E-commerce has officially arrived. And it’s here to stay. The question is: is your business, and online store if you already have one, truly ready for it? Have you chosen the best possible platform for your business? We break down two of the biggest – WooCommerce vs Shopify – to help you answer that question.
Predictions. Whether you think they’re a bunch of bananas, or believe every single one you hear (until, once again, the world doesn’t end, and then you move onto the next one), it’s safe to say that not all predictions are rooted in reality, fact, hard cold evidence and statistics. This is categorically not true for the world of e-commerce. Just look at these stats if you don’t believe us:
- Digital Commerce 360 reports that “Consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up an incredible 44.0% year over year … That’s the highest annual U.S. ecommerce growth in at least two decades. It’s also nearly triple the 15.1% jump in 2019.”
- Meanwhile, Beeketing reports that “Studies (project) that worldwide retail eCommerce sales will reach a new high by 2021. Ecommerce businesses should anticipate a 265% growth rate, from $1.3 trillion in 2014 to $4.9 trillion in 2021. This shows a future of steady upward trend with no signs of decline.”
Add in the impact of Covid-19 on the world with pretty much our whole lives moving online – i.e., with lockdowns, quarantines and flat-out fear of going anywhere, pretty much every aspect of our daily lives (schooling, shopping, entertainment, news, exercise) has moved online in some or other capacity, and we don’t see that changing in a post-coronavirus world. Online everything is the new norm. This is especially true of online shopping, whatever industry you’re in, thanks to its convenience and overall awesomeness. (Converts much? Us? How could you tell? ;))
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Broad Overview
Okay, so you’re convinced that online is where it’s at retail-wise. (Welcome to the 21st century!) The only questions that now really remain are: how fast can you move online, if you haven’t already, and are you using an e-commerce platform that will help you take advantage of this move?
The two biggest e-commerce platforms are, undoubtedly, WooCommerce and Shopify. According to BuiltWith, this two combined account for nearly half of the e-commerce platform market share: as of January 2021, of the top 1 million sites, 30% of the web uses WooCommerce to power their stores, followed in second by Shopify at 18%. (There are, of course, like everything else that lives on the world wide web, about a gazillion options for e-commerce platforms, but, in the interests of keeping your already complicated life as simple as possible, at least in this arena, we will stick to comparing those two only. Besides, they got to be the two biggest platforms for a reason – they’re that good.)
But what exactly does each do? What’s the difference between the two? And how do you know which is best for you?
The short answer? Both will get your products online and ready for purchase just fine, but they take two different core approaches to getting there:
WooCommerce: this platform is “self-hosted”, which means everything in your online store – all the files, data etc, etc, are located on your own server (purchased separately, by you, through a server host), which you have complete control over. You say who, you say when, you say how, why, where. In other words, you are free to update and modify your online store any time in any way you want. It’s all yours.
Shopify: this platform is “hosted”. What this means in regular-person speak is that Shopify hosts and manages the software for you, your server host is built into the monthly cost, and you don’t have to do a thing. While this is nice and easy, and incredibly user-friendly, it does mean that you don’t have as much control or flexibility with regards to what you want to do with your store, how you want it to look, and how you want it to perform. Shopify handles all those decisions for you too, which can be limiting.
The long answer? Read on for more specific answers to the questions posed above. We will compare the two platforms in key areas:
- Ease of use
- Scalability, Flexibility, Control, and
By the end, you should be able to make an informed decision when choosing whether to take over the world of e-commerce with WooCommerce or Shopify.
Spoiler alert! Don’t want to read the complete thing? Our final verdict is this: WooCommerce wins in that it gives you complete control over everything that matters: SEO, data, files, look, feel, functionality. It does, however, involve a bit of technical know-how, but hey, that’s what YouTube is for… or a really good techie friend/colleague/employee (and there are plenty of us around!). That being said, if you were too lazy to read this whole article, perhaps Shopify is the better choice for you, given that they do all the heavy lifting on your behalf. 😉
What is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an open-source (i.e., free) e-commerce plugin built specifically for WordPress which allows you to run an online store in conjunction with your website (or in place of), thus allowing you to leverage this powerful content management system (CMS) along with all its various integrations and tools. Because it is open-source, you have total control, and can customize, every single aspect of your store.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is an all-in-one e-commerce platform – think of it as ‘online store building for beginners’ – that makes it easy for you to build and create your online store, start accepting payments as quickly as possible, and manage your inventory with relative ease. It’s a one-and-done system that does all the technical heavy lifting for you: web hosting, security, caching, design templates, SEO etc. Along with the ease of use, however, comes some measure of giving up control over your site data, files, etc.
Cost: WooCommerce vs Shopify
WooCommerce: As an open-source plugin for WordPress, the WooCommerce plugin itself is free. However, you will need to set up, and pay for, a domain name, SSL Certificate, and a WordPress hosting account to start a WooCommerce store. Prices for this range (and you can get great deals if look around, especially on multi-year deals), but you can expect to pay around $10-$20 a year for a domain name, around $50-80 per year for an SSL certificate, and $5 and upwards per month for web hosting (although, buyer beware: when it comes to hosting, just remember… you get what you pay for). This can be a significant outlay upfront, especially when you’re just starting out. However, there are also now several hosting companies who offer specialized WooCommerce all-in-one domain name/security/hosting plans which can reduce your monthly cost significantly. (Check out Bluehost, for example.)
As you get bigger, you may also decide to purchase paid extensions which can add to your cost. (Pro tip: you can often find free add ons and alternatives to paid extensions, plus you can budget carefully and keep your costs in control by only purchasing additional tools and plugins as and when the need arises.)
Finally, WooCommerce never charges you a percentage fee of your store transactions (unlike Shopify, as you’ll discover below), which many, many online reviewers list as their number one reason for choosing WooCommerce over Shopify. WooCommerce offers PayPal and Stripe payments by default and supports all other popular payment service providers through add-ons.
You are only charged transaction fees by your payment gateway or bank.
Shopify: Shopify offers three plans to choose from. The basic plan starts at $29 per month, the Shopify plan for $79 per month, and the Advanced Shopify plan for $299 per month. Each of these includes domain name, SSL certificate, and web hosting. It’s clear cut and simple… Or is it? While the basic plan comes with everything you need to set up an online store with unlimited products, file storage, and more, it doesn’t include third-party tools and add-ons that you will eventually need to take your Shopify store to the next level. As your business grows, these additions – and associated costs – will start adding up. Next thing you know that $29 per month is way more.
PLUS, and this is the biggie, as touched on above, the way Shopify handles payments can be a real sticking point. While their own, built-in Shopify Payments solution is just fine, many businesses choose to use or offer the option of other third-party payment gateways. The more payment options you provide your customers, the better. And when those customers choose to use the third party options, Shopify goes ahead and charges you an additional flat fee of 2.0% for each and every transaction. (This is on top of the transaction fees charged by the payment gateway, such as PayPal or Stripe, for example.)
Ease of Use: WooCommerce vs Shopify
Honestly? When it comes to setting up an online store, it’s tough to beat the user-friendliness and ease of use of Shopify. Click, click, click and hey presto – you can be selling your wares online with a fully-functioning store ready to process payments and accept orders, in a matter of minutes. (Okay, maybe hours, but still.) It’s enough to make you feel quite accomplished! But is this at the sacrifice of control and flexibility? Let’s see…
WooCommerce: With a WooCommerce powered online store, you have to do, well, everything. So, you’re looking at:
- Finding hosting
- Installing WordPress
- Installing and configuring WooCommerce
- Finding a WooCommerce theme
- Managing updates
- Managing backups
- Ensuring site security by installing an SSL certificate
- Configuring details like payment gateways, tax calculations, blah, blah, your-eyes-are-starting-to-cross-at-this-stage no?
So, while none of this is rocket science, and completely doable, especially thanks to the WooCommerce Setup Wizard as well as a number of forums, YouTube, and services like WooCommerce Services to help you, it does involve some real setup work on your part, and there is a definite learning curve.
The flip side to this heavy lifting? WooCommerce is super flexible when it comes to customizing your store! ALL. THE. CUSTOMIZATIONS. With more than 55,000+ WordPress plugins at your fingertips, offering any kind of functionality you can dream of, you have COMPLETE CONTROL over your store and business.
Shopify: Like we said, it’s hard to beat how easy Shopify makes it for you to get up and running, from zero to hero, in literally a few clicks and drags of your mouse. As a fully hosted platform, you barely need to lift a finger: they install, manage, and update any software, along with hosting, security, performance, backups, and compatibility issues. Plus, they’ll even help you pick a design for your site from their many templates, and they hold your hand, step by step, through any available customizations. All you have to do is:
- Create a Shopify account
- Select and purchase a domain or sync your existing domain name
- Choose your theme
- Use Shopify’s own payment gateway to start accepting credit card payments right away (with options for third party gateways if you want).
It is, quite simply, astoundingly simple.
The flip side of this easy ride? Your control over what you can do is limited: you can only use the design and development tools provided by Shopify (or those paid add-ons available in their marketplace). The world is not your oyster, your site is not your own.
This leads us directly into scalability, flexibility, and that sticky issue of control… (Side note: anyone notice the theme here? Yep, we are control freaks and we like to have control over our web assets! #controlfreak)
Scalability, Flexibility, and Control: WooCommerce vs Shopify
Both platforms can be scaled up to handle more traffic, and orders, as your business grows. However, one is definitely more flexible than the other. And one definitely gives you more control over your own world than the other.
WooCommerce: As a self-hosted platform you are responsible for maintaining updates, backups, and the security of your website. As you get more traffic and as your business grows, this may mean upgrading your hosting plan to a more powerful server as well as making sure you are managing your resources properly using caching etc. (Pro tip: You can also use a managed WordPress hosting provider, like WP Engine, DreamHost, Bluehost or Liquid Web, to help scale your WooCommerce store for you.)
With this technical headache, however, comes the freedom of full control – you can do whatever you want, and showcase whatever you want, however you want in YOUR online store. And you only pay for the specific resources you need, when you need them.
Further to the point of control, given that WooCommerce is self-hosted, you own and control everything, including all your files and your precious, precious data!
Shopify: The real beauty of Shopify lies in the fact that it handles the technical parts of your store for you, which means you don’t ever have to worry about performance, security, and scalability. You do, however, have to worry about upgrading your plan, and budgeting for the associated increase in cost, once your business starts growing and needs to scale up. Plus, once you upgrade, you are paying for ALL the features, there is no picking and choosing.
And while Shopify does offer some customization options, they control the functionality of your site, as well as put limitations on how many product variants you can showcase. They even control the types of products you can showcase. Many a reviewer has run into problems where their store has been shut down at a moment’s notice thanks to one product on their store having a ‘banned’ ingredient. (Be sure to read this Shopify store owner’s story.)
Of course, this is an extreme case, and certainly not the norm, but it does paint a crystal-clear picture of just how much control Shopify can, and sometimes does exert over your livelihood. Further to this, Shopify also has full control of your data (hello, My Precious!). Naturally, they do give you full access to all that data, but the bottom line is that it all sits on Shopify’s servers, which means they have final say and control.
SEO: WooCommerce vs Shopify
Given that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the golden ticket to attracting customers to your virtual shelves and ultimately to you making money, how your e-commerce platform handles your SEO, or lets you handle your SEO, is crucial. Of course, as giants of the e-commerce world, neither WooCommerce or Shopify are slouches in this department. It behooves them to do SEO well and get your products found in search and in front of the right audience at the right time. That being said, once again, WooCommerce just edges out Shopify, primarily because they are wired for WordPress, well-known for their stellar SEO efforts and renowned amongst SEO experts as being super reliable.
WooCommerce: Not only is WooCommerce integrated with WordPress, along with its impressive range of SEO plugins, but it is also actually built using code optimized for SEO. Throughout your building and setup process, you’ll be guided and prompted to make the most of their SEO features, including the ability to customize URLs, provide detailed, specific meta descriptions and titles to your pages and products, and more. And then there’s its massive range of SEO plugin offerings, including Yoast: WordPress’s own SEO plugin, the SEO plugin to end all SEO plugins. It’s super simple to use, and offers absolutely stellar support in the SEO department.
Shopify: Shopify too offers a range of SEO plugins in its App Store which can help boost your store. It’s also fairly easy to add basic SEO information to your store, products and pages, but you won’t be able to dig nearly as deep. The one area within SEO where Shopify does win, however, is speed: as a fully-hosted e-commerce solution, they manage all technical aspects of your site, which includes ensuring that server speed is up to scratch at all times (and boy do Google and the other search engines love speed … and rank sites accordingly). (With WooCommerce you need to be on top of your own host server, and perform regular checks, to ensure your speed is up to snuff.)
Final Verdict: WooCommerce vs Shopify?
It’s a lot to take in, we know. And while we, as SEOs with some technical know-how (okay, quite a lot of technical know-how) lean towards WooCommerce, we can fully understand the allure of Shopify.
So how do you choose?
It really comes down to a choice between simplicity and control:
- Shopify takes the brain-exploding complications and technical aspects out of setting up and running an online store and replaces them with easy-to-use, beginner-friendly tools. You can go from zero to sales-hero in a matter of minutes. However, if your products are complex and vast, with multiple variations, you could run into issues.
- WooCommerce involves a little more thought and effort on your part, but it gives you much more flexibility in terms of what you want to sell and how you want to sell it. It also gives you complete control over your online assets and, ultimately, your own business.
Still can’t decide between WooCommerce and Shopify?
Ready to take your online store to the next level but still need a bit of help to demystify the Shopify vs WooCommerce conundrum? Our 1st on the List team of dedicated, expert SEOs can help you choose the best e-commerce platform for your specific needs! Get in touch today by calling toll-free 1-888-262-6687 or contact us online.