Building a website is not only a lot of work. If you are just starting out in the digital world, it can also seem a bit overwhelming. There are so many choices, providers and solutions. How do you know which one is right for you? As I mentioned in my post about setting up your website, I soon realised that I prefer to work with WordPress over other Content Management Systems. Nevertheless, I started my online store project using Shopify. I ended up switching to WordPress with Woocommerce and decided to share my experience with these systems with you.
What are Shopify, WordPress and Woocommerce?
Shopify, WordPress and Woocommerce are so-called “Content Management Systems” (CMS). They are only three examples of many CMS choices. A CMS helps you to create digital content. Before the development of CMS, websites were developed using code only. Hence, you had to have some experience with writing an entire code. CMS have made it more user-friendly and allow also those with limited or no coding skills to set up their websites. If you do not want to, you do not need to change the code. However, if you want to, you have the possibility to do so as well.
Shopify advertises itself as a one-stop-solution to set up an online store. Everything you need can be done via their systems and partners. WordPress is open-source-based. Therefore, it is not a one-stop-solution and requires the user to put together their own system. WordPress is the base, for an online store you will need an extension such as Woocommerce. Therefore, choose a website template which is Woocommerce-compatible.
Why I initially Worked with Shopify
Even though I had been using WordPress for other websites, I started my online store with Shopify. (I made the mistake of ignoring the advice of many tech friends, unfortunately…) The reason was their 24-hour support. I wanted to make sure that problems could be solved fast. WordPress and Woocommerce are open source based. Hence, there is no dedicated support hotline. I thought it may be a good way to start an online shop with a dedicated hotline. When I did my research, I found that many stores – from small to big, niche to famous – use Shopify. I thought they would have a good reason to use it and signed up as well.
My Personal Experience with Shopify
I personally found Shopify’s system really limiting – and expensive. The basic subscription is USD 29 per month (about EUR 27). This includes hosting but not the domain. You have to purchase the latter separately. (Whichever system you use, the domain needs to be bought separately.) It then comes with a few free templates which are OK. But if you want a “fancier” one with more functions, the templates are USD 100 (about EUR 90) and upwards. (Most of the ones I liked were around USD 150 (about EUR 140)). I used a free template and struggled with it. Every time when I wanted additional functionalities, Shopify either recommended to buy a template or purchase one of their so-called “apps”.
This brings me to the next reason why Shopify will get quite expensive over some time. Most of the additional apps you install, also use a monthly subscription basis as well. In my case, I used langify to run my store in English and in German. This added another USD 17.50 (about EUR 16) to my monthly Shopify bill. (On a side note: when you stop your Shopify subscription, you have to cancel the app subscriptions BEFORE you close the store. I forgot this and once you do not have a store anymore, it becomes quite a mission to cancel them.)
I knew that Shopify would be a more expensive option than open source programmes before I started. But I initially thought it may be worth the investment if they really have good 24-hour support. However, while I had a few support chats which were helpful, the really important issues I faced were never solved by Shopify. First of all, their Mailchimp integration was buggy at first, later it stopped to work at all. The answer in the chat was always “please contact Mailchimp”. Instagram tagging also never worked. My store got rejected multiple times for no reason. Shopify kept referring to Facebook/Instagram. When I did some online research about it, I realised that I was not the only one. Online fora were full of Shopify store owners with the same issue.
Shopify targets people with no or little coding skills and no experience with open source providers. Probably if you do not want to worry about the code or customising your site, it is ok. I found it really limiting and every time, I tried to change something in the code, my changes were not saved. When I contacted Shopify’s support about it, I received the answer “I’m sorry but coding skills are not a prerequisite for becoming a Shopify guru (ie. support assistant). How can you offer support for websites without people having coding skills?!
Coming back to why Shopify can be expensive: in addition to the monthly subscription, Shopify takes a commission of 2.9% + USD 0.30 for every sale you make. If we go back to the above mentioned cost, one year on Shopify cost me around USD 560 (about EUR 510) plus the commission for sales. (Bear in mind that I did not purchase any template, then it would have been around USD 700 to set up my store in the first year.)
In the end, I got fed up with being dependent on Shopify’s support – who, as I mentioned, often failed to help me. Some of the issues have never been solved, even though Shopify assured they would take care of them. My problem was that had to solve the issues and I tried myself. I was used to online research and fora with discussions about any topic I need for open source. However, when it comes to Shopify, it is sometimes challenging to find online resources to help.
My Switch to WordPress and Woocommerce
My frustration about the system’s limitations paired with the price point made me decide to switch to WordPress. At first, I was a bit worried about switching to open source. Would credit card payments work smoothly? What about website security? What if I am stuck and cannot find an answer?
But I took the leap and started developing a brand new website. First of all, let me get into more details about the cost. I use Siteground for my hosting, therefore, I did not need to worry about this. Usually, the price for hosting is between USD 100 – 200 (about EUR 90 – 180) depending on your provider and needs. I then needed an SSL certificate to protect my site which is USD 70 per year. My template was about USD 70 (about EUR 64), which is about half of the price of the ones I liked on Shopify with more functionalities and it included support for six months. I also purchased WPML, which is a tool to publish the website in multiple languages. This was USD 94.80 (about EUR 87). In addition to that, I recommend looking into strong website security and anti-fraud measures, which range from USD 70-100 (about EUR 64-90) respectively per year.
In general, my start-up costs for the new site were about USD 450 (about EUR 410), as I did not need additional hosting. Hence, open source does not mean it is for free or that much cheaper. However, it allows me to be way more flexible with the website. Furthermore, I am able to find many answers to my problems online as the open source community is really active and helpful. Moreover, when I set up the site, I was in touch with the support of Siteground, my website theme and WPML and found them really helpful. So yes, it is not a one-stop-shop when it comes to support but I prefer specialists who can actually help over generalists who leave me stuck with the problem. Regarding my worry about credit card payments: Stripe, which I used on Shopify also has a plugin (ie. extension) for WordPress and Woocommerce.
Open source can feel overwhelming at first. I did a lot of research about all the questions I had before I switched, even though I have experience in using WordPress. But I find that once you get used to the system, it is quite straightforward and intuitive. I find it more intuitive than many of the Shopify sections.
While I still have issues setting up Mailchimp (I will probably use another provider for the newsletter), the Instagram-tagging problem was solved right when I re-applied after setting up the WordPress site. I got approved instantly – it obviously was related to Shopify.
From a business perspective, do not underestimate the commission. It may sound OK if you have a small business, but 3% of your revenue (!) is quite a big junk – considering you already pay a monthly subscription. With open source, there are the set-up costs but no commissions.
To sum up, it will depend on your personal needs and preferences which CMS works best for you. If you want flexibility and complete control of your store and are willing to do some digging about problems yourself, I recommend WordPress with Woocommerce. I would not only make it dependent solely based on costs. Choose the system which you feel most comfortable and confident to use. (But choose wisely, from my own experience, I can tell you that migrating a website is way more work than you would expect.)
I have only recently switched and this is my view after running the store with the new system for some weeks. I will keep you updated here about my experience as the website is growing. I will also write more articles about this topic. When writing this article, I realised that there are actually so many more topics I would like to discuss. But it would have gone beyond the scope if today’s article.
Do you have an online shop? What are you using and what is your experience? What would you recommend? I look forward to hearing about your views!
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All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended services above.