This is the top question I'm asked by clients. My simple answer is this: it depends. In this post I'll weigh out some of the major the differences and strong points of each platform...
First, let's help by outlining the similarities. Both ecommerce solutions have made launching a storefront of any variety relatively easy. Squarespace and Shopify both offer complete solutions: the ecommerce development platform, the hosting solution and the site development tools. Both are hosted solutions, meaning you have no software to install, no security updates to concern yourself with and no special hosting type to secure. Squarespace and Shopify both take care of the secure checkout, the data encryption and the credit card transaction flawlessly. One stop shopping, if you will.
With both, you can get a store up and running fairly quickly and accept major credit cards (and/or paypal) with quickly. That said, each platform offers strengths in certain areas, weaknesses in others and it helps to know which one might be best for your bright idea.
FOR THE LOVE OF SHOPIFY
If you're aiming to develop a product catalog the size of Horchow, Shopbop or Nordstrom (think: thousands of SKUs) Shopify is clearly the way to go. This is because Shopify is an ecommerce solution first and foremost, and a site design/blog solution second. Ecommerce is its core offering and it is what Shopify does best. Your admin panel centers around customer data, order details and store management. If your focus is to built a world-class online shopping experience with many products, I encourage you to take a look at Shopify. Many of your favorite brands have arrived at this conclusion and entrust their online commerce to Shopify. Tesla, Budweiser, Redbull & Kylie Cosmetics (yes, that Kylie) are just a few examples of major companies who have established serious digital footprints online and are leveraging Shopify to power their online sales.
Another strength of Shopify is its massive list of third-party integrations. Building an on-demand t-shirt business? Shopify is the solution to automate that process. They integrate beautifully with Printful, Gooten and other on-demand print services. (Note: Much has changed since this post first published. Now Printful now integrates with Squarespace and the platform itself has really begun to win me over for running boutique stores, on-demand product sites & other online shops).
Running a drop-ship business? Shopify rocks. In fact, you directly integrate with drop-ship suppliers from your Shopify admin panel. Need POS for your physical store? Again, Shopify is the way to go. For mid to large-scale retail solutions, Shopify is absolutely wonderful. Frankly, there is very little this platform cannot do and if someone comes to me looking for a rock solid online shopping solution I'm likely to guide them this direction first.
Why look elsewhere, right? Well, here's why...
Squarespace is an interesting platform that addresses multiple needs effortlessly in a seamless fashion. Over the past few years they have quietly encroached on the footprints of other platforms (I'm looking at you Wordpress & Shopify) to offer a complete solution for today's more integrated online sites.
What if you want a gorgeous web site with blog content peppered in, context-sensitive products appearing on appropriate pages and customized sales pages that drive your audience to those products? Squarespace does this with incredible ease. Need video smoothly integrated as your page background or an easy way to sell those ebooks? Squarespace. I've developed a genuine appreciation for the platform's versatility and ease of use. Squarespace is (in my opinion) the winner if you see your needs as branded content first and also want to sell some products securely and safely. As noted above, it now has seamless integration with Printful and is a more robust ecommerce player. If you are running a boutique ecommerce business selling a limited number of your own products, I would consider Squarespace as the platform of choice first. Yes, first.
As an advanced front-end developer, both allow me the freedom to custom design any template with CSS and custom coding, meaning you are never locked in to an off-the-shelf design.
Which platform is best for ebooks and PDF downloads? Both. Each solution (when set up properly) will generate a unique link for the customer to download the link to your digital content, good for 24 hours. Customers will also be able to download it instantly after checkout is complete.
I run an online apparel store, which solution is best?
If you run a niche apparel brand, either could work. But if you have Tory Burch sized dreams and an ambitious plan for growth, I would nudge you in the direction of Shopify in large part due to the robust administrative panel and ever-growing third-party app integration solutions. Also - the customer admin panel allows you to manage your orders the way a larger brand would.
I run a brick & mortar business and want a better online presence to match, which solution is best?
If you have a physical boutique and area ready to take it online as well, Shopify's POS cannot be beat. You can use their system for in-store transactions and ensure real-time inventory updates with your online storefront. Shopify also offers robust accounting and other third-party integrations that make this option the best in class for your needs.
I want to have a successful lifestyle blog that also sells my art. What should I use?
For me, Squarespace takes the obvious lead. Your online store can grow with your art collection and I love the platform for blogging and site design. Products can be featured and integrated on virtually any page of the web site (including blog posts) and/or on a dedicated page, giving you rich content options.
What payment solutions does each use?
Get ready to meet your new BFF: Stripe (more on that here). This nimble payment processing tool is integrated with Squarespace and has a sleek (and enjoyably simple) app for your smartphone. You can even take payments from clients you meet in real life, over coffee, for example. Stripe integrates with many cool apps and offers high-quality bank security. Shopify now uses Shopify Payments or a number of other payment processing services.
I want to sell subscription memberships to special content not visible to the public. Solution?
Squarespace. All day long. It's not that Shopify can't do this, it's that it Squarespace is more nimble in the "what would you like to do with this page" arena. Using Shopify (in my opinion) would be overkill for the secured content and private access solution you are seeking.
I'm authoring another post on this topic shortly since this is the area of growth I'm seeing for most of my clients this year. Sign up for the newsletter to make sure you catch that post. It will be juicy!
I've been designing ecommerce storefronts since 1999 and have designed online stores for some very well known brands. This background only means one thing: I know a great ecomm solution when I see one and I can very easily spot deficiencies (and strengths) when I see them. Each of these platforms offer unique advantages to slightly different (and yes, sometimes overlapping) audiences. This brief post barely scratches the surface of the lengthy comparison of features and benefits of each solution.
If you are currently vetting ecommerce solutions, the above info has likely raised more questions than it answered. If you would like additional information, please enjoy a complimentary personal call and we can discuss your ecommerce and online marketing ideas. No obligation. No expectations. I'm happy to answer any and all questions you may have, free of charge. I look forward to hearing from you!