Shopify vs WordPress/Woocommerce

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This is not a big, in-depth review of the two platforms in the title (Shopify and Woocommerce). I’m not comparing them at a super detailed level, just reporting my recent experience in trying them out. My blog is just random stuff mostly, and this is just a random thing I figured I could write a post about.

I’m starting a little online store, and while I’ve tried both of these platforms a few years ago, it was a pretty quick thing both times, and I didn’t run an actual store using them.

A few weeks ago, I decided to give each of them another run, to see which I was going to use for my little store (details coming soon). I did some fairly quick  research into what the best platforms might be, but as I suspected, the only choices that fit me were Shopify and Woocommerce.

Shopify has a 2 week free trial, so I signed up for that, and gave it a look. Woocommerce is a plug-in for WordPress, and is open source and free, so I installed it on a Linux server.

I’m going to just sum up my thoughts here, although I did just have to travel for a week, and I may have forgotten a few things.

Setup

You can get started with Shopify so easily, it’s really amazing. They’ve obviously put a huge amount of work into making that process very smooth and easy. I can’t imagine anyone would have any trouble with it.

Woocommerce is not as smooth, but it’s fine. Because it’s an add-on to WordPress, the whole experience is not 100% laser-focused on setting up an online store, but it’s still fine. I think the menu system they use could stand a few usability/clarity improvements, but it’s not terrible or anything.

Price

    • Woocommerce is free.
    • Shopify starts at $29 USD/month, and then has plans that go up to $299 (and some custom high-volume plans for huge businesses, presumably with a wide range of high prices).
    • In both cases, you’re still going to have to pay fees for every credit card transaction too.

Shopify actually has a weird thing where you pay a slightly smaller transaction fee (percentage wise) as you move up in plans, so on their $29 plan, you pay 2.9% +30¢ per transaction (I’m looking at my local rates, I’m in Canada), but if you’re on the $79 or $299 plan, that percentage goes down to 2.7% or 2.4%.

It’s such a small thing, but I’m not a fan of this. When I was looking at their pricing, I started wasting a bunch of brainpower while I was looking at it, basically doing algebra to determine at what sales volume it would make sense to switch to a higher plan. I don’t think it’s great to have people doing mental algebra when they’re looking at your pricing page, and I also think that this tier system kind of makes it look like they’re skimming 0.5% extra from smaller businesses.

To me, I don’t like that; it reminds me of when someone sells something online and charges $20 for shipping, but the actual shipping price is only $18. I don’t think it’s horrible or unethical, and I understand that people can price things however they want, but I do believe that a certain amount of the population gets very annoyed over those little things.

Anyhow, like I said, I don’t care really, but I don’t love that.

The Real Price

Okay, so Shopify has a monthly fee, but my impression from my quick testing is that they provide more things for that price. For instance, with Woocommerce, to set up a Canada Post shipping calculator, I have to buy a plugin for $35 (if I recall), and some other features require a subscription. I believe that service is free on Shopify.

In the end, depending on what exact features you need, you might pay less with either platform, although my impression is that most people will get away cheaper with Woocommerce.

However, I don’t think anyone should make this choice on price alone. The main thing I was really looking for when I tested both platforms was how smooth the customer experience was when someone came to my store and bought an item. I have a lot of inordinately deep feelings on this, and I pay tons of attention to this sort of flow when I buy anything online.

So which was better: Eh, both seemed good. I was disappointed because there was this one feature that some ecommerce sites include in their shopping cart flow, and I was very likely to just go with whatever platform had it, but neither did (unless I missed it on Shopify). But having said that, they’re both fine.

If I recall, I did figure out that you could do the thing I wanted with Magento (another big ecommerce platform), but I’ve worked on a site that used Magento before, and it seems so old and crappy looking to start, and I didn’t feel like working super hard to make it look good. I also think there was something else that was a pain in the ass – I think to use Stripe as a payment method you have to buy a pretty expensive plugin? Don’t take my word on that, I may be remembering wrong what the pain was, but I think that was it.

Ease of Maintenance

Shopify is going to be way easier to maintain, because you don’t need to run the servers or anything. I guess there are probably really good hosted solutions for Woocommerce, but I’m not aware of which are the big ones, and I don’t think these are what most people use.

I actually had an interesting exchange shortly after trying both these out. A guy I follow on Twitter complained that Shopify hosts the website for Breitbart (the nazi news site), and he said that he was going to close his account as soon as he could find a better solution (unless they kicked BB off their platform). I emailed him to say that I had just been using Woocommerce, and to give it a look, and that I’d be happy to show him my installation/admin area if he wanted.

He replied that he had actually used Woocommerce before Shopify, and that he couldn’t deal with it, because he’s a guy with a family, and his worst nightmare is that his site would go down, perhaps due to an incompatible plugin, and his only resource for tech support was a forum.

This is an incredible valid point! I’m actually going to do a spoiler here and mention that I did finally decide to go with Woocommerce (more on that later in this post), and I had an issue like this just today.

I went to add SSL support to my site (so it could use https:// URLs) using Letsencrypt, and I started following what seemed like a very straightforward tutorial. As if often the case with self-hosted stuff, everything was great, until something went wrong. In this case, I followed the step where you set your site name and URL to say https:// instead of http:// inside WordPress, and boop, the admin area became inaccessible. I hit the back button and tried to change the setting back, but I couldn’t, because it was now trying to send me to a form starting with https, which didn’t exist.

I’m probably explaining that somewhat unclearly, but the point was, it was a pain. Luckily for me, I know how to log in to a server using SSH, get into the MySQL database, and find/change the settings manually, but I imagine 99% of people using Woocommerce wouldn’t know where to begin.

I also have another story similar to this involving WordPress: I currently host and administrate a few WP sites for a friend, and they just told me yesterday that the admin area for one of them is completely inaccessible due to HTTP 500 errors. It’s not urgent, because they rarely update this site anymore, but at some point I’ll have to figure out why it’s doing it – I’m assuming it’s an incompatible plugin issue – and how to fix it.

Openness

So I already mentioned that I wound up going with Woocommerce, and the reason actually tied in with the issues above a little:

For my specific needs and uses, I really couldn’t find a huge difference between the platforms. I finally made the decision on two points:

1. I just prefer an open source product, because after years of using (and making) web-based software, it’s become clear to me that open source stuff just works better. You tend to have a better base of information online, software doesn’t get abandoned as quickly, and everything just works better, in my opinion. A lot of people get into open source software because of the sort of philosophical parts of it, and sure, those are fine, but from a purely pragmatic level, I just think OSS works better.

And closely tied into that, is that by running WordPress/Woocommerce myself, I’m much more in control. I can mess around with any part of my site I need to without any limits. I’m actually quite interested in writing a few specific features into Woocommerce (I guess in the form of plugins), and I think you can actually do with Shopify as well, and I’m sure that’s fine, but it feels a little more natural to me to write stuff for an open source/self-hosted thing than for a closed platform run by a company.

All my store data is always available to me to use on Woocommerce as well, although I am pretty sure Shopify gives you all the data you need as well. I have to admit, I didn’t check on this super hard when I tried them though, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t let you export all sorts of info. But I like the idea that I can do anything I wanted – for instance, I can literally log into my server, run a tail command and watch people come to my store in real time, as they navigate, and see what people are doing.

But that’s just me, and I guess I’m kind of the opposite of the guy who I mentioned emailing. I think he might be more typical of a lot of people – they just want to get their shops up, sell their items, and not deal with server issues.

Summary

I don’t think this is a great article. I’m not really comparing Woocommerce and Shopify at all, I’m just saying what my thought process was. I also didn’t come to any huge conclusions, and I’m not going to put PROS and CONS bullet points at the bottom here. If you read this article, you probably have a good feel for who I think is better suited to each platform.

Let me know what you think in the comments btw.

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