Shopify vs WooCommerce… which is better for your site?
Anyone who has an online presence or sells things on the interwebs has likely seen an ad for Shopify, or heard of it. They’re everywhere. But there are other eCommerce platforms out there, the most popular other one being WooCommerce. So in the Shopify vs WooCommerce debate, which is better? As someone who has used both, and has a really strong feeling for one, I’m going to tackle that question.
About two years ago I wanted to set up a membership area of my website, and also sell products. I am self hosted on WordPress, and so I began searching out the best way to accomplish this task.
The obvious answer that kept coming up was the WooCommerce plugin.
It was the most popular shopping cart plugin, seemed like it was compatible with a bunch of other plugins, and the price was right (free). There were a lot of extensions, it would integrate with payment services like PayPal, and there was even a mailchimp integration. So I jumped, and pretty soon I had an ecommerce section of my website.
The first thing I noticed was that I suddenly had a lot more pages on my site. A Shop, checkout; about six new pages. How to customize those pages was a little bit beyond my skills at that point, so I started poking around under the hood. I integrated my PayPal, started listing some products.
Much of what I wanted to do seemed to require coding experience. My main shop page didn’t look the way I wanted it to look, with text in strange places and margins all wonky, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it look nicer. I suspected that much of it was dependent on the WordPress theme I was using, but I couldn’t figure out how to make a connection between Woo and the WordPress theme.
Eventually I gave up, and resigned myself to the fact that I would likely have to get a developer, or just putter along with an ugly car with few features, but one that got me from Place A to Place B pretty well.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it got things done.
A few months later when I sold my first product (a 2017 Tudor inspired planner) I handled about 350 orders in two months through that Woo plugin. Searching for orders wasn’t the easiest when I had customers with questions. Things didn’t seem to update easily, and required a lot of manual work. But I didn’t know any better, and so I stumbled along, not feeling great about it, but happy with the orders that were coming in.
About eight months later, I wanted to add more products to my shop. I wanted to do tshirts, mugs; basic merchandise print on demand kind of things. I’d heard of Shopify both from Marie Forleo’s B-School where she highly recommends it, and I’d also seen Shopify ads on Facebook. For some reason I had it in my head that it was for people who either had physical stores, or sold crafts on Etsy. I’m not really sure where that second thought came from, but that was my first reaction when I heard the word “Shopify.”
Also, Shopify wasn’t free. The basic plan was $29/month. But I decided to give it a go with the trial, and started getting set up.
I need to point out here that the reason Shopify isn’t free is because it provides an all-in-one solution. It provides hosting as well as an eCommerce solution, and it even has a payments option if you don’t want to use PayPal. You could host your entire website with a blog, videos, etc., on Shopify. So there’s no messy interacting between WordPress themes and plugins.
You choose a Shopify theme to power your site. All of the apps that are available are created to work specifically with Shopify. Since it handles, literally, everything, it all works seamlessly and beautifully. But that’s why they charge. WooCommerce doesn’t provide hosting. It doesn’t provide a theme. WooCommerce is simply a shopping cart.
It’s basically like either building a kitchen set from Ikea, putting everything together yourself with whatever tools you can find laying around the house, or getting a professional builder in to make you a custom made kitchen with all their tools and materials. Obviously the one from the builder is going to be a lot easier on you, and will likely be a lot nicer. But it’s going to cost you some money.
But paying for the professional builder has been worth it for me. Let me tell you why.
- Adding products is a breeze. It’s just like going through the pages on a website, and it’s incredibly intuitive. They walk you through the entire process, and eventually it becomes so second nature that it just takes a minute.
- The shop itself is gorgeous. They offer a variety of themes, many free stock images, and editing the look of your store is basically drag and drop. It’s super easy.
- Creating collections of products to feature is also super simple. I have Tudor-inspired clothing (Elizabeth I portrait leggings, for example, and lots of tshirts, etc), a Christmas section (with Christmas decor), Stationary (my planner, notebooks, and stickers), and Home goods (mugs, pillows). Adding these to the front page is a breeze.
- Integrations are via apps – so I have apps for my various print on demand vendors, and for the Stamps.com account that my fulfillment guy uses. These apps are designed specifically for Shopify, so they work beautifully. Basically, since Woo integrates with WordPress, and so much of how it works is dependent on WordPress, there are extra layers there that might make things messy.
Shopify is an all-in-one solution, with fewer layers of potential messiness, so things work seamlessly and beautifully. And there are some amazing apps, many of them free. I have one called Yo! which shows social proof by popping up people who have bought various products in the past few days. I also have a popup to collect email addresses.
- The dashboard is so simple to use. There is one big search box, so you can search by order, product, and even email address to find an order. Knowing a bit about the taxonomy of searching, I am really impressed with how simple this is.
That’s the setup, then. But what about the other features?
- Abandoned-cart emails are a feature of the $79/month plan, but they have more than paid for themselves in the first month I’ve had them. We all know that people will often fill up their cart, and then leave. In a real store this would be awkward. I’ve done it. We’ve all probably done it. You go through Target and load up on shoes, candles, seasonal towels, and cheap tshirts, and then you get to the front and say, “hang on a sec, I don’t need any of this,” and then you run. Or you’ve got a screaming baby, and you just can’t take it.But it’s not easy. You have to find a place to dump the cart, and then make a hasty exit. It feels weird. It’s not fun. But online, it’s super easy. Fill up the cart, and then you get distracted, and boom, there goes that sale. Abandoned cart emails send a reminder to people a few hours after they leave your site, asking if they wanted to go back to the cart, and it sends them a link to their cart, exactly how it was. They don’t have to go back and choose things again. It’s all right there waiting for them.
Right now about 25% of my abandoned cart emails result in the sale being rescued. The Shopify average is about 7%, but still, 7% could pay for the higher plan many times over.
There are abandoned cart email plugins with WooCommerce, but again, it’s another integration, and another program having to talk to WordPress, your theme, Woo, and the other plugins.
- The Kit CRM marketing assistant makes creating Facebook ads super simple. From what I’ve read, Kit used to be its own company that was bought by Shopify, and it probably won’t replace you doing your own ads, but for something quick and easy, it’s fantastic. It works off of creating lookalike audiences to your Facebook page (so if you have less than 500 likes or thereabouts it won’t work well for you) and if you want to edit the text of the email, you have to do it in the Facebook Ads Manager.
But let’s say you create a new product, and you really love it. Kit will ask you if you want to promote the new product. You do everything with Kit through Facebook messenger, and it involves responding with numbers to the options they give you. Promote the new product to your Facebook fans? Press 1. Here are some budget options, pick one. Here’s a preview of the ad; okay to send? Press a number. The whole thing takes less than 5 minutes. It also has tracking built in so you can see if the ads are working.The other thing I love about Kit is the Thank You notes. Every day Kit sends a thank you automatically to my new customers. Doing this manually would be a pain. I went in once to customize the letter, and now it’s just on auto pilot. Kit is an included feature in any Shopify plan.
- Selling on multiple channels. You can automatically push your products to your Facebook page, and if people are in countries where it’s allowed (the US is one) they can check out within the Facebook environment. Seriously you guys, they don’t need to leave Facebook to buy your stuff. Mind. Blown.Also, with the $79/month plan you can easily create gift cards. I plan to do this at Christmas, suggesting that people give a gift card for a present. To do this on WooCommerce you need yet another plugin (which again, needs to integrate with WordPress, your theme, etc).
- You can have multiple accounts, so the guy who handles my fulfillment can also log in and see the orders to make sure everything is going as it should be. When I have future staff, they’ll be able to upload and edit, and I won’t have to give them the entire keys to my WordPress site, which is what I’d have to do with the Woo Plugin.
- The final thing that clinches the Shopify vs WooCommerce debate for me is that Shopify has a wonderful app. That means that if you’re like me, with a small child constantly running around, and you only get a few hours in front of your computer each day, you can do things on the fly really easily. Someone emails about the status of an order? I can sneak into the kitchen and look it up and get back to them in 3 minutes flat. Hannah doesn’t even know I’ve left the room. Plus, the ding when sales come in is super satisfying.
Basically, in the Shopify vs WooCommerce question, it really depends on a) your skill level in coding and setup, b) what exactly you want to do with your shop, and c) how much you will use their features.
If you already have a client base, and you’re not taking a lot of orders, and you don’t need to spend a lot of time building your shop (or you have the skillset to do this within the WordPress environment), having a WooCommerce plugin on your WordPress site would be just fine.
But if you want to have a beautiful shop selling a variety of options, and you don’t want to have to download individual plugins for all of the things you might like (social proof, popups, gift cards). One time my entire website crashed because a plugin was out of date, and its interaction with the other plugins set the whole site on fire. While it was kind of cool – like blowing up the internet – it was also incredibly frustrating to figure out which plugin it was, and it took me an hour on the phone with my hosting provider to figure it out. That kind of thing happens when you have too many plugins on your site, and they might not talk to each other easily.
Shopify takes all of that confusion out and puts it in one central location that also provides a complete hosting and payment solution.
So for me, in the Shopify vs WooCommerce question, Shopify wins, hands down, no question.
If you’d like to try Shopify for your online store, I’d invite you to use my affiliate link. You get a free two week trial, and during that time I’d also be happy to make myself available to help you get your shop set up.