As a web developer, I have built my share of websites ranging from simple informational websites to e-commerce shops. Something that I have learned over the years is that there is only so much a web developer can learn when it comes to running the online part of a business. In some cases, some businesses only have an online part. That just means that I am even more relied on to keep the business afloat because there is no physical brick-or-mortar store that serves as the main part of the business. Purely informational websites tend to be for businesses that operate from a physical location. These businesses use their website to provide information for their products and services and help people contact them for assistance. Some physical businesses use e-commerce to compliment what they sell in their stores. The goal of this article is not only to discuss the differences between WooCommerce and Shopify, but how business has changed in general over the past two years due to the country’s closure.
The Current E-commerce Landscape
The country’s closure which lasted over the past two years will have a resounding impact on the country for years to come. Even though the closures were only two years, the amount of damage they have done is monumental. Two years is a long time in business and many could not weather the storm, which means they had no choice but to close their door permanently. Businesses that were hanging by a thread that were going to close soon anyway would have done so eventually. The country’s closure just hastened that process. So this means that businesses have to push their operations online if their physical store has closed. Not all businesses can easily transfer their operation to the web. Those who can have an option to stay afloat. Pushing resources online might have given these businesses a second chance to thrive in a post-closure economy. This made e-commerce even more important due to the lower overhead and costs that are associated with running a physical location. I will now talk about WooCommerce and Shopify. Then I will discuss which platform is better depending on what kind of business you are running.
What is WooCommerce?
WooCommece is free a WordPress plugin that turns a standard blog into an e-commerce store. This plugin leverages the most popular CMS, WordPress and helps you sell products and services online. WooCommerce is a very good plugin as it seamlessly integrates a shopping cart into your website. You are able to create products and allow users to create accounts to purchase them. Then like any typical shopping cart, you can guide your users through the checkout process, complete with calculating totals and giving them a receipt of purchase at the end. You can also set up a payment gateway with something like PayPal or Stripe to accept payment from your users. Then you can keep track of your orders in the administration section of WordPress. This is great and everything, WooCommerce works well in certain cases. Not every single case works for WooCommerce. In the next section, I will talk about what types of businesses I recommend WooCommerce for.
WooCommerce is Better for Services: Virtual Products and Subscriptions
Your business either sells a product or a service. A product is a physical item that requires shipping to customers. A service is something that is not a physical item but rather something that is rendered to customers. For example, a service that might be sold is giving users access to exclusive worthy content or teaching users how to do something. With WooCommerce, it is better to use when you are providing a service over a product. Why? There are a lot of complications with WooCommerce when it comes to selling a physical product. These complications include calculating shipping and taxes at checkout. We all know that WordPress heavily relies on its plugins to customize your website based on your users’ needs. Many plugins are created from the same authors but many are created by an author here or there. So there is no guarantee that all of your plugins will work well together. Many WordPress websites can be a hodgepodge of random plugins. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Think of each plugin as a piece of a puzzle, the completed puzzle being your website. Each plugin might or might not work with your current puzzle. Each piece is different and might not fit perfectly. So what happens when a piece of your puzzle does not fit right? You will have to find alternative pieces that might work in your puzzle. There are a couple of issues that arise with finding alternatives, does it cost money and is there even another alternative? Having to deal with so many pieces to make your puzzle complete and perfect is not easy. This can be time consuming and is a reason why many people consider using Shopify when it comes to selling physical products. Sometimes it is easier to just pay for Shopify then try to combine tons of WooCommerce plugins together to make your e-commerce store work.
Before we move onto Shopify, let me talk about WooCommerce subscriptions. Subscription services are very popular now because they work very well with content access services. You charge your users based on a term like monthly or annually and you can grant users access to some unique exclusive content. This is where WooCommerce shines because the subscriptions plugin seamlessly integrates with the WooCommerce core and does not require any of the headache of calculating taxes and shipping due to the virtual nature of a service being offered over a product. So I wanted to make one last final pitch for WooCommerce before I move onto Shopify.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a popular e-commerce platform that is better suited for selling physical products. Unlike WooCommerce, Shopify does cost money to use but it might just save you some headache that WooCommerce causes. Shopify calculates sales taxes and shipping based on where your buyers are coming from. Having to calculate taxes from different states is not simple. This becomes even more complicated when you consider that some cities have different sales tax rates compared to the states. There are way too many states and even more cities to have to deal with complex sales tax formulas. I am a web developer and now the talk of taxes means that I have to now be an accountant also. Let us play to our strengths, I know when something is outside my realm. This is when you need to use Shopify and I have not even discussed shipping costs yet. I just wanted to tell you how the sales tax is already complicated without even considering shipping.
Shipping costs are just as complicated as sales taxes. When selling physical products online, you have to consider the location of where you are shipping from and the customers who you are shipping to. Obviously, the longer the distance, the higher the shipping costs. Also, depending on the urgency that customers need their product, they can select faster shipping options that are more expensive. So we have two factors to consider when calculating shipping costs, shipping distance and shipping options. These are more formulas to deal with that will be harder to do in WooCommerce. I understand, WordPress out-of-the-box is a blog. Blogging is what WordPress started out as and in some ways is still its default purpose. Plugins can turn WordPress into other kinds of websites. WooCommerce is good at turning a blog into an e-commerce store that sells services. When you need a dedicated platform for selling physical products, go with Shopify.
Shopify is Better for Physical Products: Calculating Shipping and Sales Taxes
Now I just discussed why Shopify is better for physical products and WooCommerce for virtual services. Now, I am just one person. Perhaps someone can make all of the pieces fit to make WooCommerce work for selling physical products. I just feel that it can be very time consuming and it might be better to pay Shopify to handle sales taxes and shipping. This is more about whether it is easier to just pay for someone, in this case use Shopify to handle some of the technical aspects of running an e-commerce or should you do it yourself? I say, do your research online, try it out for yourself. If you cannot get WooCommerce to work, then consider Shopify, even though it costs money. This is a lot to do and it takes a lot to get everything right.
Selling Products versus Services
This really just depends on what you are offering to people. As you can see, selling products is a lot more complicated because the e-commerce store is just one part of your business. Then you have things like warehouses and shipping that reside outside your website. All of these pieces, both virtual and physical, have to work well together in order for your operation to succeed. With services you do have these extra parts that lie outside your website. You just have your online store and other aspects to support your online store like social media. It also depends on your field and whether or not you can provide a virtual service because many services are rendered in-person like cutting your hair, doing your taxes, or washing your car. These could be services sold online but require in-person rendering of services. So there are a lot of different kinds of businesses and those that can be 100% virtual are ones that are popping up a lot more, even more the entire country closed down and many scrambled to figure out how to stay afloat.
The Overhead of Selling Physical Products
Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of overhead in selling physical products. I mentioned the warehouse and shipping. You have to carry physical inventory, which means that you need a certain amount of space to hold your products. You have to adjust and anticipate sales volume and how to keep the right amount of product on-hand so that it sells at a rate that prevents you from being stuck with too much inventory. I know that this part goes beyond the website but it is just something that I wanted to talk about. The reason why is because of how I mentioned that the website is just one part of your business. When you have a website you need to know how well it integrates and melds with the rest of your operations. A website is not something that can be shoehorned into a business or be relied on to do everything. Yes, a website is an integral part of a business, but so is every other part.
E-commerce is a fun topic to talk about because it is very complex and after the closures, will become even more important as I expect more business operations to move online. Everyone loves the fact that people are always online and a website is never closed for business, even after the typical business hours of a physical store. If you build a nice, simple, clean website, you do not need so much staff to support customers and run operations. I really do think that websites are like having someone who is available 24/7 and will answer customer questions any time of the day. This is great as people are not only online all of the time but they are doing all sorts of things that can lead to a purchase. We call this user search intent. Long story short, many people are either online to look for information or buy something. People could possibly be looking for information or services to buy online and want to do so at their pace. With gas prices being so expensive, that is another reason why everyone is doing everything online now. This is where we are not and this is where we have been heading toward for the longest time.
Just to summarize, WooCommerce is simpler to set up an ecommerce store that sells services as it has good support with this subscription plugin. There is a lot more work involved if you want to sell physical products with WooCommerce because of the technical issues with calculating sales tax and shipping costs. In that case, you might want to consider using Shopify to sell your physical products. Shopify does cost money but it can save you the time of dealing with those costs and it takes care of those for you. Remember that WordPress originally started out as a blogging platform. Yes, WordPress does a lot more than blog but getting a perfect online e-commerce store is not simple. You have to be able to piece the right WooCommerce plugins together to sell physical products online. If you feel that you can do this, then great. If not, then consider Shopify as it was made specifically for running an e-commerce store. As mentioned in the previous section, we are moving even faster to a digital age. So this is why I thought it would be a good time to chime in on e-commerce.