Online shopping has never been more convenient, and the same goes for building an online store for yourself. There are dozens of ecommerce platforms to help take your business online, from comprehensive website builders for beginners to DIY solutions for the more tech-savvy.
With so many options, it might feel like more work to choose the platform for your website than creating the site itself. To make things easier, let’s focus on the two biggest players in the ecommerce space today: Shopify and WordPress.
You can build a successful online store with either of these platforms, but they differ in their approaches to ecommerce and the types of businesses they serve. Before investing in one option over the other, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of both. In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between Shopify and WordPress to help you get selling.
Shopify vs. WordPress: What’s the difference?
Shopify is an all-in-one website builder for ecommerce. With Shopify, you can create your online store, process payments and shipping, and manage your inventory in a single tool. WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that allows users to create any type of website. WordPress is not pre-built for ecommerce — an online store with WordPress requires additional plugins, setup, and continual maintenance.
Let’s begin by looking at the true costs of both solutions. Since Shopify and WordPress are different types of software, you’ll pay for them in different ways.
Shopify follows the “software as a service” (SaaS) model for payment: Users pay monthly for a Shopify account and access the platform via the internet.
Shopify offers three plans for $29 per month, $79 per month, and $299 per month. All plans include access to essential ecommerce tools and functionality, 24/7 support, and a free SSL certificate. A 14-day free trial is available for each plan.
These Shopify plans also include hosting on Shopify’s servers, which is a major benefit for those who would rather not spend time finding their own hosting and configuring their server. Shopify handles this for you, and it’s included in the monthly price.
However, there are a handful of costs not included. First is your domain name, which you can acquire through Shopify. A domain names will run your around $10 to $20 annually. Second, integrations from the Shopify app marketplace will probably cost extra per month if you want to further extend the functionality of your site. Third, a premium site template will run you $100 - $200 more, as a one time purchase. Lastly, note the transaction fees for each plan: There’s a fee for credit card purchases, and a fee for using any payment gateway outside Shopify’s native payment processor, Shopify Payments.
Beyond the three plans we’ve covered, there’s also Shopify Lite, which lets users integrate basic Shopify tools on a non-Shopify site for $9 per month, and Shopify Plus, an enterprise solution.
The WordPress CMS is free, but running an ecommerce site with it is not. The cost of a WordPress ecommerce site ranges from around $10 to hundreds per month — it all depends on what you’re willing to pay for each piece of your tech stack, including:
WordPress hosting (required)
A domain name (required)
An SSL certificate (not required, but highly recommended)
Paid plugins (not required, but recommended)
A premium theme (not required)
The monthly cost of a WordPress site can easily exceed that of an equivalent, all-inclusive Shopify subscription. To determine which platform is cheaper, it’s best to list out your website essentials and nice-to-haves, then compare the price of your ideal Shopify plan with the total cost of an equivalent WordPress website.
Often the highest barrier to any online service is just getting started. Next, let’s look at what it takes to get a WordPress or Shopify website up and running.
Shopify’s main selling point is its simplicity. As a website builder, it aims to give you a customer-ready ecommerce site as soon as possible, all managed in one place, with minimal steps to launch and no coding knowledge needed.
To create your ecommerce site with Shopify, simply sign up, link your domain, choose a layout for your website, and add your inventory of products. Shopify handles everything else, including hosting, security, and updates.
Shopify provides dozens of free templates to customize your site’s appearance, including nine currently free options. Your choices are limited compared to the thousands of ecommerce WordPress themes, but all Shopify themes are highly customizable and responsive. With a bit time and design chops, you can produce an exceptional Shopify site.
If you have knowledge of custom HTML and CSS, you can even fiddle with the backend of your theme to further tailor your site’s look.
Setting up and maintaining an ecommerce store with WordPress is more involved. This is because WordPress is not a website builder — it’s a standalone piece of software for managing your pages and content. You have to take care of the rest.
To launch an online store with WordPress, you’ll first need to sign up with a hosting company, link your domain to your web server, then install WordPress on your host. After that, choose a theme for your appearance and activate plugins.
Converting a default WordPress blogging site to an ecommerce site is simple with the free WooCommerce plugin. WooCommerce gives you all the functions an online store needs: inventory management, payment gateways, product listings and a cart, and much more functionality you might not have realized you needed.
We also recommend additional plugins to configure and optimize other aspects of your site, like SEO, social media integration, security, and lead capture.
Clearly, the WordPress setup process is less convenient than Shopify’s. But, the tradeoff is its greater flexibility. With WordPress, you can choose whichever hosting provider you’d like, rather than settling for Shopify hosting. And, thanks to the thousands of plugins (including specialized WooCommerce plugins), ecommerce themes, and the WordPress source code at your disposal, you can tweak your website to look and function however you want.
Your ecommerce site will require a specific set of important tools to get the job done. How do Shopify and WordPress stack up when it comes to inventory, product listings, and transactions?
Shopify Ecommerce Tools
Shopify hosts ecommerce websites exclusively — the product is designed for merchants to access everything they need in one virtual place. After logging into your account, you can manage your entire inventory, list your products across your site, track individual orders, and aggregate sales data into reports. Shopify even lets you enable customer accounts, allowing users to sign up and personalize their shopping experience on your site.
However, note Shopify’s restrictions on product listings. All Shopify plans allow unlimited product listings, but each listing is limited to three options, and 100 variants on each option. For example, if you sell cakes, a cake listing might have a flavor option. Chocolate and vanilla would be variants on this flavor.
If you foresee this being an issue, know that there are no such limits with WooCommerce. (Also, if your cake business really does offer more than 100 flavors, please @ me.)
For processing payment, you can either opt for Shopify’s own payment gateway, or pick an alternative (e.g., PayPal, Square, or Amazon Pay). Note that if you use a third-party gateway, you’ll be charged a small transaction fee (from 0.5% to 2% based on your Shopify plan). Shopify also lets customers apply discounts and coupon codes to their purchases.
In addition to its built-in features, Shopify’s app store lists hundreds of integrations to augment your site, including SEO-boosters, marketing automation solutions, social media integration, and shipping. Still, you’re more limited in your add-on options than with WordPress — WordPress plugins exist by the thousands, many high-quality and all customizable.
Finally, Shopify offers a blogging tool to serve your content marketing efforts or to share news and announcements.
WordPress Ecommerce Tools
By default, WordPress is a bare-bones blogging platform. Any ecommerce functionality must be added with plugins. If you select WooCommerce as your ecommerce add-on, you’ll benefit from most of the same tools that Shopify provides. If you need a feature that WooCommerce doesn’t offer, there’s almost certainly a plugin for it.
The WooCommerce interface looks similar to that of the WordPress dashboard, so you can quickly learn how to add products and manage your store. Like WordPress itself, WooCommerce lets you tweak your product displays to fit whatever item you’re selling. This is another advantage over Shopify — you can sell just about anything.
Plus, your website is built on the most popular blogging platform on the web, so content marketing is easy when you’re not posting new items or tracking sales.
Customers are spending hard-earned money on your ecommerce site, and therefore expect a seamless experience with no errors. A solid support network is essential for those moments when something goes wrong and you can’t afford to hesitate.
True to its all-inclusive model, Shopify gives members 24/7 access to its acclaimed customer support service. You can connect with the team via email, phone, or live chat.
Alongside its customer support offerings, Shopify also an extensive knowledge base and forums which you can consult before reaching out to a specialist.
Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce provides in-person support, so it’s on you to resolve any technical issues. However, both offer extensive documentation and guides that you can consult. And if you encounter an issue, chances are someone’s been there first and you’ll find the solution among WordPress’ active support community — Google is your friend here.
Still, you can’t beat direct support, making Shopify better for those who anticipate asking many questions and prefer personalized responses to problems.
The Key Differences Between Shopify and WordPress
Let’s finish by summing up the Shopify and WordPress platforms. All things considered, here are the general guidelines to go by when making your decision:
If you want a hands-off, simple, dedicated ecommerce solution, choose Shopify. You can create your site in a matter of minutes, and Shopify will handle almost everything on the technical side from hosting to payment processing to security. And if you encounter problems, you can always fall back on Shopify support. Ecommerce beginners will get a lot from this platform.
If you want a hands-on, more flexible ecommerce solution, go with WordPress. Users with more experience in the web and/or commerce space will appreciate the greater number of plugin options, tighter control over backend code, more tools for content marketing and management, and fewer restrictions on product listings. Current WordPress users are also better off sticking with this platform if much of their site infrastructure is already in place.
Originally published Aug 24, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated January 21 2022