The Internet has transformed the way we do business. Setting up a new website to sell your products, services or even your own works of art is incredibly easy these days. You can choose from a variety of platforms that have simplified connecting a customer to a manufacturer, service provider or creator. Whether you’re doing that on WordPress Hosting with the goal of adding WooCommerce, or Shopify or using a custom built site, options are plenty.
Aside from setting up websites, there is the option of using existing platforms such as Amazon or eBay or even Facebook Marketplace. These platforms often have significant captive audiences who might be searching for products or services and might allow you to sell your products through them, however what creators and manufacturers lose in that process is the ability to brand their products and own the data about their customers. This can negatively affect your ability to connect with your customers and to establish a pattern of repeat purchases.
Let’s take a look at some of the best options available to launch your first website that will allow you to sell your products and succeed online. The dilemma for someone looking to start their first ecommerce website online could very well today be framed as a choice between Shopify or WooCommerce although platforms like Magento might have a say in that equation.
What features are essential for an e-commerce website?
As access to the internet has grown and operational aspects of businesses such as logistics, payment processing, and inventory tracking have all come together with website platforms to enable e-commerce at scale. For most businesses, whether they deal in physical products or in intangible downloadable files (games or music, for example), the following are some essential e-commerce website features:
- Listing management
- Payment gateway integration
- Powerful product search and indexing
- Intuitive and customizable user interface
- Product Performance Reporting
- SEO friendliness
- Marketing automation – abandoned cart recovery, drip emails, banners etc.
- Flexibility and extensibility – plugins or apps
- Reliable uptime and high availability hosting
- Security of data, transactions
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What unique features does YOUR business need?
In addition to the features listed above, your business may have some unique requirements such as printing shipping labels or integration with a drop shipping platform. As an example, if you are in the business of printing framed photographs, you may need a way to allow customers to upload, format and preview their photos as they may look within your frames.
As a result, you should carefully consider the customer experience as you visualize the purchase flow of your website. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
- Optimize features for simplicity, as not all customers may be very tech savvy
- Test and optimize for each type of customer you expect to use your site
- Consider the customer experience across mobile, tablet and web interfaces
- If you collect sensitive personal information, ensure that data security and encryption is top notch
- If you use other platforms such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools, Email Marketing etc. investigate options to automate integrations across your tech stack
Pros and Cons of choosing Shopify
Shopify is an amazing tool for building your new website. If you’re looking to sell products with a drop-ship model or if you have an inventory management tool, Shopify can connect to a variety of shipping and logistics firms to simplify operations.
Shopify also boasts a vibrant ecosystem of drop-shipping suppliers that are located across the globe, a variety of plug-ins or apps from payment gateways, page editors as well as support for multi-lingual websites. The onset of the pandemic has seen Shopify pass the billion-dollar valuation mark as they really have made waves, making it very easy for small businesses and side hustles to get their ecommerce website up and running.
|Pros of Shopify||Cons of Shopify|
|• Simple to use and easy to get started|
• Inexpensive to start
• Wide variety of templates and plug-ins / apps
• Shopify’s own payment solution, easy analytics and financial reporting
• Great partner roster for marketing, design, inventory
• Availability of developers and freelancers for customization
• Secure – PCI compliant, and includes an SSL
|• Relatively rigid templates that cannot be customized without involving a developer|
• As traffic, integrations and customization needs increase, costs increase steeply
• Hard to export or switch to another website platform or custom website
• Hidden costs for relatively simple features, if you choose non-Shopify payment processor, you still pay a fee on every transaction
• Support is reasonable but is no match for a web host you are familiar with
Pros and Cons of choosing WooCommerce
WordPress (the content management system on top of which WooCommerce is built) started small as a blogging platform all the way back in the early-mid 2000s. WordPress has evolved into the world’s most popular content management system with over 100,000 plugins and themes and a very vibrant ecosystem of open source code review. Some of the largest websites today are powered by WordPress including Time.com and WooCommerce is essentially a layer on top of WordPress that enables end users to create an E commerce website that runs on WordPress.
You can choose to use a WordPress Website Builder such as BoldGrid to create the framework of your site, add WooCommerce to the package and set about launching your e-commerce website. The architecture of a WooCommerce store on top of a WordPress website gives you all the easy content management capabilities and the wide variety of plugins, and a fully functional online store. WordPress plugins enable connecting to CRM platforms such as HubSpot or several others using Zapier APIs and the WooCommerce features help you build a robust ecommerce platform, with inventory management, payment integrations, customer accounts, reporting and more!
|Pros of WooCommerce||Cons of WooCommerce|
|• Built on top of WordPress, the most popular content management system by far which is also free and open source|
• Incredible ecosystem of plugins, themes, and extensions
• Flexible to move to any web host of your choice, so long as they support WordPress
• WooCommerce is not vertically integrated and relies on external plug-ins for alternate sales channels, which reduces risk of data compromise
• With a huge developer community, WordPress is secure and robust although it can become a target due to its popularity
|• Although it is greatly improved, it is not the easiest interface to use|
• This could prove difficult to manage and configure, not as seamless as Shopify
• Website speed and performance can be negatively impacted if too many plugins are installed, and optimizing it requires technical knowhow
• Paying for premium extensions that add functionality can quickly add up in your monthly costs
• The frequency of updates to WordPress, extensions and themes can be high and requires monitoring to maintain security
Beyond Shopify and WooCommerce
Shopify and WooCommerce are excellent options for an e-commerce website however a strong third choice is Magento, which boasts many of the same features that are necessary for operating an online store. Website builders such as Square Space, Wix and Weebly have e-commerce features in select plans that may be an easy place to start. However, each of these platforms come with many of the same disadvantages as Shopify.
Another option would be to hire a developer to build a custom e-commerce store with exactly all the features you require. This could be an expensive endeavour and may require plenty of planning and product development, but if your business has unique requirements then this can be a great option. One factor to keep in mind is that a custom website may require maintenance and ongoing development to add features and ensure security.
Verdict: Shopify vs. WooCommerce
Each of the options that were considered in this article, Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, custom-built websites are excellent choices. There is no one clear winner as to which is the best choice for an e-commerce platform; your specific needs are the key to identifying the right platform for you. Our recommendation is that you assess each of your options carefully using the above listed pros and cons and weigh the alignment of each with your needs and choice of website platform.
Note: Shopify, WooCommerce and WordPress are the respective trademarks owned by Shopify Inc., JetPack and Automattic Inc. and any reference to these marks is made purely for the purpose of feature comparisons to the respective platforms.