Shopify vs Squarespace (2018) - A Comparison Review
 Shopify vs Squarespace (images of the Shopify and Squarespace logos side by side)

In this review we take a look at Shopify vs Squarespace, to see which is the best solution for your website or online store. Read on to get a list of pros and cons of each platform - and do feel free to leave your thoughts on both products in the comments section below (I'd love to hear from users of both platforms).

On the face of it, Shopify and Squarespace look like similar products: they let you create a website and they let you sell products (even if you don’t have any design or coding skills).

But they have a different history and started out life with different purposes: Squarespace was initially conceived as a solution for building and maintaining content-based websites, where as Shopify was specifically created as a solution for making your own online store.

With the relatively recent addition of e-commerce to Squarespace’s feature set, the two tools have become increasingly similar and technically, you can now use either to create a website or host an online store. But which is best suited for your business?

Answering this question starts, helpfully, with another question…


Are you trying to build a website or an online store?

When deciding between Squarespace and Shopify, the first question you need to ask yourself is this: what am I trying to build – a website or an online store?

Of course, an online store is obviously technically a website, but in this context, by 'website' I'm talking about an online presence where conveying information is the priority – for example, a blog, a news site, a brochure site, a magazine, a photography portfolio etc. – and by 'online store' I mean something where selling products is the primary goal.


Building a website

If your focus is on building an informative website, then design and content management functionality are going to be a priority – and this being the case, it's fair to say that Squarespace is the obvious choice out of the two products discussed here for that purpose. Its templates are excellent; its CMS is intuitive and easy to use; its photo editing and displaying tools are superb; and its blogging features are strong. 

There are two versions of Squarespace to consider: the 'normal' version, used by the vast majority of Squarespace customers, and the developer's platform, which is used by agencies and, as the name suggests (!), developers.

The latter is the best version to use if you intend on customising Squarespace very extensively, but you'll obviously need to be familiar with web development and coding in order to use it.

 

Laying out content in Squarespace is easy, and the options for doing so are extensive (click to enlarge image).

 

In this article I'm focussing on the standard version of Squarespace; and it's probably fair to say that whilst it provides a fairly powerful bunch of tools for presenting web content in an attractive manner, it is generally suited to working on relatively simple sites only. 

Firstly, navigation is effectively limited to two levels; arguably one, in fact, as when you create a 'parent' page containing sub-pages, you can't actually view the parent page (depending on the template used, clicking on it will just reveal a list of sub pages, or worse, the first 'child' page - both approaches only serving to confuse users!).

Secondly, whilst you can edit basic aspects of the templates (colours and typefaces etc.), you are generally going to be stuck with whatever Squarespace decides looks best for a particular template.

Despite marketing themselves at ‘creatives’, Squarespace don’t really encourage particularly creative use of their templates – in most cases, you're dealing with a 'walled garden' in which everything is locked down pretty tightly, and if you try to get around this by adding your own lines of CSS to your template, Squarespace support are a bit hesitant in providing support.

(To be fair to Squarespace, I've noticed an increasing number of style controls being provided to users lately - and some templates, such as 'Five', offer a relatively large degree of flexibility in the styling department - so this may over time become less of a problem.)

These gripes aside, most users will find Squarespace a very nice platform for building a website indeed, primarily because the templates do look tremendously good, basic tweaks to colours and typefaces are allowed, and the walled garden approach, despite its faults, means that it's easy to build and maintain sites on the platform.

The bottom line is that, used well, Squarespace can help you put a professional-looking site extremely quickly, and gives you a lot of nice ways to display images and blog content - in a way that Shopify arguably doesn't.

But what about building an online store? Let's dig into the selling functionality of both products.


Building an online store

Where the Shopify vs Squarespace decision gets rather more complicated is when you want to start selling stuff.

Both platforms facilitate e-commerce, but each comes with a set of pros and cons. Let’s look at a few key issues to consider if your aim is to build an online store with either Squarespace or Shopify.

Pricing

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing options, banded into two types of packages, 'websites' and 'online stores'. This is a little confusing, as you can technically sell products using three out of the four plans.

  • 'Personal' - $16 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Business' - $26 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Basic' - $30 per month ('Online Stores')
  • 'Advanced' - $46 per month ('Online Stores')

Discounts for all of the above are available if you purchase a plan on an annual basis (the above four plans, respectively, will work out at $12, $18, $26 and $40 per month when you pay upfront for a year's service). EU users should note that these prices are exclusive of VAT. 

In terms of the key differences between the Squarespace plans, the key things to watch out for are as follows:

  • The 'Personal' plan does not let you sell anything.
  • The 'Personal' plan does not facilitate the addition of CSS or javascript to your site, or the use of developer mode.
  • You will pay 3% transaction fees on any sales generated using the 'Business' plan.
  • The 'Personal' plan restricts the number of contributers (i.e., authors / admins) to 2; on all other Squarespace plans you can have an unlimited number of contributors.
  • To avail of an important feature, abandoned cart recovery, you will need to go for the most expensive 'Advanced' plan.
  • You'll get a year's free Google Apps account on the 'Business' plans and up
  • You'll get dedicated e-commerce reporting on the 'Online Stores' plans 
  • On the 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans you can avail of integrated accounting via Xero
  • If you pay upfront for a year's service (on any plan), you can get a free custom domain (i.e., yourbusiness.com)
  • The business plans and up come with a $100 Adwords voucher (US and Canada only)
  • The business plans and up come with more sophisticated options when it comes to pop-up messages, announcement bars and mobile information bars.

Shopify offers five monthly plans:

  • 'Shopify Lite': $9 per month
  • 'Basic Shopify': $29 per month
  • 'Shopify': $79 per month
  • 'Advanced Shopify': $299 per month
  • 'Shopify Plus': pricing varies depending on requirements (but is usually priced at around $2000 per month).

10% and 20% discounts on these prices are available if you pay upfront for an annual or two-year plan.

In terms of what to watch out for in terms of the differences between Shopify plans, you should note that:

  • the Shopify Lite plan doesn't actually let you build an online store; rather, it allows you to sell on your existing website or Facebook page (thanks to the 'Shopify Buy' button) or at 'point of sale' (a physical location; more on that below)
  • the abandoned cart saver functionality is available on all plans except 'Lite' - meaning that you can avail of this important feature considerably cheaper than with Squarespace ($29 vs $46).
  • gift cards are only available on the more expensive plans ($79+ plans)
  • the 'Shopify Plus' plan is essentially for big companies with advanced e-commerce requirements, and prices vary depending on needs
  • advanced reporting features only become available on the $79 Shopify plans and up.

Transaction fees and credit card fees

On top of the standard pricing plans, there are transaction fees and credit card fees to consider - the former being a percentage fee of your sales charged by your e-commerce platform (in this case Squarespace or Shopify), and the latter being the percentage fee of your sales charged by the company you choose to process your credit card payments (otherwise known as a payment gateway - we'll discuss these in more depth below).

With regard to Shopify, you have the choice of either using a Shopify Payments - Shopify's built in payment processor - or a third party payment gateway.

If you use Shopify Payments, you avoid transaction fees entirely (i.e., Shopify will not take a cut of the sale).

However, you will still be charged credit card fees, and in the USA these are:

  • 2.9% +30c per online credit card transaction on 'Shopify Lite'  and 'Basic Shopify' plans
  • 2.6% + 30c on 'Shopify'
  • 2.4% + 30c on 'Advanced Shopify'

If you use a third party payment gateway to process your credit card transactions, in addition to whatever transaction charges are made by that gateway, you will pay Shopify

  • 2% of the transaction on the 'Shopify Lite' and 'Basic Shopify' plans
  • 1% on 'Shopify'
  • 0.5% on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan.

It's important to note that these fees vary according to what country you're in - for example, in the UK, where we're based, Shopify credit card fees are somewhat cheaper.

With Squarespace, transaction fees are only applied to their 'Business' plan - the rate is 3%. In terms of the the credit card fees, the rate is determined by either Stripe or Paypal (the two options provided by Squarespace for processing credit cards).

With Stripe, these fees vary based on what country you are selling from or to. In the USA, it's 2.9% + 30c per transaction; in the UK it's significantly lower at 1.4% + 20p for European cards (for now at least; let's see what happens after Brexit...) and 2.9% + 20p for non-European cards. Paypal rates vary by country too - the USA rates are available to view here.

One thing to watch out for with regard to Shopify Payments is that you can only use it if you are selling from certain countries, namely

  • the United States
  • Puerto Rico
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore

Shopify users elsewhere will need to use a different payment gateway - but the good news is that over 100 integrate with Shopify.

And speaking of payment gateways...

Payment gateways

Shopify can be used almost anywhere and in most currencies, because it allows you to use over 100 different ‘payment gateways’ (third-party processors that process credit card transactions).

Up until December 2016 Squarespace e-commerce worked with just one payment gateway, Stripe; this was not ideal, as Stripe only supports selling from a limited number of countries.

More seriously, it was not possible to use Paypal - probably the world's best-known payment gateway - as a payment processor. Fortunately however, Squarespace introduced a Paypal integration, which opens up a lot more selling possibilities to Squarespace users. 

It is very encouraging to see Squarespace widen its range of payment gateway options, but overall Shopify remains the more attractive, flexible and professional option from a payment processing point of view - the number of payment gateway integrations is significantly larger (100+ versus Squarespace's 2), and as such the flexibility when it comes to accepting payments is much greater.

Because you can only sell goods using Stripe from 25 countries, Paypal is left as the sole payment processing option for a lot of Squarespace users. (Note: for the avoidance of confusion, you can accept payment from anybody in any country using Stripe; but you can only use it on your website if you are based in certain countries).

So which works out cheaper, Squarespace or Shopify?

If you just want to build a content-driven website - i.e., not selling anything - then on the surface of things, Squarespace offers a cheaper way to do this, with its $14 per month 'Personal' plan.

However, if you're serious about your content-driven website, you'll quickly find that the Squarespace Personal plan isn't all that great - it lacks a lot of very important functionality.

Chief amongst the omissions is the fact that you can't add code blocks to your site (making integrating a lot of third party apps and widgets into it impossible); and the restriction on adding CSS or javascript to your site will rule out any customisations that can't be made using the standard Squarespace controls.

The most mean-spirited omission on the Personal Plan is the disabling of the announcement bar - this is often used by Squarespace site owners to display a "this website uses cookies" message (something that website owners in the EU are obliged by law to do, and something which is only likely to be more important after the introduction of the new GDPR data protection legislation in Europe). 

In short, I would completely ignore Squarespace's Personal Plan in favour of the more expensive 'Business' plan, which at $26 lifts all these restrictions and provides e-commerce functionality too.

In terms of e-commerce, up until fairly recently, Squarespace allowed you to create a fully-functional online store considerably more cheaply than Shopify - at $16 per month the old Squarespace 'Personal' plan allowed you to sell products and came in $13 per month cheaper than the cheapest Shopify plan which facilitated full online store construction.

However when Squarespace recently adjusted their pricing structure to remove e-commerce functionality from the 'Personal' plan, they basically created a situation where there's very little difference in pricing between the cheapest Squarespace and Shopify 'full' e-commerce plans (i.e., the plans which allow you to build a complete online store). You now pay $26 for the Squarespace 'Business' plan versus $29 per month for the Shopify 'Basic' plan.

When you consider that Squarespace charge 3% transaction fees on their 'Business' plan, and offers a very limited range of payment processing options with it, it's hard not to conclude that the Shopify plan represents better value, even if the monthly fee is a little bit higher. (And this sense of 'better value' gets considerably more pronounced when you compare e-commerce features - more on all those below).

Of course, of the two products under discussion, Shopify still technically offers the cheapest way into online selling, with the $9 Lite plan. This plan is more geared towards people who want to sell on an existing website (or social media site) rather than build a new one, so functionality is more limited than the entry level Squarespace offering; but if this approach suits you you'll appreciate that the monthly costs and transaction fees are both considerably lower than on the cheapest Squarespace plan.

It's important to remember, of course, that there is a lot more to consider than just the monthly fees, as we'll see below...


Key features

When it comes to the feature sets of both products – and as you might expect – Shopify’s heritage as an online store building solution generally trumps Squarepsace’s.

The Shopify e-commerce feature set is more extensive, with features that are not yet available on Squarespace - unlike Squarespace it offers:

  • ‘point of sale’ technology (iPad / iPhone apps and add-ons that talk to your Shopify store and allow you to use Shopify in a physical location like your shop, market stall or office)
  • easy facilitation of dropshipping
  • automated EU VAT calculation for digital products (more on that below), so that you can comply with VAT MOSS requirements
  • integration with a very extensive range of third party apps that extend the functionality of your store significantly (apps include integrations with Quickbooks, Zoho and Zendesk to name just a few).
  • advanced reporting features
  • a much wider range of payment gateway options, as discussed above.
 Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

Interface / ease of use

Shopify and Squarespace's interfaces aren't a million miles apart in terms of layout; both present you with a menu on the left hand side of the screen which you can use to navigate to different parts of the CMS (settings, site design, analytics and so on); the right hand side of the screen can be used to edit content, view data, add products and so on.

On the whole I would say that Squarespace is arguably a bit easier to use than Shopify. Its drag and drop approach to setting up site navigation and its easy-to-use 'layout engine' (which allows you to drag and drop content into pages in a very user-friendly way) means that it is very straightforward to use.

Whilst by no means difficult to use, Shopify’s user interface is arguably not quite as slick, and setting up pages and products can take slightly longer than in Squarespace.

One aspect of the Shopify interface which definitely trumps Squarespace's though is 'responsiveness'. Squarespace can occasionally a bit sluggish, and occasionally a little bit buggy (the layout engine - whilst great in many respects - can behave in an odd way when you try to drag certain bits of content into position).

I've also found Squarespace to crash more often than I'd like, particularly when uploading or editing images; and I've lost a few blog posts in Squarespace when the platform hung up on me mid-posting.

Finally you really have to be using quite a decent machine to get the most out of Squarespace; older or slower computers will cause it - and you - headaches. In the stability and smoothness stakes, Shopify is in my view the winner. In essence, its less flashy CMS also seems the more 'solid' and reliable.

Templates and visuals

As discussed above, Squarespace templates are gorgeous. Although this is a subjective area, I feel they are a bit more contemporary or varied in nature than the free templates from Shopify.

There are also more templates to choose from in Squarespace: you can choose from around 90 free / included templates to Shopify's 10.

That said, there's a very wide range of Shopify paid-for templates available - more on that in a moment - and the 10 templates that are provided with Shopify contain a few variants for each theme, meaning there are actually more free options than the number ten suggests.

Squarespace template (click to enlarge)

There's definitely a 'wow' factor with certain Squarespace templates that sets them apart from similar website building and e-commerce platforms. However, a lot of templates - and this is in keeping with the issues discussed above regarding content presentation vs selling online - are geared towards users who want to blog or showcase an art, photography or music portfolio.

Of the 90 or so Squarespace templates available, only 14 are dedicated online store ones (that's not to say, however, that you can't sell products using the others - you might just have to play around with the design a bit more first).

Depending on your chosen Squarespace template, you'll find lots of nice visual effects in play, such as parallax scrolling and text that gracefully fades in and fades out as users scroll through a site.

Squarespace templates can be further enhanced, thanks to an integration with Getty images. This provides you with an easy and affordable way to add stock images to your website - images cost $10 each, plus VAT where applicable. This actually works out considerably cheaper than buying pictures direct from Getty Images or iStock and uploading them to your Squarespace site.

And if all that wasn't enough, Squarespace recently upped the ante in the template stakes by introducing video backgrounds - you can now use a Youtube or Vimeo video as a background for your template, with stunning results. You just enter a Youtube URL into your page settings and Squarespace will use it as the background (and to boot will give you quite a few styling options and filters to apply to it).

However, Shopify is by no means a slouch in the template / visuals department. The Shopify free templates are aesthetically pleasing and arguably better than a lot of the ‘out-of-the-box’ templates provided by competing products such as Volusion or Bigcommerce.

Additionally, if the 10 free Shopify templates don't meet your requirements, there is a Shopify template store that you can buy a snazzier template from. There are 53 paid themes to choose from, most of which contain several variations, which means there is arguably a wider range of templates available from Shopify than Squarespace - so long as you are prepared to pay for them (prices vary but typically involve a one-off payment of between $140 and $180).

These templates are similar in quality to the Squarespace ones, offering a wide range of layouts which include contemporary design features such as video backgrounds and parallax scrolling. The Shopify theme store is really easy to use - you can browse all the available templates really easily thanks to a range of controls which let you filter by layout style, industry type, size of store and so on. 

All the Shopify and Squarespace templates are responsive, meaning that your templates automatically resize themselves to suit the device they are being viewed on - mobile, tablet or desktop computer. 

For me the bottom line with templates is that both Shopify and Squarespace provide a wide range of attractive options, with Squarespace is being the more obvious choice for content-driven websites, and Shopify, as you might expect, being the more obvious choice for those wishing to create an online store.

Importing and exporting products

Both Squarespace and Shopify give you the option to import products.

With Shopify, you can import products using a CSV file only.

Squarespace allows you to import products from:

  • a CSV file
  • Big Cartel
  • Etsy
  • Shopify

The fact that you can import from more third-party stores into Squarespace means that it has a bit of an edge in this department.

When it comes to getting your product data out of both platforms however, Shopify is the more flexible tool. This is because Shopify lets you export all your product data (to a CSV file); Squarespace only facilitates exports of physical products. (Up until recently however Squarespace didn't let you export any products at all - so this is definitely progress).

SEO (Search engine optimisation) in Squarespace and Shopify

Another area which I feel is handled considerably better by Shopify than Squarespace is search engine optimisation (SEO).

Firstly, for all products and pages, Shopify generates a page title and meta description automatically, which a lot of the time - particularly where products are concerned - often provides a very good starting point.

Secondly, Shopify refers to the core SEO elements by their proper names; this is not the case with Squarespace. In Shopify, you're dealing with titles, meta descriptions, alt text - all the standard terminology you'd expect. By contrast in Squarespace you encounter things like 'captions', 'descriptions' and 'excerpts' - all of which can be used for SEO purposes but can also, if you're not careful, end up visible on your template.  

Ultimately, it's just easier in Shopify to spot the key fields that you need to complete in order to add meta data: this is because they are labeled as they should be: i.e., page title and meta description.

It's definitely possible to optimise a Squarespace site well for search - see our Squarespace SEO tips for some important advice on how to make a Squarespace site rank in search results - but to be honest, its SEO options should be much better implemented; and there should not be a crossover between meta descriptions and page content unless the user specifically wants that crossover to exist. 

Finally, Shopify handles URL mapping better than Squarespace. If you change a page's URL, Shopify will automatically create a 301 redirect to that page for you. This lets search engines know that the page has moved, and preserves any 'link juice' associated with it. In Squarespace, if you change a page URL, you will have to manually create the 301 redirect (the process for which is fiddly; and creating 301 redirects is quite easy to forget to do).

One area where both products could improve a bit involves URL creation. Neither allows you to create truly 'clean' URLs - something that Google prefers - because they stick content identifiers into some URLs which can't be removed (for example, /blog/, /products/ and so on). Squarespace is a little bit more flexible on this - static pages don't include these.

On the whole though, Shopify's approach to SEO is much better than Squarespace's.

(Note: for a rundown of how to optimise a Shopify or Squarespace site for search, check out our Shopify SEO and Squarespace SEO guides respectively)

Point of sale (POS) in Shopify and Squarespace

A key feature offered by Shopify which is not currently provided by Squarespace is 'point of sale' (POS) kit. This works with both iOS and Android mobile devices and allows you to sell easily not just online but in actual physical locations too.

The point of sale kit comprises a barcode scanner, card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer - you can buy any of these items individually or as a package (or alternatively use compatible third party hardware). And, if you live in the US, you can avail of a card reader for free.

There are a wide range of applications for Shopify's POS system: it allows you to sell in a pop-up shop, from a market stall, at an event or even in a permanently located retail outlet, whilst keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synced.

To be fair, you could theoretically use your Squarespace store to sell in physical locations too, but you could not use chip and pin or print paper receipts for clients; you would have to ask them to enter their card details into a laptop or tablet, and they'd receive an email receipt.

Dropshipping in Squarespace and Shopify

Many people who dip their toes into the waters of online retailing do so because they want to start dropshipping products.

Dropshipping is a method of online retailing where you don't keep what you're selling in stock - rather, you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they send the goods to the client. Your online store, in effect, becomes a front end / middle man for another business.

The plus side of this business model is that it doesn't involve much investment to start your business; the down side is that margins tend to be quite low due to high levels of competition.

If you're interested in starting a dropshipping business then Shopify is a much better bet than Squarespace. With Shopify there are a wide range of dropshipping apps available to help you source and sell inventory - a popular choice being Oberlo - but there's no easy equivalent way of dropshipping in Squarespace.

One option for dropshipping in Squarespace could actually involve Shpoify - you could use a Shopify Lite plan and a dropshipping app to add a 'buy button' onto your Squarespace site. Alternatively, using Shipstation in conjunction with Squarespace could present a workaround. It's all a bit fiddly though, and more hassle to set up than in Shopify.

For more information on this topic, you may find Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping useful.

Mobile apps

Shopify and Squarespace both provide users with mobile apps for managing their sites or stores on the go. There are five Squarespace apps available:

  • Blog
  • Analytics
  • Portfolio
  • Commerce
  • Note

These are available for both iOS and Android.

Of the above, most users are realistically going to appreciate 'Blog' and 'Commerce' apps the most, as these allow you to publish blog content and manage e-commerce orders on the go.

'Analytics' is pretty useful too and does what you might expect it to - look at your site stats on a smartphone. 

 
 Squarespace's 'Blog' app

Squarespace's 'Blog' app

 

'Portfolio' allows you to download the content of your Squarespace galleries to your phone so that you can show people your images on your phone when you don't have internet access. (Not 100% sure I quite see the point of this, unless you intend to show your portfolio to a lot of folk on airplanes). 

'Note' is a note-taking app which allows you to publish content to a variety of different tools including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive. It's got a slightly odd interface but it's actually quite a useful app in its own right, and you don't actually need a Squarespace account to use it. Perhaps Squarespace see it as a gateway drug of some sort!

Shopify provides quite a few apps two, but there are 2 main ones which will be of relevance to the majority of users - first there's the main Shopify app, which allows you to edit certain aspects of your Shopify site, view basic stats and check in on orders.

There's also a Shopify dedicated to its POS (point of sale) functionality - this allows you to take orders and accept payment for goods in a physical location.

The above two apps are all you need really to run a Shopify store on your mobile, but if you want more, you can pick up some other Shopify apps - these include a business card maker, a logo maker and a magazine for entrepreneurs. 

There's also an iOS-only app called 'Shopkey', which makes it easier to share your product details with customers when chatting with them over apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. However, Shopify seem to be phasing this out, restricting its use to people who have already installed it.

 Shopify's Shopkey app

Shopify's Shopkey app

 

So what to make of this plethora of apps? It's fair to say that despite the fact that both Squarespace and Shopify seem to offer a multitude of apps, they are actually taking quite a different approach to mobile app provision, particularly where iOS is concerned.

With Squarespace, you will need to download several apps to manage your site on a smartphone; with Shopify, you should generally be able to make do with just one.

I suspect Shopify's approach will be more convenient for most users, but that said, the Squarespace apps are designed more with specific actions in mind (publishing a blog post, viewing stats etc.), meaning that they are might be better suited to individual tasks at hand.

VAT and selling digital goods in the EU

If you're selling digital goods to consumers in the EU, there's something you need to watch out for when making a decision between Squarespace and Shopify: VAT MOSS ('VAT Mini One Stop Shop').

Basically, when your business sells a digital product to consumers in EU member states, value added tax (VAT) must be charged at the rate due in the consumer’s country. With Squarespace, these different rates all have to be entered in manually as individual 'tax rules', but Shopify will calculate these automatically for you, potentially saving you a lot of time.

(An alternative workaround for VAT MOSS in Squarespace is to charge the same fee for products regardless of the countries involved, and retrospectively calculate and pay the relevant amount of VAT for each country to the tax authorities. Check with your bookkeeper or local tax authority first though to see if this is kosher...).

SSL access

SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between web servers and browser, and using it ensures that all data passed between a web server and browser remains private. (You can spot a site using SSL when you see a URL beginning with "https://" rather than "http://"). There's also another benefit to having SSL installed on your site: Google treats it as a 'positive signal' when ranking your site in search.

Up until relatively recently, it was another win for Shopify here, because Squarespace only used SSL on its e-commerce pages and didn't allow you to install custom SSL certificates to cover other parts of your site. The good news now is that like Shopify, Squarespace now provides a free SSL certificate which you can use with any domain. 

Domains

Once nice feature of Squarespace is that when you purchase one of their plans (and pay annually) you get a free custom domain with it; although you can use Shopify to register a custom domain too, there is a cost associated with this (domain names start at $13 per year). You can also buy domain names through Squarespace too, if you like.

The advantage of sourcing a domain from either Squarespace or Shopify is that (assuming you intend to use these services to host your site), you won't have to worry too much about the technical side of configuring DNS settings - connecting your domain to your Squarespace / Shopify site will be a pretty straightforward affair, with the settings pre-configured for you.

In terms of what domains are available to buy direct from either Squarespace or Shopify, you'll find that Squarespace offers a much wider range of 'TLDs' (domain extensions - .com, .co.uk etc.). So if you're determined to buy everything from one supplier, you'll appreciate Squarespace's more flexible approach here.

Of course, there's absolutely nothing to stop you buying a domain using a third-party provider and tweaking the DNS settings (which is not a terribly complicated job anyway) to map the domain to your Squarespace or Shopify website.

Product images

One thing that I feel is handled considerably better by Squarespace than Shopify is product images.

With Shopify, unless all your images have the same aspect ratio, they will be laid out in a pretty incoherent manner: visitors to your site will see a mish-mash of differently sized image photos in the product catalogues.

You can get around this by manually editing all your images in Photoshop or other image editing program so that they are all in the same aspect ratio...but this is a pain to say the least and for me represents one of Shopify's biggest weaknesses.

It's a good idea in general to focus on getting your imagery right before building an online store, but this image ratio issue makes it particularly important to focus on with Shopify.

Squarespace provides a better approach: you pick an aspect ratio for your product images and the system will automatically crop all your pictures to that ratio. If you like, you can specify a 'focal point' for individual product images in Squarespace - this part of the photo will be emphasised within the cropped image.

In an era of responsive websites, this focal point feature is important because it helps ensure that the main part of your image is foregrounded whenever your image is automatically cropped for viewing on smaller screens.

 Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Reporting

If you're looking for a platform with professional reporting functionality, then Shopify is a better option than Squarespace. Although the Squarespace reporting offering has improved quite a bit recently, the stats provided are of a more basic nature than those found in Shopify.

In Squarespace you can expect to see a simple but effective overview of site visitors, traffic sources and sales - but Shopify's analytics offering is much more extensive, giving you a set of detailed stats which include:

  • finance reports
  • sales reports
  • customers reports
  • acquisition reports
  • behavior reports

And what's more, you can use Shopify to create your own custom reports too.

Reporting in Shopify is significantly more comprehensive than in Squarespace (click to enlarge)

There is a negative aspect of Shopify's reporting offering which is worth pointing out however: it's only available on their more expensive plans. The pre-defined reports are available on the $79 'Shopify' plan and up; and to avail of custom reporting you'll need to purchase an 'Advanced Shopify' or 'Shopify Plus' plan.

If you don't opt for one of these plans, you'll just get access to a basic 'dashboard' report which provides similar data to that which you'll find in Squarespace. You could of course use Google Analytics to get around this (to a degree), but you'd need to do more manual configuration and 'goal-setting' to get at the sales data you need.

Similarly, Squarespace charges a premium for more advanced reporting features - if you want enhanced commerce analytics, you'll need to be on the more expensive 'online store' plans.

Blogging in Squarespace and Shopify

Blogging is an often-overlooked, but extremely important aspect of running an online store. This is because blogging is absolutely vital to inbound marketing - where you use quality content (blog posts) to drive traffic, and by extension sales. 

The good news is that both Squarespace and Shopify provide blogging functionality - this is not true of all e-commerce platforms, notably Volusion. 

In terms of which is better, I'd say Squarespace's blogging functionality has an edge over Shopify's. This is because you can do more with the blog content - you can embed it easily into any page or sidebar of your site. You can also add both categories and tags to posts in Squarespace; Shopify just permits tags.

Third party integrations

A key difference between Shopify and Squarespace is that Shopify has an app store that you can use to purchase integrations with other apps; the latter doesn't.

Shopify's app store contains thousands of integrations with other platforms; additionally, it contains apps which have been developed to add specific pieces of functionality to Shopify stores (for example SEO enhancements; dropshipping functionality; multiple currency support - and much else besides).

That's not to say that you can't integrate other apps with Squarespace - you can. There are a few 'official integrations' available out of the box with Squarespace (available on the 'Business' plan and up) - these include Xero, Dropbox, OpenTable, Soundcloud, Twitter and quite a few others. For anything else, you can either embed code from other apps into your Squarespace site using a code block, or use Zapier to connect Squarespace's forms to other apps. You'll have to be prepared to put a bit of legwork into the setup time however.

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in Shopify and Squarespace

AMP - accelerated mobile pages - is a new format for content which makes it load really fast on mobile devices. It does this by stripping out certain bits of code from your site and delivering a slimmed down version of your content to smartphone users.

AMP pages create a better user experience than normal responsive pages; because they load more or less instantaneously, people viewing AMP pages are far more likely to stay on your site (and by extension buy stuff). Google also occasionally prioritises AMP pages in search, by featuring them in carousels above standard search results.

In Squarespace, you can enable Accelerated Mobile Pages ('AMP') format really easily - it's simply a case of ticking a checkbox in your site's setting - but at time of writing it is only available for blog posts, not products. 

To use AMP on Shopify sites, you'll need to do a bit more work - you'll need to install a third-party app like RocketAmp. This particular app comes with a monthly fee and quotas of pageviews which vary by plan. However, it allows you to display ALL your site content (including, crucially, product pages) in AMP format. So providing you're prepared to put in a little bit of effort (and cash) with Shopify, you'll end up with a better AMP version of your site.


Using Shopify and Squarespace with G Suite

Squarespace has recently been making quite a lot of noise about the fact that it partners with Google to offer Squarespace users a G Suite (formerly Google Apps) integration. You can sign up for G Suite when you purchase your Squarespace plan - and if you're on a 'Business', 'Basic' or 'Advanced' plan, you'll get a year's free G Suite plan (for one user).

When you sign up for G Suite through Squarespace, you can manage certain G Suite admin tasks without leaving your Squarespace site:

  • add users/email addresses
  • rename users
  • review G Suite invoices

This functionality is fairly limited, and easily accessible through the G Suite admin panel, so the integration isn't that mind blowing. Much more appealing is the year's free account. 

Squarespace does integrate nicely with G Suite in one particular respect: you can connect data capture forms to a Google Sheet, meaning that you get a handy real-time overview (or indeed archive) of any form submissions made via your website. This will work with any G Suite account, regardless of whether you purchase it via Squarespace or independently. 

In terms of using Shopify in conjunction with G Suite, there's nothing to stop you doing that - you will need to edit your DNS settings manually to get the email accounts to work, but that's a fairly simple, 5 minute task.


Editing HTML and CSS in Shopify and Squarespace

With Shopify you get very extensive control over the coding of your site - you get full control over the HTML and CSS of your website (on all plans except the 'Lite' one).

With Squarespace, you can edit the CSS and certain bits of HTML (you can insert code blocks onto pages, or inject HTML into the header of your site) but you should be aware that the Squarespace support team essentially reserve the right not to support you fully if you've added HTML or CSS to your site.

The other thing worth mentioning on this front is that you can only add CSS and scripts to your site if you're on a Squarespace 'Business' plan or higher - the 'Personal' plan disables this functionality.

(I can't remember not needing to add HTML or CSS to any Squarespace site I've built - so I always steer clear of the 'Personal' plan for any client projects!).

As discussed earlier, there is a developer version of Squarespace available which does provide users with extensive control over every aspect of the design of their site - but you will need strong coding skills to be able to work with it. As the name suggests, you will ideally need to be a developer. Again, developer mode is only available on 'Business' plans or higher.

(For the record, what I'd *love* to see one day is a halfway house between the standard version of Squarespace and the developer's platform - maybe a product called 'Squarespace Pro' which, like the original versions of Squarespace, allowed you to tweak every element of your website and edit the CSS of your site easily).


Support

Shopify definitely has the edge over Squarespace in the support department.

Shopify provides you with live chat, email and (crucially) 24/7 phone support - Squarespace offers only live chat and email support. If I was paying $46 a month for a Squarespace account, I'd expect phone support. 

It's a bit unclear however what countries you can avail of Shopify phone support from - phone numbers are only listed for North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

A note of caution is worth sounding regarding the support offered with both Shopify and Squarespace - the quality of support you'll get often depends on what you're doing with your template. 

For example, if you're using one of the standard free Shopify templates, you can expect fairly comprehensive support if it's not behaving as it should. But if you opt for a third-party, paid-for template, you may have to deal with the designers of that template if you run into trouble. And how good that support is will depend on the developer.

Similarly, Squarespace's support team are pretty good at assisting with template related queries...unless you customise it by adding your own CSS or HTML to it, in which case the Squarespace support team effectively reserve the right not to support you.

One thing that is likely to annoy both Squarespace and Shopify users is that before you get to see any contact details for their support teams, you need to search for an answer to your problem first on the Shopify and Squarespace help sites.

I can see the rationale for this, but I think that many (most?) users will have already searched for a solution to their problem before getting to the point where they want to contact a support team - and this approach feels like its making customers jump through unnecessary hoops.


Which is better, Shopify or Squarespace?

The answer to this question is a big fat ‘it depends’. If your primary aim to build an attractive website to showcase content, then Squarespace is definitely your best bet. I'd argue that this is particularly the case if you're working with images - Squarespace is particularly good for creating online photography portfolios with - or are a musician / band. [Incidentally, if you need help with setting up a Squarespace site like this, do check out our Squarespace Setup packages - they'll save you a truckload of time].

If you are hoping to build a content-focused website or a blog and sell a couple of products on the site as well, then Squarespace is probably still your best bet, so long as you are happy with the fairly limited payment processing options - and you don't need to charge EU VAT on digital goods. 

However, if your aim is to create a large online store with advanced functionality, professional reporting and a big inventory of products, then Shopify is unquestionably the more robust solution - it's feature set and payment gateway options are significantly more extensive, and it allows you to export your product data, something Squarespace does not currently permit. And with its VAT MOSS functionality, it's definitely better for selling digital goods.

Interestingly, if you prefer the general vibe of Squarespace, or have an existing Squarespace site that you're really happy with, but would you'd like to add e-commerce functionality to, you could also consider using Squarespace AND Shopify in conjunction with each other: you could use the 'Shopify Lite' Plan to integrate the Shopify Buy Button, cart and checkout onto a Squarespace site. I've seen quite a few users do this successfully.

In summary, here are the reasons why you might pick one tool over the other:

Reasons to use Shopify over Squarespace

  • With Shopify, you can export products; in Squarespace you can't, meaning it's very difficult to migrate an online store if you need to move platforms.
  • Abandoned cart saver functionality is available at a considerably lower price point with Shopify.
  • You can run a dropshipping business more easily with Shopify.
  • There is a huge library of third party apps that work with Shopify and extend its functionality significantly - although some integrations are available for Squarespace, you won't find a similar catalogue of apps to beef up your site / store.
  • Shopify provides you with significantly more choices when it comes to payment gateways.
  • If you intend to sell products in-store or at events, you will find Shopify's Point of Sale options extremely useful; Squarespace doesn't yet offer this kind of functionality.
  • Shopify permits more advanced control over the HTML and CSS of your website (note: Squarespace does provide advanced control too, but only if you're using the developer version).
  • Reporting is significantly better in Shopify than in Squarespace, although you'll need to be on a more expensive plan to access this functionality.
  • Thanks to the fact that EU VAT is automatically calculated for you on digital goods, Shopify makes selling products to EU customers a lot more straightforward.
  • Shopify provides more comprehensive support than Squarespace, including phone support.
  • Shopify's 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling online and at point-of-sale very cheaply (but note that it won't provide you with a fully-fledged online store).
  • Although fiddly to work with, Shopify's navigation builder allows you to use more levels of navigation than Squarespace (for desktop versions of your store).
  • Shopify has a much better approach to SEO.
  • You can - albeit with the use of a third-party app - create AMP versions of product pages in Shopify.
  • There are more template variations available in Shopify (but you will have to pay a premium to use many of them).
  • Only one smartphone app is required to manage key aspects of your site on the go - with Squarespace you'll need at least three.

A free trial of Shopify is available here.

Reasons to use Squarespace over Shopify

  • The quality of bundled templates is arguably a little bit higher in Squarespace than in Shopify - they have more 'wow' factor (note that the paid-for Shopify templates are of a similar quality, however).
  • If your main aim is to showcase content, particularly images, then Squarespace is the more elegant, flexible solution.
  • You can buy Getty images very cheaply with Squarespace and integrate them easily onto your site. 
  • Squarespace is arguably slightly easier to use than Shopify.
  • Squarespace allows you to host a fully functional online store a bit more cheaply than Shopify.
  • Product images are handled considerably better by Squarespace.
  • Blogging features in Squarespace are slightly better than the Shopify equivalents.
  • Depending on whether or not you have an existing G Suite account, you may be able to avail of a free G Suite plan for a year by purchasing it through Squarespace.

A free trial of Squarespace is available here.

Hopefully this comparison review has helped somewhat, but if you are still agonising over your decision it is definitely worth availing of a free trial of both products, having a play, and seeing which one you prefer:

More Shopify and Squarespace resources

You might also find the below articles / resources on Shopify and Squarespace useful:

Alternatives to Shopify and Squarespace

If you’d like to try another solution before committing to either Squarespace or Shopify, Bigcommerce is definitely worth a look because it is feature-rich and very easy to use (it's particularly good when it comes to providing merchants with the option to add a wide variety of product variants).

You may also find some of our other e-commerce platform reviews helpful – just see the 'related articles' section below for a list of recent posts.

Any thoughts or questions?

If you've used either Shopify and Squarespace (or both!), it'd be great to hear your thoughts on both products - feel free to post your comments or questions on either platform below. Also, if you've found this post useful, it'd be wonderful if you could consider sharing it on social media or creating a link to it on your blog / website. Thanks for reading!


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Shopify Review (2018) - Pros and Cons of a Leading Online Store Builder

In this Shopify review, we look at one of the most popular online-store building tools currently available. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of this e-commerce solution.

Our overall rating: 4/5


What is Shopify?

Shopify is a web application that allows you to create your own online store. It provides you with a wide range of templates that can be customised to meet individual users’ branding requirements, and it allows either physical or digital goods to be sold. 

One of the main ideas behind Shopify is that users without much in the way of technical or design skills can create a store without the involvement of a design agency or web developer; however, people who are familiar with HTML and CSS will be pleased to discover that Shopify allows you to edit both, giving you a lot of control over the design of templates.

Because Shopify is a hosted solution, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more individual requirements through the addition of apps - more on which later - or using custom code).

Shopify is a software as a service ('Saas') tool - this means that you don't own it but rather pay a monthly fee to use it. As long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.


How many people use Shopify? And why does this matter?

According to Shopify the product has

  • been used to power 600,000 stores
  • 1,000,000 active users 
  • generated over $46bn in sales. 

Now without getting a mole into Shopify's accounts department, it's impossible to verify the accuracy of the above numbers, but it's fairly safe to say that Shopify is definitely one of the more established e-commerce platforms out there.

This is important because when you choose a hosted solution to build an online store with, you are placing a huge amount of trust in the company providing it. There have been instances in the past of similar services closing down in the past - Magento Go being a case in point - resulting in all manner of problems for their users (who had to migrate their stores over to a different platform). 

Shopify's strong market position and very large userbase should make the prospect of financial difficulties for the company far less likely, which in turn makes the prospect of a store you host with them suddenly disappearing far less likely. 

We'll have a look at what you can do with Shopify shortly - but first, let's check out the pricing.


Shopify pricing

There are five Shopify pricing plans to choose from:

  • 'Shopify Lite' - $9 per month
  • 'Basic Shopify' - $29 per month
  • 'Shopify' - $79 per month
  • 'Advanced Shopify' - $299 per month
  • 'Shopify Plus' - fees are negotiable, but in the region of $2000 per month.

Shopify represents one of the cheaper ways into selling online, with its starter plan, "Shopify Lite" costing $9 per month and allowing you to sell an unlimited number of goods.

Shopify pricing table (correct as of May 2018)

However, it's important to note that this plan does not actually allow you to construct a fully-functional, standalone online store: rather, it

  • lets you sell via your Facebook page
  • allows you to use Shopify in a physical location to sell goods or manage inventory
  • gives you access to Shopify's Buy Button, which allows you to sell goods on an existing website or blog.

The Buy Button works similar to a Paypal 'Buy Now' button, but because it links back to Shopify, more sophisticated options regarding tracking orders and their fulfilment status are available.

Using the Shopify Buy Button allows you to integrate Shopify into a site built on another platform - for example Squarespace, Wix or Wordpress; this is a useful feature for users who are generally happy with their existing website but wish to integrate some Shopify e-commerce functionality onto it.

As you move up the pricing scale, you'll encounter the ‘Basic Shopify’ plan for $29 per month; the 'Shopify' plan for $79 per month and the 'Advanced Shopify' plan for $299 per month. Unlike the 'Lite' plan, all of these plans do allow you to host a fully functional online store; unlimited file storage and bandwidth are also included.

Finally, there is is also the ‘Shopify Plus’ plan to consider – this is an ‘enterprise grade’ solution which is designed more with big businesses in mind rather than the average user; it offers advanced features regarding security, APIs and fulfilment. 

So what are the main differences between each plans?

Key differences between Shopify plans

Key features to watch out (and not miss by selecting the wrong plan!) are:

  • reporting - professional reporting functionality is only available on the $79 'Shopify' plans and up
  • advanced report builder - advanced reporting tools (which allow you to create your own custom reports) are only provided on the most expensive 'Advanced' Shopify plans 
  • gift cards - these are only available on the $79 'Shopify' plans and up.
  • real time carrier shipping, which is only available on the most expensive 'Advanced Shopify' plan
  • staff accounts - these allow you to give different members of your team different permissions (which is useful for restricting access to sensitive data); you are allowed 2 staff accounts on the 'Basic Shopify' plan; 5 on the 'Shopify' plan and 15 on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan

It's worth mentioning that you don’t have to pay for plans on a monthly basis – you can pay on an annual or biennial basis - Shopify offer a 10% discount on an annual and a 20% discount on a biennial plans, when they are paid upfront. 

Overall Shopify’s pricing structure is fairly consistent with key competing products like Bigcommerce, Squarespace and Volusion; the main difference involves the 'Lite' plan really, which whilst not giving you a fully hosted online store, does allow you to make use of many key Shopify features on an existing website for a very low monthly fee.

If I had a criticism of Shopify's pricing structure it would be that some features which you might expect to find on entry level plans - like gift cards and professional reporting - only become available when you opt for a more expensive one, or make use of an app. 

Other solutions, notably Bigcommerce, are considerably more generous with the entry-level feature set, offering a bit more of an 'all-in-one' approach.

Let's take a look at how Shopify actually lets you accept payments for your goods - because this is where some key advantages of using the platform can be found.


Shopify Payments, payment gateways and transaction fees

There are two ways to accept credit card payments on Shopify.

The most straightforward, for users in countries where it is supported, is to use Shopify Payments, Shopify’s built-in payment system. 

If you use this, you don't have to worry about transaction fees. However, there is still a 'credit card rate' to consider: in the US, you can expect to pay a rate of between 2.4% and 2.9% of each credit card transaction (plus on some plans, an additional 30c). In other countries, the rate is lower (the UK range of credit card fees, for example, is 1.5% to 2.2%).

The exact rate depends on the type of plan you are on, with the lowest transaction fees (as you might expect) becoming available on the most expensive monthly subscriptions.

Alternatively, you can use a third party ‘payment gateway’ to process card transactions - of which there are over 100 to choose from (far more than competing platforms Bigcommerce, Volusion or Squarespace).

Using a third-party payment gateway requires a bit of configuration – you’ll need to set up a ‘merchant account’ with a payment gateway provider. Depending on the payment gateway provider you use, you can expect to pay a percentage of a transaction fee, a monthly fee or both.

If you use a payment gateway, Shopify will apply a transaction fee as well (of between 0.5% and 2% depending on the Shopify plan you're on - again, the fee gets lower as the monthly plans get more expensive).

Whether or not it works out cheaper to use Shopify Payments or a payment gateway will depend very much on the kind of payment gateway you’re thinking of using, and the Shopify plan you’re on. 

One important thing worth noting about Shopify Payments is that it is available only for users based in certain countries.

These are:

  • the United States
  • Puerto Rico
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore

So if you’re not selling from one of those territories then you will have to use another separate payment gateway provider (meaning you'll definitely need to factor transaction fees into the equation).

As mentioned above however, Shopify integrates with far more payment gateways than other competing products do (over 100 of them), so if you are selling outside of these countries, you should easily be able to find a payment gateway that’s suitable for your location.

Now that we've gone through pricing and payment functionality, it's time to discuss how Shopify themes actually look.


Shopify themes 

Shopify provides 10 free e-commerce templates (or 'themes') that you can use – each of these comes in two or three different variants, so these templates actually translate to quite a lot of fairly different designs.

These are all attractive templates, and they are responsive too, meaning they will display nicely across all devices.

If the free templates don't quite float your boat however, you can use a paid-for or 'premium' theme - of which there are 53 (and again, each theme comes in a few variants). These range in price from $140 to $180 (and are all responsive too).

Some examples of free Shopify themes

In the theme store, you can browse all the free and paid templates using a wide range of filters - for example, you can view templates by industry, home page type, layout style and so on. This means that you should be able to find a suitable theme for your store fairly easily.

In terms of the aesthetics, the templates are all professional in appearance, easy on the eye, and very slick in nature - no complaints at all here.

Some themes allow you to make use of contemporary design features such as parallax scrolling and video backgrounds; all in all, Shopify's template offering is one of the highest-quality in the e-commerce marketplace.

And of course, if you are not content with the theme offering provided by Shopify and wish to create something that is truly distinctive, there is always the option of building your own theme; it's easy to access the theme code, and a lot of support materials are provided to help you develop your own Shopify template.

One thing worth bearing in mind when making a decision on theme is whether or not it is officially supported by Shopify. All the free themes are - but if you use a premium template, you may need to contact a third-party developer for any assistance you might need with installing or customizing it.

 Examples of Shopify's most popular premium themes

Examples of Shopify's most popular premium themes


Core features of Shopify

As discussed above, the features you get with Shopify vary a bit according to the pricing plan you opt for.

All Shopify plans from $29 ('Basic Shopify') and up provide:

  • the ability to sell physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates / methods of your choosing
  • a wide range of themes (free and paid) to choose from
  • credit card processing via Shopify Payments or a third party payment gateway
  • integration with Paypal
  • blogging functionality
  • abandoned cart functionality
  • import / export of customer data
  • content management (CMS) functionality
  • good search engine optimisation (SEO) options – it’s easy to add relevant keywords to your products and site pages
  • integration with Mailchimp
  • discount codes
  • the ability to edit CSS and HTML
  • a 'buy now' button that you can use to sell goods on an existing blog or site 
  • point-of-sale integration (more on that below)
  • the option to create multiple staff accounts (as discussed above, how many you can created depends on the plan you're on).
  • the option to integrate your store with 100+ payment gateways

If you opt for one of the more expensive plans ('Shopify' and 'Advanced Shopify'), you also get:

  • gift cards
  • professional reports

If you're on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan you get the following additional features:

  • advanced report building
  • real-time carrier shipping

Finally, there's Shopify Plus to consider: this is an enterprise-grade version of Shopify, providing features such as

  • guaranteed server uptime
  • API support
  • 'White glove' level of support via a dedicated 'Merchant Success Manager'
  • dedicated SSL / IP address
  • advanced security features.

Let's zoom in on a few key aspects of Shopify that are worthy of particular attention.


Shopify Point-of-Sale

One particularly nice feature offered by Shopify which deserves a special mention and makes it stand out from its competitors is its 'point of sale' (POS) options and kit.

These let you use Shopify to sell not just online but in physical locations too – as long as you have an iOS or Android device. Merchants in the United States of America can avail of a free bluetooth 'chip and swipe' card reader for their mobile device (iOS or Android) from Shopify.

The 'Point of Sale' kit allows you to use Shopify to not only run your business online, but to sell in physical locations too.

The full point of sale kit includes a card reader, barcode scanner, cash drawer and receipt printer - you can buy any of these items individually or as a package. You can also use your own card reader.

There are a several applications for Shopify's point-of-sale tools: for example, they allow you to sell in a pop-up shop, from a market stall, at an event or even in a permanently located retail outlet, whilst keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synced.

Using Shopify Point of Sale with multiple staff members is more expensive though – it costs an additional $49 to use "Shopify Retail" on top of a regular plan.

This video is a little bit on the old side - but it gives you a basic idea of how Shopify POS works.


Interface and ease-of-use

Shopify is pretty straightforward to use – it’s got a nice clean, modern interface.

Shopify's interface

The interface lets you set up and manage a variety of what Shopify labels 'sales channels.' Some of the main ones include:

  • An online store: this is your main Shopify website.
  • Pinterest: you can add 'Buyable Pins' to any products from your Shopify store that have been pinned on Pinterest.
  • Facebook: a tab on your Facebook page where users can browse and buy your products.
  • Messenger: you can sell directly to customers in Messenger conversations with them (as well as provide order and shipping notifications, and respond to customer enquiries).
  • Buy Button: this channel allows you to embed e-commerce functionality - via 'buy buttons' - on any website or blog.
  • Amazon: this allows you to manage your Amazon listings and Shopify products in one location.

Other channels are available too (including Ebay, Instagram, Houzz and Buzzfeed - but whether or not you can use these depends on the country you are selling from).

All in all, it's pretty straightforward to use these sales channels (and the Shopify interface in general) but there's a couple of little niggles worth mentioning:

Product images (Online Store channel)

If you upload images on Shopify with different aspect ratios, then Shopify does not crop them automatically. In other words, your product catalogues will consist of a series of differently-shaped images; this impacts negatively on the design.

You can get around this by using a photo editing program to ensure consistent image aspect ratios for all your products - but unless you do this before you start uploading your images, you may find yourself with a headache, particularly if your store contains a large number of products.

Selling products on Facebook with Shopify

It's probably worth flagging up that the Shopify-Facebook integration won't suit every merchant. As things stand, it's easy enough to use Shopify's 'Facebook Channel' to populate a Facebook page's shop section - but your customers will only be able to buy one item at a time on the Facebook page in question (there's no 'add to cart' option).

This will be okay for some sellers (for example bands and artists who want to sell a new CD via their Facebook page should be fine) but any merchants who have a customer base that normally buys items in multiple quantities will possibly find this setup frustrating.

To be fair, as far as I can tell this is a limitation at the Facebook end, but it's something you need to be aware of if you have grand plans for selling on Facebook. You may be better off simply encouraging your Facebook following to click a button which takes them to your full online store.

These gripes aside though, Shopify’s interface is clean, user-friendly and shouldn’t present too much of a learning curve to most users. You can take a look at a vlog-style video overview of it below:


Importing and exporting data

Like most similar store builders, Shopify allows you to import product data from a CSV file. This is handy if you want to bulk upload a lot of new products to your store, or are migrating data from another e-commerce platform.

Importing data into Shopify using a CSV file

If you want to import posts from a blogging platform such as Tumblr or Wordpress, this is possible too, but you will need to use a third-party app (the paid-for app 'Blogfeeder' is your main option here).

With regard to exporting data, you can export product data to CSV file very easily; but as far as I can tell there's no simple option to export static pages and blog posts - they are exportable, but it seems that you need to make use of Shopify's API to get them out of the Shopify platform (or, if you have a lot of time on your hands, you could consider copying and pasting them!).


Working with product variants and options in Shopify

Shopify allows you to create up to 100 different variants of a single product. However, these variants can only involve three product options.

So, for example, if you were selling shoes, you could allow users choose from up to 100 different variants of a particular shoe, each in 3 different options (for example colour, size and style) - but you couldn't allow them to pick a shoelace colour on top of this.

I ran into a problem with this actually with an Irish wedding invitations site I built for a client recently. My client wanted in many cases to offer four or more options per wedding invitation, for example:

  • envelope colour
  • card colour
  • card size
  • ribbon colour

Shopify's hard limit of 3 options meant that I couldn't facilitate this request without resorting to a workaround, which was to combine two product options into one, i.e., envelope and card colour. Although the client was broadly happy with the outcome, it made for a slightly fiddly build and a user experience that could have been a bit smoother.

On the plus side, third-party apps are available to enhance the product option offering in Shopify, but you will need to be prepared to pay for these. Another option is to add 'line item property' code to your Shopify store to capture more product options.

The bottom line is that if you are selling something that doesn't involve truckloads of variants and product options you will be fine with Shopify. 

That said, it would be better if a more flexible approach to options functionality was available out of the box (as is the case with rival Bigcommerce).


Using product categories in Shopify

Although there's room for improvement regarding how Shopify handles product variants and options, the way it handles product categories (or in Shopify parlance, 'collections') is fantastic, and better than that found in many competing products.

You can manually add products to a collection or - and this is a huge time saver for users with large product ranges - use 'automated collections.' This basically entails setting up rules (based on product titles, tags etc.) which automatically slot products into the correct collection.

This can save you hours, if not days, of data entry / manipulation - particularly if you have a large number of products in your online store.

You'll need to make sure you name or tag your products in an extremely consistent way to take advantage of this functionality, as the automation only works if you have a consistent naming convention to product titles, tags etc. But used right, it's great.


Abandoned cart recovery in Shopify

Abandoned cart recovery in Shopify is designed to help you sell products to people who went most of the way through a transaction only to change their mind at the last moment.

This used to be only available on the the more expensive Shopify plans - those priced $79 or higher, but recently Shopify introduced it on all plans which come with an online store - this effectively means their $29 'Basic' plan and up. This means that you get abandoned cart saver functionality at a considerably lower price point than its key competitors Bigcommerce and Squarespace, which only offer it on their $79.95 and $46 per month plans respectively.

The makers of competing product Bigcommerce claim that using abandoned cart recovery tools can boost your revenue by up to 15%, which - if true - is obviously very significant.

In terms of how abandoned cart recovery works in Shopify, it essentially allows you to either:

  • view a list of people who've abandoned their carts and manually send them an email
  • instruct Shopify to automatically send one email to visitors to your site who abandoned their carts (containing a link to their abandoned cart on your store).

The latter option is probably the best way to go about abandoned cart recovery, as it saves time.

Helpfully, Shopify suggests 2 particular time intervals for sending your abandoned cart saver email: either 1 hour after your user abandons their cart, or 10 hours later (you can also send the reminder email 6 hours or 24 hours later). This is because according to research carried out by Shopify, these are the time intervals which generate the most sale completions.

For the sake of balance, it's worth pointing out that despite being more expensive Bigcommerce's approach to abandoned cart recovery is arguably a bit better and more flexible than Shopify's.

With Bigcommerce you can program three emails to be sent out automatically to users who abandon their carts; and inserting discount codes (designed to convince people to complete their transactions) into them is a more straightforward process too.


Custom fields and file uploads

Some merchants will require the functionality to allow a user to provide some text at the point of purchase (for example, jewellers might require inscription copy etc.).

Shopify will allow you to capture this data, but it's a bit of a fiddly process - you need to create a 'line item property' by manually adding some HTML code to your template. The other alternative is to pay for an app to do this job, which isn't ideal. 

It's a similar story with file uploads - if you would like to offer your customers the option to upload a file (for example, an image to be used on a t-shirt or mug), you're going to have to get coding or, yes, you guessed it, pay for a relevant app.

I would much prefer - again, as is the case with Bigcommerce - if text fields and file upload buttons were simply options that could simply be selected / enabled when creating products.


Shopify’s App Store

In addition to Shopify’s core functionality, there is also an app store which you can visit to obtain apps (free and paid) that beef up what your store can do.

There is a huge number of apps available - over 2000, more than any other e-commerce platform that I've come across. These apps either add specific functionality to your store or alternatively make it talk to another tool (like Xero or Zendesk).

This wide range of apps is one of the strongest arguments for using Shopify over its rivals - it means that you have a huge range of options not only when it comes to adding functionality to your store but when it comes to integrating it with other tools and platforms too.

Examples of available apps include:

  • data capture apps
  • accounting apps 
  • abandoned cart saver apps (that are more sophisticated that Shopify’s out-of-the box cart saver)
  • advanced reporting apps.

So if Shopify’s ‘out of the box’ feature set doesn’t initially seem to meet your requirements, it’s well worth having a look through the App Store to see if there’s an add-on that will help.

Key third party apps that are supported via integrations include Xero, Freshbooks, Mailchimp, Zendesk and Aweber.


Dropshipping with Shopify

Many potential users of Shopify will be wondering how it facilitates dropshipping, a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock (you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client - your store is in effect a middle man of sorts). 

The good news is that Shopify offers a very large range of dropshipping apps which allow you to source and sell a variety of suppliers' goods online very easily.

For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest watching Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping, which goes through the whole process of setting up a dropshipping business.


VAT MOSS in Shopify

One really strong aspect of Shopify which is not often picked up on in other Shopify reviews is the way that it caters extremely well for VAT MOSS - or, to use its full title, 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop.'

VAT MOSS is basically a requirement that sellers of digital products to consumers in the EU add value added tax (VAT) to each digital product on a per-country basis (i.e., there's one VAT rate to be applied for the UK, one for Ireland and so on).

Unlike a lot of competing products, like Squarespace or Bigcommerce, Shopify calculates the appropriate rate automatically. So there's no faffing about with setting up manual tax rules and so on. This is an extremely useful piece of functionality and for me, it's a USP for Shopify. 

And speaking of digital products...


Selling digital goods with Shopify

If you want to sell digital goods with Shopify, this is perfectly doable but not immediately obvious how to set up. 

A good friend of mine, Diarmaid MacMathuna from Cruinneog (a company making Irish language spelling and grammar checkers for Microsoft Word) recently built his new store with Shopify and initially struggled quite a bit to work out how to sell his software online - until he realised that in order to sell files, users need to install a separate app (Shopify's 'Digital Downloads App').

The good news is that this is free - and very easy to use. You can configure it so to work automatically, so that a download link is given to the customer immediately after checkout, and a link is emailed to them when their order is fulfilled; or alternatively, if for any reason you want to vet your purchases, you can do the fulfilment manually.

There is a limit however on the product file size - you can only sell digital goods up to 5GB in size (there are workarounds however, using different third party apps which host your files or let you use file sharing services such as Dropbox to deliver your files). 


Reporting

 A Shopify sales report

A Shopify sales report

Shopify offers a comprehensive range of reports, including: 

  • customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last placed an order)
  • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)
  • search data reports (what products customers searched for in your online store) 
  • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)
  • abandoned cart reports.

There is something negative worth pointing out here however: these reports are only available in Shopify if you are on their more expensive plans - 'Shopify', 'Advanced Shopify' or 'Shopify Plus'.

If you're not on one of these plans you just get a fairly basic dashboard containing topline stats only. This contrasts negatively with key competing product Bigcommerce, which provides strong reporting functionality on all its plans.

An advanced report builder is also available in Shopify, which allows you to create your own custom reports - but again, it comes at a price: you'll need to be on a $299+ plan to avail of this. 


Blogging in Shopify

Blogging is a crucial tactic in getting people to visit your online store; and helpfully Shopify comes with a built-in blogging tool which allows you to create the sort of content you'll need to ensure your site is visible in search results.

Shopify's blogging functionality is not by any means as sophisticated as what you'd find in a Wordpress site. For example, omissions in the Shopify blogging functionality include content versioning and Yoast-style SEO plug ins; and when it comes to categorisation of posts, Shopify blog posts only allow you to use tags and not categories (other blogging platforms typically permit use of both).

That said, the built-in blogging functionality in Shopify is generally good and will meet most users' requirements perfectly well. You can also - with a little bit of fiddling around - hook it up to the commenting tool Disqus, which is useful too.

As mentioned above, exporting Shopify blog posts is not terribly straightforward however - Shopify's advice regarding how to do so is to manually copy and paste your blog content into a new location! From reading around, however, it looks like a more sophisticated workaround exists using an API...but that's not really going to appeal to merchants without technical skills who need to move their blog content elsewhere. 


Managing your Shopify store on a mobile device

Shopify provides two main apps which you can use to manage your store on a mobile device: 'Shopify' and 'Shopify Point of Sale.' 

The 'Shopify' app lets you view and fulfil orders; add / edit products; view reports and communicate with your team members via an order 'timeline'.

The 'Shopify Point of Sale' app, as the name suggests, is for users who want to use Shopify at point of sale - you can use it to take card payments in person, track inventory, text receipts to customers and so on.

 The 'Shopify' iOS app

The 'Shopify' iOS app

In addition to the store management apps, there's a nifty little app called 'Shopkey' (GIF below), which makes it easier to share your product details with customers when chatting with them over apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. This is only available on iOS.

 Shopify's Shopkey app

Shopify's Shopkey app

If that wasn't enough in the app department, there are some other apps available: a logo-making app, a business card designer and an 'entrepreneur articles' app. (The latter two apps are only available on Android).

Of all the above apps, I suspect that the main 'Shopify' app is going to be the most use to the vast majority of merchants.


Using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in Shopify

Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP is a Google-backed project which aims to speed up the delivery of content to mobile devices by stripping out certain bits of code from web pages.

AMP has become increasingly popular, because - implemented well - it reduces the number of site visitors abandoning slow-loading mobile sites, and also can provide some SEO benefits (Google sometimes prioritises AMP posts in search by placing them in a carousel above other search results).

The good news is that it's possible to use AMP in Shopify - not just for blog content, which is where AMP is most frequently used, but for product pages too (many of Shopify's key competitors do not as yet facilitate use of AMP in this way). This has the potential to ensure that a lot more potential customers engage with your product collections (or, if on slow connections, even get to see them in the first place).

The bad news is that this functionality isn't available out of the box, and that you'll need to make use of a paid-for app like RocketAmp to add it. 

Given the emphasis Google is increasingly placing on AMP content, and despite the additional costs, it's great that you can create AMP versions of your product pages on Shopify - this is something of a USP for the platform.


Support

Shopify's support is comprehensive - you can contact the company 24/7 by email, live chat or phone.

This is significantly better than the support options offered by some competitors - for example, leading competitor Squarespace doesn't provide phone support at all.

There are a couple of niggles worth pointing out though.

First, having used Shopify support in the past, I've found that if your enquiry is of a particularly technical nature - i.e., if you want to code something and need help - then you may not always get the answers you're looking for from the standard Shopify support service. You're sometimes better off posting a query in a forum and hoping a Shopify developer gets back to you on it.

This could be improved a bit I feel - it would be nice if, for relevant queries, Shopify offered some sort of way to contact their developers directly for technical advice.

Secondly, it's unclear as to whether phone support is actually provided globally: support phone numbers are only provided for North America, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand (there's no 'any other country' option).

And finally, in order to access phone numbers (or other contact info), you're are required to search the Shopify help pages for a solution to your problem first, as the screengrab below highlights. This will annoy some, but it's increasingly standard practice for support desks for web applications, and it's not implemented as badly as some other applications.

 Shopify's support screen

Shopify's support screen


Shopify review conclusions

Overall, Shopify is one of the best hosted solutions for those wishing to create an online store – and arguably the best for anyone who wants to use one product to sell online AND in a physical location. It’s also great for users who are interested in dropshipping.

The product is competitively priced - particularly when you consider that abandoned cart saver functionality is available on its $29 'Basic' plans. The product is easy to use, integrates well with a huge range of other apps, and its templates are attractive.

It has a big user base - 600,000 users, according to Shopify - which also inspires confidence (the last thing you want to happen is for a hosted e-commerce solution provider to go bankrupt and close down a successful store you might have with them).

The main disadvantages of using Shopify are its transaction fees if you use a third-party payment gateway (some of its competitors don’t charge any transaction fees at all, regardless of payment gateway used); its limit of three options per product (note: don't confuse this with variants, of which you can have 100 per product - see above); and the fact that in quite a few instances, to get the functionality you need, you may have to install an app (key examples of this include selling digital downloads or facilitating ratings and reviews). I'd also like to see professional reporting features provided on the 'Basic Shopify' plan. 

A more complete summary of pros and cons is displayed below.

Of course the only way to find out if Shopify is for you is to try it out fully – a 2 week free trial is available here.

And if you've tried Shopify before, do feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below! (Note: if you're reading this on a mobile browser, you may be seeing an optimised 'AMP' version of the article which doesn't display the comments section. If so, just click here to view the full article where you can read and add comments).


Shopify pros and cons

We hope you've enjoyed reading our Shopify review! To sum up, these are the main pros and cons that we think you can expect to encounter if using Shopify:

Pros

  • With its 'Lite' plan, Shopify represents one of the cheapest ways to start selling online using a hosted solution.
  • The abandoned cart saver is available on its $29 basic plan - meaning that this functionality is provided at a considerably cheaper price than key competitors.
  • It's a good option for anyone interested in dropshipping.
  • There are no transaction fees if you are happy to use the built in payment processing system, Shopify Payments.
  • It has a clean, easy-to-use interface.
  • It provides a good range of free, responsive and attractive templates
  • The point-of-sale options are excellent and help Shopify stand apart from its competitors.
  • There is a simple Paypal integration available.
  • Shopify states that over 500,000 stores have been built using the platform, which makes it a relatively safe bet that the company (and thus your online store!) is not going to disappear any time soon.
  • You can extend Shopify's functionality easily thanks to a huge range of third-party apps (although note that you will have to pay to use many of them).
  • Shopify handles the creation and application of product categories really well.
  • VAT MOSS rates are automatically calculated and applied by Shopify.
  • The Shopify Buy Button allows you to use Shopify with an existing website built using another platform (for example Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix or Jimdo).
  • Shopify comes with a built in blog.
  • You can create AMP versions of product pages (albeit with the help / additional cost of a third-party app).
  • Both iOS and Android apps are provided to enable you to manage your store on the go.
  • You can avail of a 2-week free trial of the product.

Cons

  • Whilst you can create 100 variants of a product, these can only involve up to 3 product options.
  • Some key functionality which you might expect to be provided out of the box requires installation of an app (notable examples include facilitating digital downloads and reviews and ratings).
  • Adding custom fields such as text boxes or file upload options, whilst doable, is unnecessarily complicated.
  • Professional reporting functionality is only provided on more expensive plans.
  • Shopify Payments only allows you to sell from certain countries –  United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. If you want to sell from another country you will need to use a third-party payment gateway.
  • You can’t avoid transaction fees if you use a third-party payment gateway.
  • There is no way to automatically ensure that product images are displayed using the same aspect ratio. This can lead to messy presentation of your products unless you have cropped all your images in advance of uploading them to Shopify. 
  • It would be nice if the abandoned cart saver allowed you to send more than one automated follow-up email.
  • The cheapest plan (the $9 'Lite' offering) doesn't permit you to create a fully-featured online store.
  • It's not easy to export blog posts.
  • It's not clear how to access phone support if you live outside of North America, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Alternatives to Shopify

Of the solutions I’ve tested to date – Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion, Squarespace and Magento Go – Bigcommerce is probably the strongest alternative to Shopify. It’s similarly priced, easy-to-use and its feature set is broadly comparable with Shopify’s. Bigcommerce also provides a 14 day free trial and our full Bigcommerce review is here.

Additionally, you may wish to investigate Ecwid, which allows you to add an online store to an existing website (Ecwid offers similar functionality to Shopify's Buy Button, but with more advanced features). You can read our full Ecwid review here.

Finally, you may wish to check out Squarespace, although you need to bear in mind that Squarespace's e-commerce functionality is a bit more limited than the likes of Shopify, Bigcommerce or Ecwid.


More Shopify resources

You may find our in-depth article on Shopify fees useful; additionally, you might like to read some of our posts which compare Shopify against other e-commerce and website builder products:

For more information on how to optimise a Shopify site for search, check out our Shopify SEO guide.

You can start a free trial of Shopify here.


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Shopify vs Wordpress (2018) - Which is Best? | Comparison Review
 Shopify vs Wordpress Comparison. Image featuring the Wordpress and Shopify logos in a notepad.

Shopify vs Wordpress: which is best? This is a question a lot of startups find themselves asking, and in this post I'm going tackle it in depth!

Read on for a full examination of both platforms and their key features; and the reasons why you might choose one of them over the other when building an e-commerce website.

By the end of this comparison, you should have a much better idea of which platform will serve your business’ needs best.

Let’s start with a quick overview of both platforms.


What is Shopify?

Shopify is a web application that has been specifically designed to allow merchants build and launch their own online store.

It provides a range of templates that can be customised to meet individual businesses’ branding requirements, and it allows both physical and digital goods to be sold.

One of the fundamental ideas behind Shopify is that users without technical or design skills can create a store themselves, without resorting to coding. However, Shopify also allows you to edit the HTML and CSS of your website, which means that those who do have coding skills will be able to customize their stores more extensively.

Shopify is a hosted solution, which means everything runs on Shopify’s servers. So, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more bespoke requirements through the addition of apps - more on which later).

Shopify is a software as a service ('Saas') tool - this means that you don't own a copy of the software, but pay a monthly fee to use it instead. Being a web application, it runs in the cloud; this means that as long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.


What is Wordpress?

There are two different versions of Wordpress available:

Hosted Wordpress

Hosted Wordpress - available at wordpress.com - is, like Shopify, a software as a service (SaaS) tool. You pay a monthly fee and you get access to a broad range of features which enable you to build and maintain a website.

It’s less of an ‘all in one’ solution than Shopify however, as users need to use third party tools like Ecwid (or indeed Shopify!) to add e-commerce features to it.

Self-hosted Wordpress

Self-hosted Wordpress is a piece of software that you download from wordpress.org and then install on your own web server. It’s open-source, meaning that the code behind it is freely available and may be easily tweaked.

In practice, this means that sites built with Wordpress can be customised to the nth degree - it’s an extremely flexible tool that, in the hands of the right developer, or via the installation of the right plugins, can be adapted to meet the requirements of nearly any website design project.

You can install Wordpress on your server for free, but there are hosting costs, domain registration charges and potential plugin / development costs to consider. We’ll discuss all this in more depth later on in this post.

This Shopify vs Wordpress comparison is going to focus on the version of the Wordpress that most people use: the self-hosted version.


What sort of users are Shopify and Wordpress aimed at?

It’s fair to say that Shopify’s main audience is users without web development skills.

As mentioned above, the key idea behind Shopify is that anyone can use the platform to make their own online store – quickly, and without needing to code at all. 

Wordpress by contrast caters for two groups of users.

Like Shopify, Wordpress is suitable for users who are not tech-savvy; it is certainly possible to create and maintain a Wordpress site without needing any coding skills (particularly if you’re happy to use a ‘visual editor’ interface for Wordpress like Divi). Users who don’t want to go near any HTML or CSS can definitely avoid doing so with WordPress.

I’d argue however that in many cases, more configuration of Wordpress is needed before you can publish a website; and that depending on what you want to do, setting up a Wordpress site can involve a considerably steeper learning curve.

The second audience that Wordpress caters for is users who have loads of web development experience. These users can work with the platform to pretty much build any sort of website, and host it anywhere they like.

Although it is possible to modify Shopify in a lot of ways (through coding or the addition of apps), there are more limits to what you can do, and you are always going to have to host it on Shopify’s servers.


How many people use Wordpress and Shopify?

When choosing a website building solution, it’s important to get a sense of how many people use it to create their sites or online stores.

This is because generally speaking, if a particular platform has a large userbase, you will find that there is more more support, resources and apps / plugins available for it online. There will also be a smaller chance of it ‘disappearing’ and taking your website with it!

The latter issue is particularly important for users who are considering using a fully hosted solution like Shopify – such companies can and do encounter financial difficulties, and can close product lines as a result (the disappearance of Magento Go is a well-known example of this). A large userbase minimizes the risk of this.

The good news is that Wordpress and Shopify both enjoy a lot of popularity and have large userbases. Depending on who you believe on the internet, there are 65-75 million Wordpress sites in existence; and according to Shopify, the platform powers 600,000 stores.

Given these numbers, Wordpress is technically the safer bet in the longevity stakes, but Shopify is one of the most popular products of its kind and it is unlikely that either platform is going anywhere anytime soon.


Pricing: how much does it cost to use Shopify and Wordpress?

Shopify fees

Shopify provides five pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month.
  • Basic: $29 per month.
  • Shopify: $79 per month.
  • Advanced: $299 per month.
  • Plus: negotiable, but typically around $2000 per month.

As you might expect, the features you get access to on each Shopify plan vary according to the one you’re on, but a few key differences are as follows:

  • The ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed a Shopify ‘buy button’ on an existing site, or sell via Facebook, but you don’t get a standalone, fully functional store on this plan.
  • Phone support is only supported on the $29 and higher plans.
  • Credit card fees and transaction fees decrease as the monthly plans become more expensive.
  • The ‘Shopify Plus’ plan is an enterprise grade plan aimed at larger organisations, or those with more advanced requirements regarding APIs, server uptime and support.

For a more detailed breakdown on the differences in costs, please see our dedicated article on Shopify fees.

Wordpress fees

It’s much harder to say how much a Wordpress site costs to build – that’s because there are so many variables involved.

A common misconception is that Wordpress is an entirely free solution, but that’s not true, because although you can get the software for free, there are other things you’ll need to get a Wordpress-powered site or online store off the ground, namely:

  • hosting (server space on which to install Wordpress and store your site)
  • themes (the design for your site)
  • e-commerce integration (addition of tools that will let you sell products online)
  • plugins (apps that can be added to your site to add more functionality)

And of course, depending on your ambitions or technical skills, you may also need to pay for a developer to assist you with the build.

The one thing you'll always have to pay for hosting: without it you have nowhere to install Wordpress. There are a wide range of options available on this front, but the key choice you’ll have to make is:

  • whether you’d like to use a ‘shared hosting’ company (cheaper but usually slower and less optimized for Wordpress sites)
  • a dedicated Wordpress hosting provider – for example WP Engine - that specialises exclusively in Wordpress hosting (faster, more secure - but more expensive).

For a small to medium-sized project it’s probably fair to say that you’d be looking at costs of between $4 (shared hosting) and $30 (managed WP hosting) a month. 

With regard to the other factors, you can technically get away with using a free template, e-commerce integration, and plugins - but realistically, to get higher quality results it’s usually worth investing in your site.

Below you’ll find some figures which demonstrate some costs you might expect if you were building your site yourself:

  • Annual hosting, using managed Wordpress hosting from WP Engine as an example: $348 (recurring cost)
  • Premium theme: $175
  • Annual cost for e-commerce integration (using Ecwid as an example): $180 (recurring cost)
  • 4 paid-for plugins: $100

If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your site, you’d have significantly higher costs (but in all likelihood would be getting a better product).

In terms of how these sorts of costs compare to using Shopify, again we’re looking at a ‘how long is a piece of string scenario’. But let's try to come up with some examples!

At the lower end of the pricing scale, assuming you’re using the Shopify $29 ‘Basic plan’ plus one $10-per-month app, you’d be talking about a $468 annual commitment.

At the higher end of things, if you were on the Shopify $299-per-month plan, and using three $10 per month apps, you could end up spending $3948 per year on your site.

If your needs are simple then, using Shopify can actually work out cheaper than using Wordpress, despite it being a paid-for option and Wordpress being an open source one. But equally, it can work out a lot dearer!

The only way to work out which is more economical for you in the long run is to make a clear list of all your requirements, and price them up for each platform as best as you can.

Pricing, however, should not be the only thing you think about in your Wordpress vs Shopify decision-making process. It’s just as important to look at functionality and features.

Let’s do that now.


Templates

Quantity and quality

A key concern of anyone building an online store is: how pretty will my site look?

Well, Shopify offers a classy set of templates – there are 10 free ones, and 53 paid-for ones available on the Shopify site (most of which come in 2 or 3 variants, making the numbers of templates available larger than the above figures suggest). All these templates are professionally designed, easily edited and responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely on any type of device – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.).

 Examples of themes that are included with Shopify.

Examples of themes that are included with Shopify.

With these templates, you can be confident of solid support (either from Shopify in the case of the free templates, or a Shopify-approved supplier in the case of the paid-for ones).

If that range of templates isn’t enough, you can buy other ones from third party designers – for example on Theme Forest.

However, the number of Shopify templates available pales in comparison to the huge number of templates available for Wordpress - although it’s hard to put a precise figure on the number of Wordpress themes in existence, we can confidently talk about thousands, both free and paid-for. (You can buy Wordpress templates from stores such as Template Monster or Theme Fuse).

Because the Shopify product is designed very much with non-technical users in mind, it’s probably fair to say that the Shopify templates are a little bit easier to customise, but tweaking a (well-constructed) Wordpress template shouldn't involve that much of a learning curve either.

For me, Wordpress is ultimately the winner in a template shoot-out: the sheer quantity of themes available ensures most users will have plenty of high quality options to choose from.

This choice does bring a downside however: first, it will be harder to choose one; and second, you need to ensure that you are getting a ‘safe’ template.

Getting a ‘safe’ template means sourcing it from a reputable source - some Wordpress templates contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site. This is not something you really need to worry about at all with Shopify templates, so long as you buy your template from the Shopify site. (If buying elsewhere, the health warning about malicious code applies here too of course).


Behaviour / performance on mobile

All officially-supported Shopify templates are responsive, meaning that they will all adjust themselves automatically so that they display nicely on any device.

In this day and age, it isn't at all hard to locate a responsive Wordpress template, but you will need to double check its suitability across devices before installing it: there are still a lot kicking around which aren’t suitable for all devices.

You can also use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on both Shopify and Wordpress. AMP is a Google-backed project which drastically speeds up the loading of your pages on mobile devices by stripping out certain bits of code; using it gives your content a speed bump and can improve its visibility in search results.

To get AMP functionality working on both platforms though you’ll need to install a third-party app (Shopify) or plugin (Wordpress). With Shopify, this means installing something like RocketAmp; various options exist for Wordpress.

One nice aspect of the RocketAmp app for Shopify is that you can be confident that it will display all your content in AMP format when necessary – i.e., not just static pages and blog posts but product pages too. With Wordpress, whether or not you can get product pages to display in AMP format will depend on the both the e-commerce and AMP plugins used.


Interface and ease of use

The basic layouts of the Shopify and Wordpress interfaces are similar enough, in that the left-hand side of the screen is used to host a menu from which you can select pieces of content to edit or settings to tweak. Shopify's is arguably slightly more contemporary and 'clean' in appearance. 

Shopify's interface

Both platforms also take a similar approach when it comes to editing and publishing content – you locate your content and edit it in the back end; you can then preview or publish it.

This differs from the approach taken by some other platforms – notably Squarespace – which display a more instant or real-time view of your edits (this is because such platforms allow you to work ‘on page’, with your changes being displayed in situ and in real time).

However, you can use visual editor plugins in Wordpress to help you create a design and content management environment which operates in a similar fashion; this may appeal to people who are relatively new to web design (and is not something you can yet do with Shopify).

The Wordpress interface

Shopify’s interface is very intuitive for anyone interested in building and managing an online store – and this shouldn’t come as a surprise: the platform has been designed with that purpose in mind. You can manage products, collections and sales channels really easily.

It’s hard to make a direct comparison with Wordpress in this front, because in order to sell products, you will need to make use of a third party plugin such as Woocommerce, Ecwid or WP E-Commerce. We’ll discuss these in more depth later on in the review.


Content management in Shopify and Wordpress

When it comes to management of static pages and posts, I’d argue that Wordpress beats Shopify fairly comprehensively. There are two main reasons for this.

First, and very importantly, Wordpress comes with content versioning - every single version of a page or post can be stored on the system and you can roll back to any of them at any point. Shopify doesn’t let you do this.

Second, Wordpress allows you to use categories and tags in a much more flexible way than Shopify (you can also create your own custom content types in Wordpress). This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their needs.

When it comes to content management of the e-commerce side of things, again it’s hard to make a direct comparison between Shopify and Wordpress. This is because e-commerce is not available ‘out of the box’ with Wordpress, so how the two platforms stack up against each other in this regard will depend on the e-commerce app you choose to power Wordpress (more on this decision anon).

What it is possible to say is that managing products and collections is very straightforward in Shopify. Because it’s a dedicated e-commerce application, a lot of thought has been put into this, and it shows.

And worth a particular mention are Shopify’s ‘automated collections’ – these allow you to use rules (based on things like product title, price, tag etc.) to create collections. This can save HOURS of time (or days if we’re talking about a large store).


Flexibility

Of the two products under discussion, Wordpress is definitely the more flexible of the two. It’s been around longer and is much more widely used as a platform than Shopify, meaning that the number of templates, plugins and integrations for the platform dwarf what’s available for Shopify.

Additionally, the open source nature of the platform and the fact that you have total control over your own hosting means that Wordpress can be manipulated to create bespoke websites more easily than Shopify.

That said, Shopify’s app store contains an impressive number of apps (2000+) which allow you to significantly extend the functionality of a site built on the platform. You also get access to your store’s CSS and HTML on all $29+ plans. For most users, this will be more than enough flexibility; and for more advanced or corporate level users, it’s likely that the enterprise-grade Shopify Plus plans will meet their requirements.


E-commerce functionality

Most users of this review will be looking specifically at how Wordpress and Shopify compare in the e-commerce functionality department.

And frustratingly, it’s difficult to come up with definitive advice on this. This is because – and as discussed earlier – Wordpress doesn’t have an e-commerce tool built-in. You have to use a third-party option.

You could argue that this gives Shopify an immediate advantage when it comes to e-commerce, because it’s a dedicated online store builder, and accordingly much everything you need to get your store up and running is provided out of the box.

For a full overview of all the e-commerce functionality you get with Shopify, I’d suggest reading our full Shopify review, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll just say that it’s one of the most solid, fully-specced options out there for building an online store (particularly if you intend to dropship goods); and that my key reservation is that if you intend to sell products that come with a lot of options, it’s not as flexible as it could be (if this sounds like you, Bigcommerce might be a better bet).

The flip side is that your e-commerce options are much more extensive with Wordpress – you have significantly greater choice regarding the exact technical solution used for online selling.

To add e-commerce to a Wordpress site, you need to use a third-party plugin. Some of the best known include:

Unfortunately, with the exception of Ecwid, we don’t have reviews of all these products available just yet. So, if you’re going down the Wordpress route, it will be a case of trying to do your own research online to work out which is the best fit for you. To help you with this though, here are a few key questions to consider during this process:

  • Is the pricing of this solution competitive?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • What payment gateways can I use with it?
  • How many product variants and options can I use?
  • What are the SEO features like?
  • Does it facilitate point-of-sale transactions?
  • Does it facilitate AMP on product pages?
  • Is there a mobile app available for it?

For the record, Shopify scores highly on all these fronts – with the exception of product variants and options (which are a bit limited, although you can use an app from Shopify’s app store to increase flexibility on this front).

And of course, there’s always the option of using Shopify as your e-commerce solution for Wordpress – its $9 per month ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed products and a simple shopping cart system on an existing Wordpress site.


SEO for Wordpress and Shopify

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital to the performance of any website.

Without good visibility in search results, you can’t really expect much in the way of traffic or sales. Yes, you can use Adwords to drive traffic to your site, but a decent placement in organic search results is in most cases vital to the long-term success of an online business.

If we’re dealing with general content (static pages and posts), I’d argue that Wordpress is definitely the winner in the SEO department in a Wordpress vs Shopify shootout.

For a start, Wordpress allows you to install Yoast, one of the best SEO tools available. This tool analyses your content in some depth from an SEO perspective, and outputs a list of key steps you can take to improve the quality of your pages and posts.

The Yoast plugin for Wordpress gives you a complete overview of all the things you should do to improve the SEO of a piece of content.

On top of that, it allows you to create SEO friendly sitemaps and set canonical URLs to avoid duplicate content (something Google very much approves of).

Wordpress is also slightly better at creating clean URLs (simple URL structures that Google likes).

And because a Wordpress site can be hosted on any server, you can choose a super-fast one; you aren’t restricted to the shared hosting on Shopify (which, whilst perfectly acceptable from a speed point of view, is not necessarily the fastest available). 'Page speed' is important because it's a ranking signal, with faster-loading sites given preference in search results.

How good the e-commerce SEO side of things is on Wordpress, however, depends very much on your chosen e-commerce solution. When you’re deciding which solution to go for, the key things to watch out for in my view on this front are:

  • How editable the titles, meta descriptions and alt text are on your product pages
  • How ‘clean’ you can make the product page URLs
  • How fast your product pages load
  • Whether or not you can use AMP to display products

You should ensure that whichever plugin you use to handle e-commerce on your Wordpress site is robust with regard to all of these.

Turning to Shopify, the SEO is generally strong. Using SSL is straightforward; editing alt tags and meta descriptions is a simple process; XML sitemaps are created for you; 301 redirects are automatically created / suggested every time you change a page name…all really good stuff.

Although you can’t use Yoast on Shopify sites, there are quite a lot of SEO plugins available which perform a similar function.

My main reservation regarding Shopify SEO is that you can’t get the URLs quite as clean as you might like. This is because the platform adds prefixes to them, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages
  • /posts/ before posts
  • /products/ before products

It’s not ideal, but it’s not a showstopper either, and Shopify stores are perfectly capable of ranking well despite this.

Note: for more in-depth information on SEO, I recommend reading our Shopify SEO tips for Shopify-specific advice, or downloading our guide to SEO to gain a full understanding of the topic.


Blogging in Wordpress and Shopify

Blogging is an oft-overlooked, but vitally important aspect of running an online store. This is because blogging is absolutely vital to inbound marketing – a sales strategy where you use quality content (blog posts) to drive traffic to your site, and by extension purchases. 

Both Wordpress and Shopify provide blogging functionality, with Wordpress’ being significantly better.

This is because Wordpress:

  • allows you to keep an archive of changes to existing posts
  • allows you to use categories and tags in blog posts (Shopify just permits use of tags)
  • permits the creation of posts with clean URLs (as discussed above, Shopify prefixes blog posts with ‘/posts/’ which isn’t as clean as we might like and thus not 100% ideal from an SEO point of view).

Wordpress’ edge in this area isn’t surprising really, as the platform has a long history as a professional blogging solution.


Site maintenance and security

Maintenance

Other than keeping content and products up to date, Shopify users don’t have to worry too much about site maintenance. All the technical aspects of running a website (software updates, hosting, server configuration etc.) are taken care of by the company. 

With Wordpress, it’s a different story: you are in charge of ensuring that

  • you’re using the most up-to-date version of Wordpress
  • your server has been configured correctly
  • your plugins and themes are all up to date.

Although some of this can be handled automatically, it’s still something you need to keep an eye on - if you end up with an out of date version of the Wordpress software or a plugin, your site is much more vulnerable to being hacked into.

Security

With hosted solutions like Shopify, the bulk of the responsibility for security lies with the company who provide them.

In other words, if you’re a Shopify user, it’s largely Shopify’s responsibility to ensure that their system doesn’t get compromised, your site doesn’t get hacked and backups of your data are made. You obviously have a responsibility to create strong passwords and not share them with others, but the technical side of security is essentially Shopify’s problem.

With Wordpress, if you’re not paying a developer or agency to maintain your site, then the ultimate responsibility for security belongs to the end user: you! This means it’s your responsibility to ensure that your version of Wordpress is up to date, along with any plugins or themes you are using. Failure to keep on top of this aspect of site maintenance can make a Wordpress site extremely vulnerable to being hacked (which can have very serious implications if you are operating in the e-commerce sphere).

You’ve also got to be aware that some Wordpress themes and plugins can contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site, so you need to be very careful about which ones you install. And finally, you've got to ensure that you're regularly backing up your site (various plugins are available to help automate this process for you).

In short, I think it’s fair to say that Shopify sites are ultimately less vulnerable than Wordpress ones, simply because there’s less scope for users to neglect security on their site or add dodgy code to it. And if something does go wrong, then Shopify’s team have a responsibility to help resolve the problem.

Finally, a quick note about SSL: a free SSL certificate is provided with all Shopify sites - meaning that your visitors are browsing your site on a secure connection. You can of course install SSL certificates on Wordpress sites too - but again, it's your responsibility to sort that out.


Control over your content

If you use Wordpress, what you put on your site is, generally speaking, entirely up to you. If you use Shopify, you’ll need to be aware that Shopify can remove content (or even your whole site) if it conflicts with their acceptable use policies.

Admittedly, a company that you've paid to host your Wordpress site could also take your site down if it didn’t like what you were publishing - but in that scenario, you would have more options: you could move to a more liberal hosting provider, for example.

On a related note, it’s easier to get content out of Wordpress than it is with Shopify. There are a lot of tools available to Wordpress users to help them export and back up every single piece of content. In Shopify, although you can export your product data easily enough, you can’t migrate static pages and blog posts to another platform using an export tool – you have to manually copy and paste these somewhere…which feels rather antiquated.

Wordpress ultimately gives users more control over their content than Shopify, and depending on the nature and size of your site, this issue should not be overlooked.


Multilingual / multiple sites

Many businesses require multiple versions of their website - in different languages, or for different territories (or both).

Wordpress is currently a better solution than Shopify for this sort of thing - you can use either the Wordpress Multilingual plugin or the Wordpress Multisite version of Wordpress to create multiple versions of a website in multiple languages. And some of the e-commerce plugins for Wordpress (notably Ecwid and Woocommerce) can be configured to support multiple languages too.

Shopify have recently launched multilingual functionality however, which may help users with a need to present their store in several languages. This is currently available as a beta version that in addition to English facilitates French, German, Japanese, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.


Mobile apps

If you’re somebody who likes to edit your website on the move, then you will pleased to learn that this is possible with both Shopify and Wordpress (and on both iOS and Android).

 The mobile app for Wordpress

The mobile app for Wordpress

The Shopify app is more focussed on e-commerce than the Wordpress one, allowing you to manage your products and follow up with customers; by contrast the Wordpress app is more focussed on content management, allowing you to create and edit pages and posts.

Whether or not you can manage the e-commerce side of things on your phone for your Wordpress-based store will depend on whether the e-commerce plugin you’ve used to build it provides an app for this purpose (for the record though Woocommerce and Ecwid both do).


Support

Support is an area where I think it’s fair to say that Shopify beats Wordpress, particularly if you are building your site yourself.

When you buy a Shopify plan, you get support included with it. Live chat, email and phone support are included with all but the ‘Lite’ plan (which limits support to live chat and email). This means if something goes badly wrong with your store, there is somebody you can turn to.

(This is a particularly important thing to bear in mind if you're building a site for somebody else. When you hand a Shopify site over to a client, so long as you've set things up correctly, you shouldn't have to worry about providing ongoing support to your client – that's Shopify’s job).

It’s a different story with Wordpress: if you’re building your website yourself with the platform and run into difficulties, it's not obvious where to turn to. You may find yourself sourcing help from a variety of locations: for example, the Wordpress forums, a hosting company, a plugin provider, a friend who knows a thing or two about Wordpress etc.

In my view, to end up with adequate support for a Wordpress site, you ideally need to work with a developer or agency specialising in Wordpress development and take out a support contract with them. This can be pricey, but on the plus side, it can give you a level of support that you are unlikely to ever receive from Shopify (face-to-face meetings, Skype calls, a more personal connection etc.).


Shopify vs Wordpress: the conclusions

Wordpress is unquestionably a better-established and more flexible platform than Shopify. It’s got a significantly bigger userbase and a much greater selection of themes and apps to choose from; and given the right skills and resources, you can basically build any sort of website you like with Wordpress.

If content production and management is a key concern for you – for example, if you wanted to run a sophisticated magazine site with a store on the side – then there is a lot to be said for going the Wordpress route. Its blogging functionality, content archiving and content management system are all significantly more flexible and sophisticated than Shopify’s offerings in these areas.

In quite a few ways, it’s probably fair to say that Wordpress has an edge in the SEO department too: the fact that you can use Yoast, choose your own server and create cleaner URLs for your content gives it a bit of an edge over Shopify.

But in many contexts, Shopify will simply meet the needs of e-commerce users better. That’s because it’s a tool that has been designed specifically to make building an online store straightforward, and it does an admirably good job of this.

Additionally, if you use Shopify, you’ll get support; relative peace of mind around security; and you won’t have to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining your website.

Finally, if you are new to the world of website building and determined to build your own online store, then I’d argue that Shopify is the easier, safer and quicker bet. There is a steeper learning curve involved with Wordpress, and more configuration to do (especially on an e-commerce site).

If you have a good budget and a good developer though, you’ll probably find that you get something better with Wordpress; a site more ‘bespoke’ in nature that is more precisely tuned to your needs. Ultimately though, if you are going the DIY route, my hunch is that you’d probably get better results with Shopify.

Free downloads and trials

Reasons to use Shopify over Wordpress

  • Shopify is easier to set up and use than Wordpress - you shouldn’t face much of a learning curve.
  • A lot of features which you have to source separately in Wordpress are available ‘out of the box’ if you’re using Shopify – notably themes, e-commerce features and payment gateway integration.
  • Hosting is included with the product (with Wordpress, you have to sort this out separately).
  • With Shopify you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining your site; if you use Wordpress, you need to keep on top of this or your site will become vulnerable to being hacked.
  • Shopify is largely responsible for the security of your website - if you use Wordpress, security depends on how diligent you are in updating your software and theme.
  • 24/7 support is available for Shopify (email, phone and live chat). By contrast, whether or not you can avail of support for a Wordpress site depends largely on whether you have commissioned somebody to provide it.
  • Shopify is arguably a better option than Wordpress for users who require an elegant but simple website delivered quickly.
  • You can easily try out the product for 14 days for free - with Wordpress, you'll need to arrange hosting and download/install software if you want to try it out.

Reasons to use Wordpress over Shopify

  • The software is open source and can be downloaded for free.
  • You can build any type of site with Wordpress; it’s a more flexible platform than Shopify. 
  • A much wider range of templates is available in Wordpress than in Shopify.
  • Wordpress comes with a more sophisticated content management system which, unlike Shopify, facilitates content versioning.
  • A vast range of plugins - paid-for and free - is available to help you add functionality to your Wordpress website. Although you can also add functionality to Shopify sites via apps, there is a more limited range to choose from.
  • You have a greater range of options when it comes to e-commerce in Wordpress than in Shopify.
  • The number of variants and product options you can use (without an app) in Shopify is a bit limited – many of the Wordpress options give you more flexibility on that front.
  • SEO in Wordpress is a bit better than in Shopify.
  • On a Wordpress site, you have more control over your content - with Shopify, you’ll have to adhere to an ‘acceptable use’ policy and you may have trouble exporting some of your site content (especially where pages and posts are concerned).
  • You can export pages and posts more easily in Wordpress.
  • Wordpress is a much better option than Shopify for creating multilingual or ‘multisite’ projects.
  • The product has a longer history and bigger userbase than Shopify.

Alternatives to Shopify and Wordpress

Shopify and Wordpress are by no means the only options at your disposal when it comes to building a website or online store: there are a large number of alternative solutions available. 

On the self-hosted front, the best-known alternatives are probably Joomla and Drupal: very flexible platforms that host millions of sites worldwide.

With regard to hosted solutions, you might want to check out WixJimdo, Squarespace or Weebly (or indeed the hosted version of Wordpress). These are probably more geared towards ‘general use' websites rather than e-commerce sites; a more dedicated self-hosted e-commerce solution worth investigating if you’re not happy with Shopify is Bigcommerce.


Got any thoughts on Shopify vs Wordpress?

Have you any thoughts or queries on Shopify vs Wordpress? Please let us know in the comments below (note: if you're reading this on a mobile device, you may be viewing a faster-loading 'AMP' version which doesn't include the comments section - if so, you can view the full version of this post here).

And if you liked this comparison, do feel free to share it!


Capsule CRM Review (2018) - Detailed Review of a CRM System for Small Businesses

In this updated Capsule CRM review, we take a look at what Capsule does, its pros and cons, and why you might consider using it for your business.

Our overall rating: 4/5

What is CRM?

CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’, and a CRM tool like Capsule is a piece of software that allows you to keep track of and manage the business relationships between your organisation and your leads and clients.

Typically, a CRM solution will allow you to

  • capture, organise and analyse leads
  • track communication with leads and clients
  • allocate tasks to your team
  • manage your ‘sales pipeline’ (i.e., identify leads and track how the process of converting them to a client is going)
  • deal with customer enquiries via a support ticketing system

In this review we’ll examine how well Capsule CRM manages all the above.


Capsule CRM pricing

There are two editions of Capsule.

First, there's a free edition, which

  • permits you to have two users using it
  • lets you store up to 250 contacts.

The professional (paid-for) edition costs $12 (£8) per user but is much better specced: 

  • it allows you to host up to 50,000 contacts
  • it comes with much bigger file storage (2GB)
  • it allows you to integrate several third-party services into your account.

Third-party integrations include Google Apps (more on that below), accounting tools such as Xero and document signing tools such as RightSignature.

How does Capsule's pricing stack up against competitors?

So how does Capsule's pricing structure stack up against that of its competitors’? Well, the key difference between Capsule and its competitors' approach to pricing is that with Capsule, you're dealing with an extremely simple pricing structure - it's a simple case of using either the free plan or paying £8 ($10) per user, per month.

Many other CRM tools, by contrast, offer a more complex sliding scale of pricing - with more functionality being provided as you go up the pricing ladder. 

For example,

  • Salesforce offers a $25 per user dollar plan that allows you to run a basic version of their system with up to 5 users (but things get a LOT more expensive with Salesforce if you want to use their fully functional products – their ‘Performance’ edition costs around $300 per user).
  • Zoho's entry level plan costs $12 per month, with more functional $20 and $35 per month plans also available
  • Nimble's 'business' plan costs $25 a month per user.

It's fair to say however that all the above products are considerably more feature-rich than Capsule, offering features such as mass mailouts, sophisticated sales automation features and more in-depth reporting. 

As ever when it comes to pricing, it boils down to being very aware of your needs and evaluating the features of a few different CRMs before committing to one. The most obvious thing you can say about Capsule is that its pricing structure is very simple and it's much more reasonably priced - if not as feature packed - than its competitors.

And speaking of features...


Key Capsule CRM features

Capsule’s paid plan allows you to

  • store and share up to 50,000 contacts with colleagues
  • categorise data using tags
  • create contact lists and use them to send group emails
  • manage your ‘sales pipeline’ (you can customise the stages in it however you please – ‘lead identified’; ‘proposal under review’ etc.) and generate reports on it
  • track activity between you / your colleagues and leads (for example – depending on how you send the email – you can automatically append a copy of that email to a lead or client’s record)
  • manage to-do lists and calendars
  • create tasks relating to particular deals and share them with co-workers
  • use ‘tracks’ to create a standard selling process: a sequence of predefined tasks that should be completed and checked off within Capsule when following up on a business opportunity
  • integrate the system with Google Apps (this is discussed in more depth below)
  • make use of a range of third-party tools, like Mailchimp or Zendesk (to manage e-comms or a support desk respectively)
  • identify which of your contacts are on social media and append this info to contacts
  • manage ‘cases’ related to particular events – essentially you can use these to deal with customer enquiries or manage pieces of work to do with a particular project. As you might suspect you keep these open until they are resolved and close them off when they are finished, and this functionality effectively allows you to run a basic support desk.

We’ll deal with how well a few of these features work in more depth below.


Ease of use

Capsule is easy to use – functionality-wise, it is definitely at the more ‘basic’ end of the CRM spectrum, meaning its interface is clean and user-friendly.

There are simply 5 icons that you use to navigate around the various features:

 Capsule's main menu

Capsule's main menu

  • a home icon, which takes you to a screen detailing upcoming tasks and newly added contacts
  • a people and organisations icon, which allows you to browse your contacts
  • a calendar and tasks button, which takes you to your calendar, tasks and activities
  • a sales pipeline icon, which allows you to manage your business opportunities
  • a cases icon, which allows you to manage your open cases

Unless you are a complete technophobe, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty using Capsule CRM or encounter much of a learning curve. It's a very straightforward interface.

 The Capsule CRM interface is modern and intuitive

The Capsule CRM interface is modern and intuitive


Capsule CRM and G Suite integration

A really important aspect of Capsule CRM is its integration with G Suite (the suite of productivity tools formerly known as Google Apps). As millions of businesses now use G Suite to manage their communications, file storage and calendars, I was very keen to find out how good this is. The answer: it’s pretty good, but could be a bit better.

The good bits first:

  • Any time you add a contact to Capsule, their details will automatically get added to your Google address book (but NOT the other way round).*
  • When you click on a contact’s email address, it automatically opens up a Google email window and allows you to send them an email (it'll also automatically add this message to the communications history for that contact).
  • You can use a handy ‘Google Gadget’ for Capsule within Gmail, allowing you to add new contacts and information about them directly to Capsule from within the Gmail interface (it also pr
  • You can open your Capsule task calendar using G Suite. However, all new activities on it need to be added in Capsule – sync is one way only.

* With regard to contact sync, you can enable two-way sync using a paid-for tool called Pie Sync.

All pretty good stuff, but it would be preferable if contact sync was two-way out of the box, and it would also be great to be able to view Google calendars within Capsule and add appointments directly to them.

Additionally, it would be nice to be able to view your Gmail inbox directly within Capsule. Other similar CRM packages, such as Nimble, allow this.

Capsule CRM's 'Google Gadget' allows you to access or store Capsule information from within the Gmail interface (click to enlarge)

One other improvement that could definitely be made regarding the Google Apps integration is to do with its visibility - despite being possibly the most important Capsule integration available, it's not listed in the 'Integrations' list in settings, nor are there any obvious buttons or call-to-actions on view to link your Google Account with Capsule.

Finally, before you can use the integration, you have to email Capsule's support desk. To be fair, once it's all set up, it works well...but there's quite a few barriers in place to getting it up and running.

Another option with regard to integrating G Suite into Capsule is to use a third-party tool called Pie Sync. This facilitates two-way contacts sync. You can also use Pie Sync to integrate Capsule with other third-party apps, such as Mailchimp, Getresponse and Campaign Monitor.


Using Capsule CRM with Office 365

Oddly, there's no integration between Capsule and Office 365 available within Capsule - you'll have to use a third-party one provided by Pie Sync (which is fairly limited really - it's a two way contact sync between Capsule and Office 365 Outlook.com).

Given the widespread use of Office 365 by businesses in Capsule's target market, I think it would be in the interest of the company to rectify this as soon as possible.

The lack of an integration doesn't by any stretch rule out using Capsule if you're an Office 365 user - it just means that the workflow won't be quite as smooth as it could be.


Capsule CRM and email activity tracking

A key aspect of a CRM tool is its ability to keep a record of communications between you and a lead or client. 

As with most CRM solutions, if you want to email somebody and store that message in Capsule, you’ll need to BCC a ‘dropbox’ email address to save the message (to store received messages in Capsule, you’ll need to forward the message to the dropbox address). 

I personally would nearly always forget to do this, and there are other solutions out there which I feel handle email activity tracking better – with Nimble’s Gmail and IMAP integrations, for example, all email history can be stored automatically, regardless of what email program is being used to send and receive emails.

However, so long as you are working within Capsule you should be okay, because if you click on a contact's email address in Capsule, it will automatically open a new email window in your default email program with the 'to' field populated with that email address and the 'bcc' field populated with the Capsule dropbox address. The trick is to remember to keep the Capsule application open and use it religiously when sending emails.

If you're using Gmail, you also have the option to use Capsule's 'Google Gadget', which allows you to add Gmail messages to Capsule.


Managing a sales pipeline in Capsule CRM

Managing a sales pipeline in Capsule CRM is extremely straightforward.

You can either choose from 2 predefined templates: "Simple" or "Customer-Centric". As you might expect, the former has just a few milestones in it ('New', 'Bid', 'Closed - Won' and 'Closed - Lost'), whereas the latter has a lot (8 in total - 'Suspect', 'Prospect', 'Champion' and so on...).

If you don't like the templates provided you can simply configure your own and add the milestones that you feel typically reflect the customer journey for your business.

 The 'customer centric' sales pipeline template in Capsule CRM.

The 'customer centric' sales pipeline template in Capsule CRM.


Mass mailouts and marketing automation in Capsule

If you're hoping to do mass mailouts or automate your marketing in sophisticated ways (for example, through the use of autoresponders) then you might be a bit disappointed with Capsule. Although you can use it to send basic group messages, Capsule should be not be viewed as a tool that allows you to send bulk emails to thousands of people, or set up automated email communications out of the box.

That said, it is possible to integrate several email marketing tools with Capsule - official integrations are available for Mailchimp, Active Campaign, Mad Mimi, MPZ Mail and Wishpond - and you can use Pie Sync to hook other e-marketing tools up to Capsule.

If you don't mind hooking a tool like one of these up to your Capsule CRM account then, and spending a bit of time configuring things, you can use your Capsule data to power e-newsletters and autoresponders. 


Support

Support for Capsule is available via email or, if you're keen to air your support questions in public, via Twitter.

The helpdesk is available Monday to Friday, although it's not clear during what hours.

My (admittedly limited) experience of the support available during my trials of the product has been good, but I think it would be better if support was provided via more channels - the addition of live chat would be welcome, for example.


Should I use Capsule for my business?

Here are the pros and cons of using Capsule CRM to manage your business' CRM:

Pros of using Capsule CRM

  • It’s very competitively priced
  • It is very easy to use
  • It integrates pretty well with Google Apps
  • It allows you to create lists of multiple contacts and email them easily without recourse to third party e-newsletter tools (although using a tool like Mailchimp is better for very large mailouts)
  • It works well with a good range of third party applications, including Mailchimp and Xero
  • It is generous when it comes to storing contacts: you can work with 50,000 contacts for $12 a month.
  • The cases functionality can act as a simple helpdesk, which will be very helpful to some businesses
  • A fully functional 30-day free trial is available.

Cons of using Capsule CRM

  • If you want to store an email communication, you will need to BCC a ‘dropbox’ address every time you email somebody (this is less of a problem if you are happy to work within Capsule all the time and click on contacts' email addresses to email them).
  • The integration with Google Apps, while solid, feels a bit basic, particularly as far as calendars, tasks and two-way syncing in general goes.
  • The Google Apps integration is hard to locate and involves emailing a support desk to set up.
  • There's no official Office 365 integration.
  • The free trial requires you to enter credit card details before signing up.

Capsule CRM Review: the conclusions

Capsule is a solid, easy-to use CRM system which is a good tool for small to medium-sized businesses, particularly those using Google Apps. Overall we'd rate it at about 4 out of 5 - because although it's not the most fully-specced CRM out there, it's extremely good value for money.

The main things I feel it has going for it is that it is very competitively priced, and extremely easy to use. Despite being one of the cheapest CRM tools available, it provides a feature set that will allow you to manage a large database, identify business opportunities, track communications and manage a sales pipeline with ease. The learning curve is not steep at all, and for startups without much of a budget to invest in tools like CRM, it won't break the bank.

There are a few things it could do better, particularly around email history tracking and syncing of contacts to Google Apps - but overall it’s a very solid product.

As with many other tools, you can get a 30 days free trial of Capsule before committing to the product – you can try it out here


Alternatives to Capsule

In general, it's fair to say that Capsule is at the more basic end of the CRM spectrum, so if you find that you need more advanced functionality - particularly where marketing automation is concerend - there are lots of other products available for you to consider.

Salesforce and Infusionsoft are probably the best-known alternatives providing marketing automation features, but they are considerably more expensive than Capsule. 

Nimble CRM is also worth investigating - it's a bit dearer than Capsule, but does have (generally speaking) a wider feature set. You can read our Capsule vs Nimble review here.


Capsule vs Nimble (2018): Comparison Review of Two CRM Systems for SMEs
Capsule vs Nimble - image of the two logos accompanying our comparison review

In this Capsule vs Nimble review we look at two CRM systems aimed at SMEs, to help you see which is the best fit for your organisation.


An introduction to CRM

Before delving into the specifics of Capsule vs Nimble, it is worth taking a quick look at what a CRM or ‘customer relationship management’ tool actually is. In essence a CRM system is an application which is primarily used for keeping tabs on potential and existing clients (helping you to convert your leads and keep your existing clients happy); but in addition to this core function, most CRM systems help you carry out a range of useful business tasks. CRM systems will typically allow you to:

  • store and segment contacts
  • view a communications history between your organisation and your contacts
  • assign and manage tasks / activities
  • view and edit calendars
  • manage a sales pipeline
  • manage customer enquiries

In this review we will compare and contrast how well Capsule and Nimble handle most of the above.


Pricing

Capsule CRM's pricing structure is pretty simple: you can choose from a free plan, or a paid-for one that costs $12 per user per month.

Capsule's free plan is for users with very basic requirements, as it limits the number of users to 2 and the total number of contacts to 250. That said, if you're starting a business as a one or two man band, it's not a bad introduction to the world of CRM, and certainly a cost-effective one.

Nimble also features a simple pricing structure - but there are two paid-for plans available: 

  • Nimble Contacts - $9 per user, per month
  • Nimble Business - $25 per user, per month

There isn't a free Nimble plan available, but you can avail of a 14-day free trial of the product.

As I argue in my full Nimble CRM review, the $9 plan is probably best avoided, because so many key features - including sales pipelines, unlimited communications history and reporting - are not available on this plan.

So in this comparison, I'm going to focus on the differences between what you get with Nimble's more expensive "Business" plan and the features included with the paid-for version of Capsule. (Accordingly, please note that any Nimble CRM features or limits referred to below are available exclusively on the $25 Nimble plan.)

With this approach in mind, my first observation would be that Nimble’s fee for its fully-fledged plan is considerably higher than Capsule's; at $25 per user per month, it's over twice the price. You can gain a discount using Nimble if you pay upfront for a year's service, in which case the monthly fee averages out at $22 per user per month. The question is whether or not this higher price is worth it. 

Let's find out.


Contact management

Contact limits

Capsule and Nimble allow you to store a large number of contacts as part of their basic plans, with Capsule being the more generous in this regard: you can host up to 50,000 contacts on Capsule to Nimble's 25,000.

With Nimble, you also have the option of importing your Twitter contacts.

If you need to store more contacts, Nimble will charge you $10 per user per month for every additional 10,000 records; with Capsule, additional contact headroom is possible via negotiation.

Storage limits

With both Nimble and Capsule, you get 2GB of storage per user. Nimble allows you to add additional space in 10GB increments for $10 per account per month. It's not clear what the costs are for increasing the storage limits on Capsule.

Contact overviews

When you click on a contact in Nimble or Capsule, you will see

  • an overview of their contact details
  • a list of any communications you or your team have had with them
  • any notes you’ve added to their records
  • information relating to deals / sales pipelines
  • a list of tasks assigned to them
  • any tags associated with them
  • links to any files you’ve added relating to them

In Capsule, you will also see ‘cases’ information. Capsule cases provide, in Capsule’s words “a bucket for managing customer service and other events, allowing for a detailed view of requests, responses and what needs to be done next.”

This effectively amounts to a simple helpdesk / ticketing system, and it is a feature of Capsule not currently present in Nimble. It's a great piece of functionality, because it allows you to support customers without necessarily resorting to a support desk app such as 

In Nimble, you will see a lot of information about contacts that will not be present in a Capsule contact’s overview – most of this will relate to either information that is publicly available on social media about them or exchanges you’ve had with a contact on social media (more on that later).

Nimble's 'Prospector' functionality

A feature recently introduced by Nimble - and something you won't find an equivalent of in Capsule - is it's 'Prospector' tool.

This allows you to visit a company's website, and using an option on the 'smart contacts' bar, find out specific contact details for people at that company which might not be visible on their website. This can be added instantly to your Nimble contacts.

You are given a certain number of credits with your monthly plan (10 on 'Contact', 25 on 'Business'), and time you perform a lookup using the prospector, you use up a credit. If you need more credits, these are priced as follows:

  • 50 credits - $9.95 per month / $0.20 per credit
  • 200 credits - $29.95 per month / $0.15 per credit
  • 500 credits - $59.95 per month / $0.12 per credit
  • 1000 credits - $99.95 per moth / $0.10 per credit

Capsule users will have to use an alternative tool for sourcing this sort of data - for example Hunter or FindThatLead.

Importing data

Both Capsule and Nimble provide import tools that make importing data pretty straightforward. You simply map your existing database's fields across to the CRM equivalents.

In terms of the types of file you can upload, Capsule allows you to upload your data in CSV and vCard format. Nimble allows you to import a wider variety of data types - you can import LinkedIn, Outlook and Twitter contacts, for example.

At the point of import, both Capsule and Nimble provide some options regarding how you'd like to approach merging or overwriting records.

Nimble is a bit more flexible in this regard, allowing you to specify the fields you want to use as the basis for identifying duplicates (these include name, company name, email address and website domain).

Exporting data

Both Capsule and Nimble allow you to export data easily - you just select the records you'd like to export (using filters etc.) and hit an export button.

However, there's a bit of a problem with the way that Nimble outputs the tags you have added to your records. In the export file, Nimble provides you with a series of columns named Tag 1, Tag 2, Tag 3 etc. – all containing different tags. This makes filtering based on tag in another package - for example Excel - really difficult (a workaround would be to concatenate fields manually...but it's messy!).

 The way that Nimble outputs its tags leaves room for improvement!

The way that Nimble outputs its tags leaves room for improvement!

Capsule takes a much better approach, providing one tag field which contains all your tags separated by comma, making it easy to filter your data based on tag.

In my view however, both products could benefit from re-thinking how they output tags - it would be better to output a column per tag (for example, 'Tag_Age', 'Tag_Source', 'Tag_Interest' etc.) and populate this with a true or false flag. This would make manipulation and analysis of your data much easier outside the CRM environment.


Email tracking

A key aspect of any CRM system is how it handles communications history.

In any CRM system it is vital to be able to go into a contact’s record and easily pull up a list of previous email communications between you (or your team) and a lead or client. This is where Nimble is, for me, a winner (not just over Capsule CRM but products like Salesforce and Zoho) – not so much in the way that email history is displayed but in the way that email history is captured.

With most CRMs, if you want to an email a lead or client to be stored on the system, you have to BCC a ‘dropbox’ email address to capture the communication. However, with Nimble, as long as you are using a Google Apps, Office 365 or IMAP account, and have things configured correctly, you don’t have to worry about bcc-ing any email addresses every time you mail somebody: email tracking happens automatically.

The downside is that you may capture more communications than you strictly need (such as emails to your granny), but you can go into a contact’s record and remove unnecessary communications manually if need be.

But on balance, I feel it’s a much better way of doing things: personally, there’s no way I’d remember to use the BCC field every time when emailing clients or leads.


Social media

Nimble used to market itself as a 'social CRM' because originally, it provided users with a ‘unified inbox’ containing a complete history of communications with contacts across several social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).

The unified inbox used to work great, because you could manage not only emails in it but social messages on key networks like Facebook and LinkedIn too...but then Facebook and LinkedIn stopped providing Nimble with access to messaging, making the whole idea a lot less useful.

So these days Nimble users can see emails and Twitter communications in the unified inbox. Handy I suppose to have both sets of messages in one place, but not exactly mind blowing. 

Where possible Nimble will still use social media to provide you with a 'smart summary' of your contacts – this is based on information that is publicly available on social profiles, and gives you useful biographical details like current job, education, Klout score, location, website and more.

Furthermore, there's a 'smart contacts' app available as a plug-in for your browser or email client which gives you real-time information on contacts as you come across them online. The idea behind this is that whether you're browsing the web or scanning your inbox, Nimble serves up information about the contacts you're looking at - who they are, where they work, number of company employees, social profiles etc. It's all extremely 'big brother' but also undeniably useful for making business relationships. And, handily, you can use the smart contacts app to add contacts directly into Nimble with a click of a button too.

Capsule does provide some social media integration too but it’s rather basic – if it spots that a contact has an account on Facebook or Twitter, it will place the relevant icon beside their record, which you can then click on to see their profile. But there is no aggregated social stream or social communication tracking. 


Task management

A nice feature in Capsule which is missing in Nimble involves task management. In Capsule, you can set up 'tracks' - a sequence of tasks for things you do in your business in certain scenarios. Examples of processes you could set up using tracks include:

  • following through on a sales opportunity
  • managing a customer support query
  • issuing a monthly customer invoice
  • end of period accounting procedures
  • pre-event organization

'Tracks' in Capsule CRM

The idea is that whenever you start working with a new opportunity or 'case', there is a predefined sequence of tasks for users to follow, and every time one task is carried out, the next one is automatically presented to the user.


G Suite and Office 365 integration

Both Capsule and Nimble offer a G Suite integration.

Capsule allows you to sync contacts from Capsule to G Suite (i.e., one way) and send email to contacts from a Gmail window; you can also open your Capsule task calendar in G Suite (so long as you are happy to add tasks in Capsule only – again, sync is one way only).

Nimble scores better on the integration front – calendar sync is two way, and, if you don’t mind paying a bit extra ($5 per month) you can use a system called Piesync to create a two-way contacts sync between G Suite and Nimble.

You can also use a third party tool called Zapier to create two way syncs between Capsule’s calendars and contacts and G Suite.

Finally, both Nimble and Capsule provide 'gadgets'  (or widget) which allow you to add contacts directly to each system from within Gmail – a form appears beside your email which you can use to add the contact details of the person who is emailing you into the CRM.

Nimble also has an integration with Office 365 which allows you to sync calendars (and contacts via Pie Sync). It also has a widget available for Outlook (both the desktop and browser-based version).

With regard to Capsule CRM and Office 365, there is not an official integration provided, but you can also make the two products work together in various ways using Zapier.

Overall, the G Suite / Office 365 integrations are a bit better in Nimble than in Capsule (particularly where Office 365 is concerned).


One environment for everything?

Some CRM tools try to serve as a workspace where you can do everything: email, add contacts, manage diaries, assign tasks, do accounts and so on.

Nimble comes pretty close in offering this ‘one-stop shop’ environment because

  • it offers 2 way sync between its calendar and Google Apps
  • you can send and receive email from within Nimble
  • you can use Twitter within Nimble
  • it grabs publicly available information from social networks such as LinkedIn to provide you with biographical details about your contacts
  • it is possible, using PieSync, to have two way sync between Nimble contacts and Google contacts
  • its 'Propsector' tool allows you get additional lead contact information (phone numbers, email addresses etc.) that you might not have

One flaw in Nimble's 'one-stop-shop' workspace involves email folders: you can use the Nimble interface to send and receive IMAP email or Gmail without having to use an email client like Outlook or Gmail itself...but you can’t access email folders or move mail to folders. This means that you’ll invariably need to go out of Nimble and into another email program to organise / file your mail. Sadly this really takes away from Nimble's claim to give you a singular overview of everything. 

Another annoying aspect of the Nimble inbox (where Gmail is concerned at least - I haven't tried it with other email provides) is that it's not refreshed as frequently as your main inbox, making it a bit unsuitable for anything time-sensitive.

If you have got the Google integration switched on, Capsule allows you to send emails directly from within its interface too, but you won't be able to view your inbox. In essence, with Capsule, you will generally have to use your own email client and calendars.

So Nimble's 'one workspace' offering is better than Capsule's - but there are improvements which could definitely be made to its inbox.


Group messaging

Both Nimble and Capsule offer group messaging - with Nimble's being more sophisticated. With Nimble, you can create message templates (and use merge tags); you can also view basic reports on open rates.

With both systems however, you are sending email via your own email SMTP, so send limits apply (these vary depending on your provider).

For very large mailouts, it's best to use a dedicated e-marketing solution - and both Capsule and Nimble offer integrations with Mailchimp.


Attaching files to contacts

When it comes to file storage, Nimble offers more functionality – you can attach files directly from Google Drive or Dropbox to a contact’s record (which means when they are updated in Google Drive or Dropbox, they’ll effectively be updated in Nimble too).

With Capsule, you have to upload files to the system itself (which of course eats into your storage quota).


Support desk functionality

Capsule is better than Nimble when it comes to running a support desk.

For a start, its ‘cases’ functionality can actually serve as a simple support desk out of the box; and it also integrates with the popular Zendesk system easily too. With Nimble there is no built in support desk feature and you will need to use a third party tool such as Zapier to hook a support desk system up to it.


Sales pipelines

Both Nimble and Capsule allow you to create custom sales pipelines or use their suggested templates. These allow you to create ‘deals’ or ‘opportunities’ and track their progress.

Some basic financial reporting is available with both tools, although for any serious bookkeeping or accounting work, you’ll probably need to use a dedicated product such as Xero.


Ease of use

Capsule is arguably easier to use than Nimble – but that’s probably because it does less, certainly when it comes to contact management and social media. But Nimble’s interface is in general pretty clean and intuitive too, and the learning curves for both systems are not as steep as those you might encounter with several competing products.


Mobile apps

Capsule and Nimble both provide iOS and Android mobile apps, which allow you to access selected features on the go. These apps are both surprisingly comprehensive.

The Capsule App allows you to add contacts directly from your phone's address book. As the company points out, the import process is particularly useful if you have an app to scan business cards on your phone, because with the card scanner app you can save the contact to your phone and then import it into your account using the app.

Similarly useful is the way that you can sync your phone calendar with the Nimble App. 

 
 Capsule's mobile app

Capsule's mobile app

 

Nimble also provides a mobile app for scanning business cards, which is also very handy.


Support

Capsule's support is via email or Twitter during UK office hours, Monday to Friday. It'd be nice to see phone support added too.

It's not madly clear what Nimble's support offering is - if you click the support link on their site, you're taken to a Q&A page. In the bottom right hand corner you'll see an easily missed icon which allows you to ask a question - but I wasn't able to work out whether this was live chat or email.

Either way it said 'back in three hours'...to be honest, I think Nimble could up their game a bit here.


Which is better, Capsule or Nimble?

Both Capsule and Nimble are good CRM options for SMEs.

Capsule is generally a bit better for users on a budget: it's less than half the price of Nimble (remember, I'm ignoring the $9 Nimble Contacts plan!), and you still get a solid CRM tool. You also get better task management and 'cases' which to a degree provide helpdesk functionality out of the box.

Nimble integrates better with Gmail and Office 365, and because it scrapes information from the web about contacts, it's better for providing information about leads and clients.

    Finally, please see below for a summary of why you might want to use one of these products over the other.


    Reasons to use Capsule over Nimble

    • It's considerably cheaper.
    • It allows you to run a basic helpdesk using its 'cases' functionality.
    • It integrates well with the popular helpdesk tool Zendesk.
    • Its 'tracks' functionality has the potential to significantly improve workflow - as yet, Nimble does not provide similar functionality.
    • It's arguably a bit easier to use.
    • It exports tags in a more logical way.

    Reasons to use Nimble over Capsule

    • Its social media functionality is a bit more comprehensive.
    • It is not necessary to BCC contacts to add a record of an email communication to Nimble.
    • Sync between G Suite and Nimble is 2 way for calendars.
    • It generally comes closer than Capsule in providing an ‘all in one’ solution for calendars, task management, email and social media communications.
    • It integrates with Google Drive and Dropbox
    • It integrates more effectively with Office 365.
    • The Smart Contacts App is very useful in providing context about contacts.
    • It provides more functional group messaging

    Free trials

    As ever, we suggest that you try out both products before committing. Capsule offer a free 30-day trial; Nimble offer a 14-day free trial (which I have found can be extended if you contact their support team).


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