Most entrepreneurs who break in the e-commerce world start small. But over the years, if their business becomes successful, they think about expanding from a small online store to something larger that can offer a greater number of products and span across geographies.
That poses a few problems though. As businesses grow, their needs grow as well and often times it becomes complicated to cater to those new demands. That is why it is important that you think ahead when starting up your business and more specifically, when choosing the e-commerce platform for your store.
When choosing the e-commerce platform, you should think ahead about the possibility of expanding and scaling up your store and make sure that you don’t run out of options when you do scale up.
Now, let’s come to our comparison of two popular e-commerce platforms: Shopify and WooCommerce. We know from previous discussions how easy it is to start up an online store with Shopify. But the question is: is Shopify scalable and how scalable it is when compared to WooCommerce?
To analyze the scalability of Shopify vs. WooCommerce, let’s discuss how each platform caters to the growing needs of large online stores.
There are basically two things that matter the most when it comes to scalability: Performance and Flexibility.
Let’s discuss each separately.
Is Shopify Scalable – Analyzing Performance
As your business grows and you add a higher number of products to your site, you will need to make sure that your infrastructure can cope up with the increased load. If you’re doing well (hopefully) then the traffic to your site might also be increasing. You need to make sure your site is well optimized and that your product and catalog pages load fast. Also, you need to make sure your site is secure and well protected.
Now the question is: how the performance of your site scales up in WooCommerce vs. Shopify?
In Shopify, performance and security is not usually your concern even when you scale up your site and add more products. You only need to upgrade your plan and leave the rest to Shopify. Your site is hosted at their servers so they are the ones responsible for maintaining and optimizing the entire backend infrastructure for performance and security.
On the other hand, if you are on WooCommerce, you are the one responsible for all performance and security issues. You will need to tackle security problems, upgrade your servers, and optimize your site. There is plenty of help available for that and it’s not like you find yourself out of options at any stage. But you do have to put in a lot of hard work and money to make sure your site performs well, especially if you have a large catalog.
Is Shopify Scalable – Analyzing Flexibility
Let’s discuss some common things in which webmasters want more flexibility and more control and at what extent you get that flexibility in the two platforms under discussion.
Building Custom Themes
As your business grows, you will often find the limitations of off-the-shelf themes a bit annoying. Although most themes offer plenty of room to play with, you might still want total control over the way your site looks. And that’s when you think about doing advanced customizations to your theme or even building a custom theme for your store.
We have discussed this point briefly in our previous comparison of the design aspect of WooCommerce vs Shopify. But let’s go into the details further.
When it comes to building custom themes, you can do that on both platforms. Shopify themes are built using their own proprietary Liquid language while WordPress themes are built using PHP. There is one difference though.
Since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin basically, you get many WordPress theme frameworks that you can use to create your custom theme. WooCommerce has its official storefront theme, which is a good theme framework to start with. With theme frameworks, you can basically create custom themes in a fraction of time usually required.
Shopify also offers a theme framework, the Timber Framework. However, it’s not fully developed yet and doesn’t offer as many features as the frameworks you get on WordPress.
Another really cool thing you can do with WooCommerce is the ability to create child themes, which is a concept unique to WordPress. Now, what is a child theme and how is it beneficial? A child theme is basically a theme that inherits the functionality and styling of another theme, called the parent theme.
Using a child theme has many advantages. First, you can take a parent theme, often a theme framework, and create a child theme of it. This allows you to customize the styles and design of your theme without changing the core code of the parent theme.
Consider the scenario when writing custom CSS code does not give you the result you want. If you were on Shopify, you would have the option of editing the theme with the theme editor. Obviously, you would need to be proficient at HTML, CSS and Shopify’s templating language, Liquid. But the problem is, once you write the code and make your customizations, all the custom code you write is overwritten when your theme is updated the next time. And since, most themes from Shopify are regularly updated, that’s a real problem.
But if you were on WooCommerce, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. You can easily create a child theme out of your parent theme and do all the customization you want in your child theme. The child theme would retain the functionality and the core code of your parent theme and it would make it easier for you in case you need to update the parent theme. If your theme has important security updates, updating your parent theme will not make you lose the customization you wrote in the child theme.
Using Apps and Extensions
When you scale up your business, you will likely want to add more functionality to your site. Both WooCommerce and Shopify give you hundreds of extensions and apps that often give you what you want.
There is one difference though in both platforms.
Since WooCommerce is open source, you control both -the data as well as the code yourself. This means you have access to all plugin files. On Shopify, however, you usually pay a subscription fee to be able to use a particular app which is then hosted and managed by Shopify itself or the company behind that app. While this makes things simpler and easier for you as you don’t have to manage and maintain anything yourself, it can be a bit of a pain however, when you want some more control over the way things work.
Recently, while building a Shopify site for a client, a membership app that we used had a feature that sent out emails to the admin each time a new user signed up for a membership. One of the problems we encountered was that we couldn’t find a way to change the text of that email. We wanted to customize it but there seemed to be no way to do that. When we contacted the app developer, they told us that they haven’t offered this functionality. Faced with this dilemma, we found ourselves out of options. If we had built the site on WooCommerce though, the problem would have been easily resolved.
On WooCommerce, if we want to fix something in a plugin, we do have an option. We can fix the plugin by editing its code. On WooCommerce, we get access to plugin files – on Shopify, we don’t. However, the problem is if there are important updates of that plugin later on, updating the plugin will make us lose all the custom code we wrote. This is a reason why this is not a best practice.
Building Custom Plugins
Now let’s consider the scenario when you want to customize certain things in your site and you can’t find a plugin that gives you the exact results that you need on your store. That can be pretty annoying, right?
Now, in that situation, both platforms give you a way out: you can build custom plugins. But how easy and feasible is that when comparing Shopify vs. WooCommerce?
On Shopify, the custom app you create will have to communicate with Shopify via an API. This means more work for the developer. The developer will not only have to labor over the code while building the app but he will also need to deal with the API correctly. This hard work translates to higher cost of development and maintenance of any custom app you create.
On the other hand, WooCommerce gives you two options. You can create a custom app and communicate with WooCommerce over its API or you can build an extension on top of WooCommerce or WordPress using the power of hooks and filters. The latter is one of the reasons why many developers love working with WooCommerce and WordPress.
With the convenience and flexibility of hooks and filters in WooCommerce, you can develop almost any use case you need. You can edit your theme files and execute your own code using WordPress hooks. And with child themes, this becomes easier and more practical as you can easily keep up with theme updates without losing any changes you made.
However, things aren’t as smooth and easy as you might think. While you can do practically anything you can dream up on WooCommerce, you do face other problems in terms of performance and security. So, while you are doing all those changes and customizations, the performance and security of your website may get compromised if you’re not careful about how you approach these, and you’ll have to make up for it separately.
If you look broadly at both the platforms, you’ll see that in Shopify, you get less flexibility but you don’t have to worry about the performance and security of your site. WooCommerce, on the other hand, gives you higher flexibility but at the cost of reduced performance.
So, is Shopify scalable? If performance and security matters to you the most and if you don’t want to take this pain yourself, Shopify still offers a reasonable level of extensibility.
But if you prefer greater flexibility and more control and if you don’t shy away from maintaining the performance and security of your site on your own, then WooCommerce is your best option in terms of extensibility. This can especially be the case with entrepreneurs or companies who have already experienced growth and have a tech team in house or intend to engage with a professional ecommerce agency.
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