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Shopify vs Squarespace: Which to choose for your online shop

Ecommerce Platforms|07.01.2015

Shopify vs Squarespace. Not sure which one to choose? In this article we'll outline the pros and cons of both and help you decide.

Shopify

If you're looking to build your own online retail business, there are few platforms that have more ticks next to them than Shopify. After building websites for several years, Shopify has struck us as by far one of the best platforms we've ever encountered. We have a detailed review of Shopify here.

Founded in 2004, Shopify was initially based on software its founders had created for the online snowboard store they had wanted to create. They did create the store, Snowdevil, but by 2008 the Shopify platform was generating profit so the founders closed down Snowdevil to focus more of their attention on growing Shopify.

Over 120,000 stores currently use the platform, and that number is growing all the time. Now that they have a solid service for e-commerce entrepreneurs, Shopify has started tackling offline retail with their point-of-sale (POS) system, which includes both an iPad and iPhone app, as well as compatible hardware such as a barcode scanner, receipt printer and cash drawer.

Shopify is a hosted solution, which means that as part of your fee Shopify will host your shop on their servers and you don't have access to the back-end code. For most retailers that won't be a problem as you can still massively customise your shop via configuration, 'apps' or by customising your theme.

Here are the main pros and cons of opening a store using Shopify:

Pros of Shopify

1. Your own beautiful custom website

Shopify has a selection of 'themes' in its Theme Store, these can be easily installed onto your website to give it a beautiful look with lots of functionality

Every website made using Shopify shows absolutely no trace of the platform used. In this sense, Shopify is a white-label system. Squarespace is also a white-label system.

If you wish to customise these themes beyond the simple changing of a logo and colour palette, then you can make more comprehensive changes to the templates if you have a good understanding of CSS, HTML and Liquid. Liquid is Shopify's proprietary language for creating themes for their platform.  This allows you to completely manipulate the theme, creating a custom look and feel that is unique to your brand.

Don't worry if this all sounds like jargon – if you don't have a grasp of web design you can employ a Shopify Expert to customise themes for you. Even if you have some understanding of code, sometimes it's still worth hiring someone else to do it so you can better focus your time on starting your business. 

2. Superior customer service

Shopify offers 24/7 support on phone, email and live chat to all of its users. The best part? It's included in the monthly fee.

Online shops do not have opening and closing times, which is one of their main benefits over high street shops, so it is obvious why Shopify's 24/7 support is a massive benefit to any e-tailer. Ultimately, you will be trying to sell 24/7, so it is comforting to know that any problems that arise when you are selling are dealt with promptly.

Squarespace also claims to reply to every message they receive 24 hours a week, 7 days a week, but only offers live chat Monday to Friday from the hours of 3am till 8pm. They do not offer phone support.

3. The Shopify App Store

This is one of the most useful elements of Shopify, and something that Squarespace still does not offer its users. Shopify has an App store full of Shopify-made and third party apps that you can get, either for free, a one-off charge or a monthly fee, to add functionality to your store. We have written a list of the best Shopify apps which you can read here. From that list, here are some of the most popular apps we've encountered while working with Shopify:

  • Loyalty Lion - Delight customers by rewarding purchases, referrals, visits and signups.
  • Wishlist + Reminder - Add a customer wishlist to your website.
  • KISSmetrics - Analyse your shop's analytics to make better business decisions
  • Yotpo reviews - Add customer reviews to your product pages. Yotpo automatically follows up with customers to ask for a review and you can customise the email.

You can view the Shopify app store here to see customer reviews and ratings for each app.

4. Range of payment gateways

Squarespace Commerce only offers you one payment gateway: Stripe. This is just one of the many that Shopify offers, believing that each seller is unique and should be given as much of a choice as possible.

Luckily for its sellers, Shopify has already done the hard work involved in integrating with dozens of payment gateways, so you don't have to. Authorize.net, Braintree, PayPal, Paymill, SagePay, RealEx, Stripe and RBS Worldpay are just some from the extensive list of payment gateways supported in the UK. Worldpay and SagePay also offer an 'offsite' checkout that is not hosted on Shopify, therefore they can also offer 3D secure.

We have an in depth comparison of the UK payment gateway options available for Shopify here.

5. Seamless compatibility with POS system

To all of their customers, Shopify offers the option to sell both online and in a brick-and-mortar. Using Shopify's POS software, you can seamlessly integrate everything between your online and high street shops. If, for example, your last red coat is bought in your shop, it will also show as out of stock on your online shop. This saves you a lot of time, stress, and customer complaints.

Shopify has released a variety of hardware for brick-and-mortars, including a card reader, barcode scanner, receipt printer and cash drawer. In terms of software, Shopify has an official iPad app to accept payments from Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, as well as the ability to update your inventory in real time. In this, the iPad acts as your store's central computer system.

There is a bit of a catch, though. The ability to take card payments via the app using a hardware plugin to the iPad is only available in North America. But worry not, there is a way around this. You can still use the other hardware components, you'll just need a third party chip-and-pin card machine to take card payments. Then you can simply mark the order as paid as part of the checkout flow within the app. There's a lot more information about using Shopify PoS in the UK here.

Do note that this is something that Shopify is aware of the UK demand for their POS system and is planning to add functionality for UK stores in the future.

6. Shopify Experts

Shopify's certified Experts can help you every step of the way to creating a beautiful, customized e-commerce store. They are rated and reviewed so you can choose which expert you opt for, and they will ensure your shop is a perfect match to your brand. There are set up experts that help you get up and running, designers that do everything from small tweaks to a huge design overhaul, marketers that help you with with special promotions, SEO optimisation and social media campaigns, and experts that do all of the above.

Squarespace don't offer anything to compete with this, which means that if you opt to use their system and find that you want some changes made, or that you just need some assistance in marketing, you're left to your own devices. While Shopify is a simple platform in the first place, a community of Shopify Experts means that the it is accessible to many more people who don't have an expert understanding of technology.

Drawbacks of Shopify

1. Monthly fees

Here are the fees, which you'll notice are more expensive that SquareSpace.

Basic:

  • $29 (£17.49)/month.
  • Easily set up a store.
  • Includes discount codes.
  • 2% transaction fee.

Professional

Unlimited

  • $179 (£107.98)/month.
  • Advanced reports.
  • Real-time carrier shipping.
  • 0.5% transaction fee.

Plus

2. Poor multi-currency support

While you can display product prices in a variety of currencies using exchange rates provided by xe.comsome businesses might want to specify rates themselves, which Shopify does not allow you to do. In the ever-growing realm of internationalisation in e-commerce, this could be a problem to some e-tailers.

Additionally, despite the visitor browsing in their own currency, the final payment must be taken in the store's default/base currency. It's a good idea to warn customers of this at the cart stage, otherwise your business could seem misleading and lose customer trust.

There is a way to get around this, but it can be stressful. Some retailers set up multiple Shopify stores, each with a different currency. If you opted to do this, you could then use Brightpearl to keep your inventory in sync between stores. Some retailers may find this approach frustrating and would prefer shopping cart software that can integrate with payment gateways that support seperate accounts per currency. This isn't something that SquareSpace can do either, you'll need a standalone custom platform like Magento.

3. Dependence on third party apps

As previously mentioned, to add more functionality to Shopify you often need to use apps. The vast majority of these are built and supported by third parties and so have inconsistent levels of quality and cost. Once you start installing a few apps your implementation can be a bit messy. You may also find that you don't have access to adjust the look and feel of some apps as you would like to.

Also, as a result of most of the apps not being designed or distributed by Shopify, the ongoing support will generally be worse than Shopify's excellent 24/7 service. This can cause issues for your business if you rely on apps to help your store function properly.

Squarespace

When Squarespace was launched back in January 2004, it was only intended to create an all-in-one web publishing platform, though in February 2013 it branched out into the world of e-commerce, providing a solution to all those who want to get started selling online.

Because its e-commerce offering is so new, it may not be able to compete with the existing e-commerce giants like Shopify just yet, but it does certainly have some brilliant traits, which are listed below.

Like Shopify, Squarespace is a hosted solution, which means they will host your shop on their cloud servers and you don't have access to any the back-end code. Instead, you can customise your shop via Squarespace’s powerful and dynamic styling editor.

Pros of SquareSpace

1. Beautifully designed templates

Squarespace provides you with templates that command your attention. Their templates are clean, mostly minimalistic and highly professional. The themes give off an air of elegance due to their simplicity. With some theme stores you can scroll for a while before you find anything that you would feel comfortable presenting to your customers, but with Squarespace the challenge is to pick a single one out of the many options that you love!

While Shopify's themes are also aesthetically great, Squarespace's main USP is their expertly designed templates.

2. Extensive styling options

Theme customisation isn’t anything groundbreaking in the website building world, and Squarespace aren’t necessarily pioneering anything here, but their Style Editor makes it exceptionally easy for a non-technical person to customise their website design without having to type a letter of code. In the Style Editor you can adjust colours, typography, background images, opacity of images, the width of the sidebar, any spacing and padding, and page-specific styles. There is also a CSS editor built in so you can maximise the customisation of your website if you have an understanding of code.

3. Free Typekit fonts and discounted Getty images

Squarespace's partnership with Typekit makes more than 65 Typekit fonts available to all Squarespace customers at no additional charge. Typography is one of the very core factors that influence a customer's perception of a brand. It's something that can be instantly judged and scrutinised when they load up your website, and has to be perfect. This partnership with Typekit makes it far easier for you to construct a brand for your business, with a much wider range of typography to choose from. 

Another partner of Squarespace is Getty Images, one of the world's leading creators and distributors of high quality images and videos. Because of this partnership, Squarespace website owners get an exclusive rate for using images from Getty on their websites, at the affordable cost of just $10 a photo.

4. Excellent marketing tools

SEO is built in to all websites made with Squarespace to ensure that search engines, and thus potential customers, find you. You will also have access to analytics that are updated in real time, giving you a powerful sense of customer insight. Squarespace's dedication to social integration also makes it easier than ever to connect with your customers on Facebook, Twitter, and more - see our next point.

5. Social integration

Squarespace's social integration feature allows you to easily share store news and product updates to all of your customers and followers at Twitter, Facebook, or any other social service supported by the platform.

The social accounts publishing system should save you time and effort, as you do not have to manually post any updates to your social media platforms, but can automatically share specific news with all of them. All you have to do is connect your social media accounts to your Squarespace website, then alter the settings for how people can connect with you on those social networks. This nifty feature allows you to include social 'follow' buttons on your website navigation, as well as auto-post new content, like products and blog posts, to all of your social media accounts, ensuring that your followers never miss an update and driving up traffic.

6. Cheaper plans than Shopify

You'll notice SquareSpace is slightly more affordable than Shopify, so if you don't need so many features it could be a good place to get an elegant website up and running at low cost.

Personal:

  • $8/month (billed annually) or $10/month (billed monthly)
  • 20 pages, galleries and blogs
  • 500 GB bandwidth
  • 2 GB storage
  • 2 contributors
  • Fully integrated e-commerce
  • The ability to sell 1 product
  • Mobile and tablet optimisation
  • A free custom domain
  • 24/7 customer support

Professional:

  • $16/month (billed annually) or $20/month (billed monthly)
  • Everything from Basic, plus...
  • Unlimited pages, galleries and blogs
  • Unlimited storage
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited contributors
  • The ability to sell up to 20 products
  • The Squarespace developer platform

Business:

  • $24/month (billed annually) or $30/month (billed monthly)
  • Everything from Professional, plus....
  • The ability to sell unlimited products
  • Real-time carrier shipping
  • Label printing via ShipStation
  • Integrated accounting by Xero

Drawbacks of Squarespace

1. Not open source

One of the most annoying things about Squarespace is that it isn't open source. This means that everything is designed by their in-house team and they do not allow external designers to design for their platform. As a result, the templates and tools are exceptionally designed but limited. Another downside to not having an open source system is that support can only be given from Squarespace.

2. Editing mode is limited

When you are altering your template, Squarespace does not offer a real-time "live" editing screen, so you can't see what your website will actually look like until you publish your updates. You will find that you will have to make edits, then preview the page in live mode, only to go back and make edits again because it looks different to how you expected. Not very instinctive, though a lot cheaper than hiring a web designer to do the same.

3. Bugs when editing

Squarespace uses containers called 'blocks' that you can add, move and combine to customise your site. In these blocks, you can hold images, text, videos, quotes, calendars, forms and many other things. The issue is that when you try to add blocks or move them around, the editor sometimes gets confused. People often report problems when they want to move blocks around their pages, with the editing system hindering and slowing down their customisation rather than making it an easy seamless experience. Having said that, the content editor in SquareSpace is one of the best we've seen and seems to strike the right balance between control and making blog posts and pages easy to edit.

4. Style Editor can be overwhelming

The Style Editor has a lot of room for customisation. It's packed full of tools, sliders, widgets and fonts. It could be easy to be overwhelmed and not know where to start. If you have skills in design or a very clear layout that you want your website to follow, then this wouldn't really be an issue, but for the layperson who just wants to make little edits, the wealth of options could be a bit excessive.

5. No PayPal integration

Unlike Shopify or Bigcommerce, Squarespace's e-commerce is not integrated with PayPal. As a result, building a website with Squarespace excludes you from perhaps the most popular online payment method, and the one that your customers will be most familiar with. Squarespace instead uses Stripe to process all your customers' payments, though this is not as universally known as PayPal is. If you think that your customers will expect PayPal and require it as your payment gateway, you may have to use either Shopify or Bigcommerce. 

6. No phone support

Squarespace does not offer phone support to any of their customers. If their customers were expected to have excellent web design skills, that could probably be swept under the carpet, though considering Squarespace is meant for people without this skillset, they are more likely to require support. Their lack of instant assistance is made up by the easy to use interface but sometimes you want someone on the phone to guide you through a change.

Conclusion

Both platforms clearly have their positive traits, though it seems that Squarespace has less ecommerce pedigree compared with Shopify. Both platforms offer beautiful templates and relatively low cost price plans, but some may find Shopify expensive. On the other hand, Shopify offers more support and a bigger marketplace for apps and experts, it also offers more payment gateway options, which will make it easier for some merchants to switch.

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