Is WooCommerce as good as Shopify?

Is WooCommerce as good as Shopify?

Kornel M. Novak

Due to the COVID, people changed strategies. Isolation further stirred up the not-so-calm waters of the e-commerce market, and last year we saw an incomparable spike in some country's new shop registration statistics and big player mergers. Some platforms are more favored than others but WooCommerce and Shopify are clearly game-winners.

Let’s dive in and compare WooCommerce with one of the leading ready-made platforms, Shopify. Which one is better and which serves better the primary user’s needs?

What is WooCommerce?

WooCommerce is the leading e-commerce platform solution for WordPress-based sites. It can be installed as a plugin and in its basic form is free and open-source, hence its popularity. The initial configuration and cart setup can be done in a few hours and you are good to go to sell. Many plugins are available to increment functionality with your store, starting from shipping configurations, taxes calculation, product variation configurations, payment gateways, etc.

Other selling point for WooCommerce sites is its templating system, based on WordPress, so basically to change the look and feel of your shop, you only need to install a new theme, set up some configurations, and call it a day.

With plugins, many shopowners are using WooCommerce in custom, not typical e-commerce ways. We already encountered e-learning sites, e-book stores, and membership-centered newsletter courses, so really the sky is the limit if you want to create something specific to your needs.

How easy is to set up WooCommerce?

As we mentioned already, the basic configuration is really straightforward. Based on the guide on the WooCommerce official website, the installation process can be resumed in 5 steps:

  1. Choose a hosting provider. In this article we don’t want to detail this too much, there are countless options, optimized for WordPress hosting.
  2. Install WordPress. As we mentioned earlier, WooCommerce works as a plugin for WordPress, so you have to have the CMS installed on your chosen hosting. We always recommend using a specific WordPress-tailored hosting provider, so you never have to worry about updates and version changes.
  3. Install WooCommerce. There are 3 ways to install the plugin, but you will need to create an account on the WooCommerce page in order to activate the plugin in your WordPress installation. -- Go to the WooCommerce site, sign-up, select a plugin, and install it into your WordPress site. -- Download the plugin, and upload it to your WordPress installations plugin folder, then activate it. -- Search for the plugin inside your WordPress page’s plugin module and install it, then activate it. Upon activating your plugin, you will be prompted with a Setup Wizard. The WooCommerce site strongly suggests taking the configuration steps suggested by the wizard in order to set up the plugin.
  4. Pick a theme for your store. During the setup process, you will have to select a theme for your store. You can use the free themes provided by WordPress or you can buy a premium theme from the many libraries available on the internet. Choosing the theme will determine the look and feel of your shop. The WooCommerce site suggests Storefront as the basic theme for your site since it is optimized for WooCommerce shops and it’s free.
  5. Extend WooCommerce. This is the tricky part. There are so many plugins available to tackle your shop’s inner functionality that it is easy to get lost in features through the beginning. We at Webcapital, always suggest to our clients to go baby steps and install only the necessary plugins at the beginning in order to start selling. After a while, we can do incremental installations but in most of the cases what we experienced is that the extra plugins are not worth the pain of facing problems with ordering and invoicing in everyday operations.

How easy is to get help with WooCommerce?

It depends. I know that there is a lot of noise in the community about WooCommerce, so one could think that it is easy to get the answers to the problems with plugins and custom processes, but sadly the truth is that users are not always getting the right answers. (Right is the keyword here)

As with everything on the hype, there are a lot of development companies adopting the image of WooCommerce developers but without a prior experience with the WordPress platform, sometimes it is really hard to discover what went wrong with a specific order for instance.

We always suggest checking not only the use cases for WooCommerce in an Agency’s portfolio but also the WordPress-related works that they have done and also asking them about some custom-type development tasks that they executed for their clients. Specific examples can be helpful to decide if they are what you need for your niche.

What we experienced as a problem in the professional space, is that sometimes the promise is that an agency or freelancer tries to solve everything with plugins, which can work if you have a really basic WooCommerce shop, but for a bit more complex shopping process I suggest to ask a true professional in order to save time and money in the future.

Cons of WooCommerce

Let’s check some negative points for WooCommerce with examples from the community.

  • Too many plugins with dubious quality. This is not a specific problem of WooCommerce, but the whole WordPress ecosystem suffers from years of bad practices in plugin development. Plugins are easily getting into conflict with other plugins due to the wrong implementation or simply not following the guidelines of the WordPress documentation. We already handled a lot of shops with plugin problems, because the developer wasn’t able to discover what exactly happens in the back.
  • Some themes are really slow. Recently e-commerce-based SEO configurations are more and more important for the end-users. We are getting constant optimization requests for product category URL changes, variations configuration changes in already working shops, and sometimes we have to tell the client that however their shop is beautiful it cannot serve the purpose for any SEO-related optimization. Google just keeps banning and putting the shop back and back in search results and due to the inner workings of WordPress, there is not much to do if you don’t want to invest the money and time in the theme optimization. So what we suggest from the beginning is to concentrate on the buyer’s experience not on the shop’s look first. If the experience is ok, you can move on and make sure it looks good.
  • Shipping-fee management is a pain. A very common reclamation point from clients is that there aren’t any good shipping-fee management plugins available on the market. The ones that are available sometimes clash with other plugins and the configuration is really complicated due to taxes and different provider integrations.
  • WooCommerce is free to a certain extent. As we mentioned, WooCommerce in its basic plugin form is free. However, most of the plugins offer basic and premium features, and sooner and later you will discover that you need the premium version of most of them. At that point the costs can stack up to a meaningful amount so take care if you need various plugins in order to make your shop work as expected. Do not forget also, that after a certain level of customization and increase in your operations you may need to contract specific WooCommerce consulting services and that can be costly as well.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is the undisputed leader of ready-made online shops. It is based in Canada and offers preconfigured templates for a vast type of online selling site. It is completely cloud-based and they handle all the updates for you on their backend. They working on 3 layers:

  • Shopify’s core product. This is their main service, your online shop with all the basic functionalities like product handling, payments, shopping cart, SEO and marketing tools, etc. Exactly what you expect from an online store. Also with the subscription comes access to their API to further customize your shop.
  • Shopify’s additional products and services. As a Shopify customer, you gain access to premium services. As your business grows you need more sophisticated tools and Shopify offers solutions for bigger e-commerce sites as well.
  • Shopify apps built by trusted partners. Shopify also has an App Store which contains a lot of 3rd party solutions for specific business needs. Together with the App Store, they offer an Experts Store where you can hire officially approved experts for consultation purposes.

Shopify is an all-in-one solution for business owners who are looking for an integrated environment and just want to start selling their products as fast as they can. Shopify also offers payment solutions in various languages and countries out of the box.

How easy is Shopify customization?

Shopify offers various solutions for customization but is not as flexible as a true open-source framework like WooCommerce. When you finish the subscription you get access to their API. There are endpoints for all the modules of the Shopify ecosystem, but you need a developer to implement custom processes and functionalities for your shop. We will not dive into the usage of the API, this is a technical Topic, but you can find more information on their API site.

The other way for customization is using 3rd party packages from the App Store. One can find free packages from big providers like Google and Facebook, but most of the packages are offering their full functionality with payable versions and some packages can only be installed with a premium subscription.

Shopify offers a free trial for 14 days, so you can get a feel of the platform and its features and possibilities. Also worth mentioning that Shopify’s ecosystem offers great resources for e-commerce learning, scaling, etc. purposes via their guides and blogs. Worth checking out!

WooCommerce against Shopify

As always, let’s check which platform attends which purpose better and do some minor comparisons.

  • The basic difference between the two is the question of customization. With Shopify, you get taken care of infrastructure and security, but you have lesser power above the platform as a whole. For some edge cases, you will hit the wall, meanwhile, for WooCommerce you can easily find customization professionals in the WordPress and WooCommerce community.
  • Building a bigger store without geographical restrictions with WooCommerce is still much easier, but you will need some basic technical knowledge.
  • The initial setup is much easier with Shopify. You just create your subscription, choose a theme and everything is good to go. With WooCommerce you have to get through the installation process with a hosting provider.
  • The customization ecosystem for WooCommerce is much broader than for Shopify, due to its nature of a ready-made store without access to the backend.
  • Sales features for a default WooCommerce store are scarce. You will need plugins and extensions to create the checkout process you want. With Shopify you have it at the moment you start your store.
  • Worth mentioning that Shopify has a transaction fee for every transaction happening on their platform. WooCommerce doesn’t use that kind of cost structure.
  • Worth mentioning that Shopify has a transaction fee for every transaction happening on their platform. WooCommerce doesn’t use that kind of cost structure.
  • Customer support is much better with WooCommerce, but it also depends on the hosting provider you choose.
  • The pricing also pushes the balance towards WooCommerce. It is free to install and you can find good plugins for reasonable prices. Shopify works with monthly or yearly subscriptions and plugins are costly sometimes with the annual bill.

So that’s all folks related to the debate of WooCommerce vs. Shopify. We work mostly with WooCommerce and we saw some really interesting shops throughout the years with huge traffics. Let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or just want to start a conversation about your new shop!