Shopify vs Squarespace: What is the Best Website Builder in 2021?

As it becomes easier than ever to start an online business, almost every website creation and editing service offers all you need to launch and maintain your digital shop with minimal design or development knowledge. It can be hard to know where to start, but they all have their strengths, and well-informed knowledge of your needs will make the choice clearer. This article will compare Shopify vs. Squarespace, two of the leading website builder tools available to small businesses today.

Overview of Shopify

Shopify offers services in payments, marketing, shipping, and customer engagement rather than just websites.  The expanded offerings include POS technology for physical stores.

As the name suggests, Shopify’s mission isn’t just to let you build an online store but connect marketing and provisioning services to ensure success. Where other platforms have adopted ecommerce functionality as they’ve grown, this software was built from the ground up as a digital shopfront tool.

Overview of Squarespace

You won’t find many people who disagree that Squarespace websites are simply gorgeous. Its templates lean towards showcasing visual media and products like photography and fashion design, so Squarespace tends to be fantastic at showing what you can do, while selling what you have is a secondary (but no less robust) feature.

Squarespace sites are built with fundamental design principles in mind. If you like to tweak and play with interfaces you might find them a little rigid but that’s intentional — a Squarespace site will look fantastic on any browser or device no matter your content because it’s hard to break.

Hosting options for Shopify vs. Squarespace

Both platforms include free hosting (and SSL certificate security) with your monthly subscription, and it’s likely you won’t decide based solely on price because at the lower levels they’re very similar. Shopify has the cheaper product in Shopify Lite ($9/month), but that’s not a full site, just a ‘buy this’-style button to program on another site.

Squarespace’s comparable introductory level is around $16/month, but if you’re building an online store with standard SME-style features service from both platforms will cost around $25-30/month.

At the higher levels Squarespace’s Advanced Commerce plan is $54/month where the Advanced Shopify plan is $299. By the time you’re a big enough business to need all the functionality the upper level plans offer, your subscription will be worth the expense.

However, prices for different features on both platforms muddy the waters a little. Squarespace’s $26 plan charges a 3% transaction fee on all sales with fewer native payment options.  The comparable Shopify plan is a bit more expensive, but you might save in the long run because of the expanded payments toolset.

Layout templates for Shopify and Squarespace

Templates from both providers are fully mobile responsive, and Squarespace has more included templates to choose from (almost 100), whereas Shopify has only nine. Shopify has plenty more templates to choose from, but they cost around $100-200 extra. Once you’ve selected one, it’s also slightly easier to make design-level changes in the HTML and CSS with Shopify, both of which are fully accessible.

Squarespace templates aren’t as easily manipulated, and for good reason. They’ve been built for very user interface-friendly design, and if you tinker too much you can spoil that clean, structured approach. As mentioned, Squarespace sites tend to be very visual, so they might be the better bet if you’re selling something for which a picture tells a thousand words like homewares or apparel.

With Squarespace you’ll look a little more exclusive and sophisticated (think the Apple website versus eBay). This is something to keep in mind if you’re an upmarket restaurant or fine clothing outlet that’s more about quality than volume.

Shopify vs. Squarespace plug-ins and integrations

Squarespace doesn’t seem to have very many plug-ins, but that’s because the templates are excellent, the CMS intuitive, the blogging engine part of the core offering and image editing and display tools speak the same language as the rest of the design tools. Because they’re baked right into the site code, the service as a whole doesn’t need a lot of apps or extensions.

Shopify’s app store contains over 4,000 tools that integrate with other services and enhance your store covering SEO, multiple currencies, dropshipping, productivity tools like Quickbooks and Zendesk, reporting, inventory, tax calculations and much more.

However, a lot of those tools are for specialty arts and if you need a very basic ecommerce service, a lot of what you need can already be found in Squarespace. Make a carefully thought out checklist of the functions you need and let that be your guide – the service that offers them will often automatically be the best choice.

Unique features for Shopify

Customers who fill their cart and don’t commit to buy can take a big chunk out of your revenue. You want the opportunity to reassure and remind them, especially in the early days when customers are getting used to trusting you, and that makes Shopify’s abandoned cart saving – where the system emails customers who haven’t completed purchases — a very big deal.

Shopify also wins out in search engine optimization (SEO), so if web search results is a cornerstone of your marketing, it’s hard to beat. SEO-friendly URLs, page titles and metadata are generated automatically as you create pages and add products, and they speak search engines’ language of meta-description and alt text where Squarespace uses words like ‘captions’, ‘descriptions’ and other terms search engines don’t know to look for.

As your site grows, someone (or some app) also needs to keep track of new URLs so links throughout the site still point to them — something Shopify prompts you to do as you make changes so as to retain the SEO strength of a page and its associated links.

Unique features for Squarespace

The features that make Squarespace stand out are almost all around design. Both the design templates and tools are more elegant and slightly easier to use than in most platforms because of the comparatively closed ecosystem.

A good example is adding video backgrounds on your site. All it takes is a YouTube or Vimeo URL in the relevant field, and you have a stunning moving backdrop. There are even a few playback speed and filter options to customize it further.

Choosing the best website builder

As the ecommerce field has grown, Squarespace now has perfectly adequate ecommerce functionality. If speed is of the essence, you can be up and running and making sales in very little time.

But look at your requirements carefully — where you’ll sell and how you’ll get paid is a paramount concern, for instance. Shopify’s native payments app is only available in certain countries (albeit most of the developed world), but plug-ins and apps offer far more choices in name-brand payment gateways. Squarespace, by contrast, has only four.

Building your business from scratch is also quite different from migrating data from an existing system. The more product lines and content you have, the harder it can be not just to adopt Squarespace or Shopify, you also need to think about the future where you might want to migrate out. Both platforms can help import and export information, but Squarespace imposes more restrictions around exporting large datasets for other systems.

You also need to think about marketing beyond the site itself. Both platforms include integrated email marketing, but emails to the first 2,500 subscribers are free with Shopify and only an extra dollar for each thousand over that number, making it cheaper than Squarespace until you exceed around 30,000 users.

If you’re a real newbie, Shopify also offers phone as well as chat support whereas Squarespace only has chat, and only in given hours, sometimes leaving you floundering if you’re in a distant timezone.

The difference between Squarespace and Shopify can be thought of as beauty versus usability. Both have great templates to choose from, but Shopify is more concerned with the art and science of ecommerce, the core functionality and plug-in environment built with sales principles in mind.

Squarespace is more about making your visitor stop and utter a quiet ‘wow’, but depending on your approach, that’s an invaluable sales tool in itself.

Drew Turney
A graphic designer and web developer by trade, Drew capitalised on his knowledge of technology in the creative field to launch a freelance journalism career, also specialising in his other passions of movies and book publishing. As interested in the social impact of technology as he is the circuitry and engineering, Drew’s strength is observing and writing from the real-world perspective of everyday technology users and how computing affects the way we work and live.

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