The eCommerce Landscape
eCommerce has grown markedly over the past several years. The COVID pandemic has hastened this trend, forcing many brick-and-mortar businesses to conduct business online, and many small businesses do not have IT departments to oversee eCommerce transactions.
To meet this demand, eCommerce platforms have multiplied, giving businesses several options for carrying out eCommerce. According to Oberlo, the eCommerce platforms with the greatest market share in 2021 are:
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Choosing the right eCommerce platform can be a challenge, especially for a new business. eCommerce platforms offer many features and services, many of them involving new or changing technology, and it can be difficult to connect the web jargon and software specifications to the practical needs of your business.
At Connective Web Design, we work with WooCommerce, an eCommerce platform connected to the popular web hosting site, WordPress. WooCommerce fits most naturally with our web design process, prompting us to work with them for eCommerce rather than other platforms, such as Shopify.
It is important that our clients understand how WooCommerce works and how it can benefit them. In this article, we compare WooCommerce with its next largest competitor, Shopify. Through this comparison, we hope you will be able to make an informed decision regarding which platform works best for you.
The Essentials of eCommerce Platforms
eCommerce platforms can be complex, with many features, add-ons, and connections to other web tools and software products. Despite that complexity, the platforms share one underlying goal: eCommerce platforms enable efficient, secure transactions online. We can view this goal from the buyer’s point of view as well as the seller’s.
Customer needs are paramount when selecting an eCommerce platform. A business owner might be able to deal with a quirky, frustrating, or unappealing interface on the back end, but if an eCommerce platform cannot deliver an engaging customer experience, customers will go elsewhere. Consider the following:
- Are customers already familiar with the platform? Familiarity translates into ease of use and a smooth customer experience.
- Can customers be confident that their credit card data and other sensitive information is secure?
- Is the checkout process easy to navigate?
- Does the platform offer technical support if the customer has problems?
To accomplish these goals, an eCommerce platform must be able to customize the interface enough to be intuitive, familiar, and reassuring to customers. The seller might have other concerns regarding business operations, such as:
- Can someone without technical computer knowledge set up eCommerce easily on this platform?
- Is it easy to integrate the platform with my website?
- Is the platform affordable?
- Does the platform offer tools that automate business operations?
When comparing WooCommerce and Shopify, or any two eCommerce platforms, consider both perspectives. An ideal eCommerce platform should be the culmination of a marketing strategy or sales funnel that brings consumers and sellers together. Evaluate each feature of the eCommerce platform in terms of how well it serves your overall marketing strategy.
Although eCommerce platforms date back to 1982, Shopify’s debut in 2004 marks it as one of the oldest eCommerce platforms. Shopify began as Snowdevil, an online snowboard store in Canada. The software developed for that site eventually became an eCommerce juggernaut that pulled in nearly three billion dollars in 2020, an 86% increase over the previous year.
As of 2021, according to Shopify’s website, Shopify serves 1.7 million merchants in 175 countries, including major brands. Consumers are likely to be familiar with Shopify and, therefore, more likely to trust it for business transactions.
Shopify markets itself as a site for growing businesses, including search engine optimization (SEO), logo design, and other marketing challenges that new business owners face. When assessing Shopify and its features, we evaluate it in terms of its potential to develop an entire business, not merely the eCommerce checkout.
WooCommerce and WordPress
WooCommerce is a relative newcomer, starting in 2011. WooCommerce emerged from WooThemes, a company that sold themes developed in WordPress. WordPress itself is by far the most popular web hosting company, having 38% of the market share in 2021. In comparison, Shopify, its nearest competitor, has 3%.
This means that while customers might not be familiar with WooCommerce, they have almost certainly encountered WordPress storefronts, blogs, business web pages, and many other sites. The ability to integrate seamlessly into WordPress sites offers a particular advantage to businesses that already use WordPress for their business blog or website. With so many commercial websites already hosted by WordPress, it makes sense for businesses to add the WooCommerce plugin rather than working with a separate eCommerce platform.
This does not mean that you have to use WordPress web hosting in order to use WooCommerce. As we’ll discuss later, other hosting companies are available. However, the association with WordPress has been instrumental in the rapid growth in WooCommerce’s popularity.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: A Point-By-Point Comparison
Requirements to set up an account
Shopify offers a 14-day free trial that you can start with your email address and credit card. You can then select a pricing plan and develop your online storefront. Shopify has a handy checklist for anyone opening a new Shopify online store.
For WooCommerce, start-up depends on whether you have a WordPress business or eCommerce plan. If you do, then adding the plugin is as simple as navigating to the plugins section and installing WooCommerce. If you do not, you will have to get a WordPress plan or set up a site with a web hosting company compatible with WooCommerce.
Once you have installed the plugin, you simply run the setup wizard. This will take you through the store profiler that asks you questions about your online store. As described in this WooCommerce guide, the setup wizard allows you to install extensions and set up your financial system, tax, and business elements of the storefront.
The ease of setting up an eCommerce platform depends on what you already have. Shopify offers the easiest setup process for business owners without an existing WordPress account because it includes hosting. However, for business owners who already use WordPress for hosting, the setup wizard is relatively straightforward.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: eCommerce tools
An eCommerce platform would not be successful if it could not handle secure financial transactions. Both Shopify and WooCommerce accept credit card payments along with other methods such as PayPal and Amazon Pay. Business owners can use over 100 third-party gateways as well to receive funds.
Shopify only allows currency selection for Shopify payments, and users cannot select currencies for third-party payment gateways. Users can use automated currency conversion or set international pricing depending on the plan. WooCommerce sells a currency converter extension, and third-party free/freemium currency conversion plugins are also available.
eCommerce is about more than just credit card or PayPal transactions. Both WordPress and Shopify brand themselves as providing comprehensive support for businesses, so it is fair to ask which of these companies does the best at living up to that standard.
Both WordPress and Shopify offer SEO tools, blog generation tools, and software to analyze web traffic. Both platforms also offer options for connecting sites to social media platforms.
Shopify offers over 1,300 apps, including over 100 social media marketing apps, SEO apps, marketing analytics apps, and email marketing apps. WordPress also has a range of marketing apps.
Neither platform has a shortage of helpful add-ons for any small business. However, one crucial difference between Shopify and WooCommerce influences the range and type of software available: WooCommerce itself is open-source software, while Shopify is closed source.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Open vs. Closed Source
WooCommerce is open-source, which means that the computer code that runs the software is openly available. Developers who work with WooCommerce can more easily integrate it with WooCommerce software. Open-source software has the following advantages:
- More software add-ons and related programs. A community of developers can create software that builds on WooCommerce, with hundreds of extensions available.
- More customization. Having access to the code means programmers aren’t limited to the changes that the software developers decide to allow.
- Often tighter security. This could seem counter-intuitive because the code is openly available. However, the community can find bugs and vulnerabilities, often faster than the company’s programmers can.
Users can find questions to their answers easily since the open-source community is highly active and helpful, eliminating the need to wait for customer service to assist. But there are also some downsides to open-source software:
- All that customization takes a bit of work. Prepackaged software from a company can sometimes be simpler than open-source software. With WooCommerce, you’ll have more to keep track of.
- Keeping your software up to date can take more work. Many people scattered around the world might be developing extensions, plugins, or updates.
- It might be harder to find support if the software is developed by a community rather than a single vendor.
Using a web design service could give you the best of both worlds. Their team will find the updates and extensions you need, allowing you to receive the benefits of open-source software without having to worry about the details.
Connective Web Design specializes in working with WordPress and WooCommerce, and we understand the WooCommerce development community. To find WooCommerce software that is perfect for your business, schedule a consultation with us today.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Web Hosting
One difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is their relationship to web hosting. When you start a website, the website runs on a server (a computer) owned by the hosting company. Some companies offer free web hosting, while others charge for the service. Web hosting companies, including Shopify, typically include website builders to help users design and customize their sites.
Shopify is a hosted platform, meaning that its clients’ websites are run on Shopify servers. This can make things simpler for business owners because they only have to deal with one company for hosting and eCommerce, but business owners are limited to what Shopify has to offer.
Shopify sites offer unlimited bandwidth, sales channels, finance reports, fraud protection, and other useful features. Its 1.7 million clients are proof that Shopify’s websites are more than adequate for successful eCommerce. However, it has to be a Shopify website. The client isn’t free to shop around for other hosting options and still use the Shopify eCommerce platform.
WooCommerce is a plugin developed for WordPress, but it is not itself a hosting service. This means that its users are not required to have their website run on WordPress servers. Many website hosting companies, such as BlueHost and GoDaddy, have plans that are compatible with the WooCommerce plugin.
WooCommerce gives businesses more options. They can use WordPress hosting, which ensures compatibility, and also explore other hosting options. Since each hosting provider offers different features and pricing, business owners have more choices and are more likely to find one that is a perfect fit for their business.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Cost
According to Shopify’s pricing page, Shopify operates according to a subscription model, offering plans ranging from $29 to $299. The more expensive plans allow for more staff accounts and more locations. Users can reduce the cost by purchasing a 1-year or 2-year plan. Transaction fees apply if commerce is run on an outside site but not if customers run their site through Shopify.
WooCommerce does not have a monthly fee, but there are other costs. WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, and in order to use WordPress plugins, a business owner must have a WordPress Business account ($25/month), a WordPress eCommerce account ($45/month), or web hosting with another company that offers the WooCommerce plugin. WordPress also charges transaction fees of 2.9% + 30 cents for each transaction.
In short, Shopify and WooCommerce have different ways of raising revenue. For business owners who already pay for a WordPress site, adding eCommerce does not necessarily entail any additional costs beyond transaction fees. Other services, such as shipping and some web security and SEO plans, cost extra.
For businesses not already using a WordPress site, particularly those with narrow profit margins, it might make sense to go with Shopify to avoid transaction fees.
Both Shopify and WooCommerce both offer additional features, such as basic SEO, at no extra costs. Many of WordPress’s features take the form of additional plugins that are free with the Business or eCommerce plans.
Is WooCommerce Really Free?
The WooCommerce plugin is described as free (as opposed to freemium) because the plugin itself is fully functional and does not itself cost money. However, it is only “free” if you are already paying for a web domain and WordPress web hosting plan.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Migration
Once you choose WooCommerce or Shopify, you are not locked into that eCommerce platform for life. Both Shopify and WooCommerce have support for business owners looking to migrate to their service. In both cases, the migration process involves moving data securely onto the new company’s servers. Both companies, unsurprisingly, will guide you through the migration from your competitor. Third-party services can take care of the process for you as well.
If you are unhappy with your current eCommerce platform, now might be the time to consider switching services.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Integrating eCommerce Into Your Web Design
Once you’ve decided to use Shopify, WooCommerce, or any of the other eCommerce platforms for your business, the next step is to plan your eCommerce store so that it aligns with your brand, your marketing plan, your customer’s expectations, and the rest of your website.
Store Customization in Shopify
Shopify offers free and paid templates designed for different types of retail, such as jewelry stores and clothing stores. Once you have picked a theme, you can then customize it using Shopify’s interface or use HTML and CSS code. Shopify’s language, Liquid, is designed to be easy to use for business owners who are not experienced programmers.
The Shopify app store offers many apps to carry out functions related to eCommerce, such as shipping, analytics, taxes, and accounting, and these apps are organized into collections. One collection, entitled launching your store, might be of particular interest to new business owners.
Store Customization in WooCommerce
The WooCommerce theme store features free and paid themes in its store. WooCommerce extensions make it easier to expand the functionality of the store and connect it to the rest of your business operations. At the time of this writing, there were 576 extensions, 31 of them free, available in the WooCommerce extension store. The extensions help with payment, taxes, shipping, analytics, and other eCommerce tasks.
Due to WooCommerce’s open-source design, developers can easily design and sell themes, with thousands of WooCommerce themes available online. Shopify’s theme store offers 9 free themes and 64 paid themes. Third-party websites also provide a variety of Shopify themes and templates.
Both Shopify and WooCommerce offer ways to customize your storefront and enhance it with apps and extensions. WooCommerce offers a broader range of options, but they might be daunting for a new business owner with limited technical knowledge.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: eCommerce on Mobile Apps
Customers are increasingly likely to use their smartphones for eCommerce. A website that looks great on a desktop or laptop but is clunky or hard to use on a phone is likely to turn off a large number of customers.
Shopify and WooCommerce offer responsive themes that adapt to the dimensions of mobile phones. The WooCommerce website also has blog posts on mobile eCommerce and boosting mobile sales. While neither platform has the edge for mobile apps, it is important to consider whether your eCommerce site is mobile-friendly. WooCommerce’s greater customization could make it more likely that you find the perfect look for your website in all formats.
WooCommerce vs. Shopify: Which Is Better?
There is no single answer to this question. CNET, a leader in technical product reviews, rated Shopify as best for eCommerce and WordPress for authors and bloggers, but the truth is likely more complicated than that. WordPress and WooCommerce require a bit more work to set up and maintain, while Shopify is more straightforward but offers less customization.
Both Shopify and WooCommerce have the features and capabilities that business owners need to set up a storefront and support their business operations with apps and add-ons. While the sites differ in their pricing structure, there does not seem to be a clear winner in terms of cost. Each option could cost a few hundred dollars to start up, depending on how many extras your business needs.
The most apparent differences between the two platforms are the level of customization and the amount of work and technical knowledge required to set up and maintain a storefront. Shopify makes things simpler and does more of the work for you, but it is not as easy to customize your storefront.
WooCommerce offers more of a do-it-yourself experience, allowing store owners to take control of the design and development process. However, the price of this control is the responsibility of setting up a site compatible with the WooCommerce plugin, fleshing out that site, and keeping the site updated and secure.
Choosing WordPress could offer you the opportunity to make your checkout experience unique and tailored to your consumer’s needs. Shopify offers more support and simplicity, which could be ideal for business owners with less computer know-how or less interest in customization.
The choice between Shopify and WooCommerce ultimately comes down to simplicity and ease of use versus customization and control. Business owners who are contemplating either platform should consider how much time they want to devote to the technical side of things and whether they can live with Shopify’s more limited customization capabilities.
Shopify makes that trade-off as part of its branding. In a blog post on Shopify’s website, Alexander Sheehan writes, “Shopify is made for entrepreneurs who want to build and sell, not manage an ever-growing list of tools.”
Shopify offers simplicity and fewer distractions, while WordPress offers an expanded toolkit and greater customization.
One resource to consider when contemplating Shopify and WooCommerce is the experience of online users who have switched from one platform to another.
Check out the experience of Elisabeth Steiger, who moved her store to WordPress (using WooCommerce) from Shopify. Shopify’s 24-hour customer service and simplicity initially attracted her to Shopify. However, she ended up being dissatisfied with their customer support and felt that the subscription plus transaction fees were imposing too high a cost.
Shopify’s website features testimonials from clients who switched from WooCommerce. The troubles that these business owners report include sluggish WooCommerce sites and a lack of customer support when things go wrong.
Evaluating these experiences, the best advice for business owners is to answer these two questions:
- Do I need control over the technical aspects of how my online store operates?
- Am I willing and able to assume responsibility for keeping the site running smoothly?
What if, like many business owners, you want control over the design of your online store without having to micromanage every detail? Connective Web Design can help.
WooCommerce and Professional Web Design: Best of Both Worlds?
Are you considering WooCommerce because of its flexibility but worried about the technical aspects of eCommerce? Hiring a professional website developer could create a website tailored to your needs without getting lost in the details. A professional web designer should be able to understand your vision for your eCommerce website and how to use web tools effectively to bring them to life.
Connective Web Design offers a range of web development and marketing services, including WordPress web development. They have years of experience using WordPress for web design dating back to the initial launch of WooCommerce. By specializing in WordPress, they have developed extensive knowledge of WooCommerce features and capabilities.
A picture is worth a thousand words. To visualize how WooCommerce can create a compelling, unique storefront, check out these examples of innovative online stores from WooCommerce and browse through Connective Web Design’s portfolio of sites. If any of these sites inspire you, you can work with a Connective Web Design consultant to use it as a starting point for creating your own site.
If you have a unique concept for your website and online store, Connective Web Design can develop an integrated website and marketing plan. You can have all of the benefits without any of the drawbacks:
- Effective use of WooCommerce and WordPress features
- Smoothly-running extensions and plugins
- Responsive websites that are user-friendly on laptops and mobile devices
- Attentive and reliable customer support
We do more than eCommerce. Connective Web Design can support other aspects of your business and marketing plan, such as logo design and social media marketing. Contact Connective Web Design at (818)570-5620 to schedule a free consultation today.