Which platform is best for your ecommerce website | Shopify vs WooCommerce vs BigCommerce vs Square

by | Marketing, Business, Web Design | 0 comments

A comparison. AKA “Help! I’m drowning in options!” 

Look, I understand. You’ve been out there roaming the badlands of the Walmart dairy aisle, thinking wild and  unkempt thoughts about raking in dough from online sales, while simultaneously beating back the everyday  tedium of deciding between Pepper Jack, or regular Cheddar cheese from the display in front of you. We’ve all  been there (Pepper Jack is the way to go, btw). And like the rest of us, you soon realized that unlike a dainty  selection of cheeses, eCommerce provides options that aren’t so much a tad more complex as they are a  labyrinthine cannon-ball run of intricacy.  

There’s enough options to make your eyes bleed, to be frank. But have no fear, ya boy is here, and by the sheer  power of the promise of filthy lucre in return for my keyboard tippy-tapping, I will simplify this playing field for  you. 

Shopify.  

WooCommerce.  

BigCommerce.  

Square. 

They’re four of the biggest players, and in your search for eCommerce solutions, these names will repeatedly be popping up.  

But what do they do, exactly? 

Well, in a nutshell, Shopify and BigCommerce are e-commerce platforms, WooCommerce is an open-source  ecommerce plugin for WordPress, and Square is a payments platform aimed at small and medium businesses  that includes the option of integration with either your own pre-existing website or a self-built website via  Square Online.  

As alluded to earlier, there’s alot to take apart here, and so to keep things straightforward, Let’s take a look at a  more detailed overview of each, and zero in on several key factors for comparison: 

Shopify 

Shopify is a cloud-based SaaS e-commerce solution that allows businesses to set up an online store with very  little hassle. Users are presented with a clean, beginner-friendly user interface allowing those with no coding  skills to immediately choose between a variety of free (or paid) themes to simplify the process of online store  creation, as well as the tools necessary to tweak items to enhance customisation.  

As far as pricing is concerned, there are 5 plans available:  

Starter — $5 per month 

Basic — $29 per month 

Shopify — $79 per month

Advanced — $299 per month 

Shopify Plus — Starting at $2,000 per month 

Moreover, for credit card purchases, Shopify charges a fee of either 2.9% of the sale plus 30¢ USD for online  sales and 2.7% of the sale in person. 

Note that this is only the pricing for the general plans, and does not include add-ons such as:  

-paid themes, which cost between $150 to $300 USD 

-Advanced POS features, which start at $89 month 

-Shopify Apps, each of which has its own price, and are often between $15-60 USD, and sometimes even higher. 

Hence, while Shopify is a well developed platform, costs can add up quickly. Users often report feeling as  though they have to regularly reach for their wallet in order to provide their online store with more  functionality, and that the “vanilla” Shopify experience without any paid add-ons is insufficient to really get the  benefit of this platform.  

As far as customisability, Shopify excels in that there are around 8000 apps that can be integrated into your  online store. Moreover, the GUI provided is the kind of clean, intuitive yet customisable interface one would  expect with a hugely popular modern online service, including the use of drag and drop functionality.  Nevertheless, for those with the skillset, the platform also caters to developers, providing access to CSS, HTML  and Liquid- Shopify’s own templating language.  

Since around 2016, Shopify has implemented the use of SSL security certificates everywhere on user’s online  stores. This is an improvement upon outdated security standards that relegated the use of SSL encryption  exclusively to the checkout process, and instead redirects all traffic over HTTPS. Ensuring the use of HTTPS  everywhere also aids SEO, which brings us to the next point. 

SEO- The Shopify platform provides users with built-in features to help optimize content. Some SEO is  performed automatically. Users can edit the title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs for blog posts, webpages,  products, and collections, as well as edit the alt text for images, run the site through Google Insights, perform  keyword research, and audit site architecture and navigation for broken links. In direct comparison with  BigCommerce, users of both platforms often report a greater SEO feature set present on BigCommerce, rather  than Shopify. 

Undoubtedly, a large part of Shopify’s success is due to the ability of users to scale their store to meet their  business needs. With major clients such as Kraft, Red Bull, Lindt, Heinz, BBC and Nescafe to name a few,  Shopify’s ability to handle high traffic volumes, sales spikes, inventory, customer management and order  fulfillment at scale are all well proven for those potential users seeking an established platform capable of  handling serious growth.  

Pros 

-Easy, intuitive interface 

-Integrates with almost any other platform out there (FB, Insta etc) 

-Low priced startup plans 

-Professional and beautiful themes 

-Great tech support

-Good for dropshipping 

-Beginner to enterprise level solution 

-POS terminal options 

-Has a blogging feature 

-Business loans through Shopify Capital 

-Shopify payments- accepts Google pay, Apple pay, all major cards, Paypal 

-larger 3rd party app developer ecosystem, users can obtain almost any required feature for their store 

Cons 

-Better SEO e-commerce options elsewhere 

-High cost of add-ons 

-Plug-ins are not free, and almost always have a recurring cost 

-“Vanilla” product (without add-ons) is lacking 

-Transaction fees 

-Doesn’t integrate into a pre-exisiting website, like WooCommerce does for example 

BigCommerce 

The direct- albeit nowhere near as successful- competitor to Shopify, Bigcommerce offers a SaaS e-commerce  solution that easily rivals and mirrors its largest competitor in features. Like Shopify, BigCommerce presents  users with a slick GUI, along with an array of polished, high quality themes to choose from.  

BigCommerce’s pricing structure is easier to understand, due to the fact that the initial “out-of-the-box”  product offering is fully featured, whereas with Shopify alot of fees are hidden or obscured and only discovered  in the form of necessary further app purchases after signing up for a plan. On the other hand, most of  Bigcommerce’s plans provide the features necessary for most users, without additional immediate purchases.  

Significantly, when leading payment methods are utilised, BigCommerce doesn’t charge transaction fees. This is  in stark contrast to Shopify which charges 0.5-2% transaction fee and even higher fees for credit cards. With  BigCommerce, you pay a flat monthly rate, based upon your revenue: 

$29.95 USD/Month for up to 50k annual revenue 

$79.95 USD/Month for up to 180k annual revenue 

$299.95 USD/Month for up to 400k annual revenue  

above 400k yearly revenue, custom plans are available 

Once you factor in all the plugins often necessary with Shopify, BigCommerce often works out to be the  cheaper option. 

This “out-of-the-box”, no-plugins-immediately-needed advantage of BigCommerce also shines through in  another major aspect of online selling- discounts. Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce has a fully fledged discount and  coupon feature. Whereas Shopify only allows a specific % discount off a product, BigCommerce allows buy 1 get 1 free promotions, the ability to offer a discount on an arbitrary item if a specific item is purchased, tiered  discounts based on quantity, and discounts for repeat customers. These options all require multiple plugins on  Shopify, therefore, a greater initial investment.

And that, my friends, really is the tale of the tape here. “Out-of-the-box”, vs “a greater investment”, is certainly  a legitimate way to sum up the differences between the two. With Shopify, users are subjected to the eternal  (and costly) allure of “just one more app purchase”/”another investment”, whereas with BigCommerce, it is  quite possible for users to suffice themselves with the off-the-shelf offering provided by the company. This  dichotomy can be seen also in a comparison of the sales reporting and analytics available for both platforms.  Again, with BigCommerce, users are immediately treated to detailed customer reports, customer acquisition  reports, search engine reports, financial reports, abandoned cart reports, while Shopify users are more than  welcome to these same features… for a monthly, recurring price.  

With limited alloted space and alot more ground to cover, I’ll put it simply: Both BigCommerce and Shopify are  titans in their own right, and all offer a full featured ecommerce platform to their users. Though Shopify  undoubtedly edges out the competition with a bewildering variety and scope of plug-ins, it does so at a price,  and it is up to would-be customers to weigh up the two in more detail and decide based on their circumstances  if that price is worth it.  

Pros 

-“Off the shelf” solution, no need for further immediate purchases 

-Easy, intuitive interface 

-Reasonably priced startup plan 

-Professional design themes 

-Beginner to enterprise level solution 

-Great for SEO 

Cons 

-Plugin catalogue is vastly inferior to Shopify 

-No POS terminal, have to integrate from another company such as Square  

-Doesn’t integrate into a pre-exisiting website, like WooCommerce does for example -Abandoned cart function requires a plan that costs $79.95 per month 

WooCommerce 

Swaggering out the gate as our third contender is the hugely dominant open-source e-commerce plugin for  wordpress, WooCommerce. Simple to install and customize, WooCommerce differs from Shopify and  BigCommerce in a major aspect- it is not a standalone platform, but rather (as mentioned before), a plugin for  another hugely popular online platform, WordPress. WooCommerce is essentially the lean and brainy  competitor to Shopify. Though often touted and thought of as a platform for tech-savvy users, WooCommerce  actually enjoys popularity among all skill levels of users, and is regarded (depending on who you ask) as either  the number 1 or number 2 online ecommerce platform, alongside Shopify.  

Serial tinkerers who don’t mind a “some-assembly-required” approach will love the extraordinary  customisability of WooCommerce. That said, the greatly increased level of control afforded to users comes with  a price- a higher degree of time must be spent on maintenance, as well as learning the workings of the site and  any plugins so as to avoid plugin conflicts. A handful of themes are offered to users, however, those looking for  a more polished higher end theme will need to lay out a one time fee of between $35 to $129. Regarding fees, 

a simple WooCommerce site can start around as little as $110 USD per year, all the way up to around $1500 per  year. An excellent breakdown of these fees can be found here  

Given that higher-end Shopify users can “look forward” to being slugged with over $2000 per MONTH, it makes  sense why WooCommerce is adopted by so many for the sheer level of economy offered over its rivals.  

Like Shopify and BigCommerce, WooCommerce also supports a wide variety of payment methods.  Disappointingly however, a selection of some of the more niche payment methods requires the payment of a  fee of around $79.  

Two main methods of receiving payment are offered by WooCommerce: Stripe and Paypal powered by  Braintree, and WooCommerce payments, which allow payments to be accepted both online and offline.  WooCommerce Payments has no setup charge and no monthly fees. You pay 2.9% + $0.30 for each transaction  made with U.S.-issued credit or debit cards. For cards issued outside the U.S., there is an additional 1% fee.  WooCommerce Payments allows the management of all payments within a central dashboard, and allows  payment directly through the website as one would expect. Interestingly, Stripe and PayPal come bundled into  WooCommerce core, and can easily be setup when creating a new store, and notably- with Paypal- the first  $50,000 in transactions is free.  

Perhaps the most significant point of difference (as already alluded to) with WooCommerce is control. This is no more evident than in the case of inadvertent shutdowns, as can happen on SaaS platforms such as  BigCommerce and Shopify, which regulate and dictate what their users cannot sell, whereas with  Woocommerce, users are not subjected to as much oversight and control. Therefore, absent any obviously  highly illegal activity, users will generally enjoy a smoother merchant experience without the kind of  disappointements such as sudden bans that have been known to occur among Shopify users selling otherwise  innocent items that happen to appear to violate Shopify policy, for example. 

To summarise, while Shopify users pay for a wide variety of plugins and broad integration with their money,  WooCommerce users pay for much greater personalisation and control with their time, while saving money.  

Pros 

-High amount of personalisation/customisation 

-High degree of control 

-Integrates seamlessly with WordPress 

-Great savings compared to other options 

-Beginner to enterprise level solution 

-Great for SEO, using Yoast 

Cons 

-Security requires maintenance, is more vulnerable to attacks 

-Is alot more fidgety, and alot less intuitive than other options 

-Have to work to avoid plugin conflicts  

-Site crashes happen more frequently 

-No POS terminal, have to integrate from another company such as Square 

Square (and Square Online) 

A great option for beginner merchants, Square’s e-commerce platform in tandem with Square Online provides  users with an incredibly clean, intuitive user experience, as well as several very well priced options (including  free options) to enter the world of online selling. Since 2009, the flagship offering of Square was a small white  square shaped card reading device that permitted small business owners to conduct face-to-face card  transactions with customers. From there, Square’s platform has ballooned out to include a full fledged online  store building/e-commerce option that caters particularly well to those looking for simplicity, albeit at the  expense of options for customisation. This is highly evident in the website builder, which is effectively designed  to hold the hand of the user, to avoid the kind of “creativity” that could harm the overall look and feel of the  finished product.  

Square offers four plans: Free, Professional, Performance and Premium. The latter 3 plans require a monthly fee of $12, $26 and $72 USD, respectively. Users hoping to find similar staple features as those of BigCommerce  such as abandoned cart recovery will be disappointed to find that these and others require a commitment to  the more costly monthly plans. Fees from Square generally mirror those of Shopify, with a cost of 2.9% + 30¢  per transaction.  

Perhaps the greatest selling point to Square is its “Apple style” UI and feel, which is undoubtedly designed to  cater to that large demographic of individuals that prefer a hassle free, highly polished and simplistic user  experience at the expense of (perhaps excessive) detail and messy customisation options. Both Square Online’s  web offering, as well as POS terminal and even card reader echo this spartan yet elegant design philosophy,  which is undoubtedly invaluable to those seeking a certain zen aesthetic in their small business environments.  

Pros 

-Professional, simple design 

-Reasonably priced plans 

-Excellent for beginners 

-Great security 

Cons 

-Lacks customisation/control 

-Overly simplistic 

-Limited integration and payment gateways 

The final word 

Well and truly, today’s would-be online sellers are spoilt with a veritably paralysing array of options, that is  nothing if not daunting. That said, a few things are worth noting. Firstly, multiple tools now exist to assist those  looking to transition from one platform to another, and so those who are looking to take the dive and just pick a platform and begin without being paralysed with over-analysis can and SHOULD do so. Secondly, toying around  with a platform affords a much better understanding of the nuances critical to your own situation, and generally speaking, there is sufficient overlap between concepts, so those forced to migrate to another platform at a later date can take the lessons learnt with them without any sense of time lost. 

Hopefully this article has went some way towards clearing up some of the key points of differentiation that may help you pull the trigger on a particular platform. But whatever e-commerce path you take, just remember, you  are never locked into one product. There is always room to migrate in future, and just like rifling through that  dainty stack of artisinal cheese in the dairy aisle, exploring is part of the fun.

About the author

250 Circle 1
Lewis| Creative JC

English born, Aussie raised. Husband to a beautiful Colombian native, and father to four awesome little dudes in training. How I snagged this cool gig here in this little slice of Mexican Paradise, I’ll never know. Divine intervention? Sheer luck? One thing is for certain- I’m now a bonafide tippy-tapper on ye olde keyboard for the fine gentleman (and ladies) at Creative JC, Mérida. What a life eh? ¡Viva México!

www.creativejc.com

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