WordPress has been the dominant website CMS platform now for many years, but one area where competitors have gained serious traction is with online stores.
In the early days of WordPress, the platform was primarily known as a popular content management system (CMS) for creating blogs and websites. While it had some ecommerce capabilities through plugins and themes, it was not as widely used for dedicated ecommerce sites as it is today.
Back then WooThemes was predominantly known as a provider of nice looking WordPress themes, but in 2011 they launched WooCommerce. WooCommerce emerged as the leading choice for most people wanting to build an ecommerce site on WordPress and in 2015 WooThemes was acquired by WordPress parent company Automattic.
By that time Shopify had burst onto the scene and captured around 5% of the marketshare for ecommerce sites so WordPress had their hands full keeping these sites on the platform. Bringing it in house turned out to be the right call because while Shopify’s market share has continued to grow (11% in 2023), WooCommerce has also exploded. WooCommerce now powers a quarter of all ecommerce websites.
So how do you decide what is right for you?
The main difference between Shopify and WooCommerce
Let’s start with understanding the main difference between the 2 platforms.
Shopify is a hosted platform, which means that Shopify takes care of all of the technical aspects of running an e-commerce store. This includes hosting, security, and maintenance. With Shopify you never see any code, everyone is essentially running the same code. They are the iOS (Apple) of ecommerce stores if you like.
WooCommerce is a self-hosted platform, which means that you are responsible for hosting, security, and maintenance. WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, so you will need to have a WordPress website in order to use WooCommerce. WooCommerce offers a wide range of features, but you will need to install and configure them yourself (or have a developer or support provider do it). With WooCommerce the code you install is standardised, but once you have it on your server it’s a totally stand alone code base. This can be a good or a bad thing. In that sense it’s a bit more like Android compared to iOS.
What’s good about Shopify?
Shopify is a great tool, I’m not going to convince you it’s not. Having a centralised hosted platform means you don’t need to worry about the site breaking with plugin updates, or slow code, or the site getting hacked. All of that is taken care of and that enables you to get on with running your business. That’s a great thing.
Shopify also has loads of features right out of the box. Some of the best online stores in the world run on the platform and they’ve built in best practices into the standard feature set.
Shopify is an all in one solution. That means they provide a suite of features and tools needed to run an online store including built-in hosting, secure payment processing, inventory management, order fulfilment, marketing tools, and more. This all-in-one approach saves you the hassle of integrating multiple third-party services. Big plus!
Being a hosted platform means it can scale to however big your business gets. It’s also simple to use and quick to set up, plus they have in-house support to help you with your site. That’s a big plus. WordPress support is great but it’s a wide ecosystem and can be daunting to navigate.
What’s not so good about Shopify?
Shopify isn’t super cheap. They charge a monthly fee and a transaction fee for sales. WooCommerce is open source and essentially free (although supporting services and plugins cost money, so you have to weigh that up). For a decent size business with multiple staff and all the features, Shopify can get pretty pricey.
If the feature you are looking for doesn’t exist in Shopify you can’t do it. The best thing about WordPress or any open source system is you can do whatever you want with them. While there are lots of add ons available for Shopify, you’d want to be 100% confident that it works the exact way you want it to before you sign up. If your needs are slightly off centre, WooCommerce would be a better option.
Shopify is only for ecommerce sites so if you want a traditional site with pages and posts or various other features, then you will likely have 2 websites – one for ecommerce and one for the rest of your needs. This may not be ideal for a few reasons. Firstly it’s kind of annoying to have to manage 2 seperate websites and secondly for SEO generally you’d want to have all of your stuff in the one place (although there could be debates either way on that one).
Obviously having all of your IP on someone else’s server is also a risk. Shopify is a super solid company so it’s probably not a huge risk, but some people like to have full control and know that if anything changes, they can just move their site somewhere else.
While Shopify has loads of inbuilt features and also a great range of over 8,000 apps to extend the platform, it’s still probably not as extensive as what’s available in a WordPress site. Pretty much anything you want to do on a website you can do with WordPress. Although the flipside of that is being a closed platform you’d expect the app quality to be higher. Again much like comparing the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Google has 3 times as many apps, but Apple apps are more reliable and better quality as a general rule.
What’s good about WooCommerce
WooCommerce is fully open source which means you essentially own your own codebase and you can do what you want with it. WooCommerce is part of WordPress which means it taps into the biggest website support ecosystem in the world.
Being part of WordPress means you only need one site, and it can do everything.
That also means you need to be on top of all the various issues you can run into with your own hosted site including hosting issues, support, security, upgrades etc. Good for some, maybe too much of a headache for others.
WooCommerce is essentially free, with extensions sometimes being paid and sometimes being free. But they are generally quite cheap and either one off costs or lower price annual subscriptions. You can use whatever payment or shipping providers you like, and you don’t pay WooCommerce any transaction fees.
Because it’s open source and you run the code, you can do pretty much whatever you want with a WordPress / WooCommerce site.
What’s not so good about WooCommerce?
Speed is very important with ecommerce sites, and WordPress with all its plugins and extensions can get slow particularly if the person running the site hasn’t given this consideration when they’ve set it up. Slower sites mean less sales in ecommerce sites.
Security is super important with ecommerce sites and while WordPress or WooCommerce isn’t unsafe, there are things you need to be on top of to keep your site secure. So if you don’t want that hassle, you might prefer Shopify.
WooCommerce is a bit of a beast, I wouldn’t’ say it’s super easy to use. If you are looking for something simple, Shopify might be a better option.
If Shopify has the features you want and you want simplicity it could be the right choice for you. If you want all of your content in the one place with full control, and you don’t mind a bit of extra effort in administering the site, WooCommerce is the way to go.