If you’re looking to start your own online store, shop or dropshipping business, one of the many decisions you’ll have to make is which eCommerce platform to use.
Thankfully, that’s less daunting than it might sound. The platform is the software that will power your shop, and is what you will use to add products, process orders and edit the content of your store’s static pages (think About Us pages, FAQs and so on).
Your customers likely won’t care about what platform you’re using, as long as it works and is easy to use, but for you as a store owner it’ll be one of the most important decisions you make. It’s a tricky and time-consuming process to switch from one platform to another once your site is up and running, so take some time to familiarise yourself with the differences between them before you make a decision.
There are countless platforms available, many of which are designed for ‘enterprise’ users, i.e. the biggest of the big shops, and cost thousands of dollars a month. However, the days of needing to spend thousands of dollars to get your store up and running are long behind us, and it’s now possible to get your online shop up and running for a matter of dollars a month while still getting much of the same functionality used by massive sites like Amazon and Walmart.
Two of the easiest ways to get started with an online store are by using Shopify and WooCommerce. Both are beginner-friendly, while also offering a high degree of customization for medium-skilled and advanced users.
Whether you choose to do everything yourself, or plan on working with a developer to get your site off the ground, both platforms will give you a strong starting point for creating a successful online eCommerce business.
Without a doubt, Shopify is the easiest way to get an online store up and running in minutes. You can get the whole thing built without needing to write a line of code, worry about choosing a hosting company, or concern yourself with what a payment platform is!
It comes with a very user-friendly interface, and it will talk you through the whole process from start to finish. What’s more, Shopify comes with 24/7 support included with all of its packages, so they’re just a few clicks or a phone call away if you ever get stuck.
- Easy to set up – There’s no need to worry about setting up your own hosting, as Shopify deals with all of this itself. Just provide your name, store name, credit card details, and within a matter of moments your site is set up!
- Fully hosted – Most of the time, when you’re setting up your own website, the first thing you have to do is choose a hosting company. Then, you need to install the software to power the website – such as WordPress or Drupal. While many hosts make this as easy as possible, so as to not put off non-technical users, you still need to have your wits about you.With Shopify, you don’t need to worry about any of this. Your site is hosted on Shopify’s own servers, and setting up your site is as simple as choosing a domain (e.g. www.mystore.com), choosing your site name and selecting from their pre-built themes/designs.
- Support – Even on Shopify’s cheapest package, you’ve got access to their 24/7 support team to help you out with any problems.
- Hundreds of themes to choose from – While you can pay a designer/developer to create you a theme from scratch, the easiest way to get started is by choosing from one of the hundreds of themes in Shopify’s theme library.Shopify offers hundreds of free and paid themes, which can be applied to your store in a matter of clicks, giving you an attractive design and layout without you having to write a line of code or open Photoshop.While you may worry that choosing an off-the-shelf theme means that you’ll be sharing the same design as hundreds of other sites across the web, don’t worry: once you’ve selected a theme, you can then fully customize the design to fit your brand. Most themes offer a high degree of customization, from adding in a logo and changing the colour scheme and fonts, to adding in sliders, videos, and adding or removing sidebars, to make your theme unique.
- Very little complexity – WooCommerce is built upon WordPress, a content management system, so comes with all of the added features that WordPress brings. While this has its advantages, it also means there are a lot of unnecessary screens you’ll never have to go into.With Shopify, it’s designed to power online shops, and that’s all it does. This single focus means that there’s nothing getting in the way.
- Apps can be costly – While Shopify itself is very cheap, their additional apps (or ‘plugins’ if you’re used to WordPress terminology) often aren’t.There are plenty of free apps, but if you want to add 5 different pieces of functionality, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay a monthly fee for at least a couple of them. As your store and your desire for more complex functionality grows, you may well find yourself forking out a fairly hefty amount on monthly app subscriptions.However, on the plus side, the costs for these Apps will probably be far less than you’d pay if you wanted a developer to create this functionality from scratch! Plus for a basic store, there’s no need for additional Apps, as Shopify can do everything you’d expect a shop to do straight out of the box.
- Limited Content Management System (CMS) functionality – Shopify is great at handling the ‘shop’ side of the site, i.e. the layout of your product pages, category pages, cart, etc, and gives you a whole host of customization options to make sure your unique. However, it’s let down a bit when it comes to creating other pages.For example, if you want a beautiful About Us page that showcases your brand values, or a custom landing page for a new promotion, you’ll struggle to really get the creative juices flowing without resorting to custom-building the layout in HTML.Their page editor allows you to add titles, images and lists, but that’s about it.
- More restrictions on developers – While it’s technically possible for a developer to create completely bespoke functionality for your Shopify store, it’s not as easy as with WooCommerce.Developers can customize your theme to their heart’s content, but to add new functionality they’ll need to make a Shopify app, which isn’t a simple task – and even then, they have to hope that Shopify allows them to access the part of their system that they need to. With WooCommerce, as it’s an open source platform, in theory anything can be done!
- Slightly more expensive – Shopify starts from $29 / month, which is the amount you’ll pay just to have your store online in the first place, even before you make any sales. While this is a low barrier to entry for most store owners, if you’re just starting out then it’s still another cost eating into your valuable profit.
WooCommerce is a feature-packed plugin that sits on top of WordPress, one of the most popular content management systems in the world.
- The power of WordPress – As WooCommerce is built on top of WordPress, it comes with all of the features that have made WordPress the world’s top content management system.As WordPress is primarily designed for content, it’s easy to create more complex page layouts, use custom fields, and add a whole host of features outside of a basic shop.
- Hundreds of themes to choose from – Just like with Shopify, the basic layout of your shop is powered by a theme. This can be an entirely bespoke, custom-built theme created for you by a developer, or it can be an “off-the-shelf” theme, pre-built and available from WooCommerce’s theme library.WooCommerce offers hundreds if not thousands of free themes, and just as many paid themes, allowing you to pick a design for your store in minutes.As with Shopify, you’ve selected a theme, you can then fully customize the design to fit your brand. Most themes offer a high degree of customization, from adding in a logo and changing the colour scheme and fonts, to adding in sliders, videos, and adding or removing sidebars, to make your theme unique.
- More flexibility for developers – As an open source platform, WooCommerce essentially allows you to build whatever functionality you’d like on top of the standard store.
- Free (+ hosting)! – While one of the downsides of WooCommerce is that you will need to purchase your own hosting package and install WordPress and WooCommerce yourself (which is easier than it sounds! Check out our guide here!), the plus side of this is that WooCommerce itself is completely free!Your hosting can cost you as little as $x dollars a month, meaning this is all you will have to pay to get your site up and running. Your payment platform will likely take a small fee for handling each transaction, but you’ll get that regardless of the platform you go for. So if you’re a small shop looking to keep costs down, then WooCommerce is definitely the way to go!
- More technical knowledge needed – Although it’s easy to set up a WooCommerce site with no technical knowledge, you’ll likely hit a few technical hurdles as your site grows.If you get to the point where you’re getting thousands of views a day, your site may slow down if you’re not on a good enough hosting package, and if you want to switch to a more powerful host then you’ll likely need some technical help to get this done.
- No built-in payment platform – If you’re building an online store, it’s likely you will want to accept credit / debit card payments. Shopify has its own built-in system for dealing with this – Shopify Payments – so you don’t need to sign up and integrate with a third party service and can begin taking credit card payments right away.With WooCommerce, there’s no built-in system. As such, you will need to use a 3rd party payment platform. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of these around, and they’re pretty easy to set up – PayPal and Stripe are two of the most well-known and easiest to set up, while WorldPay is designed for larger shops with more custom requirements.
We use both Shopify and WooCommerce for client sites, and love both of them. They both have a very low learning curve for shop owners, and both offer a high degree of customization for stores with ambition to grow in the future.
If you’re looking to get up and running in the quickest time possible, we’d definitely recommend Shopify. It’s the least technical of the two options, and you’ll get your hand held as you set up your shop.
However, if you’re happy to put in a bit more effort in getting the store up and running, then WooCommerce will give you more flexibility in the long run. It’s a fully open source platform, so if you want to work with a developer in the future then they’ll have the ability to add new functionality without being held back by Shopify’s restrictions.
Which is your favourite of the two platforms? Are there any advantages or disadvantages we’ve missed? Let us know below.
Disclaimer: We use both Shopify and WooCommerce on client websites, and love them both. The opinions we’ve given above are our genuine opinions, based on years of experience using both platforms. We are members of the Shopify affiliate scheme, so may receive a payment for referring you if you click on one of the links in this article and purchase a Shopify subscription. You will not be charged any extra for using one of these links.