In 2020, running an ecommerce store has never been more accessible to businesses with different resources and budgets. And yet, with so many different ecommerce tools and platforms to choose from, picking the right solution for your unique needs has never been trickier.
Taking the time to evaluate every solution on the market individually would be a massive time investment — G2 lists 363 ecommerce platforms on their website alone. Instead, it makes sense to narrow your search to two stand-out products: Shopify and WooCommerce.
Both Shopify and WooCommerce can provide powerful ecommerce solutions and are excellent options, but they offer different approaches to running an ecommerce business. You need to understand the different experiences you'll get with each platform before you decide to invest in one over the other.
In this article, we'll explore the big differences between these ecommerce powerhouses, so you can decide which solution is best for you and your eocmmerce goals. Let's dive in.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify
WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce WordPress plugin on the market, and it's (mostly) free. It's a good option if you already run your website on WordPress. Shopify is a cloud-based, multichannel ecommerce platform that starts at $29/month. You can design and run your entire store through Shopify, with back-office analytics and other additional apps.
Both Shopify and WooCommerce are excellent choices to run your ecommerce business, and the one you select really comes down to what kind of experience you prefer.
The Key Differences Between Shopify & WooCommerce
Let's summarize the key differences (and important similarities) and between the two ecommerce solutions:
|Price||Free to download, but factor in additional costs for hosting, domain, security, any design costs, or costs of additional plugins||Starts at $29/month, but factor in additional costs for design if applicable|
|Number of Products||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Hosting & Domains||Not included, you'll need to purchase on your own||Hosting is included and you can purchase domain through Shopify or use free Shopify subdomain|
|Security||Not included, you'll need to download plugins to configure security on your own||Fully included: PCI compliance, fraud analysis,|
|SSL Certificate||Not included||Included free with all plans|
|Design & Customization||Unrestricted customization -- you can use any template and edit anything you want||Fewer advanced customization options. 70+ templates to choose from with the ability to edit the HTML/CSS of your site|
|File Storage||You host your own files so it depends on your web host||Unlimited file storage|
|Customer Support||Email ticket support and an extensive support library||Phone, live chat, email, and Twitter support and an extensive support library|
|Available Extensions/Apps||As an open-source tool, there are countless third-party extensions available to customize every aspect of your store||Not an open-source tool but apps are available to download for additional features|
|Mobile Support||Fully mobile-friendly||Fully mobile-friendly|
|Data||You host, manage, and control all your data||Shopify hosts all your data and you can access it through the platform|
|Abandoned Cart Recovery||Available through additional extensions||Available as a standard feature|
|Multiple Language Support||Available through additional extensions||Available as a standard feature|
|WordPress Compatibility||WooCommerce is built to work with WordPress, so you can manage your ecommerce site completely through WordPress||Shopify offers a WordPress plugin for $9/month|
|HubSpot Compatibility||WooCommerce is a HubSpot-certified app partner. Available here.||Shopify is a HubSpot-certified app partner. Available here.|
Now that you've gotten an overview of the two platforms, let's dive into some of the key categories that you should consider as you decide which one to go with:
Start by comparing the true costs of these two solutions. Both ecommerce solutions might include some additional costs depending on what features you need to manage your business effectively.
The WooCommerce WordPress plugin is free to download. However, if you find the core features lacking, you might need to invest in additional plugins -- and not all of those plugins are free. Another possible hidden cost is the price of customization. WooCommerce is "built for developers" and offers a lot of room for customization -- which is great, unless you don't have a developer on your team and require customized features or a customized WordPress theme (in which case, you'd need to spend money hiring one).
WooCommerce also doesn't provide web hosting, so you'll need to factor in the cost of purchasing web hosting, a domain name, and an SSL certificate as well.
Shopify does not have a free option, and starts at $29/month. This includes web hosting, an SSL certificate, and the option to use a free Shopify subdomain (yourname.shopify.com). If you want to purchase a custom domain, you can do so through Shopify.
Shopify offers two additional pricing tiers: a $79/month package called "Shopify" that gives you additional seats and other advanced features like gift cards and more reports, and a $299/month package called "Advanced Shopify" that gives you even more seats, more analytics, and some discounts on payment processing fees.
For the purposes of this comparison, we'll be looking at the features that come standard in both products. Both products also offer additional features in the form of plugins, integrations, and other extensions.
Out-of-the-box, WooCommerce offers a robust list of features to build and manage your store with your existing WordPress website, including built-in blogging, the ability to embed products and check-out features on any page of your website, the ability to collect, verify, and display customer reviews, and built-in sorting options so your customers can filter products by price, newness, popularity, and ratings. WooCommerce supports unlimited products and images, and allows you to tag your products with different categories, tags, and attributes to help your customers find what they're looking for.
The fact that all these features can be integrated with and managed within your existing WordPress website is a huge plus if you're comfortable with your current setup and aren't looking to make any big changes.
Image credit: WooCommerce
If you're looking to set up and manage a basic store, WooCommerce likely has everything you're looking for in its core features. But if you want more advanced features as you grow, you'll need to invest time (and likely money) in additional plugins to help you scale and refine your ecommerce store. For example, WooCommerce does not have an abandoned cart option as a core feature of the plugin, and Shopify has this ecommerce best practice baked into its core product.
WooCommerce's main selling point is advanced customization. Using additional plugins, you can truly shape your ecommerce business however you please -- even connecting it to the other platforms and tools you already use (like HubSpot via an integration built by MakeWebBetter). The HubSpot for WooCommerce plugin adds abandoned cart, marketing automation, reporting, and other marketing tools that aren’t directly built into WooCommerce.
Image credit: WooCommerce
If you have the time and resources to invest in customization -- or the ability to work with an expert WooCommerce partner -- you can get a lot out of this plugin, selecting features and add-ons to suit your specific business needs and goals. But if you don't have a lot of technical knowledge, time to devote to setup, or access to WordPress-knowledgable developer, WooCommerce's central features without plugins might fall short next to a more out-of-the-box solution like Shopify.
Notable WooCommerce features:
- Easy to set up on WordPress (and you can use any WordPress template)
- Unrestricted customization
- Open development means third-party developers can build and release new extensions
- Built-in blogging
- The ability to embed products and checkouts on any page
- Categories and tags to organize your inventory
- Product ratings and reviews
- Product filtering options
- Unlimited product images and galleries
- Unlimited products
- Built-in payment processing from leading providers
- Customer accounts and guest checkout
- Email templates
Compared to WooCommerce, Shopify has more core features you can use out-of-the-box without downloading extensions. Similar to WooCommerce's extension options, Shopify also has an app marketplace you can use to fill in any gaps you need to run your business. Many of the apps can enable integrations between Shopify and your other favorite platforms (like HubSpot).
Without additional extensions or fees, Shopify gives you a lot to work with when you first log onto the platform. Upon signing up, you'll have access to their intuitive drag-and-drop website builder with 70+ ecommerce-ready themes to choose from, room to list unlimited products and upload unlimited files, built-in blogging, customer reviews, ready-to-go payment options for your customers, abandoned cart recovery, and analytics on your web traffic and products.
By comparison in WooCommerce, some of these features (like abandoned cart recovery, analytics, and some payment options) require additional paid plugins and setup to use.
Purchasing a plan with Shopify also means your web hosting is taken care of (by contrast, WooCommerce does not come with web hosting). You have the option to use a free Shopify subdomain (yourname.shopify.com), or you can purchase your own custom domain directly through Shopify.
While you get more out-of-the-box functionality with Shopify, you miss out on the kind of advanced customization you'd get with WooCommerce. Shopify allows you to edit the HTML/CSS of some parts of your ecommerce site, but it doesn't compare to the kind of control you'd get with the WooCommerce plugin.
For some people, this lack of customization won't be a problem, it will be a plus -- Shopify takes care of a lot of the advanced details of running an ecommerce business so you can set up and manage your store with more ease. But if you're someone who likes to have complete control over every aspect of your website and tinker with customizations, you might find Shopify to be limited.
Notable Shopify features:
- Drag-and-drop website builder (with 70+ themes to choose from)
- Your own domain name (which you can purchase through Shopify)
- The ability to accept payments directly through Shopify
- SSL certificate
- Automatic taxes and shipping rates
- Abandoned checkout recovery
- Product reviews
- Native support for multiple languages
- Customer accounts & profiles
- Email templates
- The ability to sell directly on Facebook
- Unlimited products
- Product tags with SEO built-in
- Inventory management
- Web hosting
- Analytics dashboard
- Mobile management
This is probably where Shopify and WooCommerce differ the most -- but neither one is inherently superior than the other. The user experience you prefer will largely depend on the level of advanced control you want over your website, and how much time you're willing (or able) to invest in setting it up.
If you're already using WordPress and are deeply invested in the platform, WooCommerce can be added pretty seamlessly to your existing website. It's an open-source plugin that — unlike Shopify — is not hosted, which means you'll need to manage updates, security issues, and manually back up your store. There are plugins that can manage these processes for you available for WooCommerce, but from a usability standpoint, managing additional plugins could potentially be a hassle for the average user.
While being "not hosted" might sound like an inherent drawback, it depends on your business needs. As WooCommerce points out on their website, "One of the biggest risks of using a hosted eCommerce platform is what happens to your data if they close up shop. This complete lack of control over the most critical aspect of your online store is fundamental."
The main draw of WooCommerce's user experience is that it works with your existing WordPress website. Installing the plugin and getting started is easy if you're already on WordPress, and you're able to add ecommerce features like product listings and check-out pages to any area of your website without needing to build brand new pages or start completely from scratch.
That also means you'll be able to write and manage all your product descriptions within an editor and interface that you're already familiar with:
Image credit: WooCommerce
However, more customization means more extensions and plugins, and that means more moving parts to manage, keep up to date, and potentially troubleshoot if things go wrong.
But if you're already accustomed to managing a WordPress website with a lot of plugins, WooCommerce will likely be a welcome addition to your lineup. As one reviewer writes, "Since I started testing WooCommerce on my ecommerce sites, I fell in love with its simplicity and the fact that I could add more plugins, or modify it to suit my needs."
However, if you're not looking to spend time (and potentially money) customizing many aspects of your ecommerce store, this might not be the most user-friendly option. WooCommerce is a powerful tool capable of meeting many needs, but it is not an out-of-the-box ecommerce solution. The ease of use here largely depends on your personal comfort level with WordPress plugins and finding the right extensions to suit your needs.
If it seems like there can be a lot of moving parts with WooCommerce, you're not wrong -- complexity is often the price you pay for advanced customization on open-source software. If customization is less important to you than having all your features streamlined into a single platform, then Shopify might be a better fit. While it has fewer customization options than WooCommerce, the learning curve will be less steep for the average user, and more features come with the core product.
Unlike WooCommerce, Shopify is a hosted ecommerce platform, which means you don't need to worry about keeping the software up to date, managing security issues, or manually backing up your website. This kind of all-in-one setup will be appealing for first-time shop owners and businesses who would rather not have to customize or build every single aspect of their stores.
Image credit: Shopify
When you sign up for Shopify, you'll be guided through the process of creating a website and adding your first products using Shopify's intuitive drag-and-drop interface. You can select a theme from Shopify's pretty extensive layout library (though it's worth noting that not all of Shopify's themes are free), and set up your web hosting and custom domain name through the platform. Here's what your dashboard will look like when you're logged in:
Image credit: Shopify
If you're tasked with creating an ecommerce site from scratch, Shopify's guided setup and simple interface really can't be beat. As one reviewer writes, "Shopify lets you get up and running fast. You can literally have a marketable web solution in less than 15 minutes, and a backend to go with it in less than an hour." For someone trying to get a functional, polished-looking store up and running fast, Shopify will be a good fit.
Hacking and malware can cause serious damage to your site and reputation, not to mention the cost of repair if you don't have regular backups to your site. For this reason, security is a big factor in which platform you should choose and the actions that you'll need to take once your site is live.
WooCommerce isn't its own platform -- it runs on WordPress — so you'll be responsible for downloading the right plugins and taking other measures to ensure your ecommerce store is secure. This typically includes purchasing an SSL certificate, ensuring your web hosting company is secure, and setting up protective measures like fraud analysis and two-factor authentication.
You'll also need to take action on your end to make sure your site is PCI compliant. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a security standard for how companies handle online payments to avoid fraud and other security concerns.
Don't take this to mean that WooCommerce is inherently less secure than Shopify — that's not the case at all. It just means you'll need to do your research and put in some work up-front to ensure your site is secure.
Because Shopify hosts your ecommerce store directly, they take care of ensuring your site is secure. SSL certificates come free with your plan, and your site will be PCI compliant the minute you set it up. If you've never set up security measures for a website before, having it all taken care of for you will give you peace of mind.
If you're not a web developer with a strong background in code, support is a critical factor you should keep in mind. The last thing you want is to get stuck on a particular issue and find out that there's no one to ask for advice.
For a free tool, WooCommerce has some solid support options. They offer two types of support: an online ticketing system where you can submit a written support ticket, and a help documentation library. There is also a good amount of third-party help documentation available for more specific issues not covered in the help library.
Image credit: WooCommerce
If you're someone who likes to learn things largely on their own, you'll find WooCommerce's support options adequate. But if you think you might need more help or prefer to talk to someone on the phone, these options might not be ideal. If that's your situation, you could consider hiring a WooExpert — an agency that specializes in building ecommerce sites using WordPress and WooCommerce.
Shopify offers support through four different channels: live chat, email, phone, and Twitter. They also have an extensive library of help documentation (including help videos on most topics). If you're someone who needs a bit more hands-on help, you'll feel very supported with Shopify.
Image credit: Shopify
The whole goal is to choose a platform that works for you as you build and maintain a site that attracts, converts, and serves prospects and customers as you grow your business. Whichever you choose, make sure it helps you in this endeavor rather than hinders you.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Dec 23, 2019 12:26:47 PM, updated March 17 2021