If you’re looking to sell products on your website, two main e-commerce Content Management Systems (CMS) fare at the top of the list: Squarespace and Shopify.

Sure, there are many other options, especially if you need a robust solution for a large-scale e-commerce operation. But as far as bang-for-your-buck choices for small businesses, Squarespace and Shopify are your best two options.

Before we dive in, a few key distinctions:

Squarespace was built as a content driven platform, i.e. for people looking to showcase their work, blog, or share information. It only added the ability to sell products later. In other words, their platform is best for those delivering content first, and selling second. This doesn’t mean it’s not great for selling stuff, but its primary features are focused on information delivery over product sales.

Shopify is the exact opposite. It was built as a commerce-driven platform first, with the focus on delivering content second. That means their platform is best for those who primarily want to sell goods,. Like Squarespace in reverse, this doesn’t mean it’s not great at delivering content, but its foundation is on selling products, rather than sharing information.

You’ve probably dug into the available plans for both platforms – and probably been overwhelmed by the options. In this post, we’re going to make it a bit simpler by only focusing on SOME of the plans. While Squarespace’s personal and business plans look appealing, they don’t allow you to sell products. That means you’ll need one of their “Online Store” plans.

And while Shopify has “Lite” (you can’t actually sell in your store, only in an embedded function on your social media accounts), Advanced ($299/month), and “Plus” plans (for extra power, reporting, control for large scale e-commerce operations starting at around $2000/month), most users aren’t looking for such a robust, or light, solution.

So we’re going to compare relative apples-to-apples plans, i.e the two most similar plans on both platforms. We’ll break down what you should look at when deciding between these similar plans: Cost, Features, Design, and Scalability.

Lastly, If you’re deciding between Squarespace and Shopify, we’re going to make the assumption that you need to sell things directly from your website. If you’re looking to build a content based site without selling any products, or are fulfilling your orders elsewhere (Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc.) scratch Shopify off your list, and decide between Squarespace and WordPress (guide coming soon!).

The Burning Question: Cost

We have broken it down into the four fee categories you will incur: the base fee, the per transaction fee (every time you sell something, what you’ll be charged per transaction, the credit card processing fee (what you’ll be charged to receive payment from your customer per order), and the design template fee (a one-time fee). Most of the fees are pretty similar except when you get to the advanced category. The base fee for both Squarespace’s and Shopify’s basic commerce plans are right about the same cost, the difference comes in the advanced plans, where Shopify’s advanced features bump up the fee significantly. 

Squarespace E-Commerce Plans

‘Basic’ Plan

Base Fee: $30 per month ($26 if purchased annually)

Per Transaction Fee: $0

Credit Card Processing Fee (Through Stripe): 2.9% + 30c per transaction

Templates: 
Included

 ‘Advanced’ Plan

Base Fee: $46 per month ($40 if purchased annually)

Per Transaction Fee: $0

Credit Card Processing Fee (Through Stripe): 2.9% + 30c per transaction

Templates: 
Included

Shopify E-Commerce Plans

‘Basic’ Plan

Base Fee: $29 per month (10-20% discounts if purchased for 1-2 years)

Per Transaction Fee: $0

Credit Card Processing Fee (Through Shopify Gateway): 2.9% + 30c per transaction

Templates: One-time fee of $140 – $180 to get a Squarespace quality template (we do not use or recommend their free templates)

 ‘Shopify’ Plan

Base Fee: $79 per month (10-20% discounts if purchased for 1-2 years)

Per Transaction Fee: $0

Credit Card Processing Fee (Through Shopify Gateway): 2.6% + 30c per transaction

Templates: One-time fee of $140 – $180 to get a Squarespace quality template (we do not use or recommend their free templates)

A note on transaction and credit card processing fees:

On top of the standard base pricing, you’ll see a line for transaction fees and credit card processing fees – the former being a percentage fee of your sales charged by Squarespace or Shopify, and the latter being the percentage fee of your sales charged by the company you choose to process your credit card payments (a payment gateway).

Squarespace: You are limited on Squarespace to using Stripe or Paypal. We recommend Stripe for the most modern, seamless, and user-friendly integration, so we’re showing you those fees. If you’re out of the US, you’ll need to use Paypal, and rates vary per country (link)

Shopify: They have a native processor, which fees are the most similar to Squarespace and the easiest to integrate. So in the spirit of apples-to-apples comparison, we’re showing you those fees.

(For advanced users, you have the ability to integrate hundreds of additional payment gateways. The fee structure changes depending on your gateway, and you still have to pay a reduced percentage to Shopify. I’s more complex, so we’re leaving it out here. For more info, you can visit this page. LINK)

A note on monthly platform fees, transaction, and credit card processing fees for countries outside of the US:

VAT fees are excluded in the monthly fees listed,  and per transaction and payment gateway fees vary per country. Please visit these help pages on Shopify and Squarespace to determine the specific fees for your country.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Design

For people that prioritize pretty: Squarespace
squarespace platform comparison design

Hands down, Squarespace has a far more beautiful user interface, both in the admin panel and on the front end (check out their pricing grids below in the features section – it’s a pretty big difference!).

The admin panel, i.e. where you go to edit your website content, view your orders, and manage your reports and settings, is clean and easy to navigate. If you are a visual person, Squarespace’s admin will make you happier, period.

On the front end, the included free templates are bold, modern, clean, and have a distinct impactful look through the thoughtful use of color, typography, images, and layout. The downside? Limited options for themes (currently only 16 for online stores). In other words, without advanced branding and graphic customizations, a lot of Squarespace stores look similar. And unless you’re a web developer using their developer platform, the options for customization through tinkering with CSS and html are extremely limited.

For people that prioritize function: Shopify
Shopify ecommerce platform compared to squarespace

Shopify has recently released some beautiful new templates. They’re on par with the Squarespace ones, but they come at a cost: a one time fee of $140-$180. Their free templates leave much to be desired, so we highly recommend spending the extra money on the paid templates, and because it is a marketplace, you will have many more options for templates than on Squarespace. And, the ability to customize through CSS and html is far more comprehensive than on Squarespace. All that said, the actual checkout process/carts, photos, and product detail pages on Shopify are not as sexy as the Squarespace ones.

On the admin side, their panel is also not nearly as visually pleasing and intuitive as Squarespace, but it does have more robust customization features. If you aren’t turned off by things not being aesthetically pleasing, the design of the admin won’t bother you as much as it does us.

The Main Difference Between Plans: Features

Most people just starting out will only need the basic version of each plan (you can always upgrade!). As you can see from their plan grids, almost all the features are equal (so we won’t even go over them – it’s decision making time, let’s only look at the differences!). The main differences between all the plan features on both platforms revolve around a few things: Reporting, Abandoned Cart Recovery, Gift Cards, Integrations, In-Person Sales and Free Stuff.

Squarespace E-Commerce Plans
Squarespace ecommerce plans comparison
Shopify E-Commerce Plans
shopify ecommerce plans comparison

The Breakdown

Abandoned Cart Recovery:
If a customer adds products to their card and then clicks away, abandoned cart recovery allows you a shot at getting them to complete their order.

You will not get abandoned cart recovery on the Squarespace Basic plan, you will get it on the Squarespace Advanced, the Shopify Basic, and the Shopify Standard.

Gift Cards:
If you’d like the ability for your customers to purchase and redeem gift cards on your website, you’ll need to choose the more expensive plans on both Shopify and Squarespace, as the basic plans do not support gift cards.

Reporting:
The Shopify Basic and both Squarespace Basic and Advanced reporting features are pretty similar, giving you the most essential reporting functions for a company with a basic store and limited easy to use reports. For data nerds and companies that want to have full control over advanced financial, customer, and forecasting reports and the ability to create custom advanced reports, you’ll want to choose the Shopify standard account ($79).

Integrations:
With both Squarespace plans, you get integrating accounting with a Xero account. Even though it doesn’t list it, you also get this with Shopify – you just need to install the app. And on that note, Shopify gives you seemingly endless integrations for things like accounting, shipping, inventory, marketing, customer service, social media, etc – just keep in mind most are an additional monthly fee. With Squarespace, the accounting integration is pretty much the only one.

In-Person Sales:
For an extra $49 per month, you can sell items in person with Shopify’s Retail Package add-on. You cannot do this with any Squarespace plan.

Free Stuff:
With both Squarespace plans you’ll receive a free Google Apps account for one year, a free custom domain, a $100 Google Adwords voucher. You won’t get any of these with either Shopify plan.

Grow, Baby, Grow: Scalability for the Future

The most important thing to consider is that with Shopify, you have the ability to scale your store. They have an advanced plan at $299 and a Shopify Plus plan (which starts around $2000/month). This is essential if you plan to massively grow your product line and offerings and will need advanced enterprise level functionality (think websites like Revolve.com, Zappos.com, UncommonGoods.com). If you know that you’ll always only have a small number of products and will not need advanced integrations, customizations, reporting, or control, this should not concern you.

With Squarespace, there is a ceiling for your scalability. Since it was not primarily designed for commerce, and their target market are smaller stores, if/when you get to the point where you need advanced features and functions, you will need to switch platforms. That said, if you do get to that point, you’ll be making A LOT more money in sales so you will have the funds to invest in a more robust enterprise-level platform.

To Sum it All Up: The Verdict

So which CMS is for you? It all depends on your unique set of preferences and needs, your style, and which features are essential and which you can live without.

Either way, unless you are a web designer, in order to save yourself time, energy, and multiple bouts of wanting to throw your computer through the window and still getting mediocre results, we highly recommend you hire someone to help you build your website. Even though both platforms do their best make it as easy as possible for a non-tech person to configure and build a website, it is not, unfortunately, nearly as easy as they make it seem. (Not by a long shot.) Once they land in your account, the templates do not magically look like they do in the theme demos. You have to install, import, build, design, and configure each section, each page, each menu, and each admin integration and setting (your shipping, taxes, payment gateway, customer actions, cart preferences), all on your own. Then, in order to make your website stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to customize the base template, changing the colors, fonts, images, logo, and graphics according to your Brand Identity, and insert effective SEO optimized copywritten content.

If you do choose to go it on your own, prepare to devote a minimum of 50 hours of time to this project…and go with Squarespace, with its drag and drop editor and clean interface, it’s It’s more user-friendly than Shopify, and less overwhelming on the whole.

Having trouble deciding whether you should tackle your website design on your own or if you should call in the reinforcements? Read our post on DIYing vs. Delegating Your Business and take the quiz to help you decide what to do next!

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear about your experience with either platform. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Stephanie Goldfinger

Co-Founder / Chief Alchemy Officer

Stephanie is Flauk’s head website tinkerer, social strategist, and digital puzzle builder. She’s devoted to transforming all of your company’s offline missions, goals and dreams into solid gold out in the vast webiverse.