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Shopify vs. WordPress: What’s the Best Option for Your E-commerce Business?

Branden Schmidt Updated on November 5, 2020

Are you interested in managing a business in the exciting world of e-commerce?

With e-commerce retail sales expected to reach a staggering 4.9 trillion in the year 2021, it’s no wonder why so many like-minded entrepreneurs are looking for their opportunity to cash in on a piece of this market share. The first step for most business owners and start-ups when looking to break into this industry is deciding which e-commerce platform to base their store on.

Whether you are selling drop-shipped items, digital products, or private-label goods, you will want a well-optimized storefront to display these products and give your brand some positive exposure.

While other retail marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon offer you the opportunity to gain plenty of exposure for your brand, they don’t provide you with control over how your products are represented (most often, with your competitors’ products displayed on the same page). This is why many e-commerce owners have turned to building and managing their own storefront outside of these bigger online retail marketplaces.

When it comes to building an e-commerce website, you have two options you will want to consider: One is to build your e-commerce store using a platform such as Shopify. The other is to take a more hands-on approach with a platform such as WordPress using Woocommerce or a similar plug-in.

There are some key differences between the two options that will determine which is right for you depending on your business goals. Before we dive deeper into which platform you should use as the foundation for your e-commerce business, we should first cover what Shopify and WordPress actually do.

What Is Shopify?

Shopify is an application that offers online retailers a suite of services to build and launch their very own e-commerce website. Shopify is a software as a service (SaaS), which means that you don’t own a copy of the software; rather, you will need to pay a monthly fee to use it.

Shopify is a hosted service, meaning your e-commerce website, data, and any other information provided on your site is on their servers. No need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere on your site, as all of this is done by Shopify.

Everything you need to build and run your online store is in an “out-of-the-box” package. This is one reason Shopify is popular among those getting started, as you don’t need to be tech-savvy or know how to code to make a nice-looking e-commerce storefront using their platform.

The application provides a large index of free and paid templates that you can use to customize your online store to match your brand’s needs. Shopify also includes an assortment of paid and free plug-ins to provide your online store with extra features such as upsell promotions, one-click social shares, and other handy optimization tools.

What Is WordPress?

WordPress is a well-known blogging platform with plug-ins and add-ons you can use to tailor your website towards any monetization found on our marketplace. Whereas Shopify is an e-commerce solution only, WordPress uses third-party vendors such as Woocommerce to provide plug-ins, making it a viable e-commerce storefront solution.

WordPress comes in two different versions: hosted WordPress found at wordpress.com and self-hosted WordPress found at wordpress.org.

Hosted WordPress

Just like Shopify, which hosts your site for you, this version of WordPress requires a monthly fee and provides an assortment of features to build and maintain a website using their servers to store your data.

Users will need to download a third-party vendor plug-in such as Woocommerce or Ecwid to implement a shopping-cart feature on their storefront, making this option more work to get up and running.

Self-Hosted WordPress

The self-hosted version of WordPress allows you to download the free WordPress content management system (CMS) software and upload it to your own web server. This software is open source, meaning you can download and use it for free; however, you will still need to pay for a hosting service such as Bluehost or Siteground to store your site’s data.

For the remainder of this article, we will be comparing the self-hosted version of WordPress, which requires a more hands-on approach to building a functional e-commerce storefront, to Shopify, which offers a ready-out-of-the-box solution.

Why You Should Use Shopify for Your E-commerce Business

With Shopify, you are given a more beginner-friendly platform to build your e-commerce store on along with an online academy to coach you through the process of designing the storefront to your liking. At the same time, the Shopify store app provides a plethora of plug-ins and add-ons you might want to include in your site without the need to hire someone or code this yourself.

Most beginners will choose to go with Shopify over WordPress either because they lack the development skills needed to build the site themselves or their budget is too small to hire a web developer. With Shopify, you are given most of the features you need ready to go out of the box and can have your site up and running with little effort. Building an e-commerce storefront using the WordPress platform, on the other hand, will require you to outsource plug-ins from third-party vendors.

If you are looking for a fast, easy, and affordable solution to getting your storefront up and running without the hassle of building everything yourself from scratch, Shopify is a great option to consider.

Why You Should Use WordPress for Your E-commerce Business

With WordPress, you are given a more flexible platform to build any type of website you wish. Having more options to choose from outside of e-commerce alone is why one-third of all websites online have been created using the WordPress platform.

Because WordPress is open-source and free to use and customize, you are given more flexibility in every aspect of your site’s design compared to Shopify’s included-template features. Sure, there are many plug-ins that are free and paid on both platforms, but nowhere close to the 50,000 plug-ins available on WordPress, with more being added every day.

Another reason why many investors and aspiring entrepreneurs choose WordPress as their e-commerce platform is that it allows you to have more control over your content. With Shopify, you will need to adhere to their acceptable use policy, and you may have trouble exporting some of your site content and pages. You will also be somewhat limited by the messaging and connections you are able to establish with traffic on your site.

Having more flexibility in collecting your traffic’s information through newsletter subscriptions and promotional incentives is another reason you may want to consider WordPress as your site’s backbone. When you set up ad pixels on your WordPress site, you can retarget this traffic if users abandon their shopping carts using Facebook advertising or pay-per-click (PPC) ads on Google to drive them back into your sales funnel. This abandoned-cart feature is a paid service when using Shopify ($79 per month), with fewer options for retargeting traffic compared to WordPress. Now that we have covered why you would choose Shopify over WordPress, and vice versa, for your e-commerce storefront, we should break down the cost of using each of these platforms side by side.

Pricing: How Much Does Shopify Cost?

Shopify offers five pricing options for their service:

  • Lite: $9 per month
  • Basic: $29 per month
  • Shopify: $79 per month
  • Advanced: $299 per month
  • Plus: negotiable, but usually starting at $2,000 per month

A few of the key differences between these options include:

  • The Shopify Plus plan is geared towards larger organizations and those with more high-end requirements in terms of support and server uptime
  • Transaction fees decrease as the monthly plans become more expensive
  • The number of users who can access your account varies (you get 2, 5, and 10 staff accounts on the Basic, Shopify, and Advanced plans respectively)
  • Phone support is only supported on the $29 and higher options
  • The Lite option allows you to embed a Shopify buy button on an existing website, but you don’t get a standalone, fully functional store

Pricing: How Much Does WordPress Cost?

This is actually a lot more complicated to calculate compared to the easier all-in-one package you get with Shopify.

When starting their research in building a website, many entrepreneurs fall into the misconception that WordPress is entirely free; but, in fact, you still do need to pay for many optimized features. Yes, you may be able to download the open-source CMS software for free, but you will need to pay for other things to get the website looking and operating the way you want.

The most important costs to building your website on this platform include:

  • Hosting: You will need to pay monthly or annually for the server space to store your WordPress site on
  • Templates: The design of your storefront (basic, free templates are available)
  • E-commerce integration: Tools that integrate the shopping-cart function into your storefront
  • lug-ins: Apps that can add to the functionality of your store

One cost you will always incur when it comes to building your e-commerce store using this platform is web hosting. Without a server storing your data or providing a home for your website, you will have no place to install the WordPress CMS and begin your design build-out.

There are plenty of hosting providers you can find using a simple Google search, but on average you can expect to pay anywhere from $8 to $15 per month for a shared hosting plan. Other costs associated with WordPress depend on which template you decide to go with (although free templates are available), the e-commerce integration plug-in you choose, and the cost of any plug-ins needed to improve your customer’s user experience (UX).

Here are some average costs you can expect to pay with WordPress:

  • Premium theme: $160
  • Shared hosting: $300 annually
  • E-commerce integration: $190 annually
  • Plug-ins: $5 to $200 each
  • Site maintenance service plan: $50 per month

When using these average numbers to calculate the cost of using WordPress compared to Shopify, it may appear that Shopify is the cheaper option, but this also requires some qualifications.

While Shopify may be great for small- to medium-sized businesses looking for a streamlined way to get set up within a few days, it’s also more expensive than using WordPress if you go with one of the higher-priced options. If your business needs are simple, then using Shopify can actually work out to be cheaper despite Shopify being a paid-for service and WordPress being an open-source one. On the other hand, it can work out to be more expensive; it really depends on how you set each of these platforms up on the back end and the number of functionality features you would like to include in your store.

The only way to work out which platform is most likely to help you succeed in reaching your business goals is to make a clear list of all your requirements and compare prices for your specific needs the best you can.

However, pricing should not be your only concern when deciding whether to use Shopify or WordPress. It’s just as important to look at the functionality and ease of use of each platform when deciding on which to implement into your business model.

Content Management in Shopify and WordPress

When comparing the management of your content in both Shopify and WordPress, you will notice the latter does a much better job at modifying static pages.

This is because WordPress comes with content versioning, which means that every single page version or post that you create will be stored in the platform’s system and you can use the history tab to revert back to any update you’ve made at any point (something that Shopify doesn’t offer). WordPress also gives you the option to use categories and tags in your content. This gives your audience a convenient way to filter content based on their search criteria (something that WordPress excels at compared to Shopify).

Another great function that you have when using WordPress over Shopify is the drag-and-drop visual editors that we discussed earlier. This is something that Shopify does not offer. The visual editors give you much more flexibility in the layout of your webstore, as opposed to building pages using Shopify’s now relatively dated ‘WYSIWG’ page editor.

User Interface and Ease of Use

The layouts for Shopify and WordPress are quite similar in that they both provide a left-hand side menu that allows you to pick and choose the content you wish to edit within the platform’s main window. There are a few paid visual editor plug-ins available in WordPress only, such as DIVI and Elementor, which offer a more real-time display of what your storefront will look like, and can be useful for beginners when first starting out. However, don’t let this deter you from Shopify, as Shopify’s user interface (UI) is much more intuitive for anyone interested in getting something live much faster.

Shopify’s platform could be seen as a more simple layout to understand, as it takes you through the process step by step when making adjustments; however, both platforms follow a similar content-editing layout on the back end, with WordPress excelling over Shopify in a few functionality features.

SEO for Shopify and WordPress

Improving your site’s SEO is a critical part of growing and scaling your online business.

Without your storefront being visible in the search results on Google, you can’t expect much in terms of traffic and sales. Sure, you could run Google Ads and PPC advertising to your store, but organic traffic offers the best option for those looking for long-term success.

When comparing the management of static pages and blog posts, WordPress does have the upper hand over Shopify in the SEO sector. Using plug-ins like Yoast, which is considered one of the best SEO tools on WordPress, you have more options to improve your on-page SEO with a list of suggestions you can follow to improve the quality of your pages. Not only does Yoast give you a complete overview of things needing updates within a given piece of content, but it also allows you to create SEO sitemaps and set canonical URLs to avoid publishing any duplicate content.

While Shopify’s SEO features are great for someone just starting out, they are not as in depth or intuitive as the WordPress plug-in. Using SSL in Shopify is quite straightforward, editing your alt tags and meta descriptions is simple, site maps are created automatically any time you add a new page to the Shopify storefront, and 301 redirects are automatically created or suggested any time you change a page name or URL, which is really helpful.

Even though you can’t use Yoast in Shopify, there are a few SEO plug-ins found in the Shopify store app that offer similar functionality. The biggest setback to managing SEO in Shopify is the fact that you are unable to produce clean URLs for each of your pages.

An example of this would be “/pages/” being included in the URL before the title of any page you’ve published. This is not always ideal for producing a “clean” URL (which is something Google has made clear is a ranking factor) and so is worth considering in case you plan on producing more SEO-driven content. Shopify pages are still more than capable of ranking well; however, you won’t have that clean-looking URL that Google prefers, so just keep that in mind.

Blogging in Shopify and WordPress

If you are new to the e-commerce market, you might not be aware of how important blogging can be for your e-commerce business. This is because blogging plays a vital role in successful inbound marketing. Blogging is used as a sales strategy by brands big and small to drive traffic to your site or offer. In turn, blogging and writing consistent content related to your niche will give you a better opportunity to convert reader traffic into paying customers once they have entered your marketing funnel.

Both Shopify and WordPress give you the functionality of publishing blog content, with WordPress being slightly better in this area when you consider the features they offer on the back end of the site.

WordPress allows you to store and archive changes you’ve made to existing posts, use categories and tags in your content to make filtering a breeze for your audience, and produce clean URLs without prefixes or categories that will be less favorable to Google’s algorithm. The fact that WordPress surpasses Shopify in terms of blogging functionality within your e-commerce store should come as no surprise, as WordPress has a long history as a professional blogging platform.

Email Marketing in Shopify and WordPress

One of the most important aspects to running a successful e-commerce website is customer engagement. Providing a more personalized connection with your audience and subscribers is vital to growth and the success of your business in the long term.

While WordPress does not exactly offer a built-in customer relationship management (CRM) service, you can set up an email marketing service like Mailchimp to provide a platform for your email marketing campaigns within this user-friendly platform.

To compete with these features available to WordPress users, Shopify has recently launched a new product called Shopify Email, which gives you the option to manage your email marketing campaigns directly within the Shopify platform. Don’t expect the same features and functionality offered with services like Mailchimp, but for some this provides a great option to manage all aspects of their online business in one place.

One element about the new Shopify email integration feature that stands out to us is the price compared to similar tools available online that offer a similar functionality. You are allowed to email up to 2,500 subscribers included in your Shopify plan, and can expect to pay $1 more for every 1,000 subscribers you add to this account. This is a great option for those who are looking for basic email functionality within their Shopify account, but don’t expect the same automation tools and marketing solutions often included using other third-party email marketing services.

In terms of email marketing tools for WordPress, you won’t find anything available with the same built-in functionality as Shopify; however, most major email marketing solutions can be integrated into your storefront using an assortment of plug-ins you can download for free.

Site Maintenance and Security

Because Shopify is an out-of-the-box solution for e-commerce business owners, you won’t have to worry much about your site’s maintenance and security measures. Outside of keeping your content and products up to date, Shopify will take care of all other technical operations on the back end of maintaining and securing your site’s data.

WordPress, on the other hand, is completely different when it comes to routine maintenance and site security, as you will be solely responsible for this on the back end of your site (when using the WordPress self-hosted option, that is).

Maintenance and security of your site can be outsourced to services that handle these tasks for you in exchange for a monthly fee, but this is still something you must keep a watchful eye on. If you overlook updating an older version of the WordPress software or a plug-in, your site is much more vulnerable to being hacked, and that’s something no brand wants to experience no matter how big or small they are.

Security is also an important consideration when deciding which platform to build your e-commerce business on, as you will be requesting and exchanging your customers’ valuable information—something that many WordPress developers are constantly working to improve on the back end of their platform.

Shopify users can feel a bit more at ease when it comes to the security of their e-commerce store, as Shopify provides a hosted solution. This takes the responsibility for security away from you since the company is the one who is hosting your site. As a Shopify user, it is Shopify’s responsibility to ensure their system is well designed to avoid any potential threats. You have a responsibility to create strong passwords and not share them with others, but the technical aspects of site maintenance and security are Shopify’s problem.

In terms of security, it is also worth mentioning that some WordPress themes and plug-ins also have the potential to contain infectious codes that can compromise the security of your site without you ever knowing it. This is something you must be very careful of when adding any third-party applications to your WordPress site. Most WordPress owners will opt for an SSL plug-in, which indicates that your site is secure by showing a tiny lock image in the site’s URL bar. Shopify offers a free SSL certificate with all Shopify sites, which means that your visitors are browsing your site on a secure connection. For WordPress sites, on the other hand, it’s your responsibility to sort this out on the back end.

Lastly, no matter which platform you choose to build your e-commerce store on, you must be sure to regularly back-up all of your site content and data should an issue arise. Having recent back-ups of your site saves you time should you need to restore a previous update. Many plug-ins today also offer an automated approach to this task, making it an easy operation to perform.

What Support Does Shopify and WordPress Offer?

WordPress offers a service should you come across an issue in your e-commerce store that requires someone with more technical know-how than you to fix (for a monthly service fee of course, between $20 and $50 per month). With that said, a well-optimized WordPress site can be extremely secure if set up correctly.

One benefit users of Shopify have over WordPress is that Shopify may be considered less vulnerable to being hacked, as the Shopify team will be responsible for maintaining security on the back end. In the unlikely event that something does go terribly wrong with your site, you already have a dedicated team on standby waiting to help you resolve the problem.

Shopify vs. WordPress Summary

When we take everything we’ve covered in this article into consideration, WordPress is undoubtedly a better-established and more-flexible platform to build your e-commerce store on than Shopify. This is not to say that it is better by leaps and bounds, but it does offer a much larger user base, greater selection of themes and apps to choose from, and, given the right knowledge base and skill set, can be used to build and launch any type of website you could ever want.

However, WordPress might not be for every e-commerce business owner, as there are times when Shopify will be the better choice. What it comes down to at the end of the day is deciding which platform will help you reach your business goals faster. While WordPress might be great for someone with some technical knowledge already under their belt, Shopify may be a better solution for those who lack the technical skills or budget to outsource their web design to a developer.

If your primary focus is on content development and management, there is a lot you can do with WordPress as your storefront’s foundation. Its blogging functionality, CMS, and clean URL address structure make this option more flexible and sophisticated compared to Shopify. WordPress also has the upper hand in the SEO sector and with plug-ins such as Yoast that give you an advantage over similar plug-ins offered on the Shopify app store.

However, for those seeking a simple and straightforward platform that doesn’t require any extra bells and whistles, Shopify will cover the needs for most—especially those without any technical skills already under their belt. The reason for this is that Shopify has been specifically designed to make building an online store as simple and painless as possible.

If you are new to the e-commerce space and the world of building and launching an online store, Shopify might be the best option for you. It’s quick, affordable, and has a much smaller learning curve than WordPress. If you have a large budget and in-house developers, then you may get better results and more functionality from your site going with WordPress. If you are just starting out and taking a more do-it-yourself approach, you will most likely get better results faster using the Shopify platform to build your e-commerce store.

Conclusion

E-commerce as an industry has changed the way customers interact with businesses. The days of face-to-face interaction now happens virtually with online businesses, and owners have to work even harder to build and grow a successful e-commerce store with more competition entering the space every day.

If you’re new to the e-commerce business world, there are a lot of platforms and apps you can use to make your business run smoothly and create a stand-out experience for your customers. The biggest challenge for aspiring e-commerce store owners, however, is getting started.

This is where buying an established e-commerce business from our marketplace offers a huge advantage for investors looking to skip all the work required in starting from scratch. When you acquire an established, cash-generating e-commerce business from us, you skip the start-up operations required to get you up and running that have been detailed in this article.

Ready to take the next step in owning a well-optimized, cash-flowing e-commerce business that’s already in motion? Schedule a call with one of our business advisors today, and they can help you find an e-commerce store that matches your business goals.


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