WooCommerce and Shopify are both wildly popular software systems that can help you build a thriving online store. Behind-the-scenes, however, the two platforms work quite differently from one another. Before we jump into comparing these juggernauts of the ecommerce software realm, let’s quickly get oriented on the basics of each.
At its core, Shopify (read our review) is a SaaS (software as a service) online shopping cart platform. Starting at just $9/month, you can upload products to an online catalog and sell them on Facebook, or post them on an existing website of your own via embeddable “buy” buttons. You can even sell your products in-person with the Shopify POS app. Then, beginning at $29/month, Shopify facilitates the creation and hosting of a fully-fledged ecommerce website.
By contrast, WooCommerce (read our review), is a free and open-source ecommerce shopping cart plugin that was created specifically for installation inside the WordPress dashboard. The WooCommerce plugin turns a WordPress website or blog into an ecommerce storefront. In other words, WooCommerce has no actual website-building capabilities of its own — WordPress handles that part.
To understand WooCommerce and how it works, you need a little familiarity with WordPress itself. To put it simply, WordPress is a website builder/CMS (content management system) that exists in two forms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, whereas WordPress.com uses the same basic software as WordPress.org, but provides web hosting for your site as part of its services. Either WordPress version can actually be combined with WooCommerce, but each setup has different implications for cost, site maintenance, etc.
For the purposes of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison, we’ll focus on combining WooCommerce with WordPress.org, the self-hosted option. Most ecommerce sellers are attracted to WooCommerce because they already use WordPress.org for their websites, and/or they like the WooCommerce plugin’s “free” price tag in conjunction with WordPress.org. While the WooCommerce plugin itself is always free, you can only add plugins to the dot-com version of WordPress if you’re on the $25/month WordPress.com subscription.
Now that you know the basics, we’ll break down the two platforms into their various components — usability, features, comprehensive cost, and more. It’s basically the same old compare-and-contrast essay we were all forced to write in middle school. The stakes are a bit higher with this particular essay, however. By the time we’re done, you’ll hopefully have a good sense of which ecommerce platform (if either) is best for your online business.
You might be tempted to think WooCommerce immediately takes this category without contest. After all, both the WooCommerce plugin and the WordPress.org software download are free, whereas Shopify automatically involves a monthly subscription. In reality, you need to invest in a few services (e.g., web hosting) to get a WooCommerce + WordPress.org ecommerce store off the ground. The bottom line is, WooCommerce may be a bit cheaper at the outset, but it’s not 100% free. Just wanted to clear that up first!
Before we run a more detailed cost comparison of the two platforms, here’s a quick look at why WooCommerce wins this category:
- You can launch an online storefront up for well under $29/month, which is the starting price for a full online store with Shopify.
- All WooCommerce features are included with the free plugin. You don’t automatically need to jump to higher subscription levels for additional features or staff accounts (you just may need some add-ons as time goes on). In other words, you pay only for exactly what you need.
- Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce charge any additional transaction fees per sale, beyond those charged by your credit card processor. Shopify only waives its extra transaction fees (that start at 2%) if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor, and not everyone is eligible for Shopify Payments.
WooCommerce is the budget option of the two, but only if you have the skills to run your own website and don’t need to hire extra help for web development, site maintenance, security, backups, etc. If you do need lots of extra help, you could still end up paying more with WooCommerce + WordPress in the long run. Fair warning.
That’s the summary explanation. Now, here’s a more detailed pricing breakdown if you’re interested:
- Monthly Subscription Fee: $9 (no standalone storefront), $29, $79 or $299/month.
- Domain: Unless you want your store URLs to end in “myshopify.com” (and you probably don’t), you’ll need to purchase or connect a custom domain. Domains from Shopify start at $11/year, or there are lots of third-party options.
- Web Hosting: Included
- SSL/TLS Certificate: Included
- Additional Transaction Fees:Â 0.5%-2.0% depending on your Shopify subscription — unless you use the in-house payment processor (Shopify Payments), in which case these extra fees are waived. Note: these transaction fees are on top of regular credit card processing fees you must pay per sale with any processor.
- Additional Cost:Â Primarily add-ons from the marketplace, and perhaps a one-time purchase of a premium theme.
WooCommerce + WordPress.org Pricing
- Monthly SubscriptionÂ Fee: None if you set up a free WordPress.org site. The WooCommerce plugin itself is always free.
- Domain:Â Varies, but can start at less than a dollar per month from third-parties.
- Web Hosting:Â Rock-bottom hosting can cost as low as around $3/month, but most people end up paying at least $10 per month, depending on the size and traffic levels of their stores.
- SSL/TLS Certificate:Â Often included with your hosting or domain provider, but may need to be purchased separately. Basic certificates cost just a few dollars per month.
- Additional Transaction Fees:Â None. Neither WooCommerce or WordPress charge a commission per sale.
- Additional Cost: Add-ons, themes, and any web development and ongoing site maintenance if you’re not taking care of all that yourself.
Sample WooCommerce + WordPress.org hosting
Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed
As we’ve mentioned, a major difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is that your Shopify subscription includes web hosting. No downloads or installations are required. To use WooCommerce, however, you first must download the WordPress.org software and install it on a web hosting server. Then, you add the WooCommerce plugin to that setup. Some web hosts do offer preloaded WordPress + WooCommerce packagesÂ or “one-click” installations.
Is the Shopify or WooCommerce method better? This one really comes down to personal preference and ability. The self-hosted setup of WooCommerce requires more hands-on involvement and skill from the user, but you may be just fine with that.
Specific Size Of Business
Both WooCommerce and Shopify are scalable, working for small to enterprise-level businesses.
Shopify has predetermined subscription brackets. While none of these put hard limits on your revenue, number of products, bandwidth, or storage, the implication is that you’ll increase your subscription as your store grows. The exception is the jump to Shopify Plus, which is required if your revenue reaches over $1 million per year. These plans cost a couple thousand a month to start, but it can be worth the investment in return for a service that’s tailored specifically for enterprise-level merchants.
You will also need to change your Shopify subscription as you add more staff accounts to your store. For example, the $29/month plan accommodates two admin seats in addition to the owner’s account, while the $299/month plan gives you 15 spots.
WooCommerce also has the potentialÂ to grow with your store, but the system is much more fluid. You have 100% flexibility to expand your operation (and perhaps employ more help with your site) in a piecemeal fashion, exactly when and how you see fit. As your site traffic increases, for example, you’ll want to adjust your hosting service accordingly to accommodate more bandwidth.
Hardware & Software Requirements
As a fully-hosted, SaaS platform, Shopify takes care of nearly all technology requirements on your behalf. All you really need is an internet connection and an up-to-date web browser.
With WooCommerce and WordPress.org, most of the hardware and software requirements are functions of your hosting environment. Your server needs to support specific versions of PHP and MYSQL, for example. You’re responsible for staying on top of the evolving requirements for both WooCommerce and WordPress.org when you set up a WooCommerce store. This includes installing updates of both the Worpress.org and WooCommerce software as they are released. Plugins are available to help automate some of these steps for you, but you’re still ultimately responsible for finding and updating those plugins!
Because dealing with hardware and software issues with WooCommerce is more nuanced and requires more vigilance from the user than Shopify’s arrangement, we award Shopify the win.
Ease Of Use
It should be noted, however, that WooCommerce actually isn’t all that bad when it comes to ease of use, especially compared with most open-source solutions. For starters, many folks are already somewhat familiar with WordPress, which gives them aÂ head start in navigating WooCommerce. (Keep in mind that the reverse will apply if you’re not already familiar with WordPress — you’ll be learning two systems at once.)Â Once you get everything installed and up and running, day-to-day operations and manipulation of features are all pretty straightforward with WooCommerce.
Still, as we’ve already touched on, it can be quite overwhelming to stay on top of updates, extension compatibility, security issues, and the various tertiary systems underpinning your WooCommerce store. The clichÃ© I’ve often read about WooCommerce is true — you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Shopify is a much more plug-and-play, hands-free system.
WooCommerce offers to install some additional free plugins (like Jetpack and WooCommerce Services) from theÂ get-go that help bring the system more in line with a fully-hosted solution like Shopify, but you still end up with a sort of cobbled-together setup that is more difficult to manage than an all-inclusive platform.
Have a look at our full Shopify and WooCommerce reviews if you’d like more information on the topic of ease-of-use, but I’ve included just a quick peek at the dashboards of each platform, as well as what it’s like to add a product.
After signing up for a free 14-day trial, you’re taken to a clean and easy-to-navigate dashboard, with all your major functions in the left menu, and a few tips to get started in the center:
Shopify — Add A Product:
Shopify has a super-simple product interface. All fields are completed simply by scrolling down the page.
Below I’ve shown a WordPress dashboard with WooCommerce already installed. If you look closely at the left menu, you’ll see that WooCommerce is just one item of many. I haven’t even expanded its own menu yet, nor the “Products” menu right below. In the center of the dashboard, I’m faced with additional suggested configurations and plugin choices. Do I need them all? Should I set them up now? Just “Dismiss?” It’s certainly all doable, but I find it bit cluttered and overwhelming to get started. Plus, this is all after I completed the setup wizard.
WooCommerce — Add A Product:
Once you scroll past the plugin suggestions, adding a product is quite straightforward with WooCommerce. If you’ve ever used WordPress, it’s a lot like creating a blog post. You’ll just need to configure ecommerce settings like price and inventory levels.
Another aspect to consider is that you won’t be able to test WooCommerce (like you can test Shopify with its free trial) unless you have a host and server already set up to install WordPress.org. Ease of use is always a bit subjective, and it’s hard to get a good feel for usability without testing the software yourself.
Although one is software-as-a-service and the other is open-source, both Shopify and WooCommerce actually take a similar approach to features. The basic components to get a store launched and managed on a day-to-day basis are included with the software, but you’re expected to add a few extensions and integrations to either platform in order to tailor your store to your exact specifications.
With Shopify, this occasionally even means bumping up your subscription level, whereas with WooCommerce, features are always expanded through separate add-ons. WooCommerce has also been known to test new features by treating them as extensions first, and then eventually incorporating the features into the core offering once all the kinks are worked out by users. It’s really a community effort with Woo.
However you slice it, a common complaint about both platforms is that extra plugins can cause extra cost and extra headaches. Each system is kept as simple (yet functional) as can be from the outset, so that new users are not immediately overwhelmed by all that’s ultimately possible with these powerful software programs.
Let’s do a couple of quick sample feature comparisons. WooCommerce lets you add unlimited product variations, sell digital products, and incorporate product reviews without separate extensions, while Shopify requires (free) add-ons for each of these functions. Meanwhile, Shopify already includes abandoned cart recovery, invoice creation, and pre-integrated shipping software (Shopify Shipping). You’ll need extensions for these features in WooCommerce.
I’m tempted to give Shopify the win because I feel it comes with a slightly more well-rounded ecommerce feature set out-of-the-box without any plugins. And yet I also don’t want to overlook the enormous capability that comes with an entire WordPress.org ecosystem at your fingertips, nor dismiss the potential to customize each feature to your liking in an open-source environment. There are just too many factors at play to declare a clear winner here. The best advice I can give is to check for the features you need, as well as how they are obtained with each platform.
I know this makes our compare-and-contrast essay less exciting, but it’s difficult to call a winner in this category as well. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, and your own perception of what actually qualifies as anÂ advantage or disadvantage will differ depending on your situation.
Below is a quick summary of each system’s approach to the design and customization of your storefront, along with some screenshots to help illustrate.
- 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
- 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
- Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180
- Built-in theme editor with drag-and-drop capability
- Additional customization available with HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme coding language (Liquid)
Shopify Theme Marketplace:
Shopify Theme Editor:
The Shopify theme editor consists of two elements: “Theme Settings” (for changing fonts, colors, etc.) and “Sections” (for dragging and dropping widget blocks up and down your pages).
- Access to thousands of free and commercial/supported WordPress.org themes (over 900 show up when filtering for “ecommerce” in the marketplace)
- WooCommerce recommends its free “Storefront” theme for foolproof compatibility and web ticket support
- 14 Storefront “child” themes available (two free, premium are $39 each)
- Theme editor allows color changes and placement of widgets (but without drag-and-drop)
- Storefront expansion bundle ($69) allows further customization without coding
- Theme modification also possible with HTML and CSS (no proprietary coding language involved)
- Add a free plugin (such as Elementor) for drag-and-drop design editing of WordPress.org pages without code
- WordPress.org’s new Gutenberg editor provides additional non-coding customization for your overall WordPress site
WooCommerce Storefront Themes:
WooCommerce Theme Editor:
Below, I’ve shown the portion of the built-in theme editor where you can choose widget blocks for various spots within your pages.
So, how do WooCommerce and Shopify stack up when it comes to web design? Does Shopify win for having a drag-and-drop theme editor and font tweaking built-in, or does it lose for making you learn a proprietary coding language if you want to do further template customizations? The new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress enhances your theme editing capabilities without code, and lets you easily place WooCommerce products wherever you’d like within your larger WordPress site — so that’s another factor to consider going forward. It’s issues like these that make this category a toss-up depending on your point of view.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Even though I’ve already spoiled the winner of this category, we need to highlight the fact that Shopify also has an amazing app marketplace with around 2500 integrations at your disposal. With Shopify, you have the opportunity to connect with many of the most popular third-party software platforms associated with ecommerce (think shipping, marketing, accounting, and the like). Thousands of developers have invested in creations for the Shopify extension ecosystem. In most ecommerce software battles, Shopify easily wins this category.
All that said, open-source systems like WooCommerce + WordPress.org typically offer more integration possibilities than even the most well-connected SaaS platforms. The whole point of an open-source platform is for users at large to jump head-on into the codebase to customize and build connections. In the open-source world, WordPress has a particularly enormous and active community of developers extending the platform. As a WooCommerce user, not only do you benefit from hundreds of WooCommerce-specific extensions, but also from the over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org marketplace. Even Shopify can’t fully compete.
Some argue that because many WooCommerce integrations are one-time installations, it works out cheaper in the long run, or point out that more WooCommerce plugins are free. In truth, integrations can add to your monthly cost with either Shopify or WooCommerce — especially if your integrations are to third-party software platforms with their own monthly subscription fees (and not just one-off feature installs). Be cognizant of the potential for ballooning add-on costs with either system.
The complete freedom WooCommerce offers to choose a payment processor and associated pricing model that best suits your particular store’s needs is the reason we award the open-source plugin the win in this category.
While Shopify technically offers more pre-built payment integrations than WooCommerce in its respective marketplace, you are actually penalized with an extra 0.5% to 2.0% Shopify commission on every sale if you don’t select the in-house Shopify Payments option. This percentage — 2% for most merchants starting out — is applied on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway itself. Trust me, that extra 2% adds up fast.
Shopify Payments has its own advantages and disadvantages, but for starters, some merchants don’t even qualify to use this processor in the first place. While Shopify Payments definitely works well when it works, a lot of merchants end up stuck in no-man’s land when it comes to payment processing with Shopify. Caught between an extra fee and a hard place, as it were. (Insert your own, better metaphor here.)
While you may need to pay a one-time fee to integrate your favorite processor with WooCommerce (Stripe and PayPal come as free, built-in options), you can ultimately select an option that fits perfectly with your risk level, sales volume, and transaction size. You can also select for any customer support and feature requirements you may have for your payments system.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Winner: ShopifyÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Both WooCommerce and WordPress have produced a plethora of self-help resources and documentation. Moreover, both boast thriving communities of developers and merchants working with the software who readily share problem-solving advice via forums. This is all very good and helpful.
WooCommerce can’t compete with Shopify when it comes to personalized support, however. A “help desk” is offered with WooCommerce from which you can submit a web ticket for specific purchased items, but a personal response is not always guaranteed.
Meanwhile, along with great self-help resources and community forums of its own, Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat avenues for contacting live representatives in real time. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the Shopify platform, and part of the reason you pay that monthly subscription fee.
Now, this is not to say you couldn’t potentially receive personalized assistance from your hosting provider if your site goes down, for example. The quality and availability of this sort of third-party tech support will vary widely by company, though. Not to mention, things can get complicated very quickly regarding exactly who holds responsibility for whatever’s gone horribly wrong with your online store in the middle of the night. Once again, our point is that neither WooCommerce nor WordPress.org has a team of service reps standing by waiting for your distress call. You’re largely on your own.
Shopify and WooCommerce each have devoted followings of satisfied users, and both platforms tend to score very highly on user review websites. Shopify merchants love the user-friendliness of a powerful SaaS platform where most things are taken care of for you, while WooCommerce devotees appreciate that most things are not taken care of for you — it gives these users the flexibility and control they desire.
Of course, neither ecommerce platform is perfect. Here are a few of the complaints that arise most often:
- Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
- Costly add-ons
- Poor customer support
- Frustration with Shopify Payments
- Costly add-ons
- Lack of personal customer support
- Steep learning curve
- Technical difficulties (i.e., extensions, themes, updates, etc.)
I’m still calling this one a draw. One platform does not dramatically outshine the other when it comes to real user feedback.
Shopify wins this category because all Shopify stores are automatically PCI compliant out-of-the-box and come with a built-in SSL certificate. With WooCommerce, your store’s security falls more directly upon your own shoulders. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing a secure and PCI-compliant web host and payment gateway, obtaining an SSL certificate, performing Woodpress.org and WooCommerce plugin updates, and staying on top of the latest security patches. As WooCommerce reminds you in its own documentation, “a given WooCommerce site is overall exactly as secure as the WordPress installation itself.”
There’s no doubt that a WooCommerce storeÂ can be just as secure in as a Shopify store, as long as all the right pieces are in place and carefully managed. There’s just a higher chance for site security to go (horribly) awry due to mismanagement or innocent mistakes.
This was a tight race, folks. Shopify and WooCommerce have both earned their popularity in the ecommerce world, even if for different reasons and for different segments of online sellers. Based on our experience, as well as our sense of the needs of our Merchant Maverick readership overall, we’re still more likely to recommend Shopify over WooCommerce.
The majority of online sellers will have an easier time with Shopify right out-of-the-box. Shopify is much more “foolproof” and all-inclusive than WooCommerce, with technical aspects like installation, hosting, updates, and security all handled on your behalf. This allows you to expand your focus beyond just building and maintaining your store, even as an absolute web-beginner. The opportunity for 24/7 personalized customer support with Shopify is also a huge factor in our verdict.
All Shopify gushing aside, we firmly maintain that this SaaS platform is not a magic bullet solution for all online merchants, and WooCommerce may be just the alternative you seek. As an open-source software plugin combined with WordPress.org’s vast ecosystem, WooCommerce offers a degree of ownership, control, and flexibility that isn’t possible with Shopify. It’s the perfect platform for the technically-inclined among us who have the time and skill to tinker with code, updates, and integrations to customize their stores at a finely-tuned pace. The freedom to select your own web host, as well as a payment processor that works best for your specific country and risk level without financial penalty (hello, Shopify’s extra transaction fees) is also a big draw for a lot of business owners using WooCommerce. The power truly is in your hands if you go this route.
As the old adage goes, however: with great power comes great responsibility. If you choose an open-source platform like WooCommerce, you should definitely heed this nugget of graphic novel-based wisdom.
Have you worked with Shopify or WooCommerce? Let us know if the comments — particularly if you have experience with both!
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