Shopify vs. Squarespace

Shopify vs. Squarespace

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In this article we take a look at Shopify and Squarespace, to see which is really the best solution for your website or your online store building needs.

Going by a set of features, Shopify and Squarespace seemingly look like similar products or services: they can both allow you put a website together and allow you sell your products and service (even if you do not have designing or coding skills). However, under their facade of similarities, they have quite a few differences. One example is that Squarespace was developed to help users build and maintain content-based websites, whereas Shopify was specifically for making your own online store.

Am I making sense here?

Anyway… With the addition of e-commerce to Squarespace’s feature set just recently, these two powerful tools have become increasingly similar and quite technically, you can now use either of the two to create websites or host your own online stores.

The question now is: Which is best suited for your niche or online business?

Answering this vital question starts, helpfully, with yet another question…

Do you want to build a website or an online store?

Before you decide which platform to choose (Squarespace or Shopify), the first question you need to ask yourself is this: Do I need a website or an online store? In this context, by ‘website’ we are talking about a blog to create an online presence where conveying information is your main priority – for example, a blog, news site, e-magazine, your portfolio etc. – and by an online store I mean something where selling products or services is your primary goal.

Creating a Website

If your main goal is to create an informative website, CMS functionality is going to be a priority – and this being the case, Squarespace is the best choice out of the two products pointed out here. The templates are excellent; the content management system is easy to use and intuitive; the photo editing and displaying tools are superb, and the blogging features are highly commendable. Moreover, its integration with Getty images allows you to easily add stock images to your website.

Squarespace has 2 versions: the ‘normal’ version and the ‘developer.’ The normal version is used by the vast majority of Squarespace users, while the developer’s platform is commonly used by agencies and developers. (The latter is the version that you would use when you need more customization options and functionalities, however, you need to be familiar with coding).

In this post we are focussing on the standard version of Squarespace; and to be fair, while it provides a lot of powerful for presenting web content in a beautiful manner, it is also suited to working on quite simple websites only.

First up, we’ll talk about navigation. In Squarespace, it is effectively limited to two levels; one, in fact, as when you create a folder containing sub-folders, the ‘folder’ landing page is not clickable. Secondly, while you can edit the basic aspects of its templates (color, font, etc.), you will be stuck with whatever Squarespace decides looks best. Despite being known or being marketed as ‘creatives’, Squarespace doesn’t really encourage users to particularly customize their templates – in most cases, everything is fixed or ‘locked down’ pretty tightly (you can try to get around this by adding your own lines of CSS to your template). Also, Squarespace support seems to be a bit hesitant in providing support. But those gripes aside, users will find Squarespace a nice platform mainly because the templates do look good, basic tweaks to colors and fonts are allowed, and a site built on the platform looks clean and very easy to maintain. The bottom line is that, when used well, Squarespace can really help you out in putting a professional-looking website quickly, and gives you a lot of nice ways to display videos, images, and blog content – in a way that Shopify does not.

Creating an Online Shop or Store

When you want to setup an online store or sell stuff, deciding which platform to choose between Shopify and Squarespace gets a bit more complicated. Why? Both of these platforms are now capable of doing it, but each comes with a set of PROS and CONS. Let’s look at a few things to consider if your aim is building an online store with either Shopify or Squarespace.

Pricing

Squarespace offers five monthly pricing plans

Cover Page

  1. $7 per month and allows you to create a simple one-page site.

Website

  1. ‘Personal’ – $16 per month
  2. ‘Business’ – $26 per month

Commerce

  1. ‘Basic’ – $30 per month
  2. ‘Advanced’ – $49 per month

EU users should note that the prices above are exclusive of VAT. If you want a discount, you need to purchase a plan on an annual basis.

* They offer discounts on up-front long-term commitments. You will also receive one year off of a new domain registration with your annual purchase.

The key differences between the Squarespace plans are that the ‘Personal’ plan restricts the number of pages to just 20; all the other pages do not come with advanced features, abandoned checkout recovery, you will need to avail the ‘Advanced’ plan. If you intend to use e-commerce functionality with Squarespace, you might want to avoid the ‘Business’ plan as it’s expensive and it involves transaction fees.

Shopify offer five monthly plans:

  1. ‘Lite’ – $9 per month
  2. ‘Starter’ – $14 per month
  3. ‘Basic’ – $29 per month
  4. ‘Pro’ – $79 per month
  5. ‘Unlimited’ – $179 per month

‘Shopify Plus’ – monthly costs is negotiable.

*Shopify offers a 10% discount on an annual and a 20% discount on biennial plans, when you pay upfront.

In terms of what to look out for with the Shopify plans, you should take note that the Shopify ‘Lite’ plan is not intended to build an online store; rather, it just allows you to sell via your Facebook page, an existing website via the ‘Shopify Buy’ button or POS ‘point of sale’ (a physical location; we will discuss more about this below)

The ‘Starter’ plan is not widely advertised because you have to sign up to a free Shopify trial first to find more about it.

The ‘Shopify Plus’ plan is ideal for corporations or big companies with advanced requirements, and the cost varies depending on the business needs.

As with Squarespace, the abandoned cart recovery option only becomes available on a more expensive plan – the $79 ‘Pro’ option.

Transaction Fees

On top of the standard pricing plans, you must also consider the credit card rates and transaction fees.

In Shopify, if you use Stripe as your payment option stripe will charge you 2.2% +30c per credit card transaction on ‘Starter’ , ‘Basic’, and ‘Lite’ plans; 1.6% + 30c on ‘Unlimited’; and 1.9% + 30c on ‘Pro’. If you use a third party payment gateway (we will discuss more about these below), in addition to the transaction charges made by the specific gateway you chose, you will still need to pay Shopify 2% of the transaction on the ‘Lite’ and ‘Basic’ plans, 1% on ‘Pro’ and 0.5% on the ‘Unlimited’ plan.

Shopify Payments is powered by Stripe and is currently only available for merchants selling from the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK.

In Squarespace, transaction fees are applied to ‘Personal’ and ‘Business’ plans, 3% and 2% respectively. The credit card fees are based on which country you are selling from or to – in the UK, it’s 1.4% + 20p for European credit cards, and 2.9% + 20p for non-European credit cards, for example. Oddly, when using Squarespace, it looks like you can use Stripe from more countries than with Shopify, with merchants selling from Finland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, UK and the US all being supported (Stripe is available in other countries as well, in ‘Beta’ mode).

So which platform is cheaper? Shopify or Squarespace?

Shopify had a clear edge on pricing because their plans allow users to sell an unlimited number of products. Unlike with Squarespace, there are limits applied to the cheaper plans. However, Squarespace recently changed their pricing scheme, making their cheapest plan capable of offering full online store functionalities and an unlimited number of products for $16 a month, and their most expensive $40.

With that being said, Shopify still offers cheaper ways into online shopping or selling, however, with their $9 Lite and $14 Starter plans. On the downside, the Starter and Lite plans limit the number of products that you can sell and functionality respectively; but then again, the transaction fees are way lower (and non-existent if you are prepared to use Stripe as your payment option).

Technically you can start selling a large number of products in a fully functional online store slightly cheaper with Squarespace. You can also host an online store featuring an unlimited number of products with Squarespace for $16 a month compared to Shopify’s $29 a month. However, the transaction fees will be higher in Squarespace. And if you are selling only a small number of products, you may find Shopify’s starter plan slightly better value.

Just so you know, there are more things to consider than just the price, you’ll find out more about it below.

Payment Gateways

You can use Shopify almost anywhere in the World and in most currencies because it can be used in over 70 different ‘payment gateways’ (3rd party payment processors that process credit card transactions). As of this writing, Squarespace commerce only works with one payment gateway, and that’s Stripe. This means that you can currently only sell from/and to a limited number of countries. I think this will help you make the Shopify vs Squarespace decision a lot easier – it’s best to choose Shopify if you need to sell from a country not supported by Stripe.

Moreover, Squarespace commerce does not integrate with which may be a dealbreaker for some.

Key Features

When it comes to the feature sets of these two platforms – and as you might expect – Shopify’s online store building solution generally undermines Squarespace’s. The Shopify features are more extensive, and there are some features that are not yet available on Squarespace (see below):

  • Advanced discount code options
  • POS ‘point of sale’ technology (Allows you to use your iOS devices to use Shopify in a physical location like your shop, market, stall or office)
  • Automated EU VAT calculation for digital products
  • Integration Quickbooks, Zoho, and Zendesk and other third-party apps that extend the functionality of your store significantly
  • A much wider range of payment gateway options

User Interface

Overall, Squarespace is a bit easier to use than Shopify. Thanks to its drag and drop interface in setting up site navigation and its easy-to-use layout engine. (It allows users to drag and drop content into pages in a fly making it pretty straightforward to use). While by no means ‘difficult’ to use, Shopify’s user interface is not quite as slick, and setting up web pages and products can take a bit longer. Setting up the navigation or site’s structure can be a bit annoying – instead of being able to drag and drop components, you have to deal with link lists or handles that lead to a process which, while not that complicated, is not really all that user-friendly. That being said, it allows for more layers of user navigation than Squarespace.

However, Shopify trumps Squarespace’s when it comes to ‘responsiveness’. Squarespace feels rather sluggish, and occasionally a bit buggy – when inserting links I’ve found it to crash regularly. Same thing when I upload or edit images. You must use quite a decent machine to get the most out of Squarespace; older or slower computers will cause it – and you – problems and headaches. When it comes to stability and performance, Shopify takes the cake. In essence, its less flashy content management system also seems more reliable.

Templates

As I discussed above, Squarespace templates look gorgeous – although this is subjective to users. For me, they look better than the free templates from Shopify. It has this ‘wow’ factor that is currently missing from most of Shopify’s free templates.

Don’t get me wrong here, Shopify’s free templates are perfectly usable and arguably a lot better than those ‘out-of-the-box’ templates provided by competing products such as Bigcommerce or Volusion.

Also, if Shopify’s free templates don’t meet your standards or requirements, you can buy a snazzier template at Shopify’s template store where you can find hundreds of templates to choose from. This means that there is actually a much wider range of templates available at Shopify – as long as you are prepared to pay for them (price varies but is typically in the $100-$200 range).

Search Engine Optimization “SEO”

Squarespace and Shopify allow you to create SEO (search engine optimization) optimized websites. Just so you know, for all products and pages, Shopify auto generates a page title and meta description, which is a good thing SEO wise. Also, it allows you to edit both titles and meta descriptions easily for all the pages; this is not the case on Squarespace – it does not allow you to edit your meta description for blog posts. You are, somewhat forced to make a choice between allowing Squarespace to use the first 160 or so characters from your post being automatically or populating an excerpt box, the content of which is then displayed on your blog itself. In the case of the latter option, this means your meta data ends up being displayed on your actual Squarespace page; forcing it to be part of the visible page content is crazy in my opinion.

(POS) Point of Sale Applications

One feature being offered by Shopify that is not currently provided by Squarespace is POS ‘point of sale’ kit. So long as you have an iPad 2 and above, this kit will allow you to sell not just online but in actual physical locations too. Cool eh? This point of sale kit comes with a barcode scanner, a card reader, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer – you can buy these items individually or as a package (or you may use compatible third party hardware). There is a wide range of applications available for this POS system: it allows you to sell in a pop-up store, from a stall, at an event, or even in a permanently located retail shops or outlets, while keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synchronized. Not downplaying Squarespace, you could theoretically use your Squarespace store to sell in physical locations too, but you won’t be able to use chip and pin or print paper receipts for your clients; you would have to ask your clients to enter their card details into a computer, laptop, or tablet, and they would receive an email receipt instead.

VAT and Selling Digital Products in the EU

Before you fully decide between Squarespace and Shopify, you must also consider that selling stuff or services online involves charging VAT to your consumers. If you are based in an EU, and you sell digital products or services to consumers in other EU member states, Value added tax must be charged at the rate due in the consumer’s country. In Squarespace, the rates vary and they all have to be entered in manually as individual ‘tax rules’, but in Shopify, it will be calculated automatically for you, potentially saving you a lot of time.

SSL Access

Another area where Squarespace compares negatively to Shopify is SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) access. What is SSL? It is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This ensures that all data passed between a web server and browser remains exclusive or private.

Shopify provides a free SSL certificate with its Basic, Professional, and Unlimited plans. This means that every single page on your website is protected by SSL. In Squarespace, SSL is only applied on its e-commerce pages and doesn’t allow you to install custom SSL certificates to cover other pages of your website. Yeah, credit card transactions on Squarespace sites are protected, which for me is the main thing, but it would be better if all the pages were protected by SSL – particularly if you are using data capture forms.

Another benefit of having SSL installed on your site is that Google treats this as a ‘positive signal’ when ranking your site in search. So it’s very clear, that Shopify is the winner here.

Domains

In Squarespace, when you purchase one of their plans (and pay annually) you get a free custom domain. In Shopify, you can register a custom domain too, but there is an additional cost associated with it.

Product Images

In Shopify, unless all your product images have the same aspect ratio, they will be laid out in an incoherent manner: your visitors will see differently sized image photos in your product catalogs. To avoid this, you need to manually edit all your images in Photoshop or other image editing tools so that they are all in the same aspect ratio…but it’s quite a daunting task.

Squarespace handles your photos very well. You can pick an aspect ratio for all your product images and the system will automatically crop all your photos to that ratio. Cool eh? If you like, you can specify a ‘focal point’ for each product images – this part of the photo will be emphasized within the cropped image.

Paypal

Just so you know, Squarespace e-commerce handles Paypal terribly well. Although you can add Paypal buttons to the pages of your site easily via code blocks, the e-commerce system only works with Stripe (as I discussed above) and your customers cannot check out using Paypal. Obviously, given the massive Worldwide popularity of Paypal, this could be an issue to bear in mind and can definitely be a dealbreaker for some, if not for most users. Using Paypal through Shopify won’t be a problem, and setting it up is as easy as 1,2,3.

Editing HTML / CSS

Shopify offers users with extensive controls over the coding of their website – users get full control over the HTML and CSS. With Squarespace, you can only edit the CSS and certain bits of HTML. Also, the Squarespace support team reserves the right not to support you fully if you’ve accidentally messed up your website. As I discussed earlier, there is a developer plan for Squarespace which provides users with extensive control over every aspect of the design of a website – but then again, you will still need strong coding skills to be able to utilize it well.

Customer Support

Shopify has the edge over Squarespace when it comes to customer support department. Shopify has live chat, email and most importantly 24/7 phone support. Squarespace only offers live chat and email support.

So which is better? Shopify or Squarespace?

My answer to this question is: ‘it depends on your needs, budget, and other deciding factors’. If your primary goal is to just build an attractive website, then Squarespace is your best bet. If you plan to build a content-focused website or a blog and sell products, then Squarespace is a good choice as well as long as you are happy to live without Paypal, happy to live in a Stripe-supported country, or you don’t need to charge EU VAT on digital products and services.

But if your primary goal is to create an online shop or a store with advanced functionalities and comes with a large inventory of products, then Shopify is definitely your best bet!

Why Choose Shopify over Squarespace

  • Shopify supports Paypal, whereas Squarespace doesn’t.
  • It supports a large library of third-party apps which extend its functionality significantly – although some third party app integrations are available for Squarespace, you won’t find a similar catalog of apps to improve your site or e-commerce store.
  • Shopify integrates with 70+ payment gateways and it allows you to sell from almost any country in the World.
  • Shopify has Point of Sale options which are extremely useful; Squarespace doesn’t have this feature.
  • Shopify offers advanced control over the HTML and CSS of your website
  • EU VAT is automatically calculated for you on digital products – this makes selling products in the EU a lot easier.
  • Shopify provides more comprehensive customer support than Squarespace: live chat, email, phone support, 24/7 support.
  • Shopify offers free SSL certificate; Squarespace doesn’t support SSL on non-commerce pages.
  • Shopify’s websites are more SEO optimized compared to Squarespace’s.

Why Choose Squarespace over Shopify

  • High-quality templates – they are better than Shopify.
  • If your goal is to just showcase content, particularly images, then Squarespace is your best bet.
  • Squarespace seems to be slightly easier to use than Shopify.
  • Selling an unlimited number of products with Squarespace is a lot cheaper than Shopify.
  • Abandoned cart recovery functionality is also available more cheaply on Squarespace than Shopify.
  • Product images are handled way better

Conclusion

I do hope that this comparison review has helped somewhat, but if you are still agonizing over your decision between Shopify and Squarespace, it is definitely worth availing of a free trial of both of these platforms, having a play, and seeing which one is right for you.

If you’ve used both Squarespace and Shopify, It would be great to hear your thoughts on both platforms – please feel free to post your comments or questions on either platform below.

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