eCommerce Website Builder Showdown: WooCommerce vs. Shopify

Matt Ellis
Matt Ellis / Published February 8, 2019

If you were opening a brick-and-mortar store, where would you do it? Would you pay extra for a high-traffic location, or opt for a cheaper neighborhood and focus more on customer relations?

Even when they exist exclusively online, stores still face similar choices. Factors like overhead costs, customization options, lead generation, and resource allocation all determine which eCommerce website builder will work best for you.

For most eCommerce companies, that choice is between WooCommerce and Shopify. Both come with everything you need to build and maintain an online store, regardless of your industry or technical skill level. So which platform better suits your online store? Here, we'll compare WooCommerce and Shopify to help you make that choice.

Common Features and What We Looked For

WooCommerce and Shopify both allow you to build an online store with little-to-no web design know-how. If you can drag and drop on your computer, you can build an online store with these tools. They also take care of all of your other concerns, like security and payment gateways.

Despite their similarities, Shopify and WooCommerce take two different approaches to the same goal. Shopify is a self-hosted, all-inclusive platform, handling more of the behind-the-scenes details at the cost of customization. WooCommerce, on the other hand, is essentially an elaborate WordPress plugin that turns a WordPress site into a fully-functional online store.

Here, we'll compare the platforms based on the factors below. You can go straight to the areas you're interested in, or jump ahead to the end for our complete comparison table.

Ease of Use

Shopify is easier to use, but at the expense of customization.

Shopify and WooCommerce are popular because they're easy to use—objectively more user-friendly than building a site from scratch, no questions asked. But how do they compare head-to-head?

The short answer: Shopify is easier to use.

For starters, Shopify includes hosting in their packages, whereas WooCommerce requires you to set up WordPress hosting yourself. Because WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it's entirely dependent on their hosting model. While website hosting is (usually) a one-time step for starting an online store, it's still a difficult one with many decisions involved.

Beyond that, Shopify allows you to build a functioning online store in literal minutes by selecting a pre-built theme, filling in some text, and adding some images. Shopify markets its convenient, WYSIWYG website builder as "no design skill needed," and its themes come with dozens of preset options. Of course, this ease means less flexibility. For example, you can't put in images wherever you want—their location depends on the theme.

Shopify Website Builder Screenshot
Shopify's website editor

Adding and managing product pages uses the same templated, fill-in-the-blank style. Depending on the theme, you'll enter your product name, description, images, and possibly a few other elements to populate the preexisting format. You can also change data like prices (and "compare at prices"), category tags, SKUs, barcodes, shipping weight, tariff codes, tracking preferences, and stock quantity.

Shopify Product Page Designer
Shopify's product page editor

All this ease of use comes at the cost of customization options (which we'll discuss in the next section). Shopify's linear, "train-track" style of DIY designing leaves little room for personalization. WooCommerce is the opposite: not as easy to use, but with more options.

Right from the start, WooCommerce's setup wizard is more involved than Shopify's. You still have a lot of preset options to choose from—including preferences like currency and measurement units. But these out-of-the-box plans are pretty bland until you take advantage of WordPress's massive add-on library.

Screenshot of WooCommerce setup wizard
WooCommerce's setup wizard

Designing a WooCommerce site involves hunting down and implementing various elements yourself through add-ons. While that limits what WooCommerce can do alone, it gives users the option of choosing any WordPress plugin they want—and considering the size of the WordPress plugin library versus Shopify's app store, that means more creative options.

WooCommerce handles product pages similarly to Shopify, but it includes a few more options, like upsell and cross-sell linking. (For upsells in Shopify, you have to buy an extra add-on.)

Screenshot of WooCommerce Product Page template
WooCommerce's product page editor

To take full advantage of WooCommerce's customization, you will need some basic knowledge of how WordPress works. While WordPress, like Shopify, markets itself as a user-friendly website builder for non-experts, it can't compare with Shopify's simplicity.

Design and Customization Options

WooCommerce offers more design options and customization, at the expense of simplicity.

Shopify is easier to use, but WooCommerce has more design and customization options. To put it in perspective, Shopify offers 69 themes (and counting), whereas WordPress offers over 1,000 themes compatible with WooCommerce, and more than 50x as many plugins.

Shopify is lacking in customization—think of it as a paint-by-number website builder—but since its themes are professionally designed (and updated regularly), you have to go out of your way to make your Shopify site look bad. When it comes down to it, your theme will determine most of your design choices, so once you select that, the bulk of your customization is finished.

WooCommerce—or rather, WordPress—leaves more of the design process up to the user, for better or worse. When designing a WooCommerce site, you have to pore through WordPress's plugin library yourself for whatever features you want; for example, specialty social media icons or a Jump to the top button.

WordPress WooCommerce theme section
WooCommerce theme selection within WordPress

While WordPress themes still work on a template-style, they offer a wider array of options. Depending on which theme you choose, you can turn certain design options on or off to personalize your store and set it apart from others who are using the same theme. Most themes also allow greater control over layout and visuals, and you can always download extra plugins for even more granular control.

Screenshot of WordPress theme options
WooCommerce theme options in WordPress

While perfectionists and creative types might enjoy browsing and designing with WordPress/WooCommerce, it is time-consuming. There's also more of a dependence on design knowledge—meaning, you need to know what to look for to make your site look good. But the control you get will allow you to create an online store that's truly unique.

Accepting Payments

Both support third-party payment gateways, but Shopify also charges its own transaction fees.

Shopify and WooCommerce both work with standard payment methods like Stripe (which itself accommodates Apply Pay and Google Pay) and PayPal. If you plan on relying on those exclusively, both platforms are equal—until you start calculating transaction fees.

Shopify charges extra for these third-party gateways: a 2.0 percent transaction fee, to be exact. That's on top of the gateway's transaction fee, which means Shopify users have to pay twice for each transaction. Shopify's fee gets reduced to 0.5 percent if you sign up for Shopify Advanced, but that package costs $299 per month, so you're not necessarily saving money.

WooCommerce doesn't charge a transaction fee, but there can still be extra costs because you have a buy a third-party plugin for whichever gateway you choose. Sometimes they're free, but they can cost around $79 for a year-long subscription, plus a transaction fee.

Your best bet is to find out your target customers' preferred payment methods before choosing either Shopify or WooCommerce, and then calculate the exact cost of implementing them before making your selection.

SEO, Content Management, and Lead Capture

WooCommerce gives you more control of your site's marketing.

Lead generation and capture are crucial for eCommerce, and both Shopify and WooCommerce give you the tools to market your website and capture those leads.

Both platforms offer robust SEO tools. According to a study conducted by Personalization, Shopify and WooCommerce had the highest SEO scores for eCommerce website builders, with Shopify (98%) coming out a hair ahead of WooCommerce (97%).

Both sites leave SEO strategy largely up to the user, but they do both offer SEO plugins for additional guidance. Because Shopify is a self-hosted site, its SEO data is "cleaner" and tends to hold more weight with Google. But WordPress, the base for WooCommerce, is designed specifically for hosting blogs, so it offers more options for SEO-focused content marketing.

Managing blogs is exactly what WordPress was built to do. WordPress offers some advanced content management tools, like content versioning, which allows you to easily revert blogs back to previous versions, opening up some new doors for experimentation and A/B testing. Shopify's basic content editor with image and tagging capabilities is plenty for basic content marketing, but if blogging is at the core of your business, the control you'll get with WooCommerce is unmatched.

WooCommerce blog editor
WooCommerce blog editor

In thinking about lead gen and capture, you'll also want to consider features like form blocks, which let you easily grab users' contact info when they visit your site. Shopify offers the basic building blocks for lead capture (including, for example, a live chat plugin), but WooCommerce's connection to the WordPress add-on libraries gives it an edge. You can select from any number of lead capture plugins that fit your business's needs.

Pricing

Shopify offers five plan tiers, while WooCommerce is more pay-as-you-go.

WooCommerce is free. But it's not that simple: Even if you want a bare-bones, undecorated site, you'll still need to pay for WordPress hosting. And the costs of all the add-ons and themes you'll need all add up to a price tag comparable to the common Shopify packages and transactions fees.

Shopify offers five plan tiers (three main ones, plus one for enterprise level and a "lite" option), with more features and smaller transactions rates as you go up. The current prices look like this:

  • Shopify Lite: $9 per month
  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month
  • Shopify: $79 per month
  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month
  • Shopify Plus: $2,000 - $40,000 per month

Shopify, of course, offers more built-in features than WooCommerce. For example, Shopify provides benefits like social media integrations, language options, and an SSL certificate with even their basic plan, whereas these are things WooCommerce users have to take care of themselves.

And of course, you know exactly what you're paying upfront with Shopify. You can even check out eCommerce Platform's interactive Shopify Pricing calculator, where you can input your monthly revenue and other specifics to see how much you'd likely pay under each plan. For WooCommerce, on the other hand, you need to research which hosting plans, plugins, and themes you want before calculating your total. Having said that, a helpful Mode Effect article outlined the average expenses, crunched the numbers, and put the median cost of a customized WooCommerce site at $1,000 per year. Apparently this figure was on-the-nose, because WooCommerce themselves cited the report on their own blog.

You also need to factor in the transaction fees for whatever payment gateway you install on your WooCommerce site. The industry standard for credit card transactions is 2.9 percent, so if you subscribe to one of Shopify's top-tier plans, you'll actually be paying less per sale.

Shopify vs. WooCommerce: Which App Should You Use?

Shopify is the right solution if you're looking for a fast and easy way to get a professional-looking site off the ground. But if you're looking for more customization and features—and don't mind some extra effort to get there—WooCommerce is your best bet.

Of course, those are just general parameters. Pay attention to factors like must-have features, how wide your product range is, and how integral content marketing is to your business. And we definitely recommend doing a cost analysis, taking into consideration subscription fees, hosting fees, transaction fees, and add-on costs.

Finally, here's an at-a-glance feature comparison.

ShopifyWooCommerce
Ease of UseVery simple. Targets beginners and those with no design background.Easy to use, but requires more time and effort than Shopify. WordPress knowledge comes in handy.
Design and Customization OptionsProfessional designs but limited choices and customization.Direct correlation to how much time and money you're willing to put into plugins and themes.
Accepting PaymentsStandard options are built-in; third-party gateways incur a transaction fee, but this fee is reduced at higher pricing packages.More options for third-party gateways, but these come with additional fees on top of any WooCommerce costs.
Lead Generation and CaptureSlightly better for SEO, but more limited in content management and internal site design.Better for content marketing and UX design.
PricingFixed rates, depending on the level of service you want. Variable, depending on how much you spend on hosting, themes, and add-ons.

Automate Shopify and WooCommerce

Whichever platform you choose, you can automate your tedious eCommerce tasks by using Zapier's automated workflows called Zaps. Here are some of the most popular ways our customers use Zapier to streamline their eCommerce operations:

  • Automatically add new orders to a spreadsheet for easy tracking and analysis.
  • Automatically add new customers to your email marketing list so you can nurture the relationship.
  • Automatically generate sales receipts and invoices:

Don't see the workflow you're looking for? Browse other Shopify and WooCommerce integrations, or create your own using the Zap editor.

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