Shopify vs WordPress (2018)

Shopify vs WordPress: which is best? This is a question a lot of startups find themselves asking, and in this post I’m going tackle it in depth!

Read on for a full examination of both platforms and their key features; and the reasons why you might choose one of them over the other when building an e-commerce website.

By the end of this comparison, you should have a much better idea of which platform will serve your business’ needs best.

Let’s start with a quick overview of both platforms.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is a web application that has been specifically designed to allow merchants build and launch their own online store.

It provides a range of templates that can be customised to meet individual businesses’ branding requirements, and it allows both physical and digital goods to be sold.

One of the fundamental ideas behind Shopify is that users without technical or design skills can create a store themselves, without resorting to coding. However, Shopify also allows you to edit the HTML and CSS of your website, which means that those who do have coding skills will be able to customize their stores more extensively.

Shopify is a hosted solution, which means everything runs on Shopify’s servers. So, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more bespoke requirements through the addition of apps – more on which later).

Shopify is a software as a service (‘Saas’) tool – this means that you don’t own a copy of the software, but pay a monthly fee to use it instead. Being a web application, it runs in the cloud; this means that as long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.

What is WordPress?

There are two different versions of WordPress available:

Hosted WordPress

Hosted WordPress – available at wordpress.com – is, like Shopify, a software as a service (SaaS) tool. You pay a monthly fee and you get access to a broad range of features which enable you to build and maintain a website.

It’s less of an ‘all in one’ solution than Shopify however, as users need to use third party tools like Ecwid (or indeed Shopify!) to add e-commerce features to it.

Self-hosted WordPress

Self-hosted WordPress is a piece of software that you download from wordpress.org and then install on your own web server. It’s open-source, meaning that the code behind it is freely available and may be easily tweaked.

In practice, this means that sites built with WordPress can be customised to the nth degree – it’s an extremely flexible tool that, in the hands of the right developer, or via the installation of the right plugins, can be adapted to meet the requirements of nearly any website design project.

You can install WordPress on your server for free, but there are hosting costs, domain registration charges and potential plugin / development costs to consider. We’ll discuss all this in more depth later on in this post.

This Shopify vs WordPress comparison is going to focus on the version of the WordPress that most people use: the self-hosted version.

What sort of users are Shopify and WordPress aimed at?

It’s fair to say that Shopify’s main audience is users without web development skills.

As mentioned above, the key idea behind Shopify is that anyone can use the platform to make their own online store – quickly, and without needing to code at all.

WordPress by contrast caters for two groups of users.

Like Shopify, WordPress is suitable for users who are not tech-savvy; it is certainly possible to create and maintain a WordPress site without needing any coding skills (particularly if you’re happy to use a ‘visual editor’ interface for WordPress like Divi). Users who don’t want to go near any HTML or CSS can definitely avoid doing so with WordPress.

I’d argue however that in many cases, more configuration of WordPress is needed before you can publish a website; and that depending on what you want to do, setting up a WordPress site can involve a considerably steeper learning curve.

The second audience that WordPress caters for is users who have loads of web development experience. These users can work with the platform to pretty much build any sort of website, and host it anywhere they like.

Although it is possible to modify Shopify in a lot of ways (through coding or the addition of apps), there are more limits to what you can do, and you are always going to have to host it on Shopify’s servers.

How many people use WordPress and Shopify?

When choosing a website building solution, it’s important to get a sense of how many people use it to create their sites or online stores.

This is because generally speaking, if a particular platform has a large userbase, you will find that there is more more support, resources and apps / plugins available for it online. There will also be a smaller chance of it ‘disappearing’ and taking your website with it!

The latter issue is particularly important for users who are considering using a fully hosted solution like Shopify – such companies can and do encounter financial difficulties, and can close product lines as a result (the disappearance of Magento Go is a well-known example of this). A large userbase minimizes the risk of this.

The good news is that WordPress and Shopify both enjoy a lot of popularity and have large userbases. Depending on who you believe on the internet, there are 65-75 million WordPress sites in existence; and according to Shopify, the platform powers 600,000 stores.

Given these numbers, WordPress is technically the safer bet in the longevity stakes, but Shopify is one of the most popular products of its kind and it is unlikely that either platform is going anywhere anytime soon.

Pricing: how much does it cost to use Shopify and WordPress?

Shopify fees

Shopify provides five pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month.
  • Basic: $29 per month.
  • Shopify: $79 per month.
  • Advanced: $299 per month.
  • Plus: negotiable, but typically around $2000 per month.

As you might expect, the features you get access to on each Shopify plan vary according to the one you’re on, but a few key differences are as follows:

  • The ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed a Shopify ‘buy button’ on an existing site, or sell via Facebook, but you don’t get a standalone, fully functional store on this plan.
  • Phone support is only supported on the $29 and higher plans.
  • Credit card fees and transaction fees decrease as the monthly plans become more expensive.
  • The ‘Shopify Plus’ plan is an enterprise grade plan aimed at larger organisations, or those with more advanced requirements regarding APIs, server uptime and support.

For a more detailed breakdown on the differences in costs, please see our dedicated article on Shopify fees.

WordPress fees

It’s much harder to say how much a WordPress site costs to build – that’s because there are so many variables involved.

A common misconception is that WordPress is an entirely free solution, but that’s not true, because although you can get the software for free, there are other things you’ll need to get a WordPress-powered site or online store off the ground, namely:

  • hosting (server space on which to install WordPress and store your site)
  • themes (the design for your site)
  • e-commerce integration (addition of tools that will let you sell products online)
  • plugins (apps that can be added to your site to add more functionality)

And of course, depending on your ambitions or technical skills, you may also need to pay for a developer to assist you with the build.

The one thing you’ll always have to pay for hosting: without it you have nowhere to install WordPress. There are a wide range of options available on this front, but the key choice you’ll have to make is:

  • whether you’d like to use a ‘shared hosting’ company (cheaper but usually slower and less optimized for WordPress sites)
  • a dedicated WordPress hosting provider – for example WP Engine – that specialises exclusively in WordPress hosting (faster, more secure – but more expensive).

For a small to medium-sized project it’s probably fair to say that you’d be looking at costs of between $4 (shared hosting) and $30 (managed WP hosting) a month.

With regard to the other factors, you can technically get away with using a free template, e-commerce integration, and plugins – but realistically, to get higher quality results it’s usually worth investing in your site.

Below you’ll find some figures which demonstrate some costs you might expect if you were building your site yourself:

  • Annual hosting, using managed WordPress hosting from WP Engine as an example: $348 (recurring cost)
  • Premium theme: $175
  • Annual cost for e-commerce integration (using Ecwid as an example): $180 (recurring cost)
  • 4 paid-for plugins: $100

If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your site, you’d have significantly higher costs (but in all likelihood would be getting a better product).

In terms of how these sorts of costs compare to using Shopify, again we’re looking at a ‘how long is a piece of string scenario’. But let’s try to come up with some examples!

At the lower end of the pricing scale, assuming you’re using the Shopify $29 ‘Basic plan’ plus one $10-per-month app, you’d be talking about a $468 annual commitment.

At the higher end of things, if you were on the Shopify $299-per-month plan, and using three $10 per month apps, you could end up spending $3948 per year on your site.

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 dearer!

The only way to work out which is more economical for you in the long run is to make a clear list of all your requirements, and price them up for each platform as best as you can.

Pricing, however, should not be the only thing you think about in your WordPress vs Shopify decision-making process. It’s just as important to look at functionality and features.

Let’s do that now.

Templates

Quantity and quality

A key concern of anyone building an online store is: how pretty will my site look?

Well, Shopify offers a classy set of templates – there are 10 free ones, and 53 paid-for ones available on the Shopify site (most of which come in 2 or 3 variants, making the numbers of templates available larger than the above figures suggest). All these templates are professionally designed, easily edited and responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely on any type of device – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.).