Making Sense of the Great Shopify WooCommerce Debate
For nearly 20 years my Toronto web design company has focused solely on Open Source web development and specializes in custom WordPress design and inherently, WooCommerce websites. As Shopify entered the playing field to compete we quickly decided to offer custom user interface design services for Shopify websites, but we do not offer web development services within the Shopify platform. So, you might ask, why am I writing about Shopify vs WooCommerce on our blog? Shouldn’t I be standing on a soapbox selling WordPress and WooCommerce development exclusively? The answer is really quite simple for me; there is no one size fits all solution for website owners and what is available to suit the needs and adapt to their online businesses. I believe that Shopify can offer some fantastic features and benefits to both online shoppers and eCommerce store owners alike. In order to choose one platform over the other, we need to understand Shopify and WooCommerce and what the start-up cost and long term investments will be in addition to reviewing and comparing available functionality within each system.
With the world being locked down to fight the spread of COVID-19, more and more businesses across all industries are finding ways to sell their products and services online or simply offer alternative payment options for their customers. It’s a safe bet that the world will be different in some ways once the pandemic is over, and I believe that transitioning to online sales with one of these two eCommerce platforms will be a fundamental change for many businesses.
Many business owners are asking themselves right now “should I use Shopify or WordPress?” We’ve had a noticeable influx of calls lately asking which is the best eCommerce platform? Which offers the best shipping rates or transaction fees? What are the payment options? As I field these questions more frequently these days I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some thoughts and experiences based on my interaction and research on each of the eCommerce website design platforms.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Pros and Cons
Before we get into the fine details and take a look at the Shopify vs WooCommerce debate to figure out which platform is best for your business, let’s take a high-level look at the pros and cons of each eCommerce platform to establish a baseline understanding.
WooCommerce Pros and Cons
The following pros and cons are not meant to be all-encompassing but should cover the common factors that all site owners should take into consideration when reviewing WooCommerce as the e-commerce platform for their online business.
- WooCommerce offers site owners and web designers complete control over the design and customization of their online store.
- WooCommerce boasts the most extensive online support community and app store in the world and WordPress also powers more than one-third of all websites on the internet.
- WordPress offers the most extensive plugin library in the world, ensuring that integrations and customizations for WooCommerce are available for everyone, even those moving from Shopify to WordPress.
- WooCommerce can be set up quickly and integrated into an existing WordPress site without interruption and connected to with virtually any payment gateway.
- WooCommerce is a free eCommerce platform.
- Site owners or their web developers should stay on top of WooCommerce plugin updates to maintain security and add new functionality to their online store.
- There’s no set monthly fee to create and maintain a WooCommerce vs $299 per month to use Shopify.
- Web store owners need to procure their own hosting provider and SSL certificate to make sure their online store operates smoothly.
Shopify Pros and Cons
The pros and cons below should cover just about all aspects site owners should consider when weighing Shopify against WooCommerce to support their online sales platform.
- Shopify offers a three-tiered pricing system billed per month to provide clarity in monthly fees.
- Shopify acts as your hosting provider and offers an SSL certificate when you choose to use Shopify.
- Simple integration with thousands of third-party applications via the app store.
- Professionally designed themes to choose from to brand your online store.
- Shopify provides the option to quickly choose and install from a preset list of payment gateways, even on basic Shopify.
- Shopify boasts a quick web store setup using templated themes vs WooCommerce that requires more technical know-how.
- Shopify payments offer convenient dropshipping vs WooCommerce.
- Shopify owners have very little control over their online store vs WooCommerce that offers complete customization and control over the online store.
- Shopify limits web designer’s ability to fully customize and tailor the online store branding or owner’s preferences.
- Shopify requires online store owners to select from a preset list of payment gateways vs WooCommerce that can be customized to work with virtually any payment gateway.
- Basic Shopify requires a carries a monthly fee of $29, while the most robust Shopify option costs $299 per month. The monthly fees will only become more expensive.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Which is the best eCommerce platform for your online store?
As I have started fielding this question at least once a week with both new and existing clients, I can honestly say that I’ve recommended they use Shopify vs WooCommerce to many prospective clients fully explaining that we would not be able to help them get started with their eCommerce store because we do not work with Closed Source proprietary platforms.
To determine if a new relationship is a good fit for both the client and my Toronto web design agency, I believe that being open and honest with new leads upfront is vital. The only way to create long-lasting customer relationships is to be clear and follow through with our recommendations. To effectively guide clients and determine if we can help them achieve their eCommerce store development goals, I need to be knowledgeable on both platforms when comparing Shopify vs WooCommerce. I need to be able to explain the difference between the two eCommerce platforms in a way that everyone can understand and help guide them in making the best decision for their business and budget. I have to take into consideration peripheral elements such as support, transaction fees, features, payment options, fees per month, domain name registry and SSL certificate registration. Before I can help guide my clients in their decision to use Shopify vs WooCommerce we need to make sure everyone understands the benefits and limitations or each eCommerce platform.
When you boil everything down the argument between Shopify and WooCommerce looks like this:
WooCommerce is the best eCommerce platform for you if you already have and maintain a WordPress site, whether it’s custom made or using a pre-bought theme. Most importantly, choosing WooCommerce as your online store is for business owners that want complete control over the design and functionality of their eCommerce store as well as ease of use when it comes to daily management and adding new features. Hiring a professional web design firm will inherently require more of an initial investment. Still, it will yield a hand-crafted web design and hand-crafted user experience that is not quite as easy to achieve if you use Shopify.
Shopify is the best eCommerce store for your business if you are looking for an all-in-one solution that can be configured and launched quickly. Shopify will act as your hosting provider and allow you to get started quickly. Shopify was designed for store owners that don’t want or need complete control over their eCommerce platform and are happy to choose from a variety of community shared templates within the Shopify app to start their business.
There’s no wrong answer here, it all comes down to which eCommerce platform can achieve your goals and which you feel most comfortable with in terms of cost per month and overall store design. There have been many occasions where I’ve steered a prospective client to use Shopify as their launch trajectory and budget were more suited to the Shopify app. A year or two later, these same clients often come back ready to move to WordPress with a more mature budget and experience running an online store. This change does not mean Shopify wasn’t an excellent fit for them to start their online store. They were able to get their store online quickly and learn more about managing online sales and support before they were ready to take full control of their site and invest in a custom WooCommerce web design.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: UI Design
Perhaps the most essential difference to note when comparing Shopify vs WooCommerce is user interface design. Shopify boasts a wide variety of professionally designed site templates to choose from. These templates are not created in-house but are created by outside web designers to ensure Shopify can offer a wide range of styles and themes to choose from for any site.
A WooCommerce store, on the other hand, can be shaped and moulded using one of hundreds of thousands of templates available all over the internet – some are free, some may cost a one-time fee ranging from $20 to $300 to obtain a license and support in my experience. Where the two eCommerce platforms diverge here is that web designers can easily create a custom WooCommerce store design from scratch: no pre-made themes or template, no preset functionality, features or user flow. The entire customer experience can be carefully planned out and tailored to meet the needs of any site owner.
Parachute Design excels with custom WordPress design and development. Our Toronto WordPress developers have been crafting custom WooCommerce and WordPress websites since 2003. We have the experience and creativity to help businesses stand out from the competition and take that proverbial next step to grow their business and domain name across social media and the web. Our support team is also active and accessible to maintain the WooCommerce stores or simply discuss the addition of new features, payment gateways, adjust shipping rates, or compare Shopify and WooCommerce.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: eCommerce Features
At the core, both Shopify and WooCommerce platforms feature the most essential and widely used e-commerce features baked right into the default configuration. Web store owners can also easily select and install their payment gateway, extensions or plugins to customize their web store and user experience further. This point is, however, where the Shopify vs WooCommerce debate thickens.
Shopify offers a library of additional features that can easily be installed to add functionality and new features. However, these enhancements come at a significant cost ranging from $300-500 or more in some cases to install from the app store simple features, such as the ability to import or export CSV files.
On the other hand, WooCommerce enjoys a much broader library of feature upgrades payment gateway integrations and store options, most of which are entirely free to use. Admittedly, some plugins do require licensing or support fees that can range from $10 to $200. Pricing is solely at the discretion of the plugin developer. Site owners do have the option to choose a free plugin over a paid plugin as there are most often alternatives available given the WooCommerce platform is entirely Open Source.
Many WordPress developers can create custom plugins to modify and tailor the WooCommerce store even further. Ultimately, the final design and functionality of the WooCommerce store are in the hands of the store owner and their web designer. The sky really is the limit with WooCommerce.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Cost
It isn’t quite as straight forward as one would expect to explain the difference in cost between WordPress and Shopify. As WordPress is an open-source content management platform and by nature is free to download and use on any web host you wish. Shopify, on the other hand, is closed-source software that is not free to use and can only be used on the Shopify platform.
WooCommerce is completely free to add on any WordPress install. Depending on the desired online store experience and design, you may need to invest in professional web design services or plugin licensing fees for additional functionality. To be clear, the vast majority of WordPress and WooCommerce plugins are free. The very few that do require a small invested – usually ranging from $10 to $200 – can help extend the functionality and front-end user experience offered.
WooCommerce requires owners to conduct regular site maintenance. For the most part, these updates are handled quite simply and efficiently through the WordPress admin panel. In my experience, most online businesses running WooCommerce stores tend to be larger in nature and employ a web design or development company to manage the website on their behalf. Conversely, Shopify store owners seem to be smaller independently owned businesses that don’t necessarily commit the same amount of resources to their online presence.
Shopify requires users to create an account and select one of three options – Basic Shopify for $29 per month, Shopify at $79 a month and Shopify Advanced at $200 each month. These fees cover a webpage theme that owners can select from the app store as well as the option to use one of a handful of pre-configured payment gateways to conduct Shopify payments. Shopify extensions are also available in the app store but do require additional usage fees that can vary widely.
Maintenance is conducted by Shopify and rolled out automatically across the platform to ensure that all websites running Shopify are forced to update to maintain security and performance.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Security
Website security is paramount for any site owner or business, whether they use Shopify and WooCommerce or not. Web sites that collect and store WooCommerce or Shopify information or transmit personal data require additional layers of security to protect sensitive user, credit card information and transaction details. When considering each eCommerce platform we have to make sure that all WooCommerce and Shopify payments are handled securely.
When it comes to the WooCommerce and Shopify debate concerning payment gateways and security, the devil is in the details quite literally. Many conversations I have with prospective customers revolve around which store is most secure. In scenarios where the client has some knowledge of each platform, most often that lead with “I’ve heard on social media that WooCommerce isn’t as secure as Shopify.” This statement could not be further from the truth. It is, however, brilliant marketing by Shopify because their platform does have the advantage out of the box. Shopify is built on a proprietary language that is foreign to most developers, and they also offer PCI compliance baked right into Shopify payments – and they should, because all they offer is e-commerce.
WooCommerce, on the other hand, is not the content management system for the whole web site as with Shopify. WooCommerce is an eCommerce plugin that runs on WordPress. As with all WordPress features we’ve discussed so far, the key difference is that the store owner and web developer has complete control over the design, functionality and support of the store. When a business owner chooses to use WooCommerce to support their online store, it falls upon them, or their web developer to ensure that the website is built securely and configured correctly to support PCI compliance.
Additionally, in choosing WooCommerce to run its online store, businesses have complete control over whom they choose to host their web site. Care should be given to selecting a reputable hosting provider that has the correct security measures in place to support a WooCommerce store. This task is not daunting in any regard, despite what Shopify pundits will tell you. There are many very high-end managed WordPress hosts that have security frameworks and guarantees in place to protect web sites. Some even offer to monitor and fix sites for free should they be attacked.
One of my favourite WordPress security best practices is to utilize a service like CloudFlare that allows web site owners to set up a firewall that restricts access to the domain name or dashboard based on IP address. We make sure to configure the firewall to allow the website owner and our web design agency into the backend of the store and block all other entry attempts.
Where these two the Shopify vs WooCommerce platforms differ in regards to security is maintenance and support. All websites need to be maintained regularly to stay current with security patches and mitigate threats that have not been invented yet. However, many people are under the impression that this isn’t the case with Shopify, which, again, is untrue. Shopify simply conducts these updates in-house and deploys them throughout the platform. WordPress, on the other hand, requires website owners to take action themselves and either update the plugins within their user dashboard or have their web developer support the updates. I always recommend to our clients that we handle the updates when required so that we can push the website to a private staging environment and run the updates away from public view to ensure there are no glitches or bugs. This practice allows us to thoroughly test the software updates before deploying the site to production in full view of the public.
When we put all the facts on the table, neither platform is more susceptible than the other. WordPress and WooCommerce just require website owners to be more aware and proactive in the management of their website. I believe taking ownership and responsibility in this regard not only keeps store owners educated and aware of what’s happening around them but also helps them make better-informed decisions with their day-to-day management of digital marketing tools.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Search Engine Optimization
Comparing SEO performance between WooCommerce and Shopify is like comparing apples to oranges. I’ve read other articles on the subject – many articles, in fact – that compare analytics data of a website that was running one platform and then switched to the other only to experience a drop in traffic. These poorly presented arguments offer misleading advice to website owners and seem to be created to promote one Shopify WooCommerce platform over the other rather than offering an educated look at the differences and benefits to weighing Shopify vs WooCommerce.
When comparing SEO performance between two websites, we first have to ensure that both websites have the same content, meta information and are running on the same server. Second, we have to ensure that proper 301 redirects have been configured as URL structure may change between platforms resulting in 404 errors and loss or organic rankings. These articles that suggest a comparable difference in SEO performance between each Shopify WordPress platform often fail to mention any of these aspects and typically only measure one metric – traffic. This is where we need to take a step back and look at what traffic means. Traffic, in the analytics sense, is simply the volume of users visiting a website over one defined period of time. Comparing traffic between a website running on WooCommerce and one running on Shopify doesn’t tell us much because we don’t know how qualified that traffic is. Are these visits made up of casual browsers, or is the traffic made up of committed buyers that will ultimately convert? Ultimately, conversions drives sales, and that is the one metric that website owners want to see. Also, need to consider external measures that were at play during the study. Were paid ads run on Google or social media? Were print or display ads used somewhere to drive traffic to the store?
With all this in perspective, the same fundamental differences between the WooCommerce and Shopify platforms remain true. Shopify is known for its clean and clear code that does an excellent job out of the box to ensure that websites perform well. Additionally, the backend admin offers ease of use and the ability to configure page titles and meta descriptions throughout the Shopify platform.
Within WooCommerce, we find all the great features Shopify boasts, but then take SEO up a notch as once again, we are offered with more customization and fine-tuning abilities over how the store is optimized for search. The WordPress plugin library contains hundreds of different SEO plugins that are easily installed to extend the control and customization of SEO practices on a website to ensure that those committed to fine-tuning their online marketing have every tool at their disposal to do so. When we boil the data down and look at the argument objectively WooCommerce is better for SEO than Shopify solely based on its flexibility and a greater range of SEO tools that can be installed.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: Ease of Use
When it comes to ease of use between WooCommerce and Shopify, I want to be clear that I am referring only to the day-to-day management of the website using the dashboard and tools configured in the Shopify or WooCommerce CMS. In terms of getting started with a new website, Shopify runs away with the lead here as Shopify websites can be set up in no time at all due to the platform’s templated approach and support library.
When it comes to the management of the website and its content, both platforms are nearly identical in the backend. The UI design of the dashboard and associated tools are virtually the same, and anyone familiar with the Shopify system should be able to pick up and learn the WooCommerce system in no time flat, or the other way around.
WordPress and WooCommerce conversely do offer web designers the ability to custom design the backend of the website compared to Shopify; however, to be clear, this is rarely ever done. Our team has completed a handful of projects that required a custom admin portal design. However, these were not related to eCommerce in any way; more specifically, these instances revolved around online learning modules and private user support portals.
When it comes to ease of use, I can say with confidence that the average person can pick up and learn to use the WooCommerce or Shopify backend in no time flat. Our web design agency offers a two-hour online WordPress demo to walk new website owners through the CMS, its tools, day-to-day content management best practices and a crash course on website SEO best practices.
If you’re deciding on whether to choose Shopify or WooCommerce for your business ease of use is a total wash in my opinion and shouldn’t play a role in the final decision.
WooCommerce vs Shopify: The Verdict
To recap our comparison, both WooCommerce and Shopify are extremely powerful and the two most widely used eCommerce platforms to run a modern and mobile-friendly online store. When it comes to choosing the best eCommerce platform suited for your business, the decision should be relatively straightforward when one is looking at the plain unbiased facts.
When to Choose Shopify
If you do not already have a website and prefer to get started quickly with a more “hands-off” approach to your online business while relying on a very well built platform with reasonable fees per month, Shopify payments is quite likely the best choice for you. As with all decisions, it’s important to weigh options carefully and be open to change as your business and online marketing needs evolve over time.
If you already have a WordPress website or are the type of person that prefers the control and pride of a fully customized website design and customer experience to share with your audience, WooCommerce is the best fit for your business. This also includes complete control over performance, search engine optimization, and various other factors associated with running an online business. As with Shopify, if you choose to open your web store with WooCommerce it’s key to be open to change should you feel it’s not for you as your needs change.
About Parachute Design
For the last two decades, We have built a reputation as an industry leader in website design and eCommerce platform development. Our professional website designers and WordPress developers have built their knowledge working alongside some of the world’s most exciting brands. Sharing this WordPress Shopify experience with our clients provides them with the best information to make critical decisions to manage and grow their online business successfully.