If you’re setting up an ecommerce website for the first time, you are probably wondering which platform to use. Two of the most popular platforms - or Content Management Systems - are Shopify and Woo Commerce. But which is the best ecommerce platform for new businesses and start-ups?
Woo Commerce is the Wordpress ecommerce plugin that effectively turns a wordpress website into an online store. Wordpress is an open source content management system, and was originally used for publishing blogs, but has since evolved into powering all types of websites including ecommerce.
The Shopify CMS was developed exclusively as an e-commerce platform. The story goes that when the founders wanted to set up their own online store, they couldn’t find a suitable platform, so they developed their own and later launched it as a platform for other businesses to use. The solution is a fully hosted website builder for ecommerce businesses.
I can see three important differentiating factors between the two platforms: design & customisation, usability, and cost.
Design & Customisation
Before you can compare Shopify and Woo Commerce, let me use the analogy of a house to explain the difference between them. If you set up an online store through Shopify, it’s like you are renting a house. It’s a good house, fit for purpose, and it has everything you need. You can decorate it and bring in your furniture and personal effects to make it look and feel like yours, but you can’t make substantial changes to the structure.
With Wordpress, you are buying a plot of land, designing a house to your exact specifications, and building it brick for brick. You can of course hire someone to do the designing and building for you (at extra cost), or you could use a pre-designed template, but you get to decide every. little. thing. This is great if you have a very specific idea of what you want your site to look like or want to have complete control over the design, but it does mean that you have to decide every. little. thing. Right down to the tiniest detail.
Shopify, on the other hand, has somewhat limited options for customisation. Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can customise selected items within it from a design perspective. The CMS has all the essential features that you need for an ecommerce site, but it doesn’t have the infinite customisation that Wordpress offers. I see this as a good thing - with the options narrowed down to what is really important, it cuts out a lot of the noise. There are many themes to choose from, and you can of course hire an expert Shopify developer to design something bespoke if you want to. All the designs are fully responsive, which means that they look as great on mobile as they do on desktop - this is essential today, as the majority of traffic is now on mobile.
This is where I think Shopify really has the upper hand. The Shopify CMS is so easy to use, even for a non-technical person, it has all the relevant sales tools included and you can very quickly perform the essential functions for an ecommerce site, like ranking (ordering your products to put the most relevant ones at the top of the page), plus building and featuring collections relevant to the commercial calendar. There are many apps available on the Shopify app store for other more advanced functions, so you can pick and choose what is relevant to your store. For example reviews, recommendations, instagram feed, email, personalisation and much much more. Many of the apps have free plans available. The functionality for multiple products is also really good, with search, sorting and filtering for example, so selling a wide range of products is a breeze.
Wordpress, on the other hand, has a very steep learning curve - especially if you’re not particularly technical. If you haven't used it before then it takes a while to get used to. Again you can do anything here, which is both good and bad - Wordpress is used for all sorts of websites, so while it's possible to build in all of the ecommerce functionality that you need, you need to know what to look for. There are so many different options and plugins that it ends up being somewhat overwhelming. You are also responsible for any security updates along the way, and I find it doesn't really scale up to handling a large number of products.
Going back to the house analogy, with Shopify you effectively ‘rent’ your store. The standard monthly cost for this is $29/month in Shopify fees, with the option to upgrade if you want to remove Shopify branding and add more advanced functions, or to scale up for much larger stores. You pay in USD, which means that you’re open to exchange rate fluctuations if you’re outside the US. As I mentioned before, there are numerous apps that can help you to maximise sales, many of which have a free plan. When you’re starting out then it makes sense to use the free versions until your business has scaled up and grown big enough to warrant upgrading, so you can scale this with your business and invest more as and when it makes sense. There are a number of payment providers, you may need to pay a small commission on each sale if you don’t go with Shopify’s own payments. Shopify is now free for the first 90 days to give you time to do set up your store, so start-up costs are minimal.
Wordpress ecommerce pricing is a little different. As Wordpress is open source, the software is free. You will only need to pay a fee for the domain and hosting, and potentially premium themes and plugins, depending on what you need. However, unless you’re very tech-savvy then you will probably need to enlist the help of a Wordpress web designer or developer to create your store for you. This can be a high initial outlay that can run into hundreds or thousands of pounds, and you will then likely be tied to the developer if you want to make any substantial changes in the future.
Shopify or WooCommerce?
In conclusion, while there are clear pros and cons to each, my personal opinion is that Shopify is the best platform for ecommerce stores. I think that the ecommerce functionality and usability of Shopify make it a much better choice for ecommerce businesses, especially those that plan to sell a wide range of products. The low initial cost and quick time to market also make it an excellent choice for start-ups. As it is a dedicated ecommerce platform, all of the necessary sales tools are available out of the box, it has a relatively shallow learning curve and this means once a store is up and running it is easier to refresh and quicker to react, which ultimately will lead to higher sales. I do think that design is important, and there are more than enough themes available to make an online store look great, and they are fully responsive which is essential today.
Thanks for reading! If you decide to use Shopify to set up your ecommerce store and this article helped you, then please use my affiliate link to set up your free Shopify trial. You can also contact me to book a start-up session, to get the lowdown on what you need to know before setting up your site, and what you can prepare in advance to make the most of your free trial.