Shopify vs WooCommerce
What is the most appropriate technological platform to choose for the project requirements? How to avoid getting stuck with the wrong software? Today we are talking about e-commerce and, in particular, about two of the most used technologies: Shopify and WooCommerce.
Sergio Panagia: Welcome to the Moze podcast, a space for dialogue and technical insight into the development of new digital products. I’m Sergio, partner of the firm, and with me today is Michele, Moze’s developer expert in e-commerce development. Hi Michele.
Michele Giorgi: Hi Sergio and hi everyone!
Sergio: Today everyone recognises the importance of e-commerce: thanks to this tool a company can reach the consumer directly, on a digital channel, and all in all it has also become easy to open an online shop, often with SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, such as Shopify or WordPress.com, thanks to the availability of a large variety of tools.
But which is the most appropriate to choose for the project requirements? How do you avoid getting stuck with the wrong software or service?
This is exactly what we are talking about today and, in particular, about two of the most frequently used technologies in the e-commerce field, namely Shopify and WooCommerce (the WordPress extension dedicated to e-commerce).
In both cases they are reliable solutions that we have been able to try out and obtain positive feedback in projects we have done for our customers. WooCommerce and Shopify have differences, however, that are worth knowing. In fact, it is often our job to help and support our customers in understanding the parameters to be evaluated in choosing one solution or the other, precisely to understand the implications that then impact the business. Things that are then discovered too late, so better think about them first.
Michele, what is the first difference that an entrepreneur or a manager should be aware of?
Michele: First of all, I believe the type, the nature of the two software packages.
WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce platform, created as an extension of WordPress, which we could today define as a CMS software, a content management software. WordPress boasts a gigantic community made up of both users and real developers. The developers were probably immediately attracted by the wide extensibility margin of the software and over time they have developed a real ecosystem of extensions based on this platform. I believe WooCommerce is one of the most successful examples. The main difference of WooCommerce, compared to SaaS e-commerce solutions, is that the software is installed on a web server and this means that the source code of the entire project is totally accessible and physically resides on a server owned by the customer.
Shopify, by contrast, is a web service provided in SaaS (Software as a Service) mode, and the company that decides to open a Shopify store actually subscribes to a service that is in fact linked to a recurring payment that could be monthly or yearly.
In exchange, Shopify provides an all-in-one e-commerce platform, basically composed of various tools designed specifically to proceed with all the aspects of online sales, including the construction of the public website, the contents, warehouse and order management, as well as promotion of the shop.
All this can then be managed from one dashboard, you don’t have to worry about more technical issues such as hosting, traffic, in short the SaaS nature of Shopify thinks about all this.
Sergio: You don’t need to worry about traffic spikes due to sudden visits, Shopify does it all.
Michele: Exactly, and I believe that this ease of use has allowed Shopify to gain a large share of the market in recent years. I believe that today it is undoubtedly one of the top five online sales platforms worldwide. So, it’s definitely an option to consider.
Sergio: Sure. Look, let’s talk about WooCommerce, this is also a widely used tool. Why has it been successful? In which contexts is it suitable from your point of view?
Michele: WooCommerce is a super stable, super proven and extremely malleable solution. I believe these are its best qualities.
Its self-hosted nature means that the code base of the entire project can be hosted entirely in a single environment. During the development stage, this clearly helps to keep times short because within this environment the developer maintains direct access to the data they can process and the totality of the functions they have already developed. Basically, it eliminates the need to develop extra layers, due to communication and operability between different environments and systems.
Unlike SaaS platforms like Shopify, third-party extensions are actually more like core integrations than stand-alone applications. Technically, these integrations can then be developed or integrated directly into a theme or a custom plugin expressly created for the customer’s shop.
As an alternative to this completely custom development, it is always also possible to consider drawing from the vast catalogue of third-party extensions available both in the public repository of wordpress.org and the private one (let’s call it that) of woocommerce.com.
Clearly, in addition to the advantages of a solution where you essentially remain the owners and managers of the code in use, this self-hosted approach also brings with it costs deriving from the need for periodic maintenance and updating of the platform.
Ultimately, in conclusion, I believe that if the idea is to develop an e-commerce with extremely customised features, combined with the real needs of the project, the WooCommerce option could certainly be the most suitable solution for moving ahead quickly, while also keeping costs contained, certainly in the short-medium term.
Sergio: Of course, self-hosted as you pointed out means that the software source files are physically on a server and can be accessed by the owner and the programmer and this therefore implies greater flexibility for developing, integrating and so on.
Shopify, on the other hand, is something different because you have access to themes or the possibility of developing custom apps: tell us a little bit more about it. In which contexts is Shopify good in your opinion? And for what reasons?
Michele: Yes, I think you have already identified the main advantage. I believe that Shopify today represents the fastest way for a company to create a shop and start selling online. The SaaS nature of Shopify ensures the seller a substantially turnkey and potentially ready-to-sell platform from day one.
Therefore, the seller does not even have to think about hosting, maintenance and the traffic that will or will not arrive at the site. Shopify will take care of fixing, updating the software over time, and also scaling the necessary resources based on these platform usage traffic criteria. In addition to this, the seller can also count on a solid base of ready-made features that will cover all the standard needs of the usual online shop.
For integrating any extra features, however, it is necessary to develop external applications capable of communicating with Shopify via API (Application Programming Interface) or select a specific third-party application from the Shopify App Store.
Sergio: However, unlike what happens on WooCommerce, these are apps hosted elsewhere, not on Shopify’s infrastructures, but by the developers who produce them, who build code according to their needs and objectives. They are hosted outside the infrastructure, on other systems. I think it is an important difference to note
Sergio: While in the case of WooCommerce, the self-hosted extensions are also part of the same source code.
Michele: Exactly. Ultimately, I believe that to answer the initial question, Shopify is preferable in all those projects where standard sales features are required that are already supported almost seamlessly by the capabilities of Shopify’s core.
In these cases, the added value provided by agencies such as Moze could be precisely that of being able to concentrate exclusively on the front-end development and thus on the buying experience part, with the possibility of using Shopify simply as a headless platform.
This is not to say that with Shopify it is not possible to integrate custom features via third-party applications. However, the scenario that the customer would be left with once the work was completed would certainly be much more fragmented and complicated to follow and support over time, as it would still be based on a software maintained and hosted by different companies, on different environments and servers.
Sergio: Yes, this is exactly my impression, tell me what you think: that Shopify is suitable as you say to do extremely simple things from a business logic customisation point of view, compared to that of the e- commerce context. So, there you are working on the brand, on a very high quality front-end. Or in very advanced, highly customised contexts, where however, as you point out, you have the problem of considerable software complexity, where you have to use many apps, where you have to develop custom apps and the complexities of doing that on Shopify are, however, very different compared to doing it on WooCommerce.
In between, there is a nuance of case histories where in our experience WooCommerce is probably a little more flexible and a little cheaper in terms of development costs. How do you feel about that?
Michele: Absolutely Sergio, looking at everything you have said, it is a perfect summary of the arguments.
Sergio: Good! Today together with Michele we have seen that WooCommerce and Shopify are powerful tools with some important differences, to be carefully considered before making a choice.
We would love to know what other people have experienced in this regard. If you wish, you can write to us on mozestudio.com and tell us your story and your experience.
Michele: Thanks, greetings to everyone.