Shopify vs Squarespace (2019) — Which is Best?

In this comparison review we take a detailed 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).

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, whereas Shopify was specifically created as a solution for making an 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 technically a website too, 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 content-driven 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 more 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. 

 
Laying out content in Squarespace is easy, and the options for doing so are extensive.

Laying out content in Squarespace is easy, and the options for doing so are extensive.

 

However, what you have to bear in mind with Squarespace is that it very much takes a ‘walled garden’ approach to website building.

By this I mean it’s a very ‘closed-off’ system — the latest version of the product, 7.1, doesn’t allow you to import or export content; integrating third-party apps is not always straightforward; and you don’t get full access to your site’s code.

Despite this, many users will find Squarespace a very nice platform for building a content-driven website indeed, primarily because:

  • it’s very easy to use

  • the templates are extremely well designed

  • basic tweaks to colours and typefaces are allowed

  • the walled garden approach, despite its faults, means that the platform is reliable and there isn’t much in the way of site maintenance necessary.

The bottom line is that, used well, Squarespace can help you put a professional-looking site very 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?


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Building an online store

When it comes to the e-commerce features of both products, as you might expect, Shopify’s heritage as an online store building solution generally trumps Squarespace’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 more easily

  • integration with a very extensive range of third party apps that extend the functionality of your store significantly (apps include integrations with Quickbooks, Zoho and Zendesk to name just a few).

  • advanced reporting features

  • a much wider range of payment gateway options.

I’ll focus on all all the above in depth later on in the comparison. But first, let’s take a look at pricing, because how much e-commerce functionality you get with both Squarespace and Shopify depends very much on how much you’re prepared to pay.

Pricing

Key differences between Squarespace plans

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing options:

  • 'Personal' — $16 per month

  • 'Business' — $26 per month

  • 'Basic Commerce' — $30 per month

  • 'Advanced Commerce' — $46 per month

Discounts for all of the above are available if you purchase a plan on an annual basis (the above four plans, respectively, work out at $12, $18, $26 and $40 per month when you pay upfront for a year's service). The above prices are exclusive of any applicable taxes.

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.

  • You will pay 3% transaction fees on any sales generated using the 'Business' plan (no transaction fees apply on the higher-level plans).

  • 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 e-commerce feature, abandoned cart recovery, you will need to go for the most expensive 'Advanced' plan.

  • You get a year's free GSuite account on the 'Business' plans and up (one user only)

  • You only get dedicated e-commerce reporting on the ‘Basic Commerce’ and ‘Advanced Commerce’ plans

  • On the 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans you can avail of integrated accounting via Xero (US only).

  • 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 Google Ads voucher (for new Google Ads customers in US and Canada only)

  • Both ‘commerce’ plans make it easier to print labels for any products you post, thanks to an integration with Shipstation

  • 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 start at $2000 per month)

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

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 a standalone online store; rather, it allows you to sell on your existing website or a 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 Shopify plans — meaning that you can avail of this important feature considerably cheaper with Shopify than with Squarespace (from $9 per month vs $46 per month respectively).

  • 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.

Transaction fees are a percentage fee of your sales charged by your e-commerce platform (in this case Squarespace or Shopify).

Credit card fees are a 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 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.

Shopify doesn’t disclose the credit card fees or payment gateway costs for Shopify Plus — you can expect to negotiate these when you sign up for that type of plan.

It's important to note that the above fees vary according to what country you're in — for example, in the UK, where we're based, Shopify credit card fees are significantly lower.

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

  • Denmark

  • Germany

  • Hong Kong SAR China

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • The Netherlands

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • Spain

  • United Kingdom

  • United States of America

Shopify users elsewhere will need to use a different payment gateway — but the good news is that 100+ external 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).

When Squarespace launched its e-commerce functionality, it 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 with Squarespace, probably the world's best-known payment gateway — as a payment processor. Fortunately however, Squarespace have introduced a Paypal integration, which opens up 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.

And, because you can only sell goods using Stripe from certain 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 sell using it 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., you don’t intend to sell anything — then on the surface of things, Squarespace offers a considerably cheaper way to do this, with its $16 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 the standard Squarespace data capture forms

  • promotional popups and announcement bars are not facilitated

  • there is a restriction on adding CSS or javascript to your site.

The third restriction is possibly the most serious, because it rules ruling out design customisations that can't be made using the standard Squarespace controls. It also means that it’s hard (if not impossible) to add a GDPR-compliant cookie banner to your Squarespace site (I’ll discuss the fun issue of GDPR in more depth later on in this review).

Accordingly, many users are probably best advised ignoring the ‘Personal’ Plan in favour of the more expensive ‘Business’ plan, which at $26 lifts all these restrictions and provides e-commerce functionality too. This plan comes in a bit cheaper than Shopify’s cheapest ‘full e-commerce’ plan (i.e., the plans which allow you to build a complete, standalone online store): you pay $26 per month for the Squarespace 'Business' plan versus $29 per month for the Shopify 'Basic' plan.

However, when you consider that Squarespace charges 3% transaction fees on its '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 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. Let’s go through the key features of Shopify and Squarespace.


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Key features

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 a bit easier to use than Shopify’s. Its 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) make it 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 90 bundled templates to Shopify's 10. (Note however that with the rollout of Squarespace’s latest version, 7.1, this number is dropping to around 60).

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 (there’s around 20+ free themes on offer).

Squarespace template (‘Shift’)

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 the Squarespace templates — and this is in keeping with the issues discussed above regarding content presentation vs selling online — are geared towards users who want to blog or showcase an art, photography or music portfolio.

Of the 90 or so individual Squarespace templates currently available, only a few are dedicated online store themes (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 built-integrations with Unsplash and Getty images. These provide you with a very easy way to add stock images to your website — when adding a picture to a page, you can simply use a search box to find something suitable on either service.

Both integrations are great and are particularly helpful for bloggers who need to find strong images quickly to accompany their posts, or Squarespace designers who are working on sites for clients who have not supplied any photos. The Unsplash integration is particularly welcome, given that the quality of its free images is in most cases pretty high.

And if all that wasn't enough, Squarespace makes it really easy to use video backgrounds on any page — you can now select any Youtube video as a background for the banners on your pages, with stunning results. You just enter the relevant Youtube URL into your page settings and Squarespace will use it as the background. You also get a few video playback speed options and colour filters to play with.

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 64 paid Shopify themes to choose from, most of which contain several variations. This 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 simple to use — you can browse all the available templates 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 — as you might expect by now — being the more obvious choice for content-driven websites, and Shopify being the more obvious choice for those wishing to create an online store.

Let’s move on now to getting content in and out of both platforms.

Importing and exporting content

Squarespace

The situation with Squarespace and importing and exporting content is a bit confusing. This is because there are technically two versions of the platform currently available, 7.0 and 7.1.

In 7.0, you can import content easily enough — both blog posts and products can be migrated across to the platform. Blog posts can be imported if they are in Wordpress format, and you can import products via CSV or from Big Cartel, Etsy or Shopify.

Similarly, 7.0 also lets you export content — you can export your blog posts to Wordpress format or your products to CSV format. Restrictions do apply here however — Squarespace only facilitates exports of physical and service products (digital products are not exportable), and it limits the number of products you can export (to 2,000 products, with each variant counting as a limit). And on top of that, it limits the number of product options you can export to 3.

The shocker with the latest version of Squarespace, 7.1, is that it doesn’t facilitate any content import or exports at all. This is quite remarkable — and in my view effectively rules Squarespace out for any users who want to reserve the option to move to another platform if their requirements one day outgrow Squarespace’s capabilities.

Although using Squarespace 7.0 is still an option for new users, it’s not clear how long this will remain the case — so, with the direction of travel being as it is, if you can foresee a situation where you will need to export content, it’s worth approaching Squarespace with caution.

Shopify

Shopify lets you import and export products easily enough via CSV (and, unlike Squarespace, doesn’t place any restrictions at all on exporting digital products). For more extensive importing functionality — for example, bulk upload of digital products — third-party apps like FetchApp can be used.

Importing and exporting pages and blog posts isn’t really doable out of the box in Shopify — but again third-party apps can help here too (for example Blogfeeder or Exlm, which both give you a wide range of options for getting your content in and out of Shopify).

The key takeaway here is that if you ever envisage migrating to another platform in future, Shopify is by far the better bet.

SEO (Search engine optimisation) in Squarespace and Shopify

A key area that I feel is handled better by Shopify than Squarespace is search engine optimisation (SEO).

First, for all products and pages, Shopify generates a page title and meta description automatically based on the content of your page, which a lot of the time — particularly where products are concerned — often provides a very good SEO starting point.

Second, Shopify refers to the core SEO elements by their proper names; this is not always the case with Squarespace. In Shopify, you're dealing with page titles, meta descriptions, alt text — all the standard terminology you'd expect. In Squarespace however you sometimes encounter things like 'captions' and 'descriptions' — which can be used for SEO purposes but can also, if you're not careful, or are using certain templates, end up visible on your template.

Squarespace has improved its SEO setup quite a bit bit recently, making it easier to enter SEO titles and meta descriptions, but further improvements are still needed, particularly when it comes to adding alt text to images.

Despite the shortcomings of the Squarespace CMS when it comes to SEO, it should be noted that it is definitely possible to optimize a Squarespace site well for search engines — see our Squarespace SEO tips for some important advice on how to make a Squarespace site rank in search results. It’s just that the Squarespace SEO options could be better implemented.

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 prefixes 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 prefixes.

On the whole though, I’d argue that Shopify's approach to SEO is a bit better than Squarespace's.

(Tip: for a rundown of how to optimize 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).

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 couldn’t 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.

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

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, 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 or Printful in conjunction with Squarespace could present some workarounds. Either option is 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 three Squarespace apps available, which work on both Android and iOS:

  • Analytics

  • Commerce

  • Squarespace (version 7.0 only).

Of the above, most users are realistically going to appreciate the ‘Commerce’ and ‘Squarespace’ apps the most, as these allow you to manage orders and edit content on the go (respectively).

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

The ‘Squarespace’ app is a relatively new addition to the range of mobile apps provided by Squarespace. At the moment it allows you to edit content and manage comments on your site (note that it doesn’t seem to cater for e-commerce yet though). My hunch — although I may be wrong — is that eventually this app will become the main Squarespace mobile app, incorporating the functionality provided by all the others.

Shopify provides quite a few apps too, 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 app 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 or the Apple Messages app.

VAT and selling digital goods in the EU

If you're selling digital goods to consumers in the EU, and you expect to make over €10,000 per year doing so, there's something you may 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 potentially tempting 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 $11 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.

The disadvantage is that you are placing all your eggs in one basket — if for whatever reason you lost access to your Shopify or Squarespace account, and you had bought a domain from these companies, you would be losing access not just to your CMS but your domain too. And from an SEO point of view, a domain is hugely important to a business (particularly established ones).

Ultimately I think its safer to buy a domain using a reputable third-party provider, and tweak the DNS settings (which is not a terribly complicated job anyway) to map the domain to your Squarespace or Shopify website. That’s what I generally recommend that our clients do.

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).

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 a consistent 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 all have 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.

Product options

Another area where Squarespace has an edge over Shopify involves product options.

In Shopify, you can create just three options for your store products — for example, colour, size or material. Squarespace lets you create a far greater number of these (I am not sure of the upper limit, but based on my own tests, it’s definitely possible to create more than 10).

That said, you can get around the product option limitation in Shopify, so long as you are prepared to pay for a third-party app like Infinite Product Options to do so.

Both Shopify and Squarespace let you create 100 variants of your products based on the options you’ve created.

Reporting

If you're looking for a platform with professional reporting functionality, then Shopify is a much better option than Squarespace. Although the Squarespace reporting offering has improved quite a bit recently, the stats provided are still of a much 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 rather basic 'dashboard' report containing topline figures only.

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 up traffic, and by extension sales. 

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

In terms of which is better, I'd say Squarespace's blogging functionality has an edge over Shopify's. This is 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.

However, as discussed earlier, the latest version of Squarespace doesn’t facilitate content export — something which is of particular relevance to users who blog regularly. Simply put, you don’t want to end up in a situation where you have thousands of blog posts that you can’t migrate to another platform easily. The lack of an export feature raises big question marks about the suitability of Squarespace as a blogging platform.

Third party integrations

A 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 Mailchimp, Xero (US only), 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. For bespoke functionality, you can code something yourself, or buy some third-party code snippets which are increasingly referred to as ‘Squarespace plugins.’

AMP in Shopify and Squarespace

Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) is a relatively new and 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 in the past made quite a lot of noise about the fact that it partners with Google to offer Squarespace users a G Suite 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

  • reset passwords

  • configure G Suite MX records

  • review G Suite invoices

This functionality is easily accessible through the G Suite admin panel, so the integration isn't all that mind-blowing. More appealing is the year's free account - this offers a reasonably good saving, particularly for solopreneurs who only need one email 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 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 reserves 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 things stand, so long as you choose to use Squarespace 7.0, there is also 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. The latest version of Squarespace, 7.1, does away with this however.


Email marketing in Squarespace and Shopify

A very important feature of running a website is capturing email addresses: your ability to communicate effectively with leads via e-newsletters is vital to business growth. Let’s look at how Squarespace and Shopify stack up on this front.

Integrating an email marketing tool with Squarespace and Shopify

Both Squarespace and Shopify allow you to capture email addresses to a third-party email marketing solution of your choosing.

If you are a Mailchimp user, you’ll find Squarespace a more straightforward option than Shopify, because it allows you to link your Squarespace forms directly to Mailchimp — it’s simply a case of selecting ‘Mailchimp’ as your form storage solution and clicking an ‘authorize account’ button. (Same goes for Google Drive too — you can send your data to a Google Sheet in a similar way).

Email address capture options in Squarespace

Email address capture options in Squarespace

If you want to use Mailchimp with Shopify, things get a bit trickier, as due to a spat between the two companies over data protection, the official Mailchimp-Shopify integration is no more. It’s still possible to integrate Mailchimp with a Shopify store, but you’ll have to embed a Mailchimp form on your site or use a third-party integration to do so. Alternatively, you can use another email marketing tool such as Getresponse to handle e-newsletter proceedings in Shopify (for which an official integration still exists).

Moving away from Mailchimp, if you’d prefer to use a different email marketing tool with Squarespace forms, you’ll usually have to use Zapier to create an integration between the app and your Squarespace site, which can result in additional costs and set up time. Alternatively, you can use HTML code to embed forms from other email marketing providers onto Squarespace site pages.

The bottom line on capturing data is that Squarespace makes it slightly easier to do for Mailchimp and Google Drive users; but more integrations for other leading email marketing apps exist for Shopify.

However, depending on their requirements, Squarespace users might not need to worry about integrating a third-party email marketing tool into proceedings, due to Squarespace’s recent introduction of a built-in solution called Email Campaigns.

Let’s take a look at that.

Squarespace Email Campaigns

Squarespace recently added significant new functionality to its platform with the introduction of its ‘Email Campaigns’ feature. This allows you — for an additional fee — to capture email addresses and send newsletters to them directly within the Squarespace interface.

In terms of pricing, there are four plans available:

  • Starter — $5 per month to send up to 3 e-newsletters and 500 messages per month

  • Core — $10 per month for 5 e-newsletters / 5,000 messages

  • Pro — $24 per month for 20 e-newsletters / 50,000 messages

  • Max — $48 per month for an unlimited number of newsletters / 250,000 messages

On the plus side, the Starter and Core plans are undeniably cheap by comparison to the entry-level plans available from dedicated email marketing solutions, and allow you to dip your toes into the world of online direct marketing without a significant outlay being involved.

Squarespace’s new Email Campaigns feature

Squarespace’s new Email Campaigns feature


Another key benefit of using this feature is that you can manage both your website and mailing list — arguably the two most important online assets of any business — in one place; and, to a degree, your emails will be consistent with your brand (depending on which typeface you use on your site — not all will be available in Squarespace-created e-newsletters).

On top of that, the email templates — as you’d expect from Squarespace — are strong, and easy to edit, with a drag-and-drop interface that is quite similar to Squarespace’s web page editor being used. And you can drop content from your site easily into your newsletters — for example, blog posts or product information.

However, the pricing of this feature is very confusing and probably won’t suit those with even fairly modestly-sized mailing list. Although all the Email Campaigns plans allow you to capture an unlimited number of subscribers, depending on the plan you choose, you may struggle to send each of those subscribers a message — or may be limited in the number of email blasts you can send each month.

And, although it’s nice to see basic autoresponder functionality being included with Email Campaigns, the automation provided is currently very basic by comparison to that provided by dedicated email marketing tools like Mailchimp or Getresponse.

And finally, Squarespace Email Campaigns forces you to use a double opt-in approach to data capture — i.e., your subscribers have to click a link in a confirmation email before they are added to your list. Whilst this leads to cleaner lists, it also massively reduces sign-up rates.

So, if you’re looking for a professional email marketing solution, I’d still be more inclined to go for a dedicated email marketing app — but if your needs are on the basic side, and you’re keen to manage everything in one place, then Squarespace’s Email Campaigns is not a bad option, and it would be nice to see Shopify introduce a similar tool (particularly given the demise of the Mailchimp-Shopify official integration).


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.

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 (i.e., the ones developed by the company itself), 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 customize your template by adding your own CSS or HTML to it, in which case the Squarespace support team effectively reserve the right not to support you fully. 

I've had more experience of Squarespace’s support than Shopify’s, and it's varied from being brilliant (when dealing with technical issues to do with SSL) 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 precisely 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 (particularly Squarespace).

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.

It’s probably fair to say that most Shopify and Squarespace users (people who are probably using code-free store builders for a reason!) are likely to plump for the second option; and based on 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.

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, with a bit of configuration, products like CookiePro 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 my own appeals to their support team for help on this issue have proved pretty fruitless! Thankfully though, there is a solution, involving OneTrust’s CookiePro product. It’s a bit of a time-consuming thing to set up, and a slightly complex process is involved, but it does work nicely — for a full overview of the steps involved, check out our guide on how to add a GDPR-compliant cookie banner to a Squarespace site.

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 to solve the 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 out of the two products here, Squarespace is 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).

The biggest reservation I have about Squarespace is the fact that the latest version of the product does not facilitate import or export of content or products. If you think you’ll ever be in a situation where you need to move your site to another platform, then think very carefully before choosing Squarespace as your website builder.

On the e-commerce front, 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 with VAT MOSS functionality available, Shopify is arguably 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 like the sound of Shopify’s e-commerce features, 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. This is a fairly straightforward way to start dropshipping on Squarespace.

Although both platforms could perform better where GDPR is concerned, it’s fair to say that merchants wishing to have a high level of compliance on their website will find that this is probably easier to achieve with Shopify, especially in the area of cookie consent.

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 import and export products and content; this is not the case with Squarespace.

  • Abandoned cart saver functionality is available at a considerably lower price point with Shopify.

  • You can run a dropshipping business 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 control over the HTML and CSS of your website.

  • Reporting is considerably 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 downloads 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’s SEO functionality is a bit better than Squarespace’s.

  • 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; this is not the case with Squarespace.

  • There are more template variations available in Shopify (but you will have to pay a premium to use many of them).

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 free templates to choose from.

  • If your main aim is to showcase content, particularly images, then Squarespace is the more elegant, flexible solution.

  • You can search for and add Unsplash images directly to pages on your Squarespace site — this is a great (and free!) way to source images for your website.

  • 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 slightly cheaper than Shopify.

  • Product images are handled considerably better by Squarespace.

  • Its product limit is significantly higher than Shopify’s.

  • Blogging features in Squarespace are better than the Shopify equivalents (although remember that you won’t be able to export your blog content if you use version 7.1 of the platform).

  • 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.

  • Mailchimp and Google Drive users will find it easier to integrate these products into a Squarespace site.

  • Squarespace now faciliates (basic) email marketing campaigns.

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.


Alternatives to Shopify and Squarespace

If you are on a budget, then Wix is worth a look (paid plans allowing you to build a standalone website start from $13 per month — this is significantly cheaper than either Squarespace or Shopify). Check out our Wix review and our WordPress vs Wix comparison for more information on this platform.

If you’re hoping to build an e-commerce site, you might like to investigate Bigcommerce; 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). See our Bigcommerce review and our Bigcommerce vs Shopify comparison for more details.

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.


More Shopify and Squarespace resources

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


Any thoughts or questions?

If you've used either Shopify and Squarespace (or both!), it'd be great to hear your thoughts on these 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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