Shopify vs. SquareSpace – Ecommerce Platform Comparison

As someone who is in the process of setting up an online store, you are probably researching and evaluating your options for an ecommerce platform that is suitable for your requirements.

While you have many choices for this today (as listed and evaluated in my article on top ecommerce platforms, Shopify is a leading player in this arena and SquareSpace is a (rapidly) rising star and I'm going to compare these two platforms in this article below.

Here’s something we’ve all heard before…

“Success in ecommerce ultimately boils down to how you run your business and the corresponding customer support framework.”

Does this sound familiar?

Well, I’ll admit that it actually sounds just right to the bulk of business owners.

Now, let’s switch to the side of big-time ecommerce gurus and start looking at the whole thing from a different perspective. Take a minute and think really critically about that statement.

How true do you think it is this time?

Have you noticed the one crucial element that’s missing from the puzzle?

Ok, I’ll go straight to the point and tell it like it is.

Here’s the thing. There will never be an ending without a beginning. Or a destination without a corresponding origin. In other words, business success is not practically achievable without a foundation.

The point?

Well, your foundation framework is actually much more significant than both elements we’ve mentioned. How your ecommerce business is founded fundamentally determines its corresponding success.

Allow me to explain…

First, don’t get me wrong. The business operation methodology and customer support framework are both extremely important. That’s undeniable.

But, make no mistake about this. They are both principally dependent on your business’ foundation framework. It’s the one critical thing that dictates the limits and the whole flexibility of those two elements.

Let’s see exactly how this works…

If you added videos to your store’s landing page, chances are you’ll be able to boost your overall lead conversion rate by about 86%. That’s a statistical fact.

Essentially, adding videos is a strategy that perfectly qualifies as part of running your ecommerce site. But all things considered, it would be practically impossible to achieve it if your website’s platform didn’t support it. In essence, it provides a platform for the bulk of your strategies.

Now, over to customer support…

41% of online shoppers, on average, will trust your business when they spot a live chat option. As a matter of fact, 69% of U.S-based online consumers demand live chat support.

There’s no denying that this further emphasizes the importance of a holistic customer support system. And just like the previous case with operation strategy, your options largely depend on your foundation framework.

So, what am I driving at here?

All in all, almost every strategy you consider for your business is dependent on what your site is built on. In other words, the journey to ecommerce success basically starts at the coding and hosting stage.

Thankfully, there has never been an easier time to build an online business. We’ve come a long way from the days when every ecommerce entrepreneur had to understand CSS, HTML, PHP and a bit of Java.

We now have all-inclusive ecommerce platforms that are proving to be increasingly revolutionary when it comes to creating and hosting online businesses. The whole process of building a store is pretty much as simple as subscribe, install then create.

And the best part? There are many options in possibly every corner of the web.

But here’s the kicker…

They are all quite different, with varying features for their users. While this could arguably be a positive aspect, it complicates the entire process of choosing an ecommerce platform.

Your final choice dictates your subsequent functionalities and overall business versatility. Get it wrong, and the corresponding ride will be far from smooth for your business.

That said, I assume that by now, you’ve heard about a couple of well-known ecommerce platforms. Particularly the select few that are currently enjoying the largest market share.

Case in point? Well, there’s Shopify and SquareSpace to begin with, among other prominent brands. The two names have been thrown around many times for quite some time now.

Admittedly, while they are both reputable ecommerce platforms, they come with varying provisions. And that alone essentially makes the selection process quite cumbersome.

But guess what? I’ll make it much easier. I know we could just jump off the deep end and declare the winner right off the bat but that would only be counterproductive. To effectively determine suitability, we have to compare their respective features and the corresponding provisions that add up to individual user packages.

So let’s jump right in…

Shopify vs Squarespace: Overview

In the red corner is Shopify. And right by the blue corner, we have SquareSpace. Undoubtedly one of the biggest contests between ecommerce platforms, to say the least.

Shopify

Technically, SquareSpace is older since it was founded in New York back in 2013. Shopify, on the other hand, came into existence three years later in Ontario Canada.

Interestingly, Shopify is actually the elder when we shift focus to ecommerce. It hit the ground running as soon as it was launched- consequently making it a 12-year-old veteran in ecommerce hosting.

Certainly explains to some extent how it managed to secure the second biggest global market share by 2017.

Much of this time, SquareSpace existed only as a website builder. Well, for at least 10 years, until the company launched the SquareSpace Commerce section in 2013.

SquareSpace

That makes SquareSpace a late entrant, that’s for sure. But they came into the ecommerce space with guns blazing.

A war chest of extensive funding is only part of the story. They also had a decade worth of website building experience up their sleeve.

So, of course, it makes sense that SquareSpace was able to turn up the heat on Shopify and other ecommerce platforms from the word go.

And it didn’t leave it at that. It has since recorded exponential growth as users continue joining the bandwagon.

Then boom! Perhaps unsurprisingly, SquareSpace is now one of the most popular platforms on the internet today.

But Shopify is not taking this lying down. Each new feature announced by any of the services is met with a counter strategy from the opposing side.

Needless to say, they will never be the same. While some of their features might be identical and they share the same bottom line of facilitating ecommerce stores, Shopify and SquareSpace have varying functionalities.

And now the elephant in the room. Which between the two provides superior features?

Well, let’s find out…

Shopify vs Squarespace: Features

One thing’s for sure…

Creating and running an ecommerce store is a rather extensive process, with multiple holistically connected operations.

So, to be thorough, we’ll classify and compare the features as they apply to all the principal business operations:

· Creating and Designing an Ecommerce Store

It goes without saying- a website should have a simple but attractive interface, coupled with a straightforward navigation process. Otherwise, you could end up with rather discouraging bounce rates, considering 88% of online customers never go back to a website after a bad experience.

Well, that makes sense. But here’s the problem….

Building one is not as easy as it sounds. And marketers seem to agree so. Because they consider this one of the top 5 challenging aspects of establishing and marketing an online business.

Both SquareSpace and Shopify attempt to make this easy through templates. But their individual customization options are not the same at all.

Shopify

Shopify, for instance, utilizes drag-and-drop. After creating a layout component, you basically move it to the preferred position.

The editing process is also pleasantly straightforward. Simply choose any section of the site, then click and edit accordingly.

Unfortunately, content and design are treated as two separate entities. You cannot work on both at the same time.

On the bright side, however, at least Shopify allows you to design virtually anything by editing HTML/CSS.

SquareSpace

SquareSpace, on the hand, is seemingly fond of using a hybrid system. It’s known for its wide array of pre-created themes.

Additionally, unlike Shopify, it combines both content and design. You can conveniently work on both simultaneously.

But, you’ll need to have a solid collection of high-quality images to achieve a seamless design with SquareSpace’s themes.

Verdict

Now, when it comes to similarities, I noticed that both use drag-and-drop, probably because of its intuitiveness. And if you need to source for more design options, they all come with well-stocked theme marketplaces.

Overall, I found SquareSpace to be just perfect for users seeking high-quality ready-made themes with great images. Shopify, on the other hand, would be a better deal if you prefer extensive artistic functionalities.

· Facilitating Ecommerce Processes

This is where we usually separate actual ecommerce platforms from generic website builders.

Naturally, an online store comes with five fundamental ecommerce elements- order database, payment processor, checkout page, shopping cart, and a product database.

Of course, by now, there’s a lot more that can go into a store. But these pretty much summarize what you should expect in a typical ecommerce site.

Thankfully, both Shopify and SquareSpace are quite comprehensive when it comes to these core features. But, they seemingly have varying approaches to the whole concept of facilitating ecommerce.

SquareSpace

SquareSpace is all about helping you sell digital and physical products easily.  You’ll be able to manage sales taxes, shipping cost options, couponing engine, inventory, product upload and product editing.

The biggest disappointment for many shop owners, at least up until December 2016, was the fact that SquareSpace only provided one payment gateway.

Well, you’d expect it to be PayPal considering its global reach. But no. They had a different idea. Only Stripe was supported, subsequently locking out business in many countries.

It might have taken some time, but SquareSpace ultimately came to its senses and integrated PayPal. It’s now possible to conduct transactions with customers from most countries.

Shopify

Fair enough, but it still falls behind Shopify in payment facilitation.  You see, Shopify has been in the commerce niche for over a decade now. They know that globally, 6% of abandoned carts are caused by lack of adequate payment options.

So, of course, it’s so refreshing to see that Shopify offers a much wider variety of payment options. While SquareSpace only supports two, Shopify comes with more than 100 integrations. Consequently facilitating transactions from possibly every web-linked corner on earth.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t stop there. As a platform that has strictly dealt with ecommerce all along, Shopify is seemingly not letting a new kid school it on facilitating business.

Verdict

While SquareSpace is all about simplicity, Shopify provides more advanced ecommerce features. It has even established its own app store with loads of paid and free applications to extend your capabilities.

It turns out Shopify is a better option for extensive ecommerce sites in need of additional features to facilitate possible future expansion. SquareSpace, on the other hand, is just right if you want a simple, hassle-free system of selling.

·Marketing

Now hold it right there.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. While those are some exciting ecommerce features we’ve looked into, there will be no selling if you cannot promote your online store.

This is where things like landing pages, share buttons, email signups, schema markups, open graph information, and custom metadata come in.

So far, both SquareSpace and Shopify have been doing really well when it comes to marketing features. In addition to automatic open graphs, product schema, and metadata, they also provide integrated header scripts.

And to cap it all, both have integrated core analytics. Quite handy for tracking your products and overall market performance.

Shopify vs Squarespace: Ease of Use

Well, here’s one element that SquareSpace and Shopify are not miles apart in- the user interface. They both provide a streamlined menu on the left side of the dashboard, from where you can conveniently navigate to all the core features.

Over to the dashboard’s right-hand side, and you have options like add products, view data, edit content and so forth.

Quite neat, to be honest. But they can’t be exactly identical, right?

Try-Shopify

Frankly, I‘m a huge fan of simplicity. If it takes me ages to learn the ropes, what’s the point of using it? That said, I’ll admit that both are pleasantly simple and straightforward.

But, while we’re at the whole simplicity advocacy, let’s remember that a simple interface doesn’t have to be painfully dull. A good design is simple. But a great one achieves a seamless balance between simplicity and captivation.

SquareSpace

That’s why SquareSpace, in my opinion, wins hands down. Its interface is arguably sleeker and helps create products and pages much faster than Shopify.

Shopify

It’s not all gloom for Shopify though. It might take longer to design and create pages, but overall responsiveness is much better than SquareSpace. The latter can be quite sluggish at times, and occasionally throw in a bug or two when you’re working on the layout engine.

Verdict

If you’re unlucky, SquareSpace might even go further and crash while you’re creating perhaps a blog post or new layout. To be fair, Shopify has also crashed on me quite a number of times, but not as many as SquareSpace’s.

I presume the high-quality images has everything to do with this problem.

But, you have nothing to worry about if you’re working with a decent machine that can handle heavy graphics quite well.

Shopify vs Squarespace: Pricing

By now, you’re probably wondering how deep you’ll dig into your pocket for all these features we’ve reviewed.

The good news is that both Shopify and SquareSpace have packages at varying price points suited for different types of businesses. The bad news, sadly, is that crawling through them to compare the features is not as easy as it sounds.

SquareSpace

SquareSpace, to begin with, comes with four pricing options. Two classed under “online stores”, while the rest are meant for “websites”.

Under “online store” you can choose between:

  • Basic at $26 per month charged annually, or $30 if you choose to pay on a monthly basis.
  • Advanced at $40 per month charged annually, or $46 if you prefer paying on a monthly basis.

Over to the other side, you have the following options under “websites”:

  • Personal at $12 per month charged yearly, or $16 if you prefer monthly billing.
  • Business as $18 per month billed yearly, or $26 if you choose to pay every month.

squarespace

Now, you might wonder why they have the business package classed under “website”, separate from other “online store” options.

It’s really simple. If you think about it, all online businesses do not exist as ecommerce stores. And this is the type of package that’s best optimized for that selected class of websites.

That said, let’s see the principal differences between these price points:

  • It’s impossible to sell through the Personal
  • Additionally, you’ll also not be able to capitalize on developer mode, or add javascript and CSS to your website if you proceed with the Personal
  • All sales made through the Business plan are subject to transaction fees of 3%.
  • While the number of contributors on all other pricing plans is unlimited, the Personal plan is only open to two.
  • Only the Advanced plan comes with the all-important abandoned cart recovery feature.
  • Subscribing to the Business, Basic or Advanced plans qualifies you for a free Google Apps account for a period of 12 months.
  • All “Online Stores” plans come with dedicated ecommerce reporting.
  • Choosing to proceed with annual billing, as opposed to monthly payments, grants you a free custom domain.

Shopify

While SquareSpace limits the options to four, Shopify chooses to add an extra option- consequently making them five. They include:

  • Shopify Lite at $9 per month.
  • Basic Shopify at $29 per month.
  • Shopify at $79 per month.
  • Advanced Shopify at $299 per month
  • Shopify Plus with extra features for large businesses, starting at $2000 per month.

shopify

Just like SquareSpace, Shopify also makes it cheaper if you choose to pay upfront for an extended period of time. Subscribing for 12 months attracts a discount of 10% while 24 months qualifies you for 20%.

To help you make an informed choice, here are the primary notable differences between the plans:

  • Shopify Lite does not provide features for designing and creating an ecommerce site. It would only be an option if you seek to sell through a Facebook page, point-of-sale, or an existing site.
  • Unlike SquareSpace, all plans, apart from Shopify Lite come with the abandoned cart saver feature.
  • Shopify, Advanced Shopify, and Shopify Plus support gift cards.
  • Advanced reporting is only offered on Shopify, Advanced Shopify, and Shopify Plus.

Verdict

Well, this is the part where you realize that it takes quite a lot of scrutiny before you make your final choice. But fortunately, you can make it easier by taking advantage of the 14-day free trial period on both SquareSpace and Shopify.

All in all, SquareSpace is obviously cheaper compared to Shopify. Possibly because the latter offers advanced features to facilitate multi-level selling.

Shopify vs Squarespace: Customer Support

From my experience, both Shopify and SquareSpace have pretty solid customer support systems.

If you experience trouble building your site, for instance, you could make use of their comprehensive knowledge bases. They provide adequate documentation and tutorials on all features they offer.

And the best part is? Navigating around them is very simple and straightforward. They are well-categorized to help you find your way around the dense forest of information.

However, even with that, you might still find it completely necessary to contact the support team from time to time.

Verdict

Now, this is where Shopify has a slight edge over SquareSpace in terms of support channels. While SquareSpace can only be contacted via live chat or email, Shopify has gone a step further to include 24/7 phone support.

When it comes to actual helpfulness, well, I’ll leave that you to compare and decide. That’s a subjective factor because experience varies from one user to another.

Bottom Line

And now for the ultimate verdict.

Who takes the title between the red and blue corners?

Two things….

Firstly, by now you’ve figured that Shopify has a much comprehensive list of advanced ecommerce features. That’s good enough.

But, to be fair, that’s not enough to edge out SquareSpace, which alternatively seeks to make ecommerce easy through simpler, more accessible tools.

So, what am I driving at?

The secret is evaluating your needs and subsequently comprehending the best features for your ecommerce site. That’s the only way to pick a clear winner that’s well-suited to your specific business.

As you embark on this, we’d love to hear about your experience. Feel free to share the story in the comments section.

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.