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Shopify vs Amazon — which is best for online sellers? In this detailed comparison we look at the features, pros and cons and pricing of these two leading e-commerce platforms in depth — and help you decide which one is right for your business.
Shopify and Amazon: understanding the main differences
Shopify and Amazon are giants of the e-commerce 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 very large one at that).
So, when you sell on Shopify, it’s the online equivalent of renting a space in which to set up your own shop.
Working with Amazon is more like selling your goods in a huge supermarket.
With Shopify, you’ll have more work to do to configure things the way you want, and build up a customer base. However, you’ll have total control over everything — you can decide:
- how your brand is presented
- what your storefront looks like
- how you capture data
- the way you sell your goods.
With Amazon, the customer base is already there — but so is the competition. Selling on Amazon is like having some shelf space in a 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 — we discuss these in more depth later on in this comparison.
But first: how easy are both products to use?
Amazon and Shopify are both designed to be fairly easy for e-commerce 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.
The learning curves, whilst not especially steep, are different for both platforms, though.
With Amazon, you are basically learning to use a database — “Amazon Seller Central” — in the most effective way possible. So, the challenge new 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.
There are also quite a few hoops to go 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.
(By contrast, all you need to get going with Shopify (initially at least) is an email address and basic contact details. You just enter these when setting up a free trial.)
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.
However, with Shopify, you will have to become comfortable with web design tasks like customizing themes, creating web pages and 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.
Control over brand 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.
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 are available that you can tweak 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 multi-lingual 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 two ways to ship products. You can either ship them yourself, or send them to Amazon for fulfilment using its FBA (“Fulfilment by Amazon”) service.
Amazon FBA can be a brilliant option for some merchants, because it offers product storage for 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, rules and 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, if you’re based in the US or Canada, FBA — more on this in a moment).
Alternatively, you an 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 take an order via your online store, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client.
Your e-commerce site becomes, in effect, a middle man of sorts.
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; and there’s no sizeable investment involved with this.
By contrast, some key limitations and additional costs apply if you want to dropship with Amazon:
- You can’t buy products from another online retailer and have that retailer ship directly to your customers.
- 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 cut of any dropshipped sales, meaning that your profit margins will be a lot tighter.
So all in all, Shopify generally works out as a better dropshipping solution than Amazon (especially if you’re likely to dropship a high volume of goods)
Free dropshipping starter kit
If you’re interested in dropshipping with Shopify, I’d recommend that you take a look at Shopify’s free dropshipping starter kit — with this, you get 14 days of free access to Shopify plus resources and tools that show you exactly how to launch a successful dropshipping Shopify store.
Attracting customers to your store
There’s no doubt about it: if you’re looking for a ready-made customer base, Amazon is the winner in a Shopify vs Amazon shootout.
Because of its 300+ million user accounts in over 180 countries, 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 listed immediately on a hugely popular platform, 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” recommendations can also help boost views of your products; and if you start generating sales of a decent number of items, these recommendations can really help scale up your business.
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, online advertising and online PR in order for your store to start gaining visibility and customers. This can be and 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 times it likes, which can, in extreme cases, simply sink a successful business.
Although running a Shopify store is not without risks either (the impact of Google core updates on your store’s search results is probably the thing you have to worry about most), there is a lot to be said for the independence, control and stability that doing so offers.
But overall, because of its ready-made customer base that you can tap into, Amazon definitely wins the ‘ease-of-attracting-customers’ battle.
Local selling and point of sale
The COVID-19 pandemic made online selling 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 build your own website — rather than just 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 often a 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 much more extensive and much more ‘baked in’ to the platform.
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 familiarising 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 search engine that will be indexing your content (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 54% of all product searches.
According to leading SEO company Moz, 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 E-commerce Search Engine, Moz blog
To get the most out of your Shopify or Amazon store, you will need to conduct quality research into the best SEO 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 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.
Ethics of Shopify vs Amazon
Something you don’t often see in Shopify vs Amazon comparisons is a discussion on ethics. But Amazon’s approach to paying its fair share of tax and treating its workers fairly has raised a lot of question marks.
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 — 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 positioning itself a bit as 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 features — now it’s time to look at how much they cost to sell with.
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.
A free trial is also available — this lasts 14 days. You can access this via this link.
All these plans give you access to core e-commerce 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 Lite plan doesn’t let you build a standalone online store; rather, it allows you to sell on your existing website, on a Facebook page or at point of sale.
- 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
In terms of the key differences between these payment options,
- The ‘Individual’ plan is essentially a ‘pay-as-you-go’ plan, where there is no monthly fee to be paid; a referral fee for each item applies. However, this plan limits you to selling 39 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 to consider. 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 according to the type of product your selling, but most 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 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.
Shopify actually integrates tightly with Amazon, offering a ‘sales channel’ that lets you:
- create listings for products new to Amazon
- create and manage offers for existing products on Amazon
- link your existing Amazon listings to your Shopify store’s admin
- receive notifications in Shopify for your Amazon orders.
However, this feature is only available for US and Canadian sellers — merchants not based in these countries will need to manage separate Amazon and Shopify stores.
And if you are eligble to use the integration, you will have to pay for both an Amazon seller account and a Shopify account, which can increase monthly outgoings by rather a lot.
But even so, this integration really does give a lot of sellers the best of both worlds — a brand and website of their own via Shopify, and access to a huge marketplace via Amazon. By having a presence on both platforms, you’re giving yourself the most ways to grow your business.
Shopify vs Amazon: conclusion
At Style Factory, when we compare two different e-commerce 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 when 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 on Shopify vs Amazon, do leave a comment! We read all reader contributions and will do our best to answer any questions you may have.
Reasons to use Shopify
- 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.
- 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: US and Canada users only).
Reasons to use Amazon
- Amazon puts your products in front of an existing userbase comprising millions of people — with Shopify you will have to work 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 issues. By contrast, using Shopify basically means registering a domain and setting up a brand new website.
- Amazon sellers can target 2 ‘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 e-commerce platforms available that claim to offer similar functionality.
Of these alternatives, we generally recommend BigCommerce as the most obvious competing store builder; it’s similarly priced and offers a broadly comparable feature set. You can check out our BigCommerce vs Shopify article here or read our full BigCommerce review here.
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. 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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