WooCommerce Vs Shopify

I recommend everyone to commence their e-commerce journey with Shopify. But many e-commerce veterans are seen siding with WooCommerce instead. From the data available, it seems that WooCommerce is more widely used than Shopify. I wanted to compare the two based on my experience.

You will likely find much more detailed reports on this comparison, however, many of those are written by web hosting companies which are biased towards WooCommerce as Shopify comes pre-hosted while WooCommerce is self-hosted and requires a hosting plan. I recommend that you read those reports since they are very detailed, but for the ones written by the hosting providers or by the affiliates of the hosting providers, please take what they say with a grain of salt.

Let’s explore.

Cost

Let’s begin with the cost. Shopify’s basic plan starts from $29/month but you will also need to pay 2% of the order value as transaction fee to Shopify. By upgrading Shopify plan, you can reduce this to 1% and 0.5% depending on the plan you choose. You also need to pay a monthly subscription for most Shopify apps.

WooCommerce in comparison is free and has many free apps available as well. But since you need to host it yourself, there will be a hosting cost of roughly $10/month. You will also require SSL certificate which you can get for $50-$100/year or for free using Clouldflare or a similar service. WooCommerce ‘seems’ to be cheaper in most cases but Shopify is also only expensive when you’re doing large volumes. For someone who’s just starting out, Shopify is going to be very affordable as well.

In addition, since WooCommerce is self-hosted and self-managed, there could be outages, security issues, hacks etc which may cause you monetary losses. In order to avoid these issues, you may require a technical resource. So after assuming these costs or losses, I don’t think WooCommerce is truly cheaper than Shopify. It may or may not be depending on who is using it.

Ease of Use

Ask anyone you like, including the ones who are using WooCommerce as their goto solution, and you’ll likely hear that Shopify is easier to use. It truly is. You don’t need to know anything about domains, hosting, SSL, security, integration, customization etc. Everything comes pre-configured and you can start a store in a jiffy, literally.

I recommend everyone to begin their journey with Shopify for this very reason. You’re likely working on your products, developing and frequently iterating them. If you’re a dropshipper, you’re likely constantly hunting new and trending products for your store. You’re likely figuring out a marketing plan. You or your team need to have A game when it comes to Facebook ads. If you can do Google, Snap, TikTok and emails, you could literally add at least as much revenue as you do from Facebook. All of this needs your attention. When your attention deserves all of this, you shouldn’t be wasting anytime looking into non-issues such as whether the hosting can take enough traffic, or whether part of my traffic is getting stolen from malware etc.

The ease of use is huge.

In addition, you don’t need to know much about how to optimize your conversions. Or how to have a perfect sales funnel. Free Shopify themes are VERY nicely done and have high conversion rates. They are perfect for inexperienced sellers looking to start a store on a budget.

Features & Customization

WooCommerce is light years ahead of Shopify as far as features and customization is concerned. It is why I think many advanced store owners eventually need a WooCommerce store. The amount of customization that you can do with a self-hosted platform is unthinkable.

I was listening to this podcast of a founder of a large D2C brand, and he said he hates the fact that you’ve to manually put in Zip Code, City, State and other information on your Shopify store. This became the reason for him to switch to WooCommerce since he wanted to just take in Zip code, and auto fill City and State info which wasn’t possible with Shopify. When your brand requires conversion optimization on that level, your hands are tied on Shopify.

Hence, it makes total sense for the advanced users to go with WooCommerce.

Conclusion

As a general rule, I think that new and small e-commerce businesses should start with Shopify while large business doing larger volumes should use WooCommerce so they can avoid transaction fee, hire a technical resource if needed, and get unlimited flexibility and customization.

At Socialoholic, we’ve been doing 7-figure e-commerce for a while, but still have found ourselves using Shopify. For 8 figure and beyond, I think one should definitely be using WooCommerce.

Variable Sale Pricing & Facebook Ads

One of the readers of the blog was discussing his Facebook ad strategy and mentioned that he has to increase the sale price of the product due to expensive shipping.

This quickly reminded me of my personal experience with variable pricing and Facebook ads and I thought to write a bit about that.

When you start advertising a product on Facebook on a specified price point e.g $19 and have a ton of qualified events stored in your pixel and ad account, a change of pricing can be sometimes disastrous. When you record hundreds of add to carts, check-outs, and purchases at a $19 price point, you’ve trained the Facebook ad algorithm to bring you buyers who are comfortable to spend money in that range. Facebook looks into the historical purchase patterns of the buyers and their average cart value in order to serve your ads to the right audience.

An increase of pricing mid-way in the campaign with a lot of recorded data will have more negative impact as you’re not just going to have lower conversion rate due to the hike in price, but also because your ads will not be served to the right audience further reducing your conversion rate. Due to this reason, personally, I like to start my ads with the final sale price and not something lower.

Artisans of Pakistan, E-Commerce & Government Plans

In 2017, a software company in Pakistan reached out to us for support in a project that they were building for the government. The government wanted to provide an end-to-end e-commerce solution to the artisans of Pakistan so they could easily export their product on D2C basis. This means access to e-commerce software/platform, payment gateway, training on how to sell etc. The budget was over a billion Rs. I don’t know the exact budget but I do know it was more than 1 billion Rs. Here’s how I saw the project evolve.

The government required of the software house to build the e-commerce platform in-house in Pakistan. I saw it, it wasn’t bad. But I’m sure it wasn’t and can’t be as good as Shopify – a $100B company, with over 5000 employees. Majority of the billion Rs budget went into the development of this software, which could have been offered to artisans for $29/month with an existing solution or for free with the likes of WooCommerce. For the payment gateway, the government wanted the software house to setup a company in US and setup a payment gateway e.g Stripe that could be shared between all the artisans. And the last stage was to train artisans to enable them with e-commerce skills.

The correct distribution of funds, in my opinion, could be to have the least amount of money spent on the software/platform, slightly more for access to payment gateway, and the most to enable artisans to sell.

In reality, almost all the funds were spent on creating a Shopify clone, that may never see the light of the day with no budget left for payment gateway and training.

This was either yet another attempt of action faking by the government, or a complete lack of strategy despite having good intentions. Whatever it was, it was a disaster, and we quickly saw ourselves disassociate from the meetings.

Amazon In Pakistan

I saw this article making waves in all the e-commerce & startup groups of Pakistan. After I read it, I couldn’t really make much out of it. It didn’t excite me. So I shared it on slack to get the opinion of my colleagues to see if they feel anything different. But we all came to the same conclusion.

One of our colleagues said that this news is similar to PayPal coming to Pakistan for the 24th time.

Another one of my colleague reminded me of another story from 2017 when government spent over a billion Rs to get artisans of Pakistan to sell on the internet. More on this in tomorrow’s blog.

Somehow we all feel, this is headlines. Exactly what the government is good at. Making headlines. And only that.

As I understood it, the government has sent a list of 34 exporters from Pakistan to Amazon so they could be eligible to sell on Amazon. After the trial run, based on the performance of these exporters, government and Amazon will expand this list to other categories.

However I am curious how these exporters were selected? I’m assuming they were either selected by nepotism or by the size of their volume. For the sake of optimism, let’s assume there was no nepotism and they were selected solely based on the size of their volume. Or another powerful metric that made them seem worthy of this selection. However, these traditional metrics say nothing about the exporters’ ability to do well on Amazon. Because selling on a platform like Amazon is a science which isn’t determined solely by the quality of goods, but also largely dependent on the science of launching a product on Amazon.

The transition from offline to online isn’t for everyone. Businesses that have years of selling experience through the old means can not always, and often, transition successfully to new ways of selling.

I can think of countless examples in every industry where the old successful companies often fail to pivot if the industry sees a technological upgrade. Nokia is an example in the phones industry. Kodak is a similar example from the camera industry. When there’s a technological evolution, the old giants fail. The new giants emerge. The large exporters will fail on Amazon no matter how good they are with their products and with the old distribution channels. They need support from the e-commerce experts to run a successful e-commerce business.

For the trial to be successful, a partnership with an e-commerce consultant agency is a must. I’m not sure if there’s a partnership in place. This consultant would ensure that most product launches by most exporters would be successful. This could then help with the expansion of categories as the government plans.

The people who specialize in e-commerce are usually different from people who kick-ass with traditional export channels. For the program to be successful, young blood from the e-commerce space needed to sign up through this program and not the large exporters, or at the minimum in partnership.

Unless the Amazon seller central is available to every citizen of Pakistan, that allows the young blood to compete in a cut-throat marketplace and win, I see this news or any similar news as fake news.

 

Affiliate Marketing Vs Dropshipping

A reader of the blog contacted me to get my opinion on these two topics. For this blog, let’s assume we’re only talking about affiliate marketing of physical products. As with the digital products, the comparison is like apples and oranges.

I prefer dropshipping over affiliate marketing for a variety of reasons so let’s compare the two.

During both affiliate marketing and dropshipping, you’re often creating very little value outside the revenue generated right there and then. However, affiliate marketing, in my humble opinion, is an even lower hanging fruit than dropshipping and I consider dropshipping itself to be a pretty low hanging fruit.

The reason why I think that is because in dropshipping you control the offer end to end. You control the sourcing price of the product. You can play with the quality of the product to increase or decrease the sourcing price. You control the sale price of the product. So, if you’re able to sell the products but unable to make a profit, you could always increase the price and make it profitable for you.

With affiliate marketing, your hands are tied. You only get certain commission per sale. The commission is determined by what the goods cost, how much they are sold for, and how much does the offer provider want to pay you after keeping profits. If your advertising costs are higher than your commissions, then your only option is to optimize advertising. You can not play with the sourcing cost of goods and the sale price to make a profit.

In addition, in affiliate marketing your access to data about the customer is very limited and restricted. You can often not reach out the same customers again to generate more sales in the future without adding additional email capture steps in your funnel. You may also not be able to use the customer data to create lookalikes on ad platforms to target similar customers due to lack of access to customer data.

When dropshipping, you have a much better lock-in with your customers, and a better access to data. While lifetime value often stays low in both cases, you still have better control with dropshipping.

You could also copy anyone’s offer as almost all products are available for sourcing in China and recreate a dropshipping store using the same product, similar landing page etc. So it’s not that difficult at all to use someone else’s offer to create your own dropshipping store.

In addition, for dropshippers just like affiliate marketing, there’s very little to no work that needs to be done with regards to shipping and handling of the products as there are plenty of Chinese vendors who can make this process very seamless for you.

In the end I’m not too fond of both the models, but if I had to do one, I’ll definitely go after the dropshipping model.

This Seems Relevant Today

This could have been me had I stopped yesterday which by the way I wanted to.

This is me instead because I hung around longer.

I spent the past couple of days trying to optimize a new product launch. All metrics looked great. Every step of the funnel just as I wanted. I had low CPM, high CTR, low CPC, low CPATC, low CPIC, but.. also low conversion rate. For those who don’t know what am I talking about, I had low cost for everything, but the number of users purchasing were also low which was something I really didn’t expect to happen.

Due to this my cost per acquisition was higher than where I wanted it to be. Instead of making money, I was losing money until I launched the retargeting campaign.

For those who don’t know, retargeting is reaching warm audience or potential customers again. People who showed purchase intent but didn’t purchase. My retargeting campaign brought me really cheap sales. So cheap that it offset all the loss that other campaigns caused. Not just that, it turned the overall campaign around and made the product launch profitable.

This showcases two things. 1) Retargeting is really really powerful. 2) When you’re thinking of giving up, hang around just a little bit longer.

There Must Be Something That’s Recession Proof Right Now?

COVID-19 has disrupted businesses of all types across the world. I have already written about the turmoil that markets are in. I’ve also mentioned that our business was largely affected too. In fact, our business was affected before most other businesses when COVID-19 was only limited to China. All this while I’ve been thinking what could be the right thing to do during this tough time.

I thought about software businesses, which may also be struggling, but far less than other kind of businesses. In fact there are some software businesses that are doing better than they have ever done before; Zoom for example. As S&P500 index goes down as much as 30%, the stock price for Zoom is up by 30% as more and more people resort to work from home.

You may have also read that Amazon is hiring as many as 100,000 people to fulfill the customer demand. So Amazon doesn’t seem to be doing too bad either as people resort to online shopping to follow social distancing.

The more you read about the bad news on Twitter, Facebook or wherever you get your news from, the more opportunities are presented to you. In fact, when the world was functioning on full-throttle, it was tough to find opportunities because every industry was so competitive. Now, opportunities present themselves to you.

For example, you may have read that in many parts of the world, everything has been closed except for pharmacies, groceries and food deliveries. This is an obvious proof that if you could deliver medicines, essentials or food, you might be doing better than others. But what’s more obvious is that if there was a delivery version available of everything else that’s on a complete shutdown, that could be an even better opportunity.

If people are locked in their houses, they might need more than food or medicines. They certainly need video conferencing (zoom) to continue to work from home. They need Netflix, obviously. They probably also need to workout, right? Probably other things to keep themselves entertained or busy.

Because people need to still workout, we’ve launched our “workout from home” brand in the last couple of days. We’ve seen initial demand for it, and plan to scale it in the coming weeks. There’s a big e-commerce opportunity right now and I encourage that you seize it.

Moreover, Shopify is giving away 90 days free trial instead of the regular 14-days to help small businesses stay afloat. So what are you waiting for? This could be the time to kick-start your e-commerce journey.

Are Software Companies Safe from Present Economic Conditions & COVID-19?

What’s happening right now due to coronavirus is a supply-chain crisis. Businesses have buyers but are running out of goods to sell. Once the business profitability is affected due to decline in sales, they will let go some of their employees. This could affect purchasing power of some of the people creating a demand-side crisis.

The pandemic could also affect demand as more and more people stay at home to avoid the disease, they would be spending lesser money on certain products. In addition, their purchasing power could also be affected by additional health related bills. If COVID-19 lasts long enough, which at the moment it is showing signs of, there will be both supply-side and demand-side disruptions.

To improve the situation, Fed has cut down the interest rates. The goal is to sustain the economy by offering cheaper credit to businesses. But I’m wondering how can a supply-side disruption be fixed with cheaper credit. Moreover, cheaper credit could help larger businesses but small and medium sized businesses are likely to suffer the most.

While it is obvious that trade and e-commerce are largely affected, are software companies safe? Some of them might be but I do not believe that they will not have a cascading affect on them. After all, many software businesses are intended to solve real-world problems.

In my industry for example, many software businesses are Shopify apps or WordPress plugins. Shopify store owners use those apps to improve their selling experience. But if there are no sales, or no revenue, the store owners will obviously stop using those apps until situation changes.

Softwares that have nothing to do with commerce, may be relying on advertising as a source of revenue, or may be assisting industries that depend on advertising revenue. They aren’t safe either. Once the commerce is disrupted, the advertising is meant to be disturbed too. In my own case, my e-commerce stores are affected due to supply-chain crisis, but I’m also not spending on Facebook and Instagram ads to drive sales which means the advertising industry is taking the hit too.

As a publisher, I also have data to support this argument as CPMs are going down across the board. So any software business which is dependent on advertising or support customers who drive revenue from advertising will see disruption too.

All other kind of softwares may be safe from this cascading affect, but will still be dealing with users with lower purchasing power.

While pure software businesses are much better off than other businesses, I wouldn’t say that they will not be affected. However, it is still a better time to be running a software business than any kind of traditional business.

Receiving Ad Delivery Penalty Due to Coronavirus

It should be no surprise to anyone that coronavirus has affected some of the global trade and specifically slowed down the e-commerce industry.

Since we were facing increasing difficulty to source and fulfil our orders, we had stopped advertising some of our stores by end of January where product sourcing had become difficult.

But even though we had stopped the ads, there were still shipping delays for the orders that we had already received. By last week, after a three week break, we had made alternate arrangements for our product sourcing and resumed partial advertising operations for the affected stores. However, today we received an advertising delivery penalization. This has caused us to stop ad-ops one more time.

Although our delivery rates received poor reviews and for obvious reasons, I’m still relieved that nearly 100% of the customers were happy with the product quality.

In the end, I’m not just an e-commerce seller, but many times also an e-commerce buyer. Since I expect to receive a certain quality of service as a buyer, I need to ensure the same as a seller too and when I fall short, with or without coronavirus, I’m not proud of it.

Why Lifetime Value (LTV) Is a Survival Game

As the ad costs to drive sales keep going higher, at some point you’ve to understand and work on the lifetime value of your customer. Otherwise, you’ll not stay competitive and will be crushed away.

You pay Facebook or other platforms a certain amount to display your ads to people who are interested in a certain “interest or a keyword”. At some point you realize that the cost per acquisition has gotten so high that after paying for acquisition cost, cost of goods sold, and other infrastructure costs such as fee for shopify/server and other plugins etc, you’re losing money.

Sometimes after optimizations of all kinds on the ad level as well as on the landing page, you’ll realize that you’re still losing money. How can that happen? How could your competitors by bidding so high? How can their business model work if they are spending higher than you to acquire customer. The simple answer lies in LTV: Lifetime value. And LTV should always be higher than CPA (cost per acquisition).

If your business model is designed such that you acquire a customer who would pay you once only, your revenue model is limiting you to compete. The reason why that happens is because your competitors are now betting on the lifetime value of a customer. They are interested in recurring purchases, subscriptions, and in summary to acquire user once, and monetize him again and again.

Other buyers of ads are bidding higher in order to purchase data that they can use later to either bring the bids lower, or use it elsewhere to generate revenue.

To conclude, in this day and age, if your business doesn’t account for the lifetime value of the customer, you’re simply not competitive.