So you’ve got a brilliant idea for an online business. You’ve done your market research, you’ve figured out production and fulfillment, and you’re ready to get things up and running—and start making money.
But which online selling platform is best? If you’re like many people, you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of serious contenders. And now you’re asking the million dollar question: Which is better, Shopify or WooCommerce?
Here’s the deal. The answer is: neither—at least not in every situation.
Both are great e-commerce solutions. But there are some crucial differences between them, so for some users and use cases, Shopify is the clear winner, while for others, it would make much more sense to go with WooCommerce.
So which of the two are you? That’s what we’ll help you figure out in this article.
First a word on the basic difference between Shopify and WooCommerce.
Shopify is an all-in-one solution. Their plans include web hosting, the software to run your online store, a payment gateway, and security essentials like SSL certificates. They’ll provide you with a generic “myShopify” domain as part of their basic service, but if you need to buy a custom domain, you can do that through Shopify as well.
WooCommerce, on the other hand, is essentially just an extremely powerful WordPress plugin. It takes the content management and publishing functionality of WordPress and turns it into an integrated e-commerce solution.
WooCommerce users, then, may need to deal with several vendors and services if they don’t already have WordPress. They’ll have to sign up for web hosting, register a domain name, buy an SSL certificate, install WordPress, and only then install WooCommerce.
While all of that isn’t necessarily very complicated nowadays—and indeed, can largely be done through a single web hosting company and their support desk—it does add a few more variables to deal with than you’d need to think about with a comprehensive product like Shopify.
Finally, both Shopify as well as WooCommerce (via WordPress) come with a range of basic, free themes as well as paid premium themes. It’s all a matter of how much you’re ready to spend and what you need. If you’re happy with a store that looks attractive (but somewhat basic), then there’s no issue, but if you want something a bit more unique, then you’ll probably have to shell out for a premium theme.
Takeaway: If you’re already stretched thin and just looking for the simplest, lowest-hassle solution, Shopify might be the better choice, just because you can get everything done in one place.
On the other hand, if you’ve got the time to do some research, shop around for the best deals, or if you already have a domain name and/or hosting company you’re happy with, WooCommerce is a perfectly reasonable choice.
Another factor for many people is cost—both in terms of setup and maintenance costs, payment processing fees, and hidden costs that crop up once an online store gets going. So how do these two e-commerce giants compare?
Setup and fixed costs
Shopify has fairly straightforward tiered pricing:
- $79; or
- $299 per month for the basic, standard and advanced plans, respectively.
Obviously, the higher costs translate into additional features and services at each tier.
But in addition, there are some financial considerations here as well—the more expensive plans also offer price breaks on shipping and payment processing fees.
WooCommerce is a free plugin, so if you already have a domain and hosting, and especially if you’re running your website on WordPress, then it basically costs nothing to set up a WooCommerce store.
On the other hand, if you’re starting from scratch, then you’ll still have to pay for basics like hosting, domain registration, and SSL. But going forward, from month to month you’re only going to be looking at the cost of hosting to keep your store running.
Takeaway: Shopify is, on the face of it, more expensive than WooCommerce.
So if you’re just getting started in e-commerce or if you already have a website and reliable hosting, then WooCommerce is probably the most cost-effective solution.
On the other hand, if you’re expecting to do a volume of business where Shopify’s $300 per month plan will actually make the most financial sense, when transaction and shipping discounts are factored in, then Shopify could be exactly what you’re looking for.
In terms of payment processing, things are a little more complicated.
Shopify has its own native payment processing gateway, Shopify Payments. And its fees for credit card transactions are competitive with other payment systems like PayPal and Braintree—somewhere between 2.4%-2.9% + .30 per transaction, depending on which monthly plan you’re using.
However, there are a couple of caveats here as well. First of all, Shopify Payments is only available in a handful of countries (most of the Anglophone world and a few countries in Asia and the EU). But the bulk of EU countries, US territories, South America and most of Asia aren’t eligible for Payments, at least not at the moment.
That means you’ll have to rely on another payment provider, which will cost you—up to an additional 2% per transaction over and above the normal card processing fees charged by those providers.
WooCommerce, on the other hand, is built to work with a variety of payment gateways, from Stripe and PayPal to Amazon Pay and Square.
For the most part, the software extensions required to set these up are free, though of course you’ll have to pay transaction fees on your sales to each of these providers.
However, the one thing to bear in mind here is that these payment gateways, in their standard form, may or may not meet your needs “out of the box”—which would mean upgrading to something like PayPal Payments Pro for $30 per month.
Takeaway: You’ll have to run the numbers, giving some consideration to how your particular customer base is mostly likely to pay and what the actual cost in terms of transaction fees is likely to be.
If you aren’t based in a place with access to Shopify Payments, then WooCommerce may make a lot more sense financially.
On the other hand, if you are able to use Shopify Payments, or are expecting to do enough in monthly sales that the extra transaction fees become a non-factor, then Shopify could be exactly what you’re looking for.
And finally, let’s have a look at the costs that are less than apparent as you’re just getting started.
Most of this falls into the category of customization and sales conversion. Need a checkout experience completely tailored to your customers’ needs? Want to re-target shoppers who almost buy—but then abandon their shopping cart? Have a one-of-a-kind product that requires special shipping and handling charges that differ from everything else in your store?
Both Shopify and WooCommerce have apps and extensions to handle those things. Some are free. Many are not.
Shopify apps are bought through their app store, and tend to work on a monthly fee basis or as a percentage of ad spend for some of the sales conversion apps.
WooCommerce extensions often work on a yearly subscription model—technically, you only have to buy it once, but after the first year you’d have to pay again if you wanted to keep getting updates (some of which are crucial).
Takeaway: It’s a toss-up here. Both platforms work well in their basic form, but many merchants find themselves needing to purchase additional functionality, especially as time goes by and their business scales up.
In the end, both Shopify and WooCommerce offer a wide range of reasonably priced apps and extensions to really customize the shopping experience, so you’ll need to look at what you actually want to do with your store in order to get a true “apples to apples” comparison.
So let’s say at this point you can’t see a clear difference between Shopify and WooCommerce, either in terms of their basic functionality or their respective setup and maintenance costs.
Another factor to consider in making your decision is just how much of a learning curve is involved with these two platforms.
Shopify is meant to be an easy-to-use, all-in-one e-commerce platform.
As we mentioned earlier, the whole process of getting a site up and running is integrated through a single provider, which makes Shopify the clear winner in terms of sheer simplicity: hosting, domain name, SSL, e-commerce store, payment processing, and even web design all come from the same place.
In terms of the actual site design, Shopify is set up for drag and drop simplicity, so you don’t need much (if any) web development skill to get a store up and running. How easy is it? Let’s just say there’s a reason why you can find dozens of videos on YouTube with titles like “How to set up a Shopify store in 15 minutes”.
And a final point: if you have a little basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, Shopify’s native code editor allows you to do some simple customization as well—so you’re not going to be stuck with a totally generic looking site.
In terms of support, the big advantage to Shopify is, again, it’s a one-stop provider. You can contact them for any issue with your site through their support gateway or their help line, and someone will be on hand to assist you.
WooCommerce, in contrast, may require a bit more effort at the outset to get the hang of. However, there are a couple of things that bear mentioning here, both to be fair to WooCommerce and also so as not to scare anyone away from a solution that might be just what they need.
First of all, WooCommerce is built to work with WordPress, and WordPress is famously easy to use. True, there’s more balls to juggle at the outset in terms of shopping around for hosting, getting an SSL certificate, registering a domain, and so forth, but once those first pieces are in place, WP is not exactly rocket science.
In addition, as we mentioned earlier, a lot of the setup tasks can simply be done through your web host or even WordPress itself—they have hosting partners and options to buy domains and security certificates once you’ve registered an account. So in essence, you have the ability to vastly reduce the number of vendors you have to deal with, if not to Shopify levels of simplicity, then at least something close.
In terms of support, WooCommerce has dedicated support just like Shopify. In fact, some of the developers who create WooCommerce’s paid extensions treat their software like a small business, and offer excellent support and personalized service—arguably more than you’d receive calling a large company’s general help line.
And while WooCommerce can’t really help you if you have some problem with, for example, your server or your site’s domain redirect, there’s a final thing to remember: WooCommerce, again, runs on WordPress, which powers about 30% of the sites on the Internet!
That means there is an absolute wealth of online help forums and discussion boards representing millions of site owners and developers—so if you have a question about your WooCommerce / WordPress store, chances are it’s already been answered somewhere. Assuming that your Google-fu is up to par, help is just a search away—no waiting 24 hours for a support ticket to be answered.
Takeaway: If you’re technophobic or if you just want pure simplicity, ease, and one-stop support, Shopify is the way to go, hands down.
But if you’re starting an e-commerce store and have a bit of time to invest in trial and error, if you don’t mind looking in a few different places for your answers, or if you have access to someone with development skills, WooCommerce is well supported and WordPress sites are pretty manageable for most folks.
In the end, there’s no perfect solution to any business need—and e-commerce is no exception. But there are things that have a greater likelihood of working out better in a given situation.
All in all, Shopify is for you if:
- Your time is extremely limited
- You don’t mind investing some money up front
- You’re likely to scale up fast
- You’re really in the market for an all-in-one solution that “just works”
- You live in a place where Shopify Payments is an option
On the other hand, WooCommerce is likely the best bet if:
- You’re starting a new venture as a sideline or even as a learning project
- Your funds are limited
- You’ve already got a domain and hosting that you’re happy with
- You’re not sure “how much store” you’ll end up needing
- You don’t mind dealing with several vendors or looking around a bit for deals and information
- You probably can’t make use of Shopify Payments
And lastly, remember that you’re just choosing an e-commerce platform, you’re not getting married! If you change your mind down the line, or your business changes such that the other platform suddenly makes more sense, there are plugins and developer services designed to migrate Shopify stores to WooCommerce, and vice versa.