If you’re looking to start an ecommerce website, you’ve probably heard of Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento. As three of the most common ecommerce platforms on the web, all three offer basic solutions for businesses that want to sell their products and services online.
However, these platforms vary quite a bit when it comes to their functionalities and what features they provide. Fortunately I’ve worked with all three of these platforms, so it’s pretty easy to tell you how each platform outperforms another and which one is the right fit for your business.
Let’s take a look at what each platform offers:
Shopify is all about being user-friendly. It’s advertised for its user-friendly editor, security, and a high quality support backing compared to other platforms. Shopify says, “you don’t have to be a designer or developer to build an online store.” The idea is that anyone can hop online, put together their own website to sell something, and Shopify will either provide the templates or help with all the hard stuff.
In reality, Shopify is more like the Wix of ecommerce websites. When your website is on Shopify, you don’t actually own your website. It’s more like renting the website for a series of monthly payments. You’ll also be dependent on updates and features as they’re provided, rather than when you need them. When it comes to using external functionalities, there’s also a limit with Shopify in the form of extra charges to use third party solutions. So if you want to sidestep one of Shopify’s features, or add an extra thing that Shopify doesn’t offer on their own, it’s going to cost you.
Image from shopify.com/pricing
Shipping limitations on Shopify
Right out of the box, Shopify provides a set of standard discounted rates to use USPS, UPS, or DHL. But if you want to display your own calculated shipping rates to customers from any shipping provider, you’ll have to pay extra. Even then, those personal calculated shipping rates are only available in the highest value plan, which comes in at around $299 per month. If you’re willing to pay, then you are able to use any plugins available from your shipping provider. Compared to WooCommerce and Magento2, who have no restrictions on shipping rates, this might be a bit of a deterrent for Shopify if you want a more customized setup.
Can I use other Payment Methods on Shopify?
Shopify also set limitations on payment methods that it offers store owners. In this case, they want you to use their personal solution called Shopify Payments. If you choose another solution like Stripe or Authorize.net, you’ll have to pay Shopify an extra 2-0.5% fee per transaction, which also stacks with the usual 1.5-3% payment processor fees. Looking at other platforms, Shopify is the only one to add an additional fee like this.
Hiring A Development Team?
If you want to bring in a firm or a separate developer to build your website, then Shopify’s probably not the platform for you. In general, the tools and systems Shopify are designed for sellers without any previous design or development skill.
Because Shopify offers so many pre-built templates and plugins that are fairly easy to install and configure, hiring a development team for Shopify would be a pretty bad investment strategy. Generally, these features are geared towards small scale, short term businesses that want to build their own site, but aren’t strictly interested in a long-term online growth plan.
What are some other limitations of Shopify?
If you haven’t noticed the trend just yet, Shopify likes things a certain way. Another noticeable example is how Shopify has a strict page structure funnel: Home -> Collection -> Product Details -> Checkout. A lot of businesses will grow out of this structure, which leads to realizing how limited the customization options are further down the road.
It’s also worth noting that Shopify doesn’t offer different product types. If you are selling simple products, then you wouldn’t face any issues. But if you’re selling something bookable like a service or a configurable product, then you’ll run into issues. In order to sell these types of products or services through Shopify, you’ll have to rely on third-party plugins. With third-party development, it will be costly and often times it still won’t provide the full functionality that you’re looking for.
Who Is Shopify For?
Shopify is for businesses that don’t intend to be in a particular industry or selling period for a long term stretch. Typically these businesses have a stockpile of inventory that they’d like to sell for a good profit. If you’re looking for a quick online store or a way to just sell simple products for a short time, then Shopify is perfect for you. Do keep in mind, however, that if your business starts to grow and you want to expand your ecommerce site to match, there will be a good deal of limitation in terms of your ability to customize.
If you happen to have a small scale business and can’t afford a developer, Shopify can be a good option because it will help you get your business online and selling with a relatively easy website. Once that business starts to pick up, then you can consider long term investments like new devs and new platforms with a wider range of custom options.
You can think of WooCommerce as the next step of Shopify. It’s a plugin-based solution that works with WordPress sites, which allows WordPress based websites to sell products online. Pretty simple, right?
WooCommerce and WordPress are both open source platforms with a pretty big online community that will help with technical aspects. One of the major advantages over Shopify is that WooCommerce allows you to have full control over your website’s hosting, security, maintenance, code, and more. That means you get a more direct say in how your website operates and looks.
Apart from these positives, however, it’s important to remember that WordPress was built for bloggers, and WooCommerce is just an extension of that. People do still use WooCommerce as a full-fledged ecommerce platform for the flexibility it can provide, of course. See a showcase of websites here that use WooCommerce.
Why WooCommerce over Shopify?
As you know, WooCommerce gives you more control over your hosting, security, maintenance, etc. Which means that you would not be paying for any feature-based subscriptions. WooCommerce is also a completely free to use platform, which means it doesn’t restrict you from using any of its out of the box features. You can choose from whichever payment processor or shipping provider you’d like to use, and you wouldn’t pay WooCommerce anything extra for that.
Another major factor is that when you have your website on WooCommerce, you don’t have to rely on others to host your website. You can host it on your own hosting provider, meaning that you own your website and have the ability to move it to any host you’d like. While the immediate benefit is that you can switch hosts whenever you’d like, the more important aspect is that it gives you control over your entire codebase. Even down to the core level of your website.
Having that level of control means that you’re able to customize your website in any possible way, given enough time and resources. You wouldn’t be restricted with what Shopify APIs have available, and you can build it yourself or use a developer without limitations.
What WooCommerce has to provide for developers?
Image from insights.stackoverflow.com
If you’re a developer, or planning to hire one for your website, WooCommerce and the online community has a lot to offer you. WooCommerce was developed in 2011, and from that point, the community has grown tremendously. That means almost any error or difficulty is pretty easily resolved with a Google search. People have used WooCommerce so many times that if you are having trouble or need a new feature, someone most likely already had the same problem and found a solution.
A huge community basically means that hours spent bug fixing and quickly finding solutions or snippets of code for some new feature are typically collected in online forums. Like a treasure trove of solutions. It also helps the administrators of the website after the site has been built. If they need to know how to perform any actions on their site, they can simply refer to the well documented WooCommerce Guide. Or, again, you could just Google the question and find answers in the community.
What are the cons of using WooCommerce?
WooCommerce does provide a lot of functionality, but it’s not without flaws. Built on top of WordPress, a platform originally intended for bloggers, means that it wasn’t really designed all the way through with online stores in mind. Even though the plugin based solutions work well, they can cause trouble.
For example, WordPress sites are known to be a bit slow when loading up. You can resolve this by hosting on a WordPress optimized host, but there tend to be additional costs associated with that option. In the past, WordPress sites have also been hacked more frequently because the plugin and theme setup could be vulnerable and act as a backdoor for hackers. Of course, this is easy enough to prevent by ensuring that you only purchase or install from trusted sources and developer teams. It’s also worth looking into two step authentication when logging into the website’s admin.
Additionally, WooCommerce has a few scalability issues. This might not affect the majority of users, but for mid to large scale clients, it may be an issue. WooCommerce is known to allow unlimited products, but from past experience, there is a limit of around 10 or 20 thousand products. While you can technically exceed this limit, the website starts to slow down. This can hit both frontend and backend speeds. At this point, it gets harder for developers to make updates to the site as well.
Some of these flaws aren’t directly related to the WooCommerce platform itself, but rather a side effect of piggybacking on WordPress. WooCommerce on its own doesn’t have these issues, but it also wouldn’t be able to run as a standalone function. Considering both Shopify and WooCommerce so far, Magento 2, our next option, may be the solution you’re looking for.
Magento 2 is sort of the premium ecommerce solution. It was recently acquired by Adobe, and it’s being used by many of the major brands like Coca-Cola, Ford, Nike, and others. Its market share is nearly 30% for all ecommerce platforms out there, which is just outright higher than any other platform.
But does the widespread use translate to value? From my experience, it’s widely adopted because it suits people’s website needs the most. Unlike WordPress, Magento 2 was built as an ecommerce platform from the ground up. That means it provides a lot of the necessities right out of the box, instead of requiring a lot of extensions.
Magento 2 falls into one of two editions. One is the community edition, and the other is the commerce edition. Community mode is the most widely used, and it’s free. Commerce mode has extended features compared to the community version, and it provides support from the Magento team. That said, Commerce mode is fairly expensive for the average business, so it’s more geared towards enterprises. As it’s the version that most will be familiar with, we’ll use the Community edition for our comparisons.
What does Magento 2 provide out of the box?
Right off the bat, Magento 2 carries a good majority of functionalities that you would otherwise need extensions to accommodate on WooCommerce or Shopify. Meaning you can get the same degree of function without the slow load times, hacking risks, or limited availability of plugins and other extensions. Magento 2 still has the option to install extensions should you need it, but it’s not required to put together what you usually need.
Magento 2 also has other basic functionalities, such as coupon codes, product attributes, and tax rules. Compared to others, these functionalities give users more flexibility overall. Let’s say you’re creating a coupon code in WooCommerce, you’ll have options to restrict based on product, spend, or usage. In Magento 2, you’ll have options such as shipping location, product weight, total quantity all on top of what WooCommerce already offered.
Image from Magento 2 admin for cache management
Image from Magento 2 admin for store configuration
Caching and Speed Optimization are also added into Magento 2 by default. You’ll be able to select if you want to minify and compile you style and scripts or use them raw. Your website will also be cached on your server so it can load up quickly.
These functionalities could also be provided via plugins on other platforms, but Magento 2 takes it even further by allowing you to cache Database queries, HTML blocks, and configurations. These aren’t provided in WooCommerce, and there would be very few plugins that can do anything like that. In Shopify, this level of customization is nearly impossible.
Reporting is another area where Magento 2 outperforms its competitors. There have been so many complaints that Shopify doesn’t offer good reporting, and while the latest versions of WooCommerce offer a pretty good reporting system, Magento 2 still excels. Like the other features offered, Magento allows for a wider range of parameters to be set, which can lead to more accurate reporting than any other platform.
For more, SEO tools are great options that are readily available in Magento 2. On WooCommerce, you’ll have to install plugins similar to Yoast SEO. But here, it’s provided for all products and pages you create. You can edit the URL, meta title, meta description, and more. These tools can be extremely helpful when doing SEO for your website.
Image from Magento 2 admin for store configuration
Image from Magento 2 admin for store configuration
In terms of shipping provider and payment provider options, Magento 2’s out of the box integration can save you a lot of time and plugins. Magento 2 integrates with USPS, DHL, FedEx, and UPS. These integrations take pricing directly from the providers and also allow tracking and printing shipping labels for your website.
This adds a ton of value to Magento 2, as it takes away the hassle of going to multiple places to print and track each shipment. The payment options also integrate PayPal, Braintree, and Authroize.net without additional installations. That means you wouldn’t be paying your platform extra to use any of these providers, and there’s no additional install to make it work.
Apart from these elements, Magento 2 provides more product types for your products, such as configurables. Some of these are just not available on other platforms, no matter what. The ability to set tax rates is also more customizable when compared to other platforms. Many of these are features that you’d expect to be obvious when considering an online store, but not every platform provides such extensive functionality.
On other platforms, you’ll likely run into situations where you need additional features that go beyond what’s provided. In order to get access to those features, you’ll end up needing extra plugins, which introduces the risk of compatibility issues and more costs. This is why having features out of the box has more significance. Everything is already tested with all the other features, so you can be sure it will work.
What are the downsides of Magento 2?
Magento 2 is a fairly extensive and complete platform compared to any ecommerce website. It provides everything you need, and if it’s not provided, you still have the option to purchase additional extensions.
For downsides, Magento 2 follows its own coding framework. That means developers will have to spend a lot of time learning and getting used to the coding practices of Magento 2. Being able to work with this type of ecommerce site is almost a skill set of its own, and sometimes developers make a distinction in their abilities, wanting to be called Magento 2 developers.
Because of that learning curve, it can be a barrier to entry for other developers trying to become proficient in Magento 2. Because of this, there are also fewer Magento 2 developers than developers familiar with WooCommerce. As a result, development for Magento 2 websites are often more costly.
Similarly, the range of options and the required knowledge to handle Magento 2 means longer development times. With fewer developers and higher development time, Magento 2 extensions are also more expensive than their WooCommerce counterparts.
A typical Magento 2 extension might set you back from around $99-$450 depending on what kind of extension you need. WooCommerce, on the other hand, typically has plugins in the $29-$299 range. These prices can skyrocket if the plugin is exclusive to the necessary functionality. As an aside, it’s worth looking for sales in the extension stores, as there are always sales that can save you up to 20% on regular plugin prices.
We have seen a few instances in the past where we needed particular functionalities that weren’t provided in Magento 2 by default. We were building a site for a non-profit organization that took donations online. We had to purchase 2 separate plugins, one for people to donate automatically on a monthly or yearly basis for a certain price, and another for people to enter a custom amount to donate. The plugins came to about $740 together, and even though that’s on the higher end, there was still additional development time to make both extensions work together correctly.
As one more note, Magento 2 also lacks the ability to provide a blog. By default, there is no blogging on Magento 2, so it requires additional extensions. This could be a pretty major setback if you’re planning to do SEO for your website. Thankfully, there are some free extensions like Magefan that can help you out.
Why Magento 2?
Even when you consider these flaws, Magento 2 is still the better option for now. Several of these flaws wouldn’t even impact a good range of ecommerce sites, as most necessities are default. And compared to others, Magento 2 provides extensive coverage for functionality while also being very flexible for different types of ecommerce sites.
From working with each of these platforms, I believe Magento is currently the best option out there. It’s designed and built for ecommerce sites, provides the most features by default (which means they’re tested and actually work), it has a great developer and technical community for issues, and it doesn’t have any feature-based costs in the same way Shopify does.
Final thoughts on all platforms
Having looked at all the platforms, it seems clear that Magento 2 has the most to offer. But that doesn’t mean you have to run out and go overkill spending on Magento 2 for your business. Not all businesses are the same, and their products and services could vary a great deal.
Remember, it’s all about context. What do you actually need from your ecommerce platforms? If you’re going quick, simple, or small, Shopify can work really well for setting up shop and selling simple stuff. Looking for a middle ground between Shopify and Magento 2? WooCommerce is an excellent, affordable option that offers a good deal of flexibility without as much restriction as Shopify.
However, if you’re planning on a long term ecommerce setup, I’d urge to to check out Magento 2. It simply has so many options, and it regularly outperforms platforms in many of the relevant scenarios. Overall, it comes down to investing in the right tool for the job, so think about your business and what you need to make it work, then go from there!