Shopify and WooCommerce are two of the most popular choices for creating an online store. While both options are viable for ecommerce websites of all sizes, there are several differences that you should be aware of before deciding which one to commit to. In this article we will cover the basics of both platforms, go into detail about the differences and discuss the positives and negatives of both of these options.
A brief introduction to Shopify and WooCommerce
Founded in 2006, Shopify is a hosted ecommerce solution for merchants of all types and sizes. Their goal of being a “hassle-free ecommerce platform” sounds simple, but their flawless execution set them on the path to becoming one of the leading names in the ecommerce space. Boasting a range of premium themes, an ever growing library of apps and in-house support to back it all up, Shopify have put themselves forward as the best all-in-one solution for starting an online store.
From humble beginnings in 2008, WooCommerce is a plugin for the self-hosted, leading CMS platform, WordPress. The growth of WordPress appears to be limitless, with recent numbers indicating that over 30% of all websites on the internet run on WordPress, it’s one of the safest bets you can make for your own online store. Being self-hosted, you can retain full control over your website, while taking advantage of the vast support network, premium themes and plugins available.
1. Let’s talk about pricing
Summary: Shopify starts at $29 USD a month for the basic plan, up to $299 USD a month for the advanced plan. WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress.
We’re going start with pricing, as it is the most likely item on the list to sway you one way or the other. Shopify does offer a 14 day free trial, but to continue using the platform after the initial two weeks, you will need to sign up for one of their three plans. Starting at $29 USD a month for the basics, $79 USD a month for the intermediate plan and $299 USD for their advanced plan, Shopify have a solution for online stores of all sizes.
As the monthly fee increases, you gain access to additional features, as well as reduced payment processing fees. Keep in mind that as a hosted solution, all of Shopify’s plans include web hosting as part of their package. Shopify offer several free themes and many premium themes that start from about $140 USD. Purchasing a theme comes with official support and a higher level of compatibility with Shopify apps.
As WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, the cost of running a WooCommerce based store will vary from user to user. You will need to find a web host for your online store and hosting can cost anywhere between $1.99 USD a month, to several hundreds. It’s worth reading the article we wrote on how to choose the right web hosting provider to get a better understanding of the process and the general costs involved.
After hosting, there is the cost of the theme you wish to use. ThemeForest is the largest theme marketplace for WordPress and themes can be bought from anywhere between $29 USD and $80 USD. As WordPress is an open source platform, there is no official support channels (for self-hosted websites), so you will be relying on the theme developer for technical support. There are also many free themes and plugins that you can use to enhance your online store.
2. Hosted vs Self-hosted
Summary: Shopify is hosted, so you’re stuck with their packages and pricing. WooCommerce (WordPress) is self-hosted, so you have the freedom to choose whichever host you like. If you’re new to ecommerce or web development, a hosted solution might be a better choice.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to both hosted and self-hosted solutions. Hosted solutions like Shopify alleviate some of the stress of setting up a website. Rather than having to find a web host with a plan that meets your needs, worrying about what resources your online store will need and many of the other pains that come with self-hosting, Shopify offers an all-inclusive package so that you only need to worry about your budget. If you’re just getting started, the $29 USD a month plan will be sufficient for almost any type of online store. If you find that you need to upgrade to a more expensive plan, your online store is most likely in a position to do so.
The downside to hosted solutions means that you don’t have the freedom of choice. If you want to use Shopify for your online store, you are stuck with the packages that Shopify has to offer. If you encounter any issues that make you consider moving to a different hosting provider (price, speed, features etc), you are unable to do so unless you migrate your store away from Shopify entirely. You will also have limited access to the actual files behind your online store, so doing any customization is restricted to theme files and custom apps.
Since WooCommerce runs on WordPress, you have the option of self-hosting your online store. This means that you will need to find your own web hosting provider that is compatible with WordPress (most of them are), install/configure WordPress and WooCommerce yourself (or pay someone to do it for you) and setup your own payment gateways. While this is definitely more work than if you opted to use Shopify, you do have the option to change web hosting providers at any point in time, either to upgrade as you grow, or to downgrade to save money. You will have access to all the files on the server for your account, essentially giving you full control over your entire online store.
3. Themes and Plugins/Apps
Summary: Shopify has a few free themes and apps, but purchasing a premium theme or app can be expensive. WordPress has many free themes and plugins and picking up a premium theme or plugin can be done for around $20 USD.
Shopify has a handful of free themes that you can use if you have a tight budget. If you’re serious about starting an online store, it’s highly recommended that you either purchase a premium theme from the official Shopify store, or have a custom theme made for you by a Shopify partner. Premium Shopify themes start around $140 USD and can go as high as $200 USD.
When it comes to adding functionality to your Shopify store, you’ll want to look into the Shopify app store. You’ll find a few plugins that you can use for free, but majority of the more popular plugins will come at a monthly fee, anywhere from $5 USD a month, to $50 USD a month (or above). It is possible to develop your own custom apps for your online store, however, web development experience would be required.
WordPress is the most popular platform for creating all kinds of websites. Due to the size of the community, it has the largest selection of themes and plugins of any platform. There are many more free options for both themes and plugins and quite a few of the most popular/useful plugins are free to use. If you wish to purchase a premium theme for WordPress, your budget should be around $50 USD. Themes do go on sale for as low as $20 USD, but most premium themes tend to sit around the $50 USD mark. Premium plugins for WordPress can be anywhere from $5 USD to $200 USD, but most of them will be a one time purchase (unlike Shopify’s recurring monthly fee).
4. Payment Processing
Summary: Shopify allows you to accept credit card payments without using a third-party, with a transaction fee around 1.75% – 3%. WooCommerce has several free plugins for accepting PayPal/Stripe payments, but accepting credit card payments may require a paid plugin.
Keeping in line with their goal of hassle free ecommerce, Shopify offers credit card processing out of the box (no setup required) in exchange for a small transaction fee. This service includes fraud analysis to prevent fake or stolen credit cards to be used to purchase products from your online store. In addition to the credit card processing, you can also configure other payment methods such as PayPal or Stripe, depending on how flexible you would like your checkout process to be. You can read more about Shopify’s payment processing fees on the pricing page of their website.
WooCommerce requires you to configure the payment gateways that you wish to offer for your online store. Unlike Shopify, if you wish to accept credit card payments, you will need to use a third party provider to handle the transaction. There are several plugins for many different payment gateways, all of which can be seen on the WooCommerce extensions page. While some configuration is required for all of WooCommerce’s payment gateways, there are a lot more options than what Shopify current have on offer.
5. Control and Limitations
Summary: Shopify has more limitations and you have less control over your website’s performance. WooCommerce is open source and can therefore be customized to suit the needs of your online store.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is the fact that one is a hosted solution, limited and expensive while the other is self-hosted, customizable and free. The reason a lot of people choose Shopify is so that they don’t have to worry about the technical side of running an online store and can focus all their time and energy on their business. Almost every Shopify that was done properly looks professional and has all the functionality needed for any small to medium sized online store. On the other hand, there are many WooCommerce based online stores that look amateur, which can come off as untrustworthy. Even though you have more access to customize your website, you still need to have the skills and knowledge required to do so. It takes a lot more time and effort to setup a WooCommerce website and unless you come from a web development background, or are willing to pay someone to do the technical tasks for you, you may be limiting the potential of your online store.
6. WordPress for Ecommerce
Summary: WordPress started as a blogging platform and gradually evolved into the most popular framework for all kinds of websites. While it is often used for online stores, some may argue that Shopify was built specifically for online stores and WordPress was not, therefore making Shopify the better platform.
WordPress and Shopify are compared to each other all the time. Shopify is a leading player in the ecommerce space and WordPress is the king of content management systems. There is an argument to be made that Shopify is the better choice for creating an online store, simply because that is what Shopify was created to do. The Shopify team have a single focus, develop software that allows for simple creation and management of online stores. Shopify has been in development for over ten years, so they have had ample time to work out the kinks and narrow down what works best.
On the other hand, WooCommerce is 100% dependent on WordPress and WordPress does not have a single focus. So while the WooCommerce team can dedicate themselves to making the best ecommerce plugin for WordPress (which they have done), they will always be dependent on the core WordPress development team and their direction. Unfortunately for ecommerce users, WordPress can’t put more emphasis on your needs at the expense of their blogging or corporate website users. At a higher level, WooCommerce has to carry the weight that WordPress brings with it. For example, it is the most targeted type of website for hackers, as it’s open source and it’s the most popular platform (more targets). Your website will be running a lot of code that isn’t really required for your online store, just because it’s a part of WordPress core.
In summary, there is a clear audience for both Shopify and WooCommerce. If you don’t want to learn web development, but you want to have a premium looking website, Shopify is the better choice. You will pay for the convenience that Shopify provides, but the monthly fee is well worth it for 95% of people looking to get started. You will have the peace of mind knowing that a team of people who know what they are doing are monitoring the server that your site resides on and are in the perfect position to resolve any issue that comes up. You have more time to grow your revenue by focusing on your business and marketing strategy, rather than web hosting and development.
If you do have a development background and do want to have complete control over your online store, WooCommerce may be the better option. Spending time to create a custom theme for your store will set you apart from the competition. Maybe you already manage another website, so finding a hosting provider is not an issue for you. You will have more options when it comes to payment gateways, free plugins and community support.
The verdict is in, Shopify for those just starting out, or those will little to no web development experience. WooCommerce for those who come from a development background and want fine-grain control over their online store.