If you're setting foot in the world of e-commerce, you're going to need a platform that is not only an effective selling tool but also fits with your plans for expansion, your level of proficiency with the technical aspects and of course, your budget. There are many services out there, but two of the giants are Shopify and WooCommerce. We're going to consider their strengths and weaknesses because although they are designed to achieve the same results, they do so in markedly different ways.
The first major difference is the fact that Shopify comes as a hosted package with a fixed monthly fee, while WooCommerce is an open-source platform which means it costs nothing to install, although you will need to pay for hosting and security. Keeping all the costs in one place will suit some people, while the flexibility and transparency of keeping the platform separate could work better for others.
Web design and setup with Shopify is simple. It takes care of all the technical side so you don't need to know anything about coding and it offers you a range of beautifully designed templates. This makes it easy to build a professional-looking online store very quickly.
WooCommerce does require you to have some experience with coding but if that's something you're comfortable with then WooCommerce gives you an enormous scope for as much customisation as your imagination will allow. This means the scalability of your platform is virtually limitless.
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As we've seen, Shopify includes domain name, hosting and security (SSL) certificates in one package, while WooCommerce requires you to do some work of your own. However, many hosting services have plans which are built for WooCommerce users, including WordPress installation and support, which means you can still call on experts to do most of the lifting.
All of these features will cost money and while Shopify's pricing is a simple out-of-the-box solution and WooCommerce involves sourcing and funding the different strands of the service, when you crunch the final numbers there is very little to choose between them.
You'll need to watch the price of any extensions you'll need with WooCommerce to avoid going over budget, but it's essentially the same position with the vast range of apps with which Shopify can integrate to increase your sales.
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As Shopify is a subscription-based online tool, it strives to simplify everything for the user. Just as the set-up is straightforward using a basic wizard, so is the day to day running, with a very clear, intuitively designed dashboard. Adding new products is easy, with all the product parameters located in a single panel so that you can build the project page all in one place. While the WooCommerce set-up needs you to be confident with some of the technical issues, once that's done it's just as easy to operate, with a very similar method of adding new products.
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Where they do diverge is on transaction costs. You can simply use Shopify Payments or WooCommerce Payments but these will limit the payment methods you can offer to your customers. To make your products widely available, you should use one or more of the scores of payment gateways such as PayPal, Stripe and Square. Each of these charges its own different transaction fee. However, while WooCommerce itself charges you nothing for a sale, Shopify levies a 2% charge on each transaction.
While Shopify has over 50 designs, of which several are free, WooCommerce allows you access - because it works with WordPress - to literally thousands. What's best for you will depend on how many choices you need and how much you can handle.
Shopify is a great basic e-commerce platform but to bring it to life and get the most out of it, you'll want to install third-party apps. However, it does include many free options including the facility for unlimited products and file storage, mobile commerce optimisation, product reviews, a Facebook selling module, social media integration including Instagram and many more.
Because WooCommerce is open source software, it can take advantage of the fact that your WordPress site - also open source - has access to the innumerable extensions and plug-ins which WordPress invites third parties to develop. In addition, it gives you the ability to sell both physical and digital products with PayPal and Stripe payment gateways built-in. It also has the capacity for unlimited products and categories, works with your existing WordPress theme and offers you the all-important mobile-friendly structure, now that so much e-commerce is conducted on our phones.
As part of the subscription, Shopify gives you 24/7 access to support advisers, available via email, live chat and telephone. It also supplies a substantial knowledge base that will give you answers to the most commonly experienced problems.
WooCommerce encourages you to create a free user account that provides support options including their own knowledge base but instead of 24/7 live support, it operates a system of tickets to solve problems. While this may not seem as attractive as immediate help from a live person, it does do away with the need to sit in a phone queue waiting for a response: you open a ticket and get on with something else until your answer comes through.
Because WordPress is a content creation platform, it is built to optimise your site's search engine performance: adding and editing content and meta-information to improve page rankings is very easy. While Shopify may not have the same flexibility, it does have very clean code, a natural linking structure and processes meta information and site copy perfectly well.
Ultimately, we're looking at two distinctly different platforms designed to achieve the same thing: giving you the best possible online sales platform. The choice will come down to a balance between your own preferences and the competing benefits of the two. But either one will be a supremely effective solution.
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