As a digital agency, we are often tasked with either helping a client choose an ecommerce platform, or with customizing their chosen platform to their individual needs. While our approach is often customized on our client’s needs, there are several key elements that business owners who want an ecommerce solution need to consider.
We will examine the three big players for small and medium-sized ecommerce businesses — WooCommerce, Shopify, and BigCommerce — and compare them.
WooCommerce is the largest ecommerce platform available. According to the company’s website, there are 51,378,603 active installs of this plugin. Yes, that’s correct, I said plugin; the base version of WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress. It is a self-hosted ecommerce solution, unlike BigCommerce and Shopify, which are hosted solutions. If you are familiar with WordPress, then you will be able to navigate and add products fairly well to WooCommerce. WooCommerce is scalable and has hundreds of free and premium extensions to help craft your ecommerce store. With WooCommerce you have full control over your store. You can enhance the base version with custom functionality using WooCommerce extensions. If an extension is not available, there’s a strong possibility that a development team can assist you with the customization you need. One drawback to WooCommerce is that although it’s free, it’s hard to know from the outset what your cost will be unlike the other two which have pricing tiers, due to the costs associated with most premium extensions.
Pros of WooCommerce
- WordPress plugin that works with your WordPress theme
- Various options for payment gateways
- Free plugin (for bases version)
- Products are easy to add and customize
- Self-hosted — full control over store
- Scales well
- One-click refund capability
Cons of Woocommerce
- Can be costly with extensions
- Needs secure hosting
- Lack of support
- Must with paired with a WordPress site
Shopify is another solid option for small to medium businesses. According to BuiltWith.com there are 831,629 current live sites running Shopify.
This is a closed-source, hosted ecommerce solution. This means you click “sign-up” and you are given a standalone domain and within minutes can have an up-and-running online store. Shopify is an out-of-the-box solution that gives users access to hundreds of well-designed themes and features such as CSV import, multi-language, and drop shipping. This solution is not as customizable as WooCommerce, however there are theme changes you can make (such as colors/fonts) without having to learn Liquid templating to change your template styling.
It’s also a great international option. Shopify meets GDPR standards and can handle most payment gateways, even globally.
As easy as Shopify is to get started, Shopify has its drawbacks as well. Functionality can be enhanced with add-ons. Some add-ons are free, but many are not. There are hundreds of add-ons that charge monthly for the service. These fees can add up and be costly depending on what you need.
Pros of Shopify
- Quick for shop owners to get store up and running
- Well designed shop themes
- Included features: unlimited products, CSV import, multi-language
- Abandoned Cart recovery built in
- 24/7 support
Cons for Shopify
- Limited customizations out of the box
- Need to know Liquid templating language for major customizations
- Closed-source platform
- Testing on some extensions require live credit cards
- Subscriptions/recurring charges need upgraded accounts
- Transaction fees can apply
BigCommerce is a great platform for startups and small businesses. Like Shopify, it’s an all-in-one hosted solution. It has upgraded theme offerings, and is more modern and responsive now than in years past. The pricing structure is based on annual sales, so if you go over you will automatically moved up to the next level.
If you want a CMS with your ecommerce store, BigCommerce is a good option, as it allows for pages and blog posts out of the box. One of the biggest benefits to BigCommerce is that it does not charge any transaction fee on any of tier, which means less administrative costs to sell your goods online.
Pros of BigCommerce
- Certified PCI Compliant
- Easy to use out of the box
- No transaction fees on any tier
- 24/7 support
Cons of BigCommerce
- Hosted on BigCommerce
- Shared hosting environments
- Tiered pricing that automatically increases if you go above your set plan
There are pros and cons to all three platforms. If you already have a WordPress site and understand the system, WooCommerce may be a solid ecommerce option. However, if you want to start a new ecommerce store and are currently not on a CMS or have a public facing website, Shopify or BigCommerce would allow you to get your online store up and running fairly quickly and securely.