Shopify and Squarespace are two of the biggest e-commerce platforms on the market today since both make it easy for small-business owners to create their online stores or websites without needing any coding experience. But how do you know whether Shopify vs. Squarespace is the right online store platform for your business?
Before you can make a quantitative evaluation, you’ll need to take a qualitative look at what each platform offers. Once you make this side-by-side comparison, you can better understand which of these platforms’ features and price points will best serve your business’s digital needs.
Overview of Shopify
Shopify is a cloud-based commerce platform that lets business owners easily create and manage their online stores. Shopify is best known for its full-service, scalable e-commerce store solutions, but with Shopify POS and its range of physical POS hardware, retail businesses can also process payments in person.
There’s no doubt that Shopify is a leader in the web builder field: This Ottawa, Canada-based platform boasts $100 billion worth of total sales processed through its hosted sites, and currently, Shopify powers 600,000 businesses worldwide, counting major firms like Red Bull, Nestle and Kylie Cosmetics as its clients.
Shopify is loaded with both front- and back-end features that let you do much more than simply create your online store. Here are the platform’s greatest hits:
Choose from a list of over 70 professionally designed templates to create your branded website, which you then have full control to edit and customize. Your customers can easily navigate your site on both their desktops and their mobile devices. You can also use your own domain name or buy one from Shopify. In addition to your e-commerce store, Shopify-hosted sites come with blogging platforms.
As your online store’s web host, Shopify ensures that your website stays active 24/7, provides unlimited bandwidth and a custom email address (if you buy a domain name through Shopify) and automatically syncs your account to Shopify’s service updates. It also guarantees that your customers’ credit card and contact information are transmitted and stored securely.
You’ll be able to securely accept all major credit and debit cards through Shopify Payments, but you can also choose to integrate your site with over 100 third-party payment gateways. Shopify’s built-in shopping cart carries a bunch of features that can help you customize and streamline your customer’s checkout process, including tax calculations, customizable shipping rates and customer emails about abandoned shopping carts. With Shopify Shipping, Shopify partners with leading carriers so you can offer your customers the lowest possible shipping rates. This in-house service provides other advantages for business owners, like bulk order fulfillment, the ability to print labels from your phone or computer and shipping rate calculations.
After setting up your website, you can take advantage of Shopify’s long list of capabilities that streamline, optimize and automate managing your online store and customer information: Think one-click order fulfillment, stored customer billing information and shopping history, refunds, automatic inventory updates and email templates. Shopify also integrates with major dropshipping apps.
If you sell products, either physical or digital, Shopify can help you track, manage and organize your inventory from a single dashboard. The platform allows for unlimited product listings, too.
Marketing and SEO
Boost your website’s listing on search engine results pages by leveraging Shopify’s built-in SEO tactics when creating all content that lives on your site. Shopify also enables selling on Facebook, offers a Google Adwords credit and integrates with your social media channels so your audience can easily navigate to your site. Once you’ve attracted your customers, offer them discounts and gift cards and encourage them to leave positive reviews so you can garner more customers.
View and analyze your store’s performance through Shopify’s analytics dashboard and product and traffic reports.
Point of sale
Shopify POS is a full-service point of sale system that accepts credit and debit payments both online and in person.
Beyond these features, on the Shopify App Store you can download thousands of other business-related apps that can integrate with your site. If you run into any problems with your Shopify site, you can contact Shopify’s 24/7 customer service team, use the community discussion forums or poke around Shopify University, the platform’s digital library of literature, webinars and other informational material that covers almost everything you need to know about setting up and running your store.
Shopify has three service tiers that increase in monthly fees and capabilities:
Shopify’s simplest plan provides new businesses the fundamentals they need to launch their online stores, as well as limited capabilities with Shopify Shipping, Shopify Payments and Shopify POS.
At $29 per month, this plan carries the lowest monthly fee of all three plans, though at this service level, Shopify Payments’ transaction fees are the highest of the bunch: You’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction and 2.7% per in-person transaction or a 2% additional fee if you use a payment processor other than Shopify Payments (on top of your payment provider’s transaction rates).
At $79 per month, this mid-tier plan gives you access to more of Shopify’s features, a higher shipping discount through Shopify Shipping, full access to Shopify’s POS and lower transaction fees. If you use Shopify Payments, on this plan you’ll pay 2.6% + $0.30 per online card transaction, 2.5% per in-person payment or 1% per transaction processed through a third-party payment provider.
As the name suggests, Advanced Shopify is best for larger or quickly growing online businesses that need Shopify’s full feature arsenal and want to benefit from the lowest available shipping rates and transaction fees.
If you opt for Shopify’s premium plan, you’ll pay $299 per month for your service, as well as 2.4% + $0.30 per online card transaction, 2.4% per in-person transaction or an additional 0.5% per transaction if you don’t use Shopify Payments as your payment provider.
Shopify starts users out with a 14-day free trial, so you can build your website, get it up and running, evaluate your needs, then pick the plan that’ll work for you and your budget.
An overview of Squarespace
Squarespace is another leading name in the e-commerce world, and it boasts its fair share of celebrity entrepreneurs as clients: actors John Malkovich, Keanu Reeves and Idris Elba, for instance, all use Squarespace to power their websites.
Squarespace is best known as an easy-to-use website builder for brick-and-mortar business owners, freelancers and creatives across industries who need a digital landing pad but not necessarily a fully stocked online store. Even though its e-commerce store features are not as comprehensive as Shopify’s, Squarespace can still be a good option for e-commerce businesses that need to build a simple online store from the ground up.
First and foremost, Squarespace is known for its award-winning website design. Choose from hundreds of website templates, which you can browse according to your industry. Then, customize the layout using Squarespace’s simple drag-and-drop functionality and text and color options. Depending on your website’s intended use and needs, your website can come prefigured with a portfolio, a blog, audio collections, an online store or pretty much any other interface you need to best showcase and/or sell your products or services.
All Squarespace websites are optimized for mobile, so your customers can easily navigate your website, regardless of which device they’re using to do so. You can also integrate your Squarespace website with tons of third-party apps, like your social media channels, OpenTable, Google Maps, SoundCloud, Flickr and more.
You can easily transfer an existing domain to your new Squarespace page, or you can buy a domain through Squarespace.
Building your online store through Squarespace is just as easy and customizable as building a Squarespace website. Organize and tag your products however you see fit, use multiple product variants and embed images, videos and related products so your customers can get a full picture of what you’re selling. Checkout is limited to a single page and optimized for mobile (as is the rest of your online store). Depending on the service plan you choose, you can also offer your customers incentives like subscription services, discounts, free shipping and gift cards.
Squarespace’s online stores can accept all major credit and debit cards, PayPal and Apple Pay, using Stripe as its payment processor.
You can also use Squarespace’s customer relationship management tools — like stored customer information, shopping history and fields to add your own notes — to gain insights into your customers’ behaviors. More back-end tools include order and inventory management, real-time shipping rate calculation, batch shipping label printing through Squarespace’s ShipStation integration and advanced commerce analytics.
Squarespace offers its users a suite of online marketing tools to encourage customer engagement and to make it easy for business owners to collect customer information and behaviors.
Squarespace’s content creation fields are pre-loaded with SEO best practices, and your website also syncs with your social media channels so everything will be updated at once. Other customer engagement tools include an analytics dashboard, MailChimp integration, Google Maps embedding, a mobile information bar, full-featured blogging and a customizable calendar that you can load with your events and share across your social media channels.
Squarespace also has a dedicated email marketing tool that enables you to import content from your website into an email draft to ensure consistency in voice and material across your brand channels. Its email marketing tool also allows for customizable layouts, content, colors and fonts, and its analytics tools let you track engagement so you can tailor your email marketing strategy for optimal results. Do note that you’ll need to pay an added monthly fee for one of five Squarespace Email Campaigns plans, which range from $5 per month to $48 per month.
And if you’re a brand-new business — or you’re brand-new to the branding game — you can use Squarespace’s simple design tools to create your own logo.
Squarespace offers two account tiers for both its website-only service and its online store service. Like Shopify, Squarespace starts everyone out with a free trial, and it doesn’t begin charging until you’ve chosen the service that works for you.
Squarespace Website Pricing
Freelancers and very small businesses that just need an online landing page can likely get away with a Personal website account, which gets you a simple, mobile-optimized website, a custom domain, basic analytics, SSL security and 24/7 customer support. This plan costs $12 per month billed annually or $16 per month if you opt for month-to-month service.
In addition to all the features offered through Squarespace’s Personal plan, the Business plan offers users features targeted particularly toward business owners, including the option to purchase a professional G Suite account and email address, advanced website metrics, the ability to sell unlimited products, fully integrated e-commerce and complete customization, among other features. This plan costs $18 per month billed annually or $26 per month billed month to month.
Squarespace Online Store Pricing
For $26 per month billed annually or $40 per month billed monthly, you can build and manage a simple but fully functional online store. Some features included in this plan are stored customer information, advanced analytics, Xero integration and a mobile-optimized store and checkout.
For $40 per month billed annually or $46 per month billed monthly, you can take advantage of Squarespace’s full suite of e-commerce features. In addition to all the features included in its Basic plan, Advanced online store users can offer their customers subscription services, gift cards, discounts and abandoned cart recovery, among other features.
Small-business owners weigh in on Shopify vs. Squarespace
Knowing the details about Shopify vs. Squarespace is one thing, but it’s perhaps more valuable to understand how that information works in action. Business owners told us about their experiences with either Squarespace or Shopify (or both, in some cases) and which platform they’d recommend to fellow entrepreneurs.
“As an e-commerce business owner, I have used Shopify for the past five years and will continue working with Shopify. Shopify provides businesses with the tools needed to build a high-traffic e-commerce store. The Shopify application store features thousands of applications that help store owners build a user-friendly and optimized e-commerce store without any coding experience.
In addition, the customer support Shopify offers is unlike any other web platform. If a feature you would like to add to your website requires coding, Shopify offers the assistance of their Gurus at affordable prices.”
—Steve Rezaie, President, CBD’R US
“[Shopify] gave us so many more options. It was definitely a little tougher to set up, though we still did it on our own. It gave us almost all the options we needed to sell online, and if it didn’t have something by default, we were able to find an app in their marketplace that did. Our family is very happy we made the move. If we could go back in time, we would have just started with Shopify.”
—Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager, Moriarty’s Gem Arts
“We have been a Shopify partner since 2017. From an agency perspective, Shopify is easy to love! Our engineers are well-versed in developing it, our designers are satisfied with their library of templates, and our business analysts appreciate how much functionality it provides out-of-the-box. Since we became a partner, we receive a lot more business opportunities in the e-commerce world and essentially a greater ROI from exposure and the projects that come our way. We have also been able to partner with other Shopify technology partners/apps, which has also opened up a lot of doors for us.”
—Keval Baxi, CEO, Codal
Team Shopify and Squarespace
“We’re a digital marketing agency that specializes in Shopify websites, but also has clients who use Squarespace, so we use both of these platforms daily. Here’s what I like and dislike about each platform:
Shopify: I like that the bulk editor makes it easy to make changes to groups of products/collections rather than doing it one by one; the POS system tracks in-store sales and integrates the data very nicely with the overall dashboard; it has a clear and easy to use online dashboard; and the Shopify App store has a huge library of apps that can help websites in a variety of ways.
What I don’t like about Shopify is that the themes can be expensive; the blogging functionality is quite restrictive and makes blogging a time-consuming task; and it’s not great for selling internationally.
Squarespace: On Squarespace, I like that the site speed is generally very quick, and it’s the easiest to use website builder I’ve ever used. Anyone can make good-looking websites with Squarespace. On the downsides, their tools are limited tools, particularly when it comes to SEO.
My general advice would be if you’re an e-commerce business, go for Shopify. It’s hands-down the easiest CMS to use and learn for store owners. On the other hand, if you’re service-based business and you don’t have the expertise or funds to pay someone to make you a WordPress site, then use Squarespace.”
—Josh Dean, SEO Specialist, Kubix Media
Shopify vs. Squarespace: Which should you choose?
Most business owners we spoke to preferred Shopify over Squarespace, as the former is more feature-rich, which also explains its higher price point. But that doesn’t necessarily make Shopify better than Squarespace.
If you’re an online-only business — especially if you’re on the bigger side or are scaling quickly — you should consider opting for Shopify, as this platform was created specifically for building and managing online stores. On the other hand, Squarespace works for very small or new businesses with limited digital store functionality or ones that need a digital content manager.
Since both platforms offer free trial periods, you can try building a website using either service. See whether the platform feels intuitive to you, whether it provides you with the features you need and whether its service plans suit your business budget, before committing to a paid plan.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.