July 22, 2021

Comparing WordPress to the Competition: eCommerce

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This week we are looking at WordPress vs. the competition. We have dug into hosted vs. self-hosted websites and took a deeper dive into WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org. But what about eCommerce? If you need to sell something online, how does WordPress stack up?

Some History

Woocommerce, a plugin, generally runs eCommerce on WordPress websites. Woocommerce was started in 2011 by WooThemes, who was one of the largest theme developers for WordPress back then. 

As WordPress gained popularity, the desire for eCommerce grew. Woocommerce was the most used and arguably best solution on WordPress, so in 2015, Automattic, the company that birthed WordPress open source and ran WordPress.com, bought WooThemes, and Woocommerce. This purchase made Woocommerce more of a first-party solution vs. a third-party plugin.

Woocommerce runs an estimated 30% of eCommerce online, followed by Shopify and Wix with 19% and 17%, respectively. WordPress is extremely popular for eCommerce, but is it the best?

Comparing WordPress with Squarespace and Shopify

Shopify is the runner-up in the eCommerce space, followed by Wix. I have to be honest that the Wix statistic surprised me. Wix is the second most used content management system, so it makes sense that it would follow in the eCommerce space, but I assumed it would be in second place with Shopify’s popularity. 

I will not even compare Wix commerce to WordPress because the Wix page building and editing experience are sub-par as of this writing. Just don’t use Wix; that is my advice. 

Shopify

Shopify has become a hugely popular eCommerce tool, with drop-shippers and startup brands turning to it for quick setup and ease of use. Here I have to agree, getting from purchase to selling is super fast on Shopify. If you want to set up and sell quickly, Shopify is going to be great for you. But…

WordPress is making moves via Woocommerce payments to compete with the speed and ease of setup that Shopify offers. And an even larger “but” looms; if you need to create and edit a lot of website content, Shopify isn’t quite there. Not without addons, at least. The problem with Shopify addons is that the truly great ones you have to pay for, and because they interface with a hosted solution, the subscriptions are typically monthly, forever. 

Monthly subscriptions mean the ongoing costs of your store start to rise, not a big deal if you are growing and selling lots of products, but if you are trying to test the waters, the ongoing costs will start to weigh on your experiment. Woocommerce has paid plugins too, but once you install them, you aren’t obligated to renew unless you need an update and the code still runs. Also, many Woo plugins cost around $39-59 per year instead of per month. 

One other note, Shopify excels at built-in marketing tools. They have several integrations that work for marketing your products around the web, but Woocommerce is catching up by releasing similar tools that you can get running right at setup. 

Shopify starts at $29/mo, but many stores will need at least the $79 tier. 

Pros:

  • Quick set up!
  • Great built-in tools.
  • Integrations that don’t require development knowledge to use.
  • Point of sale for an in-person store that matches online inventory available. 
  • Powerful templating system.

Cons:

  • Not great at content management for the rest of the website.
  • Ongoing costs add up and are typically monthly.
  • Have to be a pro to use the templating system.

Squarespace

Squarespace Commerce is an excellent way to set up a simple shop. The interface for products is relatively easy to use, and the display fits right in with the rest of your theme. 

I have qualms with the Squarespace page editing experience, but that doesn’t plague the eCommerce experience. You enter your information into fields, and the theme outputs the exact display on the front end. 

The issue for Squarespace commerce is two-fold: One, managing an extensive catalog in the backend is going to be difficult. Two, you need their top-tier subscription to have features that Shopify and Woocommerce come with out of the box, like complete control over Discounts and Promotions. Luckily, the top-tier is only $40/mo. 

Squarespace is a great solution to spin up a minimal store alongside your MVP (minimum viable product) website. It can be a great tool to test the market but will fall short of running a large store or website with lots of custom content. 

Pros:

  • Easy eCommerce setup.
  • Super affordable.

Cons:

  • No template access.
  • Top-tier required, and even then, it can’t do as much with shipping as other solutions like free shipping per product.
  • Extensive catalog management is cumbersome.

Woocommerce

Woocommerce is going to require professional help unless you want the most basic of setups. On the plus side, you get all the typical benefits of self-hosted WordPress: complete control over code, customization with plugins, integrations with 3rd party tools. 

We have set up stores with crazy custom calculations, which would never be possible in Squarespace and Shopify. We have integrated with form solutions like Gravity Forms to create advanced order forms. We have made registrations for performance events with variable pricing based on whether a user is subscribed or not. There is no way to do any of those customizations in the other hosted tools. 

Pros: 

  • Ultimate control.
  • Tons of tools and addons. 
  • Can scale to an extensive catalog. 

Cons:

  • Set up may be slightly longer.
  • It may require a professional to help.

WordPress vs. Shopify and Squarespace, Who Wins?

The answer depends on what you need and what stage you are at. 

If you need an MVP to prove your idea can sell, Shopify has the shortest road to selling but isn’t great on page content management. Suppose you want to start your new content-driven site but sell some products on the side. In that case, Squarespace has a superior content editing experience vs. Shopify but can’t handle an extensive catalog. WordPress with Woocommerce is going to give you the most customization, but that may mean professional help. WordPress is probably the best solution for you if you have an extensive catalog, complicated product configuration, or an established business looking to upgrade your cart; WordPress is perhaps the best solution!

On the next episode…

That is unless you have a unique, application-level need for custom code and data plus eCommerce. Then you might think of something like Craft CMS. You might be thinking, wait, another option? What is Craft CMS? 

Tomorrow we look at the situation when WordPress isn’t the best solution and know if you need to say goodbye to WordPress. 

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