You’ve probably heard several adages about comparing apples to oranges. You’re not supposed to compare the two because…well, they’re simply different. Comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges makes much more sense.
Comparing WooCommerce to Shopify is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. But here’s the thing my friend: in real life, billions of dollars in ecommerce transactions are more important than an apple and an orange. Comparing is essential.
WooCommerce and Shopify are both immensely popular ecommerce solutions. They’re pretty different, but they still can compete with each other for your business. So let’s compare these two delicious ecommerce fruits.
Context first: why are they different? WooCommerce basically stems its popularity from WordPress, because it’s a WordPress plugin. Accordingly, as WordPress powers roughly a quarter of websites, WooCommerce powers roughly 30% of ecommerce sites. The plugin alone has been downloaded millions of times.
And then there’s Shopify. Whereas WooCommerce is a plugin that gets added to your site, Shopify is a full-on store-building software.
It doesn’t have nearly as many installations compared to WooCommerce, with around 600,000 stores using Shopify actively…but it has facilitated over $82 billion in transactions. Among store-builders and shopping cart software—and there is some competition, believe me—Shopify ranks as the most popular, with WooCommerce probably being the bigger brother.
If I wanted to take a day off, I’d tell you that these two can’t be compared—sorry, just figure it out! But the reality is that you may need to choose between WooCommerce and Shopify. There are very real positives and negatives to either, relative to each other.
It’s a tale of two cities. A battle between the apple and the orange. Apple vs. Microsoft, or Pixar vs. Dreamworks—heck, name a rivalry. People don’t always realize it, but here is a true, hidden battle in the world of ecommerce.
Luckily for you, I have experience with both. It’s taken me some time to figure out where the two stand, so keep reading, because I’m going to summarize all that into words.
Pricing and Features Comparison
Oh, how I wish this could be more straightforward. But it’s not that simple for this review, because it’s especially not that simple in real life for you and your business.
So let’s start with pricing, because that can be a major point of confusion when comparing these two. On the face of it, Shopify is much more expensive. That’s because Shopify actually has a price. WooCommerce itself is a free WordPress plugin…but you’re probably still going to end up paying something.
This is because while WooCommerce itself is free, it only does some basic ecommerce functions. It’s still incredibly useful, for reasons I’ll get into in a sec, but the plugin itself won’t be enough for most ecommerce needs.
So you’ll need to install additional software, some of which will be free but most will be paid.
And then there’s the fact that to install WooCommerce in the first place, you’d need to be using WordPress.
Note: Although WooCommerce is owned by Automattic, which runs the commercial WordPress.com, you’d probably be running WooCommerce on the WordPress.org, free and open source software. Technically, you don’t need to, but chances are, you will.
Anyway, this usually means that you’ll be paying for your hosting using a hosting service. And if you’re doing that, you probably have a domain either purchased separately from your hosting, or which was included in your hosting package.
So yes, outwardly WooCommerce is free…but that’s just the application itself. To even get there, you need to be paying for a hosting and a domain name, and install and use WordPress. And then to make full use of WooCommerce you need to install other stuff.
Then there’s Shopify: Shopify includes the website and hosts it for you. You can connect an existing domain, or purchase one on Shopify.
Side note: I find this annoying, because many hosting providers will include a free domain for a year, and for lower prices than Shopify. Is Shopify’s software worth that much that they can charge you for a domain registration? Maybe so, but I find it frustrating.
Anyway, Shopify includes all that, and all the other features you’d need to install from different parties if you were using WooCommerce. Shopify’s three pricing plans range from $29 to $299.
There are additional products: Shopify Plus is for enterprise-grade solutions and has custom pricing. Shopify Lite swings the other way and is basically lets you sell on Facebook for $9 a month. So it’s not a full site at all, but maybe for some small businesses it’s a good option.
So what tools does Shopify include (for its main pricing plans)? Unlimited products, a couple staff accounts at the minimum (15 max), 24/7 support, sales channels, discount codes, a free SSL certificate, some shipping discounts, the option of printing shipping labels, and abandoned cart recovery.
Higher tiers include gift cards, professional reports (created by Shopify for you), better payment rates for your customers, and more calculated shipping rates. There are more features—you can view a complete list here.
These are all pretty important for an online store. So what can WooCommerce bring right away? Well, basically the store itself and integration with your WordPress theme.
This is still powerful: you can edit just about anything about your store, plus you can add unlimited products and orders, add product tags and categories, comment/review sections for your customers, and more. It’s not as fully featured as Shopify, but when you consider that it’s a free plugin, it’s still very impressive. You can still set up a shop with it, after all.
Oh, and WooCommerce doesn’t take any cuts of your revenue.
Aside from what WooCommerce offers out of the box, I’d like to remind you that there is a healthy set of free WooCommerce extensions. You’ll pretty much need these to have all the ecommerce tools you’d get with Shopify or BigCommerce.
WooCommerce shipping is one such essential extension. It’s free and gives you discounted shipping rates and the ability to print labels, just as how Shopify offers.
Other free plugins/extensions include: Stripe, Facebook, Amazon Pay, ShipStation, PayPal, and a ton of other payment processors or checkout softwares. These will allow you to deal with most payment methods and get some decent information from your estore.
In addition, WooCommerce has a free Google Analytics extension and LiveChat extension, which are pretty useful, plus some miscellaneous tools that let managing your store easier. And that’s all for free: if you take into account paid extensions, you can get most features Shopify offers, and even more.
Once you start taking into account those paid extensions, things get more complicated of course. Want your customers to be able to personalize the products they buy (for example, with gift messages)? An extra $49 a year if you have a single site. Other extensions can be between a hundred and several hundred a year. Almost all include a 30-day free trial.
As far as templates go, Shopify has a smaller selection. It’s still a good selection in my opinion, but the Shopify template store is more confined.
WooCommerce, being integrated with WordPress and being open-source, is open to far more themes.
There’s an active community online developing WooCommerce templates, of which some might even be free. So while Shopify takes it with out of the box features, WooCommerce has better theme options.
One final note: WooCommerce gives you a little more control over your e-store. This is natural because you’ll be managing your domain, hosting, and WordPress, plus whatever you choose to install with WooCommerce.
With Shopify, you basically pay for a plan and get a set amount of software out of the box, plus access to the Shopify app store, so things are much simpler but you also get less control over the overall process.
Both are developer-friendly and can also be used by people without any coding knowledge. However, WooCommerce is a little more developer friendly, as developers must learn Liquid, Shopify’s own programming language, to really take control.
Wow! That’s a lot of information. Don’t worry! Here’s the gist: Shopify is initially more expensive, starting at $29 a month. WooCommerce is technically free, but to get an ecommerce experience as well-featured as Shopify, you’d need to pay for some extensions (in addition to what you already pay for hosting).
Shopify is a better option for those prioritizing ease of use and an easy store set-up.
WooCommerce is better for those who want more control over their ecommerce components.
WooCommerce could potentially be more expensive than Shopify plans, but it truly depends on what extensions you’re using.
It’s also true that a wily business owner could use affordable hosting with WordPress, integrate WooCommerce, and then be clever about which extensions they employ, and manage to fit the needs of their store while saving money.
Ease of Use Comparison
Well, all of that information is an easy lead into this section—I fear my answer for ease of use may have been spoiled a bit.
Because, yep, Shopify is easier to use. And that’s no accident: like I’ve said, Shopify is designed to be easier to use. Setting up an account is super easy, and you can handle everything about your store in your browser (that’s also true of WooCommerce, but things are still more centralized with Shopify).
I’d like to note that I don’t think WooCommerce is inherently difficult. With the help of the internet, it isn’t too difficult figuring out how to find a good hosting provider, domain name, install WordPress, and then install WooCommerce and subsequent extensions.
Plus, using WooCommerce itself, and even a good portion of the extensions, is pretty user-friendly.
Anyone in ecommerce, including those on Shopify, will necessarily be dealing with certain concepts and tools that aren’t super easy, or that aren’t known to the general public. The issue is more that WooCommerce involves some extra hassle, in installing multiple extensions and managing all of them: keeping them up to date, paying for them, and so on.
Even if you use a tool to make managing WooCommerce easier, you’ll need to pay for that. At that point, you’d either have to be really loyal to WooCommerce, or you could consider just going with Shopify.
So in sum, WooCommerce isn’t exactly difficult to learn, it can just be frustrating to manage for some. Shopify centralizes different aspects of ecommerce much better, and is just generally more user-friendly in its aesthetics and navigation.
Customer Support Comparison
As I often make a point of doing, you can’t really talk about ease of use without then talking about customer support. And with our current descriptions of Shopify and WooCommerce, customer support is even more relevant.
I’ll cut to the chase: Shopify has better customer support. But, I’ll start with WooCommerce.
WooCommerce’s customer support has two main components: documentation, and support requests. WooCommerce Docs, as the page is known, isn’t a bad resource. It covers most basic items, but there are only a few articles per category and those articles are often short.
Again: it’s not bad, but it could definitely use some expanding. The good news is that WooCommerce has a big community of users, so you can find a lot of material off of WooCommerce just by Googling around.
As far as contacting customer support goes, you’re pretty much limited to a ticket system. This is a bit frustrating, because WooCommerce can be at times a little more complex to manage, and having immediate responses would help.
Nonetheless, in my experience the representatives’ responses have been solid once you use it, and it’s still not a crazy wait time anyway.
Once you start comparing to Shopify, however, WooCommerce looks a bit lackluster.
Shopify offers the following minor items: a business encyclopedia; “guides,” a collection of infographic-ebook hybrids that overlaps with “ecommerce university”; a community forum, which is a subset of ecommerce university; “academy,” a set of courses; podcasts, of which there are only two options; a page that lists free tools; Shopify “Burst,” which is a collection of free stock photos; and finally, Shopify “Polaris,” which is a lesser-known site that details Shopify’s design standards for those building Shopify stores for clients.
The more major resource is Shopify’s knowledge base.
Above: Shopify Polaris and Shopify’s list of free tools.
Some of this stuff is more decorative than substantive. There are quite a few sites that provide free stock photos, and a business encyclopedia is presumably non-essential for those starting businesses (and even if it is, Google should work just as well).
Even if you look at Shopify’s knowledge base alone, it’s much more detailed and has more articles than WooCommerce’s.
Aside from surpassing WooCommerce in that respect, Shopify has better options for contacting representatives: email, live chat, and phone are all viable methods.
As you can see, I got my question answered in about a minute or two.
Ultimately, customer support pretty clear victory for Shopify. It has much better on-site informational material and other resources, and contacting representatives is both easier and faster on Shopify. WooCommerce does have a better, larger community of users that can be consulted, but I don’t think it totally tips the scale.
Security and Reliability Comparison
On to our last item: how is the security and reliability of these services? It’s pretty difficult to directly compare here.
First of all, WooCommerce will probably perform just fine and has a good track record. The problems your online shop might deal with will largely be related to your hosting provider. So as far as your uptime or even site response time goes, WooCommerce isn’t where you want to scrutinize.
However, you’d be right to be concerned about WooCommerce’s reliability in taking payments. WordPress is regularly audited by Sucuri, a leader in digital security.
WooCommerce doesn’t come with SSL—but you might get that included in your hosting package anyway, or you can install an extension for it.
In fact, a lot of the security for your online store could be handled through your payment processing extensions. The good news is that the popular ones, which are free WooCommerce extensions, are popular because they’re secure and reliable.
The other good news is a lot of extensions can automate plugin-updates to make the maintenance of your shop easier, which improves security and reliability. Some are free, some are paid.
Overall I’d say WooCommerce has high performance, and that security is difficult to speak generally about because of all the varying factors in a given person’s situation.
Shopify is, as usual, simpler. If you build a store on Shopify, you can expect solid uptime. Which is good, because the starting price is pretty high compared to starting prices for pure hosting products.
As far as security goes, Shopify is PCI compliant and includes SSL certification its pricing plans—but that’s about all they say.
So there’s another reason why Shopify is simpler: it’s not too transparent about its security protocols. Shopify also famously pays hackers for sharing vulnerabilities with them, and thus allowing them to improve their security.
Nonetheless, Shopify has safely handled tens of billions of dollars in transactions over many years—leading the shopping cart field—without much of a hitch. So, something must be going right.
My wrap-up for this factor would be that in terms of reliability, both Shopify and WooCommerce are very reliable for their purposes and scopes and both are pretty secure. However, Shopify can perform more reliably, whereas WooCommerce’s performance depends on your host and to an extent, your add-ons.
Conclusion: Which do I Recommend?
Clearly, this is a complicated comparison. A practical case of apples vs. oranges.
On one hand, WooCommerce is free, and Shopify starts at $29 a month. That’s a pretty huge point for WooCommerce. But then you have to consider the fact that to approach Shopify’s level of features, you’ll need to add paid extensions that could easily end up in the Shopify range.
Right off the bat, we’re met with this dilemma: WooCommerce allows more user control, and can be less expensive, whereas Shopify is very straightforward in its price and is very easy to use (without sacrificing the tools you need).
Shopify by far has better customer support, but that’s to be expected given the centralized nature of Shopify.
As far as security and reliability goes, Shopify is consistent and secure. WooCommerce is a toss-up: it’s probably going to be secure and reliable in and of itself, but the state of your store depends on much more than just WooCommerce because it’s just a plugin.
Clearly, neither of these solutions is perfect for everyone. I would recommend Shopify to businesses that really need the efficiency. The ease of use is good for teams that don’t have much technical experience, but even teams that do can benefit from the ease with which they can set up and manage a Shopify store. Plus, what you pay for is what you get.
To those who wish to have more control over the tools they get to build their shop, I’d recommend WooCommerce. Businesses can choose the level of hosting they want independently, and then add WooCommerce and all the subsequent extensions they need.
While some extensions might be expensive, the benefit is that businesses can pick and choose.
You won’t need to pay for features that you don’t use, which ensures all the tools you pay for are ones you really need. And you can always add or remove them as you see fit.
So sorry folks, but there isn’t an easy answer here.
Ease and efficiency: Shopify
But if you’re still not sure, don’t worry: WooCommerce is free, and many of the paid extensions you need have free trials. Plus, Shopify has a two-week free trial—so get out there and start building!