I recently had a client move a smaller WooCommerce site over to Shopify. Bummer! Usually it’s the other way around from where I sit. I understand Shopify to have a mix of good and bad qualities to its business model. Here’s my thoughts.

While WooCommerce leads worldwide and there are far more WooCommerce installations in the USA and worldwide; Shopify leads in many categories for active checkouts detected by BuiltWith. The data can be a bit misleading as not all Shopify installations run active checkouts. Still, it indicates the popularity of this software.

Shopify is a proprietary platform similar to other popular options Squarespace and Wix. Proprietary means users don’t own the software powering their website, but they can export their data. By design it’s considerably easier to move into than out of.

Users praising proprietary platforms believe they excel in ease-of-use.

Proprietary systems have strong marketing teams and affiliates with a direct profit motive. Vendors have a more captive audience thus achieve a more steady revenue flow. A more predictable cash flow is appealing with both users renting the platform and developers building for it.

Temporary brands or short-term intended websites can find renting preferable to buying — to borrow a real estate analogy and for many of the same reasons.

Users leaving proprietary platforms are fed-up with fees and limitations.

In addition to monthly fees there can be transactional costs that many Apps add to the mix.

I’ve observed brands getting kicked-out for terms-of-service issues, such as lacking FDA approvals or chargeback rates. I’ve also observed a lack of customizability with, for example, integrating a CRM or ERP system that requires access to sensitive data.

Open-source solutions like WooCommerce offer:

  • Greater customizability
  • No monthly fees, except what you spend on third-party hosting (typically ~$25/mo for high performance managed WordPress hosting)
  • Transactional fee reductions, greater payment solution availability
  • Vendor freedoms (hosting, development, marketing, etc.)

From a developer standpoint, there’s a clear “right” answer to this. Choose a platform that gives you necessary freedoms.

However, I do think that much can be learned from the sales pitches and business operations that successful proprietary systems conduct.

As a developer, I want to see the official WooCommerce Extension Store to add a mid-tier (non-official support) class open to smaller developers looking to cash in on their open-source plugins, currently blocked by category saturation and big corporate partnerships. I also want to see the Woo Experts program (closed to applicants since 2017) to be transparent. There’s plenty of room for WooCommerce to learn and improve!

Things aren’t always black and white. Here’s how to have the most Shopify-esque version of WooCommerce possible:

  1. Use official Business hosting (~$300/yr) with the official support team.
  2. Use the official Storefront theme, any of Automattic’s free themes or their premium themes.
  3. Use only official plugins, nothing from any other sources.
  4. Use one of the JetPack feature bundle packages.
  5. Your drag-and-drop page builder is called Gutenberg.

Voila — you have a much cheaper version of Shopify! Plus, you can expand it down the road.