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Fully Managed vs. Self-Managed e-Commerce: Which is Best for Your Business?

May 16, 2023
Ryan Stogran

It’s no secret that the online retail sector has changed a great deal in recent years. Giant online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon still rake in huge amounts of money, but the rise of companies like Shopify and WooCommerce have empowered a new generation of micro retailers to go after a chunk of their market share. No matter how small your business is, you can now compete with the big dogs—the question is, how should you?

Different e-commerce platforms offer different customization options, payment features, and more—but what type of platform will help your small business expand and thrive? Below, we’ll explore the differences between fully managed platforms (like Shopify) and self-managed platforms (like WooCommerce via WordPress) so that you can learn more about what might be best for you.

Why Compare Shopify & WooCommerce?

There are a few reasons why Shopify and WooCommerce provide excellent case studies for this article. Here’s why they’re getting our attention today:

They’re Popular

As of 2021, over 1 million businesses in 175 different countries use Shopify as their e-commerce platform. Meanwhile, WordPress (whose Automattic division created WooCommerce) is responsible for over 40% of new sites on the internet.

They’re Versatile

Both Shopify and WooCommerce can be used to sell—well, pretty much anything you can think of. There are some limitations, depending on what platform you choose, however (and we’ll cover those in the next section).

They’re Accessible

The main reason Shopify and WooCommerce attract so many users is that there’s practically no barrier to entry. Starting a retail business in the brick-and-mortar age required a significant amount of capital (i.e., risk), and even using an early online marketplace like eBay often demanded a fair amount of time and effort before that investment started producing returns. Conversely, Shopify and WooCommerce are pretty much two of the easiest and lowest-cost ways out there to start your own retail business.

Self-Managed or Fully Managed: Which Is Best?

Now, let’s get to the main thing that separates these two e-commerce tools—namely, the fact that one (Shopify) is fully managed while the other (WooCommerce) is self-managed. What does that mean? Simply put, it’s the difference between having more support and having (arguably) more freedom.

Fully Managed e-Commerce

Fully-managed e-commerce platforms like Shopify don’t require you to learn anything about web design, coding, or hosting. Shopify does all that for you—you just choose a theme and customize it with their user-friendly interface. They also include tech support in all their plans, just in case you’re not finding their platform easy enough to use.

  • A “plug-and-play” approach to e-commerce
  • Tech support included
  • Easier for beginners

Self-Managed eCommerce

WooCommerce, on the other hand, allows anyone with a WordPress website to create an e-commerce store. As an example of a self-managed e-commerce platform, WooCommerce gives you lots of tools for customizing your business—in fact, since it’s open-source, your level of control is limited only by your ability to code. Of course, that also means the learning curve for WooCommerce can be a lot steeper, depending on what you want to do with it.

  • Open-source for extra customization
  • Requires some coding/web design ability
  • No tech support

Choosing between a fully managed or self-managed e-commerce platform really comes down to what you’re trying to do and how much work you feel like putting in by yourself. To give you a better idea of where each of these platform types shine, let’s look at Shopify and WooCommerce in more detail.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is a fully hosted Canadian e-commerce platform that enables the end user to set up an online sales channel for their items without the need for their own dedicated website. Originally developed as a small tool aimed at selling custom snowboards across Canada, Shopify became one of the first e-commerce platforms available and has been improving and expanding its operations ever since. In fact, some of the world’s largest online retailers rely on Shopify to run their empires every day.

What Are Shopify’s Strengths?

The case for using a fully managed e-commerce platform like Shopify boils down to a few key strengths:

  • You don’t need to be good with technology: Like we said earlier, Shopify’s ready-to-go themes mean you won’t have to lift a finger when it comes to designing the look and feel of your store. If you were running a brick-and-mortar retail business, this would be like the difference between getting a free interior designer and having to paint and furnish the space by yourself.
  • The time commitment is minimal: Every business requires you to work on it, but Shopify minimizes the amount of time you’ll spend by offering a gentle learning curve and responsive technical support.
  • It’s affordable: Shopify gives you a free 14-day trial right out of the gate, and the basic plan (which will work for most businesses) starts at only $29 USD per month. They also let you connect a custom domain name to your store for less than $10 per year—and they even throw in an SSL certificate to help make sure all your transactions get handled safely, which can save you about $75 per year.
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What Can Shopify Do?

Shopify accepts all major forms of payment via their built-in payment gateway, including digital services like ApplePay and GooglePay in addition to major credit cards. You don’t have to worry about getting POS equipment or negotiating rates with your bank; it’s all taken care of for you. Transaction fees are calculated the same as physical retail stores and largely depend on payment method, but typically hover in the 2.9% range.

The number of features you have to tweak the look and functionality of your store will depend on the theme you choose—and the paid themes tend to offer more features than the free ones. However, we find that the features on the free themes are generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of most businesses.

Shopify vs. WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a little different, because it doesn’t come with a dedicated team to help you handle the back end of your store. You get more control (if you know a few things about coding and web design), but you don’t get access to tech support—although the community forums have a lot of good advice.

Costs

The WooCommerce plugin itself is free, which might seem like an advantage over Shopify at first. However, you’ll need additional plugins to sell certain products—like the one that allows you to sell downloadable content, which costs almost $200 per year.

Because of such issues, some users feel that WooCommerce comes with numerous hidden costs—and we tend to agree. For example, you can’t use WooCommerce without a domain and web hosting package from WordPress, which ends up being upwards of $30 per month for a high-quality plan. You’ll also have to get your own SSL certificate, so we hope you didn’t make plans for that extra $75 if this is the route you’re choosing.

Maintenance/Upkeep

If you want to get the most out of WooCommerce and the features it offers, knowing how to code is very helpful. At the very least, you should have a working knowledge of how to use WordPress—which doesn’t exactly have the most user-friendly interface. And without Shopify’s level of tech support, keeping your store clean and up-to-date can be overwhelming for the inexperienced.

Final Thoughts on Shopify vs. WooCommerce

Shopify and WooCommerce offer similar levels of customization and will allow you to start selling your products online. However, they aren’t both equally easy to use, and they don’t offer the same level of help if you find yourself biting off more than you can chew.

Shopify Pros:

  • Free trial period
  • Affordable monthly plans
  • Easy to use
  • Basic features are powerful enough for most businesses
  • Access to high-quality tech support
  • Comes with SSL certificate

Shopify Cons:

  • Not open-source
  • No free version after trial expires

WooCommerce Pros:

  • Open-source
  • Free to use (with domain and web hosting from WordPress)
  • Active community forum for tech issues

WooCommerce Cons:

  • Requires coding/design skills to make use of full features
  • Additional plugins can be costly
  • No professional tech support
  • No SSL certificate

For those reasons, we’ve got to hand our recommendation to Shopify. Where we find most businesses struggle with any e-commerce platform is in allocating time to build the store—so the easier you can make the process, the better.

To learn more about setting up your e-commerce store, we recommend consulting with a specialist agency who can help you start off on the right foot. Feel free to reach out to us and speak with a member of our team who can help you learn more today.