Are you ready for a rumble in the e-commerce jungle?
The growing dominance of e-commerce has more businesses than ever starting online stores, and that means a lot of comparisons and concerns about which e-commerce platform to use to create that store.
Shopify and WooCommerce continually come out on top, but what about when you’re looking at each of these?
There are plenty of pros and cons of both systems, and they’ve led to an impressive market with a multitude of options.
In this brief guide, we’ll look at some of the significant comparison elements for WooCommerce and Shopify, noting some wins along the way, and hopefully help you make a decision that matters for your business.
The Big Picture and Spoiler
Both WooCommerce and Shopify are amazing platforms that you can use to run an e-commerce business successfully.
The two things we hear most when people ask for comparisons are cost and popularity.
They want to know what’s affordable and what other successful businesses are using.
Cost is hard to wrangle because each platform can go from cheap to wildly expensive depending on your site, plugins, support, and more.
At its most basic level, Shopify will cost $29 per month, with another $9 per year for your domain.
WooCommerce itself is free, but you’ll need to pay for hosting, your SSL certificate, domain, and other elements as well.
As a base, this can be cheaper or right about $29 per month. Depending on the plugins you use, you may have some additional one-time costs.
What’s important to remember is that WooCommerce doesn’t come with as much support as Shopify, in our opinion.
We’ll get into some specifics below, but if you have an issue or your business changes significantly, you can face higher demands of your time, or a developer’s time, to keep things running smoothly and fix anything that breaks.
In terms of pure numbers, things are muddy.
There are nearly 820,000 live Shopify stores right now, according to BuiltWith.
That’s a sizeable number, and the platform is the third most popular choice for U.S. hosting solutions.
It may be the cherry on top of your decision because it really does blow away most of the competition.
Depending on how you look at the numbers, that could include WooCommerce. Here’s what that means.
WooCommerce has a bit of a caveat for its popularity. According to BuiltWith, more than 3.3 million live sites are using WooCommerce.
However, it says: “WooCommerce statistics encompass a lot of sites that have WooCommerce elements to them but are not eCommerce websites.” When we follow its suggestion to look at WooCommerce websites that have a checkout page, the number drops to 418,441 live sites.
When we’re looking purely at this number, Shopify appears to be the big winner. It has more sites live in the U.S. alone (623,000) than all of WooCommerce.
The market appears to have spoken when it comes to true e-commerce. That said, there are plenty of good reasons for this decision, and we think a lot of them depend on simplicity.
Keep reading to see how that’s the case, but also to find plenty of reasons to give WooCommerce a try if you’ve got the HTML chops to build your own compelling site.
A Review of Design and Style
Let’s get one of the most subjective elements out of the way first: design.
You’re going to have to find what works best for you and looks best to you, and no one can really make this call for you.
But, here’s a big tip: Always approach design from the perspective of the customer.
If something looks cool but is hard to use, no one is going to go to your site and appreciate the beauty.
They’re going to other sites where they can find what they were looking for in the first place. So, you want to have a layout that you enjoy looking at and using.
At the time of writing, Shopify has 71 themes that you can use to build different looks for your store.
Ten of those are free and (not surprisingly) those are the 10 most popular themes that people use.
What’s important to realize with this is that you can safely assume people are running a successful business with the free themes.
So, upgrading to fancier tools with more specialty or layout options is possible, but not always necessary.
There are plenty of sorting options and specifics to help you find the right fit, such as themes for toys, furniture, food, clothing, and more.
We didn’t really come across any that looked unprofessional, and there’s a theme editor to help you make any final adjustments.
Shopify is compelling here because there are healthy choices and all are e-commerce-focused, meaning you’ll struggle to pick a “bad” one.
The downside is that you’ve got a limited selection, especially in the free category.
Here’s where we get into the enormous difference between these two. Shopify encourages you to pick a theme and then customize, making the process simple from its own site.
WooCommerce wants to let you do whatever you want.
There’s no limit to what you can do on WooCommerce, but that could mean spending hours to find a theme, get it up and running, make all of your extensions work with it, and test it for vulnerabilities or broken elements. WooCommerce offers themes on its own site, but a quick search will find tons of other options available.
The good news is that you can work with almost any WordPress theme on the market for your store.
The unwelcome news is that many of these aren’t designed for e-commerce, so the look isn’t always right.
If you’re taking an existing site and trying to add on an e-commerce layer, your WordPress deployment may need a fair amount of work.
When possible, save yourself the headache and get a theme built for WooCommerce, or at least e-commerce in general. The company lists some free options on its site here, which are going to instantly look familiar to e-commerce sites you know.
How familiar they look can be a good or bad thing depending on your products, business, and industry.
WooCommerce has a big plus here for the sheer number of themes and designs that it can support.
There are many, many open-source and freely available themes as well as some that can be cheaper than Shopify’s selection.
The concern here is that not everything is built for e-commerce — either in aesthetic or coding — so you can run into some hiccups that may have their own development costs.
We’re a fulfillment company, and that means we always have an eye toward that side of running your business.
So, dropshipping seemed like the right place for a quick comparison to help highlight how each platform works, integrates with partners, and helps you find success.
Reviewing dropshipping on Shopify seems rather straightforward.
There are direct features that help you work within the system, it integrates with some suppliers and channels, and it even offers a free guide to help get you started — a worthwhile download no matter who you choose for your store.
In Shopify, you build out a storefront that looks like any other and then will need to integrate or manually transfer orders to your partners.
Integration is simple and quick, but many services come with their own costs around shipping, storage, and partnership fees so that prices can add up quickly.
WooCommerce tends to be a popular dropshipping option because of how easy it is to install the platform and related partner apps.
There are a wide range of services and extensions that make your fulfillment automatic and hassle-free. We really like the extensions that simplify the process of importing products to your store, while also tracking partner inventory levels to prevent you from trying to sell out-of-stock goods.
The whole WooCommerce experience is so simple and straightforward that some companies will even sell you a dropshipping website that’s ready-made for working with specific suppliers, such as this one for AliExpress.
If you want to go your own route, there are also tons of guides, and some of the best come from third-parties who offer products or services to support dropshipping.
It’s an excellent sign for dropshipping when suppliers are this active and specific.
If you can get over some of the barriers to site building, or are willing to buy a done-for-you website that prefers specific suppliers, WooCommerce might be a more comfortable option.
Help Customers Find You
An amazing storefront is only worthwhile when people can find it. You’ll likely pull in a lot of traffic from your ads, but being search-friendly is still a must.
The better your SEO game, the more you’re able to pull in people interested in a topic or product but not necessarily looking for you as the seller.
Like many of the comparisons we’ve already made, a chief difference between the two platforms boils down to getting immediate help and some done-for-you elements versus the world being your oyster and the work that requires.
Shopify, in general terms, has fewer SEO features baked in, but it does go out of its way to make the SEO process much easier.
It also automatically handles a couple of options and gives you simple tools to help adjust your efforts to make the most of your SEO time.
Users and developers also note that it has a natural linking structure that benefits your overall searchability and indexing, giving a boost to SEO.
There’s also a built-in 301 redirect tool in Shopify’s dashboard to redirect browsers or search engines from one URL to another, which can help during sales, promotions, and product changes. For WooCommerce, you’ll need a plugin to manage 301s.
And again, coming from the user perspective, there’s a benefit to Shopify here: it’s fast. People like fast and search engines know that. So, rapid page loading does give you a little SEO boost too.
WooCommerce’s WordPress foundation is a big boon for the system. WordPress has the potential to be the SEO-friendliest option on the market, which is one reason it has lasted so long.
You can edit, tweak, add, and change all kinds of aspects to tailor your SEO focus to an incredible degree.
Additional plugins, with Yoast SEO being one of the most popular here, are designed to do some of this for you, while also making it easy to control your system.
There’s even a specific Yoast version for WooCommerce. Just remember that some of these will come with additional costs, like the $49 per year fee for the Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin.
The other risk for WooCommerce is that your speed is based on your host. So, you might end up with a site that slows down when your inventory catalog gets big or pages become flashier. This means lower search rankings or higher costs when you upgrade to a higher-tier hosting service.
Help When You Need It
Each platform is relatively easy to use, but things can go wrong or get confusing no matter what. That means you’re going to need a little help.
So, let’s take a quick look at what the two platforms have to offer.
Shopify offers 24/7 support tools with multiple contact options. Its preferred channel is chat, but we also like that the Twitter button links to sending the company a direct message, and not a public one.
In quick tests, the company was responsive across all contact forms. You’ll also like its broad set of questions and tutorials if you’re looking for help with a specific, yet common issue.
Shopify’s phone team not only walked us through solving the test problem we had, but got us to a specific document that was on its site, helped us find the right location, and gave tips to finding that again in the future.
Outside of their teams, you can also hire from the Shopify Experts directory. This is typically used for third-party support because Shopify’s service doesn’t cover the apps or themes you use from other companies.
WooCommerce also has a phenomenal knowledge base. They’ve got guides for everything, and you’ll see high-quality walkthroughs for elements like an installation, as well as helpful business suggestions such as how to choose the right theme for your business. The company’s forums are also very strong.
You can use a ticket program if you have an issue with their platform or reach out to its directory of WooExperts that the company has verified.
This is important because WooCommerce (like Shopify) doesn’t provide support for third-party tools and themes.
The difference between the two is that WooCommerce solutions can have many more outside add-ons for all kinds of support and customization.
A Final Note and Verdict
At its heart, WooCommerce is dependent on WordPress.
Because WordPress was not built with e-commerce in mind, it can have shortcomings or get overwhelmed with large inventories.
There are some users who report that when they reach into the thousands of products — we’re looking at you, dropshippers — the site and WP backbone just can’t keep up unless they’re spending thousands of dollars on enterprise-grade hosting.
It can pay off for some if you’re able to do the work, but many e-commerce leaders aren’t coders first.
They’re entrepreneurs looking to turn an idea into something special, usually around a product or a concept for service. The website, in many instances, is just the tool to deliver that idea.
So, if you’re chasing down the big picture and aren’t savvy with HTML, or don’t have access to a team that is, Shopify might be your best bet. Overall, it’s a bit more hands-off and has some options that are done for you, especially in terms of setup.
The fee structure is straightforward, so there aren’t any surprises. While you do have to pay for some add-ons once you start to have a complex offering, you’ll still be able to easily understand and predict your costs.
There are still more WooCommerce sites than Shopify ones, and that’s not likely to change.
The free nature is compelling, and you can develop as much as you want, with significantly more choices.
That said, full control comes with full responsibility. It just might be too much if you’re ever also facing down angry customers, delayed shipments, or broken products arriving from your suppliers.
We lean toward Shopify for its simplicity and were thinking of that as we approached this conclusion.
Then, we saw someone mention trouble with using dimensional weight calculations for their shipping.
That’s a major issue and could’ve turned the tide, but a quick search found a Shopify help center page on it, plus a few tools that could manage and display weight and price options easily.
It was a quick fix and could apply to virtually every website using Shopify.
The custom nature of WooCommerce means that help and forums aren’t always going to work for you, and sometimes they’ll only work for a niche sector.
You want fewer headaches at the end of the day, and Shopify appears to be a solid way to achieve that.THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.