Shopify vs Squarespace (2017) - A Comparison Review

Shopify vs Squarespace (images of the Shopify and Squarespace logos side by side)

In this review we take a look at Shopify vs Squarespace, to see which is the best solution for your website or online store. Read on to get a list of pros and cons of each platform - and do feel free to leave your thoughts on both products in the comments section (I'd love to hear from users of both platforms).

On the face of it, Shopify and Squarespace look like similar products: they let you create a website and they let you sell products (even if you don’t have any design or coding skills). But they have a different history and started out life with different purposes: Squarespace was initially conceived as a solution for building and maintaining content-based websites, where as Shopify was specifically created as a solution for making your own online store.

Recently however, with the addition of e-commerce to Squarespace’s feature set, the two tools have become increasingly similar and technically, you can now use either to create a website or host an online store. But which is best suited for your business?

Answering this question starts, helpfully, with another question…

Are you trying to build a website or an online store?

When deciding between Squarespace and Shopify, the first question you need to ask yourself is this: what am I trying to build – a website or an online store?

Of course, an online store is obviously technically a website, but in this context, by ‘website’ I'm talking about an online presence where conveying information is the priority – for example, a blog, a news site, a brochure site, a magazine, a photography portfolio etc. – and by online store I mean something where selling products is the primary goal.

Building a website

If your focus is on building an informative website, design and content management functionality are going to be a priority – and this being the case, it's fair to say that Squarespace is the obvious choice out of the two products discussed here. Its templates are excellent; its CMS is intuitive and easy to use; its photo editing and displaying tools are superb; and its blogging features are strong. 

There are two versions of Squarespace to consider: the 'normal' version, used by the vast majority of Squarespace customers, and the developer's platform, which is used by agencies and, as the name suggests (!), developers. The latter is the best version to use if you intend on customising Squarespace very extensively, but you obviously need to be familiar with web development and coding in order to use it.

Laying out content in Squarespace is easy, and the options for doing so are extensive (click to enlarge image).

In this article I'm focussing on the standard version of Squarespace; and it's probably fair to say that whilst it provides a fairly powerful bunch of tools for presenting web content in an attractive manner, it is generally suited to working on fairly simple sites only. 

Firstly, navigation is effectively limited to two levels; arguably one, in fact, as when you create a 'parent' page containing sub-pages, you can't actually view the parent page (depending on the template used, clicking on it will just reveal a list of sub pages, or worse, the first 'child' page - both approaches only serving to confuse users!).

Secondly, whilst you can edit basic aspects of the templates (colours and typefaces etc.), you are generally going to be stuck with whatever Squarespace decides looks best. Despite marketing themselves at ‘creatives’, Squarespace don’t really encourage particularly creative use of their templates – in most cases, you're dealing with a 'walled garden' in which everything is locked down pretty tightly, and if you try to get around this by adding your own lines of CSS to your template, Squarespace support are a bit hesitant in providing support. (To be fair to Squarespace, I've noticed an increasing number of style controls being provided to users lately, so this may over time become less of a problem.)

But those gripes aside, most users will find Squarespace a very nice platform indeed, primarily because the templates do look tremendously good, basic tweaks to colours and typefaces are allowed, and the walled garden approach, despite its faults, means that it's easy to build and maintain sites on the platform. The bottom line is that, used well, Squarespace can help you put a professional-looking site extremely quickly, and gives you a lot of nice ways to display images and blog content - in a way that Shopify arguably doesn't.

[While we're talking about Squarespace...did you know that Style Factory now offers Squarespace development services? Find our more about our Squarespace developers here.]

Building an online store

Where the Shopify vs Squarespace decision gets rather more complicated is when you want to start selling stuff. Both platforms are capable of it, but each comes with a set of pros and cons. Let’s look at a few key issues to consider if your aim is to build an online store with either Squarespace or Shopify.

Pricing

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing options, banded into two types of packages, 'websites' and 'online stores'. This is a little confusing, as you can technically sell products using any of the packages.

  • 'Personal' - $16 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Business' - $26 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Basic' - $30 per month ('Online Stores')
  • 'Advanced' - $46 per month ('Online Stores')

Discounts for all of the above are available if you purchase a plan on an annual basis (the above four plans, respectively, will work out at $12, $18, $26 and $40 per month when you pay upfront for a year's service). EU users should note that these prices are exclusive of VAT. 

In terms of the key differences between the Squarespace plans, the main things to note are that:

  • if you use either of the 'websites' plans - 'Personal' and 'Business' - you will pay transaction fees (3% and 2% respectively) on any sales
  • the 'Personal' plan restricts the number of pages to 20; all the other plans permit you to create an unlimited number of pages (note that this limit doesn't include blog posts - you can have as many of those as you like)
  • the 'Personal' plan restricts the number of contributers (i.e., authors / admins) to 2; on all other Squarespace plans you can have an unlimited number of contributors.
  • to avail of an important feature, abandoned cart recovery, you will need to go for the 'Advanced' plan
  • you'll get a year's free Google Apps account on the 'Business' plans and up
  • you'll get better reporting functionality on the 'Online Stores' plans than the 'Websites' ones
  • on the 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans you can avail of integrated accounting via Xero.
  • if you intend to use e-commerce functionality extensively with Squarespace, the 'Business' plan might be best avoided as it is not that much cheaper than the 'Basic' plan yet involves 2% sales transaction fees
  • if you pay upfront for a year's service, you can get a free custom domain (yourbusiness.com)
  • the business plans and up come with a $100 Adwords voucher.

Shopify offers five monthly plans:

  • Shopify 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

10% and 20% discounts on these prices are available if you pay upfront for an annual or two-year plan.

In terms of what to watch out for in terms of the differences between Shopify plans, you should note that:

  • the Shopify Lite plan doesn't actually let you build an online store; rather, it allows you to sell on your existing website or Facebook page (thanks to the 'Shopify Buy' button) or at 'point of sale' (a physical location; more on that below)
  • Gift cards are only available on the more expensive plans ($79+ plans)
  • The 'Shopify Plus' plan is essentially for big companies with advanced e-commerce requirements, and prices vary depending on needs
  • as with Squarespace, the abandoned cart saver only becomes available on a more expensive plan - the $79 'Pro' option
  • detailed reporting features only become available on the $79 Shopify plans and up.

Transaction fees and credit card fees

On top of the standard pricing plans, there are transaction fees and credit card fees to consider - the former being a percentage fee of your sales charged by your e-commerce platform (in this case Squarespace or Shopify), and the latter being the percentage fee of your sales charged by the company you choose to process your credit card payments (otherwise known as a payment gateway).

With regard to Shopify, if you use Shopify Payments - Stripe, basically - you avoid transaction fees entirely (i.e., Shopify will not take a cut of the transaction). However, Stripe will charge you 2.2% +30c per online credit card transaction on 'Shopify Lite'  and 'Basic Shopify' plans; 1.9% + 30c on 'Shopify'; and 1.6% + 30c on 'Advanced Shopify'.

If you use a third party payment gateway to process your credit card transactions (more on these below), in addition to whatever transaction charges are made by that gateway, you will pay Shopify 2% of the transaction on the 'Shopify Lite' and 'Basic Shopify' plans, 1% on 'Shopify' and 0.5% on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan.

With Squarespace, transaction fees are applied to their 'Personal' and 'Business' plans - 3% and 2% respectively. In terms of the the credit card fees, the rate is determined by Stripe based on what country you are selling from or to - for example, in the UK it's 1.4% + 20p for European cards (for now at least; let's see what happens after Brexit...) and 2.9% + 20p for non-European cards. 

Oddly, on the face of it, when using Squarespace, it seems as though you can use Stripe from more countries than with Shopify. Shopify state that you can only use Stripe as your payment gateway if you are selling from United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. Shopify users elsewhere will need to use a different payment gateway - the good news is that 70+ integrate with Shopify (more details on payment gateways below).

So which works out cheaper, Squarespace or Shopify?

Up until fairly recently, Shopify had a clear edge on pricing, because all their plans allowed you to sell an unlimited number of products, whereas limits applied to the cheaper Squarespace ones. Squarespace recently changed their pricing structure, however, making their cheapest plan offering full online store functionality and an unlimited number of products $16, and their most expensive $46. 

This means that technically you can start selling a large number of goods in a fully functional online store a considerably cheaper with Squarespace, because you can host a store featuring an unlimited number of products with Squarespace for $16 per month compared to Shopify's $29 per month. But you should note that the transaction fees will in all probability be higher.

Of the two products under discussion, Shopify still technically offers the cheapest way into online selling however, with the $9 Lite plan. This plan is more geared towards people who want to sell on an existing website (or social media site) rather than build a new one, so functionality is a bit more limited than the entry level Squarespace offering; but if this approach suits you you'll appreciate that the monthly costs and transaction fees are both lower than on the cheapest Squarespace plan (transaction fees will be non-existent if you are prepared to use Stripe as your payment processor).

It's important to remember, of course, that there is a lot more to consider than just the monthly fees, as we'll see below...

Payment gateways

Shopify can be used almost anywhere and in most currencies, because it allows you to use over 70 different ‘payment gateways’ (third-party processors that process credit card transactions).

Up until December 2016 Squarespace e-commerce worked with just one payment gateway, Stripe; this was not ideal, as merchants could only sell from a limited number of countries. More seriously, it was not possible to use Paypal as a payment processor. Fortunately however, Squarespace recently introduced a Paypal integration, which opens up a lot more selling possibilities to Squarespace users. 

It is very encouraging to see Squarespace widen its range of payment gateway options, but overall Shopify remains the more attractive and professional option from a payment processing point of view - the number of payment gateway integrations is significantly larger (70+ versus Squarespace's 2) and as such the flexibility when it comes to accepting payments is much greater.

Key features

When it comes to the feature sets of both products – and as you might expect – Shopify’s heritage as an online store building solution generally trumps Squarepsace’s. The Shopify e-commerce feature set is more extensive, with features that are not yet available on Squarespace - unlike Squarespace it offers:

Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

  • ‘point of sale’ technology (iPad / iPhone apps and add-ons that talk to your Shopify store and allow you to use Shopify in a physical location like your shop, market stall or office)
  • automated EU VAT calculation for digital products (more on that below), so that you can comply with VAT MOSS requirements
  • integration with a very extensive range of third party apps that extend the functionality of your store significantly (apps include integrations with Quickbooks, Zoho and Zendesk to name just a few).
  • advanced reporting features
  • a much wider range of payment gateway options, as discussed above.

Interface / ease of use

On the whole Squarespace is arguably a bit easier to use than Shopify. Its drag and drop approach to setting up site navigation and its easy-to-use layout engine (which allows you to drag and drop content into pages in a very user-friendly way) means that it is very straightforward to use.

Whilst by no means difficult to use, Shopify’s user interface is arguably not quite as slick, and setting up pages and products can take slightly longer than in Squarespace. Setting up the site architecture / navigation is a bit annoying in Shopify – instead of being able to drag and drop things about the place, you have to deal with ‘link lists’ and ‘handles’ that lead to a process which, whilst not too complicated, is not really all that intuitive and may have some users scratching their heads for a few minutes. That said, when it comes to the desktop version of your store, Shopify lets you work with more layers of navigation than Squarespace, because it allows user to click on a primary level navigation item even if there are sub-pages below it. (Annoyingly however, this functionality disappears on the mobile version of your Shopify store.)

One aspect of the Shopify interface which definitely trumps Squarespace's is 'responsiveness'. Squarespace often feels rather sluggish, and occasionally a little bit buggy. I've also found Squarespace to crash more often than I'd like, particularly when uploading or editing images; I've also lost a few blog posts in Squarespace when the platform hung up on me mid-posting.

Finally you really have to be using quite a decent machine to get the most out of Squarespace; older or slower computers will cause it - and you - headaches. In the stability and smoothness stakes, Shopify is in my view the winner. In essence, its less flashy CMS also seems the more reliable.

Templates and visuals

As discussed above, Squarespace templates are gorgeous. Although this is a subjective area, I feel they are more contemporary or varied in nature than the free templates from Shopify.

There are also more templates to choose from in Squarespace: you can choose from around 80 free / included templates to Shopify's 10. That said, there's a very wide range of Shopify paid-for templates available - more on that in a moment - and the 10 templates that are provided with Shopify contain a few variants for each theme, meaning there are actually more free options than the number nine suggests.

Squarespace template (click to enlarge)

There's definitely a 'wow' factor with certain Squarespace templates that sets them apart from similar website building and e-commerce platforms. That said, a lot of templates - and this is in keeping with the issues discussed above regarding content presentation vs selling online - are geared towards users who want to blog or showcase an art, photography or music portfolio. Of the 80 or so Squarespace templates available, only 8 are dedicated online store ones (that's not to say, however, that you can't sell products using the others).

Depending on your chosen template, you'll find lots of nice visual effects in play, such as parallax scrolling and text that gracefully fades in and fades out as users scroll through a site.

Squarespace templates can be further enhanced, thanks to an integration with Getty images. This provides you with an easy and affordable way to add stock images to your website - images cost $10 each, plus VAT where applicable. This actually works out considerably cheaper than buying pictures direct from Getty Images or iStock and uploading them to your Squarespace site.

And if all that wasn't enough, Squarespace recently upped the ante in the template stakes by introducing video backgrounds - you can now use a Youtube or Vimeo video as a background for your template, with stunning results. You just enter a Youtube URL into your page settings and Squarespace will use it as the background (and to boot will give you quite a few styling options and filters to apply to it).

However, Shopify is by no means a slouch in the template / visuals department. The Shopify free templates are aesthetically pleasing and arguably better than a lot of the ‘out-of-the-box’ templates provided by competing products such as Volusion or Bigcommerce.

Additionally, if the 10 free Shopify templates don't meet your requirements, there is a Shopify template store that you can buy a snazzier template from. There are around 50 paid themes to choose from, most of which contain several variations, which means there is arguably a wider range of templates available from Shopify than Squarespace - so long as you are prepared to pay for them (prices vary but typically involve a one off payment of between $140 and $180).

All the Shopify and Squarespace templates are responsive, meaning that your templates automatically resize themselves to suit the device they are being viewed on - mobile, tablet or desktop computer. (This is not the case with some competing e-commerce products.)

For me the bottom line with templates is that both Shopify and Squarespace provide a wide range of attractive options, with Squarespace is being the more obvious choice for content-driven websites, and Shopify being the more obvious choice for those wishing to create an online store.

Importing and exporting products

Both Squarespace and Shopify give you the option to import products. With Shopify, you can import products

  • using a CSV file
  • from Ebay
  • from Magento

Squarespace allows you to import products from:

  • CSV
  • Big Cartel
  • Etsy
  • Shopify

This means that Squarespace has a bit of an edge when it comes to import options.

When it comes to getting your product data out of both platforms however, Shopify is the more flexible tool. This is because Shopify lets you export all your product data (to CSV or XLS file); Squarespace, by contrast does not (it permits you to export pages, blog posts and images but not products).

This lack of a fully-featured export tool in Squarespace is worthy of serious consideration, because if your business grows to the extent that you need to switch to an enterprise grade solution (such as Shopify Plus or Bigcommerce Enterprise, for example), you may potentially face a very big roadblock, particularly if you have a very large store. There are some merits in Squarespace's "walled garden" approach to website building, but the lack of product export functionality is in my view, one wall too many.

Furthermore, the information provided on the Squarespace site about this issue is rather misleading. Under a 'Can I download Squarespace' heading, the following statement is made:

"Squarespace is a fully-managed web service. We do not have plans to make a downloadable version. Squarespace does provide many standard methods for exporting your data." (Emphasis mine).

In my view, this is inaccurate: the export functionality is limited to Wordpress XML format and doesn't, as discussed above, permit the export of product data (you can export static content pages and one of your Squarespace blogs).

So definitely a win for Shopify here.

SEO (Search engine optimisation) in Squarespace and Shopify

Another area which I feel is handled considerably better by Shopify than Squarespace is SEO (search engine optimisation).

Firstly, for all products and pages, Shopify generates a page title and meta description automatically, which a lot of the time - particularly where products are concerned - often provides a very good starting point.

Secondly, Shopify lets you edit both titles and meta descriptions easily for EVERY page; this is not the case on Squarespace - you cannot (somewhat incredibly) properly edit your meta description for blog posts. 

With blog posts on Squarespace, you are, in essence, forced to make a choice between allowing Squarespace to automatically populate the meta description with the first 160 or so characters from the post or manually populating an excerpt box, the content of which is then displayed on the blog itself. In the case of the latter option, this means your meta description ends up being displayed on actual Squarespace page; and forcing meta descriptions to be part of the visible page content is crazy in my book. SEO options should be much better implemented on Squarespace frankly, and there should not be a crossover between meta descriptions and page content unless the user specifically wants that crossover to exist.

Another nice thing about Shopify and SEO involves URL mapping. If you change a page's URL, Shopify will automatically create a 301 redirect to that page for you. This lets search engines know that the page has moved, and preserves any 'link juice' associated with it. By contrast, in Squarespace, if you change a page URL, you will have to manually create the 301 redirect (the process for which is fiddly; and creating 301 redirects is quite easy to forget to do).

Finally, it's just easier in Shopify to spot the key fields that you need to complete in order to add meta data - this is because they are labeled as they should be: i.e., page title and meta description.

Bottom line: Shopify's approach to SEO blows Squarespace's out of the water.

Point of sale (POS) in Shopify and Squarespace

One nice feature offered by Shopify which is not currently provided by Squarespace is 'point of sale' (POS) kit. This works with both iOS and Android mobile devices and allows you to sell easily not just online but in actual physical locations too. The point of sale kit comprises a barcode scanner, card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer - you can buy any of these items individually or as a package (or alternatively use compatible third party hardware).

There are a wide range of applications for Shopify's POS system: it allows you to sell in a pop-up shop, from a market stall, at an event or even in a permanently located retail outlet, whilst keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synced. To be fair, you could theoretically use your Squarespace store to sell in physical locations too, but you could not use chip and pin or print paper receipts for clients; you would have to ask them to enter their card details into a laptop or tablet, and they'd receive an email receipt.

Mobile apps

Shopify and Squarespace both provide users with mobile apps for managing their sites or stores on the go. With Squarespace it's very much a case of 'apps plural'. There are five - yes, five - Squarespace iOS apps available:

  • Blog
  • Analytics
  • Portfolio
  • Commerce
  • Note

And if that's not enough for you, there are three Squarespace apps for Android available:

  • Blog
  • Commerce
  • Note

Of the above, most users are realistically going to appreciate 'Blog' and 'Commerce' the most, as these allow you to publish blog content and manage e-commerce orders on the go. 'Analytics' is pretty useful too and does what you might expect it to: look at your site stats on a smartphone. (Of course because 'Analytics' is not available in Google Play, Android users unfortunately won't currently be able to do this.)

Squarespace's 'Blog' app

Squarespace's 'Blog' app

'Portfolio' allows you to download the content of your Squarespace galleries to your phone so that you can show people your images on your phone when you don't have internet access. (Not 100% sure I quite see the point of this). 

 'Note' is a note-taking app which allows you to publish content to a variety of different tools including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive. (It's got a slightly odd interface but it's actually quite a useful app in its own right, and you don't actually need a Squarespace account to use it. Perhaps Squarespace see it as a gateway drug of some sort).

Shopify by contrast provides 2 apps - first there's the main Shopify app, which allows you to edit certain aspects of your Shopify site, view basic stats and check in on orders. The second Shopify app is its dedicated POS (point of sale) app, which allows you to take orders and accept payment for goods in a physical location. These two apps are available in both iOS and Android versions. In terms of user satisfaction, the Shopify apps are rated slightly more highly by their users than the Squarespace ones (averaging all the current user reviews out, it's roughly a case of 4 stars for Shopify's apps; 3 stars for Squarespace's).

It's fair to say that Squarespace and Shopify seem to be taking quite a different approach to mobile app provision, particularly where iOS is concerned. With Squarespace, you will need to download several apps to manage your site on a smartphone; with Shopify, you should be able to make do with just one; this will be more convenient for many users. The flip side of this is that the Squarespace apps are designed more with specific actions in mind (publishing a blog post, viewing stats etc.), meaning that they are arguably better suited to the task at hand.

VAT and selling digital goods in the EU

If you're selling digital goods to consumers in the EU, there's something you need to watch out for when making a decision between Squarespace and Shopify: VAT MOSS ('VAT Mini One Stop Shop').

Basically, when your business sells a digital product to consumers in EU member states, value added tax (VAT) must be charged at the rate due in the consumer’s country. With Squarespace, these different rates all have to be entered in manually as individual 'tax rules', but Shopify will calculate these automatically for you, potentially saving you a lot of time.

(An alternative workaround for VAT MOSS in Squarespace is to charge the same fee for products regardless of the countries involved, and retrospectively calculate and pay the relevant amount of VAT for each country to the tax authorities. Check with your bookkeeper or local tax authority first though to see if this is kosher...).

SSL access

SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between web servers and browser, and using it ensures that all data passed between a web server and browser remains private. You can spot a site using SSL when you see a URL beginning with "https://" rather than "http://"). There's also another benefit to having SSL installed on your site: Google treats it as a 'positive signal' when ranking your site in search.

Up until recently, it was another win for Shopify here, because Squarespace only used SSL on its e-commerce pages and didn't allow you to install custom SSL certificates to cover other parts of your site. The good news now is that like Shopify, Squarespace now provides a free SSL certificate which you can use with any domain. 

Domains

Once nice feature of Squarespace is that when you purchase one of their plans (and pay annually) you get a free custom domain with it; although you can use Shopify to register a custom domain too, there is a cost associated with this (which starts at $13 per year). You can also buy domain names through Squarespace too, if you like.

You should note however that only certain domain extensions are available with both Squarespace and Shopify. Squarespace doesn't permit you to buy country domains (.co.uk etc.), for instance; Shopify does, but its domain buying options are also in general quite limited. 

As such many users will find it simpler just to buy a domain using a third-party provider and tweak the DNS settings to map the domain to their Squarespace or Shopify website.

Product images

One area that I feel is handled considerably better by Squarespace than Shopify is product images.

With Shopify, unless all your images have the same aspect ratio, they will be laid out in a pretty incoherent manner: visitors to your site will see a mish-mash of differently sized image photos in the product catalogues. You can get around this by manually editing all your images in Photoshop or other image editing program so that they are all in the same aspect ratio...but this is a pain in the derrière to say the least and for me represents one of Shopify's biggest weaknesses. It's a good idea in general to focus on getting your imagery right before building an online store, but this image ratio issue makes it particularly important to focus on this with Shopify.

Squarespace provides a better approach: you pick an aspect ratio for your product images and the system will automatically crop all your pictures to that ratio. If you like, you can specify a 'focal point' for individual product images in Squarespace - this part of the photo will be emphasised within the cropped image. 

Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Reporting

If you're looking for a platform with professional reporting functionality, then Shopify is a better option than Squarespace. Although the Squarespace reporting offering has improved quite a bit recently, the stats provided are of a more basic nature than those found in Shopify.

In Squarespace you can expect to see a simple but effective overview of site visitors, traffic sources and sales - but Shopify's analytics offering is much more extensive, giving you a set of detailed stats which include:

  • finance reports
  • sales reports
  • customers reports
  • acquisition reports
  • behavior reports

And what's more, you can use Shopify to create your own custom reports too.

Reporting in Shopify is significantly more comprehensive than in Squarespace (click to enlarge)

There is one negative aspect of Shopify's reporting offering which is worth pointing out however: it's only available on their more expensive plans. The pre-defined reports are available on the $79 'Shopify' plan and up; and to avail of custom reporting you'll need to purchase an 'Advanced Shopify' or 'Shopify Plus' plan. If you don't opt for one of these plans, you'll just get access to a basic dashboard which provides similar data to that which you'll find in Squarespace. You could of course use Google Analytics to get around this, but you'd need to do more manual configuration and 'goal-setting' to get at the sales data you need.

Similarly, Squarespace charges a premium for more advanced reporting features - if you want enhanced commerce analytics, you'll need to be on the more expensive 'Basic' or 'Advanced' online store plans.

Using Shopify and Squarespace with G Suite

Squarespace has recently been making quite a lot of noise about the fact that it partners with Google to offer Squarespace users G Suite (Google Apps) functionality out of the box. If you're new to Squarespace you can sign up for G Suite when you purchase your Squarespace plan - your account will be free for one year (it's not clear how many users this covers). 

When you sign up for G Suite through Squarespace, you can manage certain G Suite admin tasks without leaving your Squarespace site:

  • adding users/email addresses
  • renaming users
  • reviewing G Suite invoices

This functionality is fairly limited, and easily accessible through the G Suite admin panel, so the integration isn't that mind blowing. More appealing is the year's free account. 

Squarespace does integrate nicely with G Suite in one particular respect: you can connect data capture forms to a Google Sheet, meaning that you get a handy real-time overview (or indeed archive) of any form submissions made via your website. This will work with any G Suite account, regardless of whether you purchase it via Squarespace or independently. If you already have a G Suite account, note that you won't be able to connect it retrospectively to your Squarespace account, or avail of any free G Suite plans.

In terms of using Shopify in conjunction with G Suite, there's nothing to stop you doing that - you will need to edit your DNS settings manually to get the email accounts to work, but that's a fairly simple 5 minute task.

Editing HTML and CSS in Shopify and Squarespace

With Shopify you get very extensive control over the coding of your site - you get full control over the HTML and CSS of your website. With Squarespace, you can edit the CSS and certain bits of HTML (you can insert code blocks onto pages, or inject HTML into the header of your site) but you should be aware that the Squarespace support team essentially reserve the right not to support you fully if you've added HTML or CSS to your site.

As discussed earlier, there is a developer version of Squarespace available which does provide users with extensive control over every aspect of the design of their site - but you will need strong coding skills to be able to work with it. As the name suggests, you will ideally need to be a developer.

(For the record, what I'd *love* to see one day is a halfway house between the standard version of Squarespace and the developer's platform - maybe a product called 'Squarespace Pro' which, like the original version of Squarespace, allowed you to tweak every element of your website and edit the CSS of your site easily).

Support

Shopify definitely has the edge over Squarespace in the support department.

Shopify provides you with live chat, email and (crucially) 24/7 phone support - Squarespace offer only live chat and email support. If I was paying $46 a month for a Squarespace account, I'd expect phone support. 

It's a bit unclear however what countries you can avail of Shopify phone support from - phone numbers are only listed for North America, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

A note of caution is worth sounding regarding the support offered with both Shopify and Squarespace - the quality of support you'll get often depends on what you're doing with your template. 

For example, if you're using one of the standard free Shopify templates, you can expect fairly comprehensive support if it's not behaving as it should. But if you opt for a third-party, paid-for template, you may have to deal with the designers of that template if you run into trouble. And how good that support is will depend on the developer.

Similarly, Squarespace's support team are pretty good at assisting with template related queries...unless you customise it by adding your own CSS to it, in which case the Squarespace support team effectively reserve the right not to support you.

Which is better, Shopify or Squarespace?

The answer to this question is a big fat ‘it depends’. If your primary aim to build an attractive website to showcase content, then Squarespace is definitely your best bet. I'd argue that this is particularly the case if you're working with images - Squarespace is particularly good for creating online photography portfolios with - or are a musician / band. 

If you are hoping to build a content-focused website or a blog and sell a couple of products on the site as well, then Squarespace is probably still your best bet, so long as you are happy with the fairly limited payment processing options - and you don't need to charge EU VAT on digital goods. 

However if your aim is to create a large online store with advanced functionality, professional reporting and a big inventory of products, then Shopify is unquestionably the more robust solution, not least because it allows you to export your product data, something Squarespace does not currently permit.

Interestingly, if you prefer the general vibe of Squarespace, or have an existing Squarespace site that you're really happy with, but would you'd like to add e-commerce functionality to, you could also consider using Squarespace AND Shopify in conjunction with each other: you could use the 'Shopify Lite' Plan to integrate the Shopify Buy Button, cart and checkout onto a Squarespace site. I've seen quite a few users do this.

In summary, here are the reasons why you might pick one tool over the other:

Reasons to use Shopify over Squarespace

  • With Shopify, you can export products; in Squarespace you can't, meaning it's very difficult to migrate an online store if you need to move platforms.
  • There is a huge library of third party apps that work with Shopify and extend its functionality significantly - although some integrations are available for Squarespace, you won't find a similar catalogue of apps to beef up your site / store.
  • Shopify provides you with significantly more choices when it comes to payment gateways.
  • If you intend to sell products in-store or at events, you will find Shopify's Point of Sale options extremely useful; Squarespace doesn't yet offer this kind of functionality.
  • Shopify permits more advanced control over the HTML and CSS of your website.
  • Reporting is significantly better in Shopify than in Squarespace, although you'll need to be on a more expensive plan to access this functionality.
  • Thanks to the fact that EU VAT is automatically calculated for you on digital goods, Shopify makes selling products to EU customers a lot more straightforward.
  • Shopify provides more comprehensive support than Squarespace, including phone support.
  • Shopify's 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling online and at point-of-sale very cheaply (but note that it won't provide you with a fully-fledged online store).
  • Although fiddly to work with, Shopify's navigation builder allows you to use more levels of navigation than Squarespace (for desktop versions of your store).
  • Shopify has a much better approach to SEO.
  • There are more template variations available in Shopify (but you will have to pay a premium to use many of them).
  • Only one smartphone app is required to manage key aspects of your site on the go - with Squarespace you'll need at least three.

A free trial of Shopify is available here.

Reasons to use Squarespace over Shopify

  • The quality of templates is arguably higher in Squarespace than in Shopify - they have more 'wow' factor.
  • There are more free templates to choose from with Squarespace.
  • If your main aim is to showcase content, particularly images, then Squarespace is the more elegant, flexible solution.
  • The video background feature is capable of providing you with some stunning visual results.
  • You can buy Getty images very cheaply with Squarespace and integrate them easily onto your site. 
  • Squarespace is, in general, slightly easier to use than Shopify, particularly where creating a site navigation is concerned.
  • Squarespace allows you to sell an unlimited number of products more cheaply than Shopify.
  • Abandoned cart recovery functionality is available more cheaply on Squarespace than Shopify.
  • Product images are handled better by Squarespace.
  • You can set up a store and sell unlimited products with Squarespace cheaper than with Shopify.
  • Depending on whether or not you have an existing G Suite account, you may be able to avail of a free G Suite plan for a year by purchasing it through Squarespace.

A free trial of Squarespace is available here.

Hopefully this comparison review has helped somewhat, but if you are still agonising over your decision it is definitely worth availing of a free trial of both products, having a play, and seeing which one you prefer:

More Shopify and Squarespace resources

You might also find the below posts on Shopify and Squarespace useful:

Squarespace web development from Style Factory

We now offer Squarespace web development services, providing custom coding that can significantly improve the look, feel and functionality of your Squarespace site. We also offer a 'white glove' service where we can build your new Squarespace site for you from scratch.

Find out more about our Squarespace developers.

Alternatives to Shopify and Squarespace

If you’d like to try another solution before committing to either Squarespace or Shopify, Bigcommerce is definitely worth a look because it is feature-rich and very easy to use (it's particularly good when it comes to providing merchants with the option to add a wide variety of product variants). You may also find some of our other e-commerce platform reviews helpful – just see the 'related articles' section below for a list of recent posts.

Any thoughts or questions?

If you've used either Shopify and Squarespace (or both!), it'd be great to hear your thoughts on both products - feel free to post your comments or questions on either platform below. Also, if you've found this post useful, it'd be wonderful if you could consider sharing it on social media or creating a link to it on your blog / website. Thanks for reading!


Related articles