Shopify and WooCommerce + WordPress are two of the most well-known online store platforms. But if you’re considering Shopify vs. WooCommerce + WordPress, how do you decide which one is the best fit for you and your project?
I’ve been able to consult with clients who use both Shopify and WooCommerce as well as running my own stores with both Shopify and WooCommerce. They are both excellent platforms with a full suite of options to run a successful store.
However, they are both very different, and different businesses will certainly do better with one or the other.
I’ve written extensively on both, including a Shopify review, a WooCommerce setup guide, and a roundup of WooCommerce themes. But in this comparison, I’ll look at the core definitions of WooCommerce and Shopify, some of the differences in the areas of largest consideration for ecommerce owners, and how to use them together.
And lastly, in Next Steps, I’ll outline which one is likely a better fit for different types of ecommerce store owners.
Let’s dive into this comparison of Shopify vs. WooCommerce & WordPress.
Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
Shopify & WordPress Definitions
Shopify is a hosted ecommerce platform.
This means that Shopify has their own proprietary software that’s bundled with their own specially configured hardware. And they provide the entire service as a subscription option.
This is where the term SaaS (software as a service) ecommerce comes from.
With Shopify, you pay one price and you get everything that you need to run an ecommerce store including hardware, software and support.
WordPress is a content management system that you can install for free on a hosting server that you rent from a hosting company.
Aside – note that I’m referring to self-hosted WordPress – not WordPress.com. It’s confusing, I know. But stick with me :)
WordPress is famous for its versatility, and I find that’s why most people use it. Part of this versatility comes from the use of plugins, which are pieces of software that you can install on top of WordPress that add functionality to your website.
One of the most popular and most successful plugins for WordPress is called WooCommerce.
WooCommerce is a full suite of every function that you would need to run a successful ecommerce store that “plugs in” to WordPress.
In fact, WooCommerce itself allows plugins that extend its functionality for things like group memberships, international payment systems, and really anything that you can dream up.
I wrote a WordPress ecommerce setup guide here that uses the WooCommerce plugin.
In other words, WordPress and WooCommerce are the critical pieces of the entire ecommerce setup that you have to build and manage.
The best analogy that I’ve come up with to describe the difference is with real estate.
Shopify is sort of like a store in a shopping development or a condominium.
You own, operate and customize the inside of the building. You can do whatever you want. But the property comes pre-packaged with plumbing electricity, security, and Property Management.
The shopping development is not going to make your store successful, and they aren’t going to control how you run your business. But, they are going to take care of all the non-business related aspects of your business so that you can focus on selling more stuff to your customers.
Building a store with WordPress is like building your own store / house on your own land. You get to build the exact experience that you want. You can do anything you want with the property. If you don’t want it to be just a store, you can make it be more than a store. You can create any experience if you want.
But everything about the property ultimately stops with you. If there is a plumbing problem, it’s your issue. If there is a break-in, it’s your issue. There is plenty of help that you can hire to help take care of these issues. But you own and operate the entire property, so they are ultimately your problem.
Generally speaking, if your core competency is selecting inventory and selling product then you will love Shopify. Unlike many other hosted ecommerce platforms, they’ve solved many of the limitations, and have a team to ensure they are on the cutting edge of technical ecommerce features.
In contrast, if your core competency is development, and building out a full digital experience that your customers love, then you will like the freedoms WordPress and WooCommerce better – especially if that experience sets you apart from the rest of your competitors.
But what does the general difference between a hosted platform and a self-hosted ecommerce platform look like for individual considerations? Let’s look at those each in turn.
Shopify & WordPress Differences
There are a lot of considerations that go into choosing and building an ecommerce store, but here’s how Shopify and WordPress differ on some of the most critical considerations.
Hosting, Speed & Security
Like I mentioned in the introduction, Shopify takes care of your product hosting as well as speed, optimization, and security all as part of your monthly subscription.
However, with Shopify, you do have to make some compromises in order for Shopify to provide all your technical needs.
You do not have access to your server via FTP. If you want to edit any website files, you have to work with Shopify’s editor called Liquid – or their drag and drop template builder. It does an excellent job of allowing you to edit the files that you need to edit. But as any developer knows – it’s never the same as having root access your server.
In contrast, if you use WordPress and WooCommerce, you are responsible for your hosting speed and security needs. You’ll need to choose a hosting company – I have a fun little quiz to help you find the right fit here.
Plus, you’ll have to learn how to make sure your website is up to speed, and that it is secure (or you could use a secure third-party processor such as PayPal).
Neither hosting or speed or security is particularly hard, and most of the changes that you will have to make are straightforward. But if you have no development experience, even the process of troubleshooting can be difficult.
On the other hand, you can implement changes that fit your vision perfectly with the level of control WordPress allows. If you want to have Global SSL with an extended validated certificate – you can do that. If you want to customize your checkout on your domain, then you can do that.
If you want to run whatever scripts and tracking scripts you via a Content Delivery Network – you can do that. If you love tinkering with servers and caching, you can get a site that probably runs faster than your Shopify site could ever run.
That said, if your website gets hacked, attacked or slows down too much, the responsibility for finding a solution or an expert will be on your plate – and no one else’s.
With Shopify, you have a predictable monthly subscription cost. Additionally, you have the option to purchase premium themes or hire a designer or other professional services to run your site. But none are required.
Since Shopify is well-known to many professionals, you will often be able to minimize some of your ongoing professional services cost. For example, since Shopify takes care of almost all of your Technical SEO, and Technical PPC requirements, any SEO consultant or PPC consultant can skip to the real work rather than taking care of basic technical problems (I’m looking at you, Magento canonicals…).
That said, committing to an ongoing subscription cost in addition to any other Shopify App costs can be a daunting overhead for a starter store.
WordPress, on the other hand, can either be cheaper than Shopify or more expensive depending on your expertise and the time that you want to invest.
Since WordPress and WooCommerce are free & community-supported, your only unavoidable cost is your ongoing hosting bill.
WordPress is an established platform, with a very deep global pool of talent.
You can get stunning designs for free, or you can upgrade to a premium theme that might run as little as $20-30.
If you want to spend thousands of dollars on a design, there are also thousands of WordPress-focused design shops in America and around the world.
For custom development, you can get free plugins and learn yourself or you can hire one of the many WordPress Consultants or WordPress-focused Developers from around the world.
In short, with WordPress you can pay as little as you want or as much as you want – it’s completely up to you. With Shopify, you have a higher base monthly cost that you cannot reduce but you can go up from there if you want.
Customization & User-friendliness
Shopify is built for ecommerce store owners. They have a huge focus on making the process and setup as simple as possible.
Their backend has plenty of options if you dig deeper, but it’s focused on being user-friendly, especially for starting website owners.
Shopify allows you to install apps and extensions from their App Store. Some are free and some are paid. But all the apps are straightforward to install and guaranteed to work.
WordPress and WooCommerce, on the other hand, are user-friendly but they can be overwhelming with their options. WordPress is built so that you can build any kind of website that you want – including an ecommerce store. But even if you don’t want blog posts or custom post types, those options are going to be there whether you use them or not.
Once you go up the learning curve of WordPress by following some great tutorials on WordPress or tutorials on WooCommerce, it’s very straightforward. However, it does have a steeper learning curve than Shopify.
Sticking to the general theme – Shopify is built specifically as an ecommerce platform. So all the content tools are focused around your store / products.
They have tools for editing categories, collections, pages, product pages, your homepage, any regular page that you want to set up and more. They have an integrated blogging tool that suits most ecommerce owners. It really only has the features that an ecommerce owner would want, not an advanced publisher.
If you want to focus on content beyond product promotion and sales, Shopify can’t go there because it’s not built for that (think interactive or customized presentations).
If you want to build a full-featured forum along with discussions and interactive content, or any other content type that is not typically seen in the ecommerce world – you won’t be able to build it with Shopify.
In contrast, WordPress is a full personal content management system. You can build anything that you want with WordPress. It has built-in blogging and content manage, but you can also extend it to do anything such as social networking, bookings, or really anything you can dream up. In fact, WooCommerce uses custom post types to create the product content type.
SEO & Marketing Tools
Shopify’s SEO and marketing tools are robust, built-in and simple-to-use. But, they often don’t extend to edge cases and require knowledge of Shopify’s platform. For example, I had to figure out how to implement cross-collection canonicals via Liquid with one client.
But except for edge cases, Shopify takes care of almost everything – including advanced technical tools such as Schema, Sitemaps and even SSL. To the relief of all ecommerce SEO Consultants, they take care of canonicals and product Schema markup.
They allow for bulk 301 redirects, but if you’re migrating a large store you’ll still need a paid app to upload them in bulk and to monitor any crawl errors.
Additionally, if you want to make any changes to, let’s say, collections canonicals, you’ll need to really understand how Liquid works so that you can write the script to make those changes.
This also holds for AdWords tools and Facebook tools – Shopify has an advanced but still straightforward implementation. They make Merchant Center, Facebook Pixel, Buyable Pins, etc all straightforward. But if you have any edge cases, you’ll have to work with Shopify’s platform and possibly a paid extension.
With WordPress, you can do whatever you want.
There is a robust family of free and premium plugins for every situation.
There are also entire companies that develop very specialized extensions & plugins for WooCommerce. I wrote about a case from several years ago w/ this here. You can do A/B testing, conditional product displays, etc – the only thing limiting is your imagination.
But like hosting, speed, and security, you are the one responsible for ultimately making everything work together.
If you get the WordPress white screen of death and crash your site because of incompatible plugin… oh, then you are the one responsible for getting it back up.
Design & Themes
For web design, Shopify and WordPress both offer unlimited options. There is no such thing as a “Shopify design” or a “WordPress design.”
They both output HTML CSS and have fully-featured web design editors.
With WordPress, you’ll can use PHP to edit templates in addition to editing the CSS (if you want). With Shopify, you’ll be using Liquid to edit templates in addition to editing the CSS.
Shopify also has a drag and drop wizard built into their layout editor.
Both WordPress and Shopify offer marketplaces for pre-designed themes and templates.
They both have a deep talent pool for designers who can implement whatever design you want depending on your budget.
And they both have a selection of free themes that you can install with a press of a button.
WordPress has an edge in design since, again, you can have root access to your server, but for all given purposes, Shopify allows any web design you could want.
Customer support is possibly the biggest difference between WordPress / WooCommerce and Shopify.
With Shopify, you can talk to Shopify representatives who know Shopify backward and forwards. They can even log in and look at your entire site set up.
With WordPress, you have access to your hosting company’s support team. However, they may or may not be able to help with specific issues within your specific WordPress installation – though they can help you troubleshoot technical problems with your hosting and WordPress.
Back to the analogy – WordPress is like your house. You can call a plumber, and they may be able to fix your plumbing problem, but in the end, you’re the one responsible.
Whereas with Shopify, it’s like a plumbing problem in your storefront. It’s the property management’s problem, and you can work with them to get it fixed.
Growth & Future-proofing
There is one last point about growth and future-proofing.
Since Shopify is a proprietary platform, you do have to consider whether you want them as a long-term choice as your store grows. Shopify has stores from single product stores all the way up to massive corporations who use their enterprise product. They are a listed company with financial stability but they are still a company – not an open-source community.
But if you do decide to ever leave (or they go bankrupt), you can export your product data and your content data, but you will lose most everything else.
WordPress is open source and community supported. And since you have access to your database, you can export, reformat, and do whatever you want with all your data. It’s 100% yours and 100% available to you.
Going back to the real estate analogy. It’s sort of like setting up a storefront in a retail development. The stuff inside is yours, but if you get attached to the signage or the architecture or anything about the building – you can’t take it with you. That’s not a good or a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of.
Using WordPress & Shopify Together
There is one option that throws a wrench into a WordPress vs. Shopify comparison.
That is the fact that you can technically use WordPress and Shopify together in 2 different ways.
The first option is to use Shopify as your “store” and WordPress for the rest of your website / blog.
The most commonly used case is a publisher who uses WordPress for their writing and content but wants to open up an online store with Shopify rather than WooCommerce.
You cannot use Shopify and WordPress directly together on the same subdomain since Shopify is a hosted platform whereas WordPress lives on your hosting server.
If you want to use them together then you’ll have to put one install on one subdomain and the other on another subdomain. For example, you would have shop.Yyourdomain.com for your Shopify store and www.yourdomain.com for your WordPress blog.
The main thing to consider is how you will provide a unified experience between your store and your blog with design, analytics, etc. You’ll need to have a unified design and analytics tracking across the two subdomains. Setting these two things up take some planning, and require that you maintain really two different websites.
You can use Shopify and WordPress together, but you’ll have to make a different set of tradeoffs that could multiply your problems rather than solve them.
The most likely scenario here is that you are primarily a publisher / site owner that uses WordPress, and you want a separate store. Ecommerce is a supplement, not a core part of your website (e.g. a blogger selling merch). In this case, having Shopify on a shop. subdomain would work. You’d want a similar design, but it wouldn’t need to match exactly since the “store” is a separate entity.
If you are primarily an ecommerce owner though, I don’t think using WordPress on a subdomain (e.g., blog.) warrants the extra site. Shopify’s blogging tools are generally fine for most any content strategy you’d plan – plus there’s a benefit for having that content on your store’s subdomain.
The second option is to use Shopify for your product inventory, checkout, and payments without their online store option.
Shopify has a Lite plan for $9/mo that does not include an online store, but does include inventory and payments. It’s meant for product owners who sell products via all sorts of different channels, but need a single, online place to manage all the sales.
With Shopify Lite, you get a little snippet of code to place on your existing website, Facebook page, Twitter profile, etc – and allow sales to checkout within that button. Think of it like PayPal but with inventory and order management.
If you sell via many channels – including your WordPress powered website, but do not want to manage a full-fledged online store with product pages, collections, etc – then you can get Shopify Lite, and place the code snippet on your WordPress website.
Next Steps & Related Resources
If you’re starting online store both Shopify and WordPress + WooCommerce are excellent choices.
If you feel comfortable with working with the backend of a website, want to control and customize everything or if you are just more comfortable with WordPress then you should go check out WooCommerce. Be sure to use my WordPress eCommerce setup tutorial to learn more.
If you don’t even want to think about the technical side of running an online store, and you just want to focus on selling, marketing, and inventory – then you should go try on Shopify free here.
And whichever one you choose, be sure to read my inbound marketing plan for ecommerce owners.