eCommerce Website Builder Showdown: Shopify vs. Squarespace

Matt Ellis
Matt Ellis / Published July 22, 2019

With the availability of eCommerce website builders, it's easy to open an online store. And while Shopify has long been a popular go-to for DIY eCommerce, Squarespace is coming up strong as a notable contender.

We've looked at how Shopify compares to WooCommerce, but how does it compare to Squarespace—a website builder for all types, not just eCommerce? In this guide, we take a close look at the differences between Squarespace and Shopify, so you can decide which is best for your online store.

Common Features and What We Looked For

Shopify and Squarespace both offer the same service: a template-style DIY site builder for people who want to avoid hiring a web designer (or web designers looking for something quick and simple). The most obvious difference, though, is that Shopify is limited to only eCommerce, while Squarespace lets users build whatever site they want, eCommerce or not.

Does that make Shopify better for building an online store? In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no. It's easier to build an eCommerce site on Shopify, but Squarespace offers features for non-eCommerce sites that can benefit an online store just as well—or even more.

To help you figure out which platform will work best for you, we'll compare Shopify and Squarespace across the following areas:

You can jump straight to the areas you're most interested in, or take a look at our complete comparison table at the end.

Design Customization

Both platforms have an easy-to-use interface, but Squarespace offers more sophisticated and diverse templates with more customization options

Simplicity is part of Shopify's branding—they market themselves as the user-friendly, effortless choice for site builders. And they live up to that promise, almost too well; aside from choosing the basics, there are fewer customization options available.

Squarespace, on the other hand, touts its design diversity as one of its strongest selling points. With elements from all kinds of websites, users can mix and match to create something uniquely theirs, even if they don't want it to look like an eCommerce store.

In terms of usability, the two are relatively comparable. Squarespace and Shopify are aimed at users with little or no design experience, so they both employ straightforward controls. Squarespace can be more involved at times with its extensive options and drag-and-drop functionality.

Squarespace user interface

Shopify sticks to more basic form fields and click-to-change functionality.

Shopfy's click-to-change functionality

Shopify does allow dragging and dropping entire sections, but not so much with individual elements within a section. Things like product pictures and text blocks are usually fixed, defined by the theme you've chosen. In fact, with Shopify, most of your design decisions are made the second you choose your theme—a blessing for those that want easy and fast design, a curse for those that want personalization.

By the numbers, Shopify offers around 72 themes, while Squarespace has around 110 templates, according to WebsiteToolTester. Although only a portion of Squarespace's templates fall under the category of Online Store, you can still turn any template from any category into an eCommerce site by adding product pages and a checkout.

Aside from having more templates to choose from, Squarespace gives users more control over design elements. Both platforms allow users to add new elements and rearrange existing ones, but Squarespace gives users more flexibility in what kinds of elements and where you add them.

Let's say you want to get creative with where you place your logo. In Squarespace, you can place it almost anywhere you want, whereas in Shopify you can only place it where your theme allows. Overall, Squarespace also offers more design options than Shopify: adding filters to images, more text options, and animated transitions, to name a few.

Squarespace add product screenshot

Shopify has a rather rigid structure. But while it limits personalization, it does ensure your site looks professional and safeguards against poor design choices.

Shopify Add Product screenshot

So, in a nutshell, if customization, aesthetic branding, and creativity are a top priority, Squarespace offers more options. But if your take on design is "as long as it works," Shopify will make your work easier.

eCommerce Features

Because Shopify specializes in eCommerce, it offers more and better features specific to your online store

Squarespace may be more advanced when it comes to design and customization, but Shopify comes out ahead with eCommerce features. Shopify is, after all, intended for online stores, while Squarespace has to cater to all kinds of sites.

While both provide the essentials like product variants, SKUs, gift cards, and automatic inventory tracking, Shopify goes above and beyond. Even basic eCommerce features like reviews and ratings aren't native to Squarespace—you have to use a third-party integration to add them.

Specifically, here's what you can do with Shopify that you can't do on Squarespace:

  • Point-of-sale add-ons for iOS devices
  • Easy incorporation of dropshipping (via Oberlo app)
  • Automated EU VAT calculations
  • Harmonized system code for international deliveries
  • A lot more payment gateways, as discussed below

However, this has just as much to do with third-party apps as it does with the platforms itself. Shopify has a robust community of third-party app developers, and because it's an eCommerce platform, most of those apps deal with eCommerce features.

Squarespace has a smaller market for third-party apps and integrations, and those that are available deal with all aspects of web design, not just eCommerce. For example, Shopify has apps for upselling and reward points, where Squarespace doesn't.

So veteran eCommerce brands might feel more comfortable with Shopify's suite of options—and frustrated by their absence in Squarespace. But Squarespace has all the essentials you need to run an online store, so it depends how complex your marketing strategies are.

Payment Gateways

Shopify offers hundreds of payment gateway options, compared to only two at Squarespace

If you're planning on expanding your eCommerce business internationally, you have to take payment gateways seriously. The main payment type that works in one place might be unheard of—or even illegal—in the country you're branching out into. Shopify, always catering to eCommerce needs, accepts payment gateways from all over the world: You can even browse options by country.

Shopify payment gateways screenshot

By contrast, Squarespace only offers two gateway options: Stripe and PayPal. While they're both available internationally (and you can use them concurrently), you're still limited to only the countries they operate in, and only the people within those countries that are registered users.

But there's a caveat: Shopify's extra gateways come at a cost—between 0.5% and 2% per sale to be exact, depending on your plan. Shopify encourages users to use its own platform, Shopify Payments, and penalizes all other gateways with an additional fee on top of the actual processing fee. We'll cover pricing more thoroughly in its own section, but it's worth mentioning here that Squarespace's two Commerce plans have no transaction fee, so you only pay the gateway fee. That means if you can do everything on PayPal or Stripe, you'd save more money on Squarespace.

On the other hand, if your business model requires selling in a geographic area outside of PayPal's and Stripe's territory, Shopify isn't just recommended, it's necessary.

Digital Marketing

Shopify and Squarespace both have options for email campaigns, SEO, blogging, and social media, but they address them differently

No online store is an island: Successful eCommerce requires both inbound and outbound marketing. While these digital marketing efforts can be done independently of your site platform, any built-in features are always welcome.

Email campaigns

Squarespace offers its own robust email campaign service, but Shopify offers a variety of third-party email marketing apps for integration.

The Squarespace Email Campaign gives emails the same treatment as it does for websites. You have a lush visual editor capable of making interactive emails that link to specific product pages, with the same user-friendly interface that appeals to amateur designers. This is a separate service, however, and prices range from $5 to $48 per month, depending on how many emails and campaigns you want to send.

Rather than offering its own separate service, Shopify leaves it in the hands of third-party apps. That means you can specialize your email campaign based on your priorities—some apps can save you time or money, while other apps offer higher-quality emails.

If neither of these appeals to you, you can integrate either platform with Zapier, connecting Shopify and Squarespace to dozens of different email marketing apps. Here are a few examples of workflows you might set up:

SEO

Neither Squarespace nor Shopify offers extras to further your SEO efforts. Both allow blogs, which are a great tool for SEO, and both allow you to edit metadata and write your own copy, but your SEO will depend less on the systems and more on how you use them. That said, Shopify does include some SEO extensions that give you keyword suggestions when writing your site copy. These can be a huge help even to SEO experts as a quick reference guide.

Squarespace, however, offers internal analytics that reveal data on your traffic sources and keyword searches. Those kind of reports are not intrinsically available on Shopify. However, Shopify does offer a few different eCommerce-specific analytics that Squarespace does not (average order value, online store conversion rate, sales by traffic source, and more).

Blogging

Shopify offers the bare essentials for blogging, but it's clear they don't prioritize it highly. You can write and post with a standard text editor, but not much else aside from that.

Shopify blog editor screenshot

Squarespace, on the other hand, offers extra perks, including archiving, analytics, and blog-only searches. Keep in mind that Squarespace is built to handle any site, including blogs. Online stores can take advantage of that flexibility to give their sites non-eCommerce features like an above-average blog.

Squarespace blog editor

Social media

As with payment gateways, Shopify runs circles around Squarespace in its variety of social media integrations: With Shopify, you can sell on Instagram, Facebook, Google Shopping, eBay, and more. On Squarespace, you only have the option of selling on Instagram.

Pricing

Squarespace is generally less expensive, but that's because it has fewer eCommerce features

When comparing the prices of Squarespace vs. Shopify, you need to look beyond the platform prices and also consider the transaction fees. Paying more in monthly costs may ultimately save you more in per-sale fees.

Squarespace is generally cheaper, with a business plan starting at $18/month (with an extra 3% transaction fee), and the more advanced eCommerce plans at $26/month and $46/month. That's compared to Shopify's plans, which start at $29/month, or $79 or $299/month for the more advanced plans. Shopify also charges between 0.5% and 2% fees on top of the gateway fees if you don't use its built-in gateway. Of course, you're getting way more eCommerce features with Shopify, so you're paying for functionality.

Shopify accounts may also qualify for a shipping discount when using USPS, UPS, or DHL Express. A lot of factors go into calculating the shipping discount, but you can estimate the cost and discount using the Shopify Shipping Calculator.

How exactly credit card rates, third-party gateway fees, and shipping discounts fit into your business model will determine whether or not a Shopify account is economically viable and which pricing plan will yield the best results. Crunch the numbers beforehand to find out not just which platform to use, but which account type to sign up for.

Squarespace vs. Shopify: Which App Should You Use?

The better you understand your business model, the more appropriately you'll be able to choose between Shopify and Squarespace.

How important to you is brand aesthetic? If it's crucial, Squarespace can give your site the ideal look that clicks with your customers. Shopify, however, is worlds ahead when it comes to payment gateway options. Take a look at the quick reference chart below to see which platform performs the best in your top priority areas.

SquaresapceShopify
Design customizationPlenty of customization options for making creative and unique sitesStandard cookie-cutter templates with little deviation, but they're reliable
eCommerce featuresOffers the essentials, with everything you need to run a successful, albeit basic, online storeThe essentials and then some, accommodating more advanced sales strategies
Payment gatewaysOffers only PayPal and Stripe, with no extra transaction fee if you have a Commerce accountOffers hundreds of gateways, especially useful in selling internationally, but with a transaction fee on all but Shopify Payments
Digital marketingGreat for internal blogs, but lacking in social media selling; offers a separate, paid email marketing serviceFacilitates selling on social media. Also offers some third-party apps for SEO and email marketing
PricingGenerally cheaper than Shopify, and without transaction fees; fewer perks. Generally more expensive monthly fees, on top of transaction fees, but with more benefits

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