2020 has vastly accelerated the pace by which people are buying, working, and studying online. If you have a brand you are working to get online you undoubtedly have a lot of questions. As a young brand figuring out how to set up a website to sell your product can be daunting, especially for noncoders or coders who don't deal heavily with UX/UI and marketing.
Wordpress is the default choice, with 59% market share; it is by far the dominant player in the CMS (Content Management System) market. Shopify, on the other hand, has less than 2%. But is extremely popular among e-commerce brands, and has 31% of the e-commerce market in the U.S.
I am going to compare Shopify and WordPress from a marketing perspective. Specifically, for e-commerce selling physical products. For brands selling services, you should consider other options like Wix or a custom solution (in extreme circumstances.) This article is for brands shopping a product to someone's doorstep.
When it comes to an e-commerce site, there isn't much innovation or distinction. And if you are not a SaaS or traditional service brand shopping process isn't where you want to be innovating. Most online shoppers have become accustomed to a standardized shopping process and and, most importantly, standardized checkout.
Remember, Shopify has a financial stake in you making sales. It is in their best interest for you to make sales. They have used data from millions of Shopify sites to optimize the shopping process. WordPress is an open-source platform built for blogging, and the developers are investing their time to build a stable platform, not optimize sales.
The Enterprise of Shopify allows for more customization of checkout, but the standard checkout on Shopify should be more than enough in most cases. Shopify collects the visitors' email and name on the first page of checkout before asking for billing on the next page. This UX has two advantages. First, multipage checkout has been shown to have a higher conversion rate. Second, if the visitor leaves after entering their name without completing the checkout, you can set an automated email to that user to entice them back to your site. Otherwise known as sale recapture.
UX Winner: Shopify
When it comes to customization Shopify has some limitations. WordPress is open source and works with standard HTML and CSS. There are thousands of WordPress templates out there and almost as many WordPress developers. In most cases, if you want something to be designed it can be done on WordPress.
But customization can be a trap. I have worked with countless founders who are convinced that this one amazing feature on their site or one beautiful custom feature will make or break the business. But more often than not, these stand out features become a sinkhole of money and time. As extremely customized features never work at first and take a long time to debug. I have seen countless project held up because of one feature on the website taking months to perfect, when a good e-commerce site can be up in weeks, or less (if they are small enough.)
And after all the time sunk into customization, it does little to wow your audience. People are used to websites now, few features truly stun people anymore and even when they do, that doesn't necessarily equate to more sales.
Shopify allows for a lot of customization, but there are limitations. Shopify themes are built using Shopify's proprietary Liquid framework, which has some of it's own conventions which separate I from traditional HTML and CSS. There are a lot of themes for Shopify, but not as many as WordPress. But I recommend spending the time and effort you would have used building a WordPress store to building your brand, audience, messaging, and perfecting your product, this is the best way to stand out.
Customization winner: WordPress, but do you really need it?
On the surface WordPress is the clear winner here; FREE! WordPress is open source and anyone can download it and upload it to your server. But wait, do you have a server? Do you know how to upload it to the server? You can see where costs add up quickly. When you are developing a site there are several major costs:
Development and theme
I am leaving out a few items like domain because they are the same for both and negotiable. As mentioned before WordPress is free. But you will need a server, Blue Host is the most popular with plans starting at $13.99. A good theme on Evento Market costs anywhere from $50-$200. Then you will need to have the theme installed and customized. Here costs add up, fast. You can have a freelancer from Fiverr install for as little as $100, but you will then need even the basic customization. And here you will end up spending thousands on coding time.
But prices really start to add up when it comes to maintaining the site. Code, WordPress are not static, WordPress is constantly doing updates. With these updates plugins, customizations, and ultimately your site will break down. For a good working WordPress site you will need to have someone on call to fix issues when they arise. I would budget at minimum $300-$10,000 a month to have a coder maintain the site.
Shopify is platform, server, and maintenance all rolled into one. Starting at $29 a month, it might seem more expensive than WordPress, but you are saving in a lot of areas. First on development. You can get a good theme for a bit more than a WordPress theme, but the most stable are on the Shopify market for about $170 each. But they are so simple to install anyone can do it. Almost all customizations you will need can be done without coding in the theme customization window.
The biggest potential savings come with maintenance. When Shopify breaks there is a team of coders in Canada that are ready to fix the platform and a customer support team to help your specific needs. With WordPress you are on your own to find your own resources. Both sites offer plugins, Shopify's are mostly paid, and those are working for you to keep them up to date with all of Shopify's updates.
The most important bit of any e-commerce site is the build. This is the copy, images, product descriptions, shipping information, and anything else that makes your e-commerce site yours. This is where you should be spending more of your time and effort. With Shopify you will free up your time from tech to spend on building your site.
Price Winner: Shopify
If it isn't obvious, Shopify is my clear favorite. The underlying reason I recommend Shopify for all of our e-commerce clients is that Shopify was built from the ground up as an e-commerce platform. Each feature was designed to make e-commerce websites.
WordPress, on the other hand, started life as a blogging platform. Slowly, over time, as bloggers wanted to sell on their blogs, e-commerce providers like WooCommerce started building plugins to allow for sales. The end result was a bit for a Frankenstein, a platform built for one thing, but that haphazardly morphed into something it was never supposed to be.
But my final reasoning applies to any tech decision. As a young business owner, you need to focus on building an amazing product, presenting that product in the best light, and getting sales for that product. Any time spent on technology is time that could have been spent perfecting the brand. You can either spend months perfecting a website and lose focus. Or spend a few weeks getting a good Shopify site up and running and instead of spending that time marketing.