Craft Commerce vs Shopify
8.5 min read
Updated Oct 2023
Why we develop ecommerce websites using Craft CMS and Craft Commerce instead of Shopify.
When comparing Craft Commerce to Shopify, it’s essential to understand that Craft Commerce is not designed to go head-to-head with Shopify. They both offer the ability for businesses to sell online, but they are very different platforms, with very different setups.
Shopify is a subscription-based, fully hosted ecommerce platform that lets online businesses quickly launch an ecommerce website using Shopify's out of the box storefront. Online shops can get up and running quickly and easily, without the assistance of a website designer or developer, by using Shopify's library of purchasable themes and pre-installed templates.
Craft Commerce is an add-on to Craft CMS, an open-source, self-hosted content management system, which comes with a huge range of benefits of its own. Craft websites are built from scratch; there are no out-of-the-box templates or purchasable themes, so you will need to commission an agency with a digital team that has experience designing for and building with Craft.
Of course, Shopify and Craft Commerce aren't the only platforms available to ecommerce businesses - Magento and WooCommerce, amongst others, are popular alternatives. Which one is best for a client is dependent on the specific needs of the project and the long term growth strategy of the business.
We think of ourselves as where Shopify ends and where Magento begins and there’s not a lot of Commerce or CMS products that are self-hosted that live in that space.
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If you are unfamiliar with Craft CMS, you may want to check out our other article on why we develop websites using Craft CMS instead of WordPress. If you are already familiar, let's dive straight into the core benefits Craft Commerce has over Shopify.
1. Content-driven commerce
Shopify is brilliant at what it does best - commerce and as such is geared towards ecommerce content, such as products, orders, and customers. Its product catalogue, basket and checkout are honed to perfection, but where it really falls down is rich content.
Whilst Shopify does offer some built-in content management capabilities (you can create and publish pages, blog posts, and other types of content using Shopify's online editor), it is not a fully fledged content management system, and the format, features and functionality are very limited as compared to a dedicated CMS platform.
Hence why many online stores built on Shopify have a separate 'bolt on' blog served on another platform (such as WordPress), on a subdomain*. Although this option means you can serve both commerce and rich content to your users separately, it is a disjointed user journey and you can't 'connect' content and commerce elements together.
*Please note: This hurdle can be got over using Shopify Plus which offers access to an API, effectively making Shopify a headless solution. Using Shopify Plus's API, Shopify can be combined with other content management platforms. This is a great option, which allows online businesses to leverage the power of Shopify's commerce features and functionality, without it's content management limitations, but due to it's weighty license fees Shopify Plus is mainly suitable for enterprise level ecommerce businesses.
With Craft Commerce, which is built on top of Craft CMS, which makes use of relationships to tie all content together (regardless of whether it is a product entry or a rich content entry), you can create one site which has the perfect combination of content and commerce, seamlessly connected.
Craft Commerce's content-driven approach to commerce fulfils the need to provide an ecommerce solution that not only delivers exceptional browsing and buying functionality, but also powerful rich content management functionality, with no barriers or blockers between the two.
Shopify offers an extensive library of purchasable themes and pre-installed templates, which are great for getting a site up and running quickly and cheaply, but this means that the resulting site is not unique to the business or brand. While Shopify does offer the ability to customise a template, this requires the help of a developer, can be very technical, and will require ongoing maintenance.
This means that the site isn't bespoke visually, and the site and page structures aren't tailored to the business's or its audiences' needs. Whilst new pages can be created and the content edited, they aren't customisable, so you can't tailor them to suit your content needs.
In contrast, Craft websites are designed and built from scratch to meet the exact needs of the business, so the resulting sites are 100% bespoke, totally unique, and completely on brand. From content pages, to product pages, to the checkout flow, everything is tailored to you.
Also with a Craft Commerce build with Craft CMS, you can create completely bespoke, beautiful, custom pages on the fly in the content management system, incorporating any of the blocks the developer has made available on the template.
This gives enormous flexibility to the client to build out new pages (whether those be shop landing pages or rich content campaign pages) extremely fast and without any assistance from your agency, whilst ensuring the overall integrity of the site is protected.
3. Ease of use
Many CMS platforms, including Shopify (though it's by no means the worst!), are somewhat clunky and over-complicated in the backend. No matter what your store set-up, every install offers the same 'off-the-shelf' interface, regardless of whether you need/use the functionality available. Many clients, therefore, find the management of their ecommerce cumbersome at best, and at worst downright scary.
Because every Craft website is built from the ground up, the dashboard is architected specifically to the needs of the project. The dashboard therefore only contains what is necessary for the client to manage their site, allowing for a clear, clean and intuitive interface - managing site content is literally a breeze. Live preview, share-able drafts and draft rollback, further add to Craft's ease of use, improving the authoring experience, aiding approvals and removing risk.
Shopify offers three standard 'plans' — Basic, Shopify and Advanced — which as a general statement, are enough for small/medium-sized, 'straight ecommerce' stores. For larger or more complex stores or businesses with international ambitions, 'Shopify Plus', Shopify's enterprise-level solution, for high volume merchants is a must, as the standard plans just don't offer the scalability required.
In contrast, Craft is not an off-the-shelf solution - there are no plans or packages. Everything about a Craft site, from the design to the functionality, to the authoring experience, is designed and built from the ground up, so anything is possible! Because Craft has no limitations, it offers complete scalability, meaning that you don't need to re-platform if/as your ecommerce business grows. And with multi-lingual baked in, the world is literally your oyster!
When it comes to scalability, with Craft Commerce you do need to consider hosting and infrastructure, but the launch of Craft Cloud makes this super simple too!
5. License fees
The Shopify platform is 'purchased' using a subscription-based model, meaning that as long as you are selling via Shopify, you have to pay their monthly fee. The fee is dependent on the plan taken, with the standard plans ranging from £25-£344/month.
3rd party integrations in the form of 'Apps' available from the Shopify App store also demand a monthly fee, which is added to your subscription, meaning you can rack up a hefty monthly bill pretty quickly.
'Shopify Plus', the enterprise-level solution, which we would recommend for anyone using Shopify who is serious about growing the online store, comes with a bespoke pricing model. Pricing is quoted on a per client basis, but from previous enquiries we understand it it starts at circa $2000/month.
Craft CMS and Craft Commerce also come at a cost, but the license fees at $299 and $999, respectively (and once you own them, you own them for life) are substantially more cost-effective. Updates are recommended annually and cost just $59 and $199/annum, respectively, after that!**
**Please note: Shopify is a fully hosted solution, so there is no additional cost for hosting and infrastructure, which is a requirement with Craft CMS +Craft Commerce. As mentioned above Craft Cloud is the ideal solution and costs just $240/month.
If you are starting out in ecommerce, want to get an online store up and running quickly and are happy to use an off-the-shelf template, Shopify is a great option. However, Craft Commerce is for you if you want a bespoke solution and a scalable, flexible, future-proof site that seamlessly combines content and commerce.
Abstrakt is a Craft CMS agency and we make no secret that we are huge advocates of Craft. We have used Craft CMS exclusively as our content management system for over five years and are proud to be a Craft Verified partner. Craft Commerce, Craft's ecommerce platform, builds on everything we love about Craft - complete flexibility and unlimited customisation - allowing us to develop 100% bespoke ecommerce experiences without limits.
If you would like to explore creating an ecommerce website with Craft Commerce, get in touch to speak to one of our team. We would be delighted to give you a demo, talk you through some of our recent Craft Commerce projects and show you first-hand how Craft Commerce can help you grow your ecommerce business.
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