WooCommerce vs Shopify | Best Platform for Your Site in 2021

Choosing between WooCommere or Shopify means understanding the difference between a full platform and an add-on. Shopify is a whole-site solution, which might tempt you (especially as a novice) into thinking it’s automatically better, and under certain conditions that’s certainly true. But as always, the devil is in the details.

Overview of WooCommerce

According to at least one source WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce engine online, powering up to 40 percent of digital stores. Keep in mind however that it’s not a website or development platform, it’s an ecommerce plug-in for WordPress. You still need the WordPress framework, and WooCommerce handles the marketing, sales and payments functionality behind the scenes as well as the front-end design theme if you like.

Overview of Shopify

In contrast, Shopify’s service provides an entire website with the design, hosting, payment gateway and security built into the subscription price. Simply start an account, choose a template, edit it to reflect your branding, add products and shipping information, choose a payments provider and you’re ready to sell, and end-to-end aspect that appeals to many SME operators.

Self-hosting in WooCommerce vs Shopify

Comparing WooCommerce and Shopify hosting is like comparing apples and oranges. Shopify costs you money per month and as an open source tool, WooCommerce alone is free – to a point.

Shopify costs between $29 and $299 per month. For small businesses the lower end offering is usually plenty – the differences in the more expensive plans are around number of staff accounts and inventory locations (higher numbers assume you’re a bigger business). But all Shopify plans offer the essentials like SSL security, abandoned cart recovery, 24/7 support and gift card functionality. It also charges a cut of payments that don’t come through its native payment gateway, which will add extra (albeit small) cost.

Like WordPress, WooCommerce shifts the onus of many costs like hosting and security onto the user. Because WordPress is the most popular website building tool in the world, any reputable host nowadays will make it easy to deploy in a couple of clicks.

What’s more, a host with decent ecommerce support (in the form of the necessary bandwidth, storage space and security) shouldn’t cost you much more than Shopify’s most popular service level per month.

What will cost extra – unless you’re confident enough with web development and design – is actually building your WooCommerce website. Professional web development costs real money when it’s done properly, so you have to ask yourself whether your company’s online presence is worth it to stand out over the competition.

Website templates in WooCommerce vs Shopify

Like WordPress itself, WooCommerce has endless themes from the free to the paid and the amateurish to the gorgeous, and it can be quite overwhelming. In fact, it might be enough to drive you to use a service like Shopify where the themes are self-contained, presented sensibly and concisely and where there’s no doubt they’ll work with your site no matter what.
You also have to take future-proofing into account.

One of the many upsides to a paid website developer is that rather than reshape your creativity for what’s available in themes, you need only provide them with a design (or communicate the mood and aesthetic you want to suit your branding) and they find, deploy and restyle the WordPress/WooCommerce build for you and ensure it stays compatible with future updates.

Shopify has around 70 templates, so it’s still very likely you’ll find something suitable – especially since they’re built for ecommerce – but be prepared for a further one-off payment to use a really ‘good’ one (ie one that looks modern and has some interesting yet standards-compliant behaviors) of anything up to a couple of hundred dollars.

But it might be a small price to pay for assurance your site will simply work. If you decide to change your focus or offering, you can apply a new template any time you like with little interruption. More importantly, Shopify templates are fully browser tested, so they’ll work on every screen and device your customers are using.

Integrations and plugins in WooCommerce vs Shopify

Like WordPress, the WooCommerce plugins field can be pretty chaotic. Every time you download and update the codebase to the new stable version, you might break any number of features. Reputable (read: paid) developers will issue updates to their software, but you never know when support for a critical tool will suddenly end, leaving you scrambling to plug a damaging gap. No matter what plugins you apply for Shopify, they’ll work as reliably as your responsive design and security certificate does.

Both solutions contain most of what you’ll need for an online store out of the box like checkout and gateways, coupons and discounts, shopping, tax, inventory and customer management.
But it’s when you look for further or unusual functionality you can really get lost in the weeds.

WooCommerce has literally tens of thousands of plugins which give you far more integration of services like SEO management, automatic upsell offers and blogs. As an SME there’s little chance of you not finding what you need somewhere in Shopify’s app environment, but fewer of them are built around services outside the direct remit of ecommerce.

Unique features of WooCommerce

WooCommerce doesn’t necessarily give you more payment gateway flexibility (Shopify integrates with the same major services too), but payments are free, whereas Shopify charges anywhere from 0.5-2% for using gateways other than its own.

It also gives you full access to the HTML and CSS to redesign, stylize and tweak anything from an entire theme to a single line easily (so long as you’re familiar enough with web development technology).

One of the biggest selling points is features in SEO, a critical tool for many online businesses to let customers find them. Not only are there hundreds of easy-to-deploy SEO plugins around, they give you more choices to court SEO success. By contrast, Shopify page URLs – a large part of your SEO profile – are fairly rigid and unchangeable.

Unique features of Shopify

Because it’s all designed, hosted and maintained in an enclosed server architecture, Shopify pages tend to load faster (don’t underestimate how quickly a visitor will go to a competitor’s site if they have to wait even a few seconds). You also don’t need to apply updates to the code or server because they happen in the background without you even knowing, part of your purchase price.

If you’ve ever tried to get technical help with open source software, the 24/7 tech support from Shopify might also sound like heaven. Being stuck in endless ‘it should just work’ blame loops are a feature of WordPress help, and community forums are usually pretty newbie-unfriendly.
What’s more, functionalities that are essential and plenty that are just cool are all there out of the box like export/import products, real time shipping, reviews and zoomable product images.

Choosing between WooCommerce and Shopify

Considering all the differences in technology and approach, both services look and behave quite similarly when adding and managing products in the backend. Having been built for ecommerce, integration with other services like USPS for shipping or MailChimp for email marketing is also built into both. So without the need for a raft of out-of-the-ordinary features your decision might simply come down to price.

WooCommerce gives you more flexibility, but Shopify is diametrically simpler to use. If your needs get more complicated than that (for example, if you’re an independent games studio and you need to add a feature where players can access a beta testing server), you’ll have a harder time finding Shopify plugins to suit.

So if anticipated growth will demand more products, features and bigger data and storage needs, WooCommerce might be a better starting point – the costs it will attract will be a necessary part of doing business at that level. But if you’re a sole trader doing eco-friendly gift baskets and don’t plan to expand beyond your dining room table any time soon, Shopify is completely adequate.

A last word of caution – migrating between services is like translating a book between languages. Without the presence of a very skilled operator, information will inevitably be lost. Any platform, even an open source one like WooCommerce, has conventions and frameworks that don’t automatically convert, and it can be time consuming, fiddly and (if you do it the most efficient way, by outsourcing it) incur a further cost.