Shopify vs. WooCommerce: Online Store Builders
If you’re planning on launching an e-commerce store, chances are, you’ve heard about the two most popular platforms: Shopify and WooCommerce.
How do you know which online store builder is right for you?
To help you choose the right solution for your online store, we’ve pitted them against each other. We’ll compare things like pricing and payments, ease of use, and design. These details are key to running a successful e-commerce website and will help you figure out which platform is best for you.
What’s Unique about Each E-Commerce Platform?
Before we take a deeper comparison, let’s cover the unique selling points and main differences between them.
|WooCommerce is an open-source solution from Automattic (WordPress.com) which enables you to run an online store using the platform you know and love||Shopify is an all-in-one solution where everything—from creating your store, adding apps, and handling products—happens from one service provider.|
|Completely free, although you will need to purchase your own hosting.||Three different plans from $29 per month.|
|Doesn’t include a free domain — you need to buy your own.||Free myshopify.com subdomain Supports custom domains.|
|Add an unlimited number of products.||Add an unlimited number of products.|
|Payment fees depend on which payment processors you decide to add.||Charges fees for payments.|
|Thousands of free and paid themes are available to customize how your store looks.||Dozens of premium themes are available.|
This rest of this article takes a deeper analysis of the merits, and drawbacks of each e-commerce platform.
How Easy Is It to Launch an Online Store?
Most people starting an online store are not web pros. They are people like you, looking for a way to set up a shop, without needing advanced technical skills or heaps of time.
Let’s see launching an e-commerce store plays out on WooCommerce and WordPress vs. Shopify. For quick reference, here’s a side-by-side comparison.
|Steps to Create a Store with WooCommerce||Steps to Create a Store with Shopify|
|•Buy a domain name|
•Create a WooCommerce account
•Find a WooCommerce theme
•Choose details like payment gateways, shipping, and security apps.
These details are simplified with WooCommerce Services, designed to get stores ‘ready to sell, much quicker).
|•Sign up for a Shopify account|
•Buy a domain name (or sync an existing domain)
•Select a theme
•Accept credit card payments straight away if you’re using Shopify’s payment gateway.
Now let’s take a closer look at the differences.
As you can see, there are a few more steps to launch an online store with WooCommerce. First, you need to install WordPress, then install WooCommerce.
Setup involves adding a few details about your store (the location, currency, payment vendors you accept, and your shipping rates).
Then, all that’s left to do is choose from four recommended, and free, store enhancement features:
- Storefront Theme
- Automated Taxes
In one click you can add a theme and several automation tools for tax, email, and Facebook shopping.
The final step connects your domain to WooCommerce.com, and then your setup is complete. You are then swiftly prompted to ‘Design Your Store’.
Clicking ‘Let’s Go’ launches the ‘Storefront’ theme in Customizer, an extension of WooCommerce. Directly from here, you can start to change the overall look and feel of your store. There’s a helpful walkthrough that eases you into the setup process with prompts guiding you through everything from adding a logo to customizing your menu.
It doesn’t take long to become familiar with the platform. And soon as you launch the WooCommerce app, there’s a strong sense of having your hand-held to get your store up and running.
The example above includes the ‘Storefront homepage template’ but there are many more options available.
With Shopify, you don’t need to set up hosting or install WordPress, as it is a stand-alone service. The actual process to configure a store with Shopify is a similar experience to WooCommerce.
Once you’ve signed up, you‘re prompted to add essential details about your new store and add a payment gateway.
Then you reach the Shopify Dashboard.
From here, Shopify walks you through adding a theme, a custom domain, and new products.
Undoubtedly Shopify’s user interface is the more polished of the two. One downside of this guided, polished, and highly-optimized user experience is that it limits your control. In essence, you’re limited to the design and development tools provided by Shopify or add-ons available in their marketplace. Even so, the selection of extensions and themes available is enough to get started.
Ease-of-Use Winner: Shopify!
It’s tough to beat the simplicity of Shopify. In terms of how easy it is to go from opening your web browser to launching an online store, taking orders, and processing payments, Shopify is ahead of woocommerce at this point.
With WooCommerce, there are a few extra steps, including familiarizing yourself with the WordPress platform. Even so, setting up a store with WooCommerce is an extremely user-friendly and smooth process. In a few clicks, it can be installed from the WordPress admin, and thanks to a guided setup, and customization wizard, you couldn’t falter at creating a store. It’s also bundled with all the apps you need to create a store from day one.
Still, Shopify takes the edge on the overall ease of use for absolute beginners.
E-Commerce Features to Build a Fully-Fledged Store
E-commerce features—such as adding products, variable pricing, checkout options, and shipping—are elements necessary to create a full-blown online store.
Both platforms have a simple process for adding new products. The differences in Shopify vs. WooCommerce become clear when it comes to adding variable products and what you’re permitted to sell.
WooCommerce is built to play nicely with WordPress. That means you can access thousands of themes and plugins that can really make your e-commerce store shine. WooCommerce works the same for small catalogs of products and fully-blown stores with tens of thousands. That’s why businesses of all sizes use it.
New products are added from the Products tab in the WordPress admin.
WooCommerce is also more flexible regarding product variations. The ability to add variants is a big deal for online stores. They are necessary for a product that comes in more than one option, such as color, or size. Each combination of options for a product is called a variant and with WooCommerce, there’s no limit to the number of variants you can use.
With Shopify, you can do everything, from including coupons, shipping, taxes, and a lot more. After you add variants, you need to adjust pricing, inventory, and shopping settings for each variant from the variant details page.
Shopify product variations are capped at 100 variants, with a limit of three options per product. These caps apply to all Shopify plans.
Additionally, some products are banned from Shopify. Most banned goods are things you’d expect like adult content or gambling. However, other seemingly okay products have been banned, such as certain skincare products. With Shopify, you’re at the whim of whoever makes that call in Shopify HQ.
E-Commerce Features Winner: WooCommerce
As far as hosted platforms go, Shopify is actually one of the more flexible solutions. But it still can’t come close to the control that you get with a self-hosted WooCommerce site, which is why WooCommerce is the clear winner in this category. You’re the boss, in charge of what you sell, and you have the most options of how you sell it. WooCommerce is more flexible for product variations.
WooCommerce is miles ahead of Shopify in terms of features, and unlike its rival, you can tailor the checkout process to accommodate the needs of your customers. With cart abandonment being so high, it would be a huge oversight to ignore this. Plus, given that WordPress is self-hosted, nothing restricts which payment providers you can work with.
To succeed in ecommerce, your site has to have a modern and functional aesthetic. If your site doesn’t look good, people won’t want to buy from you. Good design offers credibility, and gains trust to garner sales and smoothly guides customers from browsing products through to the checkout process.
WooCommerce calls itself the world’s most customizable e-commerce platform. There are currently almost 4,000 themes in the free WordPress theme directory alone.
WooCommerce will work with any theme by default, so if you’re already got a WordPress website, all the better. If not, there are thousands of designs to choose from to meet your needs exactly.
From the WordPress dashboard, themes are nestled in the Appearance tab.
Shopify themes are available in the somewhat limited Shopify Theme Store. Sorted by industry, there are also collections based around design aesthetics which all looked impressive at first glance. On closer inspection, if you want to keep costs down, your choices are limited. For example, ‘Home and Garden’ had just one free theme, and 18 paid themes to choose from.
Design Options Winner: WooCommerce
Which is the Most Scalable E-Commerce Platform?
The ability to scale your business is an important consideration. If and when your business grows, you need the resources that can handle a spike in traffic and orders.
Both platforms are capable of powering large online stores, but they’re not equal when it comes to scalability.
With WooCommerce, you’re in complete control of your site. This is optimal when you start getting more traffic and outgrow entry-level hosting resources. You’ve got the freedom to align your resources to manage the growth of your site, including better management of resources with caching, and upgrading your hosting plan to more powerful servers.
Unlike Shopify, you can set up a fully-functioning store within a professional website, alongside an integrated blog! That means if you already have a website powered by WordPress, you can build your e-commerce site on the same platform, with its entire ecosystem and plugins included.
Shopify handles the technical parts of your store, which means you don’t ever have to worry about performance, security, or scalability. There’s one caveat: once your business starts growing, you’re forced to upgrade your plan. Based on your increased needs, expect your monthly bill to increase from $299 rising to over $2,000 a month per month + 2.15% per transaction for Shopify Plus enterprise-level plans for high volume merchants and large businesses. That’s a big difference in your overhead that can drastically impact your bottom line.
Despite the control that WooCommerce offers, you might still prefer a hassle-free solution. Shopify’s infrastructure can easily handle your growing business without you having to worry about downtimes, backups, updates, or security. This takes out the painful part of the growth, but it also adds to your cost of business.
But, given that you can choose your hosting partner, and any other resources needed to support a growing business, as a small business enterprise, you might prefer the control over your finances provided by WooCommerce.
The True Cost of Using Each Platform
As a new business owner looking for an online platform, chances are you’re going to want to keep the costs down. The cost of e-commerce platforms is understandably confusing to anyone starting out. The question how much each platform will cost you is not straightforward. The two platforms have really different approaches to pricing. WooCommerce is a free plugin, whereas Shopify charges monthly fees along with add-ons. A WooCommerce store does require the time to set up, web hosting, and a domain name. Let’s take a look at them in more detail
WooCommerce is regarded as the most affordable platform, even after you have to factor in hosting, the cost of your domain, and whatever you pay a payment gateway. However, while WooCommerce itself is free, there are some additional costs to running it.
- Domain name (around $12/year)
- Web hosting (from 3.95/month)
- Additional costs like a theme (~$59), plugins & extensions (from $25 each) and developer fees ($20-$150/hour).
While there are many premium plugins and themes, you won’t have any trouble finding any free versions with similar features.
Shopify has straightforward pricing that makes it easy to plan and budget for. Plans include
- Domain Name
- Web hosting
- SSL certificate
Shopify’s entry-level plan includes everything necessary to run an online store. You get unlimited file storage for your products and page, and two user access accounts. Just like WooCommerce, there are optional extras that you are likely to add, again things like premium themes and apps that are billed monthly.
These third-party tools and add-ons will become necessary as your business grows, and you’ll soon find your costs adding up, amounting to far more than the $29.00 you’d budgeted for Shopify basic plan. To add to your costs, Shopify applies fees when you use external payment gateways, which we’ll cover further down the page.
Shopify has some fantastic features built-in, but they are all tied to their paid plans. Premium apps are only available in the Shopify Advanced plan coming in at a whopping $299 per month.
Cost Winner: WooCommerce
The cost of launching a store with WooCommerce is significantly lower than Shopify. There are also savings once you start making sales, since WooCommerce doesn’t charge a percentage fee for your transactions, and since these fees add on, this is a huge perk. However, costs for using WooCommerce also start adding up if you opt for paid extensions over free alternatives.
WooCommerce is advantageous in that there’s free alternatives to paid extensions. And, unlike Shopify, you can keep costs down by purchasing extra features, as you need them. You can sell anything and an unlimited amount of it without having to subscribe to an ad on a monthly basis whereas with Shopify, both their Plugins and Add Ons require a monthly subscription.
Payment Gateways and Transaction Fees
Payments are another factor that will affect your total build cost. Let’s see how this plays out on each platform.
Free plugins are available to support all popular payment providers. You can also install additional methods such as Postgiro, Przelewy24, and Amazon Pay. To make the checkout process efficient, WooCommerce also offers options like the use of multiple coupons and guest checkout.
With its own built-in payment system, there’s no need to choose, install and configure. However, you can also add a third-party payment gateway. All things being equal so far, it’s worth paying attention to the charges for external payment gateways to avoid surprises later.
If you want to use third-party payment gateways or your own merchant account, then you will be charged a flat fee of 2.0% for all transactions. You can reduce this fee to 0.5% by using the Shopify Advanced plan which costs $299 per month.
These payment processing fees are fairly steep when using external payment gateways. However, if you’re just starting out and want to use the Shopify payment solution, then the fees are fairly comparable to popular platforms like Stripe and Braintree.
Payment Gateways Winner: WooCommerce
Both platforms have an impressive number of payment gateways. So, unless you have niche needs, either platform should suffice. The main thing to consider is the Shopify charges when using an external payment gateway that are on top of whatever the gateway charges. With WooCommerce, you can handle everything on your own unrestricted.
Can You Extend Your Store With Add-Ons?
Add-ons and integrations are there to supercharge your store — and chances are, you’ll want plenty of them. Ecommerce platforms try to provide all the tools you need to grow your store in house, however, this is rarely possible. It’s highly likely that you’ll need third-party tools such as lead generation, or email marketing software and outreach services.
Both platforms have a huge library of extensions, and both integrate with popular third-party apps, tools, and services.
There are a lot more integrations and add-ons available for WooCommerce than Shopify because WooCommerce integrates with WordPress. You can add any functionality imaginable to your website thanks to 55,000+ free and paid WordPress plugins.
Many more useful (paid) extensions are available in the WooCommerce Extension Store, and plenty more through premium third-party plugins. Whether paid or free, these extensions can be used to add payment gateways, performance optimization lead generation, and almost any other feature you can imagine.
Shopify comes with a powerful App Store with thousands of apps to advance your business, from SEO to invoices, and much more. These tools give you a good deal of flexibility for a hosted platform.
Here’s the thing. Their free apps are almost all third-party services with additional costs. For example, you might get unlimited access to core features, such as Unlimited WhatsApp Chats, but a critical feature to add a button for Online/Offline hours chat is only available in the paid versions. Pricing for helpful add-ons varies but most require monthly subscription fees.
Add-ons Winner: WooCommerce
WooCommerce is the clear winner with so many add-ons that are free or inexpensive. The biggest downside of the flexibility is that you have to search and test these plugins on your own, and that comes with a learning curve and more hands-on management of your website. You also have to sign up for a merchant account or similar service like Stripe / PayPal.
Where Can You Go for Help?
One final consideration is customer support, and how much help you can expect from each platform.
WooCommerce is technically free software, but unless you pay, there’s no official customer support channel. However, there are plenty of tutorials, documentation, and reference materials available. Users who have purchased a product at WooCommerce.com can get additional support by opening a request ticket, or through the live chat. Besides this, you can check for any related support for your theme developers.
Since Shopify is a paid service, all expected customer service avenues are available. Users can bank on 24/7 customer support via chat, email, and phone.
Furthermore, Shopify provides extensive documentation including tutorials and many other resources. If you’re stuck, all you need to do is type your issue into the search box and it’ll display all the related results.
Customer Support Winner: Shopify
For a paid service, it’s expected that Shopify provides more dedicated customer service. While there’s no lack of support for WooCommerce users, It can’t match Shopify instant customer service options.
Deciding between Shopify and WooCommerce
We’ve compared all the key features of WooCommer and Shopify. It’s now time to decide which platform is best for you:
Shopify is easy to launch and run, manages your site updates and security for you, and includes many built-in multichannel marketing and selling tools. However, it starts at $29 per month, which can be more expensive than WooCommerce. Plus, your design and customization options are limited. If you want to and want to customize every aspect of your experience and save a considerable amount of money while you’re at it. WooCommerce is the only choice.
WooCommerce gives you complete flexibility in design, functionality, and extendibility, and can cost less per month to operate than Shopify. However, it has a steeper learning curve, adding features increases the cost, and you’re responsible for managing the updates and security for both your WordPress site and WooCommerce plug-in.
Choosing which e-commerce platform to run your online store is a massive undertaking. It’s not easy to make a cut-and-dried comparison when the best choice is really dependent on your specific situation. As you can see, neither platform is perfect, and many of the pros and cons will be based on your own context. The ‘wrong’ choice here could have detrimental effects on your store right from its inception.
Having said all that, if you’re just starting out, we think WooCommerce is the overall best choice based on the cost, number of options, and integration with WordPress.
If you want the freedom of an open-source platform, but you’re nervous about starting out with WordPress, I’d recommend you go with managed hosting. EasyWP is a managed hosting option that supports a WooCommerce plugin, has WordPress pre-installed, updates, backups, and CDN & SSL with starter plans costing as little as $3.88/ month. This way, you can start with a flexible plan, and begin publishing in minutes.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on the two platforms. Have you ever switched from one to the other? What are you using to run your e-commerce store? Let us know in the comments below.