Choosing Your E-Commerce Platform: WooCommerce vs Shopify

Do you want an out-of-the-box solution, or the flexibility of à la carte?

WooCommerce and Shopify are two of the most popular platforms in the e-commerce industry. Shopify probably has higher brand recognition thanks to a few key celebrity endorsements, while WooCommerce holds higher cred with developers. For businesses entering the online marketplace, choosing between the two can be a defining moment.

The key difference between the two services is that, while Shopify is a hosted platform that takes care of most of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure for you, WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, offering greater flexibility in exchange for more up-front work.

Depending on your business model and projected growth, either could be a good choice for your company. But while the decision is reversible if you find you want to switch to a different platform later on, doing so can be costly and complicated. To start your business off on the right foot, it pays to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each platform carefully. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look.

Shopify makes your store easy—with some trade-offs.

Key Shopify Value Proposition:

  • Out-of-the-box and ready-to-go.
  • Hosting, payment processing, and SSL certification included.
  • Plenty of themes and plugins to choose from.

The Basic Shopify package is an attractive deal for those new to e-commerce. For a subscription fee of $29/month, businesses gain payment processing, shopping cart options, hosting, and SSL certification. You may also have to pay a transaction fee of 2%­ if you use an external payment gateway, rather than Shopify Payments. (These transaction fees are lower if you pay for a higher plan.)

This is all very reasonable in terms of pricing, and cutting down on the hassle of setting up hosting and payment processing can be a relief. But with convenience comes a hidden cost.

Because Shopify is a closed-source platform, you can’t hire a developer to create a custom website for you. Your options are limited to the themes Shopify offers, and while there are hundreds of themes to choose from, Shopify has 600,000 businesses all choosing from that limited pool.

Furthermore, many of those businesses migrate toward the same themes. While you can customize them to a certain extent, no amount of editing is going to keep your store from looking substantially different from the thousands of other stores that are using that same theme.

You’re limited in other ways as well. While you can extend the functionality of your site using various plugins, you may not be able to find one that perfectly matches your need—and even if you do, you may need to pay for it.

Finally, when you choose a hosted solution like Shopify, you lose control of some aspects of your business—including your data. Because they handle so much of the infrastructure, you’re in it all or nothing. You rely on them for everything, and should you choose to leave, it will inevitably involve abandoning some aspects of your business which you will have to recreate on another platform.

WooCommerce: full control, full responsibility.

Key WooCommerce Value Proposition:

  • Full control over set up.
  • More options for themes and plugins.
  • Greater ability to custom develop solutions.

If Shopify does everything for you, WooCommerce is more DIY. You don’t just sign up for a monthly subscription package and call it a day. Instead, launching a WooCommerce store requires several hours of up-front work just to purchase a domain and a hosting plan, download WordPress, and install a theme, and finally install WooCommerce. And that’s assuming you know what you’re doing.

But despite the steep learning curve, WooCommerce pays off in the long term with extensive support for custom development and a hands-off approach that lets you run your business exactly the way you want to.

Decide you don’t like your hosting options? You can switch. Want to build a custom theme that represents your brand and allows you to perfectly craft your customer journey? There’s nothing standing in your way.

Furthermore, WooCommerce is a better option for SEO. While Shopify takes care of some of these optimizations for you, you don’t have full control. You probably won’t even end up with terrible SEO, but it won’t be fully optimized either—and isn’t that the point?

With WooCommerce, you don’t have to adjust your business to fit into someone else’s theme, nor do you have to worry about tying your entire business model to a single piece of software. If you decide to leave WooCommerce at any point, you can take all your data with you.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify: What’s the conclusion?

As a web development business, we have a clear preference for WooCommerce as an e-commerce platform. It’s what allows us to deliver the best value to our clients, which we can do, because our developers have the expertise to exploit WooCommerce’s capabilities to the fullest.

But that’s not to say WooCommerce is the best choice for everyone. If you’re just getting started, can’t afford a developer, and are content with a theme that will probably look a lot like hundreds of other stores on the web, Shopify can help you. They’ll skim a little off your sales in exchange for their services, but their monthly subscription fee is modest, and they can help you set up your business quickly.

There’s one more factor to take into account, and that is whether you already have a website. As we said before, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin. If you already run your site on WordPress, adding and configuring WooCommerce to your existing site is substantially easier than trying to migrate everything you have to Shopify. And even if you don’t have a website and are looking for a cheap option, starting one on WordPress and choosing a theme can be a budget-friendly solution that will tide you over till you can afford a developer. Shopify doesn’t offer that flexibility.

In short, Shopify assumes you don’t know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s fine. But if you’re an expert—or if you want to work with experts—Shopify will drive your people up a wall.

Want to work with experts? We can help. Take a look at our e-commerce case study to read how we boosted one business’s sales by 69% after a single year.

Published 07/20/18 by Laura Lynch