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Shopify vs WooCommerce: Which Is Best for You?

Shopify vs. WooCommerce isn’t exactly an age-old debate; but for small and mid-sized business owners looking to get up and running with an online store, it’s one of the most pressing issues that presents itself. Shopify development and WooCommerce are two of the most popular, most effective, and most straightforward e-commerce platforms on the market today. If you’re wondering which platform is best for your business, we’d like to first congratulate you. You’ve already come to the conclusion that your business deserves to reap the benefits of selling online; and that decision is critical in and of itself!

Not only will e-commerce soon account for over 15 percent of all specialty retail sales in North America; but digital itself influences nearly 60 percent of all retail sales. An investment in an online store is not just an investment in direct sales. It’s an investment in all aspects of your business—from brand building, to lead generation, to the revenue driven by your trusty brick-and-mortars.

Now—back to the question at hand. WooCommerce vs. Shopify: which is better? Well, what does popular opinion tell us?

Of the top 1 million websites in the world, 22% are built on WooCommerce, while just 17% are built on Shopify. That said, if we look at the top 100k sites in the world, the story begins to favor Shopify. 20% of those sites are built on Shopify, while just 13% are built on WooCommerce. So it would seem as if website developers who build higher authority websites prefer Shopify; or that the way Shopify sites are built allows them to accrue authority inherently better.

Of course, popular opinion never tells the full story. In terms of choosing the best platform for your specific business (not just the best platform overall), there are a number of questions you’re probably wondering. Which is cheaper? Which is going to give you greater customization flexibility? Which has better design features? Which is going to give your customers the most streamlined checkout version possible? Which converts to sales the best? What about to leads? To say nothing of the other side of the coin—the aspects of your business that inform which platform you prefer. Your design preferences, the makeup of your business, your budget, etc.

At On The Map, we’re here to help you find the e-commerce platform that works best for you. That’s why today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at both Shopify and WooCommerce. We’ll discuss why, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each platform, and depending on the unique makeup of your business, you might choose one or the other.

This is your comprehensive guide to Shopify vs. WooCommerce. Let’s start by first diving into the strengths of each platform (we’ll get into weaknesses and direct comparisons a little further on down the page).

What Is Shopify?

Shopify powers over 600,000 businesses, and drove more than $1 billion in revenue last year (2018). It is, quite simply, an insanely popular and insanely profitable platform, and it owns these distinctions for several reasons.

Self-Hosting

Shopify is self-hosted, which means that whoever creates your Shopify online store, whether it’s you, your employee, or an outside agency, will not have to go through the trouble of setting up your domain on a third-party hosting service. That means no HostGator, no GoDaddy, No Weebly. Your domain is live and ready to go when you say it is.

Simplicity

Like Squarespace, Shopify is a templated creation experience. That means that much of the interface is drag-and-drop. For those looking to start selling online without too much overhead, and who want to build their website themselves, this is a huge draw. Still, we’ve seen dozens of these self-projects end in disaster; so if you’re not confident, or are too inundated with other tasks to create an entire website, by all means, trust the creation of your Shopify site to a Shopify development professional.

Customizability

For all of its templated goodness, Shopify still allows for a bundle of customization options. From custom Shopify themes, to custom checkout pages, to custom discounts and pricing models—if you have a handle on Liquid, Shopify’s unique coding language, there’s a lot you can do to make your site design uniquely yours.

A custom Shopify theme can go a long way in creating a Shopify site that’s utterly distinct from competitor sites.

Again, take that statement with a grain of salt—learning Liquid can be as difficult as learning Lithuanian if you’re unversed in coding. To take advantage of Shopify’s full range of customization options, don’t hesitate outsource the creation of your site to a Shopify expert.

Customer Service

Shopify’s customer service is truly unique and worth mentioning here. Because the platform caters to small business owners who want to create their website on their own terms, and with their own hands, all its pricing plans come with dedicated personal support (via phone, email, and 24-hour live chat). For the do-it-yourself small business owner, that’s an awesome asset to have in the toolkit; but even advanced web developers and designers need the occasional chat with the people who work on the platform daily. So if you build on Shopify, and you find yourself in need of a solution to a specific quandary, that information is never far away. So long, bottomless forums!

And for those who choose to trust the development of their Shopify site to a third-party agency or consultant, you can rest assured that they have the support of an entire team of Shopify aficionados throughout the site creation process.

Security

Self-hosting doesn’t just mean web developers don’t have to go through the trouble of hosting their Shopify e-commerce store on a third party hosting service. It also means that if there are any security issues, Shopify detects them immediately and takes care of them internally. Security is essentially an out of sight, out of mind experience when you develop on Shopify. All sites are inherently created on HTTPS (a faster, more secure protocol than HTTP), and the site’s structure is built such that it is able to withstand growth without leaving itself exposed to any glaring security holes. We’ll dive into more of the other side of this coin when we talk about WooCommerce security in our head-to-head section.

Upkeep

Speaking of growth—there’s nothing like scaling without having to worry about making sure what you have isn’t falling apart. That’s exactly what Shopify allows you to do. From dynamic sitemaps to automatic updates—living with your Shopify site once it’s been built is very much a set it and forget it experience. Your biggest expenses once the site’s already been built will come courtesy of aesthetic updates, marketing, product updates, and potentially some performance streamlining down the line when the site gets bigger. In terms of retaining someone to continuously make sure the back end of the site is up to date and working, however, you’re just not going to have to do it when you build on Shopify.

Performance

Of course, the most important outcome here is profit! Shopify sites come replete with a number of features that help developers and business owners alike maximize the amount of revenue they’re driving through their online stores.

Shopify has a number of vital features baked in. No need to install plugins or code.

Want to create a buy-one, get-one promotion for Memorial Day weekend? Custom discount code creation is just a few clicks away in the Shopify backend. Want to import a list of products from your old site? You can easily do so with a CSV import. What about customer accounts and profiles—want to give your customers incentive to buy by offering membership to an exclusive rewards program? Again—Shopify gives you the power. And whether you’re implementing these customizations yourself or outsourcing the work to a third party consultancy or agency, you’re saving yourself time and money by using a platform that bakes all these features in—and in an easily accessible way.

Shopify at a Glance

So what’s the bottom line, here? Shopify is an intuitive, trusted e-commerce platform with a bevy of features that allows developers to create user-friendly, profitable online stores. Because Shopify is a self-hosted platform, it gives developers and small business owners alike the ability to forget about time-consuming tasks like security fixes, site updates, custom code implementation, and the like, and focus on front-end customizations that impact performance. It also also allows site owners the ability to scale without having to worry about their sites breaking in the process.

What is WooCommerce?

Now: let’s take a look at the other side of Shopify vs. WooCommerce. Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce is not a standalone product. It’s a WordPress plugin that allows business owners to sell products and services from their WordPress sites. The biggest fundamental difference between WooCommerce and Shopify is that WooCommerce is open source. That means that the website developers that use it have complete access to the product’s source code, and modifying that source code is an encouraged part of using the product. Basically, if you or your third party website design company are developing a WooCommerce storefront, you’ll be expected to have some coding chops.

Coding isn’t for everyone. You’re going to need it to develop on WooCommerce.

Generally speaking, what does that mean? For one, it probably means more time and money spent creating your online store. Custom code takes time to implement, and the developers that work open source are typically more expensive. Now, that’s not necessarily a negative. If uber customizability is what you want, and you’re willing to pay for it, than WooCommerce might just be the platform for you. Let’s take a look at some of WooCommerce’s biggest strengths as a platform.

Customization

We just touched on the array of customization options WooCommerce provides, but let’s fully dive into just what those are. Because WooCommerce is open source, there are at any given time a bunch of developers creating custom themes designed for e-commerce. Most of themes are for sale. The developer who then buys that theme has the opportunity to use their coding chops to customize it according to their client’s unique business needs. That includes custom plugins that can help take your store from baseline to max performance in a hurry. The only catch? There’s typically a cost associated with each of these customizations. And that cost is not always altogether affordable.

Adaptability

What if you already own a WordPress site, and you simply want to add some e-commerce functionality? There are myriad WordPress themes on the market today, and luckily, WooCommerce is compatible with nearly all of them. So fret not that you or a third party developer won’t be able to add the plugin to an existing site. WooCommerce also connects to all major payment gateways, and gives you the two most recognizable gateways on the market—PayPal and Stripe—as defaults.

Expandability

This one is along the same lines as our first WooCommerce strength—customization—but it differs importantly. Customization means being able to meaningfully alter what you already have. Expandability means being able to build on what you have with an embarrassment of options. WooCommerce accomplishes the expandability piece with plugins. Not only does it offer thousands of innovative themes built by a vast community of developers, but it supports over 50,000 WordPress plugins, including more than a few that have been specifically designed for WooCommerce. These range from marketing and analytics platforms like Metrilo, which helps site owners monitor their stores’ performance and optimize their marketing spend, to WPML, which easily helps those same site owners translate their pages into multiple languages for multilingual audiences.

There’s no limit to the number of handy plugins on WooCommerce.

Shopify also offers quite a few plugins, so we don’t mean to say that WooCommerce is alone in this regard. But the sheer breadth of add-ons WooCommerce supports is astounding; and if you have the time and the inclination to make the most of them, it can definitely be an asset.  

WooCommerce Development at a Glance

WooCommerce developers have the ability to take advantage of the platforms extreme breadth of plugins and unlimited customization options to create online stores that are utterly unique from anything else on the market. Business owners who choose to develop their online stores using WooCommerce are typically either fluent in open source coding, or are willing to spend the time and money required to pay a third party developer who is fluent in open source coding.

WooCommerce is a powerful platform, to be certain. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Business owners who choose to leverage WooCommerce to develop their online stores should have at least a cursory understanding of digital marketing, website development, and website design, and would do well to understand exactly how their brick and mortars translate to a digital landscape. Either that, or they should be willing to hire a third party website consultant that really has an in depth understanding of the intricacies of the platform. Because there are many!

Shopify vs. WooCommerce: The Tale of The Tape

We’ve just taken an in-depth look at the profile of each of these e-commerce platforms, and discussed some of the strengths that make them two of the most-used products on the market. Shopify is a self-hosted, dynamic e-commerce solution that allows do-it-yourselfers and web dev professionals alike to make fast, secure, search-friendly websites that don’t require a whole lot in the way of upkeep. The creation process is templated, yet customizable, and Shopify has hundreds of sleek themes (including 10+ free ones!) to choose from. It comes “out of the box” with myriad features that allow site owners to optimize for performance and sales on the cheap. It’s just not open source. So if you’re looking for truly limitless customization, you won’t find it using Shopify.

WooCommerce, on the other hand, is open source. WooCommerce developers in need of advice on how to implement a fix can’t simply live chat support (as they might in Shopify for less advanced queries). Instead, they have to rely on a vast community of WordPress-specific developers who work daily on the platform and discuss unique fixes to problems in online forums. For the small business owner immersed in the day-to-day activities of maintaining his or her own business, this is naturally going to be a deterrent. But for those who don’t mind outsourcing the development of their online store to third party consultants and agencies, and who want to pay a premium for a site that has near unlimited customization and expansion options, WooCommerce is a fine solution.

Now that we understand what Shopify and WooCommerce are, let’s get into some of the key differences that separate them. Here’s a comprehensive, head-to-head comparison of the two most prominent e-commerce platforms on the market.

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