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eCommerce South Africa Shopify Costs vs WooCommerce Costs

eCommerce South Africa Shopify Costs vs WooCommerce Costs

If you just started your journey into eCommerce in South Africa, and have been asking yourself which eCommerce platform would be best suited for your new eCommerce store, this article might be just what you are looking for.

One of the many questions I often get is exactly about this. Many new eCommerce entrepreneurs are faced with this dilemma before setting up shop. Honestly, it can be so confusing, many people just give up and feel it too much effort to even continue with the search.

My approach is always one of logic, especially for any new eCommerce entrepreneurs who need to save every rand they get.

In this article, we have done a direct comparison between Shopify and WooCommerce, as these are the two major eCommerce platforms used online.

ecommerce-platforms.com states that at the moment, there are over 500,000 active stores running on Shopify. WooCommerce on the other hand has some very different numbers. 3,876,748 websites use WooCommerce, or 68,000 of the world’s top million websites. That’s 0.2% of all websites, or 6.8% of the top million. Stat thanks to Barn2.com.

But before I get into too much detail, if you just want to see the cost comparison, click below to jump to it.


If you have answered my 10 Questions to ask yourself before starting an eCommerce store in South Africa, you now know how important it is to understand the basics of what you would need to start an online store.

The basic elements needed to set up an eCommerce website include:

  1. a URL
  2. Hosting for your business
  3. A website designer – or knowledge how to do it yourself
  4. A platform to run the website on
  5. A website theme
  6. A page builder or editor, or a couple of apps to help you adjust or personalise the layout of your content – if you want your shop to look professional and unique
  7. SEO software to help you SEO your content

Costing assumptions made for the sake of this exercise

  • For the purposes of this cost comparison, it is important to note that the costs are based on the exchange rate of R14,29 to the US Dollar on 24 Apr 2021, 07:57 UTC).
  • This costing does not include paid media or marketing/advertising costs, copywriter costs, stock image costs or none of that.

This comparison assumes a few other things too:

  1. Costs are summarised to an annual cost.
  2. It is assumed that would like a professional looking website, that does not look like anyone else’s out there, thus you choose to use a well developed theme, and a page builder to add features to your site that standard themes do not have.
  3. That you are starting from scratch
  4. You are going to create your website by yourself

Right, so let’s dig in and go through our shopping list line items for the year that will be needed to start an eCommerce store, and sustain it for a year.

A URL for your eCommerce store

A URL is the address for your website. You can get a localised domain for South Africa, if your audience is South African. You can get a .com if your audience is international. This is an important factor to keep in mind when making your purchase of your domain.

Where you purchase it is very much up to you, but as a beginner I suggest hosting your domain on the same platform as your hosting.

Why? Because if they are not in the same place, you would need to point your DNS, create A records, and find different mailing solutions that can fit with your setup. So, as a beginner, I suggest buying your URL and hosting together. However, prices differ from host to host, and if you are price sensitive you can shop around for the best price that is suited to your pocket.

Hosting for eCommerce

Hosting is important. More important than you could ever imagine. I get frowned at a lot when I tell people I do not advocate local hosting companies in South Africa like Xneelo or Afrihost. The reason is simple: they do not offer the processing power on their servers to optimally run WooCommerce. That’s when websites just go down sporadically, or you can’t upload a spreadsheet with products to your website without running into a server issue. I can go on and on about this, but you can get more info on hosting in our FAQ section. Afrihost, Xneelo, if you are reading this, please up your server memory so that I can recommend you guys again!

Shopify does not need hosting, and hosting is thus included in your monthly subscription fee with Shopify.

I prefer Siteground, for beginners, as everything is in one easy to find place. They also offer a discounted first year for hosting. This means, you have a year to make your store profitable. If you have not succeeded, it is easy to close your account. Remember, if you have to fail, fail quick. Better to learn, and start new, than to keep on keeping on with something that is not successful or profitable.

Use a website designer, or do it yourself

Creating a website has a steep learning curve. Especially if you have never worked on a content management system, whether it be Shopify or WooCommerce. If you have time on your hands, you can always follow the hundreds of thousands of tutorials online and learn how to do it yourself, and tweaking and making your site better as you go.

But, if you have the budget, get someone with the experience in eCommerce (not just website building) to do it for you.

Which platform to run your eCommerce store on?

Everyone says if you are looking for an easy solution, go with Shopify. If you want a cheaper solution go with WooCommerce. What’s my opinion? In my opinion Shopify is more difficult that WooCommerce. 

Not only that, it is more expensive to run in the long run, as an entrepreneur with a limited budget.

WooCommerce runs on WordPress the world’s leading CMS platform, which has open source plugins that can do basically anything you want to. Shopify has the same solution, somewhat, but they are called apps.

Shopify has about 4 200 apps in the repertoire, but most are free trial starts that offer 7 to 10 day trial before buy options.

Let me explain it to you this way. If you want a page builder which has some workable functionality in Shopify, you pay for it monthly. If you want to add a table with shipping information to your site on Shopify, you install an app, test it on the free trial, and then pay for it monthly. Want a gallery? Install the trial, and then pay for it monthly. You get the picture.

Yes, every item you want to add an element to your Shopify store, that is not covered or built into your theme, it’s added onto your bill, in US dollars, monthly, when you subscribe. $3 here, $5 there… it adds up, especially if you have a few extra requirements and your currency is the South African Rand.

WooCommerce has thousands of free plugins in the WordPress repository. Currently there are 9000 FREE WooCommerce related plugins in the WordPress plugin repository alone. Granted, if you want a specialised plugin, you can purchase plugins for an annual subscription fee on WooCommerce itself, or on other marketplaces.

But do I need a theme for my website?

Yes you do! Especially if you are going to be on Shopify. Most gurus or experts in eCommerce in South Africa teach setup of Shopify. They give their students a set list of themes to use, in order to follow along step by step. The result? Hundreds of websites that look exactly like the other, without distinguishing their own brand, individualism, or connecting to the consumer on a visual level.

If you want an instant solution, get yourself a well ranked, highly reviewed theme to help you set up your store. I suggest using Themeforest as a source for a well designed theme. Look for good ratings and quick replies in comments from the developers. 🙂

A page builder to help you shape and customise your eCommerce website

Yep, you guessed it. If you want to add a page builder which has the ability to add features and elements like galleries, images, boxes, text fields, forms etc. etc. anywhere on your Shopify store… you have to isntall and most probably buy an app.

The most used Shopify page builders include PageFly, LayoutHub, Shogun, GemPages and Zipify – some with a free VERY BASIC plan. Most however have a monthly cost, some starting at $15 per month for the cheapest of these mentioned, other more robust ones going for as much as $67 a month.

WordPress uses Gutenberg blocks, but I still prefer Elementor with Classic Editor. Elementor has a totally free base package, that you can use with almost any theme. They even guide you on which theme to use to get the best speed and result. Bonus is, it integrates really well with WooCommerce. Check out the basic widgets that can be used with the free vesion here. You do not need the Pro membership if you only want to add basic things to your site, but I LOVE my Pro version. I use it for all my clients, which makes it a lot easier when they take over control of their own site. To sweeten the deal, there are 1804 plugins on the free WordPress repository to enhance free Elementor. It is a very powerful page builder, and can edit products and store pages where needed and with the right extensions.

Is SEO really needed?

Oh yes, without a doubt. Shopify allows for basic functionality to be customised. Insert a featured image, and customised your meta title and description. You cannot customise your SEO without a paid plugin though.

WordPress offers two eCommerce compatible SEO plugins – Yoast and Rankmath. Both free versions are extremely powerful. Yes, FREE.

So, let’s get down to it. Let’s compare.

Let’s set the scene:

You are a new South African entrepreneur, wanting to set up a website for your eCommerce store. You are price sensitive, and you do not have the time to waste.

You need a URL, your hosting, an easy to understand theme, a page builder to help you make the changes and add the content you need, and to optimise your site for search engines as best you can, until you can get a pro to take you one step further.

Here it is…


I hope this helps make the decision a bit clearer for you.

Please do tell me in the comments which platform you decided to go with, would love to know!

Wishing you only success in your eCommerce venture,




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