It goes without saying that e-commerce is a huge and growing sales channel for businesses large and small. Today, more than ever, entrepreneurs have the ability to create scalable and nearly autonomous businesses using e-commerce platforms. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution from a software perspective.
Here, we’ll explore two very common options: Squarespace and Shopify. I’m not affiliated with either, but they are two platforms that I’ve worked extensively with for both myself and for many clients. There are many other platforms, such as Magento, WooCommerce, and others, but they are not explored in this article.
There are as many different use-cases as there are trees in the forest, but I think that for entrepreneurs, these two platforms will cover 95% of situations. Here’s a brief overview of both, and my general recommendations as to what works best and when.
So Squarespace isn’t actually an e-commerce platform first, like Shopify is. It’s more of a very user-friendly self-hosted website platform, catered to those who have a less technical background. Squarespace is still quite powerful, and is very extensible for anyone who is familiar with web development. It’s our platform of choice for static websites.
From an e-commerce perspective — it’s ideal for smaller stores, or websites where e-commerce is only a part of what they do (for example, sites where a blog is the priority).
A website built on Squarespace is much easier to give a pleasing design to and administer without a technical background. However, as is the case with most software, extensibility is inversely proportional to ease of use. With that said, Squarespace is not generally an ideal solution for those seeking more robust e-commerce capabilities, API support for things like other payment platforms, plugin support, and so on.
A major plus of the fact that Squarespace isn’t e-commerce oriented is that you can have a website first and then add the e-commerce component later in a seamless manner. You can, for example, gain traction with your content then start slowly releasing certain products to sell via your site. For such cases, it’s pointless to start with a platform that is only e-commerce oriented.
Squarespace has also recently added many new features, such as carrier-calculated shipping rates and abandoned cart recovery (which I should note have both been standard on other platforms for a while).
Shopify is built with e-commerce in mind. It’s also a self-hosted solution, but from an e-commerce perspective is much, much more robust than Squarespace. You have a greater deal of scalability, and you have many more examples of large and professional stores using Shopify. Users with much larger sales amounts will view this as an obvious choice.
It’s extremely extensible, but comes with a quite steep learning curve. To do most basic things in your template design, you’ll need to have a pretty good grasp on web development, namely their Liquid templating engine. Unfortunately, I’ve come across many, many Shopify sites where whoever set it up does not have a very good grasp on web design or development, and you can always tell when a Shopify site is at default settings.
You can customize nearly anything, and with plugin support you’ll even have the ability to have things like seamless coordination with a 3PL (third-party logistics provider). You can write and sell your own plugins and themes as well through Shopify’s plugin and theme stores.
Shopify also has in-person selling capabilities, so your dreams of pop-up stores can come true in a seamless manner.
Also, if you want to have components of your site that aren’t related to e-commerce, that isn’t as easy to implement on Shopify as it is on Squarespace. You’ll oftentimes be dealing with paid plugins (they call it “Apps”) for things that Squarespace will have built-in functionality for, such as a photo gallery.
So Which One Do I Use?
It depends on your case. In general, I recommend that users who are looking to have smaller stores and look over everything mostly themselves should stick to Squarespace. Additionally, if the store is meant to be a smaller part of a bigger site such as a blog or a portfolio, then you should definitely use Squarespace.
If you’re a more serious seller, more focused on e-commerce, and you need to have your store as extensible as possible, then look at Shopify.
You can absolute migrate from one to the other as your needs grow, so nothing is set in stone. They’re both excellent, self-hosted platforms. In the end, it’s your product that will carries your brand, and every other component just facilitates the eventual sale.