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WooCommerce and Shopify are two of the most widely used e-commerce platforms in the world — but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The approach each platform takes in delivering its service is vastly different. Here's what you need to know to decide which of these options might be right for your small business.
It’s hard to identify any meaningful similarities between WooCommerce and Shopify. Sure, they're both e-commerce tools and they both allow for the sale of products online, but that doesn’t help you decide which platform is better.
Both platforms allow for the sale of an unlimited number of products.
Both platforms allow you to sell most types of products (physical, digital, services).
Both platforms offer designs that are mobile-responsive (i.e. look good on a mobile device).
Both platforms allow for the use of coupons and discount codes.
Both platforms have built-in shipping rate and tax calculations.
It’s much easier to find areas where these two platforms are different. Below are some examples of these differences in areas where one option provides a better level of service than the other.
Where WooCommerce is better
Obviously, free is the best price, and WooCommerce costs nothing to download. You still have to pay for your own domain name and SSL certificate, but those can cost as little as $10-$20 per year. The hosting can be a bit more expensive depending on how much storage you need (larger stores will require more expensive hosting). Services like Bluehost offer special deals to e-commerce merchants, with hosting as low as $2.75 per month, including an SSL certificate. All in all, this is much cheaper than Shopify.
Another area WooCommerce will save you money is with payment processing. It integrates with both Square and PayPal, both of which will charge you 2.9% plus 30 cents to process digital payments. This is the same credit card processing rate you’ll get with Shopify if you sign up for its “Basic” plan ($29 per month). But that’s just it — you need to sign up for Shopify Payments to get this processing fee. If you choose to go with another payment processor, Shopify will add an additional fee.
Shopify is known for having lots of features and integrations, and that’s true. But because WooCommerce is an open-source platform, those with a technical background can transform their store into something completely original if they were so inclined. Furthermore, the WordPress theme store is a lot bigger than the Shopify theme store, meaning merchants have a lot more options to choose from when designing the look of their store.
Where Shopify is better
The benefit of being the largest e-commerce platform provider (note that WooCommerce is an e-commerce plugin) is that you can add a lot of “stuff” to your platform, and other people build software to work with your platform. Among the things included with your Shopify store are a blogging module, advanced metrics reporting, abandoned cart recovery, a mobile app, daily data backups and the ability to search your website in multiple languages.
All of the pricing packages also include Shopify point-of-sale, plus paid add-ons like the aforementioned Shopify Shipping and Shopify Experts who can help you customize your website. If that’s not enough, there are over 1,500 apps in the Shopify app store that can extend the functionality of your website, including integrations for things like dropshipping, marketing, sales and conversion, customer support, inventory management and more.
So although WooCommerce is more customizable, those who want a tailored solution without getting too technical will fair better with Shopify.
Ease of use
If you’ve had experience using WordPress, you might find WooCommerce easier to use. But in general, Shopify features a very intuitive platform that even the most inexperienced e-commerce merchant shouldn’t have trouble navigating. Some of the features that make it so user-friendly include its drag-and-drop site designer and its “E-commerce University” featuring a series of ebooks, video series and webinars on how to run your Shopify store.
Shopify’s customer service is also more accessible than WooCommerce’s. It is available 24/7 and can be contacted by phone, email or live chat. With WooCommerce you have to submit a ticket and wait for a response. There is however a robust online community of WooCommerce users who talk on forums and post blogs.
Shopify handles all the technical parts of your store, including data storage, meaning scaling is as easy as upgrading your pricing plan to accommodate an additional number of staff accounts. The larger your business gets, the more perks Shopify will throw your way, including cheaper credit card processing and more features.
While WooCommerce doesn’t limit you in terms of staff accounts, your platform is self-hosted, making you responsible for storage, data backups and security. As your business gets bigger, you may decide you don’t want to spend your time tending to these logistical tasks.
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Here's what small-business owners and website designers who have experience using both services have to say.
Shopify wins for ease of use
“For years I was a WooCommerce fanboy, but after I started working with a client on the Shopify platform, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to work with. From a user standpoint and a development standpoint, it’s so much easier to run and much cheaper to modify. Not only that, the amount of apps and themes you can choose from goes far beyond what WooCommerce offers. Shopify is what I recommend for any company looking to run lean and focus more of its spend on marketing and products, rather than development and website updates.”
—Jeff Moriarty, Moriarty Gem Art
You don't own your Shopify site
“Shopify is great for businesses that have limited website design budget and are willing to sacrifice some control in order to save some money. It is important to know that you do not own a Shopify website — you are simply leasing space on its platform. So the website, once built, is not transferable and is technically not an asset of the business since it is not owned. WooCommerce is an open-source solution that integrates nicely with the WordPress web development platform. Businesses that can afford to invest a little more upfront in their online store can benefit from true ownership and claim the website as an asset.”
—Randy Mitchelson, GrumpyGoat.com
Superior analytics make a difference
“But with that higher price point, Shopify offers a better e-commerce experience on both the business and consumer ends. For businesses, the analytics platform on Shopify is superior and offers more tools for marketers, such as abandoned cart retargeting. For consumers, the platform offers an easier and more intuitive experience. You are less likely to lose a potential customer due to frustration or related factors.”
—Philip Mullennax, Red Olive
Think about your business type
“If you want to run a blog or an affiliate website, sure, go with WordPress and WooCommerce. If your livelihood depends on selling physical products that you ship or that are dropshipped, stick with a hosted e-commerce platform made specifically for that purpose, like Shopify. You’ll pay a little more per month but in the long run, it’ll save you a lot of time, which is money.”
—Dave Hermansen, Store Coach
Which is right for you?
Use WooCommerce if...
Choose WooCommerce if you need a quick-and-dirty e-commerce store, you understand WordPress and/or you have a technical background and know how to tinker with code. WooCommerce does offer a cheap e-commerce solution, but if you are inexperienced, you will have a hard time creating something that will really stand out. However, if you have the time and budget to invest in creating something unique, WooCommerce offers you a lot of possibilities.
Use Shopify if...
Opt for Shopify if you have the money to spend upfront, you want a clean and professional-looking e-commerce store without any hassle and you plan to have a high volume of transactions. Really Shopify is like a one-size-fits-all solution because there isn’t a business situation that Shopify can’t work for. That’s not to say it’s better than WooCommerce, just that Shopify will probably be a more accessible product for a larger segment of the market.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.