Choosing the right e-commerce platform for your online business can be a confusing one.
Most of the time there is a trade-off between “easy to use”, functionality, and cost. And it can be frustrating when you can’t have it all.
This article is designed to help you navigate the decision between two major players in the ecommerce sector (although one is definitely significantly larger in terms of market share), so you can weigh up the pro’s & cons.
Disclaimer: For our clients, we mainly use WooCommerce. Our reasoning will become clear in the sections below, but the basic premise for this is that we believe it provides the most ease of use, flexibility, and maximizes long term value for money.
So let’s get into it….
There are two well-known e-Commerce platforms for creating your online store. These are Shopify & WooCommerce.
Introduction to WooCommerce
An easy way to think about it is that Shopify is more like iOS (Apple’s beautiful but pretty restrictive software), whereas WooCommerce is more like Android (super flexible but can be a bit over complicated at times). Android is revered for its flexibility and allows the user to play around with the functionality and design a lot more.
From a numbers perspective, WooCommerce is used by 3.8m sites – that’s 7.8% of all websites on the internet and 28.19% of all eCommerce sites. That’s a fair chunk of the internet if you think about it!
WooCommerce is an open-source system, which allows people the freedom to make plugins that can give diversity & improved functionality for adopters of WooCommerce websites.
Introduction to Shopify
Shopify is a smaller player in comparison – utilised by 2 million websites – but is well known in the space due to heavy marketing and an easy to use functionality (making it popular for newbies) or people who just prioiritise speed over function. Many Apple users will know this experience well, and scratch their heads wondering why people use overly complicated Android smartphones!
This simplicity lures people in because it can help them go live quickly, with no coding required and drag & drop functionality. Due to this niche – security issues are significantly reduced and actively monitored by Shopify. However, this whole model can be very restrictive as soon as you want to move away from a “simple” website – and into more complex or design variations.
Importantly, they are not a Content Management System (CMS) but instead a Website Building Platform. This also makes any customisation difficult and costly – with a high level of limits placed on what a developer/designer can do.
The Build Process
Shopify is a drag & drop version of a website builder – it is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). No coding is required at all – and you can create a professional-looking website without any technical knowledge.
This means you can have your own website modelled off an in-house design – however, this means you can also find millions of other sites that have an almost identical look and feel to your own.
In comparison, WooCommerce can allow similar levels of backend interface which allows easy use.
Both sites provide the option for working initially off a theme: think of a ready-made design that you tweak to your company’s needs.
WooCommerce – unlike Shopify – allows full custom builds as well. This means:
- A Designer can come up with any design you want, then
- A Developer can turn that design into code
Whilst Shopify themes make it easier to build from scratch and reduce the cost of hiring a designer, they inherently come with a lot of “bloat” or unnecessary sections/plugins or pages.
This can contribute to a range of issues none more important than page speed (where a page loading time is decreased) which can affect your rankings on Google.
Price to use and ongoing costs
WooCommerce requires hosting additional to just owning a domain, which can add significant cost to a project. WordPress is compatible with WooCommerce (the #1 e-commerce platform on WooCommerce) which allows a high level of flexibility.
There are over 6,000 WooCommerce plugins – with which that additional functionality can be added at little to no additional cost.
Shopify has inbuilt e-commerce, and offer a user-friendly interface, hosting, and domains however the choice is limited to their selection. I know from a range of clients this can be very limited, and frustrating because there is often little choice around functionality or style, and even small things like moving buttons or look and feel options are very primitive.
Pricing & Payment
One thing we like about Shopify is the simplicity that it brings. For a single fixed cost (usually a monthly amount), you get all your design, hosting, functionality etc all included. They even throw in a domain to get you started.
For those starting out this can provide some light relief and keep the “going online” experience easy.
Once you become serious about your online presence however – this “all in one experience” can be quite limiting, or actually becomes an expensive way to do things. You are also restricted to where Shopify stores choose to host their (or your) site and the performance and uptime these providers then offer.
There have been issues and concerns about Shopify websites being able to just turn off sites at their will, and so you are at the discretion of their servers and gatekeepers.
Both platforms provide you with different payment options to offer to your customers. Payment processing is highly secure on both platforms. You just need to choose the right platform to process online payments. See the options here for Shopify stores
This then makes WooCommerce an obvious choice for clients who want control. Whilst a little more complicated – meaning you need to buy different parts of the website individually – it provides the choice and opportunity to make choices which will really maximise your site performance. And perhaps most importantly leave you in complete control.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
This is a tricky one to get your head around, so let me explain:
Shopify claims to have “best practice” already built into the site. However – best practice in the world of SEO is an evolving art because there are over 200 criteria that Google determines (at their discretion) which determines a site’s SEO score.
Whilst it is “inbuilt” a user still needs to know which information to add. For example – adding image names to optimise for SEO is important. Yes, the functionality exists on Shopify – but would most people know to add these in. Probably not.
With WooCommerce, SEO performance is unlimited because of the flexibility of WordPress. You can add what you want, and run a variety of tools and capabilities to help ensure that you can do what you want when it comes to this area.
How the two e-commerce platforms handle security is interesting. There are ongoing security updates to both WooCommerce sites and Shopify, however, due to the flexibility of WooCommerce, you will likely need to be more proactive on an individual basis than you would for WooCommerce.
Given WordPress makes up about 30% of the internet – this attracts notable interest and potential hacking from a wide variety of sources. That said – it also attracts significant investment to ensure these sites are protected.
In a WordPress website, ongoing maintenance and security improvements are paramount. If something goes wrong you will need to fall back on your development team to ensure everything is backed up and you can resolve any issues. Auto-updates on commonly used plug-ins will ensure you are not left in the lurch. High-Security vulnerabilities should be checked a minimum of twice a month.
Shopify on the other hand – because they restrict the functionality and coding so much – ensures they can take care of security more easily. This is included in a single fee – you don’t need to worry about day to day security of your site – if anything goes wrong you have the support.
Shopify provides 24/7 access to their help team. Whilst they typically deal with small issues – like lost passwords etc – their support team can be accessed to jump in and lend a hand if/when needed.
Whilst many users choose to undertake their own WooCommerce updates, it is likely you would work with an agency, or a developer who can jump in if needed to help make adjustments and figure out fixes / updates.
Shopify makes getting up and running easy, simple and quick. The trade-off with the simplicity however is choice, flexibility and control which WooCommerce provides in abundance.
It is common for start-up businesses to start on Shopify sites and migrate to a WooCommerce down the track. This transition can be tricky however as users have been protected from all the moving parts which make up a website – due to the simple only process Shopify have created.
WooCommerce is the market leader and offers incredible choices around designs, functionality and security. Moving into this territory however often requires more significant capital investment early on, but means you are not shackled by a 3rd party down the track when you change something or want to mix things up.
The Creative Collective can definitely provide you with expert advice on your current online store, or if you are interested in building a new e-commerce store, we have a highly-experienced web development team who are ready to help you.