you end up paying for resources you don’t actually need. And as we’ll look at in the next sections, these costs start to add up.

WooCommerce’s Open Source Platform

Though you need to manage your hosting, maintenance, and security with WooCommerce, its open source nature means that it’s infinity scalable. And since it’s built on WordPress, the platform is tested by some of the biggest brands in the world, so you’ll never need to worry about capabilities.

The bottom line here is that WooCommerce is built on open web technologies that aren’t managed by a single company. It’s easy to see how truly capable WooCommerce is over Shopify. The entire website and setup, from top to bottom, is always and will always be your business’s website—not something hosted by another company that determines how you handle your store.

Pricing and Costs

Cost undoubtedly plays a big part in deciding which platform to go with. As with some of the other battles we’ve seen between the two e-commerce platforms, the winner isn’t so clear, though WooCommerce’s open source setup gives it an edge.

Shopify offers a flat pricing approach that’s much easier to understand and much simpler to manage. WooCommerce, on the other hand, is open source software that you can freely download and install. Moreover, payment processing could potentially be a big bonus if you plan to go with WooCommerce—any kind of payment processing on Shopify has to go through Shopify, so they’re always taking a cut of your profits.

Shopify’s Simple (but Expensive) Pricing

Shopify offers a set pricing approach, meaning you pay a flat fee for the entire platform. As your business grows, you can upgrade your package to gain access to more resources as well as additional features that aren’t included with the lower tiers. And while Shopify offers a 14-day free trial, there are no free options. The plans offered are as follows:

  • $29/month for Basic Shopify
  • $79/month for Shopify
  • $299/month for Advanced Shopify

This all-inclusive approach gets expensive, however, especially if you factor in the rates that Shopify takes from every sale. There are also conversion rates if you plan to accept payments in foreign currencies.

WooCommerce’s Variable Pricing

WooCommerce’s open source model means the software is free to download and install. That said, you’ll need to pay for website hosting costs to have a place for your website to live.

Once you factor in web hosting, which varies considerably, a domain name and all the proper certificates you need, pricing for WooCommerce approaches Shopify’s lowest tier costs. If you need premium extensions or help with managing your WordPress site, the costs start to eclipse Shopify’s lowest tier.

The caveat here is that, compared to Shopify’s lowest tier, you gain access to much more functionality with WooCommerce. And unless you have a large store, you’ll likely never approach the cost of Shopify’s higher tiers, even with managed updates and premium plugins.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: The Verdict

Hopefully, by now, you have a clear picture of which platform is best for your business. Both Shopify and WooCommerce offer incredible solutions for creating, designing, and scaling an online store, but the one you choose depends on what, exactly, you want to do with your store and your own technical aptitudes and preferences.

If you want something that’s incredibly easy to use, offers simple pricing tiers, and is fairly hands-off with the technical aspects while still being stable and scalable, Shopify might be a good solution for you.

If you want a platform that you have full, granular control over, with infinite scalability and flexibility, but with a little more hands-on involvement, WooCommerce is the clear winner.

And if you’ve decided that WooCommerce is the better option for your business, and you’re looking for an agency to help manage your WordPress website, including hosting, security and updates, WPAssist can help you do just that.

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