How to Choose the Right eCommerce Platform: WooCommerce vs. Shopify

Whether you’re first launching your eCommerce site or thinking about revamping your current website, you have a big decision to make. The eCommerce platform that you choose will make a big difference in the look, feel and functionality of your site. It’s also a choice you’re likely to be stuck with for a while, so you want to make the right one! 

WooCommerce and Shopify each have a lot to offer and they can both be great choices, depending on who you are and what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for an out of the box solution that’s going to get you up and running quickly and be easy for someone to manage with no development background, Shopify will be the best bet. If you want an open-source platform that will give you a lot of flexibility when it comes to customization, WooCommerce is where it’s at. 

We’ve worked with hundreds of clients at The Media Captain and made the decision for our own in-house eCommerce site (more on that below), so we’re very familiar with each of these platforms. We’ve seen great successes with each of them, but also some frustrations. Which platform you select is a vital step in the launch of your business, so we’re going to break these down for you to hopefully help you make the right choice for your business.

Need help building your eCommerce site? Contact our team at The Media Captain!

WooCommerce:

If we had to pick which eCommerce platform we would choose for ourselves, it would be WooCommerce. In fact, we’ve chosen this platform for our in-house eCommerce business, DermWarehouse

Not only that, “WooCommerce is the leading eCommerce platform with 23.43% of the market share worldwide. In fact, if all WooCommerce stores formed a single country, this country’s revenue would be greater than 35% of the world’s countries!” [1]

WooCommerce has provided us with a platform that we could customize, and we have taken full advantage of these capabilities. From our checkout page to our subscriptions to our loyalty program, our shipping options and more, we’ve customized almost every aspect of the DermWarehouse website. 

Our subscription functionality is a great example of one area of our site that we’ve heavily customized. We wanted to offer very specific subscription length options, we have brands that require specific discounts (or no discounts at all), and we needed to ensure that subscription prices were automatically created when we added a new product and changed when prices were updated. While WooCommerce does have an out of the box solution, we were able to use what they offered as a starting point and customize it from there.

WooCommerce has given us a lot of flexibility. You have the ability to use their plugins (which we’ve done a lot of), but when an out of the box solution hasn’t been to our exact liking, we’ve been able to make changes. We didn’t want any constraints when it came to our website and therefore, WooCommerce was the obvious choice. 

This recommendation does come with a caveat. We chose WooCommerce because we have development capabilities and therefore have been able to take full advantage of what Woo has to offer. For a business owner just starting out, with no development background and without a development budget, it may be difficult for you to start a website on your own on WooCommerce. 

WooCommerce sites are all built on WordPress. If you’ve ever used a WordPress site, you know that the back end is fairly easy to navigate. Years ago, when we first started The Media Captain, I taught myself how to build a website on WordPress. It wasn’t 100% intuitive, but I did it and it certainly wasn’t impossible. The WooCommerce back end is fairly easy to navigate but it’s still more overwhelming and technical than Shopify. Shopify is more user friendly and compact. 

Unlike Shopify, with WooCommerce, you’ll need to pay for your own website hosting and find a payment processor. You’ll also need to find 3rd party software for things like inventory management and fulfillment, which Shopify has its own solutions for.

Contact our team to discuss your WooCommerce website project!

Shopify:

If you want a very quick and easy way to get your website up and running, Shopify is going to be your best bet. It’s extremely intuitive and user friendly, has a plethora of integrations and plugins that can be added on, and if you’re just getting started with eCommerce, it’s a solid option. Shopify does a fantastic job of providing business owners with everything they need to get an eCommerce website up (and quickly).

Shopify provides website hosting and you can even purchase your domain name from them. They also make checkout easy and they offer their own payment gateway. 

When we launched DermWarehouse, getting set up with a payment gateway was tricky. We didn’t know nearly as much about the eCommerce process then as we do now, and at that point, using a Shopify site would have been easier and gotten us up and running much quicker.

Shopify makes inventory management and fulfillment extremely easy as well. This is something we’ve missed with WooCommerce, as we’ve had to find 3rd party solutions for these important eCommerce functions, among others. 

When it comes to out of the box solutions, it’s hard to compete with Shopify. “The Shopify App Store contains over 3,200 apps” [2] and overall, the platform comes with everything you need to launch a very successful eCommerce store. 

Where Shopify struggles is in the ability you have to make changes to what they already offer. While you’re able to do some front end development to change the look and feel of your site, if you want to change how something works majorly on the back end, you’ll have to use something someone has already developed. There are barriers to creating that. 

With Shopify, anything design wise is fairly easy to modify,  but if there’s anything more advanced you have to rely on the plugins. You can build your own plugin, but there are far more hurdles you have to jump through than with WooCommerce.

As I mentioned, if you’re ready to hit the ground running and start selling, like yesterday, Shopify is going to get you up and running with a great site in a very short amount of time. Don’t let it’s ease of use fool you though, “Shopify users include famous brands like Pepsi, Gymshark, Unilever, WaterAid, Redbull, and Tesla Motors” [3] so this is certainly not just a platform for novice eCommerce owners.

Contact our team to discuss your Shopify website project!

What About Shopify Plus?

As I mentioned above, there are plenty of huge brands using Shopify. This is where Shopify Plus comes in. While they have the same core offerings, “Shopify Plus is more advanced and gives you access to new features, integrations, your store’s underlying code, dedicated support options, and more. To put it simply – Shopify is for folks who want to set up small and medium businesses, whereas Shopify Plus is for an enterprise-level business.” [4] 

In Closing:

Ultimately, the platform that you choose will depend on the type of business owner you are. Shopify is much easier to set up and manage on your own than WooCommerce. It has more out of the box solutions and you can get your business up and running quickly and easily.

Setting up and managing a WooCommerce site takes more work and requires development capabilities. You’re on your own when it comes to finding a payment processor (although WooCommerce now has their own), website hosting, plus many of the other eCommerce essentials such as shipping and fulfillment software. What you get with WooCommerce is the ability to customize everything on your site.

Since we have development resources at hand, we chose the WooCommerce route for DermWarehouse and we would do it again. I would never have wanted to sacrifice the customizations I’ve been able to make for the ease of setup. I also would have never wanted to feel handcuffed by certain apps, designs, or functionality on my site. I love WooCommerce because DermWarehouse has been able to grow as the business has grown and there hasn’t been anything development wise to hold us back.

For other business owners, who do not have development skills or easy access to a developer, it’s likely that Shopify might be a better option, especially if you’re ok with keeping your site a little bit more simple. Do yourself a favor though and try to think 5 or 10 years down the road. Do you want a site that’s always going to be more out of the box or will you want to heavily customize aspects? Make sure you think about how you see yourself growing while you’re making your decision.

Sources: 1. WP Swings,  2. PopUpSmart, 3. Forbes, 4. Themeisle

Stefanie Parks

Stefanie is the Co-Founder of The Media Captain. She's currently the CEO of DermWarehouse, The Media Captain's in-house eCommerce brand. Stefanie is an expert on all things eCommerce. She's grown DermWarehouse to beyond $5 million in annual revenue and has a customer base beyond 250,000. Stefanie provides helps with eCommerce strategy development for The Media Captain. She's a frequent contributor onto the TMC blog.