The world of the web is a complex place when you are starting out and all you want is an online space where you can sell your stuff!
There are so many options that it can be confusing trying to work out what the best option for you and your business is.
This article takes a look at the main players in the ecommerce market: WordPress, Shopify and Wix.
Before we dive into this article, let’s clear up the WordPress confusion! There are two versions of WordPress, wordpress.com and wordpress.org. In this article I’m talking about WordPress.org. WordPress.com is a blogging platform and owned by the same people who provide wordpress.org software, but it’s an all-in-one platform more like Wix. It’s not really a good platform for sellers so it’s not included here.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of our three platforms.
WordPress.org is free Content Management Software (CMS) that you build your website on. Currently WordPress runs about a third of the world’s websites.
Think of it as the equivalent of Windows for the PC or iOS for Mac; it’s the running system not the actual content of the website. On Windows or iOS you add programmes like Microsoft Office to do the tasks you need (ie. write on a Word doc or make a spreadsheet). On WordPress you add a theme and plugins to achieve the functions you need.
- It’s free and most hosting companies offer a one click install.
- You own the site. Most of the hosted platforms tie you in, so if you wanted to swap from Shopify to Wix you couldn’t just pick up your site and shift it, you are essentially leasing space. As WordPress works on most hosting servers you can change hosts and move your whole site with ease.
- It’s very easy to customise. There are many free themes and plugins that work on WordPress. So making a site with the functions you need is achievable whether it’s an online shop, membership site, blog or simple brochure site.
- WordPress works well with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), so it’s easy to make your site Google friendly, albeit a little time consuming at first!
- Many hosting (or your domain registration company) companies will provide email hosting so you can setup email addresses with your domain name for a more professional feel.
- There’s a learning process, so you’ll need time to get to grips with what WordPress does. It can feel overwhelming as the options are endless.
- There’s no official support. As free software you don’t get support for WordPress. Having said that WordPress isn’t usually the problem that’s causing your site to have an issue.
- If you don’t want to go it alone you’ll need to buy into a course to help you build your site.
- You’ll need to find a theme and plugins to make the site work. WordPress on its own will not do a lot! There are many free themes and plugins but you might find you need to invest to get the right functionality.
- It needs paid for hosting and you will need to purchase your domain name. Sites can be slow on cheap hosting.
To make WordPress work you need a domain name and hosting. If you are thinking what on earth are those, then check out my articles What is a domain name? and Understanding Hosting.
Shopify is a premium ecommerce specific platform with a payment provider built in. It is an all-in-one option so your site is hosted on their servers. There isn’t a free version, so it has a monthly cost from the start (after a free 2 week trial).
- It’s specifically built for online shops, so everything is there from the start for you to begin selling.
- It has a range of themes to choose from that mean your design is there at the click of a button. The templates can be adapted to suit your brand.
- You can have a simple site up in a short amount of time.
- It’s easy for beginners and has support if you get stuck.
- The security is built in so you don’t need to worry about updating or backing up your site.
- As a monthly subscription it can be expensive if you don’t sell much. The lowest price is still costly if you are not making a lot of sales on a continuous basis.
- You don’t own the site, you are essentially leasing your site from Shopify, so they own it and you cannot even make a copy. If you want to move, you’ll be building a new site from scratch on another platform.
- Shopify doesn’t provide email hosting so if you want email addresses using your domain name you will need to purchase third-party email hosting. This is another added cost.
- If your payment provider preference is Paypal, you’ll pay an extra fee to Shopify on top of the payment fees to Paypal.
- There is a learning curve to understanding how Shopify works.
I need to mention domain names here, as you need one for Shopify. It’s not really a pro or a con, just a requirement! You can purchase the domain name through Shopify (though check that you will be able to transfer it out if you wish) or you can use a domain you already own and direct it to Shopify’s servers. Regardless of where the domain is bought there will be an annual cost for this.
Wix is another all-in-one hosted platform with a built-in drag-and-drop builder to create your website. The basic version is free (you’ll have Wix ads playing on the site with the free version and you need to provide (pay for) your domain name). There are a range of paid plans with different options.
- It’s free. In reality this is a pro and a con because on the free site you’ll have Wix ads playing which doesn’t help your site look professional.
- It has a drag and drop builder. You work on the front end of your site so you can drag and drop things in and see how it’s looking as you work.
- It’s easy for beginners (hobbyists, social groups), who just need a simple brochure site.
- The free version can’t accommodate ecommerce. If you want an ecommerce site, you’ll have to pay their top tier fee, and this is quite expensive!
- The customisation is limited on the free version and it can be frustrating if you can’t make the site look the way you want it to.
- You don’t own the site; like Shopify you are leasing your site from Wix, so they own it. If you want to move, you have to start again on another platform.
- They don’t offer email accounts, so you will need to purchase third-party email hosting if you want emails with your domain name. It doesn’t have great SEO settings, so if that’s super important to you this isn’t a great option.
I understand the draw of Shopify and if you are going to just sell physical products and sell very regularly so the monthly $29 is affordable, then this is a good option.
Personally I would still always recommend WordPress for its flexibility. There are a ton of free tutorials online both as blog posts and videos on Youtube that will take you through building an ecommerce WordPress site from scratch. If you want to understand WordPress more and why I use it then check out the blog post on my website Why WordPress?
If you need more than that, then there are a variety of courses and groups available to support and give guidance on building on WordPress.
I can’t say I would recommend Wix at the moment, it really rules itself out due to the cost if you want an online shop. Things are constantly changing though in the world of the global web so they may introduce more options in the future.
There are other platforms out there and this article has focused on the main three so I would always suggest taking a look around at what else is out there before committing your hard-earned cash to any one of them.
Guest Blog: Sian Hamilton
Sian trained as a jeweller in the 1990s and has worked as a designer ever since. She is passionate about metal clay and technology, a combination she often acknowledges are not natural partners. These days Sian is a web designer and created the AMCAW website back in 2018. She still looks after it today and loves to see all the new content coming in on a regular basis. Sian also volunteers as the head of the Web and Technology team and as a member of the Curating team for AMCAW.
As a web designer Sian has found that a lot of people struggle with all the options available online, how to take great photos and what you need to consider when building a site. Visit her website blog for more articles about websites and photography Sapphire Blue Web Design
In 2022, Sian is launching a course for small business owners, individuals and maker sellers on how to build your own website and e-commerce shop. If you would like to learn more about Sian’s course join her Facebook group Master Your WordPress Website or visit her website Sapphire Blue Academy and sign up for her newsletter.