REVIEW 24 minutes

Squarespace vs. Shopify – Choosing the Right Platform for Your Store

Last updated: Author Jason Moth

Setting up an online business can be a daunting task if you want to take the traditional route and build everything from scratch. The website alone can take weeks or even months to design if you plan on taking care of the coding yourself. Hiring someone else to do it can be very expensive, which is not ideal if you’re operating on a tight budget. So is there a better and more affordable solution? Absolutely. Quite a few, in fact. Platforms like Squarespace and Shopify offer hassle-free solutions for building websites with eCommerce functionality in no time and with relatively little effort.

Choosing between the two companies mostly boils down to the type and size of the business you want to launch. Are you looking to build a huge eCommerce platform that sells tons of products or do you just need a small but very stylish online store? Shopify is definitely the best choice for the first scenario while Squarespace would be a better pick for the second one.

Then again, things tend to more nuanced for a lot of users. But don’t worry if you can’t decide right off the bat because we’re here to help. We recently took a closer at both platforms and put together an in-depth comparison that will answer any question you may have about Squarespace and Spotify. By the end of this article, you should have a very good understanding of what these two companies are all about and, therefore, be able to make an informed decision on which platform to use. With that out of the way, let’s kick things off with a little overview of our competitors.

Overview

Squarespace

Squarespace is essentially an all-in-one platform that gives you everything you need to design and launch a new website. Whether you’re looking to create a small blog, a fancy-looking website used to display your work portfolio or a fully-functional online store is entirely up to you. Squarespace simply gives you the tools and lets you build whatever you want with them while also offering some helpful guidance along the way.

The Squarespace site editor sits somewhere between Wix and WordPress in terms of complexity and user-friendliness, making the platform a solid choice for veteran webmasters and newcomers alike. While you won’t be able to build an online store with the entry package, upgrading to one of the higher tiers will gradually unlock a variety of useful eCommerce tools. These tools aren't quite as advanced as those offered by Shopify but they can certainly get the job done. Squarespace is overall not as powerful as Shopify when it comes to eCommerce but it’s cheaper and more versatile, which makes it a worthwhile option to consider.

Shopify

Shopify is widely considered to be the best eCommerce website builder on the market right now, and with good reason. The platform was designed from the ground up with serious sellers in mind and contains all the tools and features you need to build and manage a professional online store. Unlike Squarespace, Shopify never tried to branch out into different areas and instead decided to keep focusing on what it does best – helping sellers create the perfect store for their business.

Shopify is a bit more difficult to work with when compared to other platforms, which makes it less suitable for beginners. At the same time, the relatively high prices make Shopify hard to recommend for small stores. If you’re willing to put in the time needed to surpass the learning curve and can afford the costs, you’ll quickly find that Shopify is an extremely powerful platform that can support even the largest eCommerce operations. Shopify isn’t for everybody but if you’re part of its target audience, you’ll definitely be satisfied with what the platform has to offer.

Navigation and Ease of Use

Building a website for your online business can be remarkably easy with the right platform. While Wix and a couple of other builders could be considered more user-friendly options, Squarespace and Shopify also try their best to make things as simple and intuitive as possible. The two platforms offer fairly similar-looking interfaces, with the left side of the screen comprised of various menus while the right side features tools and options used to edit content, and elements, and so on.

Squarespace Ease of Use

Squarespace is often seen as one of the most challenging non-eCommerce-specific builders out there. However, that doesn’t necessarily say much given that these types of all-purpose website builders are actually very easy to work with when compared to the alternatives. The main reason why Squarespace may seem a bit too complex at first glance is because the platform comes with a wide variety of powerful creative tools. Getting used to all these tools takes some time and effort but you don’t really have to worry about wrapping your head around the most complex ones unless you’re going for a very specific type of website.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to build a fairly simple website, you won’t have any issues using the editor because it comes with very intuitive drag-and-drop functionality. The site editor is block-based so you won’t be able to drag elements anywhere on the page. Some people might find this system somewhat restrictive while others will probably see it as a helpful feature because it provides some level of guidance for new users who don’t know where to start. If you’re looking for a drag-and-drop editor that’s completely free-form we recommend checking out Wix.

Squarespace follows the WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) process of editing. In case you’re not familiar with that term, it simply means that you’re editing on the frontend and that any changes you make while editing will look identical on the live version of the site. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like fiddling around with things too much, you’ll be happy to know that Squarespace offers dozens of beautiful pre-configured templates that require very little editing. And if you’re struggling to find the most suitable template for your site, you can let Squarespace’s artificial intelligence system choose one for you.

Shopify Ease of Use

eCommerce-specific builders tend to be more difficult to use when compared to all-purpose builders, however, Shopify is somewhat of an exception to that rule. The learning curve can be a bit steep for beginners but the editor is almost as easy to navigate as Squarespace. Shopify’s site editor was designed with functionality in mind rather than style so you can expect it to look less elegant and feel less intuitive than Squarespace. But just like with Squarespace, the complexity mainly comes from the wide range of tools and features available.

Shopify has a simple dashboard with multiple categories for the various tools and settings along with a section dedicated to page editing. The editor is pretty minimalistic and resembles the one used by WordPress. There’s also some drag-and-drop functionality to make things even easier, though the system isn’t quite as slick as that used by Squarespace. On the bright side, Shopify’s editor is very fast and responsive whereas Squarespace can feel somewhat sluggish at times, particularly if you’re using an older computer.

Although Shopify has a lot going on for it, you can easily build an online store on the platform without knowing too much about it. That’s because Shopify offers a pre-configured storefront that you can use instead of building a new one from scratch. Granted, you’ll probably want to modify some of the sections and add some new elements in order to give it a more unique look. For the most part, though, the pre-configured online store is fully functional out of the box and many of the essential eCommerce features are integrated right off the bat.

Ease of Use – Both platforms are pretty easy to work with but Squarespace feels just a bit more intuitive when compared to Shopify. Squarespace also has a more user-friendly and visually appealing UI, though Shopify’s minimalistic approach isn’t all that bad either.

Templates and Custom Editing

Even though both Squarespace and Shopify allow you to easily create a website for your online business, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any website you make will be a successful and good-looking one. A solid website needs to stand out from the crowd in terms of design while also providing useful features for potential customers. This means that you’ll need to choose a good template and customize it yourself instead of relying on the generic designs recommended by these companies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad idea to start with a generic structure, but if you really want to attract a lot of customers to your business, you’re going to need something special.

Squarespace

One of the things that stands out the most about Squarespace is the quality of its templates. All the templates offered by the company were carefully crafted by professional designers to look as sleek and as modern as possible. Although there are several dozen templates to choose from, only around 10 of them seem specifically designed for eCommerce. Most templates are more suitable for content-driven websites that use a lot of high-res images.

You can technically add eCommerce functionality to any of the available templates but keep in mind that some of them will be more difficult to optimize than others. Stick to one of the recommended eCommerce templates if you want to play it safe.

If you know your way around CSS, you can make custom edits to your websites by adding bits of code. You also have the option of using code blocks to inject HTML into your pages or to add certain JavaScript elements. Custom edits are only available with the Business plan or higher so you won’t be able to use any code at all with the entry package. It’s also worth noting that Squarespace isn’t the best when it comes to providing support for heavily customized websites. If you want even more control over your website, I suggest using the developer version of Squarespace instead because it opens up a lot more options.

Shopify

Shopify doesn’t sort its themes based on their purpose, mainly because there’s no need for that. All the themes offered by the company were designed for eCommerce so all you need to worry about is the look. Unlike Squarespace, Shopify splits its themes into two categories – free and premium. Users get access to a very limited selection of free themes, though most of them do come in two or three different styles. If you want a store that truly stands out, however, you’ll either have to buy a premium theme or heavily customize a free one.

If you’re familiar with WordPress, you’ll know what to expect here. The premium themes are miles ahead of the free ones in terms of both looks and functionality. There are over 60 premium themes to choose from and buying one will set you back anywhere between $140 and $180. That’s definitely not cheap, especially when you consider that many of the templates offered by Squarespace look just as good, if not better than most of these premium themes.

As far as custom edits are concerned, Shopify is more flexible when compared to Squarespace. You can freely add, remove and edit the HTML and CSS code of your website as you see fit. But, just like Squarespace, Shopify doesn’t include this feature with its cheapest package.

Templates and Custom Editing – Not only does Squarespace have better-looking templates, it also offers a wider selection than Shopify and all of them are available for free. Granted, there aren’t many eCommerce-specific templates to choose from, however, you can technically add eCommerce functionality to all templates, even those that aren’t necessarily optimized for it.

Plans and Pricing

Opening an online stone can be a very profitable venture but you’ll first need to invest some money in order to set everything up. Shopify is quite a bit more expensive than Squarespace, however, the platform offers a larger variety of features and apps. This makes the platform a good choice for large eCommerce operations but isn’t necessarily ideal for smaller online stores. Basically, you’ll need to take into consideration the size and complexity of your store before deciding which of the two platforms to choose.

There’s no doubt that Shopify is in a different class than Squarespace in terms of eCommerce functionality. The platform is the largest of its kind and a direct competitor to other eCommerce juggernauts like Magento, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. Meanwhile, Squarespace’s main competitors are other all-purpose site builders like Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. Squarespace is a fantastic choice for multi-purpose websites and small stores run by individuals while Shopify is better suited for large stores run by companies.

Squarespace

Squarespace has four plans to choose from, the cheapest of which will only cost you $12 per month. Included in that price are a free domain name for 1 year, unlimited storage, SSL certificate, basic SEO tools, and a few other useful tools and features. While the Personal plan is great for blogs and content-driven websites, you’ll want to go at least with the Business package ($18/mo) in order to unlock eCommerce functionality. You don’t get a lot of special features with the Business plan but basic things like inventory management, shipping tools and the ability to sell unlimited products are all there. Squarespace takes a cut from Business users but the transaction fee is only 3%.

Squarespace’s final two plans are designed specifically for eCommerce and will set you back $26 and $40 per month, respectively. These two plans pack a good amount of advanced features and you won’t have to worry about transaction fees with either of them. If you’re willing to invest in the most expensive plan, you’ll be able to sell subscriptions and gift cards to your customers, add a secure checkout page to your domain, allow customers to create accounts on your platform, and more. You won’t have access to nearly as many advanced features as Shopify offers but you won’t have to invest extra money to buy themes, apps or anything else. Everything Squarespace offers is included in the listed price.

Shopify

Shopify offers a total of five different plans but the cheapest one won’t actually let you build an online store. Instead, the $9/mo Shopify Lite plan is essentially an add-on that lets you turn an existing website or blog into an online store. The integration isn’t always seamless depending on the site but Shopify Lite can also be used on Facebook pages, which can be very useful if you own a business that has a sizeable presence on the social media platform. On the other side of the spectrum is the Shopify Plus plan, which is an enterprise-grade solution designed for very large stores. The price of this plan depends on the requirements of each client but just to give you an idea of what to expect, fees start at $2,000.

As far as the standard plans are concerned, the cheapest one will set you back $29 per month, which is similar to Squarespace’s Basic eCommerce package. Shopify’s cheapest standard plan includes many of the features offered by Squarespace Basic along with a few extra ones like discount codes and abandoned cart recovery. However, there’s no free custom domain here so you’ll need to purchase one separately.

If you need more features and tools, you can upgrade to either the $79/mo or the $299/mo packages. Needless to say, the most expensive plan comes with the most advanced features, as well as other benefits like better shipping discounts and smaller transaction fees for credit card payments. If you’re using Shopify’s own gateway, you won’t have to worry about transaction fees. If you’re using any of the other available payment methods (of which there are many), you can expect Shopify to take a fee of up to 2% per transaction.

Plans and Pricing – Although you do get a lot in exchange for your money, the fact remains that Shopify is quite expensive and difficult to recommend to novice merchants. The cheapest plan offers good value but only if you don’t mind working with one of the free themes. Otherwise, you should probably just stick with Squarespace instead because the platform offers many of the same features and you can build a better-looking store with it at no extra cost. If you’re an experienced seller looking to build a large store, on the other hand, Shopify is the obvious choice here.

Additional Tools and Features

Domain Registration

Purchasing any of Squarespace’s four plans will grant you a free custom domain for 1 year. If you want to register a domain without purchasing a plan or if you want to renew an existing domain, it will cost you $20 per year. While somewhat expensive compared to other companies, the domains offered by Squarespace include WHOIS privacy by default and also come with an SSL certificate.

Shopify doesn’t offer free domains with any of its plans but you can purchase one separately. Domain names start at $14 per year and can be renewed for the same price. Only some of the domains sold by Shopify come with WHOIS privacy, particularly the .com ones. Shopify provides free ‘myshopify.com' domain names to all users so you don’t necessarily have to register a new one, though having a custom domain name for your store does tend to help quite a bit.

Sales

Both Squarespace and Shopify allow you to sell physical and digital products along with various types of services. Shopify is primarily optimized for selling physical goods so you’ll need to install an app like Digital Downloads if you want to sell digital products and services. Squarespace, on the other hand, includes everything you need to sell any type of product or service right off the bat so there’s no need to install any apps or add-ons.

When it comes to payment options, Shopify is by far the most flexible option in this comparison. The platform supports over 100 types of payment gateways, including PayPal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, and even certain cryptocurrencies. As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to use the company’s own gateway, Shopify Payments, if you want to avoid transaction fees. By comparison, Squarespace only supports payments via Stripe and PayPal so the selection is a lot more limited.

Shopify is also doing quite a bit better in terms of shipping options. The company allows you to ship worldwide via major carriers like UPS, DHL or Express regardless of which plan you choose. You can benefit from major discounts when using these carriers for shipping and there are also a few useful features included for free, like fraud analysis and the ability to print shipping labels. Squarespace is slowly catching up with big platforms like Shopify, however, it is currently still not a very good solution for shipping outside North America. Also worth noting is that you’ll need to purchase Squarespace's most expensive package in order to unlock advanced shipping.

Marketing

Squarespace isn’t able to integrate with nearly as many third-party apps as Shopify, making it somewhat difficult to effectively market your business and products. You can use the built-in social media integrations to sell products on Facebook or Instagram but that’s about it. Shopify, on the other hand, allows customers to sell directly on no less than 10 social media platforms while also offering a wide selection of useful apps that can help you improve your marketing strategies.

If social media marketing isn’t your thing, you can always try launching email campaigns instead. Squarespace’s email marketing tools aren’t included by default with any of its four packages but you can acquire them with the use of an optional add-on. The add-on costs $5 per month but you can take advantage of the free trial to test out the service without paying anything. Shopify allows users to launch email campaigns directly from the admin panel. You don’t have to pay to use this feature, however, you can make your campaigns more efficient with the use of certain paid apps.

Blogging can be another great tool for marketing when used properly and it’s pretty clear which of the two platforms is better at it. Squarespace is one of the best platforms you can choose if you want to build an eye-catching blog for your business. Shopify isn’t really suitable for blogs or any other types of websites aside from online stores

SEO

Knowing a bit about SEO can help your site rank higher on search engines, which in turn, should help you sell more products and services. Squarespace offers a number of basic SEO tools that allow you to optimize your content to a certain extent. These tools are mainly aimed at improving articles and blog posts so their usefulness for online stores is situational. Shopify’s SEO tools are geared mainly towards eCommerce platforms and the company offers dozens of apps that can help you with everything from image resizing to speed optimization and more.

Apps

Although Squarespace does have a couple of useful add-ons, it doesn’t have anything resembling a full-fledged app market. Shopify, on the other hand, has one of the most comprehensive app stores out there. The store features close to 4,000 different apps, many of which are comparable to the plugins found on WordPress. The apps offered by Shopify can enhance your online store in a wide variety of ways, however, it’s worth noting that more than half of them will cost you. The prices tend to range between $5 and $10 per month but some of them can get quite a bit more expensive. Luckily, most of them seem to offer a free trial so you can at least test them out before buying.

Refund Policy and Free Trials

A 14-day free trial is available to all new customers at both Squarespace and Shopify. As far as refunds policies are concerned, Squarespace offers a 14-day money-back guarantee while Shopify doesn’t offer any sort of refunds at the time of this writing.

Additional Tools and Features – Although there are a few standout features here and there, Squarespace is overall pretty average in this department. As expected, Shopify offers more robust tools for managing eCommerce platforms, thanks in no small part to its very impressive app store.

Performance and Reliability

A pretty website isn’t worth much if it loads slowly and constantly crashes, which is why it’s always important to take into account the overall performance of the platform you want to sign up with. Gauging the speed and uptime of sites hosted on widely used platforms like Squarespace and Shopify can be a bit tricky because some websites will inevitably perform better than others. For instance, an eCommerce platform that sells tons of products is likely to load slower than a simple blog with a few posts and images.

Having said all that, our research concluded that both Squarespace and Shopify are generally very reliable platforms. Shopify stores tend to be pretty fast, with an average page loading speed of around 701 ms. Although there are some fluctuations, you can usually expect the speed to hover around the 700 ms mark most of the time. Squarespace sites fluctuate a bit more as we’ve seen speeds as low as 624 ms but also as high as 1.5 seconds. On average, though, your Squarespace site should almost always load in under 1 second.

As far as the uptime is concerned, there’s again a bit of a difference in favor of Shopify. The platform managed to achieve an average uptime of 99.99% over the past year while Squarespace’s average uptime sat at around 99.96%. Squarespace experienced a few more outages than Shopify but the downtime period was very short every single time.

Performance and Reliability – Shopify is an absolute juggernaut so it should come as no surprise that the company invested a lot of money into its infrastructure. As a result, Shopify stores load very fast and rarely experience any downtime. Although Squarespace is a bit slower, the difference in performance between the two companies is surprisingly small all things considered.

Customer Support

Good customer support is essential for companies that work with a lot of huge eCommerce platforms. Unsurprisingly, Shopify doesn’t disappoint in this department. The company offers 24/7 customer support via email, phone, and live chat. Customers that opt for the Shopify Plus package also get their own dedicated support agent to help them grow their business. And just in case you need help with coding or design, you can hire a Shopify Expert to provide professional technical assistance.

Even though Squarespace is a much smaller company, its customer support team is very solid as well. There’s no phone support but you can contact agents via email, ticket, and live chat. In addition, the company has one of the best help centers we’ve ever seen, complete with loads of helpful articles, video guides, forums, and even webinars. Just in case a support agent takes too long to reply, which doesn't happen often, you should be able to find the answer to any question you may have in the help center.

Customer Support – Shopify goes above and beyond to provide good support to its many customers and there are a lot of options to choose from whenever you require technical assistance. Squarespace’s customer support isn’t quite as impressive as that of Shopify but it’s as good as you would expect from a company of this size, perhaps even better.

Squarespace vs Shopify – An Unlikely Winner

Even though both Squarespace and Shopify are very solid choices, choosing between them isn’t actually that hard. The purpose of this comparison was to figure out the best platform for most types of online businesses and that platform is Squarespace. While Shopify is a much better choice for large stores, we ultimately went with Squarespace because most online businesses actually start out small and require a cheaper and more flexible platform in the beginning.

That’s not to say that Shopify can’t accommodate small businesses, because it certainly can. However, the costs quickly pile up when you consider that you have to pay for a plan, domain, premium themes, and apps, among other things. All those costs make Shopify a less than ideal choice for small businesses and startups. The platform isn’t as user-friendly as Squarespace either, so you’ll also need some patience and preferably some technical skills in order to make the most out of it.

Squarespace is by far the cheapest option in this comparison. The company offers an all-in-one package that contains everything you need to build and maintain a small or medium-sized online business. More importantly, though, you can set up a new business from scratch in a very short amount of time by simply editing one of the pre-configured templates. And since Squarespace offers some of the most beautiful templates out there, you can bet that your website will stand out from the crowd in a big way. Presentation is everything a lot of the time and in that department, Squarespace wins against Shopify by a fairly large margin.

Overall – Shopify is often considered to be the best eCommerce-specific builder out there and with good reason. The platform is great for large stores and already established businesses. However, we’re ultimately going with Squarespace because this is a relatively cheap solution that can accommodate pretty much any type of online business. The platform is quite intuitive and fun to use once you get used to its block-based editor and Squarespace also features some of the best templates we’ve ever seen, both in terms of looks and functionality.

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