“I want to build an e-commerce store … but should I use Shopify or WordPress?”
That’s actually a fairly common question that I get here at WebsiteSetup.org. In fact, I get them more than 2-3 times a day.
Reason? Every day, more and more people decide to launch their own e-commerce stores, but almost immediately they’re met with more questions than answers:
What platform should I use?
Will I have to pay any fees?
Can I sell ebooks and downloads or just physical products?
Can I “dropship”?
What are the pros and cons of Shopify vs. WordPress?
Like with most things in life, the short answer to whether you should go with Shopify or WordPress is this: It depends…
I know you hate that answer as much as I do, but hold on – with the short answer out of the way, we can now focus on the useful one. Let’s dive into the topic and see when it’s better to use Shopify over WordPress, for whom it’s going to be a better solution, and why would you even consider Shopify (or WordPress) in the first place.
Before you read forward, I just want to let you know I’ve also published a few guides and articles on Shopify and WordPress e-commerce:
Is WordPress for everything, including an e-commerce site?
I’ve always been an avid WordPress fan, and my go-to advice whenever anyone needed a website for any purpose – any purpose! – was, “hey, why not WordPress?”
Looking through what’s possible with Shopify and how easy it all is, even I started having second thoughts.
I mean, WordPress is surely awesome as a website platform. It can easily cope with anything you throw at it and make your site accessible and available for the whole world to see.
At the same time, an e-commerce store is a very specific kind of animal, and it’s very very different from a standard blog or a news website.
WordPress is built around content – content that is meant to be consumed for free, more or less. You can publish blog posts, videos, pictures, and etc., but the main principle is that it’s all available to whoever happens to stumble upon the URL.
The reality of e-commerce stores is different.
What they offer sits behind a paywall. The whole site needs to be careful when handling the customer’s crucial data (like credit cards, personal info). It needs to be secure. To top it all off, it also needs to be able to handle incoming orders, process them, and make sure that nothing falls through the cracks along the way.
In other words, there’s a lot of stuff that’s different about e-commerce stores compared to standard publishing platforms.
At that point, even I have to be ready to accept the fact that WordPress isn’t perfect for everything. Sometimes, you just need a platform that’s been built for the purpose of handling an e-commerce store.
The main difference between Shopify and WordPress
In a sentence, the main difference between Shopify and WordPress is that Shopify is an online tool/service, whereas WordPress is a stand-alone software that you need to install yourself.
In order to use Shopify, all you have to do is go to Shopify.com and sign up to create an account. Once done, you only need to go through a quick setup, and your e-commerce store is up and running.
To use WordPress as your e-commerce platform, on the other hand, requires a lot more steps:
- First, you need to buy a domain and a web hosting account where you can have the default version of WordPress installed.
- You need to pick a theme (design) for your website, plus a handful of plugins to take care of SEO, social media integration and etc.
- After that, you need a plugin like WooCommerce to provide you with all the e-commerce features (those are not built into WordPress).
- Finally, you need to go through the configuration process of your e-commerce store (the store details, payment gateway integrations, products, and etc.). Those can take a while of its own too.
Last but not least, with Shopify, you also get support, which means that should you ever encounter any trouble with the platform, you can simply contact the support team, and they will (likely) solve it.
With WordPress, there’s no support, per se.
Think of it this way, Shopify is like going to IKEA, buying a table off the shelf, and then just assembling it at home. WordPress is like going to the hardware store, buying planks, nails, glue, tools, and then coming home and building the table yourself.
Shopify – what is it?
Here are the facts:
- An all-in-one e-commerce solution/tool. It allows you to build a functional e-commerce store from scratch, without a designer’s or developer’s help.
- There’re no coding skills required to use Shopify.
- It’s a paid tool – from $9 to $179 per month.
- It allows you to sell whatever you wish (goods, services, products both digital and physical, as well as dropship).
- Use it offline and online (you can use it as your online store, but also use something called Point of Sale with Shopify, which is their system for retail stores that allows you to integrate your on-location store with your setup in Shopify).
- More than 100 online store designs to choose from (some of them paid).
- Every new site gets a custom subdomain for free. For example YOURSTORE.shopify.com.
- There’s 24/7 support.
WordPress (WooCommerce) – what is it?
First things first, WordPress is a lot of things, but for the purpose of this resource, we’re focusing mainly on the e-commerce side of the spectrum and omitting a big part of WordPress’ features and abilities.
- An all-in-one website software. It allows you to build any kind of website, provided that you can handle the slightly technical setup – involving installing the software itself, installing plugins, installing a theme, and then installing an e-commerce plugin to handle the store operations.
- Some website building skills are required. Depending on the customizations that you want to perform, you might need coding or design skills as well.
- The WordPress software is free. In order to use it, you need to sign up for a web host and buy a domain name. When all is put together, you can get started with WordPress for about $5 / month.
- Great content management features.
- Thousands of themes/designs to choose from, both free and paid.
- Exceptional extension possibilities through plugins.
- No direct support, but a very helpful support community.
When should you use Shopify over WordPress?
Shopify stands out as a tailor-made e-commerce solution for everyone. Whereby everyone, I mean people who might not have any website building or coding skills, yet still want to be able to create an awesome online store all by themselves.
The main benefit of working with Shopify is that you can get started in minutes and begin serving your first customers almost immediately.
Even setting the coding and website building skills aside – which you don’t need – you also don’t need to be entirely familiar with various realities of the e-commerce business itself. Shopify helps you set things like the inventory, taxes, shipping settings and so on. In other words – it solves every last boring aspect of the business.
Secondly, Shopify is also a really affordable solution. To get started, you only need $9 a month. For that price, you get access to more than enough site designs and customization options.
In-a-nutshell answer to “when to use Shopify?”:
- Option a): Use it if you don’t have any kind of website and you want to launch a quality e-commerce store fast.
- Option b): Use it if you don’t have any design, coding, or website building skills, and you don’t want to hire anybody to set an e-commerce store for you.
- Option c): Use it if you want to integrate your online store with your offline on-location store.
- Option d): Use it if you need a great e-commerce platform with access to customer support … just in case.
If any of the above describes you, go for Shopify.
It also doesn’t matter whether you want to sell physical products, digital downloads, services, or even do dropship. Shopify can handle anything. The number of products you offer isn’t a factor either (whether it’s 1 or 1000).
When to use WordPress over Shopify?
WordPress is a powerhouse. It’s nearly the perfect website platform, capable of running all kinds of websites.
But there’s a catch. Or, a couple of catches, rather.
- WordPress is a piece of software = you can get it for free, but then you have to install it on a web host yourself, configure it, and ultimately launch a website with it.
- Out of the box, WordPress is mainly a blogging platform. It provides no e-commerce features at all. Those you can obtain via plugins. Such as the popular WooCommerce.
- Apart from the e-commerce plugin, you need a bunch of other plugins to handle some standard options like SEO and social media. You also need a good-looking and brandable theme (design) – to make your e-commerce store look unique and original.
What it all means is that WordPress is perhaps a solution for a bit more savvy user. You need to feel comfortable editing PHP files by hand, connecting to your server via FTP, and spending the afternoon in some settings panel.
That being said, the aforementioned WooCommerce is a great e-commerce plugin. It gives you all the features you might ask for, e.g shopping carts, product catalogs, online payments, coupons, and so on. Most importantly, the plugin is free!
You can find alternative WordPress shopping carts here.
In-a-nutshell answer to “when to use WordPress for e-commerce?”:
- Option a): Use it if you already have a WordPress site and you’re familiar with the interface. For instance, WooCommerce uses the same admin panel organization for your products and orders, so there’s no additional learning curve.
- Option b): Use it if you already have a WordPress site and you want to minimize costs by not having to invest any more funds in a new e-commerce platform.
- Option c): Use it if you’re comfortable experimenting with source code occasionally.
- Option d): Use it if you can cope without any fast-reacting customer support.
About that last part: Right now, you might feel that customer support is not such a big deal. But keep in mind that it’s your business we’re talking about here. For example, if something happens that causes your site to go down, not having it online for the whole day can and will mean a serious hit to your business income. Also, a lot of stress while we’re at it.
It’s those times when we tend to value customer support that’s operating 24/7!
WordPress or Shopify? An even shorter answer.
If the options above don’t satisfy your taste, I have an even shorter answer for you.
Just keep in mind that it’s a huge huge oversimplification. In many scenarios, you’re better off following one of the options above. But if you want an uber-short answer then here it is:
- If you have a WordPress website already, just install WooCommerce and launch an e-commerce store as an element of that existing website.
- If you don’t have a website yet, launch your e-commerce store with Shopify.
My motives for that matter are twofold: Saving both time and money.
Quite simply – if you already have a WordPress website running then it’s always going to be quicker and cheaper to just add an e-commerce component to that website instead of building something new. On the other hand, if you don’t have a website yet, then it’s quicker and easier to go the other route and launch an e-commerce store with a specialized platform like Shopify. That’s all!