A common question we come across is this: “What platform should I use to build my online store?”

And with SO many options available to us these days, it’s a pretty reasonable question.

Some of the popular eCommerce platforms that you may be familiar with include Shopify, WooCommerce (a plugin used with WordPress) and maybe even Magento and BigCommerce. You can even build online stores with the likes of Squarespace and Wix.

At Moolah Digital, our 2x platforms of choice (and speciality) are Shopify and WordPress/WooCommerce, so we’ll be specifically concentrating on these 2x platforms and providing you with the pros and cons of both. So get your notebooks out, because we’ve got a whole lot of insights to share with you!

Before we delve into the pros and cons of Shopify & WooCommerce respectively, it’s important to stop and think about what exactly you need to have on your online store.

Sit down and write out all the features and requirements your online store must have.

Just to get the brain waves going, here are a few examples:

  • Multicurrency (i.e. the ability for people to switch currencies or for prices to automatically show up in their local currency).
  • Shipping requirements – will you be using a flat rate? Will you have free shipping? Is shipping based on weight? Do you want to integrate with a particular shipping company so that shipping costs are being calculated accurately?
  • Wholesale accounts – do you want people to be able to login and purchase at wholesale prices?
  • Bulk purchasing – do you want to provide discounts for those who buy products in bulk?
  • Subscription service – do you want people to receive your products on a regular basis (but only have to purchase once)?
  • Upsells and cross-sells – do you want to offer personalised recommendations for people to add complimentary items to their carts?

As we’ll talk about further on, this list will help you determine which platform will be best in serving your requirements and at what cost.

Pros of Shopify

As of January 2021, Shopify reported it had over 1 million businesses using the platform to sell (in approximately 175 countries). Designed purely for eCommerce websites, there are a stack of pros for choosing this company for your online store.

– It’s super easy to set up and get started.

All you need to do is go through the sign-up process, choose a plan and start creating your online store. The most complex part of setting up on Shopify is probably going to be connecting your domain to your store once you’re ready to go live, but even then Shopify provides easy-to-follow instructions on how to do this.

– There’s no need to find a 3rd party payment gateway for taking payments – Shopify provides this for you

One of the great things about Shopify is they provide their own payment gateway called Shopify Payments which allows you to accept credit cards as payment on your online store without the need for you to go to a 3rd party provider (and fumble your way around trying to get this set up).

– There’s no need to worry about website hosting and maintenance

Because Shopify host your online store for you, there’s no need to worry about maintenance. And provided you avoid using too many apps and keep your images optimised, you shouldn’t have issues with website speed either. On the other hand, with a WordPress website, you have to find a website host first then get a website set-up on this host and continue to keep your website maintained and using the latest versions of plugins and themes yourself.

Also, if you start getting large amounts of sales and traffic to your website, you shouldn’t have to worry about website crashes or issues – Shopify should be able to handle this.

– Shopify has its own set of pre-made themes which are easy to set up and customise

You can choose from a number of free or paid themes and get going with building your online store straight away! Shopify’s theme customizer makes it really easy to add in your own content and make sure all of your site pages look spick and span from the get-go.

If you’ve got a bit of coding skills? Then you also have access to the theme’s code to make any extra tweaks and customizations that may be needed. (Fun fact: we built a Shopify store for ethical retail business Create Fair Trade, using the free Shopify theme Debut, but with a bit of custom coding, CSS styling and the use of a page builder app for the home page, we were able to make it a little bit more bespoke. Read more about the project here).

– There are a heap of apps to extend the functionality of your online store

Need to add a wholesale portal? There’s probably an app for that. Want to provide custom options on a product page? There’ll be an app for that. Want a password-protected collection of products? There’s definitely an app for that.

Check out the Shopify App Store for a whole heap of free and paid apps that can extend your Shopify store and take it to the next level. Just a word of caution: there are probably more paid apps available than free ones and the free ones may only be free for a limited time and offer very limited functionality.

– You can easily try out a new theme or make changes to your website without these changes impacting the live website.

One of the beautiful things about Shopify is that you can make a clone of your website theme and make a whole heap of changes without anyone seeing them until you’re ready to go live. You can even try out a different theme and see how it looks and works, again without it going live and impacting your customers.

Pros of WordPress/WooCommerce

WordPress is one of the most well-known and popular CMS platforms out there. There are currently 75 million WordPress websites live on the Internet.

To set-up an online store with WordPress, you would generally use the WooCommerce plugin, which is free to install. There are currently over 5 million online stores powered by WooCommerce.

– WordPress/WooCommerce provides PLENTY of flexibllity in terms of design AND functionality

Honestly? With WordPress and WooCommerce, there is SO much freedom and choice when it comes to design and functionality. You can choose a pre-made theme that’s compatible with WooCommerce or you can go absolutely crazy and use a page builder tool such as Divi, Oxygen or Elementor to create whatever wildest ideas come up in your mind.

And WordPress has a TON of free and paid plugins that integrate with WooCommerce so you can achieve any functionality you wish. From setting up discounts based on cart quantities, to integration with shipping carriers, to displaying advanced product filters and searching. Seriously, the world is your oyster.

For example, here at Moolah Digital, we built a custom “Oats on Subscription” feature for Brushwoods Australia whose website runs on WordPress & WooCommerce. This required the purchase of the WooCommerce Subscriptions plugin along with a fair amount of custom code to set-up the subscription pages in the layout you see on their website.

With another website project for music store McKenzie Music Etcetera, we used a combination of plugins to achieve a range of functionality from enabling and disabling shipping of particular products to certain regions to providing a product search bar in the website header, to enabling filtering of product views (read more about the project here).

(Fun fact: with Shopify, unless you’re on one of their top plans, you cannot customize the checkout page – with WordPress/WooCommerce, you can).

– WordPress can (sometimes) be more cost efficient.

With Shopify, you will find yourself paying at least $29.95 USD p/month for a basic Shopify plan. This is followed by monthly costs for any apps you might need, along with payment gateway fees, a paid theme and your domain.

WordPress is essentially a free platform – so you don’t need to pay for WordPress itself. But you will need to pay for a website host to install WordPress on and host your website. The costs for hosting do vary depending on what company you go with and what plan you choose, but you can get hosting as little as $10 p/month (although we do recommend you go with a plan that costs more than this for obvious reasons, i.e. “you get what you pay for”). Then your other costs will be for your domain, potentially a paid theme and any paid plugins you might need (fortunately, most plugins have a one-off payment or yearly fee, rather than monthly. Even more fortunately, you can get away with using free plugins most of the time).

So depending on your needs, WordPress may be more (or less) cost efficient than Shopify.

– There’s LOTS of support available on the Internet for WordPress/WooCommerce

There is seriously no shortage of support out there for any gnarly WordPress/WooCommerce issues you might be experiencing – just doing a Google search can provide a ton of help and give you access to all sorts of documentation. All plugins also have their own support forums and avenues for getting help if you ever come across a problem. And of course, there are plenty of WordPress & WooCommerce Facebook groups out there for you to join also.

Cons of Shopify

While Shopify clearly has plenty of positives, it also has its negatives, especially when it comes to flexibility of design and functionality.

– It can get expensive very quickly

The most basic Shopify plan costs $29 USD p/month (that’s roughly $38 p/month if you’re in Australia).

On top of that if you add the cost of any apps you might need (hence our recommendation to sit down and list all of your website requirements) plus a paid theme, then it does start to add up.

In contrast, with a WordPress/WooCommerce website, while it takes a bit more work to set-up, you can get website hosting from as little as $10 p/month. You might need to pay for some plugins, but you generally have a higher chance of finding free plugins on WordPress that will service your needs than you will on Shopify.

– Less Flexible In Design

We’ve noticed that a lot of the Shopify themes available for use do tend to look the same. And you can only customize these themes within the parameters already set. For example, most themes will only let you customise the Home page but if you want a more bespoke “About” page then sorry but you’re out of luck (or you better get your coding skills going).

If you are wanting something truly bespoke, then you will need to be prepared to invest more money in a Shopify developer who can build something custom from the ground up, or purchase a premium theme such as the Flex theme (you will need to invest about $450 USD for this theme).

– Less Flexible Page and URL Structure

By default, Shopify pages (such as the about page), generally have the URL structure: https://yourwebsitename.com/pages/your-page-name. Not really as pretty as your standard yourwebsitename.com/your-page-name is it? And unfortunately not as SEO friendly either.

In Shopify, you have collections, products, pages and blog posts and that’s really about it. So if you’re wanting to have some sort of portfolio on your website (perhaps you’re an artist), then you may be better off with another platform such as WordPress.

– You don’t *really* own your website, you’re just renting space

Because Shopify are the ones hosting your store, technically you’re just renting space from them. This means if Shopify were to shut down tomorrow (and the chances of this is admittedly awfully low), then you would pretty much lose your online store and then you’d have to find somewhere else to set-up store (if you had managed to save your product photographs and content on to your computer, then it isn’t all so bad).

Also if one day you decided that you wanted to move away from Shopify and have your online store set-up elsewhere, while there are more and more tools out there to help you with migrating your content and data to another platform, you would most likely have to re-design all of your pages from scratch.

In contrast, with WordPress/WooCommerce, if you choose to find a new host, it’s generally a straight-forward process to migrate your website away from your old host to your new host and it should all continue running as expected once done.

Cons of WordPress/WooCommerce

And of course, WordPress/WooCommerce doesn’t get off scotch-free from having any drawbacks.

– There is more of a learning curve when it comes to familiarising yourself with WordPress and WooCommerce.

Shopify has a much simpler interface and that’s because it’s really only designed for one thing: eCommerce.

Meanwhile going on to the WordPress admin dashboard can feel a little bit overwhelming. However once you’ve familiarised yourself with the main parts and where you need to go to manage products/inventory, orders and your main WooCommerce settings, you’ll be away laughing.

If you’re getting your WordPress/WooCommerce website built for you, be sure to get your agency to do a thorough handover with you and provide training on how to manage your website yourself (this is something we do very happily at Moolah Digital, through the form of PDF guides, walkthrough videos and 1-on-1 Zoom walkthroughs).

– More maintenance is required and it can be a pain.

Unless you’re on a website maintenance plan, it can be a pain keeping your website maintained and making sure WordPress and all of your plugins and theme are being kept up-to-date.

WordPress have made some great changes such as providing auto-updates for plugins and themes, however just because something is on auto-update, doesn’t mean it’s safe to assume that everything’s going to run smoothly. It’s still important to constantly keep an eye out on your website and make sure all parts are ticking over nicely.

So who’s the winner? Shopify or WooCommerce?

At the end of the day, we cannot say that either Shopify or WooCommerce ought to come out on top. It all comes down to your requirements and the level of maintenance and updating you want to involve yourself in (or would rather outsource).

As we mentioned earlier, take the time to list out all the requirements your website needs to meet. You can then run a cost analysis exercise to see which platform is going to deliver these requirements at the best price.

If you’re getting an agency to build your website for you, by providing these requirements they can also determine which platform should be used to build your website based on a combination of their skills and experience and your ability to keep your website updated.

Still have no idea?

If you’re getting your online store built for you and you still have no idea if you prefer Shopify or WooCommerce, we suggest reaching out to a number of agencies for a chat and getting their opinion on which platform best suits your needs.

Shopify also offers a 14-day free trial so you could always try it out and determine its suitability before committing.

And if you’re still in despair? Definitely feel free to reach out to us and we would be more than happy to chat and help you make a decision.

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