This is part of our ongoing series comparing Content Management Systems (CMS) to help you identify which is the right fit for you.
WordPress & WooCommerce vs. Shopify
When you first consider developing an online store, you should ask yourself a set of questions.
These questions will help you outline your needs and, in turn, help you determine which eCommerce platform is right for you.
- What is your budget? A functional eCommerce site is going to cost you money, be that in the price of hosting or the expense of creating a unique website design. How much money do you have in your business’s budget to create the interface you want your clients to experience?
- What’s your level of web design skill? Do you need a platform that’ll guide you through the process of creating your website step-by-step, or will you feel comfortable coding some of the HTML or CSS on your own?
- How do you want your customers to pay for your goods or services? Different platforms support different methods of payment, including PayPal. What kind of payment method do you anticipate your audience will use most frequently?
- How do you anticipate your business growing? Any platform you use should be able to grow with you, and that means scalability is crucial. If you don’t anticipate a lot of growth, you can stick to a platform that’s smaller, but if you suspect that you have an eye-catching product or service everyone’s going to want, then you’ll need a platform that allows for expansion.
Once you’ve established your needs, you can more effectively explore the various eCommerce platforms available online.
That said, how do two of the larger platforms – Shopify and WooCommerce – compare when stacked up against one another?
Getting to Know Shopify
Shopify makes an excellent all-in-one platform for ambitious business owners who are just getting started with eCommerce. Based out of Canada, Shopify was created by Tobias Lutke and launched in April of 2008.
At present, it serves as one of the easiest platforms on which to create and host an online store.
While the finer details of Shopify’s usage will be explored below, Shopify has styled itself as a platform that easily accepts all manner of consumer payment methods.
It can also help you manage your inventory without the need for a complicated site crossover.
In general, then, it sounds like Shopify would be an excellent CMS for beginners.
However, let’s take a look at the platform’s various features (and hidden costs) before jumping to any conclusions.
As was touched on above, Shopify maintains all the useful features you need to create a thriving eCommerce site on its own servers.
This can be freeing if you like a hands off approach, or a limitation depending on how much control over your website code you want.
Nonetheless, what does that mean, and how will it impact the way you create your business?
Initial Registration and Setup
Registering with Shopify and creating a business account with the site is reasonably straightforward. This is because Shopify was designed to be a subscription-based platform.
This is a huge distinction between it and WordPress with WooCommerce.
All that’s necessary to get started is hit the “sign up” button on Shopify’s homepage. This lets its installation wizard guide you through the process of creating your website’s skeleton.
You’ll be prompted to outline the purpose of your store, as well as describe the items or services you intend to advertise.
From there, you’ll be guided through Shopify’s available themes and eventually directed to your business’s primary dashboard.
Here, you’ll have the ability to start uploading product descriptions and various plugins and extensions.
In exchange for the basic Shopify hosting service – the ability, that is, to host your site on Shopify’s servers – you’ll be charged $29/month for the basic plan.
This is a necessary fee to start creating a business site on the platform.
When compared to some of the other eCommerce platforms online, this price isn’t too high, but it’s a number that should play into your aforementioned budget.
However, there’s an additional fee per transaction on top of the monthly subscription cost. For the basic plan, that equals 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.
Many new businesses fail to account for this when they create their initial business plan, so if you are using Shopify, make sure to read all the fine print, and find every cost associated with the platform (most apps have monthly fees as well).
Business Creation and Individualization
When you’re first building a business, you’re creating the symbols (logos, fonts, slogans) and design that will establish your brand in the mind of a consumer audience.
As such, the platform you use to host your website should allow you to play off the trends in your industry, while also enabling you to stand apart from the crowd.
Shopify has very few eCommerce themes. Of the 54 made available on the platform, 10 are free – but all of them are designed to make your business’s website accessible and aesthetically-pleasing.
However, they look very similar. Generally speaking, you know what a Shopify website is going to look out as far as layout goes.
You can fiddle with these themes and make some customizations, but there are a lot of limitations.
While you can make some slight adjustments to the header, footer, or sidebar styling, and you can upload your own images and logos, if you and another business are on the exact same theme, most users will be able to tell.
Shopify does ensure all of its themes are mobile compatible, so your business will operate effectively whether it’s viewed from a desktop or a phone.
With design out of the way, how will Shopify help you maintain your inventory and facilitate consumer payments?
Shopify offers its users a plethora of features and apps to take advantage of, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Unlimited file storage space.
- Manual order creation.
- Blog modules.
- Credit card payments.
- Adjustable shipping and tax rates.
- Social media integration and partnerships.
- Gift cards and discount codes.
What does all of that mean for you?
Shopify allows you host an unlimited number of products on its servers, and you can use social media marketing and SEO to draw consumer eyes to your store.
Shopify, then, serves as a scalable platform that can grow with your business. However, many of the most popular apps and features require additional monthly fees.
If you are needing to do anything other than straightfoward eCommerce sales of basic products, using a default payment processor and standard shipper chosen by Shopify, you can expect to pay additional monthly fees, which can add up very quickly.
According to a 2018 Survey, 87% of merchants say that they rely on apps to run their business. It is very likely you will need apps to get your eCommerce working properly.
And keep in mind these are monthly fees, not a one time development fee. So while it might seem like a monthly subscription fee of $29/month is a much better deal than a $10,000 website build, that is a very deceptive number.
If your monthly fee balloons to $400/month because of the apps you need (which is on the low end of the scale, and doesn’t even include the transaction fees), that $10,000 initial investment in your website development translates to roughly two years worth of monthly payments for your Shopify store.
Once you pass the two year mark, Shopify becomes the more expensive option. And this is just the base fee, not the transaction fees that are added on top.
Shopify Pros and Cons
It would seem that Shopify is a strong contender in this debate. Let’s summarize the details, though, before any claims are made.
- Shopify is a platform that new business owners and inexperienced web designers can use with ease.
- The availability of eCommerce features on Shopify is impressive.
- Your site on Shopify is designed to grow with your business. Shopify emphasizes scalability and will not place unnecessary limitations on what or how many products you can host.
- Hosting a business website on Shopify costs a minimum of $29/month, and even that number is very deceptive. Expect to pay at a minimum $200-$800/month depending on the bells and whistles you need.
- Compared to other eCommerce platforms, the availability of themes and customization options are very limited.
Getting to Know WooCommerce
Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce is a content management system that is open-source and which focuses on providing eCommerce solutions to hopeful business owners.
However, WooCommerce is not an independent content management system (CMS). Rather, it is a plugin for the much larger and more widely used WordPress CMS.
The plugin is currently affiliated with Automattic (the folks who maintain WordPress.com, making WooCommerce as close to an “official” WordPress eCommerce plugin as possible) and was initially released in September of 2011.
As you can already see, Shopify seems to have a slight experiential advantage over WooCommerce, having been released 3 years before WooCommerce.
All newcomers learn from their predecessors, though, so instead of making judgments, let’s take a look at some of WooCommerce’s available features.
Initial Registration and Setup
You don’t exactly have to sign up for WooCommerce, since it, unlike Shopify, it is not a subscription-based service. Rather, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin.
As such, you’ll have to install WordPress and a WordPress theme in order to access WooCommerce’s features.
With that said, installing WordPress and creating a site on the platform is very straightforward.
WordPress guides you through its registration process and doesn’t leave you with a blank website slate; rather, it prompts you to choose a theme and general site details before letting you fiddle with customization. More on that in a moment…
WordPress and WooCommerce allow you to host your business’s website through WordPress’s servers – free of charge as a subdomain of WordPress.com.
However, there are also third-party alternatives affiliated with WordPress on which you can host your site for a fee, which will allow you to have your site on it’s own URL.
Whichever path you choose, you’ll always be creating your site in WordPress’s medium.
Business Creation and Individualization
So, how does the process of creating eCommerce content on WordPress look? The process itself isn’t complicated, but it will take some time to learn how the system works.
WooCommerce, as a plugin, focuses mainly on providing you with the means to turn a WordPress site into a business.
Any customizations to the design of the plugin will come from your WordPress theme, not from WooCommerce itself.
Additionally, if you want to customize your business’s website, you’ll have to do so using some of WordPress’s other available plugins.
Many are free, others require a one time payment, and some an annual subscription. However, when compared to the monthly fees associated with Shopify Apps, the cost difference is significant.
As an example, let’s say you want your online store to be able to accept Credit Card payments via Stripe, Amazon Pay, Paypal, and Square. With WooCommerce, those extensions are all free.
With Shopify, they are not. If a WooCommerce extension does have a fee, that cost generally ranges from $19-$79 per year. Shopify’s apps generally cost from $29-$199 per month.
And this doesn’t even include the per transaction costs of Shopify. By contrast, WooCommerce does not have a per transaction fee.
When you first register for an account on the site, you’re prompted to choose a WordPress theme. This theme usually doesn’t impact the functionality of your site (some premium themes come with built in functionality), but rather establishes its initial aesthetic or visual design.
WordPress requires you to choose a theme before continuing with your website development, but you can easily change your theme after moving forward.
WordPress and WooCommerce are open-source platforms. WooCommerce takes advantage of the massive community supporting it, offering various unique ways to optimize your business.
These features include (but are not limited to):
- Marketability of physical and digital products.
- A variety of acceptable payment methods, including all major credit and debit cards, PayPal, and Stripe.
- Adjustable shipping fees.
- Mobile-friendly structure.
- Free Facebook extensions and marketing.
- Thousands of extensions with custom functionality. You can create almost any sort of eCommerce function you need using WooCommerce.
- If you require some truly unique functionality, because WooCommerce is truly open source, a development company can custom code a solution for you (as an example, we worked with a business that did custom engraving of their products. They needed the WooCommerce order system to allow users to enter text for engraving, and have the system spit that out as a very specific file type for their engraving software and tool. We were able to do this easily because of the way WooCommerce is built).
It’s also worth noting that WooCommerce and WordPress do not limit the number of items you can sell through your site, much like Shopify.
In this way, WooCommerce promises to grow with your business, offering you room to advertise and work as your audience expands.
WooCommerce Pros and Cons
With that basic understanding of WooCommerce and WordPress under your belt, how does the eCommerce plugin stack up?
- WordPress support allows for impressive levels of website customization.
- Payment processing is made easy, thanks to WooCommerce’s PayPal and Stripe compatibility, along with a large number of free extensions.
- Unlimited inventory ensures you can benefit from scalability.
- WooCommerce does not charge a per transaction fee for using their platform.
- Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce requires the installation of an entirely different CMS to operate effectively.
- By default WooCommece only allows you to market goods through Facebook, whereas Shopify has partnered with Instagram and other social media affiliates. With extensions, this isn’t a problem, but you need to be comfortable adding and testing extensions to your platform.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: The Line-Up
Now that all the facts are on display, how do these two eCommerce platforms – or, rather, an eCommerce platform and an eCommerce plugin – compare to one another?
If you’re new to web design and the world of online business, both of these sites will serve you well.
However, if you’re looking for an expense-free eCommerce platform, you’ll want to work with WooCommerce and, subsequently, WordPress.
Some extensions may have an annual fee, but these are relatively rare, and significantly lower in cost than Shopify app fees.
Despite the way it’s marketed, Shopify, with its baseline hosting cost of $29/month plus a per transaction fee, with the potential additional monthly cost of any apps you might need, demands a little more financial commitment if you are planning on using the platform long term.
That said, when choosing the eCommerce platform that’s best for you, remember the four initial questions.
- What’s your budget?
- What’s your level of web design experience?
- What kind of payment methods do you need?
- How do you plan for your business to grow?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can confidently develop a platform for your business on any hosting site you choose.
And the Winner is… WordPress + WooCommerce
This really isn’t a tough call. While Shopify is great if you don’t know any website code, and don’t want to brother with managing your website, the costs are deceptive.
One of the big selling points of Shopify is the alleged cost savings over a full website development. And in theory, as a sales point, it is possible to have a cheaper website through Shopify.
In practice however, that is almost never the case. On average, most stores need apps to function properly.
So let’s say you have a website that costs $400/month in Shopify app fees, and does $6,000 in monthly sales split up over 120 orders (your average order being $50). The transaction fees add up to $215.
So each month you are paying Shopify $615 for your website. That’s $7,380 each year.
And the monthly cost goes up the lower your average transaction amount is. Using the same example of $6,000 in monthly sales, if your average order is $25, that bumps your total orders up to 240.
This makes your transaction fees $246, making your monthly cost $646/month, or $7,752 per year.
Additionally, Shopify stores are extremely limited when it comes to layout and design. It will be very difficult to stand out as a business if you look just like every other eCommerce store on the internet.
But with WordPress and WooCommerce, the sky is the limit. You can have literally any design you can dream up, a truly unique user experience that will make you stand out from your competition.
WordPress with the power of WooCommerce is definitely the best, most cost effective solution to your eCommerce needs.
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