Looking to start an ecommerce store but not sure where to start?
Chances are you’ve come across the two main giants in the industry, Shopify and WooCommerce. They both have their own merits, so it’s hard to make a quick judgement on which one is the best solution for your needs. For this reason, we’ve compiled this guide that compares the two to each other so you can make a confident, educated decision.
Now more than ever, it’s easy and convenient to start an online shop. Thanks largely to the advancement of the technology involved, merchants of all sizes can get started in under a day. Nonetheless, having all these options makes it all the more difficult to try and find the best one for your needs. Narrowing this list down requires focus on three key areas:
First and foremost, the features are arguably the most important thing to consider when you’re shopping around. Are you planning to sell at a brick and mortar, or will you be strictly online? Your situation determines the features you need to best run your business.
In particular, the platform dashboard is something you’ll see all the time, so it’s important that you’re comfortable using it. Managing inventory, processing orders, generating reports, and creating discount codes are all common activities that shouldn’t be difficult to achieve.
The platform alone isn’t going to help you run a successful business. That’s why it’s important to find one that can integrate with the other software you’re using for the company. Check the app store or add-on library for extensions, plugins, and modules that can help you decide whether or not the software you’re already using can integrate with the new platform easily.
One integration in particular that is critical to consider is a solution for fraud. The platform of your choice should already have this as part of its core package, and it should be able to integrate into the software you already use for fraud management. It’s important to your customers’ satisfaction and to your bottom line that you do not accept fraudulent orders, and that you can respond rapidly when they inevitably occur.
Finally, all the best features in the world don’t matter if you can’t afford to use them. Examine your budget, know how much you can allocate towards this platform, and take this into consideration when you conduct your research.
Overview: A Glance at Both Platforms
Before we dive into the meat of the matter, we need to introduce the two ecommerce giants.
It’s the all-in-one shop-in-a-box that makes it very easy for anyone to start their own store, manage their inventory, and accept payments all in one location. At no point does the user need to worry about the technical parts, such as caching pages, securing transactions, hosting the files, and so on.
This platform is built as a plugin for WordPress, allowing its users to leverage the already-powerful CMS and turn it into an equally powerful online shop. Because it is an open-source platform, you have the ability to change anything you want, and can even build your own custom extensions, if you have the technical know-how.
As you might anticipate, the best choice of platform will come down to your skill level and your needs.
What is Each Platform’s Approach?
In the same way that you’d want to compare Wix and Squarespace to WordPress before making your decision, it’s important to compare the two ecommerce platforms to see which of their different approaches can work the best for your store.
Shopify’s claim to fame is that it is a hosted program that manages all parts of the software for you. Although you have lots of options for customization, they’re restricted to whatever changes the company allow you to make.
WooCommerce’s approach is the self-hosted approach, meaning you are responsible for putting the files onto your own webhost server, but this allows you to modify whatever you want at any time–provided you have the skill.
What’s the difference, practically?
Shopify’s much more beginner friendly compared to its self-hosted counterpart, but it does have harder limits. When we dive deeper into detail, this is a theme you’ll notice over and over.
Shopify: Everything to Know
Now that you’ve learned the core difference between the two platforms, let’s dive into Shopify’s service in a little more depth.
If your site isn’t pretty, nobody will stick around, and if there’s nobody around, there’s nobody left to buy something. If your website looks like it was built back when Geocities was the top dog, it’ll just be bad news all around. You want something professional, clean, and efficient.
This platform comes with over 50 professional themes to choose from; however, only ten of them are free, and the others will cost a pretty penny. However, they are all designed by professionals and give you the option to adjust the look, feel, and overall functionality of your shop. Not only that, but because they’re designed by professionals, they’re frequently updated to the latest version of the platform, ensuring you are never out of date.
Most of the site’s design options can be changed with little difficulty, such as the styles and their colors. It is also easy to add new items to the inventory and even swap out a theme once you decide you’re ready for something new. You can even modify parts of your store in preparation for a major launch without shutting down the entire store.
Advanced developers can use the proprietary Liquid programming language to extend your platform a little bit more, but this is far from necessary.
Here, you’ll find a wealth of built-in features without the need for technical know-how, such as:
- Unlimited product space
- Customer profiles
- Automatic fraud analysis
- Print orders
- Unlimited file storage
- Different product variations
- Credit card payments
- Blog module
- Multiple languages
- Social media integration
- Daily backups
- So much more
The platform’s goal is to be as close to an out-of-the-box product as is possible in the industry–and it really seems to have succeeded.
WooCommerce: Everything to Know
Now that you have an idea of its competitor’s core system, it’s time to understand WooCommerce’s. This platform has most of the same functions, but it comes with considerably more control in the process.
On Shopify’s model, in exchange to avoid the webhost’s fees, you don’t really own the store since it’s hosted on the company’s servers. With WooCommerce’s software, however, you are using a plugin with WordPress that facilitates building a site you already own. It gives you more options and a wide range of additional plugins to help further personalize your experience.
This platform works with just about any WordPress theme, which means you have a virtually endless choice in how to design your store. If you already have a theme picked out, chances are good this software will work with it. If you’re just now in the research stages, you have the peace of mind of knowing you can pick the theme you like and the plugin will probably work. There are even some themes designed to work with this platform specifically.
Of course, it can mean that you will need to put a little more effort into designing a store for your business, and not all of WooCommerce’s plugins are free.
As we mentioned before, WooCommerce’s features just about go toe-to-toe with Shopify’s list of features. Though it may lack a small handful of features, chances are great that someone has made a plugin to fill in that gap. Some of these features include:
- Hundreds of plugins for extension
- Adjustable taxes and shipping rates
- PayPal payments and built-in Stripe support
- Control over inventory
- Mobile-friendly structure
This should highlight the fact that Shopify’s experience is much more functional out of the box, but WooCommerce’s extensions offers far more flexibility overall.
Think of it like being able to explore a city all on your own versus going on a tour guide. One will get you to all the main sights with little effort, but the other could potentially take you much farther to the places you actually want to go.
The Data Privacy Question
WooCommerce’s open source platform affords you that much more control over your own data. Here, you own everything, unlike Shopify’s services, which involve a copy of your information living on its servers. That means despite the total access to your own data, you don’t own it all completely. Having said that, Shopify’s data is available in the following ways:
- Via API
- Backup your website via third-party app
- Export CSV files
So Who Wins?
As it turns out, there isn’t a single correct answer here. Instead of making one blanket recommendation, we’d like to quickly run through a few scenarios where either platform would work best for your needs.
Reasons to Choose WooCommerce
The main reason you’d pick WooCommerce’s platform would be for its control and flexibility. If all you’re doing is selling a few basic things without much difference between them, you probably aren’t going to need that.
But if your ecommerce goal is to go above and beyond, then you’ll definitely want the flexibility offered. Not only that, but there are actually some products that aren’t allowed according to Shopify’s policies.
Reasons to Choose Shopify
If all you need is a basic system to help sell your product in the most beginner-friendly way possible, then this is the choice for you. As long as you are not looking to add lots of variations or complicated products, there should be no trouble at all. This is especially a good choice for ecommerce if you aren’t interested in programming at all.