Shopify is a self-contained, cloud-hosted ecommerce platform, and WooCommerce is a plugin that turns a WordPress website into an ecommerce store. Shopify is generally considered a more fully formed ecommerce solution while WooCommerce is cheaper and allows for more back-end customization.
WooCommerce and Shopify are two of the most widely used ecommerce platforms in the world—but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The approach each platform takes in delivering its service is vastly different.
Shopify is a cloud-hosted ecommerce platform that allows you to manage all aspects of your online store from a single platform. WooCommerce is a plugin designed to turn an existing WordPress website into an ecommerce store. Both businesses dedicate pages on their website to explain to prospective customers why they should switch to their platform.
We’re going to take a more unbiased approach to figuring out which ecommerce platform is better suited for your small business. Here’s our comparison of WooCommerce vs. Shopify.
As we already mentioned, WooCommerce is a shopping cart plugin designed specifically for WordPress. Why WordPress? Because 33% of all internet websites are built on WordPress, giving WooCommerce a huge built-in market to work with.
To get started with WooCommerce, you’ll need to download it from the WordPress application store. The plugin is completely free to use, but you’ll need to set up a domain name, hosting solution, and SSL certificate—all of which cost extra.
Once your site logistics are in order, you can go about customizing your store to your liking. In terms of design options, WordPress offers a free theme called Storefront that is optimized for WooCommerce stores. Storefront comes with 14 “child” themes ranging in price from free to $39. Of course, there are hundreds of other free and paid themes available in the WordPress theme store to choose from, meaning your site can truly look one of a kind.
You’ll also have to take care of some other ecommerce prerequisites—adding your product catalogue and arranging shipping and payment processing. WooCommerce tries to make all three as painless as possible. The format for adding products is similar to how you would go about publishing a blog post. In terms of payment processors, you can choose a payment service provider like PayPal and Square, or integrate with a variety of reputable payment gateways. WooCommerce also offers a free shipping calculator.
Other things you can configure include taxes, product reviews, inventory, your CRM, and your privacy and notification settings. Once your site is live, you’ll benefit from WordPress’ built-in SEO tools and analytics tracking. Plus, WooCommerce integrates with over 300 additional applications, allowing you to build an even more customized solution. Finally, WooCommerce is what is known as open-source software, meaning you can modify its code as much as you want to fit your needs.
Shopify is used by 10% of all ecommerce stores in the world, making it the second most popular platform behind WooCommerce. Unlike WooCommerce, Shopify is a self-contained ecommerce platform, meaning you don’t need to plug it into an existing website to create your store. Instead, simply sign up for an account and you get your own cloud-hosted ecommerce website with a custom domain and SSL certificate.
But this will cost you: Shopify has three different pricing plans ranging from $29 per month to $299 per month, with the higher cost plans featuring lower credit card processing rates and more staff accounts.
There is also a $9 per month social selling plan and a quote-based enterprise plan. Regardless of which plan you choose, the process of setting up your store is similar. You’ll start by providing some basic business information, then be directed to a dashboard where you can manage all of your operations.
From the dashboard you can upload your entire product catalog via a CSV file, or migrate it over from another platform. Shopify also has manual product entry, allowing you to provide as much detail on a product as you desire. Once you have uploaded your products, Shopify allows you to group products into collections for customers to find them by category (i.e. sale items, seasonal products).
From there, you can customize the look of your site using any of Shopify’s free and paid themes. Shopify also boasts a drag-and-drop store builder, allowing you to make cosmetic changes to your site and see how they look in real time. In terms of the logistical stuff, shipping zones and custom rates and be arranged from the dashboard, and you can also get discounted shipping rates through Shopify Shipping.
To get the best payment processing rates, you need to sign up for Shopify’s in-house payment processor—Shopify Payments. Shopify will charge you an additional fee for using any other payment processor, which could significantly cut into your bottom line. Before launching, Shopify also asks you to set specific store policies, such as your policy on refunds, customer privacy, and your terms of service.
Once your store is tuned to your liking, you can test launch it to make sure it operates the way you intended. If all looks good and no important information is missing, you can bring it online.
As we said in the beginning, it’s hard to really identify any similarities between WooCommerce and Shopify that are meaningful. Sure, they are both ecommerce tools, and they both allow for the sale of products online, but that doesn’t help you decide which platform is better. Here is the most common ground we found between the two platforms. Keep in mind that we don’t feel these similarities are difference makers:
It’s much easier to find areas where these two platforms are different, and where one provides a better level of service than the other. Let’s take a look at some of those differences.
We’ll start by examining areas where we believe WooCommerce provides a better product than Shopify. They are as follows:
Obviously, free is the best price, and WooCommerce costs nothing to download. You still have to pay for your own domain name and SSL certificate, but those can cost as little as $10-$20 per year. The hosting can be a bit more expensive depending on how much storage you need (larger stores will require more expensive hosting). Bluehost offers a special deal to ecommerce merchants, with hosting as low as $2.75 per month, including an SSL certificate. All in all, this is much cheaper than Shopify.
Another area WooCommerce will save you money is with payment processing. It integrates with both Square and PayPal, both of which will charge you 2.9% + $0.30 to process digital payments. This is the same credit card processing rate you’ll get with Shopify if you sign up for its “Basic” plan ($29 per month). But that’s just it—you need to sign up for Shopify Payments to get this processing fee. If you choose to go with another payment processor, Shopify will add an additional fee. We prefer the option that works with more processors and charges a reasonable rate, and that’s WooCommerce.
Shopify is known for having lots of features and integrations, and that’s true. But because WooCommerce is an open-source platform, those with a technical background can transform their store into something completely original if they were so inclined. Furthermore, the WordPress theme store is a lot bigger than the Shopify theme store, meaning merchants have a lot more options to choose from when designing the look of their store.
There’s a reason 10% of all ecommerce platforms are hosted on Shopify. We’ll list them here:
The benefit of being the largest ecommerce platform provider (note that WooCommerce is an ecommerce plugin) is that you can add a lot of “stuff” to your platform, and other people build software to work with your platform. Among the things included with your Shopify store are a blogging module, advanced metrics reporting, abandoned cart recovery, a mobile app, daily data backups, and the ability to search your website in multiple languages.
All of the pricing packages also include Shopify point of sale, plus paid add-ons like the aforementioned Shopify Shipping and Shopify Experts who can help you customize your website. If that’s not enough, there are over 1,500 apps in the Shopify app store than can extend the functionality of your website, including integrations for things like dropshipping, marketing, sales and conversion, customer support, inventory management, and more.
So although WooCommerce is more customizable, those who want a tailored solution without getting too technical will fair better with Shopify.
If you’ve had experience using WordPress, you might find WooCommerce easier to use. But in general, Shopify features a very intuitive platform that even the most inexperienced ecommerce merchant shouldn’t have trouble navigating. Some of the features that make it so user friendly include its drag-and-drop site designer and its “Ecommerce University” featuring a series of ebooks, video series, and webinars on how to run your Shopify store.
Shopify’s customer service is also more accessible than WooCommerce’s. They are available 24/7 and can be contacted by phone, email, or live chat. With WooCommerce you have to submit a ticket and wait for a response. There is however a robust online community of WooCommerce users who talk on forums and post blogs.
Shopify handles all the technical parts of your store, including data storage, meaning scaling is as easy as upgrading your pricing plan to accommodate an additional number of staff accounts. The larger your business gets, the more perks Shopify will throw your way, including cheaper credit card processing and more features.
While WooCommerce doesn’t limit you in terms of staff accounts, your platform is self-hosted, making you responsible for storage, data backups, and security. As your business gets bigger, you may decide you don’t want to spend your time tending to these logistical tasks.
To get a better picture of the public perception of WooCommerce and Shopify, let’s see how they rank on the major user review websites:
|Platform||G2 Crowd||Trust Radius||TrustPilot||Capterra||Better Business Bureau|
4.3 stars out of 5
8.7 stars out of 10
4 stars out of 5
4.3 stars out of 5
8.5 stars out of 10
1 star out of 5
4.5 stars out of 5
In addition, here are what small business owners and website designers who have experience using both services have to say:
“For years I was a WooCommerce fanboy, but after I started working with a client on the Shopify platform, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to work with. From a user standpoint and a development standpoint, it’s so much easier to run and much cheaper to modify. Not only that, the amount of apps and themes you can choose from goes far beyond what WooCommerce offers. Shopify is what I recommend for any company looking to run lean, and focus more of their spend on marketing and products, rather than development and website updates.”
—Jeff Moriarty, Moriarty Gem Art
“Shopify is great for businesses that have limited website design budget and are willing to sacrifice some control in order to save some money. It is important to know that you do not own a Shopify website—you are simply leasing space on their platform. So the website, once built, is not transferable and is technically not an asset of the business since it is not owned. WooCommerce is an open-source solution that integrates nicely with the WordPress web development platform. Businesses that can afford to invest a little more upfront in their online store can benefit from true ownership and claim the website as an asset. This option also offers more design flexibility since you are not beholden to the Shopify black box.”
—Randy Mitchelson, GrumpyGoat.com
“While most digital entrepreneurs fixate on comparing costs between WooCommerce and Shopify, they overlook the actual value of what they are getting. WooCommerce will not charge for the platform itself, only plugins, hosting, themes, etc., while Shopify charges for everything. But with that higher price point, Shopify offers a better ecommerce experience on both the business and consumer ends. For businesses, the analytics platform on Shopify is superior and offers more tools for marketers, such as abandoned cart retargeting. For consumers, the platform offers an easier and more intuitive experience. You are less likely to lose a potential customer due to frustration or related factors.”
—Philip Mullennax, Red Olive
“I get it… WooCommerce looks less expensive and because it is on WordPress, a lot of people are very familiar with the interface. If you want to run a blog or an affiliate website, sure, go with WordPress and WooCommerce. If your livelihood depends on selling physical products that you ship or that are dropshipped, stick with a hosted ecommerce platform made specifically for that purpose, like Shopify. You’ll pay a little more per month but in the long run, it’ll save you a lot of time, which is money. Besides, if you can’t afford $30-$70/month for a secure ecommerce platform, it’s not really a website worth your time.”
—Dave Hermansen, Store Coach
“Shopify certainly wins at ease of use, but it’s a problem that you are very limited in terms of custom development and expansion. I’m not a fan of building a long-term project on something you don’t own, and that can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. Shopify is a hosted platform, and they have ultimate control over what you can edit, what you can access, and what you can integrate. What happens if for some reason they cease to be profitable and go offline, or there’s a massive security exploit? You are effectively left with nothing. With WooCommerce you are in charge, and your store’s files are located on your own server. So you’re free to modify everything on your store as you see fit.”
—Brandon Ackroyd, TigerMobiles.com
When it comes to WooCommerce vs. Shopify, here are what we see as the use cases for each product, given everything we have gone over.
Use WooCommerce if you need a quick-and-dirty ecommerce store, you understand WordPress, and/or you have a technical background and know how to tinker with code. WooCommerce does offer a cheap ecommerce solution, but if you are inexperienced, you will have a hard time creating something that will really stand out. However, if you have the time and budget to invest in creating something unique, WooCommerce offers you a lot of possibilities.
Use Shopify if you have the money to spend upfront, you want a clean and professional looking ecommerce store without any hassle, and you plan to have a high volume of transactions. Really Shopify is like a one-size-fits-all solution, because there isn’t a business situation that Shopify can’t work for. That’s not to say it’s better than WooCommerce, just that Shopify will probably be a more accessible product for a larger segment of the market.
So there you have it, our review of WooCommerce vs. Shopify. The only thing left for you to decide is which product makes sense for your business, and get to work.
Matthew Speiser is a former staff writer at Fundera.
He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Prior to Fundera, Matthew was an editorial lead at Google and an intern reporter at Business Insider. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world.