Shopify vs WordPress — Which is Best in 2022 – An Honest Review
I get asked this a lot, so let’s start by understanding a little more about the two different platforms
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that has one sole purpose: to allow merchants to build and launch their own online store. It’s the leading eCommerce software currently on the market with over 1,000,000 stores across 175 countries.
They provide a range of themes (templates) which are customisable (the amount of customisation depends on the theme your using) and you can sell both physical and digital products internationally. Shopify continues to expand its theme library and in the summer of 2021, they announced the arrival of Shopify 2.0 themes and Metafields. This update gives developers much more flexibility and freedom to create stunning, multi-functional sites that can handle some pretty complex features.
One of the core fundamentals of Shopify is that you don’t need to be a technical wizard or developer to get started. It is as easy as creating an account, choosing a theme and uploading products. However, the results can be pretty basic and in a world where visual identity, ease of use and multi-optional features are expected, it is likely that you’ll need to call upon the services of a Shopify specialist to delve into the code, add complex integrations and fully customise the look and functionality of the site.
Shopify is built on a coding language called Liquid (written in Ruby), but with a sound knowledge of HTML and CSS, you can start to develop out a site using the Theme Editor.
Because Shopify is a ‘hosted’ solution, everything runs on Shopify’s servers. So, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or sorting out backend security. The key selling point is that it works immediately and if you’re an experienced site developer, you could design, customise, build and launch a store within 24hours if you really wanted to.
Another important feature of Shopify is their comprehensive ‘app store’. Within this treasure trove you can find applications and plugins that add different functionality. Although there are a healthy number of free apps, most work on a monthly charge which is billed alongside your Shopify subscription.
As a SaaS platform, you’re always reliant on Shopify to provide your site (you cannot migrate it to another server or software provider), so it something you should consider from the outset before jumping in. But hey, that’s why we’re here to help you determine the best solution for you.
So, in a nutshell, that’s a quick overview of Shopify
What about WordPress?
There are currently two different versions of WordPress that you can opt for:
Similar to Shopify, Hosted WordPress is a SaaS product.
For a monthly fee, ranging from £3 to £36, you get different levels of access (think of access as a tiered structure) and functionality. You can start a site for free but it will be very basic and certainly not offer you the ability to run an eCommerce site.
Self-hosted WordPress is a piece of software that you download from wordpress.org and then install on your own web server.
The truly fantastic thing about wordpress.org is that it is open-source, which I continually find remarkable. This means that the code structure powering the platform is available to everyone, at no cost, and can be edited specifically for your site. In fact, there is very little that WordPress is not capable of. So much so that some of the biggest sites on the web (such as Sony Music, Playstation Blog, Time Magazine, Vogue and The White House) are built using WordPress.
wordpress.org is a behemoth and an incredibly powerful tool. As with Shopify, there are 10,000 of applications (referred to as Plugins) which you can ‘bolt on’ to a site to increase its functionality and performance. There are also just as many themes (ranging from free to £££) which you can use to give yourself a head start when it comes to the design and user experience of a site.
Although WordPress was initially designed as a blogging CMS (Content Management System), there really are no limits to what you can create, including incredible eCommerce websites.
You can install WordPress on your server for free (most professional hosting companies make this very easy), but there are associated hosting costs to consider. As with Shopify, there are a number of paid extensions, but as WordPress is open-source, and if you’re well-versed at coding (or can navigate your way around sites like Stack Overflow), you may be able to create the functionality you need without having to pay for it.
So, let’s get into the comparable aspects of Shopify and WordPress.
For the basis of this article, I’m going to focus on the standard Shopify platform (not the Buy Button feature) and wordpress.org. The reason is that if you’re going to create an awesome site, you need to be able to make full use of the power that each platform provides and be able to access all the most important features from the outset.
Who uses Shopify and who uses WordPress?
For site owners who are solely focused on running an online shop or marketplace, Shopify is likely to be a great fit for most people. It’s relatively easy to set up and eCommerce is at the heart of its functionality.
As a relatively affordable platform, there is no requirements to blow £10,000+ on a custom build CMS (and that’s just the start of it) and it is easily managed by an individual or team. Therefore it best suits:
- Owners who are working to a tight budget
- Owners who are looking at online retail and not majoring on event promotion, blogging or information sites (although it is possible to achieve these but with some constraints)
In contrast, WordPress users are likely to be looking for increased functionality as well as the ability to sell their products and/or services through their website. Therefore it best suits:
- Owners who require extensive features besides eCommerce
- Owners who have some experience with web development (it is well known that WordPress has a steeper learning curve than SaaS platforms such as Wix and Squarespace)
- Owners who want the flexibility to develop and migrate their site at a later date (i.e., they own the site, can move between hosting providers and develop their code independently of a SaaS platform)
Like Shopify, it is possible to create and maintain a WordPress site without needing any coding skills but as with all things in life, the devil is in the detail and there may be a requirement to outsource certain aspects in order to achieve a clean, slick and beautiful user experience.
Pricing: how do Shopify and WordPress stack up?
Neither platform should break the bank but it is important that you get a good return on your investment. Whilst some aspects might look appealing at first glance, there are a number of factors that you should consider for both Shopify and WordPress.
Principal Shopify costs
There are four main Shopify pricing plans available (quoted in US dollars):
- Basic: $29 per month
- Shopify: $79 per month
- Advanced: $299 per month
- Plus: typically around $2,000 per month
As you might expect, the features you get access to on each Shopify plan vary according to the one you’re on. However, for most businesses starting out, the basic plan works really well and you can quickly upgrade to the next level when you either require additional functionality or the financial benefits make sense (e.g., taking advantage of lower card payment charges).
Principal WordPress costs
When it comes to WordPress, pinning down an exact cost is a little harder as there are so many variables. However to get a site up and running should cost no more than a monthly hosting fee.
There are a number of excellent hosting companies out there and of course, some pretty shoddy ones too.
My personal favourite is SiteGround (I don’t get paid for saying that, it’s just that after many fantastic years with them, they are our go-to provider). Their StartUp WordPress managed-hosting plan starts at £2.99/month (ex VAT) and many of the smaller sites that we have built in our time still reside on that very plan.
What marks out SiteGround from other hosting providers is that they have have an excellent support team and a number of integrated security plugins that help secure your site at no additional cost. As WooCommerce is a free plugin, you could launch an eCommerce site for £2.99 a month, although it’s likely to be pretty basic and with limited functionality.
If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your WordPress site, you’d have significantly higher costs — but in all likelihood you would be getting a much better product.
If your needs are simple, then using Shopify can actually work out cheaper than using WordPress, despite it being a ‘paid-for’ option and WordPress being an open source one.
But equally, it can work out a lot more expensive depending on the applications you require and level of customisation — it really depends on how much functionality you want and what your web development skillset is.
Whilst pricing is an important aspect when choosing which platform best suits your needs, there are a number of additional factors that you should take into account before jumping in. This is where it is often cost effective to speak to a specialist eCommerce developer to ensure that you get the right platform from the outset.
So, let’s start off with some costs that you will never be able to avoid….
eCommerce payment processing fees
One of the fundamental aspects of an eCommerce platform is the ability to take online payments (sorry for stating the obvious). But although those low transaction % costs may seem insignificant, they can quickly add up and erode your margins if you don’t keep track of them. This can be especially sour when running a sale, or if your products work on very tight profit margins.
Shopify card payment fees (per transaction) using Shopify Payments
Basic Shopify: 2.2% + 20p
Shopify: 1.9% + 20p
Advanced Shopify: 1.6% + 20p
For payments processed using a third-party gateway, expect to pay an additional charge of between 0.5% – 2.0% depending on which plan you are on.
You should also take into account that Shopify currently do not refund transaction charges on refunds, so it is important to keep an eye on your return volumes.
Although Shopify charges are a little high at times, their payment gateway is easy to setup and includes important features such as Apple Pay, G Pay and Shop Pay (Shopify’s own) as standard. This is a huge plus when a lot of customers now access eCommerce stores via their smartphone, which often have a wallet feature set up, allowing for super quick checkouts.
WordPress (WooCommerce) card payment fees (per transaction)
Unlike Shopify, you have much great flexibility when it comes to choosing a payment gateway on WordPress. We find that Stripe (which incidentally is the power behind Shopify Payments) is a good fit as it offers excellent security and integrates to different platforms. The typical transaction fee levied is 2.9% + 20p, which is more than Shopify. Although Shopify charges a monthly fee which is likely to be higher than managed WordPress hosting, once you start selling large volumes, the transaction fees are going to quickly outstrip any saving made on hosting.
As with Shopify, Stripe and WooCommerce allow Apple Pay and G Pay, but it does take a little longer to set up.
Both platforms offer the ability to quickly add payment gateways (inc PayPal, too) and you may be able to negotiate Stripe rates with WooCommerce once you hit higher revenue points. However, the higher fees associated with WordPress/WooCommerce may be a little hard to stomach once you build volume.
Verdict: A Shopify win
Shopify vs. WordPress – Templates
With both Shopify and WordPress, you can opt to start from scratch and build your own template if you’re a coding ninja, but for the vast majority of users, using a pre-built template is the optimal way to proceed.
There is a well stocked library on Shopify which offers templates tailored for specific industries or brand style. At the time of writing, there are 10 free templates and 71 paid templates ranging from $150 – $350. Each theme tends to come with different but subtle variations, so you could say that there are between 200 – 250 overall designs to choose from.
Just some of the themes available on Shopify
Most importantly, with the arrival of Shopify 2.0, 64 themes are now directly compatible and I would recommend using those instead of the older, 1.0 versions. Almost all of the 2.0 themes cost several $$$ but Shopify’s own Dawn theme is exceptionally good value for money, especially as it is currently free to install and use. You can see a customised version in use at https://mapelio.com
All the Shopify themes are professionally designed and easily edited, especially if you are clued up in HTML, CSS and Liquid. Importantly, they’re also responsive, which means they’ll automatically adjust themselves to display nicely on any type of device – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.
In comparison to Shopify, the theme library for WordPress extends to over 10,000 different templates, each offering different functionality and styles that are entirely customisable.
Given the large number of themes that are available to install on WordPress, it can at times be difficult to know where to start. If you are focused on making eCommerce a big part of your site, I would recommend that your search is heavily weighted to the shopping aspects of a template as opposed to blogging designs or social networking functionality.
WordPress themes on Themeforest
As most websites need to be designed to perform well across different devices and screen sizes, the vast majority of WordPress themes will be built with this in mind, but it is always worth checking the small print (or viewing a demo via your mobile) to ensure that the style works well for users not accessing your site via a desktop/laptop.
Verdict: It has to be a WordPress win. Whilst Shopify has a great range of pre-built themes, the options to develop out and customise a WordPress template are only limited by your imagination and capability (unless you outsource to a developer, obvs).
How easy are Shopify and WordPress to use?
Each platform has a consistent design and user experience on the back-end, but arguably Shopify has a much simpler and cleaner interface. In order to become proficient with each platform, you need to spend time getting to know where each setting and portal is located, but once you’ve done it a few times, the muscle memory tends to kick in and you become much quicker navigating between different menus.
Editing products on Shopify
Depending on how many people need to access the back-end of the site (and their level of experience managing websites), you may wish to take interface accessibility into consideration far more than you would if it is just you.
Both Shopify and WordPress make it easy to upload products, edit each field (data entry) and assign products to different collections (catalogues on WordPress). You also have the ability to configure different product types and add additional information such as descriptions, shipping details and important purchase information.
WordPress.org admin dashboard
As I mentioned earlier, WordPress has a slightly steeper learning curve than Shopify due to its huge range of capabilities, but this should not be seen as a barrier when choosing between the two.
The one area where Shopify really has it nailed is the order and fulfilment management process. Even thought WordPress provides this, the sheer ease and simplicity of Shopify’s system puts it ahead.
Verdict: Close, but Shopify wins on the way it has been simplified.
Shopify vs. WordPress – Content management
I’ll state from the outset that you can build some incredibly stunning designs with amazing features, animations and functionality on WordPress that you just cannot get out of the box on Shopify. This is certainly true when it comes to areas of a website not focused on eCommerce.
Shopify is built on a template structure, which means that products, collections and pages are going to look incredibly similar. This is great for consistency but a drawback when you want to offer something different for a specific range of goods, or when designing non-sales content.
You can build out new templates to help overcome this limitation but you may need to bring in a developer to help set them up if you’re new to coding.
Within a standard product or page setup, you are able to change different elements depending on the theme you have installed. This is managed using the theme ‘customise’ feature.
Within Shopify’s new ‘Online Store 2.0’ theme format you can add different types of content blocks and move them around a page, making laying out content in Shopify a lot easier than on ‘1.0’ themes.
Another great feature about Shopify’s product management software is the ease of which you can tag products and allocate them to collections (whether that be manually or automatically based on criteria rules).
In all, a very solid system with tonnes more that this article just cannot cover.
So, what about WordPress?
WordPress’s organic building structure is based on a block format and as with Shopify, the templated format allows for consistency between products, although you can create multiple formats with ease if required.
WordPress also allows you to use categories and tags in a much more flexible way than Shopify (and you can also create your own custom content types in WordPress). This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their needs.
Both WordPress and Shopify now let you use drag-and-drop editors to manage your content (this is a relatively recent development for both platforms — they traditionally made use of fairly basic What You See is What You Get editors).
In the case of WordPress, you can use its Gutenburg layout tool to create and move content blocks (paragraphs, images, videos etc.) around the page. Alternatively, you can make use of a theme builder like WP Bakery or Divi to help create more dynamic content, although it should be noted that as with Shopify, there are some limitations as to what you can add unless you go down the custom code route.
So in summary for WordPress, although it is a multi-functional CMS, the capacity to create a stunning eCommerce shop to your site is there, it might just take you a little longer to master the elements than if you were doing it on Shopify.
Verdict: Another Shopify win. This is primarily down to the fact that for eCommerce, Shopify makes it super simple and recent advances mean that customisation of different elements has become slightly easier than on WordPress/WooCommerce.
eCommerce functionality in both Shopify and WordPress
A slick design looks great and having multiple payment gateways can really help drive conversions, but what about the myriad of additional functionality that is required to create a tremendous user experience.
Although signing up for either Shopify or WordPress can be relatively straight forward, one of the key considerations that you should take into account is the additional software, applications and integrations that you’ll need at a later stage in order to supercharge your site.
One of the saddest things I hear is when someone has invested a huge amount of time, energy and money into getting their site live, only to find that it is not compatible with some of the external features that they would really benefit from. It’s often a case of ‘If I knew what I know now, I’d never have started down this route’.
Shopify custom app / API settings
Thankfully, both Shopify and WordPress are stalwarts when it comes to multi-application integrations.
In fact, so much so that it is difficult to find a difference between them.
However, the one thing which you should early on in your eCommerce journey is to plan for the future. Whilst you may not require a specific feature or function right this instant, you may want it in 6-months time. Therefore, in order to be cost effective, and reduce the headache of software clashing (it happens, they fight one another and typically there is never a winner, just two wounded players…), get some recommendations up-front and work out what your long-term game plan is.
Verdict: It’s a draw. Both have superb interoperability between different software providers. Just be careful when it comes to overloading your site with features or installing applications that just don’t work well with your existing code.
SEO – who stacks up best: Shopify or WordPress?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vital to the performance of any website and critical if you want site such as Google and Bing to find you and suggest your site to users.
Without good visibility in search results, you will struggle to get much in the way of traffic or sales. Yes, you can use Adwords or social ads to drive traffic to your site — but a decent placement in organic search results is (in most cases) vital to the long-term success of an online business. The important thing to remember here is that good SEO doesn’t produce results overnight. It is a slow-burn and may take many months for you to register for the most important keyword phrases that your customers are searching for.
SEO and Shopify
Shopify has a great inbuilt SEO feature that automatically populates meta descriptions although you can edit and amend with ease. Whilst it is not guaranteed that Google (or other search engines) will use this, it does help.
Structured content is also pretty solid in Shopify and it is often quite easy for Google to identify the key metadata and ascertain what to show to users when they do a search query.
Images are automatically tagged with alt text (helpful for screen readers) and the compression that Shopify applies to media content will help reduce the overall weight of each page (no-one likes a slow site, especially not Google)!
And, as mentioned further up in this article, if you use a Shopify theme out of the box, it should render perfectly across different screen sizes. As Google has adopted a ‘mobile first’ principle when it comes to choosing which sites are worthy of being shown in search engine result pages (SERPs), having a responsive site is critical if you want to compete with others and climb the ranking ladder.
SEO and WordPress
For a start, WordPress lets you install Yoast, one of the best (free and paid plan) SEO plugins available. This plugin analyses your content in some depth from an SEO perspective, and outputs a list of key steps you can take to improve the quality of your pages and posts.
Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress
On top of that, it allows you to create SEO-friendly sitemaps and set canonical URLs to avoid duplicate content (something Google very much approves of).
WordPress is also better for creating clean URLs (short, simple URL structures that Google likes).
And because a WordPress site can be hosted on any server, you can choose a super-fast one; you aren’t restricted to the shared hosting on Shopify (which, whilst generally acceptable from a speed point of view, is not necessarily the absolute fastest available). ‘Page speed’ is important because it’s a ranking signal, with faster-loading sites given preference in search results.
Verdict: A Draw. SEO performance cannot just be measured via the technical structure, as great sites rely on both on-age and off=page content to establish continually high rankings within SERPs. I would just add that WordPress does have that little additional capacity to made the technical adjustments you may require.
Maintenance and Site Security
One of the major advantage of using Shopify over WordPress is that general site maintenance and security is all taken care of. Other than specific changes that you make to your site, there is very little that you need to do.
On the other hand, WordPress is a very different story: you are in charge of ensuring that
- Your WordPress version is the most recent
- Your plugins are all up-to-date
- Your server is configured and running correctly
- You don’t get hacked!
Although some of this can be handled automatically, it’s still something you need to keep a close eye on — if you end up with an out-of-date version of the WordPress software or a plugin, your site is much more vulnerable to being hacked.
With both Shopify and WordPress (or indeed any other website platform), if a nefarious character gets hold of your login details, they can do untold damage to your site. Some of which could even be very hard to spot but cause you to lose a lot of money.
Therefore, no matter which platform you opt for, you should setup 2-factor authentication (2FA) which requires users to provide additional details during the login process (usually in the form of a code sent to a mobile phone) before they are granted access.
Aside from 2FA, Shopify pretty much takes care of your security, which does mean less sleepless nights if you the nervous type.
WordPress is a different beast all together.
If you’re not paying a developer or agency to maintain your site, then the ultimate responsibility for all security belongs to the end users, which is most likely going to be you.
This means it’s your job to ensure that your version of WordPress is up to date, along with any plugins or themes you are using.
Failure to keep on top of this aspect of site maintenance can make a WordPress site vulnerable to being hacked (which can have very serious implications if you are operating an eCommerce business). Thankfully there are some excellent security plugins that can help you close any backdoors and limit who can access different parts of your site.
You’ve also got to be aware that some WordPress themes and plugins can contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site, so you need to be very careful about which ones you install.
And finally, you’ve got to ensure that you’re regularly backing up your site (helpfully, hosting providers such as SiteGround can take care of this for you).
SiteGround’s security plugin installed on WordPress
All that said, a well-constructed, well-maintained WordPress site will be extremely secure.
However, I think it’s fair to say that Shopify sites are probably less vulnerable than WordPress ones, simply because there’s less scope for users to neglect security on their site — or add dodgy code to it.
And if something does go wrong, then Shopify’s team have a clear responsibility to help resolve the problem.
Finally, a quick note about SSL: a free SSL certificate is provided with all Shopify sites, meaning that your visitors are browsing your site on a secure connection.
(You can of course install SSL certificates on WordPress sites too — but again, it’s your responsibility to sort that out.)
So all in all, for most users, the safer — and certainly easier — option from a security point of view is likely to be Shopify.
Customer support is an area which often doesn’t get much up-front consideration but I absolutely recommend that that you check out any software’s support pages before committing to an application. Reading over the docs, identifying how quickly they respond to support messages and ascertaining how comprehensive they are when it comes to delivering the tools for success (think video, picture walk thoughts, step-by-step guides), will help give an indication as to how reliable their service is.
In terms of support from Shopify, I think that they are up there with the best of them. Their support library is full of excellent resources and if you cannot find the answer there, you can either contact them via chat, email or phone. They also have a well-managed community forum where you can post queries and read answers from other Shopify users.
Shopify even have a status page that provides real-time updates regarding key infrastructure. I recommend bookmarking this page and referring to it if you ever have any problems with your site. It may just save you hours of needless work and worry if Shopify are already aware of the problem and are on course to fix it.
WordPress handles support differently
As it is an open-source platform, there is no dedicated helpdesk that can assist with every eventuality that you come across.
Automatic (the developers behind WooCommerce) are pretty good at providing support via their website but you may find that community forums on wordpress.org or Stack Overflow can be a quicker route to getting the answer you want. The chances are that someone else has come up against a similar problem and I’ve found the web development community to be one of the most helpful and collaborative on the planet!
Whilst both Shopify and WordPress have different approaches to support, Shopify has an easier way to access it. However, if your new to web development and eCommerce, it might just be worth getting some outside help to speed along the process and ensure that everything is set up and configured correctly.
You can contact us here if you would like any support or advice with both Shopify and WordPress eCommerce sites.
Shopify or WordPress – The Conclusion
It’s temping to write a long summary of what I’ve written but arguably it all comes down to your overall scope of work. If pushed to give a preference, it would go like this:
- For a pure eCommerce site with little in the way of additional material or scope, Shopify is likely to be the best fit.
- For a multi-faceted and complex site that integrates a great eCommerce experience, WordPress with WooCommerce is likely to be the best fit.
Both are incredibly powerful platforms and a strong track record behind them. For me, cost is probably not the biggest determining factor, as with all great things in life, you need to invest in order to deliver a really great experience, with all the bells and whistles you could ever hope for.
Although Shopify requires less technical knowledge to get started, most people often find that they bring in a developer at some point in their eCommerce journey to help them bring their site to life and connect their store to external integrations.
WordPress is a little more challenging to get to grips with but once you’ve mastered it, there really are no limits as to what you can do.
I really hope you’ve found this article useful and don’t forget that we build both Shopify and WordPress sites, so do feel free to contact us to discuss your requirements.
About the Author
Iain Beaumont is the Founder and owner of VUMO Digital, a web design and eCommerce agency based in Oxford.
After graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 2004, Iain joined the British Army before heading into the City and working for a US Investment Bank. With a huge interest in tech development, and from running several successful eCommerce stores himself, Iain now shares his expertise through his articles on the VUMO website.
About VUMO Digital
VUMO Digital work internationally, supporting clients from around the globe to deliver an exceptional eCommerce experience.
We continually break down barriers and implement innovative solutions to deliver systems that really perform. By focussing on the entire eCommerce journey from the outset, we’re able to build website that will be love not just by your customers, by your team, too.
Whilst we major in eCommerce, we cover all aspects of brand design, marketing & advertising, right through to SEO development and custom integrations.
But we also go further.
eCommerce is not just about a slick website and that’s why we also look at how our work can seamlessly mesh into your existing operational process and identify avenues where we can help further optimise your online business.