U.S. ecommerce sales rose by over 44% last year, the most significant single-year increase since ecommerce became a serious player in the retail space at the beginning of the century. As COVID-19 closed brick-and-mortar stores and kept customers at home, shopping moved online and retailers rapidly expanded ecommerce operations. Shopify, the cloud ecommerce platform, is one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Shopify aims to lower ecommerce’s technical barriers and simplify store management. That makes it an excellent fit for retailers who want an online store up and running as quickly as possible. The pandemic put many businesses in precisely that position.
But Shopify isn’t the right solution for every ecommerce retailer. It accelerates store deployment and centralizes ecommerce services on a user-friendly platform. Still, there are technical and financial tradeoffs to entrusting an essential aspect of your business to a closed SaaS platform.
In this article, we explore some of the reasons Shopify might not be the best ecommerce solution for your business and why many retailers prefer Shopify alternatives. Then we’ll take a look at Shopify alternatives that offer greater freedom and flexibility.
What Is Shopify?
Shopify is a Software as a Service ecommerce cloud platform. On the front-end, it offers an ecommerce storefront and payment system and a point of sale solution for in-person sales. It provides a management interface for adding products, configuring catalogs, and managing product pages on the back-end. It also integrates a variety of marketing and analytics tools to help retailers promote their brands and products.
Shopify is a premium platform with different pricing tiers depending on the size of your store and the features it needs—there is no free tier. Users pay a flat monthly fee plus a percentage on sales made via Shopify Payments and other payment providers. All tiers include basic ecommerce and POS features, with higher tiers offering reduced payment charges and advanced features such as international pricing, professional reports, and international domains. Shopify Plus is an enterprise ecommerce solution designed for high-volume retailers.
Why Is Shopify So Popular?
Shopify includes all the features most ecommerce retailers could want. It offers tiers suitable for a wide range of businesses, from smaller stores with a handful of products to high-volume multinational businesses. However, the same could be said of its competitors, including free ecommerce solutions like WooCommerce. What really draws retailers to Shopify is its ease of use.
As a fully managed cloud platform, Shopify drastically simplifies deploying and managing a store. Retailers don’t have to think about the underlying hardware because Shopify handles it for them. Nor do they have to concern themselves with software updates, security, extension compatibility, scaling, or the other technical aspects of running an ecommerce store. Instead, they can focus on managing and promoting the store itself.
That ease of use attracts retailers of all sizes. Many smaller businesses that want to sell online lack the technical expertise or the time to manage and secure a self-hosted store. Large businesses often want to avoid the hassle and expense of hiring a team to manage their store’s infrastructure, availability, performance, and security. The all-in-one package Shopify offers is an attractive alternative.
Why Do Ecommerce Retailers Migrate from Shopify?
It’s easy to see why retail businesses opt for Shopify, but it isn’t the right solution for every company. Many more retailers use Shopify alternatives like WooCommerce. Shopify supports just under 4% of ecommerce stores, whereas WooCommerce supports over 20%. The all-in-one proprietary model imposes several tradeoffs, and some of them are deal-breakers for businesses that value independence and control over their platform.
The reasons many retailers prefer Shopify alternatives include:
- Cost — Features available on alternative platforms may not be available on Shopify except at higher price tiers. Niche features that are useful to ecommerce businesses in specific fields may not be available at all.
- Payment provider limitations — Some payment features depend on the platform’s in-house payment solutions.
- Lack of customization options — Retailers may want more control over their site’s theme, SEO, and capabilities. Because Shopify is a closed platform, retailers cannot add features or modify existing components to fit their requirements better.
When choosing a platform, retailers must balance ease-of-use with control. You will have an easier life when the platform operator takes care of infrastructure, software, and design, but you may find the lack of control limits your store’s potential.
The Best Shopify Alternatives in 2021
There are three main categories of Shopify alternative: SaaS, headless ecommerce platforms, and self-hosted ecommerce applications.
SaaS Shopify Alternatives
Software as a Service platforms are straightforward alternatives to Shopify. They work on a similar model but may offer a different range of features and pricing options. Popular alternatives include:
- Magento Commerce Cloud,
- Salesforce Commerce Cloud,
- Wix, and
Although these are primarily SaaS platforms, some, including Magento, can also operate as headless platforms.
Headless Shopify Alternatives
Headless ecommerce platforms provide ecommerce back-end services such as catalog management and payment processors. Ecommerce businesses build a front-end that accesses these services via web APIs. Headless ecommerce stores are highly customizable, but the back-end remains under the operator’s proprietary control.
Headless Shopify alternatives include:
- Elastic Path, and
- Shopify Plus.
Headless platforms are primarily used by larger retailers with development resources and technical expertise. On pure headless platforms, users are expected to build a web or native app to act as the front-end for ecommerce services.
Self-Hosted Shopify Alternatives
Self-hosted ecommerce applications are the most flexible option. They include both back-end services and a front-end interface. They can be hosted on any compatible hosting platform or server. And, in many cases, self-hosted ecommerce stores are free and open source.
This category includes many of the most familiar and widely used ecommerce stores, including:
- Magento Open Source
- Drupal Commerce
Self-hosted ecommerce software allows retailers to scale their store as required, making them an inexpensive option for new store owners. They use standard web technology, and they can be hosted anywhere from a cheap shared hosting account, to a virtual or dedicated server, to a cluster of dedicated servers for the largest stores.
Self-hosted typically means self-managed, so you will have to manage your store’s hosting infrastructure and its software—regular updates are essential. But that’s often a good trade-off for control, flexibility, and reduced cost.
As we said earlier, WooCommerce is by far the most popular eCommerce application globally, building on the success of its parent application, WordPress. If you are concerned about the management burden of a WooCommerce-based application, you may be interested in a solution such as our WordPress Toolkit. The WordPress Toolkit simplifies and automates many WordPress and WooCommerce admin tasks, including:
- WordPress and WooCommerce installation
- Update management
- Security hardening
- Site cloning and the creation of staging sites
- Database management
You can learn more about the WordPress Toolkit here, and in these articles:
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