Shopify versus WooCommerce: a comparison of the ecommerce platforms

In this comparison of Shopify versus WooCommerce, we take a closer look at two of the most widely used ecommerce systems globally. Which solution offers important features that the rival doesn’t have? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two shop concepts? What are the pros and cons when choosing between Shopify or WooCommerce?

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How are Shopify and WooCommerce designed?

Shopify and WooCommerce take different approaches. Shopify is a closed system; its backend cannot be modified by the user. In addition, the ecommerce system, which has been on the market since 2006 and is operated by a Canadian company, is designed as an all-inclusive solution for e-commerce. The package includes all the services required to create and operate a webshop.

This includes, among other things, the design and operational concept of a shop (through pre-designed themes and templates), security features (e.g. SSL certificates for encrypted data transmission) and the required technical infrastructure for web hosting (via Shopify Cloud). Despite the all-in concept, Shopify can be extended with plugins from the Shopify App Store. Shopify is not free. The lowest tariff with the most important basic functions of the store system costs around £$22.

The Shopify alternative WooCommerce, on the other hand, is a free ecommerce system that can be integrated into WordPress as a plugin. The open source software WordPress was originally designed primarily for the creation of blogs, but can be extended via plugins to function as a full-fledged content management system (CMS). This means it can also be expanded to a professional shop system.

Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce, which is considered the most widely used WordPress ecommerce plugin, is not an all-inclusive shop system. Users have to be much more proactive in creating and maintaining their web shop. However, they benefit from a large community and countless extensions.

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Similarities and differences compared

Our detailed Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison below discusses the similarities, special features and differences of the two ecommerce platforms. It also explains the strengths and weaknesses of Shopify or WooCommerce when selling online.

Beginner-friendliness and installation

Generally, both systems are considered beginner friendly. WooCommerce is particularly suitable for more experienced WordPress users who have already worked with the CMS and know their way around the software. Total beginners will be left having to find a suitable web hosting provider because online shops can be rather demanding on the web space that’s required. Novices would also need to set up WordPress and familiarise themselves with the CMS, its functions and modular structure. Installation of the WooCommerce plugin is relatively quick and easy.

Shopify, on the other hand, is quick to learn and easy to use for all user groups. The main hurdles involve choosing the right package for your shop. You can test Shopify free for 14 days. After the trial phase, you select a so-called template or theme (i.e. the basic layout for the appearance of your web shop) and can start designing the online offer.

Functional components

To detail the individual functions of each package would go beyond the scope of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison. Suffice to say that both systems provide all the necessary basic functions to launch a webshop and support the ERP (enterprise resource planning) and merchandise management systems functions that are important for online retailing. The differences are down to individual features and the cost of special functions.

Both platforms enable multichannel selling, i.e. over Amazon, eBay, Instagram, and Facebook. However, WooCommerce users have to pay extra to be able to sell on some platforms (shop integration on Facebook is free of charge). A special feature is the recovery of the shopping cart after an aborted purchase during checkout. Shopify lets you send emails to customers automatically to remind them of an abandoned cart. This may lead to them returning and finishing their purchase. WooCommerce does not offer this feature in its basic version, but it can be retrofitted via plugins.

Pursuing a content marketing strategy or using a blog to communicate with customers and improve search engine optimisation (SEO)? Then the possibilities are greater with WooCommerce. The ecommerce system exploits the advantage of its integration with WordPress. With Shopify you can also integrate a blog into the website, but the options for content management are not as comprehensive as with WooCommerce.

Flexibility and expandability

Shopify and WooCommerce are both flexible and can be extended. With Shopify, you gain access to over 2,000 apps and tools that offer optimal flexibility and expandability according to your needs. WooCommerce can also be adapted to suit individual needs by adding free plugins and extensions for extra functions.

Both providers offer free and paid themes. However, Shopify limits the number of free shop layouts to 10. WooCommerce provides significantly more themes for free. And the selection is even more extensive than Shopify’s when factoring in paid WooCommerce themes. Shopify templates tend to look a bit more professional and mature.

If you’re not satisfied with the selection of themes and features, you can add your own or commission a designer to optimise the backend code. WooCommerce offers more extensive possibilities to customise a store system, if only because of the underlying open source concept.

Payment options

A crucial aspect in comparing Shopify versus WooCommerce are the payment options for customers. The good news: Both systems support common payment methods. The Shopify Payments service bundles several payment providers (e.g. Stripe, Apple Pay, and Google Pay) and accepts all major credit cards (e.g. Visa, American Express). All payments are secured. Shopify Payments is PCI-compliant and supports 3D Secure Checkouts for secure card payments on the web.

Since Shopify Payments is tightly integrated into the shop system (managed via the Shopify admin panel), real-time monitoring of payments across providers is possible. So you don't have to leave Shopify, payments can be monitored largely from within the system. Chargeback fees may become due for certain cases and sometimes the account is frozen while booking errors or inconsistencies are being checked. In addition to Shopify Payments, third-party payment gateways can be used (e.g., PayPal).

WooCommerce scores points because of its wide support of payment providers. Payments via credit card, Stripe, and PayPal are possible. You can configure the payment methods from the settings menu in the plugin. It is possible to add PayPal Pro which is a paid extension for WooCommerce that lets you use PayPal with a better checkout experience and allows consumers to check out without leaving your website. Square and Authorize.net are additional payment gateways for WooCommerce stores.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Whether Shopify or WooCommerce, both e-commerce platforms are known for their professional search engine optimisation. WooCommerce users have access to numerous SEO apps to optimise their shops for search engines. A well-known and proven SEO tool for WooCommerce is Yoast SEO, which is used by website owners worldwide; it is not restricted to WooCommerce shops or WordPress. The basic version is free of charge but there are additional charges to use the premium version. One other benefit of WooCommerce is that you can find numerous tutorials for search engine optimisation online. Even beginners can quickly familiarise themselves with the topic.

In addition to basic functions sufficient for solid SEO, Shopify offers a range of specialised apps to improve the SEO of your web shop (e.g. the SEO Booster). However, the range of additional tools is not quite as extensive as that of WooCommerce. One important factor for an optimised Google ranking is the load time of a website, also known as the page speed in search engine marketing. Shopify boasts fast loading times as part of its all-inclusive package. When searching for a suitable hosting partner for your WooCommerce shop, it’s worth going for a provider that can deliver a high-performance infrastructure. Check out online user experiences with web space providers and cloud service to be sure.

Multilingual options and international focus

Shopify’s basic package is often criticised for its lacking support for multilingualism. To launch your Shopify store internationally and offer support for multiple language, you’ll be relying on separate plugins. Specialist translation extensions like Langify are recommended. But they incur an extra charge of around £15.00 a month and come with one serious disadvantage. From an SEO point of view, swapping to a second language using JavaScript in the frontend is not desirable because it doesn’t help with boosting Google ranking. Individual shop products may be harder to find when searching for them online using a search engine.

Another weakness in localisation is the user experience when shopping online. For example, UK customers visiting a German web shop may view the product prices in pounds, but during checkout encounter the final price in euros (the shop's base currency tends to be used at checkout). In the worst case scenario, irritated customers may cancel their purchases and demand greater transparency over prices. Less common currencies like the Iranian Rial are currently not supported by Shopify at all. However, there are solutions. For example, you could run multiple parallel shops for specific target countries. Shopify Plus lets you manage 10 shops from a single account.

When it comes to translation tools, WooCommerce scores well because it allows the sophisticated WPML plugin to be integrated, which enables extensive search engine optimisation for multilingual pages. You control the design of URLs, can set SEO meta data for translations, and sitemaps are built in a manner that ensures Google Webmaster validation. The eCommerce version of the plugin costs around £60 and an account renewal adds approx. £50 over subsequent years. Should you not find a suitable solution for your shop, there are plenty of alternatives to WPML, such as MultilingualPress, Weglot, and TranslatePress - all of which are premium plugins.

Costs

At first glance, there seems to be a clear winner in our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison when it comes to pricing. After all, the open source plugin is free and integrates plenty of useful basic eCommerce features at no additional charge. But keep in mind that Shopify offers a feature-rich all-inclusive solution. Its rates are transparent and while individual extensions may incur follow-up costs, expenses are fairly easy to estimate and budget for.

With WooCommerce, many services are free, but web hosting and professional extensions, some of which are indispensable, incur extra charges (some are not cheap either). Expenses such as domain fees, design, branding, marketing, and advertising charges can put a strain on the wallet. These added expenses for running an online shop successfully aren’t unique to WooCommerce and will also apply to those running a Shopify shop.

Irrespective of the platform you choose, don’t forget that in-house developments and adaptations may be required down the line (for example, additional design charges to find a suitable theme). You may need to make changes in the future due to scaling of your Shopify or WooCommerce shop, which will likely generate follow-up costs.

Considering follow-up costs, new shop owners should think carefully about what they require now and possibly in the future. Since WooCommerce is a fairly open system, offering a (tempting) selection of extensions, WordPress users should plan thoroughly and with foresight. It’s worth taking into account that when choosing a paid plugin, you can sometimes get it wrong and waste money on an integration you don’t really need.

Also keep in mind that time is an important factor for calculating costs. If you invest too much time and energy in the technology of an ecommerce platform (WooCommerce is particularly time-intensive), sales and the objective of creating a solid promotional strategy for your store (including SEO, content marketing, social media activities, etc.) may suffer. And what may appear easy to handle by yourself at the start, may soon become daunting and harder todelegate at a later stage.

Various factors can put a strain on the budget. That's why it’s hard to give a general answer as to whether Shopify or WooCommerce is the more cost-effective shope system in the long run. Shopify charges include tariffs and transaction fees, while WooCommerce may incur hiddenextra charges to cover extensions.

Maintenance, security, and support

In terms of maintenance, Shopify plays to its strengths as a SaaS solution (Software as Service solution). A Shopify webshop is stored in the cloud. Hosting, maintenance, and security measures are taken care of by the system provider. Support is provided but is restricted to a single provider and clearly defined contact persons.

WooCommerce is considered a more time-intensive ecommerce platform when it comes to maintenance, support, and security. That’s because of its distinctly modular character. You’ll be keeping an eye on the entire package, plugins, and extensions and maintain various security and software updates. In return, however, you gain access to comprehensive setting and control options – an advantage for shop owners who prefer to be responsible for the maintenance and security of their online shops.

Specialist security updates are particularly important for WooCommerce, because WordPress is a common target of hackers due to its popularity. Individual modules are not exactly well-coordinated which could be viewed as another disadvantage when it comes to security, support, and maintenance. In addition, security problems, conflicts, and malfunctions can occur between modules from different manufacturers. In case of destructive bugs, you may need to reach out to several contacts or be left waiting for an update. However, special plugins help to reduce the security risks associated with a WordPress account.

When running a WooCommerce shop, additional maintenance efforts and security issues can also arise from the fact that an extension is no longer being developed. Shopify customers may well experience something similar, but added software is the exception rather than the rule with an all-in-one solution. Maintenance and security issues due to discontinued plugins are rare.

WooCommerce users in particular are well advised to carefully compile their plugin portfolio in terms of security, support, and maintenance. Proven tools that have been on the market for a long time, are accompanied by an active user forum, and provide broad support are preferred. A stricter selection also simplifies the operation of the web shop and increases the efficiency of sales activities.

Tip

WooCommerce users can get extensive support in the areas of installation, maintenance, and security. For example, there are service packages from cloud providers that take care of WooCommerce Hosting.

The pros and cons of eCommerce platforms

WooCommerce: Advantages Shopify: Advantages
Cost-effective store system (basic version) All-round carefree package with all important services for eCommerce
WooCommerce plugin is easy to use Low entry barriers (easy to use for beginners)
Many design options (especially for advanced users), content marketing possible Financial framework for web shop calculable
No limit for number of products offered, product ratings and customer reviews can be integrated Unlimited bandwidth and online storage, no limit to the number of products offered (across all tariffs), product ratings and customer reviews can be integrated
Plenty of SEO options (especially for advanced users) SEO-optimised store themes, special SEO apps available in the store
WooCommerce hosting can be outsourced to external service providers Good price-performance ratio (especially for the basic version)
Large web community (helps with problems, instructions, and tutorials) Basic Shopify tariff supports additional languages
WordPress integration Multichannel selling at no extra costs
Popular payment services are supported Popular payment services are supported, Shopify Payments facilitates control and management of payment transactions
Extensively scalable Easily scalable
Extensive control over essential areas (SEO, security, theme development, backend design) High security standards (account security via two-factor authentication, PCI compliance, SSL certificate for all tariffs, fraud analysis, etc.)
Multilingual features/internationalisation can be implemented easily (also with SEO)  
WooCommerce: Disadvantages Shopify: Disadvantages
WordPress and WooCommerce newbies need to learn the ropes Basic version more expensive than WooCommerce
Budget harder to calculate (due to possible follow-up costs, hidden costs) Besides monthly basic fee up to 2% commission for each order
Support and service often only available in English Limited control and design options (proprietary and closed system)
Manual updates, more complex maintenance e.g. due to many security updates (depending on expansion stage and number of plugins) Localisation requires special plugins (often SEO disadvantages when implemented by external software)
Multichannel selling sometimes associated with extra costs Weaknesses in multilingualism (e.g., inconsistent user experience due to language change at checkout)
Predominant focus on the US Checkout process is beyond the control of the shop owner (basic version). Users tend to be redirected away from themed shop during checkout process
Extensive selection of plugins can cause issues (some modules make operation harder, technical conflicts, time-consuming maintenance, different support contacts, security gaps in plugins) Content marketing options (blog function) limited compared to WooCommerce
Security is partly up to the user (problematic especially when lacking understanding), moreover WordPress is a target for hackers Shopify payments not available worldwide, chargeback fees may apply, inconsistencies may result in account freeze
Stability and performance issues may occur during load peaks (but depends on the performance of the hosting infrastructure)  

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Conclusion

The choice between Shopify or WooCommerce is difficult. Both shop systems are well-established so they can be considered mature and future-proof. They are suitable for long-term selling online and scale well, i.e. grow organically with increasing business volumes.

However, one basic tendency emerges in our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison. If you are looking for a compact and quick-to-set-up solution, prioritise marketing activities beyond shop maintenance, and don't want to engage much with the technical basics, you should take a closer look at Shopify.

If comprehensive control, multilingualism, design options, SEO, and content marketing are more important to you, WooCommerce should be your preferred option. However, in order to exploit the potential of the open source system, technical know-how is a must and WordPress knowledge is extremely advantageous.


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