If you’re looking to get involved with eCommerce online there’s really only 2 big players. WooCommerce, which is a platform that runs on WordPress – or there’s Shopify which is a monthly subscription platform that is all hosted centrally.
I’ve tried both platforms for setting up my eCommerce businesses – so I think I’m qualified to give an overview of the pair.
I’m going to look at the two platforms from the perspective of a business owner who values time – since in business time is money. With that in mind though, I may be a little bit biased – read on to see against which service though.
Cost Of Setting Up
Business costs come in various forms – the initial setup cost, such as purchasing inventory (not something you need if you’re going to be dropshipping or using a Print On Demand shop), setting up your shop infrastructure, initial advertising budget etc.
The cost of setting up either platform is going to be dependent on how complicated (or jazzy) you want your shop to be. But for the purposes of this comparison I’ll stick to the basics.
For either platform you’ll need to consider which domain name you want to setup and you’ll need to register that. So there’s a cost there. But that cost will be identical irrespective of whether you want to go with Shopify or WooCommerce – so that’s not a consideration.
Any website created requires a server machine to host it. With WooCommerce you’ll need to find and possibly maintain your own server machine – there’s loads of hosts around that can provide this service and some start at around $3.00 per month. Shopify on the other hand provide the servers for you and you cannot use the service anywhere else.
The monthly fee for Shopify starts with the Basic plan, which is $29.00 per month. It’s worth noting that Shopify does come with a 14 day free trial, so you can setup for free.
Both systems allow you to customize your shopfront to look different from the rest, through the use of themes. Some are free, some are paid. The cost of Premium themes on both systems is largely the same and there’s plenty of free themes available for both platforms. There’s probably more free themes available for WooCommerce than there are for Shopify, but that may change in the future.
You might also need plugins or add-ons for your store and again both systems have a plethora available. Some, again, are free and some are paid for. So in this sense there’s probably not a lot to choose between the two in terms of up front cost for plugins. Do be aware though that a lot of Shopify plugins tend to have a monthly fee associated with them whereas most WooCommerce plugins are a one off payment. Usually.
On upfront costs, who wins?
Shopify – if you use the free trial.
Shopify also wins if you do need Premium style plugins, since these are usually a one off (but therefore more expensive initially) on WooCommerce. You may also need an SSL certificate, although a lot of hosting providers are now providing these free anyway.
Both platforms will have ongoing costs – the cost of doing of business if you like. Although they both have ongoing costs, the fees here are for different kinds of things. Shopify costs, for its Basic Plan, $29 per month. WooCommerce itself has no fee to use on a monthly basis, but you are going to need to pay for hosting on a monthly basis. This could be as cheap as around $4.00 per month.
If you add other features, the monthly cost of Shopify can add up quite quickly, whereas the monthly cost of WooCommerce is not likely to go up by all that much – and starts off cheaper per month too, depending on where you host it.
Shopify is a little more expensive to accept credit cards than WooCommerce, since Shopify will add a 2% fee on top of the transaction charges that the credit card merchant charges. However, this of course isn’t a problem until you’re making sales and if Shopify lets you start making sales quicker and easier, this is quite a small price to pay.
On ongoing costs, who wins?
WooCommerce, hands down.
The Hidden Costs
This is where things get a bit more blurry, because this depends significantly on your experience with WordPress, Website Hosting and WooCommerce. But as a business owner, you may well not be that familiar with either Shopify or WooCommerce – you know business but not the technology.
Shopify is dead easy to learn. There’s absolutely zero hosting to worry about, because that’s all taken care of for you. There’s no need to worry about things like uptime, or security settings, or denial of service attacks. Shopify takes care of all this. You will need to register your domain and hook it up to point to your Shopify store – but Shopify provide really simple instructions for achieving this.
WooCommerce on the other hand will require you (or someone with the right skills – therefore requiring payment) to setup the hosting environment, install WordPress (often a one-click experience these days though), then install the WooCommerce plugin, then find a suitable theme from the huge plethora of WordPress themes. Bear in mind that you can’t choose just any WordPress theme and expect it to work well with your WooCommerce shop – you need one that’s specifically designed for Woo.
I’ve spent around 24 hours looking for a free theme that’ll work with my shop and I ended up giving up. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fabulous themes around – but they all had something missing. Something different on each theme – which was frustrating. In the extreme! I’d find a theme I thought looked really good but I couldn’t change the colours for example. Or it didn’t have quite the right layout but did have the ability to change colours. Or it had a sidebar on the product page when I want a full screen experience for the product page.
In business, that’s 24 hours I could have used working on my business rather than the technology. That’s very expensive.
By contrast, the Shopify themes were easy to find, easy to setup and play with and easy to get started with. Winning.
On hidden costs, who wins?
Shopify, by a very, very long way – and see the next section too…
What About Support?
Technical support is available for both platforms but if you want commercial WooCommerce support you’re going to need to pay extra for it. Shopify on the other hand include 24/7 support for your online store as part of the ongoing monthly fee. There’s also of course the online community which is available for both and there are plenty of ‘experts’ who can provide you with useful information. Google is going to be your friend here – and/or YouTube of course.
Getting support from Shopify is easy, it’s built in to the interface on the administration screens of your online store and Shopify have a live chat feature which is generally very quick to respond and staffed by some very competent staff. I was very surprised by how competent to be fair.
Finding support for WooCommerce is going to be harder. For a start, is it WooCommerce that you need support with, or is it WordPress, or is it in fact the hosting service itself? Working out which area of support you might need will take time in itself.
On support, who wins?
Shopify. It’s just all there in the one place.
WooCommerce is open source and very flexible. If you know what you’re doing, or are able to hire a programmer, you could make WooCommerce do whatever you want it to. It’s also a lot better for Downloadable sales (such as eBooks for example) than Shopify. Being open source means thousands, if not millions of people are actively developing things for it.
Shopify by contrast is a closed source, service platform, over which you have no control at all. If Shopify go out of business, or introduce rules that are incompatible with your business then you’re out of luck. All your hard work could be gone. To be fair, Shopify has been around a long time now and is unlikely to go anywhere – but it is an American product and as the recent ‘Iran sanctions’ problem has shown, could mean you’re subject to rules that if you don’t live in the USA shouldn’t actually affect you, but will.
WooCommerce will probably cost you more up front to setup, but Shopify will cost you more per month on an ongoing basis. But the hidden costs of WooCommerce may well add up to way more than the ongoing costs of Shopify’s $29/month when you factor in the time needed to run it all.
I’ve tried both platforms and whilst I like the idea of WooCommerce because it’s open source and completely under my control – I prefer Shopify because I can concentrate on the eCommerce aspect of my business, not running the technology needed to provide the eCommerce.
If you have any experience with either or both systems and agree, or disagree with me, please do leave a comment below to help others.