When we work with new clients' websites, the top question we always get is whether WordPress or Shopify is the right platform. Both are two of the most popular and robust players in the industry, each with millions of users.
That being said….nine times out of ten, we do not like to recommend working with either WordPress or Shopify. Why? Because both platforms fall short in their ease of use, design customization and flexibility, content management, and maintenance.
Of course, there is no single solution that fits all when it comes to choosing a web platform. It always comes down to the features and functionality that is needed for your business.
What do we recommend instead? The short answer is Webflow—a newer, modern platform to build engaging websites without code.
WordPress and Shopify are template-based website builders, meaning available templates restrict design customizability. In a template, there are pre-designed visual styles and layouts, allowing you to select different configurations for your site. Sure, you can change color schemes, fonts, and arrange content blocks, but that's about it. You're locked into the design limitations that were set by the template's creator.
Templates boast simplicity and ease of use but are challenging if you want to customize everything because you’ll need to edit the code; doing so could compromise your site and Issues pile up quickly if you don't know what you're doing. You can still achieve high levels of customization but most of us aren't developers, so unless you hire one, you're forced to stick within the template boundaries.
Difficulties in customization become apparent when designing responsively for different screens and devices. Shopify falls extremely short as they merely display your site on mobile, rather than letting you customize it, let alone for different screens. Again, you have to settle for the responsive layout behavior as determined by the template's creator.
It's also common among Shopify customers to want to customize the look and flow of their checkout. This is only possible in the Shopify Plus membership, which can be $2,000 a month! More on costs in a later section.
Content management is critical when adding and maintaining website content. User-friendliness and experience play a significant role as well, an area that WordPress and Shopify have never excelled in.
The CMS in WordPress and Shopify are defined by templates of course—you have to tailor your content to fit those templates. The process of managing this content (blog posts, products, team sections, etc.) requires various steps or pages to go through, from logging in to a host or cPanel, to navigating through a dashboard, to getting into your CMS collection.
It's not the most straightforward experience. Shopify is more streamlined to navigate, but WordPress is notorious for having a convoluted system.
Maintenance: The hidden truth behind the plugin ecosystem
The single biggest reason why we do not recommend WordPress or Shopify is due to their reliance on third-party plugins. Plugins are great add-ons that extend the functionality of WordPress and Shopify sites but can have several negative impacts on your website.
Because WordPress is an open-source platform, the code and its app developers are free to design and contribute their projects to the community. As a WordPress user, you integrate with several apps with different functions; it's a fact of life.
The concern is, you don't know what kind of code has gone into each of those apps—if you're not a developer, how can you tell if the code is clean or bloated? It's known that adding various plugins can inevitably slow down your site.
Users who suffer from site speed often end up installing yet another "speed optimization" plugin, without ever truly knowing if that has resolved the issue or not.
Third-party plugins are constantly being updated, which only exacerbates the problem. As you maintain your website, WordPress users have the daunting task of dealing with asynchronous plugin updates.
This is in addition to continually updating the WordPress installation itself!
As WordPress sites expand and become more complex, their vulnerability to cyber-attacks also increases. Multiple levels in the WordPress system unfortunately equate to numerous entry points for hackers. This is why WordPress is one of the most commonly hacked platforms.
It is the responsibility of the site owner to purchase and correctly configure SSL security and protect all pages.
Shopify is a step up in security and maintenance because it is a closed platform and managed privately. They include SSL security but also rely heavily on plugins, which lack the ability for site owners to customize the look and feel to match their brand fully. You never know what you get with each plugin, and can result in a disjointed site experience.
Different apps have different UI/UX, which becomes confusing for site owners.
WordPress users may find relief in regards to plugin management, as the Shopify updating process is better automated and managed. But adding more Shopify plugins means increasing your subscription cost.
WordPress can be the most economical solution, as WordPress itself is free. All you need is your domain name and some basic hosting—which can be as low as $3/mo. But not so fast, you'll need third party plugins:
To improve your SEO You’ll need a plugin like Yoast ($0–$89 annually)
To improve performance, security, and support? You’ll need a plugin like Jetpack ($9–$249 annually)
Want a robust form on your site? You’ll need a plugin like WPForms or Gravity Forms ($59–$259 annually)
Want custom CMS fields? Another plugin like Advanced Custom Fields ($0–$49 annually/site)
Need a visual builder to help with easier site updates? Yet another plugin like Divi, Elegant, or Elementor ($49–$199 annually)
Hopefully these plugins will all work together when you update them at different times throughout the year too.
Shopify is an attractive option at $29/mo to start. As a past Shopify user, we quickly found that $29 only covers the bare-bones functionality and is not enough for average stores.
You will inevitably need to add plugins, each of which will have a subscription cost attached to it. Before you know it, your monthly Shopify subscription is over $200/mo.
For both platforms, let's not forget about the cost of templates. There are of course free templates, and paid ones can range from $19 and can go as high as $450 for premium ones.
We stated in the beginning that we recommend Webflow. For reference, a basic website starts at $12/mo, with e-commerce plans starting at $42/mo. Webflow integrates with other services like Mailchimp, Facebook, Zapier, etc. too; however, these integrations come straight from the original SaaS companies themselves, rather than third-party distributors. Premium template designs are available without the need to purchase.
Ask yourself what you require and what you prioritize in your website. WordPress and Shopify can be perfect solutions for your business—it's just not the right one for ours.
We have used both platforms personally and professionally, but since we discovered Webflow, we have never looked back. It certainly has its limitations as well but works perfectly for our goals and our clients.
If you're looking for an economical way to host a website without many customizations choose WordPress.
If you have a complex e-commerce business that relies on flexible logistics and fulfillment options, Shopify wins hands down.
If you're looking for a custom, design-first, experience that's more enjoyable for your users, and is easier for you to maintain, Webflow will be great.
Want to learn more? Contact us below, and we'll help you decide on the best solution.