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WooCommerce vs Shopify: what’s best for my online store?

WooCommerce vs Shopify: what’s best for my online store?

Back when the internet was young, it took a lot of esoteric coding knowledge to build even the simplest website. This high barrier to entry, wrote Daily Mail science writer James Chapman in 2000, probably meant the internet was likely “just a passing fad.” Well, the early internet sure has attracted some doozy predictions.

Fast-forward two decades later and building websites is so easy that children can do it – and they often do so. The incredible options now available for creating one’s own online space range from setting up a basic Facebook profile to starting an intricate CSS style platform, and everything in between.

But the most common website types for e-commerce are either the reliable WordPress platform (with a WooCommerce plugin) or the more recent Shopify platform. WordPress is a free, open-source software that is used in about 43% of all websites, or in a whopping 455 million sites. Shopify is a little more niche as it is primarily used for e-commerce sites. But it is still a popular platform used in 175 countries on 4.1 million sites, with that number is growing quickly.

Both website systems have significantly lowered the barrier to entry for amateur budding website builders and companies. And while WordPress was originally created as a blogging platform and Shopify as an easy e-commerce platform for beginners (as the name suggests), both platforms can work great for e-commerce businesses and can be used for so much more.

Shopify or WooCommerce? What’s better for my e-commerce business?

Let’s start with WordPress. Its biggest advantage is mainly in its versatility. Due to its popularity, people from all over the globe have written thousands of plug-ins for the platform that offer a virtually infinite mix of website possibilities like HubSpot, WooCommerce, WPForms, Jetpack, or Elementor.

Many WordPress sites in operation today incorporate some version of the e-commerce plug-in WooCommerce. But while these plug-ins are excellent options for the service they provide, the WooCommerce platform is mainly used by companies that don’t consider themselves to be “online-first” stores and perhaps see e-commerce on their website as a secondary sales channel.

After all, the bulk of the world’s many companies don’t have a retail aspect, so they rarely need an e-commerce functionality on their website. Think of accountants, lawyers, factories, tow-truck drivers or fish tank cleaners. If those companies do interact directly with customers, it’s usually through direct messaging, emails, or by filling out an online form (a functionality that the WordPress environment also offers as a plug-in).

On the other hand, the Shopify platform was designed specifically for companies and individuals that wanted an e-commerce channel.

One of Shopify’s core features is a dashboard into which a store owner can load their entire shop inventory so they can display their wares or services to customers clearly, smartly, and seamlessly. Another key factor is that all the top payment processors – PayPal, credit cards, etc – connect easily with Shopify’s system so customers can quickly get to the checkout after they find what they want.

Shopify's central driving idea is that anyone should be able to create an e-commerce store without having design or technical skills. Shopify is also a hosted solution which means everything a person needs to build and manage an online store can be done “outside the box.” Since it is built primarily for the e-commerce space, Shopify users can upgrade to higher-level plans as their business grows so they can expand functionality. Shopify also offers plenty of great ways for users to get creative with their solutions. And with new features being added each week, the platform will only get better for brick-and-mortar retail businesses looking to find the easiest route for entering the e-commerce world.

Fretting about which type of website to build, and how much to spend, is usually reserved for small to medium-sized companies. Large corporates have big budgets, which means they can hire teams of developers to build a bespoke website from the ground up. SMEs don’t have that luxury.

Cost of creating an online store on WordPress with WooCommerce vs Shopify.

So, depending on the size of a company’s budget, is it cheaper to go with WooCommerce or Shopify? The short answer is: it depends.

The first thing to note is that it is essential to create a list of all requirements for a future website, and then price them for each platform. This will help determine which platform is most economical.

Although WordPress is a free platform, that doesn’t mean an effective site with WooCommerce will cost nothing to build. Everything takes time, and time is valuable. Even if people in-house try their hand at constructing a site themselves, they will inevitably be spending less time on their core, revenue-producing activities to do so, and that will be a net cost for the company.

But hiring a skilled developer to create a WooCommerce site will also cost money. At the low end, a basic WordPress site should cost between $500 to $3000 to build. Depending on what the site is required to do, a more complicated build might cost upwards of $30,000. The next layer of cost for pretty much any website platform is hosting. However, hosting shouldn’t cost much more than $11-$40 per month, and keep in mind that the WooCommerce plug-in is free.

What about Shopify? A basic build cost for a Shopify site is between $500 to $1200. A Shopify Plus account (which includes all the standard Shopify features, along with additional resources that are designed to help support merchants with higher revenue and sales) costs $2000 per month. Add to this total the many other little app features like dropshipping or special site templates and the costs for a Shopify platform do quickly rise to match a WordPress/WooCommerce build.

Selling a physical product? You'll likely benefit from adopting Shopify. Our critically acclaimed project for Genki Instruments was a custom e-commerce headless website that was built on Shopify.

Plugins and templates for WooCommerce and Shopify won’t do the trick on their own

Overall, each of these platforms has its limitations and advantages. As mentioned, Shopify has plug-ins which are generally paid for through subscriptions, usually every month according to a selected plan. WooCommerce plug-ins might be free to use, and might be available for a one-off purchase, or for example, accessible through a subscription plan.

Keep in mind that there are limitations in using off-the-shelf templates for both Shopify and WooCommerce. For example, common themes might be duplicated across many sites, so a site might not stand out from competitors. Also, they can only use components that exist within the theme. A digital product agency such as Adchitects can help make a custom, one-of-a-kind, non-replicable theme at an affordable rate.

WordPress was initially a blogging platform. After many years of development, nearly every type of website content eventually turned out to fit under its umbrella. We worked on WordPress to create this diverse and full-of-content website together with conversational advertising leader Cavai.

Website designers with a modern approach can set out from the start what a company may want from its future site. They will also help you choose whether to go with WordPress/WooCommerce or choose Shopify. Only then can a designer implement an intuitive user experience (UX) that nests perfectly within the client's needs. What’s also important, is that by working from scratch, developers will have an easier job performing site maintenance and when adding new components later.

Regardless of which website platform is chosen, the biggest challenge is often learning how to use the system and understanding its limitations. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stay in close contact with the design & development team and insist they create a how-to guide that teaches all the basics of using the site once they are finished building it. Once that’s done, you can start enjoying the benefits of a custom-developed e-commerce platform that will address your customer’s expectations.

Maurycy Krokos

Project Manager

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