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Shopify vs Amazon — which is better for online sellers? In this detailed comparison we walk you through the key features, pros and cons and pricing of these two leading ecommerce platforms in depth — and help you decide which one is right for your business.
The quick verdict
The main reason for using Amazon over Shopify is the access it gives you to a huge, ready-made market of online shoppers.
Shopify is the much better solution for building a standalone, fully-brandable online store — and one that you have complete control over. It’s also the better choice for starting a dropshipping business with.
The good news is that Shopify and Amazon can be used easily in conjunction with each other — so many merchants opt for a ‘best of both worlds’ approach and sell on both.
There are two ways to use this resource — you can watch our Shopify vs Amazon video below, or alternatively read the whole article (which contains a more detailed comparison). For the best overview of these ecommerce platforms and the differences between them, we recommend doing both.
Let’s kick things off with a look at the main difference between the two platforms.
Shopify and Amazon: the main difference
Shopify and Amazon are absolute giants of the ecommerce world. But although both services let you put your products in front of a huge audience, they are very different platforms.
Shopify is a tool that lets you build your own online store.
By contrast, Amazon IS an online store (and a HUGE one at that: last year, US-based Amazon sellers sold 3.8 billion products, which equates to 7,400 per minute!).
When you sell on Shopify, it’s the online equivalent of renting a space in which to set up your own shop.
And lots of merchants like doing this – Internet stats company Builtwith estimates that around 4.5 million sites are currently powered by Shopify.
But working with Amazon is more like selling your goods in a massive supermarket.
With Shopify, you’ll have more work to do to configure things the way you want — and find customers.
However, you’ll have total control over everything — you can decide:
- how your brand is presented
- what your storefront looks like
- how you advertise your products
- how you capture data
- the way you sell your goods.
With Amazon, the customer base is already there…but so is the competition.
To continue the supermarket analogy, having a storefront on Amazon is like having some shelf space in the supermarket aisle. Lots of people will walk past it, but will they reach out for one of your products — or choose one from the shelf above?
Both these ways of selling have their advantages and disadvantages — I discuss these in depth later on in this comparison.
But first: how easy are both platforms to use?
Amazon and Shopify are both designed to be fairly easy for ecommerce beginners to get going with.
When you sign up for an account on either platform, an onboarding setup process is provided that walks you through the key steps needed to start selling.
Additionally, a range of online resources and video tutorials is available to further support you.
However, the learning curves — while not especially steep — are quite different for both platforms.
With Amazon, you basically need to learn how to use a database — “Amazon Seller Central” — in the most effective way possible.
So, the key challenge new Amazon merchants face involves ensuring requirements about product name, details and catalogue numbers are met. There can be quite a lot of form-filling involved in setting up product listings on Amazon.
And there are quite a few hoops to go through to actually get an Amazon seller account in the first place.
In order to get started, you’ll need:
- A business email address or Amazon customer account
- A chargeable credit card
- Government ID
- Tax information
- Phone number
- A bank account.
With Shopify, you are building a new website. Adding products to your store is a simpler affair — creating them takes seconds, and you can enter as much or as little information about them as you like.
And all you need to get going with Shopify — initially at least — is an email address and basic contact details. You just enter these when starting a free trial.
However, with Shopify, you will have to become comfortable with web design tasks like:
- customizing themes
- creating web pages
- mapping domains.
Although the platform has been designed to facilitate this in as easy a way as possible, if you’re new to web design, there is still quite a bit to learn.
(Our new guide to building a Shopify store can help here).
Now, let’s take a look at branding and user experience.
Control over branding and user experience
When you sell on Amazon, you are fairly limited in terms of how you can present your business.
Although a few customizations are possible (you can add your business logo, for example), in general your storefront is going to look very ‘Amazony’ and you won’t be able to create much of a bespoke shopping experience using the platform.
Now in many ways, this is a good thing, because Amazon users expect a certain type of experience — and deviating too far from this wouldn’t necessarily be good for sales.
Shopify, by contrast, gives you a lot of control over your brand and user experience. A wide range of templates is available (116 at time of writing) and these can be tweaked to match your branding.
And, if you have the relevant technical skills to do so, you can adjust your store’s HTML and CSS code to further customize its layout and the user experience you provide.
Multi-currency and multilingual features in Shopify allow you to further customize the user experience — so the bottom line is that if you’re after a very bespoke shopping experience tailored to a particular buyer persona, market or location, Shopify offers this in a way that Amazon doesn’t.
Shipping and dropshipping
A particularly important area to zoom in on in the Amazon vs Shopify debate is shipping.
Shipping products with Amazon
With Amazon, you basically have 2 ways to ship products. You can either:
- ship them yourself, or
- send them to Amazon for fulfilment using its “Fulfilment by Amazon” (FBA) service.
Amazon FBA can be a brilliant option for some businesses, because it offers product storage to merchants and opens up super-fast ‘Prime’ delivery to shoppers (this is a delivery method that many consumers love).
It does, however, bring with it some additional fees.
Shipping products with Shopify
If you want to ship your own goods with Shopify, you can set your own shipping rates based on product weight, price, quantity and more — a very flexible range of options is available to you.
If you don’t want to fulfil your products yourself, you can connect your Shopify store to a third-party fulfilment service (including FBA — more on this shortly).
Alternatively, you can consider dropshipping.
And speaking of which…
Dropshipping with Amazon and Shopify
Dropshipping is a way of selling goods where you don’t make, store or fulfil any products. You simply take an order via your online store, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client. Your ecommerce site becomes, in effect, a middle man of sorts.
Tip: check out our new ‘What is dropshipping?’ guide for a really detailed overview of the dropshipping business model.
Although you can technically dropship with either Amazon or Shopify, Shopify is a much better solution for this type of online selling — and in many ways has been designed with it in mind.
With Shopify, you can connect your store to a very large number of dropshipping apps and suppliers (at time of writing, 444 in total); and there’s no sizeable investment involved with this.
You can, in fact use Amazon’s FBA service to fulfil items sold via Shopify — you’ll need to use a paid-for third-party integration to do so (see screenshot below).
- Retailers that you’re working with can’t ship directly to your customers unless they identify you as the seller of record — i.e., no orders can be shipped with packing slips, invoices, or other information that include a seller name or contact information other than your own.
- Unlike Shopify, Amazon takes a percentage of income from dropshipped sales (in the region of 10% to 15%), meaning that your profit margins can be considerably lower.
So all in all, Shopify generally works out as a better dropshipping solution than Amazon — especially if you’re aiming to dropship a high volume of goods.
The Shopify dropshipping starter kit
If you’re interested in dropshipping, I’d recommend that you take a look at Shopify’s dropshipping starter kit — with this, you get several days of free access to Shopify plus lots of bundled resources and tools that show you how to launch a successful dropshipping Shopify store.
Buy with Prime: a threat to Shopify?
Amazon recently announced a new feature, ‘Buy with Prime,’ that lets FBA merchants sell goods with Prime benefits on their own stores (namely a fast and familiar checkout process, next day delivery and free returns) by adding a snippet of code to their site.
According to Amazon,
“Buy with Prime will allow millions of U.S.-based Prime members to shop directly from merchants’ online stores with the trusted experience they expect from Amazon…Prime members will see the Prime logo and delivery promise on eligible products in merchants’ online stores, which signals the item is available for free delivery, as fast as next day, with free returns.”Amazon Press Team
This service is in its infancy, is invite only and currently only available in the US. But it the potential to move Amazon in a more Shopify-like direction — with merchants being able to run their own digital stores but using Amazon as a payment gateway and fulfilment service.
(It’s unlikely that Shopify users will be able to avail of this new Amazon feature, however: Shopify has recently indicated that merchants who attempt to use it will be in violation of their terms of service.)
Attracting customers to your store
There’s no doubt about it: if you’re looking for a ready-made customer base, Amazon is the clear winner in a Shopify vs Amazon shootout.
Because of its 300+ million user accounts in over 180 countries, its 2.9 billion monthly visits and its multi-billion dollar revenue ($127.1bn net sales in the third quarter of 2022), having a storefront on Amazon technically gives you a shop window to the world.
This is the major benefit of using the platform over a store builder like Shopify.
That’s not to say that you will immediately experience a rush of customers the moment you start selling on Amazon — but your products will be immediately available on a hugely popular platform that generates enormous amounts of revenue.
And, so long as you’ve identified a niche correctly and put work into creating quality product descriptions and a strong pricing strategy, you do stand a pretty good chance of generating sales.
Amazon’s algorithmic “customers also viewed” and “customers also bought” recommendations can also help boost views of your products — and if you start generating a number of sales, these automated recommendations can really help scale up your business.
(Marketing exercises like ‘Amazon Prime Day’ and Black Friday promotions can also help drive existing Amazon customers your way too.)
When you set up a Shopify store, you are basically starting from scratch — and because of this you’ll need to put a lot of effort into SEO, content marketing, online advertising and online PR in order for your store to start gaining visibility and customers. This can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavour.
On the plus side, if you succeed in it, you will have a powerful online asset that you control fully. Amazon can change its terms of business or its recommendation algorithms any time it likes, which can — in extreme cases — sink a successful business.
Although operating a Shopify store is not without risks either (the impact of Google core updates on your store’s performance in search results is probably the thing you have to worry about the most), there is a lot to be said for the relative independence, control and stability that running your own ecommerce site provides.
But overall, because of its ready-made customer base that you can tap into, Amazon definitely wins the ‘ease-of-attracting-customers’ battle.
Content marketing with Shopify and Amazon
The success of many online stores is now often linked to content marketing — where interesting blog posts are used to attract readers to websites (with the ultimate aim of selling them something!).
Thanks to a built-in blogging tool, Shopify makes it easy to create in-depth posts about your business area which can be used for these sorts of inbound marketing campaigns.
If you want to do content marketing for an Amazon product catalogue you will need to set up a separate blog (perhaps, for example, using a platform like WordPress or Squarespace) and insert links to your Amazon store’s products in your posts.
Local selling and point of sale
The COVID-19 pandemic made ecommerce a sudden necessity for millions of ‘physical’ businesses that were forced to close their premises during lockdowns.
Many of them turned to Shopify, and for good reason — the platform offers a really wide range of ways to sell online, facilitate Covid-safe pickup and offer local delivery services.
Additionally, because Shopify is a customizable solution that lets you create your own store — rather than just display a product catalogue — local businesses can use it to create online presences that really encapsulate the essence of their physical store.
As discussed earlier, you can use Shopify to create a presence that is entirely consistent with your existing brand; and, by running a site on your own domain, you can take advantage of local SEO techniques that can raise visibility of your business in your area too.
Amazon doesn’t really offer you a similar way to cater specifically to a local audience; it’s more about getting goods to as many people as you can, as quickly as you can.
This of course can be a very good thing, but if your business has a particular local focus, then Shopify is usually the better bet.
Additionally, thanks to its extensive point-of-sale (POS) features, Shopify can also be used to as a payment processor in physical locations too.
This lets retailers use one system to manage all their offline and online sales, and keep inventory synced — no matter where a sale has taken place.
Although various workarounds and integrations are available for Amazon that let you sell at point of sale, Shopify’s POS features are currently considerably more extensive and much more ‘baked in’ to the platform.
That said, Amazon is working on a new POS system (currently labeled ‘Project Santos’) which aims to take on the likes of Shopify, Square and PayPal — so the current edge Shopify has over Amazon when it comes to Point of Sale may, in time, change.
Project Santos also looks like it might lead to the development of an online store builder that will compete with Shopify in lots of other ways too — so Shopify vs Amazon debate may soon get a lot more interesting, and heated.
According to the online payments resource Pymnts.com,
“The proposed [Amazon] POS can reportedly process transactions online and in physical stores and has the technological chops to provide data analytics for inventory and other business functions…The system also can offer Amazon checkout options, and links to the company’s Prime services, palm identification system, and Flex delivery.”
So, it will be very interesting to see how Project Santos develops — but for now, Shopify still whens when it comes to POS.
How to save on Shopify
If you’re interested in using Shopify, you can save considerably on your subscription if you purchase your plan in a particular way. Here’s how:
- Start a trial using this special link.
- After your trial is over, you’ll be given the option to subscribe to Shopify for $1 per month for 3 months. Do this!
- When this period is over, purchase an annual plan. This gives you a 25% discount on your subscription.
SEO — a tale of two search engines?
A crucial part of success on either Shopify or Amazon boils down to your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts — and setting up a storefront on either platform means familiarizing yourself with how different search engines work.
With a Shopify store, the main search engine you’ll need to worry about is Google — when you run your own store on your own domain, it’s the main search engine that will be presenting your products to the world (others like Bing and Duck Duck Go will also do so, but Google currently gobbles up 92% of all search engine queries).
When you sell on Amazon, you’ve got to primarily focus on a different search engine — Amazon’s own one (this is often referred to as the “A9” or “A10” algorithm, depending on which blog you read!).
Amazon’s search engine is in fact, the second-biggest in the world, used for 74% of all product searches.
According to Moz (a key provider of SEO tools and data), it helps to think of the differences between the two search engines as follows:
On Amazon, people aren’t asking questions, they’re searching for products — and what’s more, they’re ready to buy. So, while Google is busy honing an algorithm that aims to understand the nuances of human language, Amazon’s search engine serves one purpose — to understand searches just enough to rank products based on their propensity to sell.Lorna Franklin, Amazon vs. Google: Decoding the World’s Largest Ecommerce Search Engine, Moz blog
So, to get the most out of your Shopify or Amazon store, you will need to conduct quality research into the best search engine optimization techniques for both. I’d recommend checking out the Style Factory Shopify SEO guide as a starting point for Shopify, and Moz’s guide to Amazon vs Google SEO for Amazon.
One thing to remember about Amazon stores is that — unlike Shopify’s — they present two SEO opportunities.
Not only can you optimize your storefront for Amazon’s search engine, but — because your Amazon store is indexable by other search engines — Google too.
This means that technically, an Amazon store presents you with more opportunities to get your products in front of a ‘search audience’ than a Shopify one.
Customer support for Amazon is available — but it’s not something that the company really shouts about.
Support is not listed as a key feature of plans on the Amazon Sellers’ website, and contact details for Amazon’s support team are not particularly prominent on any of the company’s online material for merchants.
You are mainly encouraged by Amazon to use the resources provided — help pages, community forums and video tutorials — to solve your own problems.
That said, you can request a callback from Amazon by logging into your account and locating a ‘contact us’ section.
By contrast, support is a key feature of all Shopify plans and it’s easy to find contact details for Shopify’s support team.
Live chat, email and phone support are available for the platform, as are support web pages in 21 different languages.
Ethics of Shopify vs Amazon
Something you don’t often see in Shopify vs Amazon comparisons is a discussion on ethics.
So, depending on your political outlook, dealing with this ethical dimension may raise dilemmas for you.
On the one hand, if you’re running an online business, it’s extremely hard to ignore Amazon as a sales channel — it is now the main way of purchasing goods for millions of consumers. By not offering your goods on the platform, you will be cutting yourself off from a huge customer base and the world’s second most popular search engine.
But by listing your products on Amazon, you are effectively buying into the company’s ethos and helping them to make money — and from a moral standpoint, you will need to be comfortable with doing that.
So if you do have sensitivities around this area, and want to take a more ethical approach to doing business, then setting up a Shopify store may be a good way to do so.
(Interestingly, in recent years Shopify has been actively positioning itself as something of a ‘good shop to Amazon’s bad shop‘ — whether or not this is entirely accurate depends on how its customers use the platform, but there’s no doubting that Shopify does at least give you the option to sell online in a way that more closely matches your values and moral approach to conducting business.)
We’ve discussed how Shopify and Amazon work, and their respective ecommerce features — now it’s time to look at how much they cost to sell with.
Shopify offers five monthly pricing plans:
- Shopify Starter — $5 per month
- Basic Shopify — $39 per month
- Shopify — $105 per month
- Advanced Shopify — $399 per month
- Shopify Plus — custom pricing according to requirements.
A free trial is also available; it last for three days and you can access it via this link. If you choose to purchase a Shopify subscription when your trial ends, you will only be charged $1 per month for the first 3 months (note, however that this offer is not widely available — you’ll need to use the below button to access it).
All these plans give you access to core ecommerce functionality (including unlimited digital and physical product catalogues, credit cart processing, gift cards, abandoned cart recovery, discount codes and an SSL certificate) — but there are some key differences to watch out for between Shopify plans.
These are as follows:
- The Shopify ‘Starter’ plan doesn’t let you build a standalone online store or use point of sale features — instead, it allows you to sell products through social media channels and messaging apps; or by embedding a ‘buy button’ on an existing website.
- How many users you can have on your account varies quite a lot by plan. For example, ‘Basic Shopify’ only lets you use two staff accounts; ‘Advanced’ lets you have fifteen.
- The ‘Shopify Plus‘ plan is focused on enterprise users, and prices vary depending on needs. On this plan, you can expect advanced security, API and fulfilment features, along with dedicated account management.
- Professional reports are only available on the $79 ‘Shopify’ plans or higher.
- Credit card fees are lower on more expensive plans.
- Transaction fees are not applied if you use Shopify Payments (Shopify’s built in payment gateway). If you use a third-party payment processor, transaction fees do apply and these vary depending on the plan you’re on (as you might expect, they’re lower on the more expensive plans).
To sell online with Amazon, you need to set up a ‘seller account.’ This comes in two flavours:
- Individual — $0.99 per item sold
- Professional — $39.99 per month
(These are US prices; pricing elsewhere varies a bit by territory, but the plan types are consistent).
In terms of the key differences between these payment options,
- The ‘Individual‘ plan is a ‘pay-as-you-go’ plan, where there is no monthly subscription fee to be paid; a referral fee for each item applies. However, this plan limits you to selling less than 40 items a month and doesn’t let you use any Amazon advertising services or access detailed reports.
- The ‘Professional‘ plan is a subscription service, so there’s a recurring cost involved. It lets you sell an unlimited number of goods, use all of Amazon’s selling features; set your own shipping fees; sell across multiple categories; advertise on the platform and add multiple users to your account.
On top of the costs associated with the plans highlighted above, Amazon takes a referral fee on every sale. These vary significantly according to the type of product you’re selling — but most selling fees are between 8% and 15%.
Now, because of the quite different nature of the Shopify and Amazon platforms, it’s hard to say which pricing structure is the ‘best value.’
However, if you are thinking of using Shopify, then I normally recommend the ‘Shopify’ plan as the ‘sweet spot’ option; and if you want to go down the Amazon route, the ‘Professional’ plan is really the only one that power users or professional merchants should consider.
Finally, if you are hoping to avoid referral fees altogether, the better option is Shopify.
Using Shopify and Amazon together
Although this comparison has so far looked at the differences between Shopify and Amazon, it’s really important to understand that you don’t have to use them in a mutually exclusive way.
You can actually integrate Shopify pretty tightly with Amazon via third party apps, for example ‘Amazon by Codisto’ and ‘Amazon by CedCommerce.’
These apps let you:
- create listings for products new to Amazon
- link your existing Amazon listings to your Shopify store’s admin
- receive notifications in Shopify for your Amazon orders.
You will need to pay for these sorts of apps (for the examples given, plans cost $15 to $199 per month, with some more expensive ‘Enterprise’ plans also available), but these apps do give you the best of both worlds — a brand and website of your own via Shopify, and access to the huge Amazon marketplace too.
The video below highlights some of the features of the ‘Codisto’ integration.
Ultimately, by having a presence on both Shopify AND Amazon, you’re giving yourself the most ways to grow your ecommerce business.
Shopify vs Amazon: the verdict
At Style Factory, when we compare two different ecommerce platforms, we usually find ourselves declaring a ‘winner.’
However, because Shopify and Amazon are quite different beasts, in this case it’s probably more useful to highlight the contexts where it might make more sense for you to use one over the other.
So, below you’ll find a summary of our main reasons for using Shopify or Amazon. And if you have any feedback on this post, or thoughts of your own regarding Shopify vs Amazon, do leave a comment below! We read all contributions and will do our best to answer any questions you may have.
Pros and cons of Shopify vs Amazon
Advantages of using Shopify over Amazon
- Shopify is a better option for merchants who need a standalone site on their own domain.
- It’s considerably more customizable, and lets you create a much more ‘on-brand’ presence than Amazon.
- It’s much a better solution for dropshipping.
- It’s a better option for small businesses in need of local selling and point-of-sale applications.
- Because of its built-in blogging features, Shopify lets you engage in content marketing more easily.
- Shopify arguably lets you do business in a more ethical way — question marks remain around Amazon’s approach to workers’ rights and taxation; using Amazon means buying into the company’s values and contributing to their revenue.
- Shopify lets you list products on Amazon, giving you the best of both worlds (note: a separate app is required for this).
- The Shopify app store gives you access to a huge library of interesting ecommerce tools — many of which aren’t available for Amazon.
- Whereas Amazon applies referral fees (typically 8%-15% per sale), you can avoid these entirely with Shopify (if using its built-in payment processor).
Advantages of using Amazon over Shopify
- Amazon puts your products in front of an existing audience comprising millions of people — with Shopify you will have to work considerably harder to develop a customer base.
- Because you are simply listing your products on an existing online store, you don’t really have to worry about any web design. By contrast, using Shopify means registering a domain and setting up a brand new website.
- Amazon sellers can target two ‘search audiences’ — people using Amazon’s own hugely popular search engine, and those using other search engines like Google and Bing. With Shopify you are mainly trying to appeal to just 1 search audience (i.e., users of traditional search engines).
Alternatives to Shopify and Amazon
When it comes to alternatives to Shopify, there’s no shortage of ecommerce platforms available that claim to offer similar functionality.
Of these alternatives, we generally recommend BigCommerce as the most obvious competing hosted store builder; it’s similarly priced and offers a broadly comparable feature set. You can check out our BigCommerce vs Shopify comparison review here or read our full BigCommerce review here.
Other competing hosted solutions include Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy and Big Cartel. Check out our Squarespace vs Shopify, Wix vs Shopify, Shopify vs GoDaddy or Big Cartel vs Shopify comparisons to see how all these products stack up against Shopify.
A lot of professional merchants also use WordPress as their ecommerce solution (in conjunction with a third-party plugin like WooCommerce or Ecwid). Using this platform generally requires more configuration than Shopify or Amazon, but you can ultimately put a great ecommerce solution together with WordPress (and one that can work particularly well from an SEO point of view).
As for Amazon, its online marketplace is fairly unique in its scale, and new businesses will be hard pressed to find a similar space where they can reach quite so many customers.
That said, there are quite a few other online marketplaces that might work well for your niche — Etsy and eBay are two obvious ones. (Our Shopify vs Etsy comparison and our Shopify vs eBay comparison will be of relevance here.)
You might also like to investigate more ethical alternatives to Amazon like EarthHero — more of these are appearing all the time.
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Shopify vs Amazon FAQ
What’s the key difference between Shopify and Amazon?
The key difference between Shopify and Amazon is that with Shopify, you’re building your own online store, but with Amazon, you’re listing your products on an existing online marketplace.
Which is cheaper to sell with, Shopify or Amazon?
Technically Amazon lets you sell more cheaply with its pay-as-you go ‘Individual’ seller plan — this free to use but you will be charged $0.99 per item sold. Shopify’s cheapest pricing plan is its ‘Starter’ offering which for $5 per month lets you sell products on a social media channel, messaging app or existing website.
Does Shopify work with Amazon?
Shopify works with Amazon — but only if you use a third party app to connect the two platforms (for example, the ‘Amazon by Codisto’ app).
Which is easier to use, Shopify or Amazon?
Both Shopify and Amazon are pretty easy to use — the main difference in the learning curves for each platform is that with Shopify, you’re going to have to learn how to build a website, and with Amazon, you’re going to have to learn how to populate a database effectively.