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September 03, 2019

Shopify vs. Wordpress: Weighing Your Options in eCommerce

WordPress remains the number one content management system on the market. People love it for its user-friendly interface, but certain applications can make it cumbersome to work with. After all, WordPress was initially designed for simple blogging. That means it can take a substantial amount of investment--both in the form of time and money--to get a WordPress website ready for selling.

Meanwhile, Shopify has earned a name for itself as a direct alternative. Shopify gets marketed as a reliable, out-of-the-box solution that can help you set up shop in no time at all. So, which is best for your business?

Overview of WordPress

WordPress is often considered the best all-around Content Management System (CMS) on the market. It's open-source, so there are no direct costs for running your website on WordPress. However, out of the box, it isn’t an eCommerce solution. To make it one, you’ll need to install eCommerce plugins.

The most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress sites is WooCommerce. It gives you the ability to list and sell products just like any other online store. The setup can be a bit cumbersome, especially on pre-existing websites. Regardless, many prefer the overall flexibility that WordPress provides. 

You can extend WordPress’s functionality by installing plugins. There are thousands of plugins available and you can use them to run a full-fledged online store. What makes a WordPress based store stand out is that you can also feature rich content and a unique design. WordPress allows for a blog that's easy to update and endless site personalization.

Since WordPress is open-source, it is easy to customize in every aspect. There is a large community of developers to reach out to in the event that you have unique requirements.

Overview of Shopify

Shopify keeps storefronts at the center of its focus. This platform is an "all-in-one" service with built-in marketing and analytics tools. When you join Shopify, you host your store on their servers. You won't have to worry about acquiring your own hosting or hardware. By using Shopify's servers, you also avoid security concerns.

Shopify subscribers get access to 24/7 support. As a merchant, you'll benefit from Shopify's detailed documentation and tutorials as well. The platform is more structured than WordPress, which makes it easier to use for some. However, the structure can be limiting if you want custom features or more than a store.

Shopify gives you the option to add a blog to your site, but the platform can be inhibiting. It does not compare to WordPress' immense flexibility.

Is Shopify or WooCommerce Better?

Ultimately, the solution you choose will come down to the goals and resources you have for your store. Here is a comparison between the two platforms.

Ease of Setup

Both WordPress and Shopify are popular "do-it-yourself" solutions. With that DIY mindset, both are easy to get going on your own. However, WordPress will require a few extra steps. 

First, you'll need to set up a server and connect it to the internet or create an account with a WordPress hosting company. Next, you’ll need to go into your control panel and install WordPress as your CMS. Once installed, you'll get login details to use to access your site's new dashboard. From there, you can install and then configure the WooCommerce plugin. It may seem cumbersome and time-consuming, but it's pretty simple if you follow the setup guide.

Meanwhile, Shopify helps you with every step. You can use their tool to generate a business name if you're starting from scratch. If you want an all-in-one solution, you can register and host your domain with Shopify directly, so you don’t need to perform any steps in advance. Shopify will populate a lot of things for you, and you can immediately begin adding content and products. Most people will give Shopify the advantage for ease of setup.

Service and Support

Service and support is another category where Shopify shines. Shopify provides 24/7 support as one of the benefits you’ll receive with your subscription. If you have questions or issues, you’ll be able to contact support directly by phone, chat or email. You'll generally receive a reply within one to two business days.

Meanwhile, WordPress is free, open-source, and nicely documented. Your options for WordPress service and support will differ depending on how you build your site. If you use a WordPress hosting company, they may offer support. If you hire a web designer, they may also offer support.

How the support from these sources stacks up to Shopify will vary by provider. Additionally, there are plenty of troubleshooting guides, blogs, and a fairly active forum. When all else fails, there are experts you can reach out to for a small fee. In most cases though, you’ll find Shopify’s service and support superior.

Shopify and WordPress both have third-party developers that offer themes and applications that extend the functionality of the platforms. Shopify calls the applications “apps” and WordPress calls them “plugins”. Support for the themes and applications comes straight from the developer.

If you're deciding between Shopify and WordPress, contact the developers of the key third-party applications you intend to use. Your experience may influence your decision.

Flexibility and Extendibility

When it comes to flexibility and extendibility, WordPress is the clear winner. The tens of thousands of plugins available for WordPress dwarf the number of apps available in the Shopify App Store. If you can’t find a plugin to suit your needs, there is a large number of skilled developers available for hire.

Shopify has a vibrant app store, but the number of apps pales in comparison to what’s available in the WordPress plugin directory. This is due to the age of the platforms. Plus, Shopify prohibits third-party developers from making changes to its Customer Information, Shipping Methods, and Payment Methods pages. This is why some merchants find Shopify inhibiting or inflexible.

Marketing Assistance

Shopify offers a lot of resources to help merchants learn how to market their brand and products. Shopify merchants receive daily blog posts to help with the learning curve of running an online store. They also have access to 24/7 support via phone, chat, and email.

There are numerous apps in the Shopify App Store for various types of marketing. You can even install “Kit”, a virtual employee that identifies ways to boost sales and raise brand awareness.

WordPress has plenty of plugins related to SEO, marketing, and advertising as well. These can help you get your email marketing and social media campaigns up-and-running. However, those using WordPress have to find tutorials and guides on their own.

Although Shopify appears to be a better choice here, it’s a short-lived advantage. If you’re like most e-commerce merchants, you’ll come to realize that you need the expertise of a digital marketing agency to get you to the next level. And, once you hire a digital marketing agency, Shopify's marketing assistance becomes irrelevant. These agencies are experts and many prefer the flexibility of WordPress over Shopify’s ease of use.

Site Security

The fact is, WordPress wasn’t designed to run storefronts, and that impacts its security and privacy. The hosting provider that you choose and the firewall that you implement will determine your store's security. Basic firewalls offered by hosting companies can be as little as $6.00 / month. Enterprise-level firewalls can cost as much as $400 / month. Regardless of your choice, it is an incremental cost to consider.  

You'll also need to install an SSL certificate on your WordPress site because it’s required by all reputable payment gateways to process credit cards and other payment methods. The cost of SSL certificates begins at $150/year, although web hosting providers will typically offer discounts for the first year.  Some web hosting providers will provide a free SSL certificate if you're subscribed to one of their higher plans.

If you find the prospect of dealing with firewalls and SSL certificates unappealing, there are WordPress hosting providers, like WP Engine, that  include both as part of their subscription packages.  Not only do they include them for free, they'll make sure that they are properly installed and configured for your business.  WP Engine's "Startup" plan runs $30/month.  There are much cheaper WordPress Hosting packages available from other WordPress hosting providers, such as GoDaddy or HostGator.  However, they won't include the same abundance of features and will require more effort on your part.

Shopify has its own firewalls that you will benefit from through your subscription. A free SSL certificate is also included on all plans. Considering that Shopify’s Basic Plan is only $29 / month and you don’t need to worry about any of this, it's easy to give Shopify the advantage when it comes to site security. For those of you really interested in the nitty-gritty, Shopify is certified Level 1 PCI DSS compliant.

Pricing and On-Going Costs

Cost is a factor that will certainly weigh heavily on your decision. While pricing should not be the sole deciding factor, if you're on the fence between WordPress and Shopify, it can help you make up your mind.

WordPress is open-source and free. Although you won't pay to run WordPress on your website, there are other costs. You’ll need to register and pay for a domain name, pay for a hosting platform or setup your own server, pay for an SSL certificate and firewall. The cost of doing so on the cheap is about $20 per month. That doesn’t include the cost of any plugins you may need to extend the functionality of your website. WordPress is also more complicated than Shopify, so it is more likely that you’ll need to hire a third-party to help.

Shopify charges a monthly fee, but you're getting a lot for it. It pays for domain registration and hosting, 24/7 support, regular guides, and a platform that you can trust is secure right out-of-the-box. Of course, you're also giving up some flexibility and customizability. Pricing starts at $29/month (which adds up to $348 annually). Like WordPress, the cost of third-party apps is not included in this monthly estimate.

It's worth noting that Shopify offers a 14-day free trial and does not require a contract. You're charged on a monthly basis and you can pause your plan or close your store at any time. Alternatively, you can take advantage of a 10% discount if you pay for an annual subscription or a 20% discount if you pay for a two-year subscription.

Limitations and Other Considerations

Here are some final limitations and points worth mentioning to help you make your decision.

  • User Accounts: WordPress allows you to add as many users or staff members as you desire. Shopify will limit the number of staff accounts depending on the plan you’re subscribed to.
  • Transaction Fees: WordPress /WooCommerce charge no transaction fees. But you’ll need to install a separate payment gateway plugin in order to process payments. Meanwhile, Shopify’s transaction fees vary by plan. Compare the transaction fees of the Shopify plans to those of the WooCommerce payment gateway plugin you’re considering.
  • Advanced Features: To unlock some of Shopify's advertised features, you have to opt for a higher tier. For instance, the most basic tier doesn’t include an advanced report builder, professional report generation, or the ability to offer gift cards. These may be things you can get from WordPress / WooCommerce for free.
  • Shipping Discounts: Shopify provides shipping discounts if you use Shopify Shipping. The most basic tier receives discounts up to 64% and the highest tier receives discounts up to 74%. Shopify Shipping will also give you the ability to print USPS and UPS shipping labels, and the two higher tiers receive access to USPS Priority Mail Cubic® pricing. While this sounds attractive, beware. There are many deficiencies with Shopify’s shipping capabilities that make it a poor choice for some merchants.
  • Fraud Analysis: Shopify offers fraud analysis as a built-in feature at every tier. It can help your store take notice of suspicious transactions and stop them from processing until you can verify their legitimacy. WordPress/WooCommerce lacks such a feature.
  • SSL Certificates: All Shopify stores get an SSL certificate included in the plan for free. If you use WordPress, you'll need to contact your hosting company and pay a fee for the certificate.

About Eniture Technology

Eniture Technology specializes in helping e-Commerce merchants grow by providing useful information, digital marketing services, off-the-shelf apps that solve common problems, and custom programming services. Please contact us if you need help growing your online business or implementing the concepts presented in this blog post.

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