It's a bit like choosing between chocolate and strawberry ice-cream. While they are both ice-cream they taste very different. It is similar when you are looking to establish an ecommerce website for your business. In your research you have probably come across a couple of hot contenders in Squarespace and Shopify and they both look like compelling options.
You are probably scratching your head right now wondering - how do I choose?
The intention of this post is to compare each platform, highlighting those areas where a breaking decision point for choosing one platform over another can be made - based on the needs of your website.
To help you though this process we first need to provide some background as both ecommerce platforms have arrived at their current offering in different ways.
Squarespace started life as a website content management system first with ecommerce capabilities being added later on. It is a very capable platform for creating beautiful and professional looking websites with the ability to deliver ecommerce functionality.
Shopify on the other-hand started life as a dedicated ecommerce platform that continues to grow and mature at a phenomenal rate. It is an ecommerce thoroughbred.
This doesn't mean you should discount Squarespace straight-away though. Its ecommerce capabilities are quite good, even more so with the latest ecommerce announcement from Squarespace where they have further extended its capabilities.
It all comes down to what you are planning to do with your website and what ecommerce capabilities you need to suit your business.
After a lot of research and client engagements using each platform by the Going Square team we have identified and outlined below our findings on the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and when you would choose one over the other.
So let's get started….
Fees & Charges
To help set the scene both Shopify and Squarespace offer a number of ecommerce plans to choose from.
Each plan, plan features and pricing have been summarised in the table below.
Reference: Prices were sourced from the following links as of this writing:
We have excluded some plans provided by the vendors as they are either too limited to be considered as an ecommerce platform or the alternative vendor does not have a comparable offer. For brevity sake we have also only shown key capabilities that differ between each of the plans. If something isn't listed then they both do or don't offer it.
You will see that there are 3 plans listed from each vendor and to ensure we make a fair comparison the plans have been aligned against each other as follows:
- Shopify Lite with Squarespace Business
- Shopify Basic with Squarespace Basic
- Shopify Professional with Squarespace Advanced
The aligned plans have similar price points, except for the first group of plans. The Squarespace offering is a lot more expensive when comparing the Shopify Lite plan against the Squarespace Business plan. However, as you will discover below, if you are looking for a content centric website with basic ecommerce capabilities for a small number of products then Squarespace offers a good solution.
The other plans are relatively comparable for price. The Shopify plans typically offer more ecommerce features such as Gift Cards, Discount Codes, Professional Reports, Abandoned Cart Recovery etc. to the comparable Squarespace plan. If the primary need for your website are ecommerce then the additional monthly cost for a Shopify plan is worth the money in most cases.
While Squarespace templates are renowned for being exceptional, Shopify's free theme offerings are also of good quality. If you can't find what you want then there are a load of good templates available in the Shopify theme store at a reasonable price. All Shopify themes go through a rigorous evaluation process before being accepted in the Shopify store.
So you can either choose from a range of great templates that Squarespace offers with no further options if none of them suit.
With Shopify you have the option of sourcing a third party template for a fee if none of the free options float your boat.
While both platforms offer good blogging capabilities the content management story is a little different.
In regards to creating and changing the design layout of webpage Squarespace offers a much better content editing and layout engine than Shopify. Its layout engine is easily configurable, with an end user requiring no coding knowledge to change the layout of a website page using drag and drop operations.
Shopify can also be heavily customised but you need to drop down into the code and this is not something we would expect or encourage our clients do.
If the primary purpose of your website is content then Squarespace would be the preferred option. That is unless you also need one of the ecommerce capabilities outlined below.
Squarespace only has one payment gateway option in that it offers Stripe, whereas Shopify offers a choice of payments gateways with over 25 in Australia and many more in other countries.
In a lot of situations using just the Stripe payment gateway will be sufficient. Stripe has grown and matured a lot recently so most store owners can get by with just Stripe. That is as long as it is available in your country. As of this writing it was only available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and some countries in Europe. For a more definitive list refer here.
If Stripe is not provided in your country or you want to offer other payment gateway options such as PayPal then you will need to use Shopify.
Both platforms allow for variances on the range of products you put in a store. You can create custom variances based on colour, size, model, make etc. or any other attribute that makes a uniquely sellable product variant and price.
Setting up products and product variances in Shopify is less awkward than Squarespace. From a user's perspective it just feels easier to quickly add and update your stores products in Shopify. If you are having to manage over 100 products then this can be a real time saver.
One point to note is that Shopify allows you to assign an image to each product variant. The selected product variant image is also shown in the shopping cart, whereas Squarespace only shows the main product image not the variant. This can result in a confusing shopping experience for some customers where the product variant they selected doesn't match the image.
Third Party Application and Integration Support
If you want to extend your ecommerce site functionality over what was provided in the base theme or template then your options are limited with Squarespace. For example, if you would like to add support for a shopping wish list or displaying related products etc. Squarespace doesn't offer a third party application store so if you want customisations then you will have to pay someone to do custom development work for you or trust an external vendor.
Shopify has an extensive range of third-party themes and applications in the Shopify store that can be installed to meet most client needs. Some are free and others you may pay a one-off or monthly fee to use, it will invariably cost less than getting something custom developed for Squarespace.
Yes there are third party extensions out there for Squarespace, but they usually involve injecting code into your site that links to dubious vendors. If you really want to go down this path you really need to question the security and on-going support implication of an external vendor. On the other hand Shopify themes and applications all go through a vetting process to ensure they meet certain quality standards before being allowed into the Shopify store.
Support for Customer and Security Groups
You may need to setup your store so that only parts of it are accessible to a discreet set of users such as Wholesalers. If so then you will have no choice but to use Shopify as Squarespace has no built-in means of separating a group of customers.
The ecommerce reporting features in Shopify are great and if you subscribe to the professional plan they are even more extensive. In comparison Squarespace offers very limited reporting capabilities. This is apparently being address with the latest ecommerce announcement from Squarespace but we are yet to see them in action.
Shopify has an extensive email notification process in place as a user transitions from creating an account, purchasing a product, shipping progress to transaction completion. All email notification content is also fully customisable. Squarespace offers some customisation features but not to the extent of Shopify.
Shopify handles this aspect of their solution much better than Squarespace.
Squarespace combines the content and meta data descriptions together for products. This results in the store owner having to make a decision - either have ugly content being displayed in an effort to optimise for SEO or have nice content being displayed to the user but SEO suffering as a result.
This is not ideal and having a clear separation between content displayed to the end user and meta descriptions to be used for SEO is something that Shopify handles very well and Squarespace needs to address.
Support / Documentation
From our personal experiences there are no big differentiators here as they both offer great support and documentation. Only Shopify offers phone support but we have found that the chat support from both vendors has been fantastic, with quick response and resolution times this doesn't seem to be an issue. We wish other providers offered a similar level of service as these two companies.
If you plan to scale your ecommerce platform rapidly to handle a high number of products or a high turn-over of products then it is good to know what options are available to you.
Shopify provide plans over and above the Professional Plan, offering more features and capabilities to help you scale. These plans also have a higher monthly fee associated with them but if you are turning over a lot of products then it will be a relatively small outlay. Keep in mind that going to a higher plan will also reduce the transaction fees charged to offset the higher monthly plan fee.
Of the two vendors only Shopify offers an integrated POS system option.
Both vendors offer integration with the Xero financial system, while Shopify offers this across all of their plans, Squarespace only provides this with their Basic and Advanced plan.
As you can see there are differences between the Squarespace and Shopify ecommerce offerings.
Our recommendation is to go with Squarespace if your ecommerce needs are basic, you are only looking to sell a small number of products and your website is more content centric.
While we will continue to recommend Squarespace for clients that fit this profile we encourage people to consider the more capable Shopify ecommerce platform when their website is not content centric, selling more than 25 products and you need a bit more capability from using a dedicated ecommerce platform.
So the general recommendation is:
- Small website centric business with < 25 products - Squarespace Business Plan
- Medium ecommerce website > 25 and < 100 products - Shopify Lite/Basic
- Large ecommerce website with > 100 products, high turn-over and planning to scale fast - Shopify Basic/Professional
We hope the information provided above helps you decide on which ecommerce platform will meet your needs.
If you are still wavering then consider taking advantage of the product trials they both offer and put them through their paces.
All the best with your ecommerce site.
The Going Square Team
PS. We do offer Squarespace and Shopify implementation packages to fit various budgets and capabilities. If you are interested you can find more details on the Going Square website or get in contact so we can discuss your needs further.
Please note that pricing and capability information has been derived at the time of writing from the pricing page from each respective vendor. For Shopify their Australian website was referenced. Refer to the links provided to ensure they have not changed.