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Interview with Wildebeest on Shopify and WooCommerce

Clutch spoke with Ran Craycraft the Managing Partner and Kevin Ng the CTO of Wildebeest about the comparison between Shopify and WooCommerce - two popular options for building an e-commerce site.

Learn more about Wildebeest on their Clutch profile or at wildebee.st.

Background

Kevin Ng: I am the CTO of Wildebeest.

Ran Craycraft: I'm the Managing Partner at Wildebeest. We're a software company that builds custom machine learning apps for global brands and startups.
 

Challenge

What are the main challenges a potential client will come to you with, when looking to build a website or an e-commerce platform?

RC: the biggest challenge is probably aligning expectations, timing, and budget. It’s always difficult to find where they all meet, and it’s usually a fluid process, where we work with our clients to find the right match for them, whether they’re looking for a custom solution or something out-of-the-box. We work with them to find a solution that meets all of their needs.
 

Solution

Are there any factors that someone should consider before choosing a platform?

RC: There’s a misconception that using something out-of-the-box is always cheaper than building a custom application, which is not always the case. There can be massive WordPress sites, and there can be really affordable custom React.js and Node.js applications. This is probably the biggest technical choice faced by our clients.

Do any of those challenges differ when someone is looking to build an e-commerce site, versus an informational, CMS-based one?

RC: It typically doesn’t make sense to build a full-blown online store from scratch. If we’re talking about traditional e-commerce with several physical products, then the top two out-of-the-box solutions are Shopify and WooCommerce using WordPress.

Could you give us a brief introduction into WordPress, WooCommerce, and Shopify, mentioning what makes them different from each other?

KN: As a blogging platform, WordPress has been around for fifteen years, so it’s pretty proven at this point. In 2011, WooThemes created the WooCommerce plugin to fulfill the needs of individuals wanting shopping cart functionality within the solid CMS of WordPress.

RC: Shopify is an e-commerce platform that makes it easy for nontechnical people to get a store up and running without writing a line of code.

KN: A big differentiator with WooCommerce is that it’s a self-hosted solution–meaning you will need to install the application on your servers, then customize it for your needs. Some hosting providers like GoDaddy make this easier to get up and running, but unless you’re happy with an off-the-shelf theme, you’re going to need to get in the code to customize it. Shopify, on the other hand, is a hosted solution where users login to the website and manage their store from there.

Is there someone who would be an ideal client for WooCommerce and WordPress, versus Shopify?

RC: A big factor for Clutch users to consider is that if you’re nontechnical you’re likely better suited for Shopify. For more technical people or those who anticipate having a development team, WooCommerce and WordPress will make customization opportunities a bit easier to achieve.

Is it necessary to have a technical background in order to run any one of these shops?

KN: I wouldn’t say that it’s a requirement for either platform to be technically-savvy. WordPress praises itself on its 5-minute install. Although as discussed, you have to know where to host it, and then how to customize a theme. With Shopify, a nontechnical user can just sign in, select a theme and then start adding products.
 
RC: Definitely not. We’ve built WooCommerce stores for nontechnical clients in the past and they’ve done great with them. That said, WooCommerce does come with some extra work that Shopify doesn’t. For instance, WordPress frequently has security updates and sometimes server maintenance that comes with using an open source solution. In that case, nontechnical clients would need to hire a development shop to go in and make those adjustments. Whereas with Shopify, the platform is fully-maintained by the Shopify team. However, with that Shopify support comes difficulty customizing your store to be unique.

 

Features

Are there any steps that a company or individual can take to make sure their online store is as secure as possible?

KN: WooCommerce is an open source plugin and it oftentimes relies on other third-party plugins to get all of the features clients are looking for. Just like any WordPress site, you need to be really careful to vet any plugins you install to ensure they’re currently maintained and have a decent amount of active installs.

RC: If you’re unsure your WooCommerce store is secure, that should be the determining factor to bring in a development team to check for vulnerabilities. With Shopify, this is something they handle internally, so outside of third-party apps installed, it’s really on their plate to keep secure. Speaking of third-party apps for Shopify, there are a lot of them and many are paid. Don’t be distracted that just because you paid for a plugin that it’s guaranteed to be secure. Instead, if you need to use a third party app, do a little bit of research on the author to ensure there’s a solid team behind the app you’re entrusting your store. When working with Shopify, all of your eggs are in one basket, trusting that the platform will not have any of those major vulnerabilities. Going back to WooCommerce, merchants are only as secure as their weakest plugin.

Are there any special or unique offerings within either platform?

RC: Really the biggest pro for WooCommerce is that it’s open source and you can make it do whatever you need it to do. You also have the legacy of WordPress behind it, so most developers can easily improve security by doing things like moving the login screen to a unique URL to make brute force attacks less likely.

KN: There are many extensions and plugins that can be used with WooCommerce, in order to expand the functionality of a website or e-commerce store. With Shopify, the developer community is slowly getting there, and building a lot of supportive applications. One thing I’ve noticed is there are fewer payment gateways to use with Shopify compared to WooCommerce.

RC: With Shopify, customers have expressed their frustrations with the credit-card processing fees required by the platform.

KN: There is also a flat fee of several cents, in addition to a percentage of the transaction. Those can add up.

RC: We used to recommend Braintree as a great third-party payment gateway because they waived their processing fee for the first forty-thousand dollars in transactions, but that deal went away after their Paypal acquisition. Now, it’s pretty comparable across all providers on both Shopify and WooCommerce.

Are there any services which haven't performed up to your expectations, or is there any tool which you'd like to see implemented within either platform?

RC: One thing to keep in mind is that WordPress was built as a blogging platform, so building anything other than a blog on it requires a bit of contortion. It’s a proven platform that we can do just about anything with, but the WooCommerce plugin built on top of WordPress does much of that customized rewiring for you. Behind the scenes, WordPress is still a CMS for blogging, whereas Shopify was built from the ground up as an e-commerce platform. That said, using Shopify is like throwing a party in someone else’s house–you don’t know when it might end, as opposed to having your own open-source platform and hosting it on your own servers, in the case of WordPress and WooCommerce.

KN: For me, the setup is usually the pain-point, but it depends on the person. On WordPress, the setup process is more painful than on Shopify. For customizations, Shopify uses the liquid templating language, something I don’t love to work with.

One popular subject is the cost of building an e-commerce site. Where does it start to become expensive, and what types of add-ons could cause this?

RC: It really comes down to the amount of customization you’re looking for. If you’re fine with an out-of-the-box template, then either platform could be very affordable for you to set up. However, if there are a lot of visual and functional customizations, either platform can start to add up. At the moment, there’s not much difference price-wise for us to build for Shopify or WordPress.

KN: As a standalone platform, WooCommerce has a lot of free plugins and extensions that can be used, including a shipping calculator. In the case of Shopify, most of the applications that help expand the site’s functionality work on a monthly subscription. This plus the built-in hosting cost is where things start to add up.

RC: Shopify calls them “apps”, and WordPress calls them “plugins”, but they’re the same thing on different platforms. On WordPress, most of those are free, including a shipping calculator, a carousel, a color and size picker, and so on.  

Can you talk to the community for either platform and available resources?

KN: Customer service could be a lot better on both platforms, but it’s typically handled better on Shopify. There is live chat on Shopify, which tends to lead to more personalized and quicker answers, versus the forums available for WooCommerce.

They both offer ticket submission, which can take a couple of days or at least a couple of hours. Sometimes you just want to pick up the phone and talk to a human, but, to our knowledge, that doesn’t exist on either platform.

It’s hard to say if the online community is better in the case of Shopify, but a nontechnical person will probably get a quicker personalized answer through their site’s live chat.

Do you have anything else to add?

RC: Volume-wise, both platforms are pretty comparable across the Web at about 10% each. According to builtwith.com, about half of all online stores are actually custom builds, which came as a bit of a surprise.

An example of that would be a company like Target or Etsy wouldn’t likely use either platform, instead opting to build their site from scratch to be more secure and flexible for their needs. A smaller company will likely choose one of these out-of-the-box services to get up and running without the overhead.

Overview

We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each platform on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.

How would you rate the platforms for functionality and available features?

Shopify – 3 – KN: Too many common features require monthly payments.

WooCommerce – 4

How would you rate them for ease of use and ease of implementation?

Shopify – 3.5

WooCommerce – 4.5

RC: To be clear, this is ease of use for us as developers. For merchants, Shopify is very easy for them to use.

KN: Yeah, these scores would be flipped around for the typical user.

How would you rate each platform for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?

Shopify – 3.5
 
WooCommerce – 3.5
 
KN: There are many more resources online for WordPress, including in places like Stack Overflow, but the two platforms are close in this respect.

 

How likely are you to recommend each platform to a friend or colleague?

Shopify – 5
 
WooCommerce – 5

KN: As we mentioned, this really depends on how technical they are. They are both great solutions for someone starting a new business.

How would you rate them for overall satisfaction with the platform?

Shopify – 4

WooCommerce – 4

RC: If money isn’t an issue, we prefer to build everything custom, and we would probably opt for WooCommerce. Budgets don’t often permit this.

KN: Wordpress is written in PHP while Shopify uses Ruby as the preferred language. Like I said before, I’m not a big fan of Shopify’s Liquid template, but PHP can also be a mess of a language.

RC: Although it’s not at all required, more often than not, clients come to us already knowing which platform they want. Sometimes, after hearing more about their roadmap we might make a different recommendation than what they initially asked for, but it’s hard to tell until you’re in the weeds. A lot of the time, we’ll be asked to build on top of an existing store so in those cases, the decision is already made for us.