Which eCommerce Platform is Best?
It’s a straightforward and simple question, right?
Actually, no. Not really. And like many questions we encounter when working with small businesses, our response to this question boomerangs back to you in the form of more questions:
- Why do you want an online store? (start with why, always)
- How many products do you have?
- How hands-on do you want to be in managing and/or setting up the online store?
- What is your budget for the initial set up and monthly management?
- Do you already have an existing website that you’re happy with?
- Is selling a product online the sole purpose of your website?
There isn’t a clear winner or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to selling products (or services) online, but Shopify and WooCommerce top our list as the two best eCommerce platforms – they’re the most popular platforms on the market for a reason…many reasons, actually. And since both of them have their strengths and weaknesses, there’s no clear winner to the subjective question of “which one is best.” While we certainly don’t recommend a DIY approach to setting up an online store that can scale as you grow, you can (with a fair amount of time and patience) set up either of one on your own.
Both platforms are customizable, so achieving the desired look is completely dependent on how much time and money you’re willing to invest.
If you already have a WordPress website, WooCommerce will inherit your theme settings and can be further customized. (If you are completely lacking any WordPress design experience, this might feel overwhelming, clunky, and frustrating. As an open-source platform, WooCommerce has hundreds of themes and thousands of extensions available – some are free and some will run you $30-$40.) WooCommerce is a completely free plug-in, so getting started is quick and inexpensive if you’re adding it to an existing WordPress website (or setting it up from scratch).
Shopify has over 50 themes available, and roughly 10 of them are free. Paid themes will cost around $180, but they’re quick and easy to change; and while you can easily edit colors and styles, more complex customizations must be made using Shopify’s specialized ‘Liquid’ language. It’s pretty easy to get a great looking Shopify site, but if the design is important to you, you’ll likely want to invest the $180 for a paid theme – if you want to make customizations beyond the standard theme options, you’ll probably want to hire a developer.
Shopify’s pricing structure is extremely clear and straightforward with three pricing plans available: $29/month, $79/month, and $299/month based on the features you need. Shopify’s monthly plans also include hosting, so if your online store is your website, this is definitely a plus. Set up is free, you can cancel and upgrade/downgrade at any time, and their payment processing fees are competitive if you use their payment processor. (They charge an additional fee if your customers want to use PayPal or Stripe – 2%, 1% or .5% based on your monthly plan.) The downside? Cancel your store and you’ve “canceled” your website – which is fine if selling online is your site’s only purpose, but terrible if you have valuable content unrelated to your product line.
WooCommerce is free to set up and there are no monthly fees if you have a hosting plan in place (if you have a website currently online, you already have a hosting plan). WooCommerce gets a bad rap for their paid extensions, but none of them are necessary to run your store. Since there are no monthly fees involved, you can obviously “cancel” your store at anytime by disabling the plugin – without losing your entire website.
Transaction fees are comparable across both platforms, and change too frequently to mention here.
FEATURES (& ease of use)
Both platforms are mobile and SEO friendly, or we wouldn’t be discussing them at all. Shopify offers a “point of sale” system if you sell any products in person, and we’ve heard great things about Shopify’s chat, email, and telephone support. (WooCommerce offers ticket and forum support, with a ton of information available online….but you’ll have to find it.) Both allow you to create discount codes and both accept PayPal and Stripe (Shopify charges an additional fee for third-party payment processors).
While working with both platforms on a day-to-day basis will be comparable, setting up a WooCommerce store does require more patience due to the slightly steeper learning curve. WooCommerce sets up in about 5’ish steps, but if you aren’t adding it to an existing WordPress website, you’ll need to set up a hosting account, install WordPress and a theme, install the WooCommerce plug in, and then customize the look of your store. Shopify is pretty straightforward out-of-the box, with no need to set up a hosting account or install software.
Nothing is missing from either platform and both will offer you the features and design options you need to sell online.
Use Shopify if:
• You don’t have an existing site at all and selling online is the sole purpose of your online presence
• You’re looking for a quick, easy set-up process
• You don’t have any attachments to the technical details or design of your store – you just want it to look good and function properly
• You want a responsive support team at your disposal and you don’t mind paying for it
Use WooCommerce if:
• You have an existing WordPress site already set up with a hosting plan in place (or you have the budget to hire a designer to do this for you)
• You want full control over the look and feel of your site
• You have the time to set up your online store yourself and the patience to trouble shoot any issues
• You’re on a limited budget and don’t mind managing your online store month-to-month
• Selling online is not the main function of your website
While it sounds like we’ve made a compelling argument for Shopify, it’s actually not our preferred platform when creating an online store for a client. Here’s why: most of our clients have wanted to sell online in addition to needing a solid website – selling online was secondary. Additionally, we simply prefer the customization options, integrations and coding language WooCommerce offers. At the same time, we realize that there are instances in which Shopify is the better option and makes more sense. If you’re working with a web designer, ask for their recommendation based on your current situation or give us a call to find out what solutions we can offer that would best meet your needs.