Shopify vs WooCommerce: Which Platform Is Right for You?

Written by Dani Sherman

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Let the battle begin!

If you’re just getting started with your e-Commerce business and in the research stage, you will probably have noticed that the most popular options are Shopify and WooCommerce. There is good reason that these two come up again and again, and we'll see why.

While both platforms are designed to help you create an online store, they have some key differences that may make one a better choice for your needs. In this blog post, we'll compare Shopify vs WooCommerce in terms of features, pricing, and ease of use, among other factors.

So, fear not -- we'll break it down for you, and hopefully give you all the information you need to make that all-important decision as you embark on your online business!

Shopify vs WooCommerce -- carefully consider your needs and strengths

Shopify vs WooCommerce: A Comprehensive Analysis to Help You Choose the Best E-Commerce Platform

While both platforms are designed to help you create an online store, they have some key differences that may make one a better choice for your needs. In this post, we'll compare Shopify vs WooCommerce in terms of features, pricing, and ease of use, among other factors.

Trying to choose an e-commerce platform– and more specifically, between WordPress and Shopify can be overwhelming. They both produce good-looking websites, and each has an army of ardent fans who will extol their favorite platform’s virtues, to the exclusion of the other. 

We will analyze these platforms using five main criteria: 

Fundamental differences, Ease of Use, Build Time, Scalability, and Costs.

In each of these categories, we're going to declare a winner and a loser (because everybody loves a contest, right?), and this should help you choose the right platform for you– based upon your own resources, needs, and priorities.

Shopify vs WooCommerce:  Fundamental Differences

Shopify and WooCommerce construct e-commerce from completely different places. 

Shopify is a closed system and it is a company– and a very profitable one at that. 

When you sign up for Shopify, you are operating within their system, and they control what you can and can't do. It’s their house rules. Ultimately, if Shopify wanted to eject you from their platform, they could do that. They don’t want any misuse of their platform, because usually at the end of that there will be unhappy customers– and this reflects poorly on their company.  

For example, an unscrupulous seller might commit credit card fraud via their platform.  Or, take a customer’s payment, but forget to ensure fulfillment of an order runs smoothly. And a big red flag: being uncontactable, and without terms of service pages and so on displayed on their site. That person should not be in business, and Shopify will see to that by shutting them down.  As they should. 

You should view it as though when you use Shopify’s platform you are in a partnership, in that you’re there to do the right thing to build a serviceable store and maintain good practice– but you are not equal partners when it comes to calling the final shots. Of course, if your intention is to serve customers, be transparent and do well in your business– you will be okay!  And, to be fair– that is the aim of most entrepreneurs.

Anyway, just remember that Shopify is pay-to-play, and it’s always by their rules. 

On the plus side, Shopify is doing extremely well and regularly invests a lot of money upgrading their platform and its capabilities, and they're likely to keep doing so because it’s a win-win for them and their users. BuiltWith estimates that Shopify powers 29% of all U.S. e-commerce stores, making them the biggest by market share. This means that Shopify is unlikely to shut down or stop investing in their platform anytime soon. As a new business owner, you should find this very reassuring.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Birds-Eye View

Features and Functionality

When it comes to features, both Shopify and WooCommerce offer a variety of options for building and developing your online store over the long term. 

Shopify is well-recognized for having a number of built-in features that will allow you to easily manage your store. It also offers a variety of apps and plugins that allow you to tweak, and add additional functionality to your store's operation and appearance. Be aware, however, that many of those additional apps will add to the monthly running costs-- on top of your monthly subscription price (more about that later).  Those costs can quickly add up, which isn't so great if your sales are few.

I know from experience that it's very hard to say 'No' to a fantastic-looking app! Be mindful, though, that when you're starting out, you need to keep a lid on extra expenses-- until you can funnel some of your profits back into your store. Buying a highly-reviewed third-party app that you believe will help drive sales and momentum in your store is an ideal way of putting money back into your business. I highly recommend that approach for growth.  In the beginning stages though, concentrate on the essentials to get the wheels turning.  Your bank account will thank you!

WooCommerce, on the other hand, offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to design and customization in a different way. It's built on WordPress, which means you have access to a wide range of plugins and themes that allow you to customize your store to your specifications.  There is a bit of a steeper learning curve with WordPress, however, so you should be prepared to enlist a greater deal of patience with getting your store up and running. Admittedly, if you've already used or are familiar with WordPress, you're halfway there, and you'll just be building on your existing abilities.

Decisions, decisions...

The Pros and Cons of Platform Ownership and Market Share

But– imagine for a moment if Shopify ever did shut down (due to some unforeseen economic catastrophe?). That would be a bit of an issue for you with a Shopify store because essentially, Shopify owns it, and you're their tenant.

By contrast, WooCommerce is open source– and built on the WordPress platform. This means that you can do virtually whatever you want with your store, and you have unlimited possibilities. If the WooCommerce company were to become defunct, you could technically just keep your store running with a different open-source platform while still using WordPress. 

WooCommerce also has great market share, with around 20% of U.S.e-commerce stores. So, not as much as Shopify, but still a very considerable percentage. And WordPress itself is the most popular content management system on the internet. 

So, what does this mean for you? Well, either way, whichever platform you grab onto, you are going with a winner, and probably going to be okay in the short to medium term.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Differences in Ease of Use and Design

Neither of these e-commerce platforms is going away, but understanding how they come at things from a completely different perspective and the closed system versus open source model helps us to understand some of the key differences that we're going to be seeing as we go through our analysis. 

The first criterion that we're going to compare Shopify and WooCommerce is ease of use. Obviously, ease of use is a really important consideration all the time, but particularly if you are new to e-commerce or you don't have the time or energy to get involved in the development side of things. Let's talk about design, first of all. If you want something that looks great straight out of the box, then Shopify is undoubtedly the winner for you.

A Comparison of Theme Customization and Functionality

You can get started and build a Shopify store very quickly, and it looks usable. Of course, there are quite a lot of free and paid themes on Shopify's Theme Store that you can choose from, and you have HTML and CSS editing capabilities if you want to customize them a little bit more. 

When starting out, most people take a basic Shopify theme that loads quickly (very important!),  and customize and edit it to make it perfect for that business. 

With WooCommerce, there are many more options, including a variety of themes. Not only is there the WooCommerce Theme Store, but there are also third-party sites like Themeforest and independent developers who have built WordPress and WooCommerce themes. Of course, there are almost infinite customization options because the whole thing is open source. However, these unlimited options come at the expense of simplicity, so building a WooCommerce store typically requires more time to get it looking really good. 

What about functionality?

Integration Options: Shopify's Closed App Store vs. Woocommerce's Flexibility

Let's say you want to add order tracking, referral programs, email marketing, or fulfillment. Regardless of which e-commerce platform you choose, you will need integration. So how do they stack up? 

With Shopify, there is the App Store, where you can find hundreds of apps for every imaginable integration you could want. There is a mixture of free and paid apps, but usually, a theme will have some kind of paid component. 

The Shopify App Store is a closed system, meaning that Shopify controls and owns it. We’ve talked about this already, and this means two things. 

Firstly, it tends to mean the apps are better straight out of the box, so you don't have to worry too much about how it's been developed or how it works. They tend to just work as you would expect. So, no headaches which is a plus!

Secondly, and here’s the downside– because Shopify charges developers a fee for listing in the App Store, Shopify apps tend to be more expensive than their WooCommerce counterparts. Not too surprising, then.

As for WooCommerce, it also has its own extension store where there are thousands of different possible WooCommerce extensions that you can add to your store. But aside from this, there are all the third-party extensions that have been built. What you'll usually find with WooCommerce is that not only can you find an extension to do basically whatever you want it to do, but you'll also find a huge number of extensions that give you each piece of functionality. 

So, there you have it– a range of choices between free and very expensive, paying monthly. You have to weigh up what you’re willing to pay for (Shopify ‘done for you’ apps), or happy not to pay for (WooCommerce DIY apps)- as the case may be.  

Working harder, or smarter? It's a question of time and money that only you can answer.

Exploring the Pros and Cons of WooCommerce Plugins and Support Compared to Shopify

The downside of this obviously is that you have to sift through all of this stuff, and because WooCommerce plugins aren't always vetted and approved into an official WooCommerce store, this also increases the likelihood that there will be conflicts, mismatches, and things that just don't work or plugins that haven't been kept up to date for a long time. So, the onus is on you to make sure that the plugin you're installing does what it needs to do and plays nicely with the rest of your site. 

On that note, what about support? What happens if something breaks? 

Well, Shopify has 24/7 support. You can phone them, email them, or talk to them on live chat, and they're pretty good. But there's also a pretty active forum where people can post questions, and the Shopify community can provide answers. 

Now, WooCommerce, on the other hand, because it's not making money out of you, and you're not paying a subscription fee to use WooCommerce, it's very difficult for them to provide a centralized support team. For you, that may be a deal-breaker.  

This means that WooCommerce support is either up to you to go and find a developer that can help you fix whatever issue you're coming up against or go to the WooCommerce community. This is a vibrant community, as it tends to be with open-source projects. So, there are lots of forums, posts, and helpful people who will try to assist you.  But that takes precious time, and again, the onus is on you to find the right solution and implement it yourself. If all else fails, you’ll perhaps have to head to Fiverr to get someone more capable to work on it, for a fee of course. 

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Verdict on Ease of Use 

Overall, then, for ease of use, who wins? 

Well, both platforms are relatively easy to use. It's important to note that you will be able to build and maintain a store using whichever platform you choose. If you're adding e-commerce to an existing WordPress site, then obviously WooCommerce is by far the easiest way to do that. But overall, for most people, Shopify is the clear ease-of-use winner. So much of it is 'done for you' already, and that has massive appeal-- especially for beginners.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Who Leads in Scalability and Growth?

Let's now look at scalability and growth because obviously, you want an e-commerce platform that can grow with your brand. 

Shopify has various pricing plans that allow you to go from startup all the way to Shopify Plus, where you'll be running an enterprise business, and there are large global brands that are running successfully on Shopify. This gives you the reassurance that boring stuff like bandwidth and server speed, and the things that you'd rather not spend your time thinking about, are all handled for you. Nice!

But obviously, as you scale your Shopify store, the fees that you pay to Shopify will grow significantly. And of course, high-profile stores like Gymshark still prove that any site can go down, regardless of the platform it's built on, given enough traffic on Black Friday. 

With WooCommerce, it's very different. You can upgrade your hosting whenever you choose, and you are in complete control of the costs. That's kind of the WooCommerce vibe. You're in control of changing and upgrading the bits as you need them. It's all up to you. That's the good news and the bad news. 

The plus side of this is that your store's fees will usually be lower, but of course, the downside is that you have to spend more time thinking about this stuff and possibly paying developers to manage it for you. 

So, who wins on the scalability side of things? Well, honestly, this is a difficult one to call. If you want hassle-free scalability, then Shopify is definitely the winner. However, if you want complete control and lower costs, then WooCommerce is likely to be your choice.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Time and Effort Comparison for Setting Up and Maintaining an Online Store

So, which is the simplest to build in and which requires the least maintenance?

Well, the great thing about Shopify is that you can get something usable up within literally 15 minutes. Just sign up for your store, get it all set up, put your products in, and away you go. You're going to have something that looks decent. And it won’t feel like a chore tweaking it, because Shopify is more or less solution-ready in that respect.

With WooCommerce, you can definitely get something set up in 15 minutes, but it will look unpolished. Typically, it takes way longer to get a WooCommerce store looking good. There is a lot more finessing to be done, and it can be significantly longer if there's multiple functionality and complex integrations. And it's a similar story with the ongoing maintenance. Shopify stores don't tend to require a huge amount of that, which frees up your time to focus on the business and creativity side of things!

Of course, you will want to regularly tweak things, but with WooCommerce, it's useful to have a developer on hand, even if they're not full-time. Just having a contact that you know you can call on when you want to do things like plugin updates or find out why something isn't working is a godsend!

So, when it comes to build time and ongoing maintenance, Shopify is a clear winner here.

Shopify wins again in the 'ease of use' stakes

Shopify vs WooCommerce:  Payment Providers Comparison

Next up, payment providers. Because, you're going to need to get paid, right?  

With things like Splitpay, Apple Pay, and Google Pay all the rage in e-commerce, it's important that whatever e-commerce platform you choose gives your customers a range of simple and easy-to-use payment methods. 

So, which e-commerce platform is best? 

Well, both platforms have a range of integrations and are very easy to set up with things like Stripe and PayPal, which gives you a huge range of different payment options. Shopify also has its own Shop Pay service, which can be very easy to use if your customers have bought from a Shopify store before. They usually have, and it can enable them to go through checkout very quickly. 

But who's the winner? We're going to call this a tie because both platforms make it so easy to set up payment processes.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: Pricing and Fees Comparison

The final shootout in our comparison is pricing and fees. Now, Shopify has different plans starting at $29 a month, going all the way up to Shopify Plus, where you'll be paying $2,000 plus per month (gulp!). Add to that the fees for the apps and add-ons, which tend to be more expensive than the WooCommerce equivalent, plus Shopify's transaction fee, which you have to pay on every sale that you make, even if you don't use Shopify as the payment processor, and the fees really start to add up. These transaction fees do fall as you move up in different packages. 

So, at the very low end, when you're paying $29 a month, you'll be paying a 2% transaction fee. But as you move up through their offering into Shopify Plus, that transaction fee comes down much further.  But, which would you rather? I think that your volume of sales will be the deciding factor when it comes to what's most economical for you.

Shopify vs WooCommerce: The Cost Comparison

But regardless, when you're generating decent revenue through a Shopify store, those fees are going to feel painful. WooCommerce, in contrast, has no fees. WooCommerce and WordPress are both free. Of course, you may have to pay for any paid extensions or plugins that you use, but you can often find free or cheap versions of those anyway. The only cost you will have to pay for your WooCommerce store is your payment processor fee, but you will have to pay this with Shopify as well. 

So it is clear that WooCommerce is the most economical option. However, calling a winner in this category is really difficult because WooCommerce and Shopify are offering such different propositions. With Shopify, you are paying for that closed system, which includes protection, support, and ease of use. Whereas with WordPress, you have a bunch of free tools, but you are in charge of doing all of that stuff yourself.

You will probably have to pay for ongoing development support, which you might not have to pay as much for with Shopify. So it is really difficult to weigh up these two costs because they are such different propositions.

Overall, though, if pricing and fees are a real priority for you, it is very difficult to beat the free WooCommerce. 

Shopify vs. WooCommerce: Time to Decide

If ease of use, simplicity, and having something that just works straight out of the box are your priorities, then Shopify is definitely the e-commerce platform for you. If, however, you're willing to get your hands a bit dirty and you value flexibility and lower fees, then WooCommerce on WordPress is a great option. There is no one best platform. 

Or, you could start with Shopify-- for the time-saving benefits, and switch to WooCommerce later as your business and confidence grows-- to save costs.  That would be very feasible. However, what most tends to happen is that people stick with what they've already mastered.  Again, it's up to you-- your resources, time, and vision for your e-commerce store. And that may evolve in unexpected ways for you.

Finally, I'd like to leave you with this point: your e-commerce store's success is not dependent on the platform that you use. These are just tools, and brands are built on how you use these tools, not which one you choose, Shopify or WooCommerce. You can make a successful store on either of these platforms. It's all about what you do with it, how you promote it, the value proposition that you present, and the traffic that you drive. 

Yes, choose an e-commerce platform that you like, but it's what you do with it that really counts. I really hope that this essay has helped to put it all into focus for you. You've got this!

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About the Author

Dani Sherman, CEO at EcomGemini

Dani's been immersed in the online space for the past several years, and she knows what it takes to establish a presence on multiple e-commerce platforms. She would like to help you get started with your own dreams of running a successful online business. Her weekly blog focuses on all things Print-On-Demand and eCommerce.  So, check back often to see what's new, and to be inspired!