Shopify VS Wordpress. Part 1 | BOSDaily#014
Shopify vs WordPress: which is best? This is a question a lot of startups find themselves asking, and in this post I'm going tackle it in depth.
Read on for a full examination of both platforms and their key features; and the reasons why you might choose one of them over the other when building an e-commerce website.
By the end of this comparison, you should have a much better idea of which platform will serve your business’ needs best. (And if you need help with either a WordPress or Shopify project, do get in touch).
Let’s start with a quick overview of both platforms.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a web application that has been specifically designed to allow merchants build and launch their own online store.
It provides a range of templates that can be customised to meet individual businesses’ branding requirements, and it allows both physical and digital goods to be sold.
One of the fundamental ideas behind Shopify is that users without technical or design skills can create a store themselves, without resorting to coding. However, Shopify also allows you to edit the HTML and CSS of your website, which means that those who do have coding skills will be able to customize their stores more extensively.
Shopify is a hosted solution, which means everything runs on Shopify’s servers. So, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more bespoke requirements through the addition of apps - more on which later).
Shopify is a software as a service ('SaaS') tool - this means that you don't own a copy of the software, but pay a monthly fee to use it instead. Being a web application, it runs in the cloud; this means that as long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.
What is WordPress?
There are two different versions of WordPress available:
Hosted WordPress - available at wordpress.com - is, like Shopify, a software as a service (SaaS) tool. You pay a monthly fee and you get access to a broad range of features which enable you to build and maintain a website.
Self-hosted Wordpress is a piece of software that you download from wordpress.org and then install on your own web server. It’s open-source, meaning that the code behind it is freely available and may be easily tweaked.
In practice, this means that sites built with WordPress can be customized to the nth degree - it’s an extremely flexible tool that, in the hands of the right developer, or via the installation of the right plugins, can be adapted to meet the requirements of nearly any website design project.
You can install WordPress on your server for free, but there are hosting costs, domain registration charges and potential plugin / development costs to consider. We’ll discuss all this in more depth later on in this post.
This Shopify vs WordPress comparison is going to focus on the version of the WordPress that most people use: the self-hosted version.
What sort of users are Shopify and WordPress aimed at?
It’s probably fair to say that Shopify’s main audience is users without web development skills.
As mentioned above, the key idea behind Shopify is that anyone can use the platform to make their own online store – quickly, and without needing to code at all.
WordPress by contrast caters for two groups of users — web design novices AND developers.
Like Shopify, WordPress is suitable for users who are relatively new to web design, and not particularly tech-savvy; it is certainly possible to create and maintain a WordPress site without needing any coding skills (particularly if you’re happy to use a ‘visual editor’ interface for WordPress like Divi). Users who don’t want to go near any HTML or CSS can definitely avoid doing so with WordPress.
I’d argue however that in most cases, more configuration of WordPress is needed before you can publish a website; and that depending on what you want to do, setting up a WordPress site can involve a steeper learning curve than Shopify.
The second audience that WordPress caters for is users who have loads of web development experience. These users can work with the platform to pretty much build any sort of website, and host it anywhere they like.
Although it is possible to modify Shopify in a lot of ways (through coding or the addition of apps), there are more limits to what you can do, and you are always going to have to host your site on Shopify’s servers.
How many people use WordPress and Shopify?
When choosing a website building solution, it’s important to get a sense of how many people use it to create their sites or online stores.
This is because generally speaking, if a particular platform has a large userbase, you will find that there are far more support options, resources and apps / plugins available for it online. There will also be a smaller chance of it ‘disappearing’ and taking your website with it!
The latter issue is particularly important for users who are considering using a fully hosted solution like Shopify – such companies can and do encounter financial difficulties, and can close product lines as a result (the closure of Magento Pro is a well-known example of this). A large userbase minimizes the risk of this.
The good news is that WordPress and Shopify both enjoy a lot of popularity and have large userbases. Depending on who you believe on the internet, there are 65-75 million WordPress sites in existence; and according to Shopify, the platform powers over 600,000 stores.
Given these numbers, WordPress is technically the safer bet in the longevity stakes, but Shopify is one of the most popular products of its kind and it is unlikely that it is going anywhere anytime soon.
This means that you can have confidence in building an online presence for your business using either Shopify or Wordpres.
Pricing: how much does it cost to use Shopify and WordPress?
Shopify provides five pricing plans:
Lite: $9 per month.
Basic: $29 per month.
Shopify: $79 per month.
Advanced: $299 per month.
Plus: negotiable, but starting at $2000 per month.
As you might expect, the features you get access to on each Shopify plan vary according to the one you’re on, but a few key differences are as follows:
The ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed a Shopify ‘buy button’ on an existing site, or sell via Facebook, but you don’t get a standalone, fully functional store on this plan.
Phone support is only supported on the $29 and higher plans.
Credit card fees and transaction fees decrease as the monthly plans become more expensive.
The ‘Shopify Plus’ plan is an enterprise grade plan aimed at larger organisations, or those with more advanced requirements regarding APIs, server uptime and support.
For a more detailed breakdown on the differences in costs and features, please see our article on Shopify fees.
It’s much harder to say how much a WordPress site costs to build – that’s because there are so many variables involved.
A common misconception is that WordPress is an entirely free solution, but that’s not true, because although you can get the software for free, there are other things you’ll need to pay for to get a WordPress-powered website off the ground, namely:
hosting (server space on which to install WordPress and store your site)
themes (the design for your site)
e-commerce integration (addition of tools that will let you sell products online)
plugins (apps that can be added to your site to add more functionality)
And of course, depending on your ambitions or technical skills, you may also need to pay for a developer to assist you with the build.
The one thing you'll always have to pay for with WordPress hosting: without it you have nowhere to install WordPress. There are a wide range of options available on this front, but the key choice you’ll have to make is:
whether you’d like to use a ‘shared hosting’ company (cheaper but usually slower and less optimized for WordPress sites)
a dedicated WordPress hosting provider (for example WP Engine) that specialises exclusively in WordPress hosting (this will be faster and more secure — but more expensive).
For a small to medium-sized project it’s probably fair to say that you’d be looking at costs of between $4 (shared hosting) and $30 (managed WP hosting) a month.
With regard to the other factors, you can technically get away with using a free template, e-commerce integration, and plugins - but realistically, to get higher quality results it’s usually worth investing a bit in your site and going for paid-for options.
Below you’ll find some figures which demonstrate some costs you might expect if you were building your site yourself:
Annual hosting, using managed WordPress hosting from WP Engine as an example: $348 (recurring cost)
Premium theme: $175
Annual cost for e-commerce integration (using Ecwid as an example): $180 (recurring cost)
4 paid-for plugins: $100
If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your site, you’d have significantly higher costs (but in all likelihood would be getting a better product).
In terms of how these sorts of costs compare to using Shopify, again we’re looking at a ‘how long is a piece of string’ scenario. But let's try to come up with some examples!
At the lower end of the pricing scale, assuming you’re using the Shopify $29 ‘Basic plan’ plus one $10-per-month app, you’d be talking about a $468 annual commitment.
At the higher end of things, if you were on the Shopify $299-per-month plan, and using three $10 per month apps, you could end up spending $3948 per year on your site.
If your needs are simple then, using Shopify can actually work out cheaper than using WordPress, despite it being a paid-for option and WordPress being an open source one. But equally, it can work out a lot more expensive!
The only way to work out which is more economical for you in the long run is to make a clear list of all your requirements and price them up for each platform as best as you can.
Pricing, however, should not be the only thing you think about in your WordPress vs Shopify decision-making process. It’s just as important to look at functionality and features.
Let’s do that now.
Quantity and quality
A key concern of anyone building an online store is: how professional will my site look?
Well, Shopify offers a classy set of templates – there are 10 free ones, and 61 paid-for ones available on the Shopify theme store (most of which come in 2 or 3 variants, making the numbers of templates available larger than the above figures suggest).
All these templates are professionally designed, easily edited and responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely on any type of device – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.).
With these templates, you can be pretty confident of solid support (either from Shopify in the case of the free templates, or a Shopify-approved supplier in the case of the paid-for ones).
If that range of templates isn’t enough, you can buy other ones from third party designers – for example on Theme Forest.
However, the number of Shopify templates available pales in comparison to the huge number of templates available for WordPress — although it’s hard to put a precise figure on the number of Wordpress themes in existence, we can confidently talk about thousands, both free and paid-for. (You can buy WordPress templates from stores such as Template Monster or Theme Fuse).
Because the Shopify product is designed very much with non-technical users in mind, it’s probably fair to say that the Shopify templates are a little bit easier to customise, but tweaking a (well-constructed) WordPress template shouldn't involve that much of a learning curve either.
For me, WordPress is ultimately the winner in a template shoot-out: the sheer quantity of themes available ensures most users will have plenty of high quality options to choose from.
This choice does bring a downside however: first, it will be harder to choose a template; and second, you need to ensure that you are getting a ‘safe’ one.
Getting a ‘safe’ template means sourcing it from a reputable source - some WordPress templates contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site. This is not something you really need to worry about at all with Shopify templates, so long as you buy your template from the official Shopify theme store. (If buying elsewhere, the health warning about malicious code applies here too of course).
Behaviour / performance on mobile
All officially-supported Shopify templates are responsive, meaning that they will all adjust themselves automatically so that they display nicely on any device.
In this day and age, it isn't at all hard to locate a responsive WordPress template, but you will need to double check its suitability across devices before installing it: there are still a number of templates kicking around which aren’t suitable for all devices.
You can also use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on both Shopify and WordPress. AMP is a Google-backed project which drastically speeds up the loading of your pages on mobile devices by stripping out certain bits of code; using it gives your content a speed bump and can improve its visibility in search results.
To get AMP functionality working on both platforms though, you’ll need to install a third-party app (Shopify) or plugin (WordPress). With Shopify, this means installing something like RocketAmp; various plugin options exist for WordPress.
One nice aspect using a Shopify AMP app like RocketAmp is that you can be confident that it will display all your content in AMP format when necessary – i.e., not just static pages and blog posts but product pages too. With WordPress, whether or not you can get product pages to display in AMP format will depend on the both the e-commerce and AMP plugins used.
Interface and ease of use
The basic layouts of the Shopify and WordPress interfaces are similar enough, in that the left-hand side of the screen is used to host a menu from which you can select pieces of content to edit or settings to tweak. Shopify's is arguably slightly more contemporary and 'clean' in appearance.
Both platforms also take a similar approach when it comes to editing and publishing content – you locate your content and edit it in the back end; you can then preview or publish it.
This differs from the approach taken by some other platforms – notably Squarespace – which display a more instant or real-time view of your edits (this is because such platforms allow you to work ‘on page’, with your changes being displayed in situ and in real time).
However, you can use visual editor plugins in WordPress to help you create a design and content management environment which operates in a similar fashion; this may appeal to people who are relatively new to web design (and is not something you can yet do with Shopify).
The thing to watch out for here though is 'bloat' — some of the visual editors for WordPress can slow down your website by adding unnecessary or badly-written code to proceedings (this in turn can have a negative impact on SEO and usability).
Shopify’s interface is very intuitive for anyone interested in building and managing an online store – and this shouldn’t come as a surprise: the platform has been designed with that purpose in mind. You can manage products, collections and sales channels with ease.
It’s hard to make a direct comparison with WordPress in this front, because in order to sell products, you will need to make use of a third party plugin such as Woocommerce, Ecwid or WP E-Commerce. We’ll discuss these in more depth later on in the review.
Content management in Shopify and Wordpress
When it comes to management of static pages and posts, I’d argue that WordPress beats Shopify fairly comprehensively. There are two main reasons for this.
First, and very importantly, WordPress comes with content versioning — every single version of a page or post can be stored on the system and you can roll back to any of them at any point. Shopify doesn’t let you do this.
Second, WordPress allows you to use categories and tags in a much more flexible way than Shopify (you can also create your own custom content types in WordPress). This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their needs.
When it comes to content management of the e-commerce side of things, again it’s hard to make a direct comparison between Shopify and WordPress. This is because e-commerce is not available ‘out of the box’ with WordPress, so how the two platforms stack up against each other in this regard will depend on the e-commerce app you choose to power WordPress (more on this decision shortly).
What it is possible to say is that managing products and collections is very straightforward in Shopify. Because it’s a dedicated e-commerce application, a lot of thought has been put into this, and it shows.
And worth a particular mention are Shopify’s ‘automated collections’ – these allow you to use rules (based on things like product title, price, tag etc.) to create collections. This can save HOURS of time (or days if we’re talking about a large store).
Of the two products under discussion, WordPress is definitely the more flexible of the two. It’s been around longer and is much more widely used as a platform than Shopify, meaning that the number of templates, plugins and integrations for the platform dwarf what’s available for Shopify.
Additionally, the open source nature of the platform and the fact that you have total control over your own hosting means that WordPress can be manipulated to create bespoke websites more easily than Shopify.
That said, Shopify’s app store contains an impressive number of apps (there are thousands of them!) which allow you to significantly extend the functionality of a site built on the platform. You also get access to your store’s CSS and HTML on all $29+ plans. For most users, this will be more than enough flexibility; and for more advanced or corporate level users, it’s likely that the enterprise-grade Shopify Plus plans will meet their requirements.
E-commerce functionality in Shopify and Wordpress
Many readers of this comparison review will be looking specifically at how WordPress and Shopify compare in the e-commerce functionality department.
And frustratingly, it’s difficult to come up with definitive advice on this. This is because – and as discussed earlier – WordPress doesn’t have an e-commerce tool built-in. You have to use a third-party option.
You could argue that this gives Shopify an immediate advantage when it comes to e-commerce, because it’s a dedicated online store builder, and accordingly much everything you need to get your store up and running is provided out of the box.
For a full overview of all the e-commerce functionality you get with Shopify, I’d suggest reading our dedicated Shopify review.
But for the purposes of this post, I’ll just say that Shopify is one of the most solid, fully-specced options out there for building an online store (particularly if you intend to dropship goods); and that my key reservations are that
if you intend to sell products that come with a lot of options, Shopify is not as flexible as it could be — although you can sell an unlimited number of products, each can only come in 100 variants and with a maximum 3 options (that said, apps do exist which remove these limits)
capturing custom data via non-standard fields (for inscriptions, messages etc.) is not terribly straightforward
due to a spat between the two companies over data protection issues, there’s no longer an official Mailchimp-Shopify integration available (it’s still possible to use Mailchimp with Shopify — it’s just not quite as straightforward as it used to be).
quite often in Shopify, you have to buy a third party app to get the functionality you need.
Whilst Shopify is definitely the better 'all-in-one' e-ccomerce option, the e-commerce options are ultimately more extensive with WordPress, because you have significantly greater choice regarding the exact technical solution used for online selling.
To add e-commerce to a WordPress site, you need to use a third-party plugin. Some of the best known include:
Unfortunately, with the exception of Ecwid, we don’t have reviews of all these products available just yet. So, if you’re going down the WordPress route, it will be a case of trying to do your own research online to work out which is the best fit for you. To help you with this though, here are a few key questions to consider during this process:
Is the pricing of this solution competitive?
Is it easy to use?
What payment gateways can I use with it?
How many product variants and options can I use?
What are the SEO features like?
Does it facilitate point-of-sale transactions?
Does it facilitate AMP on product pages?
Is there a mobile app available for it?
For the record, Shopify scores highly on all these fronts – with the exception of product variants and options (which as discussed above are a bit limited, although you can use an app from Shopify’s app store to increase flexibility on this front).
And of course, there’s always the option of using Shopify as your e-commerce solution for WordPress – its $9 per month ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed products and a simple shopping cart system on an existing WordPress site.
Thats it for today. check back in tomorrow when i drop part 2 in our Shopify VS Wordpress comparison