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Shopify vs Volusion (2018) | Comparison of Two Leading Online Store Builders
 Shopify vs Volusion - image of a shopping cart beside the two company logos.

In this Shopify vs Volusion comparison review, we pit two very well-known online store builders against each other.

Read on for an overview of their pricing and key features, and find out which of these well-known e-commerce platforms is best for your business.


About Shopify and Volusion

Shopify and Volusion are platforms which allow you to create an online store. They work in a similar way, in that they are hosted solutions - they run in a browser and there is no software for you to install locally (i.e., on your own computer). This means that you can build and manage your store from anywhere, and on any suitable device, so long as you have an internet connection.

Both are 'software as a service' (SaaS) solutions - you pay a monthly fee to use them,  and this gives you the tools to create and maintain your store: templates, a content management system, hosting, e-commerce functionality and support.

The fundamental idea behind both tools is that even if you don't have coding or design skills, you can create an online store easily enough using them.

Let's find out how the two products compare.


Pricing

Shopify pricing

Shopify offers 5 pricing plans:

  • 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).

 Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing

With Volusion, there are 4 plans to choose from. The pricing structure is very similar to Shopify's:

  • Volusion Personal: $29 per month

  • Volusion Professional: $79 per month

  • Volusion Business: $299 per month

  • Volusion Prime: custom pricing, based on requirements

 Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

A comparison of the Shopify vs Volusion entry level plans

Shopify can get you selling online cheaper than Volusion via its $9 'Lite' plan; this is $20 cheaper than the $29 Volusion 'Personal' plan.

However, the Shopify plan doesn't allow you to actually set up a fully functional online store but rather allows you to:

  • sell on Facebook

  • use Shopify's back end in conjunction with a Shopify 'Buy' button which you can embed on your website (this works in a similar way to a Paypal button)

  • make use of the Shopify point of sale kit (more on that anon).

Volusion's 'Personal' plan, by contrast, allows you to create a fully-fledged online store for $29 per month - but there are limits on 

  • the number of products you can sell (100)

  • the type of support you receive (with this plan, no phone support is available).

No product limits apply on any of the Shopify plans (the Shopify Lite plan does however restrict support to email or live chat only however).

Transaction fees

In addition to charging you a monthly fee to use their software, some online store solutions take a cut of each of your transactions. One key advantage of using Volusion over Shopify is the complete lack of transaction fees on any of its plans.

With Shopify, you can also avoid transaction fees on all its plans - but only if you are happy to use Shopify's own payment processing option, Shopify Payments.

There is a bit of a problem with this, because it is only available to users selling from certain territories, namely

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

Shopify users based in countries not included on the above list can make use of a wide range of third-party payment gateway processors - but if you use one, transaction fees will apply (2% on 'Lite' and 'Basic' plans, 1% on 'Shopify' and 0.5% on 'Advanced').

Key things to watch out for with Volusion and Shopify pricing plans

The key things to look out watch out for when comparing Shopify's pricing to Volusion's are probably the following:

  • Product limits: no limits apply on any Shopify plan, whereas Volusion limit the product numbers to 100 and 5,000 on its 'Personal' and 'Professional' plans respectively.

  • Volusion apply sales limits to their plans: $50k, $100k and $150k on the Personal, Professional and Business plans respectively. By contrast, no sales limits are applied on Shopify plans.

  • Abandoned cart functionality: you can access this on the $29+ Shopify plans, but it's only available on the $79+ Volusion plans.

  • Manual order creation: Shopify allow you to create manual orders on all plans, but Volusion only allows you to do this if you are on their $75+ plans.


Core features

Shopify and Volusion offer a similar set of key features out of the box, and allow you to:

  • design your store using a range of pre-existing templates

  • create catalogues of products

  • manage your store using a CMS

  • optimise your products for search

  • accept online payments via a range of payment gateways

Let's zoom in on a few key features, and see how they stack up against each other.


Templates

Both Shopify and Volusion offer a wide range of templates, all very professional in appearance. They are responsive too, meaning that they will automatically resize themselves to suit the device your store is being viewed on. You can choose either a free theme or a paid-for one.

In terms of quality, both the Volusion and Shopify themes are of a high quality and I wouldn't have any particular reservations about using any of the themes I've encountered from both companies as a starting point when designing an online store. 

 Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Let's look at quantity though - this is where Shopify has a bit of an edge.

Free templates from Shopify and Volusion

At first glance Volusion seems to offer slightly more choice in the free template department - there are 11 free templates to Shopify's 10. However, most of the free Shopify templates come in 2 or 3 variations, so there's actually a bit more choice available from Shopify. 

Paid-for templates from Shopify and Volusion

Both Volusion and Shopify offer a wide range of paid-for templates, but again Shopify provides more options: there are 57 paid-for themes available from Shopify to Volusion's 34, nearly twice as many.

You can also pick up a Shopify paid-for theme slightly cheaper: they range in price from $140 to $180, whereas all the Volusion themes all cost $180. (Volusion themes used to be incredibly expensive, so this reduction in cost to $180 per theme is a welcome development.)

And finally, the Shopify premium themes are arguably a bit slicker, featuring more contemporary design features like video backgrounds and parallax scrolling.

Finding the right template

Finally, the Shopify theme store is set up in a way which makes it easier to find the right template for your online store: you can browse using a wide range of filters, including price, style, industry and more; by contrast, Volusion doesn't provide any filters (other than 'free' or 'premium').

Overall, when it comes to templates, it's hard not to conclude that Shopify's offering is significantly better than the Volusion equivalent.

A Volusion paid-for theme


Payment gateways

Both Shopify and Volusion integrate with a large number of 'payment gateways' - third party tools that process credit cards on your behalf. However, you can use more payment gateways with Shopify - over 100 to Volusion's 34.

It's important to note that the number of available payment gateways available for use in Volusion varies significantly depending on what part of the world you're operating in - in the US, for example, you can make use of around 30 Volusion payment gateways, whereas in Europe, this number drops to just 8.

Both tools come with an 'out of the box' payments solution too: 'Shopify Payments' and 'Volusion Payments'. Shopify Payments, as mentioned above, can only be used by merchants based in the United States of America, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Volusion Payments is only available to merchants in the US, and unlike Shopify Payments you'll have to pay a monthly fee to use it. You also have to go through an application process which takes 5-7 days.

All this means that Shopify is a hands down-winner in both the third-party payment gateway department, and its out-of-the-box option is more attractive than Volusion's too.


Apps

Apps allow you to bolt on a lot of additional functionality to an online store, and integrate third party web applications with it. 

Both Volusion and Shopify have app stores, but Shopify users can benefit from a much wider range of apps than Volusion users: there around thousands of Shopify apps you can integrate with your store, but only 71 Volusion ones.

Although Volusion's apps do cover the basics, the reality is that Shopify users will benefit from a significantly larger number of options when it comes to apps (and these cater for major third party apps like Xero and Freshbooks).

There are also hundreds of free apps available for Shopify...but only ten free apps for Volusion.


Dropshipping in Volusion vs Shopify

Many potential users of Volusion and Shopify will want to know how well it handles dropshipping

Dropshipping is a way of selling products where you don't keep the actual products in stock. Instead, you take an order, redirect it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your customer. A lot of people are attracted to this way of selling products because you don't need much capital to start up your business; the down side is that competition in the dropshipping marketplace is fierce, and sourcing products that are made ethically by reliable suppliers can be a challenge.

If dropshipping is what you want to do then - as with much else discussed in this review - you'll find that the options are considerably more extensive in Shopify. There are tons of apps available for Shopify to facilitate it, but with Volusion, you're limited to just two dropshipping apps / suppliers: Doba and Kole Import.

For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest you check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Point of Sale options

Both Shopify and Volusion facilitate Point of Sale transactions - in other words, you can do business in the real world (selling goods in a retail outlet, pop-up store or event) use these platforms to both accept payment and sync inventory.

You can buy hardware directly from Shopify to faciliate point of sale transactions - this includes a barcode scanner, a receipt printer, a till and a label printer. All these allow your Shopify store to become more than just an 'virtual' entity; it can double up as a tool for running a business in the 'real' world too. All your customer and order data is synced with Shopify, so everything to do with sales and inventory is kept neat and tidy. 

You can use POS on any Shopify plan (using an app and a card reader provided by Shopify), but it's worth noting that if you want to make use of more sophisticated POS hardware (tills, barcode scanners and so on) you will need to be on the more expensive 'Shopify' plan or higher. 

Shopify's point of sale options are very comprehensive

POS functionality is available in Volusion too - you can use a variety of UPC scanners, card readers and receipt printers with it, so you will be able to use the platform in much the same way as Shopify's.

The key difference between Shopify and Volusion when it comes to POS applications however is that whereas Shopify make it a key part of the offering, and more of an 'out of the box' feature, it's more of an 'add on' service for Volusion which will require you to give more thought to the third party hardware you use (and possibly spend more time tweaking configuration settings to make this hardware work with Volusion).


Adding a blog to a Volusion or Shopify store

Shopify offers an extremely important feature out of the box that is missing from Volusion: a blogging tool.

You might not immediately think that a blog is a key part of an online store - but in this day and age of content and inbound marketing, regular posting of quality blog content is absolutely essential to generating traffic to a site – and by extension to generating product sales.

It is possible to link a third-party blog (i.e., a Wordpress blog) to your Volusion store and mess around with DNS settings so that everything works neatly enough and your blog lives on a nice-looking subdomain…but it is a headache and probably one that a less experienced user will want to avoid. Shopify’s built-in blogging tool is a much better solution - you simply get a blog on your store that very easy to update.

That said, the Shopify blog is fairly basic - if you want to do advanced post categorisation and tagging, or particularly need an archive of older versions of posts, you might be better off with a third-party blogging platform such as Wordpress.

The majority of users will be able to make do perfectly well with a Shopify blog however, so for me this gives Shopify yet another edge over Volusion. 


Ease-of-use

Shopify has got a considerably better user interface, and when testing these two products against each other, I've always found that putting a simple store together is much, much quicker in Shopify than in Volusion.

Volusion now provides you with a step-by-step wizard to help you get started with your store - this is a welcome improvement - older incarnations of the Volusion back end sort of threw you in at the deep end.

 The Volusion interface

The Volusion interface

However, if you follow the Volusion wizard process to the end, it concludes by asking you for your credit card details. This is extremely annoying and goes against the spirit of offering a free trial! It is possible to get around this by clicking a back button...but it's not ideal and some users will find the whole thing irritating or confusing.

Once you've gone past the wizard stage, you'll find it oddly difficult to do some very simple things with the Volusion interface – like reorder the navigation or add a simple ‘About Us’ web page.

I've used many a site / store builder in my time, but with Volusion I've had to resort to Google searches to work out how these simple tasks are performed – instant proof that this system is not, shall we say, all that intuitive. The same tasks did not present any problems at all in Shopify, which comes with a much more straightforward CMS and WYSIWYG editor.

Finally, both products allow you to tweak CSS and HTML, so if you are a relatively experienced web developer, you’ll be able to configure your store extensively.

My overall verdict on user friendliness is that Shopify is way, way easier to use than Volusion. (The below vlog-style video gives a walkthrough of the Shopify interface - unfortunately I can't source a similar video for the new version of Volusion).


Marketing features

Volusion offers some rather interesting marketing features out of the box, notably a tool that allows you to create your own affiliate programs, a CRM system and a basic email marketing tool that allows you to send newsletters to your contacts directly from within Volusion.

The affiliate program could be useful for some users, but I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to the CRM side of things, because it doesn't support email systems that require SSL integration (with Gmail, used by millions of businesses worldwide, being an obvious casualty).

Volusion's email marketing tool is also quite a useful feature to have built into an online store solution - but there are limits on how many e-newsletters you can send out per month. The Volusion help pages, rather unhelpfully, don't provide the limits for the current plans, but list the limits for their old pricing structure instead. 

  • Mini Plan: newsletter emails not included

  • Plus Plan: 200 emails / month

  • Pro Plan: 1000 emails / month

  • Premium Plan: 2000 emails / month

Assuming that these limits broadly correspond with the new plans, it's clear that they are not overly generous — and accordingly, this feature is probably only going to be of use to merchants who are starting out on their e-commerce journey. Successful merchants will have larger lists and will most likely make use of a dedicated email marketing tool like Getresponse or Aweber.

Comparable marketing functionality is not really available out of the box with Shopify, but you can integrate it easily with a wide range of third-party CRM and email marketing tools by using an app from Shopify's app store. You can also use an affiliate app like Tapfiliate to  create an affiliate program for a Shopify store.

All in all Volusion's idea of providing marketing tools that let you operate your store and marketing campaigns using one platform is a nice one - but the tools themselves feel rather underpowered and you'd in all probability have a better experience (and gain more functinality) using dedicated third-party ones.


SEO in Volusion vs Shopify

Both Volusion and Shopify allow you to extensively tweak key SEO settings, including page title, URL, alt text, meta descriptions, 301 redirects etc. — all the stuff you'd expect to be able to change without any difficulty in a professional e-commerce solution.

As with much else however, I generally prefer the Shopify setup in this regard. There are two areas in particular that I feel Shopify handles better: 301 redirects and search-friendly URLs.

301 redirects

When you change the URL of a product or page, it's vital to let Google and other search engines know about this, by creating what's known as a 301 redirect.

In Shopify, this is done automatically for you every time you change a URL; but in Volusion, it's a case of going into a 'Redirect Manager page' and uploading an XML file. This is the kind of stuff that reinforces my general feeling that Volusion is not really geared up (yet) for users without much in the way of a technical knowledge around website building.

Search friendly URLS

Another oddity regarding SEO in Volusion concerns search friendly URLS. Search engines generally prefer short, 'clean URLs' containing keywords rather than variables (i.e., 'www.mystore.com/green-dress' rather than 'www.mystore.com/cat125/?productid=1234'). By default it seems that Volusion prefers the latter approach, and if you want the former you have to go into settings and ensure that a 'search-friendly URL' setting is switched on. Again, needless legwork.

And on top of that, the process involved in tweaking URLs in Volusion in order to get them into a search-friendly format seems overly-complicated — as their help page on the topic demonstrates.


Userbases and history

There are two important 'due dilligence' questions to ask yourself when investing in any hosted e-commerce or website building solutions:

  • How many people actually use this product?

  • How long has it been about?

The answers to these questions are important, because they let you know how much you can 'trust' the solution you're considering using - for example, a relatively new company with only a few users on their books is more likely to go bust or shut down their service, with serious consequences for your online store.

User figures / revenue

In terms of userbases, we can only go on the numbers provided by Shopify and Volusion. Shopify states that there have been 600,000 stores built with their platform; Volusion states that over 185,000 stores have been built with theirs.

Volusion claim that there are currently 30,000 active Volusion users. This is dwarfed by the figure provided by Shopify, who claim to have over 1,000,000 active users.

According to Shopify, their product has been responsible for $63bn in sales; Volusion's claim is $28bn. 

Company histories

Shopify is a somewhat newer kid on the block than Volusion; whereas Volusion has been around since 1999, Shopify opened its doors for business in 2006.

This puts the userbase and sales figures into context: Shopify has grown its business more quickly in a significantly shorter period of time, to the point where its userbase and sales have considerably eclipsed the corresponding Volusion figures.

Ultimately you'll need to draw your own conclusions from these figures, but they probably point to Shopify being a safer bet than Volusion over the next few years. 


Support

Volusion offers online support on all plans, but phone support is only available on its $79 'Plus' plan and up. Shopify's phone support is available on its $29 'Basic' plan and up.

My hunch is that if you're a Volusion user, you are more likely to require phone support than if you're a Shopify user, simply because the Volusion interface is way less user-friendly.

Unlike with some competing products, it's easy enough to find a phone number for Volusion - you can either call a number listed on the home page of their site or you can use a 'schedule call' option (you can access this when logged into your Volusion Dashboard by clicking the 'Get Help' link at the top right of the screen).

Accessing phone numbers for Shopify involves a slightly fiddlier process - you have to search for a solution to your problem and fail to find one before you can see any phone numbers. When you do get to see them, you'll note that numbers are only provided for a few countries - North America, New Zealand, UK, Australia and Singapore...it's not entirely clear what number you need to ring if you live outside of these territories. I'm guessing it's the US one.


Which is better then, Shopify or Volusion?

So which is better, Shopify or Volusion? Well, as you’ve probably guessed as this post has developed, I'd argue that Shopify is the hands-down winner in this particular e-commerce platform shootout.

There are seven main reasons why I think it's a better product:

  • its user interface / CMS is much easier to use

  • it provides a wider range of free templates

  • there are no limits on bandwidth or products to worry about

  • it allows you to integrate a significantly larger number of apps into your store than Volusion does

  • it's a better bet for dropshipping

  • it allows you to blog ‘out of the box’

  • optimising a Shopify site for search engines is a more straightforward process

All this, I feel, makes Shopify far more suitable for use by people who want to set up an online store, but have little or no experience of building a website.

And speaking of building a website, Shopify generally makes it easy to do just that – you could, if you really wanted, ignore the online store aspect of things altogether and build a whole website fairly easily using Shopify.

It would be a pretty silly thing to do, as there are more comprehensive, cost-effective options out there for building a site without e-commerce functionality (see our Squarespace review or our Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison for some ideas), but the point is that with Shopify you get a very complete, generally easy-to-use package which allows you to build an entire website that is simple to maintain and comes with a fully-featured online store and a blog.

Volusion’s offering is more exclusively about the online store side of things and as such it comes with more online store-related functionality out of the box; this is fine, but many people who want an online store also need it to double up as an informational website (and blog) too. 

I guess my main issue with Volusion though is that it feels more like a tool for web developers rather than 'normal people' (!) who simply want to get a store off the ground quickly - and my feeling is that people who want to say, sell pottery online are too busy making and selling pottery to take a night class in web development.

For me, any system which presents a user with information about CSS files when he/she tries to create a simple navigation menu (as Volusion does) screams “hi developers!” rather than “hi novice”. Requiring users to upload an XML file to create a redirect is another example of this tech-heavy approach.

Any ‘techy’ stuff in Shopify (and there is plenty of that if you need it) is kept largely out of the way in the back end – it’s accessible alright, but not shoved in your face. This is far less intimidating for anyone who doesn't know what an ASP file is (the majority of people on this planet, I suspect).

That’s not to say that Volusion is an entirely bad product. If you are technically savvy, or a web developer, you should find it relatively straightforward to set up and use, and you may find that it has a bit more online store functionality (though not content management features) than Shopify.

Additionally, it can work out a bit cheaper to run a Volusion store, because (payment gateway provision aside), no transaction fees are charged on each purchase. If, however, you are a small business owner without any web skills, and you want to get a simple online store off the ground yourself with a minimum of fuss, Shopify is a much better, easier option.

Reasons to use Shopify over Volusion

  • It's significantly easier to use than Volusion.

  • There are more themes to choose from, and its paid-for themes are cheaper than the Volusion equivalents.

  • You can sell an unlimited number of products on each plan.

  • Blogging functionality is built in.

  • A wider selection of payment gateways is available.

  • A significantly wider selection of apps and integrations is available.

  • Point-of-sale functionality is more comprehensive and 'built in'.

  • Its own payment system, Shopify Payments, does not involve transaction or monthly fees.

  • Abandoned cart functionality is available on the $29 Shopify plan; you'll need to be on a $79+ plan to avail of this important feature with Volusion.

  • Its SEO features are easier to use.

  • There are no sales limits on any plans.

  • It has a larger userbase - which arguably makes it a safer bet.

Free Shopify trial

Reasons to use Volusion over Shopify

  • There are no transaction fees on any plans.

  • Some users may find its built-in marketing features (CRM, affiliate program and email marketing tools) useful.

Free Volusion trial


Free trials of Shopify and Volusion

As I always say at the end of these sort of comparison reviews, it’s usually a good idea to try both products out yourself before committing to one of them, and fortunately both come with a free trial.


Any thoughts on Shopify vs Volusion?

If you've used both Shopify or Volusion (or both!) in the past, I'd love to hear your thoughts on both systems - feel free to add comment below (note, if you're viewing this on a smartphone and can't see the comments section, you may be reading an Accelerated Mobile Pages version of the page - if so, click here to view the regular mobile version, where you'll be able to view and add comments. Thanks!). 

Shopify Reviews (2018) - all the 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 August 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 Shopify 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

  • point of sale functionality - unless you are on a 'Shopify' or higher plan, some point of sale features will not be available to you (we'll discuss point of sale in more depth below).

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 are available from 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 nseooting about Shopify Payments is that it is available only for users based in certain countries.

These are:

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Republic of Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

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 55 (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 your store's CSS and HTML

  • a 'buy now' button that you can use to sell goods on an existing blog or site

  • access to a point-of-sale app

  • 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 the more expensive 'Shopify' plan, you also get:

  • gift cards

  • professional reports

  • full point of sale functionality

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.


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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 hardware.

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

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

Shopify's POS hardware lets you use Shopify to sell not just online but in physical locations too – as long as you have an iOS or Android device. A wide range of hardware is available to purchase (barcode readers, tills, receipt printers etc.); and merchants in the USA and Canada can avail of a free 'chip and swipe' card reader for their mobile device (iOS or Android) from Shopify.

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.

It's important to note however that you need to be on the 'Shopify' plan or higher to get the most out of point of sale. This is because although the 'Lite' and 'Basic' plans do let you sell in person using a card reader, they don't allow you to use any additional POS hardware. They also don't facilitate multiple staff accounts. So basically, if you have serious point of sale requirements, you will effectively have to opt for a more expensive Shopify 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 e-commerce platforms.

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 SEO features

Shopify's SEO feature set is generally good and compare favourably to other platforms (especially Squarespace and Jimdo).

The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO in Shopify are easy to manage - changing page titles and meta descriptions is very straightforward, as is adding headings and alt text. 

Adding 301 redirects is also very straightforward, and in fact Shopify automatically prompts you to do this (and creates the redirect for you) if you change a page's URL.

There are a couple of areas where Shopify SEO could be slightly better: although you can customise your URLs, the platform adds prefixes to your pages and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages

  • /posts/ before posts

  • /products/ before products

In an ideal world, it would be good not to have these prefixes there, as Google's search algorithms prefers shorter URLs.

The other thing that it should be easier to do is change image file names - if you want to change a file name for SEO purposes, you'll have to rename it locally and then re-upload it.  

But all in all, the SEO features of Shopify are robust and I don't have any major complaints. For more detailed information about how to optimise a Shopify store for search, you can check out our Shopify SEO guide.


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 (last time I checked, 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 fine and will meet most merchants' 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 new app out called called 'Ping', which makes it easier to answer queries or share your product details with customers when chatting with them over Facebook Messenger (more chatting services are soon to be supported, according to Shopify). 'Ping' is currently available exclusively on iOS.

 Shopify's 'Ping' app

Shopify's 'Ping' 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 a more direct 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 and GDPR compliance

I am not a lawyer, so please note that the below observations should not be interpreted as legal advice, but I'm going to do my best to spell out some of the key GDPR issues facing Shopify users below.

In the light of the EU's new GDPR laws, there are many legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting EU customers' and visitors' privacy. There are pretty serious financial penalties for not doing so (to the point where it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about what to do); and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.

Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key priorities for prospective Shopify store owners are to: 

  • provide adequate privacy and cookie notices

  • process and store data securely

  • get explicit consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters

  • provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website (and to log that consent).

Shopify lets you the first three requirements easily enough, although you will need to spend time (and possibly money) creating adequate notices and crafting data capture forms so that they are GDPR compliant.

Where it currently falls down a bit is on the fourth requirement — cookie consent. To ensure GDPR compliance, you need to display a cookie banner to your visitors which

  • allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give 'prior consent')

  • logs their consent to run cookies

  • allows them to revoke consent at a later stage

So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Shopify store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a banner in place which does all of the above.

Now, out of the box at least there is not a way to give visitors to your Shopify store a way to switch these off. However, there are quite a few apps in the Shopify app store which claim to deal with this problem and provide this functionality (note that some seem considerably better than others however). Alternatively, you can use scripts provided by services such as Cookie Pro and Cookiebot to add a GDPR-compliant banner to your website. 

I would prefer, however, if this issue was dealt with by Shopify at source and adequate cookie banner functionality provided without the users having to recourse to third-party software. 


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, but of course the only way to find out if Shopify is for you is to test it out fully yourself – a 2 week free trial is available here. Or if you need help designing a Shopify website, do get in touch: we build Shopify stores regularly for clients.

Finally 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.

  • Getting your site to be GDPR compliant where cookies are concerned will involve use of a third party cookie banner app.

  • 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.

You might also like to check out Squarespace, although you need to bear in mind that Squarespace's e-commerce functionality is rather more limited than the likes of Shopify, Bigcommerce or Ecwid.

And finally, there's always Wordpress. Wordpress is a different beast to Shopify in that it is not a SaaS (software as a service) product: you will have to build your own site and host it yourself. However, there are LOTS of ways to sell products using it. Check out our Shopify vs Wordpress comparison for more details.


More Shopify reviews and resources

You may find our in-depth article on Shopify fees useful; additionally, you might like to read some of our other Shopify revierws 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 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 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.

Let's dive into the website building stuff first.


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 web design agencies and, as the name suggests (!), developers.

The latter is the best version to use if you intend to customize 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 fairly tightly, and if you try to get around this by adding your own lines of CSS to your template, Squarespace support can be 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 very good
  • basic tweaks to colours and typefaces are allowed
  • 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...


While you're here: we build both Squarespace and Shopify websites. Please do contact us today for more information on how we can get your Squarespace or Shopify website off the ground quickly and professionally.


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

Key differences between Squarespace plans

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.

The plans are as follows:

  • '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 contributors (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.

Key differences between Shopify plans

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 fees usually come in 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
  • professional 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:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Shopify users elsewhere will need to use a different payment gateway — but the good news is that 100+ gateways 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 opened 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 considerably 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 quite a lot of very important functionality.

For example, on the Personal Plan,

  • you can't hook up Mailchimp to your data capture forms * 
  • promotional popups and announcement bars are not facilitated
  • there is a restriction on adding CSS or javascript to your site (thus ruling out design customisations that can't be made using the standard Squarespace controls)

* There is a workaround here involving using 'naked' Mailchimp forms and styling them using inline CSS, but it's not ideal for the kind of 'novice' users that the Personal Plan is aimed at.

Accordingly, many users are probably best advised ignoring 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 per month 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 as far as e-commerce is concerned, 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 these 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 shortly), 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
  • as we've discussed, a much wider range of payment gateway options.
 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's interface is the more elegant of the two, and 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, and it seems to work better in some browsers than others).

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 70 bundled templates to Shopify's 10.

That said, there's a very wide range of Shopify paid-for templates available — more on these 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 70 or so Squarespace templates available, just 12 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 can work 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 55 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).

The paid-for Shopify 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. Additionally, 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

Importing

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

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

Squarespace by contrast 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.

Exporting

When it comes to getting your product data out of both platforms, Shopify is the more flexible tool.

This is because Shopify lets you export all your products, irrespective of type (to a CSV file); Squarespace only facilitates exports of physical and service 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 SEO 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, or using certain templates, 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 could 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 redirection better than Squarespace. If you change a page's URL, Shopify will prompt you to create a 301 redirect to that page (if you tick a checkbox, this is done automatically for you). A 301 redirect 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 engines, you might want to check out our Shopify SEO and Squarespace SEO guides).

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 Shopify - 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. (I'm 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 'Ping', which makes it easier to manage queries and share your product details with customers when chatting with them over Facebook Messenger. More chat services will be supported soon apparently.

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'; Shopify will however 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 separately 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 they don't offer as many TLD (top level domain) options as you'd find with a dedicated domain name provider (for example, you might not find that your country's TLD domain is catered for).

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.

There are two ways to get around this: first, you can manually edit all your images in Photoshop or other image editing program so that they are all in the same aspect ratio...but this is a bit of a pain.

Alternatively, you can make use of a third party Shopify app such as Pixc to resize images on your store automatically after you upload them (Pixc handles 150 images for free and charges a monthly fee of $0.05 if you go over this).

Neither workaround is ideal if I'm honest, and it would be better if Shopify just allowed you to set a standard product image ratio out of the box.

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, 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 one of 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 a slight edge over Shopify's. This is chiefly because you can do more with the blog content — you can drop it easily into any page or sidebar of your site using attractive and flexible 'summary blocks'.

You can also add both categories and tags to posts in Squarespace; Shopify just permits tags.

Third party integrations

A very big 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 may have to be prepared to put a bit of legwork into the setup time however.

AMP in Shopify and Squarespace

Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) is a new, Google-backed, 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, paid-for app like RocketAmp or FireAMP.

However the Shopify apps 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
  • delete users
  • configure G Suite MX records (this 
  • 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. 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 remembering of course is that you can only add CSS to your site and inject code into your page headers if you're on a Squarespace 'Business' plan or higher — the 'Personal' plan disables this functionality.

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) 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 designers in question.

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. 

I've had more experience of Squarespace support than Shopify, and it's varied from being brilliant (when dealing with technical issues) to appalling (when dealing with GDPR-related enquiries).

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.


Shopify and Squarespace GDPR compliance

I am not a lawyer, so please note that the below observations should not be interpreted as legal advice, but I'm going to do my best to spell out some of the key GDPR issues facing Squarespace and Shopify site owners in this section.

As you will have probably spotted as a result of receiving a load of emails recently from companies asking you to resubscribe to their mailing lists, business and website owners now have a lot of additional legal responsibilities as a result of the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules introduced by the EU in May earlier this year. 

There are many legal steps that the GDPR requires business owners to take to ensure compliance, and fairly serious penalties for not doing so (to the point where it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about what to do), but the key ones for prospective Shopify and Squarespace users are probably as follows:

  • Display adequate privacy and cookie notices on your website
  • Process and store data securely
  • Get explicit consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters
  • Provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website (and to log that consent).

Now, meeting the first three requirements with either Squarespace or Shopify is fairly straightforward (although you will have a bit of legwork to do in terms of creating GDPR compliant privacy policies and data capture forms).

Meeting the fourth requirement however is harder, and in my view Squarespace and Shopify should be doing more to assist their customers to meet this GDPR obligation.

Basically, whenever you use non-essential third party cookies on a website — for example a Facebook Ads pixel or a Google Analytics tag — you are legally obliged to give EU visitors to your website the option to switch these off BEFORE they continue to browse your site (even if your site is based outside of the EU). 

You are also obliged to log EU users' consent to any non-essential cookies being used, and give them the option to revoke that consent at a later stage. Cookie banners are usually used to facilitate this, but the old 'By using this site you are consenting to cookie usage...' statement on a banner is not good enough any more — you need something far more sophisticated.

Sadly, out of the box there is no way to facilitate this kind of GDPR cookie consent for third party scripts on either Shopify or Squarespace, meaning that many (if not the vast majority of) Squarespace and Shopify users end up breaking the law as soon as they add a third-party cookie  to their website. 

To get around this problem, you will need to either:

  • code something yourself
  • make use of a third party solution.

Most Shopify and Squarespace users are likely to plump for the second option; and in my research into this area so far, it seems that Shopify is the more flexible platform when it comes to integrating third party cookie banners into proceedings. 

For a start, there are quite a lot of apps in Shopify's app store which provide GDPR compliant banners and cookie consent functionality (note that some seem considerably better than others — if in doubt about how robust a particular Shopify GPDR app is, consult a lawyer!). Alternatively, products like Cookie Pro or Cookiebot can be used to capture cookie consent for Shopify sites.

As for Squarespace, because it doesn't provide an app store, there are no dedicated apps to solve this problem; and Cookiebot, one of the leading cookie banner products available, does not yet work fully with it.

I've been talking to the team at Cookie Pro however, who do say that their product works with Squarespace; so I'm going to have a good investigation of Cookie Pro shortly (chiefly with a view to making my own Squarespace sites and those of my clients more compliant with GDPR!) and will hopefully have a write-up to share in the not too distant future.

Bottom line on GDPR: you can make a Shopify or Squarespace site GDPR compliant, but it will involve some work (and ongoing fees, if you're using a third party cookie banner solution), with Shopify providing you with more options on solving this problem. 


Which is better, Shopify or Squarespace?

Well, 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.

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 (or are prepared to put a bit of time into setting up a lot of tax rates manually).

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 — its 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 (another option for beefing up the e-commerce functionality on a Squarespace site is Ecwid).

In summary, here are the reasons why you might pick one of these platforms over the other:

Reasons to use Shopify over Squarespace

  • With Shopify, you can export all types of products; in Squarespace you can only export digital ones.
  • 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 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).
  • 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.
  • It's easier to meet GDPR requirements with Shopify than it is with Squarespace, mainly because more third-party apps which provide cookie consent functionality are available for Shopify.
  • 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). There are also more templates to choose from.
  • 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 a bit 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:

And finally, a reminder that we can help you build both Shopify and Squarespace websites! Please do contact us for more information on how you can get a Shopify or Squrespace website off the ground quickly and professionally with Squarespace.


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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10 Apps that Can Transform Your Business
 Picture of the number 10. Accompanies article about 10 apps that can improve your business

If you're thinking of starting a business, or improving an existing one, you're going to need the right tools for the job.

In this post we look at 10 types of app that can make your workflow more efficient and lead to an increase in business growth.


1. A productivity suite

Before you can do anything remotely exciting in your business, you’re going to need some apps that can take care of the boring (but very important) things: a reliable email account, file storage and productivity tools.

The industry leading productivity suites which provide all the above are Office 365 and G Suite (formerly Google Apps) - and it's quite hard to choose between them.

As such you might like to read our Office 365 vs G Suite review. This explains the core differences between the two productivity suites, as well as outlining what alternatives are available.


2. A website or e-commerce platform

It goes without saying that you'll need a website for your business. But with many website building platforms available, it's important to make the right decision regarding which one to go for.

If you're not intending to sell services goods online (i.e., your website is more of a portfolio or 'brochure' site with business ultimately taking place offline) then Squarespace is often a good bet for startups, because it's easy to set up a site with it, the templates are strong, and you get access to support.

Wordpress is another great option - and one that will give you more control over the aesthetics and functionality of your site - but there is a bit more of a learning curve involved.

If you’re selling products and services online, more thought is required. Although it's tempting to just embed a Paypal button on a web page to handle online transactions, there are much more sophisticated options available to you.

Ultimately, if you're serious about e-commerce, you’re going to need a platform you can use to to build a fully functional store: one that can adequately cater for things like product variants, shipping, tax rates and abandoned carts.

If you're starting from scratch and don't already have a website, then it's worth taking a look at tools like Bigcommerce, Shopify or Squarespace.

If you've already got a website you might find that Ecwid is a good solution for you (it's a 'widget' that's designed to add e-commerce functionality to an existing site).


3. Email marketing

A large mailing list is VITAL to the growth and long-term success of a business. 

Not only can email marketing provide a fantastic return on investment, it's a great way to share content widely (something which can build great brand awareness and even improve SEO).

Many new business owners think that a mailing list is simply a bunch of email addresses stored in an Excel spreadsheet that get emailed via Outlook from time to time.

Taking this approach is a big mistake. Dedicated email marketing tools allow you to capture email addresses via your website, host a large mailing list online, send beautiful HTML e-newsletters, automate communications and track results easily.

There are many great apps available - our favourites are probably Getresponse (which we use for Style Factory e-newsletters) and Mailchimp.

For more information about your options in this area, you can check out our email marketing tool comparisons here.


4. Growth hacking tools

Once you've got your website live and your email marketing app sorted, the next thing you'll need to do is grow the number of people visiting your site and joining your mailing list.

Now, there are a multitude of tools to help you do this. For example, you'll find apps that let you run A/B tests on your site pages to find out which is most likely to convert a visitor to a subscriber; tools that let you create video recordings of your visitors' behaviour on your site and analyse it; and 'welcome mats' which encourage mailing list subscription before any other action is taken on your site.

You'll find an exhaustive list of growth-hacking apps over on the Kissmetrics site, but for me, there are two particular aspects of growth hacking to zoom in on and prioritise when starting a new business: social sharing, and lead generation. You basically want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to share your content or subscribe to receive more of it. 

Tools like Sumo can really help you here, providing everything from sharing buttons to live chat to data capture 'welcome mats.'

You can get a free trial of Sumo here

Other similar services worth investigating include Addthis and Sharethis


5. CRM

CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’, and these days the acronym is usually used to refer to cloud-based software that allows you to keep track of and manage the business relationships between your organisation and your leads and clients.

Typically, a CRM app 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)
  • manage customer enquiries via a support ticketing system

Now, as with email marketing, many new business owners rely on Excel to handle all this sort of stuff - which, as with mailing list management, is a bad move when there are so many more sophisticated options available to you.

At the cheaper end of the CRM spectrum you'll find products like Capsule or Nimble; but you can pay big bucks for more sophisticated tools like Salesforce.

Which product is right for you will really depend on the nature and complexity of your business, but either way, finding the right CRM tool will usually be vital to ensuring that it grows successfully.


6. Cloud based accounting

Cloud-based accounting apps are increasingly popular and worthy of serious consideration over traditional spreadsheet usage.

A cloud-based accounting solution is connected to your bank account, meaning that all your transactions are imported into your accounting software in real time (i.e., no more copying and pasting transactions from your online bank account into a spreadsheet).

Not only that, but these apps you to raise branded invoices and produce detailed reports at the click of a button. They can give you access to in-depth analysis of your company finances, and make preparing a tax return significantly easier.

Because of these advantages, if you use a bookkeeper, it often makes sense to hire one that works 'in the cloud'.

Industry leading cloud-based accounting apps include Xero and Quickbooks.


7. A notebook

An oft-overlooked aspect of running a business is the amount of note-taking it involves.

From capturing brainwaves to taking minutes to jotting down a phone number of a potentially useful contact, you will find yourself taking a host of notes in your business life.

So, it makes sense to take them in the best possible way - and in my view, that's digitally, using a dedicated notekeeping app.

There are a plethora of notekeeping apps out there to choose from – but Evernote’s got to be one of the best.

It allows you to place text, images, files and research all in one digital workspace which you can then share with friends, colleagues and family. You can access Evernote across all your devices, meaning your notes are always with you. 

If you use a productivity suite like G Suite or Office 365 however, you may find that their 'Keep' and 'OneNote' products meet your needs perfectly well.


8. A to-do list

To-lists have been part of running a business since the year dot. They're a surprisingly vital part of running and growing a business: without them, nothing gets done.

As with much else in the business world, they've now moved online. And again, there are loads of options available.

Todoist is a simple but effective app for managing, as the name suggests, your to-do list. It works across devices and is available as Chrome extension too, meaning your uncompleted tasks are always following you around (perhaps I’m not selling this as well as I should). Nifty features include being able to turn emails into tasks and categorise tasks by project.

Wunderlist is another good option - for a few more, check out The Guardian's guide to to-do lists...


9. A scanner

Because so much of our working lives now involve storing documents in the cloud, having a scanner has become more important than ever.

And the good news is that you no longer need a dedicated device for this: you can use your phone.

Scannable is a must-have app for anybody who needs to scan or photocopy stuff. You just hover your phone above a document and it gets scanned quickly onto your device. You can then email it, save it to Evernote or plonk it in a cloud storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive. 

Dropbox now has its own scanning app too, which allows you to quickly get your stuff onto Dropbox.

Particularly if you need to get documents onto an accounting or CRM tool app quickly


10. A social media manager

Most businesses end up struggling to manage several social media profiles at once. It can be tricky to keep on top of them all or analyse what’s working and what’s not across all your channels.

This is where an all-in-one social media management tool like Hootsuite is invaluable. You can use tools like Hootsuite to manage all your social media accounts in one place; schedule messages across your profiles; measure your social media campaign performance and assign tasks to your team messages to ensure that all messages generated by your social media activity get answered.

All this improves your social media comms, or frees up time to do other important stuff!

Alternatives to Hootsuite include Sendible and Buffer.


We hope you've enjoyed this article - do feel free to add your thoughts on it using the comments section below (note: if you're reading this post on a mobile device, you may be viewing the 'AMP' version which disables comments. Clicking here will take you to the normal version, where you can add your comment).


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Bigcommerce vs Squarespace (2018) - Comparison Review
 Bigcommerce vs Squarespace - the two logos on different sides of a notebook

In this review we compare Bigcommerce vs Squarespace, to try to help you establish which platform is better for your business. We'll go through the pros and cons in depth and highlight why you might wish to use one product over the other.

Note: in this comparison we are discussing the 'standard' verison of Squarespace, aimed at general users, not the developer's platform.


Online publication, or online store?

Before plumping for either of these platforms you need to work out what you’re trying to build — an ‘online publication’ or an ‘online store’.

The reason why it’s worth taking some time to figure this is out is because both Bigcommerce and Squarespace started out life with different raisons d’êtres: Squarespace was initially conceived as an elegant / easy way to publish content; and Bigcommerce was conceived as a straight-up selling tool.

In recent years, both platforms have sort have morphed into each other a bit – the addition of e-commerce functionality to Squarespace means it’s now got a foot squarely planted on Bigcommerce’s turf; and the addition of blogging functionality to Bigcommerce has resulted in it developing into a tool that can technically be used for publishing content.

Despite the increasing similarity of both tools however, my take on them is that they still serve two rather distinct audiences: users who are more concerned with publishing content regularly – and laying it out in an attractive manner – would be wiser to gravitate towards Squarespace; and those who have more advanced selling requirements would be better off with Bigcommerce.

Let’s do a head-to-head on their pricing and key features though, so that you can make your own mind up.


Pricing

Monthly fees for Squarespace and Bigcommerce

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing options:

  • Personal - $16 per month
  • Business - $26 per month
  • Basic - $30 per month
  • Advanced - $46 per month 

Discounts for all the above are available if you pay annually - the monthly fees for the above plans work out respectively at $12, $18, $30, $40 when you pay upfront for a year's service.

Bigcommerce also provides 4 monthly plans:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month
  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month
  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business needs

If you pay upfront for a year's Bigcommerce service, you can avail of a 10% discount.

All Bigcommerce plans permit you to sell an unlimited number of products. With Squarespace, the 'Business', 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans also permit you to sell an unlimited number of products, but the 'Personal' plan doesn't provide any e-commerce functionality at all.

(Whilst on the subject of the Squarespace Personal plan, I would argue that despite it's comparatively low price, it's probably best to avoid it full stop. Not only does it not let you sell anything, it doesn't permit the integration of third party apps — including Mailchimp — or the addition of CSS / javascript).

Transaction fees

The good news for users of Bigcommerce is that there are no transaction fees to worry about (i.e., the company will not take a cut of your sales revenue).

You can avoid transaction fees from Squarespace too, so long as you are on one of their two most expensive plans ('Basic' or 'Advanced'). If you're on the 'Business' Squarespace plan, you will be charged 3% transaction fees respectively.

However, with both products you will need to choose a payment gateway. This will involve working with a third-party company that will take a cut of your sales. Let's take a look at the options.

Credit card fees / payment gateways

A payment gateway is a service that you essentially ‘plug in’ to your website to accept online payments.

This is an area where using Bigcommerce is significantly better than Squarespace - it works with around 40 payment gateways whereas Squarespace works with just two: Stripe and Paypal.

Let's look at the Squarespace options first. 

Because of it's ubiquity and large userbase, Paypal is a very useful payment gateway to be able to integrate into your site. It also doesn't involve any monthly fees. (The current Paypal merchant fees can be viewed here.)

Stripe fees also vary according to the country you are selling from. To give you rough idea however, in the US the Stripe credit card fees are 2.9% + 30c per transaction.

In the UK, a more reasonable 1.4% + 20p rate is charged when European cards are used, and 2.9%+20p for non-European cards.

It's worth noting that you can only use the full version of Stripe if you are based in certain countries – i.e., you can sell your products to any user in any country worldwide with Stripe but you can only do so from the countries supported by the company. As things stand, you can sell from 25 countries using Stripe (these include the US and several big EU member states).

If you don't live in a Stripe-supported country and want to sell with Squarespace, your only option is to use Paypal as your payment gateway. 

It's easy to integrate either Paypal or Stripe into your Squarespace account.

With Bigcommerce, you can use around 40 different payment gateways, so this means you can shop around to a degree to find the best deal when it comes to transaction fees (note however that not all payment gateways are available in all countries - how many you can use will depend on where you live).

There may be a bit of configuration work involved in integrating your chosen payment gateway into Bigcommerce, but generally speaking this won't involve much time or effort.

The other main option is to use Bigcommerce's 'out of the box' solution - this means using Paypal, powered by Braintree. Their credit card rates are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c per transaction
  • Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c
  • Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c

Using this option means a bit less hassle when it comes to setup.

Sales limits

One important thing to note about Bigcommerce when it comes to pricing is that the product has a 'maximum annual online sales' limit; depending on the plan you plump for, you will have to pay extra if you are fortunate enough to exceed certain sales limits.

These thresholds are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000
  • Bigcommerce Plus: $150,000
  • Bigcommerce Pro: $400,000
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable

(If you're on the Bigcommerce Pro plan, you can increase the sales limit by paying $150 per month for every additional $200k in sales, up to a maximum of $1 million.)

This contrasts negatively with Squarespace, where no such limits apply. I wouldn't describe it as a show-stopper — to be honest, if your sales are in the region of $150,000 per year you are not really going to quibble over a few hundred dollars. But that said, it is worth pointing out that Bigcommerce seems to be fairly unique amongst online store building products in applying these fees.

So which is cheaper, Squarespace or Bigcommerce?

It's a case of swings and roundabouts; a big fat case of 'it depends'. Here are a few things that I'd highlight about the comparative pricing though:

  • You can technically start selling slightly cheaper with Squarespace, on its $26 'Business' plan. However, the transaction fees are high on this plan — so, depending on your sales figures, this may be a false economy.
  • You can avail of real-time carrier shipping quotes cheaper with Bigcommerce - it's available on its cheapest plan (the $29.95 Bigcommerce Standard option). By comparison, you need to be on the most expensive $46 per month Squarespace plan to obtain this.
  • You can avail of abandoned cart recovery functionality (which can boost revenue significantly) more cheaply with Squarespace — it's available on the $46 monthly plan. By contrast, you'll need to be spending $79.95 with Bigcommerce before you can get your hands on similar functionality.

But pricing, as ever, is not the sole consideration to base your decision on. Let's look at some features. 


Templates

There’s no doubt about it: Squarespace offers the better-looking templates: they are beautiful and represent their strongest selling point.

That’s not to say that Bigcommerce’s are at all bad — they’re just not quite as slick as Squarespace’s offering. There are also far fewer to choose from: Bigcommerce only provides 7 free templates, whereas Squarespace offers around 70.

Bigcommerce does however provide a wide selection of paid ones: there are 120 themes available to purchase, which vary in price from $145 to $235.

I have couple of cautionary notes about both sets of templates.

First, I would argue that within the range of free and paid-for Bigcommerce themes, there is not a huge degree of the variety between templates — a lot of differently named templates look very similar.

And because Squarespace is a product which is focused at a much wider range of users than Bigcommerce - photographers, bloggers, bands, artists, restaurant owners etc. - a lot of the templates are not really of the 'online store' variety.

Accordingly, there are just 16 dedicated online store themes available in Squarespace. That said, you can sell using any of them, but if you plump for say, a Squarespace template that is designed with photographers in mind, you may find it slightly harder to use it as the basis for building an online store. 

This variety of purposes behind the Squarespace templates arguably reinforces the whole "Squarespace for content, Bigcommerce for an online store" vibe discussed at the start of this review.

 Squarespace's 'Bedford' template

Squarespace's 'Bedford' template


Editing HTML and CSS

In terms of editing, both Squarespace and Bigcommerce provide a style editor — a set of controls that allows you to tweak colours, typefaces and other aspects of the design. 

Squarespace makes it it harder to edit the code behind the templates — although it is possible on the 'Business' plan and higher to add custom CSS to Squarespace sites, the company don't really like you doing it (and may restrict their support offering somewhat if you do).

In terms of adding HTML, it is possible to add 'code blocks' to Squarespace sites, although not on every type of page ('cover pages', for example, don't support this).

You can also inject code to the header and footer of every page, which does open up quite a lot of configuration possibilities to those who are familiar with coding (note that code injection is only permitted on Squarespace 'Business' plans and higher, however).

Bigcommerce gives you full control over HTML and CSS, making it technically the more flexible solution on this score.

If you are an experienced developer however, or you know one, then using Squarespace developer's platform can be used to configure Squarespace sites in a more bespoke manner. 


Interface and content management

Both Bigcommerce and Squarespace are pretty straightforward to use, and their interfaces are relatively similar, in that you have a menu on the left which you can use to access key functionality and an area on the right which can be used for uploading/editing content and products or viewing data.

The best thing about Squarespace's interface is its drag and drop style ‘layout engine’ which is really fantastic for organising and showcasing your content in a variety of ways. However it can be a bit sluggish at times, and crashes a bit more often than I'd like.

 Laying out content in Squarespace is very easy

Laying out content in Squarespace is very easy

Bigcommerce's interface is now very similar to Shopify's; it's clutter-free and arguably a bit more responsive than the Squarespace one.

It is not remotely as flexible when it comes to laying out text and images - but then again, that's because it's primarily an online store builder, not a publishing platform.

A quick overview of the Bigcommerce interface

In terms of blogging functionality — very important for inbound marketing or content marketing applications — both platforms let you blog out of the box, which is great.

Squarespace’s blogging functionality is definitely better than Bigcommerce's however.

First, it is far more flexible when it comes to how you present your blog content. You can drop blog content easily onto any section of your site your site, using lovely ‘magazine blocks’ and ‘featured posts’ widgets.

These allow you to pull (and filter) text and images from your blog posts and display them in a variety of attractive ways. Bigcommerce doesn’t let you do that — the best you’ll get is links to your blog articles on your site footer.

Squarespace also provides RSS feeds for its blog posts (these can help your content appear on other sites, or power automated emails); Bigcommerce, somewhat inexplicably, doesn't facilitate RSS feeds for your blog content.


Point of sale options in Squarespace and Bigcommerce

Many online retailers also take their business out into the 'real world' occasionally - for example, selling product in physical locations such as retail outlets, markets, events and so on. This requires your online store platform to be able to work at 'point of sale' (POS).

A typical POS scenario would be where you want to use a card reader in conjunction with your online store system to take payments or email or text receipts to somebody who's just bought something from you in person.

Bigcommerce is definitely the better option here, because it integrates with several platforms - Square, Shopkeep and Springboard Retail - to provide this functionality.

Squarespace has yet to provide a POS option, so if you're thinking of selling goods in person but want to do this via your online store platform, then Bigcommerce is definitely the better option of the two.


SEO in Bigcommerce vs Squarespace

An area which is handled better by Bigcommerce than Squarespace is search engine optimisation (SEO).

First, Bigcommerce refers to the core SEO elements by their proper names; this is not the case with Squarespace. In Bigcommerce, you're dealing with titles, meta descriptions, alt text — all the proper SEO 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 also seem to end up visible on your website (depending on the template used)

Second, any time you change a URL in Bigcommerce, it will create an automatic 301 redirect for you (this tells search engines where to find your new page, and takes users to it if they stumble across the old URL). In Squarespace, you'll need to do this yourself manually — a slightly fiddly process which is easy to overlook, and can lead to broken link and negative SEO outcomes.

Finally, Bigcommerce allows you to create a simpler URL structure for products — something which Google prefers. By contrast, Squarespace product URLs involve a 'products' prefix (although to be fair, regular static Squarespace pages don't, and products can be embeded on static pages — providing a bit of a workaround).

For a more detailed overview of Squarespace search engine optimisation features, you might like to check out our Squarespace SEO guide.


Adding product reviews

Both Bigcommerce and Squarespace allow you to add a ‘review product’ option to your store items. However, with Bigcommerce this functionality is built in – on Squarespace you will need to use a third-party tool (which might not be a bad idea if it’s something like Disqus).

One really nice feature of the Bigcommerce reviews and ratings tool is that after a user buys a product, they’ll automatically receive an email a few days later asking them to review it.


Support

Bigcommerce is a winner when it comes to support – it provides more methods of contacting the helpdesk, and crucially, offers phone support, which Squarespace doesn’t.

Both platforms make you jump through a couple of hoops before they will let you near the contact details for their support team - you are encouraged to submit your question via an online form and review potential answers before relevant contact information is displayed.

Helpfully however, Bigcommerce provides a handy 'skip this step' option, which allows you to see the contact details more quickly.

With Bigcommerce, as soon as you sign up, you will get contacted via phone and email by one of their support staff seeing if they can help you set up your store (read: convert you to a paying customer).

Not every user will love this (some will find it a bit intrusive) but for those who do want a bit of hand-holding when setting up their store, it can be helpful.


Which is the best then, Bigcommerce or Squarespace?

As discussed at the outset of our Bigcommerce vs Squarespace comparison, the answer to this question boils down to what you want to do: showcase content or run an online store.

If you’d like to start an online magazine, publish a blog, run a band website or host a photographic portfolio – but maybe sell a few products on the side – you are probably going to be better off with Squarespace, as its templates (aestheticlally speaking) are superior to Bigcommerce’s and easier to present content with. The blogging functionality is better too.

However, if selling goods is your primary objective, then Bigcommerce is definitely the better bet. With more options around payment gateways and a wide range of other tools focussed specifically on selling goods in general, Bigcommerce is a better platform for ‘power’ online store users and is the more professional e-commerce solution.


Free trials

Both Bigcommerce and Squarespace offer 14-day free trials of their product. 


More Bigcommerce and Squarespace resources

Our e-commerce platform reviews section is packed full of posts about leading online store builders. Some articles which may be particularly relevant here however are:


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