Covid pandemic profoundly changed retail. Entrepreneurs had to rely on online channels to keep their companies afloat. In lockdown affected areas, companies had to shift focus from physical locations to e-commerce platforms. In 2020 we worked closely with our European clients to help them execute this change.
We looked into a wide array of different solutions trying to come up with the most cost effective solutions that would meet the demands of businesses we work with. We took a look at platforms like BigCommerce, Prestashop, OpenCart, Shopware, and others.
We found that there are 2 major solutions on the market that our clients wanted to use - WooCommerce (a WordPress plugin) and Shopify. These 2 solutions are, in many ways, total opposites of each other.
Learn which one is the right one for your business.
WooCommerce vs Shopify - things to consider
The choice of different e-commerce solutions is so wide because there are different use cases for businesses in that space.
Choosing an e-commerce solution to fuel your business has long-lasting consequences that have to be well-thought-out.
There's a lot of things to consider when selecting an e-commerce platform:
- Retail, Wholesale, or both - What kind of sales you want to do B2C, B2B, or both?
- Payments processing - Are your customers fond of any local payment systems?
- Integration with physical locations - Do you want to integrate your system with the in-store sales system?
- Existing solutions - Do you already have a website that will be extended with a store?
- Implementation budget - What's your budget for implementing the store? - What's your budget for ongoing expenses?
Retail and a wholesale e-commerce
Both Shopify and WooCommerce can offer retail and wholesale sales. Unfortunately, if you decide to go with Shopify, the only option to enable wholesale sales on Shopify is joining Shopify Plus Plan (2000 USD/month at the time of the writing).
With WooCommerce you can implement B2B sales by adding a plugin. WooCommerce plugins such as Wholesale for WooCommerce enable role-based pricing, registration form for B2B clients, and much more. Comparing to Shopify's plan, the plugin approach significantly lowers monthly costs for smaller wholesale businesses.
Receiving payments from clients is a crucial part of selling online. The world is full of payment processing platforms that differ from region to region. Integrating local payment processors might be crucial for your business. The easier it is for the client to check out the higher conversion you'll see.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify allows you to choose from a range of different 3rd party processing platforms. Unfortunately, Shopify recently changed policies regarding additional payment methods which might greatly influence your decision on which platform to use.
On the other hand, WooCommerce offers additional payment processing support by 3rd party plugins. It comes with many caveats. Some plugins can be outdated and not support the latest legal requirements for online payments. For WooCommerce we mostly use Stripe as our payment processor which enables us to add payment methods offered on the platform.
Point of Sale integration
For businesses that have physical locations, it's worth thinking about integrating their point of sale system with your e-commerce platform.
Shopify has a superior solution when it comes to POS. Shopify POS costs 89 USD per month for each location on top of your Shopify Plan. You can also use Shopify POS Lite which is free to use but has limited features.
On WooCommerce we've implemented Oliver POS. It's the only POS system that's worth considering for implementation with WooCommerce stores. The costs are a bit lower at starting 19 USD per month. Oliver POS also offers free plans for small stores, if you'd like to test that solution.
Existing online presence
Having existing online channels doesn't really influence your store. Creating a custom e-commerce solution often requires custom implementation. Companies that use WordPress as their CMS tend to lean towards implementing WooCommerce within their current setup. Depending on the quality of the implementation of the current theme that may not be possible.
Integration of your current website with an e-commerce solution will probably generate more costs than creating a new separate software solution.
Existing e-commerce solution
When clients ask us to update their e-commerce stores, the first thing we do is to look into their existing platform. Some stores use out-of-date systems that are no longer supported, which poses a significant security issue. Others tend to use platforms that don't support the needs of their business.
Depending on your case it might be possible that the most cost-efficient solution is creating a new store. For example, we recently moved a Shopify store over to WooCommerce to enable B2B sales. Given 2000 USD/month savings on Shopify Plus, additional costs for WooCommerce will pay for themselves within 6-months of store operations!
Ongoing upkeep & maintenance
Most people tend to forget about monthly maintenance and upkeep costs, which are crucial to every e-commerce project. With Shopify, your basic cost is the cost of a Shopify subscription (9 USD for Shopify Lite, 29 USD for Shopify, and 2000 USD for Shopify Plus) and additional costs for other services like POS.
Because Shopify is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) solution the hosting cost is included. Currently, the large problem for Shopify is making changes to custom themes. There's no good way to make changes to Shopify themes and deliver them to clients, which will cause higher costs for maintenance. Fortunately, we're working hard to solve this issue. You can read more about it in Developer's take on Shopify and WooCommerce section of this article.
With WooCommerce you need to have your own server, which cost varies depending on the traffic you're expecting. Fortunately, WooCommerce has a lot of tools making deployment and changes much cheaper. But the upkeep of your server might be more expensive since someone needs to keep your software updated and resolve issues that can come up later in the life-cycle of your store.
Generally, the costs of running WooCommerce and Shopify are comparable for most cases. It all comes down to what you need as a business.
Developer's take on Shopify and WooCommerce
Both platforms have their issues when it comes to development. But with every project, we come up with new ways to speed up the development and deliver better value to our clients and their customers.
Shopify doesn't currently have an opinionated framework that can be used to build custom solutions. Slate was discontinued in January of 2020, and there's a bit of a workaround to implement custom themes for Shopify right now. The Shopify IDE isn't an efficient tool for development. Implementing Continous Deployment and version control is tricky.
Our solution to this problem is treating Shopify as a headless CMS for e-commerce. We're creating Storefronts with Next.js or Gatsby.js frameworks that deliver unprecedented performance and security to your store. We treat Shopify as a backend platform to store your orders, products, and client data.
Your store is set up as a frontend application that uses Shopify's API as a datapoint to render your website. This solution allows us to optimize performance and allow clients to install your store as an application on phones and tablets.
With the better performance, the conversion rates also go up (less waiting means more buying!). The downside of this approach is that not all plugins will work correctly with your website. From a technical perspective, it's actually good. Every plugin on Shopify tends to load assets in a suboptimal way. This forces your customers to load more data when accessing your store, degrading the overall experience.
The other benefit is that you can use a 9 USD plan for Shopify instead of a $29 plan.
WooCommerce has been around since 2011, and WordPress has been around since 2003. That means there's a lot of technical debt in the codebase. This makes developing WooCommerce somewhat problematic. Some parts of WooCommerce could really use an overhaul.
To tackle issues with WooCommerce development, we've developed our own starter theme that helps us with performance optimizations.
The problem with plugins is the same as in Shopify. Each plugin loads additional assets into your theme, lowering the performance of the store. Usually, there are some plugins that we need to use to deliver the project.
In general WooCommerce stores are slower and less secure than our Shopify solution.
E-commerce is an extremely competitive space and will become even more competitive in the future. There's a strong trend for creating headless solutions. New frameworks allow developers to bring unprecedented performance and security. This holds a direct impact on the bottom line. From my perspective, it's worth investing in static today. Higher performance will give you an edge over your competition.
Unfortunately, due to required features or budget limitations, it's not always possible. That's why it's crucial to think about your needs and expectations for the e-commerce platform.
The general rule-of-thumb would be:
- Shopify will be a better solution for smaller businesses providing better performance, easier maintenance, and lower overhead costs.
- WooCommerce will be a better choice if you need custom features that require a fully customizable backend.
It's always worth comparing the total costs of your solution, calculated for your specific needs. If you'd like to talk about your e-commerce solution, reach out to us - let's talk!