When you should choose WooCommerce over Shopify

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    In this series, I share my own thoughts on why I chose Shopify, WooCommerce or Square over the other and discuss the importance of technical scoping of eCommerce projects.

    Hello fellow eCommerce enthusiasts! I have often been asked why I recommend one eCommerce solution over the other. The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Today, I’m sharing my own insights into why WooCommerce might just be the a better fit than Shopify for your eCom build. With nearly two decades of experience under my belt, I’ve seen it all in the eCommerce world, and I’m here to share some thoughts that might just make you reconsider your platform of choice. So, grab a cuppa and let’s get into it!

    “Shopify is so cool!”

    Absolutely, no arguments there! Shopify definitely has its merits, and it’s a platform we’ve worked with extensively, accounting for about a quarter of The Web Co.’s projects. However, WooCommerce takes the cake for us, with a whopping 40% of our workload. And there’s good reason for it!

    Shopify shines for larger catalogs, seamless inventory management and team delegation – there’s no doubt about that. But when it comes to flexibility, affordability, and catering to the diverse needs of smaller businesses, WooCommerce steals the show.

    So, when should I not use Shopify?

    Shopify is costly

    Let’s talk pounds and pence. Shopify’s pricing can be a bit steep, especially for smaller ventures like the bookshop I’ll use as an example. These businesses already juggle hefty overheads, and Shopify’s costs can sometimes tip the scales too far. Plus, without careful planning, unexpected expenses can crop up faster than you can say “online checkout”. More about scoping later.

    We’re working on a large project – a bookshop with over 3,000 titles that requires synching between their online store and physical shop in Belfast. The first-year costs came to just under £5,000, including Shopify’s POS hardware, which didn’t include integration with marketing channels.

    Most online shops are run by small business who can’t afford Shopify Plus, which starts at an eye-watereing £2,000 per month. This leaves shops at the mercy of apps which may not fulfil the project brief.

    Scope your Shipping

    Shipping woes? Let’s address those. Shopify’s shipping setup works like a charm if your products all fit into neat, uniform packages. But for businesses like our Belfast bookshop, with its varied mix of items in all shapes and sizes, WooCommerce’s flexibility wins out every time.

    Many countries, including the UK, have national shipping services that don’t yet support volumetric shipping. Therefor shops need to have up to date shipping rates. If using Royal Mail, product weight and dimensions are collectively taken into account to calculate your shipping cost.

    Shopify doesn’t have product dimensions as a product setting unless you create custom metafields. Shopify is US-centric without much taken into account for smaller country concerns.

    Why not build a Shopify shipping app?

    Sure, building a custom app for Shopify might seem like a tempting option. But let’s be real – it’s a commitment. Constant updates, tweaks, and adjustments can quickly turn into a headache, especially when dealing with ever-changing variables like shipping rates – not to mention ever-changing shipping zones.

    So, what’s the solution? Enter WooCommerce plugins! After some thorough testing, we found gems like the Royal Mail Price Calculator from WP Ruby, which streamlined our shipping process and cut down on unnecessary complexities. We went from 8 zones down to one.

    Shopify’s support offering

    Now, let’s talk support. Shopify’s got a solid team backing it up, no doubt about it. Application developers are responsive and engaged. Where Shopify have been found wanting is their unresponsive sales support. This can be frustrating when purchasing on behalf of a client, especially where taxes are concerned.

    But with WooCommerce, you’ve got the power of an open-source community at your fingertips. Need help? Just reach out, and chances are someone’s been there, done that, and can lend a hand.

    What about WooCommerce POS?

    Here’s the scoop – while Shopify POS is a smooth operator, WooCommerce’s options are a bit lacking. But fear not! With Square POS stepping in as the perfect sidekick, syncing stock and managing orders becomes a breeze.

    Using Square alongside WooCommerce, start-up costs fell by 60% including POS hardware.

    Developer tip: Square recommend setting Square as the inventory of record when selling both online and offline. The opposite is, in fact, most effective.

    The Importance of Scoping

    Before we wrap up, let’s touch on a crucial aspect of any eCommerce project – scoping. A well-documented plan is your roadmap to success, protecting you from scope creep and unexpected charges down the line. Whether you’re diving into WooCommerce or any other platform, take the time to outline your needs, test your assumptions, and ensure everyone’s on the same page from day one.

    Your technical scope should always be your roadmap and cover all eventualities. When we are hired by external agencies to re-scope, get an eCommerce build back on schedule or to (frankly) put out fires, the issue is almost always down to ineffective or no technical scoping.

    Make your finished scope a part of the contract with your client and use it as your step-by-step building guide.

    What should I take away from this?

    In a nutshell, Shopify’s fantastic, but it’s not always the best fit for every scenario. When it comes to versatility, affordability, and catering to the unique needs of smaller businesses, WooCommerce steals the spotlight. So, whether you’re shipping out books, mugs, or the latest gadgets, remember – there’s a platform out there that’s perfect for you.

    If you’ve got thoughts, questions, or just want to chat eCommerce, I’m all ears! Drop me a line, and let’s keep the conversation going.

    Stay tuned for the next installment of our series, where we’ll dive into why Shopify might just be the bee’s knees for certain ventures. Sign up below, and let’s keep exploring the wonderful world of eCommerce together!


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    Robert McMillen

    Robert McMillen has been developing eCommerce websites for almost two decades. He is currently director of The Web Co. and works as a scoping consultant with agencies in Ireland, Britain and the United States.

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