It’s normal for people to wonder whether they should go for Shopify or a website of their own when thinking about eCommerce in particular. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and some people might find that one works best for them.
The main difference between your 2 options is that Shopify is a full-featured package focused solely around eCommerce businesses and entrepreneurs; you get all the tools and features you need to run your online store without any tech experience.
On the other hand, using your own site requires full development from scratch; if you don’t know how to program, then you’ll need a developer for this. This means getting your own domain and hosting as well as the platform that’ll work as the foundation. You’ll probably also need to download specific plugins (e.g. WooCommerce if you’re using WordPress) to make things more efficient.
Shopify is the most popular eCommerce solution, and it hosts over 800,000 eCommerces today – all thanks to its functionality.
However, having your own website is still an enticing idea since you have full control and flexibility. That’s why it requires tons more work if you want to go down this path, and it’s definitely a tough choice for less experienced entrepreneurs.
As such, what will determine which choice is the best one for you is your knowledge and what you require. Finding that out is the objective of today’s article, so let’s jump into it.
Differences between Shopify and having your own site
When we talk about Shopify being a full-featured eCommerce package, we mean it’s a website builder with all the functions you need.
You can build a store quickly and easily, including all of your pages and even a blog, without knowing a thing about programming. It’s very intuitive as well since you can just follow the steps provided along with the back-end features to personalize your store to your needs.
That package includes hosting as well, so your monthly fee includes more than just the website itself.
On the contrary, building a website for yourself is a whole different story. You want to find specific platforms and integrations to cover different needs. First off, you’ll probably want to go for a CMS like WordPress.
These platforms let you build and manage your website from a single interface. However, CMS were created for blogs and websites, but people have been quick to adapt them to online stores.
Other CMS include Weebly or Magento. While they’re all quite similar, WordPress is still the most popular. Besides your CMS, you’ll want to use special plugins to turn them into full-blown stores; WooCommerce is one of these options.
Luckily, CMS platforms have myriads of tools to add more functions to your online store. If you go for WordPress and get WooCommerce, you can then get something like AliDropShip for WooCommerce – basically a plugin for a plugin.
While this makes CMS a lot more flexible, many of these tools require payments or subscriptions, which can elevate your investment quite noticeably.
Pros and cons
Shopify is very easy to use to build and manage your store. You don’t have to know a thing about coding thanks to its specific focus on eCommerce; even if you find a feature missing, you can probably find an app for it. The monthly fee also covers everything: building, hosting, SSL, and more. You have guaranteed up-time and fast loading times.
On the bad side, you must pay an additional fee if you go for PayPal or Stripe, and you’ll have to reformat your entire content if you switch themes. Your data is also stored on Shopify’s servers instead of your own, so you’re giving up a bit of control.
You have full control over your store, and that translates into additional bonuses like flexibility and customization. You have countless resources on the internet to learn how to build and run it, and the same goes for platforms and integrations for your store.
The problem is that it’s a lot more effort. That means more knowledge, time, and investment (not all cases, though). You have to set up your domain and hosting by yourself, as well as getting your SSL. You also need to do a lot more research on the necessary software.
Ease of use
Not all platforms will be equally difficult, so the difficulty difference depends on which solution you choose. Still, Shopify is almost always easier since even the simplest solutions require a bit more time to get running.
Shopify lets you set up your own store in an hour even if you’re new to it. Once you have more experience, it could take minutes. You just need to go to the website, sign up for a free trial, and fill some information.
That takes you to your store’s backend, which is where you’ll create and run all pages and elements in your store. You have suggestions available on your screen in case you get lost and don’t know what to do next.
Adding products is simple as well. You click the associated tab to the left side of the screen and then on “add product” to add each item. You can add each product one-by-one, but you can upload a CSV file with a bunch of offers.
Things get more complicated if you go for a website of your own, but the level of difficulty will depend on the software you get.
If you know about coding, things will be much easier. If you don’t, you can still find plugins and extensions in case you chose one of the popular CMS platforms; these extensions basically turn your CMS into a Shopify-esque platform. We’ll keep using WordPress’ WooCommerce as an example; it lets you run the entire store from the WordPress interface.
These extensions make things a lot easier, but you need to watch out for different things.
First off, you need to make sure that the software provides the features your business requires. You also want to learn how your CMS platform works and what’s the budget you’ll need to have a fully-functional eCommerce site.
You might want to consider hiring a developer, but make sure all of your expenses can be covered by your budget.
If you go for Shopify, you already know that it takes about an hour. The time is reduced drastically mainly because of how easy it is to use the platform and how it saves time by offering all the features you’ll need at the start.
You might want to integrate Shopify apps, but that’s unlikely to occur at the start.
Building your own website, however, will require more or less time depending on the platform you use. It’s safe to say it’ll be longer than Shopify, though, since it requires more technical knowledge and research.
You also have to look for elements that are already included in Shopify, like your domain and hosting. It’s not as troublesome as some might think, but if it’s your first time building a website, you might feel nervous and take longer to make sure everything is going well.
After your website is done, you’ll still have to test things to check if everything works as it should.
If you build it from scratch through coding, this might take weeks or even a month. If you go for WordPress+WooCommerce, it might take a day, less, or more, depending on your proficiency.
Design and themes
The design and style of your store is paramount for eCommerce, and themes are usually responsible for this. They give you the store layout, user experience, and general feel for your store.
Shopify comes with hundreds of themes that you can fully customize right from the get go. Some themes are free, but you definitely want to spend a bit more for a premium theme if you want a successful store. These paid themes can be as cheap as $30 or as expensive as $100, but they come with additional features and functionality for your store.
Sure, they’re not mandatory, but they boost your success chances by a mile.
All themes in Shopify have simple coding, which translates into a swift user experience and – thus – better SEO. All themes also load perfectly regardless of the device your visitors are using.
If you opt to build your own website, then things will vary depending on your software. Generally, you’ll have lots of more options but also more varied quality.
For example, WordPress has thousands of themes available – both free and paid.
However, not all of these themes work well with eCommerce sites, and the same goes for mobile responsiveness. You have several times more themes than Shopify, but since they aren’t curated by a platform solely for eCommerce, you’ll have to do your own research and avoid the ones that can slow down your website, don’t work on different devices, or are simply low-quality.
Luckily, this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. You can filter themes easily through the amount of active users and customer reviews.
Integrations and features
No Shopify plan comes with limitations in terms of the amount of products you can sell without restitution. You can go for physical or digital products as well as both, and as long as something isn’t illegal, you can sell it.
You also have lots of tools at your disposal, including marketing, inventory, shipping, and analysis. Even the least expensive subscription includes all of them. As plans get more expensive, they start offering more advanced features, but they’re not life-or-death necessities.
You can go to the Shopify official website if you want to see all of the features, but I’ll list the most important ones here.
- The platform analyses your orders for potential fraud to let you know before any damage is done. This means that losses are cut greatly.
- You can use discount codes to boost your sales, get more customers, or reward the more loyal ones.
- You can create new accounts for different staff members for your store in case you wish to free yourself from specific tasks. Don’t worry, they won’t access sensitive info.
- You can use several channels to sell your products. You have your traditional online store, but you can also sell your products on Facebook and even Pinterest. All sales channels connect straight to Shopify, so tracking orders and customers is easy.
Again, your integration and standard features for a website of your own depends on the platform you decide to use. CMS usually come with zero functionality for eCommerce, so you need plugins.
These plugins are the ones you need to check out if you want to find which features you can get.
Something that stays true for both options is that you need to check and update your store regularly.
Shopify offers you the benefit that these updates are handled by the platform, and it’ll take care of changing things for you. You don’t have to worry about updating your software or keep an eye out for new versions.
On the other hand, running your own website means that you’ll have to update your software manually, and most of these updates need to run separately. You also need to make sure to prevent conflicts, keep your store live, and sort out any troubles that may arise.
Luckily, there are hosting services (like Bluehost) that offer to take care of these updates on your behalf. They’ll even store backups of your site in case anything goes wrong.
In terms of security, Shopify plans come with SSL certificates; these are created along with your store and protect you and your visitors. If go for your own website, make sure to pay for one separately, but it can feel frustrating for some due to how long it can take or the issues that may arise if set up improperly.
Shopify has full-time customer service through email, live chat, or phone. You can contact them if anything goes wrong or you have any doubts. There are also online resources with FAQs and guides on how to use the platform.
The more advanced plans also come with success managers that you can reach out for at any time and get support directly.
Reasonably, this type of support isn’t really available for people running their own websites. Thankfully, you have access to an endless content stream through YouTube, forums and blogs.
You also have the choice to hire an expert in case you can’t find a solution, but you need to have the necessary budget.
Lots of CMS are completely free to use, and that’s why they don’t really offer customer support. However, plugins often have customer support, so if you’re running WooCommerce or a similar extension, then you can reach out to them.
If the problem lies on the hosting side of things, then you’ll have to contact your hosting service’s customer service, but this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using reputable companies.
Shopify has 3 different plans for different entrepreneurs. Besides the main plans, you have Shopify Lite for Facebook only and Shopify Plus for big businesses who need special packages.
The 3 main plans are Shopify Basic, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify, for $29, $79, and $299 respectively each month.
People building their first eCommerce will find the basic plan more than enough. It comes with all the features and full-time customer support. If you ever find yourself needing some of the more advanced functions, you can upgrade your plan later.
The standard Shopify plan comes with more in-depth reports and the ability to recover abandoned carts without having to get a premium theme or separate app for it.
The advanced plan goes even further with the information on the reports, and you can provide your customers with shipping services in real-time.
Running your own website is probably not as expensive as you might think, but you do have to keep an eye on your budget if you don’t want things to get out of hands.
Right away, you need to pay for your domain, hosting, and SSL. That can be around $50 in total.
If you know nothing about website development, you’ll have to either pay for training (could be about $100 more) or someone else to build it. The latter can be a few hundreds or thousands depending on who you hire.
You might also have to pay a few hundred more for your payments software, email platform, and plugins, but you can find free alternatives.
If you do know your way around website development, then you’ll save a lot of money.
Basically, Shopify is the user-friendly approach for people with little experience and tight budget. Running a website is for people with more knowledge and a larger budget who don’t want to sacrifice control and versatility.
If you have limits on your time, budget, and experience, then go for Shopify. If you know about coding or have a looser budget (and want to have full control over every aspect of your business), then build your own website.