Deciding on the type of e-commerce solution you need
There are two main types of tool you can use to build your store: a tool that lets you build an 'e-commerce site' (a whole new website, basically, with a shopping cart), or a tool that lets you create a store which you then 'plug in' to an existing website. In the case of the products we're discussing here, the main idea behind Shopify is to allow you to build a complete e-commerce site from scratch, whereas Ecwid is more for users who want to sell products on an existing site (or, indeed, a social media page).
Well, in truth, it's slightly more complicated than that, because recently Shopify introduced a new plan, 'Shopify Lite', which allows you, much like Ecwid, to sell products on an existing site...and Ecwid introduced a new 'Starter Site' feature which allows you to run an Ecwid store as a standalone site...but we'll come to all that later.
Which approach is for you depends chiefly on whether you have a website (that you are happy to sell from) or not. If you don't have a website, or have a poorly designed one, you are probably best opting for Shopify (or a similar tool), as it comes with a range of free templates that a) look professional and b) you can adapt to suit your needs. If on the other hand, you have a website that already looks fantastic and works great, then Ecwid is probably for you. Read on for more information on how both Shopify and Ecwid work.
How Shopify works
What is Shopify?
Although Shopify is generally perceived as an e-commerce solution, it is, in essence, a combination of a website builder and an online store builder: as well as displaying and selling products (digital or physical) you can use it to create regular web pages as well - an 'about us' section, blogs, contact forms and so on.
Once you sign up for an account (there's a two week free trial) you can then select a 'theme', tweak the design a little, create some pages and add some products (along with relevant pictures, prices, weights and so on; shipping costs are calculated automatically by Shopify based on the information you give it about postage costs in your country, and the weights of your items).
When you are ready to publish your store, it can either live at a 'myshopify' web address, or at a domain name of your choosing (www.yoursite.com etc.). You get a lot of control over search engine optimisation (SEO), with the ability to add meta data, page descriptions and so on; it's very flexible on that front.
Shopify and payment gateways
With Shopify, you have the option of using either Shopify Payments to process transaction (Stripe, basically), Paypal or a wide range of third party payment gateways (Shopify works with over 70 of them). Different transaction fees apply depending on which you use.
Shopify is pretty flexible when it comes to design - the templates are all very 'tweakable' using the controls provided, but with the 'Basic Shopify' plan upwards you also get full control over CSS and HTML. This makes it a good solution for both users who want edit their design without resorting to coding...or users who really want to use CSS and HTML to tweak their site design to the nth degree.
There are 9 free templates available in Shopify and 44 paid themes (within each theme there are several variants if it, so the number of designs available is a bit higher than those figures suggest).
How much does Shopify cost?
Shopify provides 5 plans:
- Lite: $9 per month
- Basic Shopify: $29 per month
- Shopify: $79 per month
- Advanced Shopify: $299 per month
- Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements
With the exception of the 'Lite' plan, all the above allow you to create fully functional online stores. The Lite plan is more restrictive in that it doesn't allow users to create a standalone store but instead
- sell on Facebook
- use Shopify to sell goods in physical locations (i.e., for point of sale applications)
- make use of a Shopify 'Buy Button' which can be integrated on an existing site (this works in a similar way to Paypal but allows users to make use of a much more sophisticated back end and inventory management system).
A free trial lets you evaluate the product and get a sense of your requirements.
It is also possible to buy 'apps' which add particular bits of functionality to your store (for example, you can buy apps that let you create social media 'coupons' for certain products, or apps that provide additional accounting information on your sales). You are also able to buy themes created by professional web designers. These tend to look slicker than the (perfectly usable) free templates, but they start at around $100.
Shopify's Buy Button
Perhaps in a bid to capture some of the users that Ecwid is appealing to - users who wish to add e-commerce functionality to an existing website - Shopify recently introduced a 'Buy Button' which, like Ecwid, can be embedded onto a site using a few lines of code. Individual products or collections can be displayed. The Buy Button is available on all Shopify plans, but unless you intent to use Shopify to create both a standalone store and to embed products elsewhere, the $9 'Lite' plan is all you need to make use of it.
The functionality you get with Shopify's 'Buy Button' is not as comprehensive as that provided by Ecwid: with Ecwid, you're getting a complete store on your site (one which facilitates user account creation, more comprehensive product options, product search, social media sharing of products etc.); the Shopify 'Buy Button' is more about providing basic 'add to cart' and checkout functionality.
Shopify's point-of-sale functionality
A key feature which differentiates Shopify from a lot of competing 'standalone' solutions is its point-of-sale functionality - you can use an iOS device plus various pieces of kit sold by Shopify (tills, receipt printers, barcode scanners etc.) to sell in physical locations as well as online. You can work with third party equipment - such as credit card readers - too. Ecwid can be made to work in point-of-sale contexts too (see below) but it is arguably a more limited offering.
Is Shopify for me?
Utlimately Shopify offers a quick, user-friendly way to get an online store together quickly and is ideal for anyone who doesn't already have a website. It's also a good option for people who have an existing site and wish to sell a product or two on the side with a minimum of fuss. As with any online product though, it's best to sign up for a free trial and test it out yourself before committing to it.
You might also like to read our in-depth Shopify review for a more detailed breakdown of pros and cons of the product.
How Ecwid works
What is Ecwid?
Ecwid is a tool that is mainly focussed on giving you a store that 'plugs in' to your existing site; although thanks to its new 'Starter Site' feature (more on which below) you can now use it to create a basic standalone online store, it's primary purpose is to allow you to add e-commerce functionality to an existing online presence.
As with similar store building tools, Ecwid allows you to set up ‘catalogs’ of products (both physical and digital), add photos, pricing, weights for each etc. You can define shipping rates, accept card payments and so on – all the standard tasks that you’d expect to be able to perform using an e-commerce solution. You can tweak design elements using controls, or, again - if coding is your bag, you can edit the CSS stylesheets (though not HTML).
Where Ecwid differs from Shopify however is that it is not a 'standalone' hosted solution but a widget that gets placed on other sites (hence the name: Ecwid stands for ‘E-commerce Widget’). As such, you get a few lines of code to add to your existing website or social media page; your store is displayed wherever you’ve inserted this code. This is good because you can effectively host your store on multiple locations.
As discussed above, Shopify's 'Buy Button' also allows you to sell products on an existing site, but it is a more basic affair.
How much does Ecwid cost?
If you’ve only got a few products to sell (up to 10), Ecwid is free. The $15 per month 'Venture' plan allows you to sell up to 100 products; the $35 per month 'Business' plan allows you to sell up to 2500 and the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan allows you to sell an unlimited number (if you pay annually it works out cheaper). There are no transaction fees on any plan. As you’d expect, the more you pay, the more additional features you get – discount coupons functionality, better support etc.
One thing to watch out for with pricing: unlike some competing solutions, the price varies according to where you live. So for example in the UK, Ecwid's 'Venture', 'Business' and 'Unlimited' plans are £15, £35 and £99 - 23% higher than the US costs.
Ecwid and payment gateways
As with Shopify, you can either use Paypal or a payment gateway (or both) with Ecwid to process credit card payments. Ecwid does not provide quite as many options with regard to payment gateways however, giving users around 50 to choose from versus Shopify's 70+.
Five features of Ecwid are particularly strong:
- You can use it to present your storefront in up to 45 different languages (something you can't really do out of the box with Shopify)
- Like Shopify, it offers point of sale functionality, integrating with three POS providers, Clover, Square and Vend. However, unlike Shopify, this is only available on its most expensive plan (the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan).
- It comes with a free plan that is totally usable - you can sell up to ten products with it.
- A mobile app is automatically created for your Ecwid store which can be published to the Apple App store or Google Play (and these apps accept Apple Pay). This is useful for users who are adding Ecwid to a non-responsive website (although if your website isn't responsive yet, I'd do something about that!).
- Ecwid integrates very neatly with Wordpress sites, thanks to a dedicated plugin.
Is Ecwid for me?
Ecwid is ideal for anyone who already has a site and wants to add a professional online store to it. It saves you from reinventing the wheel by designing a new website, and the fact that you can plug your store into a variety of online locations is excellent - your store can live on your website, your Facebook page, anywhere you can whack a little bit of code in. As ever, try before you buy - the free Ecwid plan can be found here. You can also read our full Ecwid review here.
Ecwid's Starter Site option
A new and potentially very useful feature in Ecwid is its Starter Site option. This allows you to use Ecwid to build a one-page site feature your online store. It's by no means as comprehensive as a Shopify site, but it nonetheless allows you to use Ecwid to build a standalone site. If you're on a paid plan, you can map this to your own domain (meaning that your Ecwid site will sit at www.mystorename.com etc.).
You might consider using Shopify over Ecwid if you...
- don't already have a website or online store, and wish to set one up from scratch which contains multiple sections and pages
- need advanced point-of-sale functionality
- would like to choose from a wide range of payment gateways
- are happy with the simple but effective functionality offered by Shopify's 'Buy Button' as a way to sell products on an existing site.
You might consider choosing Ecwid over Shopify if you...
- already have a website that you are happy with, and wish to add a fully-featured online store to it
- wish to offer your store in multiple languages
- are on a budget - its free plan may actually meet your needs
- are happy with building a one-page online store
- really want to offer a mobile app version of your website.
Alternatives to Shopify and Ecwid
Of the similar products we've reviewed, we'd probably recommend Bigcommerce as a good alternative to Shopify. You can read our Bigcommerce review here, or check out our e-commerce platform reviews for more online store reviews and comparisons.