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Why is WooCommerce the Best E-Commerce Platform for Modern Online Stores? A digital marketing agency’s perspective.

7 minutes

If you’re wanting to start selling your products (or e-learning courses, or other services) online, you need an e-commerce website. In 2024 there are really only two realistic platform options: WooCommerce and Shopify. This article explains why most digital marketing agencies, including ours, recommend WooCommerce for the majority of cases.

There is clearly significant interest in this topic of which is better. Just examine the sheer number of results vying for your attention (over 48 million results) when you search for “WooCommerce vs Shopify” in Google. You’ll see thousands of pages with headlines similar to:

  • “WooCommerce vs Shopify: Which is the Best E-Commerce Platform for You?”
  • “WooCommerce vs Shopify: Which is the Better Platform?”
  • “WooCommerce vs Shopify: Who Comes Out on Top?”
  • “WooCommerce vs Shopify: Which One is the Absolute Best?”
  • “WooCommerce vs Shopify: Which is Better for Your Store?”

WooCommerce offers far greater flexibility and customization for a lot lower cost, while Shopify is often praised for its ease of use and low maintenance.

We Recommend Woocommerce 90% of the Time

We have quite a bit of experience with both e-commerce platforms, however this article will explain why for 90% of all cases, WooCommerce is by far the best platform in the long run for an e-commerce website.

We’re not alone in recommending WooCommerce: it powers over 70 million e-commerce websites, and 22% of the top 1 million e-commerce sites.

Now, I should preface this by saying that I’m comparing Shopify to our own all-inclusive Website-as-a-Service plan. Like Shopify, it’s a subscription that you pay monthly for, with no upfront cost.

With typical marketing agencies, you’ll pay upfront to design and build the website, and then yearly for maintenance and support. Even in this case though, it’s still difficult to recommend Shopify and you’re better off with an agency that uses Woocommerce.

For Which 10% of Cases is Shopify a Good Choice?

There are really only two instances where we would recommend Shopify over Woocommerce:

The first is if the business wants to design, develop, maintain and support the website internally rather than outsourcing it (and unless you have a skilled marketing team fluent in web design and development, you really should outsource it).

The second is if the business requires minimal customization and flexibility in the e-commerce website.

In a nutshell, if you feel your company has a team that knows enough about SEO, conversion optimization, semantic HTML and other website considerations, AND you only need a basic cookie-cutter website that looks and works like most other Shopify websites and with no fancy features…then Shopify is a good choice. A great choice, in fact—Shopify is a wonderful platform for simple DIY e-commerce websites.

Shopify indeed shines in the realm of user-friendliness. Its backend interface is undeniably straightforward, making it a welcoming haven for beginners. So if you’re seeking a quick and hassle-free entry into e-commerce, Shopify is a commendable choice. However, it’s important to note that it comes at a cost.

Shopify is Expensive (and Inflexible)

Shopify presents a nice little box with basic functionality, and as long as you stay within that box, it can be relatively inexpensive to begin with, at $51/month.

The problem is, we’ve never encountered a single business that found that box sufficient and didn’t require add-ons to provide missing functionality.

Almost everything on Shopify requires payment, even for seemingly basic features such as reviews or a robust SEO plugin. You’ll find yourself committed to a monthly fee of at least $10 (typically $30) or more for each add-on.

Addons Add Up

“But” I hear you thinking: “…”isn’t Wordpress also based on an ecosystem of paid addons to provide additional functionality over and above the core offering (which is open source and free)”?

Yes it is, but the difference is that most Woocommerce addons (“plugins”) are significantly cheaper ($80/year is typical). Plus, we provide many common addons as part of the Website-as-a-Service plan. Many addons are also completely free.

In addition, there are about 8 times as many plugins for Wordpress (upon which Woocommerce is based). Which means if there’s a specific functionality you want for your Woocommerce site, chances are there is a plugin which will provide that feature, eliminating the need to have a programmer custom-build that feature for you.

Custom Development is Even Worse

Because there are so many more Wordpress developers than there are Liquid developers (Liquid being the proprietary development environment used by Shopify) if you need to hire someone for custom programming, it will be less expensive for a Woocommerce site than a Shopify site.

The Inevitable Move to Woocommerce Will Be Devastating

So far, I’ve explained how Shopify is generally more expensive if any flexibility is required above what’s built in. The thing is, there’s a very good chance every business will need to eventually grow beyond the basic functionality, which will require expensive monthly costs for add ons, and likely some expensive custom programming.

At this point, it wouldn’t be unusual to find that continuing with Shopify is even more costly than migrating to a Woocommerce solution, despite the entire site needing to be rebuilt.

Thinking about all the money that was sunk into Shopify with the additional cost to build the site all over again, when you could have just started with Woocommerce in the first place…can be quite devastating.

Luckily, Website-as-a-Service helps here—you can get a brand new site built on Wordpress and Woocommerce without needing to pay thousands upfront, and you can either keep the current design (which was likely based on an off-the-shelf Shopify template or have us custom-design your site so you it doesn’t look like every other Shopify site.

Woocommerce Integrates Seamlessly with Wordpress

To further help you avoid making an expensive mistake by considering Woocommerce for your new online store, let me present some further considerations. First of all, Woocommerce integrates seamlessly with Wordpress. For businesses already using WordPress for their website, adding e-commerce functionality is super easy by installing WooCommerce. Since Wordpress is already the best platform for modern websites, this makes it a convenient choice for those who want to start selling products, courses or services on their existing WordPress site.

No Transaction Fees

Shopify provides only one option for processing credit cards (Shopify Payments). If you want to use other payment options (which are available, but not nearly the choice that you have with Woocommerce), like PayPal for instance, you’ll be charged an additional 2%. WooCommerce does not charge any transaction fees on sales (though certain payment gateways still might to be fair).

Flexibility and Customization

WordPress is known for its flexibility and customization options. This allows for a more unique and personalized design compared to the relatively standardized templates offered by Shopify. It’s just far easy and cheaper to make your website stand out from the pack with Woocommerce, and who doesn’t want to stand out?

It’s not just about a unique look and feel. There are many more options for connectivity to other websites with automation and APIs.

Better SEO and CRO

Since WooCommerce is built on WordPress, it benefits from WordPress’s robust SEO capabilities, especially blogging. There are also more plugins available which can automate SEO work.

Split testing and other methods of optimizing conversion rates is also far easily to do with Wordpress.

No Pricing Surprises

WordPress is an open-source platform. There’s no vendor lock-in, so you can easily move your site from one marketing agency to another or from one hosting service to another. It’s also free, so when you pay a digital marketing agency like us to work on your website, you’re only paying for talent.

Shopify is a publicly-traded company, and the board is always under pressure to increase revenue. More often than not, that comes from price hikes, some that you did not plan for. The last price hike in 2023 raised prices by 34%. That’s rather unfortunate when you’re locked into your e-commerce vendor.

Greater Control Over Hosting and Data

As a hosted SaaS platform, Shopify provides only one option—Shopify. This means that it’s a single point of failure. When Shopify’s network goes down (which it does, more often that it should, which means there are companies that track all the Shopify outages).

With WooCommerce, you can choose your own hosting provider, which can result in better site performance, reliability and scalability options tailored to you. If you work with someone like us, you buy into enterprise grade hosting which is more reliable, and even provides you the option of server mirroring for redundancy required in mission-critical online stores.

Scalability

This is an area where Shopify and Woocommerce are equally matched. Shopify is built to be infinitely scalable, and while it’s still a “single failure point” it works for e-commerce stores of virtually any size.

By nature of Wordpress/Woocommerce being open source and compatible with virtually any hosting service provider, it’s also easy to scale the performance of the site to suit stores of any size.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Shopify may be a great solution for some people. If a company is just starting out and wants to handle building and maintaining their e-commerce store themselves, and isn’t bothered by looking like a lot of other stores, Shopify is worth looking at (but do consider how your costs might change as you grow).

For the other 90% of small and medium-sized businesses, we recommend a Woocommerce e-commerce website, and specifically one that’s all-inclusive, lets you pay monthly, and scales with your business as it grows.

A black and white photo of a man wearing glasses and a polka dot shirt.

Eric Embacher

I channelled my love for mobile and cloud computing into one of Canada’s early SaaS successes by co-founding Symbility Solutions in 2002 in Toronto (later acquired by CoreLogic) and designing a tablet-based, cloud-connected software for the insurance industry, years before cloud-based software and iPads were a thing. Thirteen years later I started Infinite Monkeys to focus on my passion in my favourite place (Victoria).