Choosing the best eCommerce platform to suit your goals, needs and capabilities can feel like a huge task at times. With so much choice out there, how exactly are you supposed to decide on a solution that could make or break your business?
Shopify and WooCommerce are two leading – but very different – eCommerce platforms.
More than 600,000 online sellers use Shopify to sell their products, while a whopping 23% of retail websites favour WooCommerce to host their online store.
So, how do make a choice between WooCommerce and Shopify? Which platform suits which business capabilities? Is one better than the other?
In this eCommerce platforms review, we weigh up the pros and cons of WooCommerce vs. Shopify so that you can decide on the best fit to support your online business.
Ease of use
Type of products you can sell
Time to market
Search engine optimisation
Additional marketing features
Extensions and integrations
Online resources and community
First things first, one of the main differences between WooCommerce and Shopify is that the former is an open source platform, while the latter is a hosted solution.
With WooCommerce, you’ll need to take care of your website hosting, domain name registration, software installation, security and software updates.
In comparison, Shopify is a hosted solution that sorts all of the above for you. In exchange, you pay an ongoing monthly fee which is dependent on the package you select.
Do keep in mind that WooCommerce does offer the option to use one of their trusted partners to host your online store, with the backend all set up for you – but this does cost.
In terms of day-to-day use, both eCommerce platforms are fairly similar.
WooCommerce uses the WordPress Content Management System (CMS), which makes it one of the most user-friendly open source solutions available to online sellers.
On the other hand, Shopify was built with simplicity at its core. It’s easily one of the most user intuitive and easy to use eCommerce platforms out there.
Shopify store owners can sell both physical goods and services.
If you do sell a digital product, however, you will need to install an add-on from the Shopify Marketplace so that you can provide a downloadable link to your item.
This comes at no extra cost when using the Digital Downloads App created by Shopify.
However, if you’re looking to sell subscription-based products, then you will need to factor in the price of a paid add-on. For example, ReCharge costs $19.99 per month.
Similar to Shopify, WooCommerce users can also sell products and services.
If you sell subscription-based items, then you will need to factor in the cost of a WooCommerce plugin from its marketplace. This will cost you $199 (excluding VAT).
The time it takes to get your WooCommerce business up and running depends on two things: your technical ability and the approach you’ve decided to take.
If you’re looking to install a pre-made template theme and are familiar with WordPress, then you may find it takes one to two weeks.
On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with the software and have limited website development knowledge, then it’s difficult to say how long your time to market will be.
If you want to hire a professional web developer for a custom web design, then depending on the size and scope of your store, you may be looking at a timeframe of 1-3 months.
Keep in mind that this is a general estimate based on our research.
In comparison, Shopify users could quite easily set themselves up over a weekend.
This turnaround time does depend on the size and scope of your online business (e.g. how many products do you have to add?) and the level of customisation you want, but generally speaking a lot of customers choose Shopify for its simplicity and efficiency.
Search engine optimisation is the process of fine-tuning your website for search engines so that you can drive a steady stream of traffic to your online store.
For Shopify users, the platform comes with the main editable SEO options that most solutions offer – customisable title tags, 301 redirects, meta information and automatic sitemap generation.
If this isn’t enough control over SEO functionality for you, then you can pay $20.00 a month to use the platform’s SEO Manager App.
One disadvantage to Shopify is that it takes care of so much for you.
There’s a fair few technical SEO elements that Shopify store owners do not have access to as they do not control the software, unlike an open source platform such as WooCommerce.
Shopify simplifies as much of the online selling process as possible for its users and optimising your online shop for search engines is one aspect of this.
That said, Shopify has a good and trusted uptime and speed (depending on the layout and number of add-ons you use) – both of which will have a positive impact on your site’s SEO.
On the other hand, WooCommerce benefits from several WordPress in-built SEO functionalities and third-party apps.
For example, WordPress comes with the ability to use .htaaccess to create static URLs known as permalinks, blogrolling and pinging. As you may have already guessed, however, these elements require technical expertise and solid knowledge of SEO practices.
One popular (and free) third-party plugin you can use is called Yoast. Yoast enables you to set up canonical URLs, which helps to avoid the penalty issue of duplicate content, as well as being able to create specific title and meta descriptions that appear in search results.
Yoast also provides a plugin for WooCommerce users at the one-off price of £49.00 – excluding VAT. This improves your site navigation, make it easier for search engines to crawl and removes redundant or duplicate pages WooCommerce automatically adds.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify have large marketplaces filled with marketing apps that you can use to promote your store – but we’ll touch on these later.
In terms of built-in marketing functions, WooCommerce users benefit from automated emails that can be customised to send to your customers as proof of purchase, and you can add in information about current or upcoming products.
That said, when a customer makes a purchase on a WooCommerce store, automated emails are sent to provide proof of purchase to the customer. These can be branded, and you could use the opportunity to add in information about current or upcoming products.
WooCommerce customers benefit from basic reporting and analytics to monitor profits and track orders, website traffic and any other growth trends. There is also the option of integrating Google Analytics for more detailed insight about your customers.
Similar to WooCommerce, Shopify users also benefit from reporting and analytics information to inform their marketing campaigns; however, the more you pay, the more data you will have access to.
Built-in wise, Shopify offers sellers the ability to create discounts and offer coupons to segmented groups of customers to reach and engage them.
You also have the option of a blog (as do WooCommerce users) which can act as a portal for your store, engage your customers and increase the likelihood of more sales.
The two eCommerce platforms come off as being fairly equal when it comes to marketing features, with both offering the bare basics. For additional functionality you’ll need to look towards using extensions and apps.
Shopify offers 65 free and premium shop templates for its users. The paid themes – of which there are 55 – range from $140-$180 and most offer up to four different layout styles. The remaining ten are free to use.
These designs are modern and fully responsive across all digital devices. Whichever Shopify template you may use, you have the option to adjust how the layout looks, and you don’t need to understand code or have any technical knowledge whatsoever.
You can achieve this through Shopify’s visual layout editor. Here, you can add specific content sections to your homepage, such as a product image slideshow. You can also adjust colours, fonts and add images onto each page as well as your logo.
In comparison, WooCommerce only offers one free all users – but you may find this a slight jump to get used to if you don’t have much technical knowledge.
That said, as WooCommerce is operated through WordPress, anyone can create themes that work with the platform and list them as free or put them up for sale on the internet.
Do watch out for poorly coded themes as these may damage your website or affect how your extensions work. A reputable themes site to check out is ThemeForest as many have customer reviews so you can eliminate the worry of making a poor choice.
As WooCommerce is open source, you can create or pay for someone to create your own storefront layout from scratch. This allows you to have something completely unique and tailored to your requirements but does require web development skills.
All in all, WooCommerce is a better choice for those who want highly customised storefronts, while Shopify is best for those who want to achieve a nice-looking store quickly and without coding knowledge.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify have large marketplaces filled with hundreds of extensions for their users.
WooCommerce provides a wide variety of apps, from store management, payment, shipping, product type, marketing and other enhancements.
These extensions range from being free to install and use to costing approximately $250 per year (excluding VAT) for a single store. If you own multiple stores and want the same extensions for each, then this will cost you more.
The Shopify App store has add-ons to help with sourcing products, marketing, sales, shipping, inventory management, customer service and accounting tools.
While many of these extensions are free, it does have to be made clear that there are many that require monthly recurring payments. For example, the SEO Manager tool is an extra ongoing cost of $20.00, and many shop owners will deem this an essential feature.
When comparing WooCommerce with Shopify, you may find it a good idea to work out the annual cost of selling on hosted eCommerce platforms plus add-ons and compare it with the price of WooCommerce plugins you’ll need to buy.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify are very different when it comes to customer support.
Shopify’s customer support is accessible 24/7 and store owners can reach out via live chat, phone, email or even social media.
In comparison, WooCommerce offers no customer support.
Much of this has to do with the platform being open source and therefore completely free to download and use – there’s no monthly fee as there is with Shopify.
If you’re new to selling online or lack technical knowledge on your team, then you may find a solution such as Shopify fits the bill much better than WooCommerce, where you’re left to sift through documentation or make use of the community forums.
That said, WooCommerce does offer a get started guide and guided tour videos – but these can be quite fast-paced and still use technical language.
As Shopify is such a large and popular eCommerce platform, it offers a lot of different content to help you grow your business.
For users who are very new to selling online, you may find it useful to refer to Shopify’s encyclopaedia page. Alternatively, Shopify Academy gives you access to tools and knowledge that you need to create a successful online store.
Shopify also has an active community forum available for online sellers. You can ask questions on a variety of subjects and Shopify employees and partners (as well as other users) are there to guide you.
In addition to this, Shopify has a very active blog with helpful tips, advice and examples of how to grow an online business, as well as downloadable guides, podcasts and a selection of free tools and stock photos.
While WooCommerce does have a variety of resources available to support online sellers, the content is arguably not as extensive as the likes of Shopify.
That said, there are two blog worth keeping an eye on when it comes to WooCommerce:
- Software updates for developers
- Common problems WooCommerce business owners face
There’s also a slack channel dedicated to WooCommerce users and partners.
Shopify is likely to have far more resources on offer since it requires a monthly ongoing cost from all users and is a more well-known eCommerce platform.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify are priced quite differently.
For starters, Shopify users pay one of three monthly packages in exchange for different product features, total number of users, credit card rates and transaction fees.
Basic Shopify - $29 per month
- Two user accounts
- Unlimited products and file storage
- Credit card rates of 2.2% + 20p online purchases and 1.7% + 0p in-person
- 2% transaction fees if using external payment gateways
Shopify - $79 per month
- 5 user accounts
- Same benefits as Basic Shopify account
- Gift cards
- Reporting and analytics
- Credit card rates of 1.9% + 20p online purchases and 1.6% in-person
- 1% transaction fees if using external payment gateways
Advanced Shopify - $299 per month
- 15 user accounts
- Same benefits as Shopify account
- Advanced report builder
- Third-party calculated shipping rates
- Credit card rates of 1.6% + 20p for online purchases and 1.5% in-person
- 5% transaction fees if using external payment gateways
Of course, this does not take into account any paid extensions or apps that you choose to use to extend the functionality of your Shopify store, nor does it factor in the cost of a customised storefront layout should you seek one out.
In comparison, WooCommerce is free to download and use, meaning that there are no monthly ongoing costs simply for using the software.
However, that isn’t to say there are no costs involved.
In fact, there are several costs to keep in mind:
- Website hosting – monthly ongoing cost
- Storefront layout – one-off cost (or free if using layout provided)
- Domain name registration – annual cost
- Apps and extensions – monthly ongoing cost or annual cost
With WooCommerce, there are no transaction fees or credit card rates.
Both eCommerce platforms are priced competitively to target very different audiences.
For instance, Shopify is best suited for businesses without the technical know-how, who seek an easy-to-use and pre-built platform to sell online quickly.
On the other hand, WooCommerce is for businesses who are comfortable with setting up and maintaining their store themselves, with a high level of control and customisability.
While how scalable a solution is may not be high on your list of priorities at the beginning, it’s a key factor to consider since moving eCommerce platforms can be very costly.
As WooCommerce is an open source platform, much of its scalability is actually in the hands of its users – rather than the software itself.
For example, you are responsible for your website hosting, which has a big impact on the amount of traffic your online store can handle.
Eventually, you will need to switch to a virtual private server or dedicated server.
In order to scale with WooCommerce successfully, you will need to make an investment in your team so that it is unaffected in performance and speed.
You may find that you need to purchase several extensions and plugins for your online store as you grow. These costs can add up and the more plugins you add, the more clunky your site may become, and it may not load quickly or be able to handle large amounts of traffic.
That said, this is also likely to be the case for a Shopify store as well.
With Shopify, there is a clear path for progression through its monthly packages. The platform also offers Shopify Plus for when Shopify users need to upgrade.
However, you have less control as you do not host your online store yourself, which may sometimes affect site speed and upload time – although this is likely to be rare as Shopify guarantees an uptime of 99.8%.
Generally speaking, both WooCommerce and Shopify are leading eCommerce platforms with many high-profile and high-volume customers; clear evidence that each provide the ability to scale effectively.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Which eCommerce platform wins?
Shopify and WooCommerce are two excellent eCommerce platforms that are tailored to very different types of businesses – each with advantages and disadvantages.
Shopify is a clear winner for those who don’t have much technical knowledge, want to sell online quickly and seek out a really user-friendly interface for conducting business.
On the other hand, WooCommerce is a great choice for businesses who want more creative freedom with their projects, have some web development knowledge and are happy to figure things out by themselves.
Neither eCommerce platform is considerably better than the other – it all depends on your business goals, needs and capabilities.
Only you will be able to decide which is the best fit to support your store.