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Squarespace vs Shopify: Which is Better?

Trying to decide between Squarespace and Shopify? Make sure you understand these important differences.

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Updated Jun 15 2021 Steve Benjamins Steve Benjamins

I’ve used both Squarespace and Shopify for several different websites and they are both excellent tools— but they have important differences.

This article will explain those key differences so that you’ll understand when to use Squarespace and when to use Shopify.

The Key Differences Between Squarespace and Shopify

Here’s the most important thing to do understand:

Shopify is just for ecommerce websites and Squarespace is for all kinds of websites.

So you can can build an ecommerce website with Squarespace but you can also build a church website, portfolio, blogs, wedding websites and more. You can only build an ecommerce website with Shopify.

This leads to important differences when it comes to websites:

1. Page Editor

Squarespace has a visual, drag-and-drop page editor. It’s very easy to use.

Using the Squarespace page editor.

Shopify has a WYSIWYG editor.

WYSIWYG editors are similar to Microsoft Word— it’s a text editor that lets you place images and videos inline with the text.

Shopify's WYSIWYG editor

Shopify's WYSIWYG editor

2. Templates

Squarespace is known for beautiful templates. They have around 70 beautiful, modern website templates.

Templates are also really easy to customize— you won’t need to ever edit code.

Example Squarespace template: 'Noll'.

Example Squarespace template: 'Noll'.

Shopify includes ten themes that you can use for free. In addition you can also install hundreds of third-party themes.

Customizing your Shopify theme can be hit or miss. You’ll occasionally need to edit CSS code.

Example Shopify theme: 'Brooklyn'.

Example Shopify theme: 'Brooklyn'.

3. Ecommerce

Squarespace is easier to use and can work well for small stores— but Shopify has much more sophisticated ecommerce features.

In fact, Shopify is in a different class from Squarespace when it comes to ecommerce. It powers many large ecommerce stores— including: All Birds, Kylie’s Cosmetics and MVMT.

Shopify’s competitors are more like heavyweight ecommerce builders like BigCommerce, Volusion, Magento and WooCommerce. And as you can see from Google Trends, Shopify has risen to the top of this market over the last ten years:

Over the last ten years, Shopify has risen to become the industry leader.

Over the last ten years, Shopify has risen to become the industry leader.

What Is Squarespace?

Here’s what I would say if I was describing Squarespace to a friend over coffee. It has:

  1. An easy-to-use drag and drop page editor.
  2. Beautiful, customizable templates.
  3. An all-purpose website builder that can power a variety of websites.

The third point is especially important when comparing Squarespace to Shopify— because Shopify only powers ecommerce websites while Squarespace powers a variety of websites.

A Squarespace website can be an online store but it can also be a church website, a portfolio, a blog a wedding website and more.

The Squarespace editor.

The Squarespace editor.

The Squarespace Page Editor

Squarespace has a visual, drag-and-drop page editor. It’s very easy to use.

There are two elements to each page:

1. Content Blocks

There are a wide selection of content blocks to add to pages— forms, maps, restaurant menus, buttons, audio players, photo galleries, charts and a bunch more:

Adding a content block.

2. Sections

Sections stack vertically on your website and contain content blocks.

While you can create a section from scratch, you can also choose from a library of pre-designed sections:

Choosing from pre-designed sections.

Choosing from pre-designed sections.

Squarespace Templates

Squarespace is known for beautiful templates. They have around 70 beautiful, modern website templates.

I think they have the best templates of any website builder— which is subjective, but not as subjective as some people think.

The 'Noll' template.

The 'Noll' template.

The 'Beaumont' template.

The 'Beaumont' template.

The 'Paloma' template.

The 'Paloma' template.

It’s Easy To Customize Squarespace Templates

It’s really easy to customize Squarespace templates. For example, to change your website colors you just edit this Color Palette:

Choosing a color palette.

Choosing a color palette.

This color palette automatically applies across your entire website.

So what happens if you don’t like how the color is applied? While Squarespace lets make you those specific changes too— if you want to:

Don't like how a color was applied? Squarespace also let's choose specifically how colors are applied.

Don't like how a color was applied? Squarespace also let's choose specifically how colors are applied.

Squarespace Ecommerce

If you are choosing between Squarespace and Shopify you are likely wondering about ecommerce.

I choose Squarespace for small stores— Squarespace has more than enough ecommerce features (subscription payments, custom notifications, taxes, shipping integrations, digital products etc.) to power a small store.

That being said, Squarespace is not (and likely never be) as powerful as Shopify. And that’s by design: Squarespace is for all kinds of website and Shopify is just for ecommerce websites. So Shopify will always have more features.

I get more into this in the Key Differences section.

I use Squarespace for small stores— like this one.

I use Squarespace for small stores— like this one.

What Is Shopify?

Here’s what I would say if I was describing Shopify to a friend over coffee. It’s:

  1. All about ecommerce.
  2. The most powerful and intuitive ecommerce platform available.
  3. It has a learning curve.

Shopify Page Editor

Shopify has a WYSIWYG page editor.

WYSIWYG editors are similar to Microsoft Word— it’s a text editor that lets you place images and videos inline with the text.

Shopify's WYSIWYG editor

Shopify's WYSIWYG editor

Creating layouts within a WYSIWYG editor can be painful. Moving elements can have unexpected results and adjusting spacing or adding columns is not possible. It’s difficult to build impressive pages with it.

Shopify Themes

There are ten themes included by Shopify that you can use for free.

Each is fresh, modern and sophisticated:

Shopify's 'Brooklyn theme.

Shopify's 'Brooklyn theme.

Shopify's 'Simple' theme.

Shopify's 'Simple' theme.

Third Party Themes

There are hundreds of Shopify themes created by 3rd party developers.

These themes cost money and rely on the 3rd party developer to provide support but there are lots of examples of live Shopify stores that look beautiful.

When it comes to 3rd party Shopify themes, there’s two classes: verified providers and unverified.

  • Verified (70 themes) — Sold in the official Shopify theme store. All providers are vetted to ensure they provide proper support— there’s nothing more frustrating than a theme that’s out of date in a year!
  • Unverified (900 themes) — For sale on marketplaces like Theme Forest. Not verified by Shopify.

Theme Customization

Shopify includes a Customizer tool for customizing themes:

'Customizer' is Shopify's tool for theme customization.

'Customizer' is Shopify's tool for theme customization.

Unfortunately the Customizer tool can be hit or miss depending on the theme.

For example, the only way to change the navigation text color is to edit CSS code— there’s no other way.

Changing the font color of your navigation may require CSS editing.

Changing the font color of your navigation may require CSS editing.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If you want a custom Shopify theme you’re not going to be able to do it without jumping into CSS code occasionally or hiring a Shopify theme expert.

Shopify Ecommerce

Here is where Shopify shines.

Shopify is the most powerful and intuitive ecommerce platform available.

They have tons of innovative features that reduce the barriers to starting and scaling an online store.

Here are two of the most important features:

1. The Shopify App Store

Ecommerce websites can have unique needs. For example: gift wrapping, inventory integrations, product reviews and up-sell recommendations.

Instead of cramming all of these features into the Shopify core, Shopify built out an app store that allows users to add features as they need them.

Shopify's core includes what most stores need— apps are for more unusual features such as back in stock notifications or gift-wrapping upsells.

Shopify's core includes what most stores need— apps are for more unusual features such as back in stock notifications or gift-wrapping upsells.

It’s difficult to overstate just how important the Shopify app store has become. I’ve used the Shopify app store in every Shopify website I’ve ever started.

Shopify was also the first ecommerce website builder to launch an app store— and today they have far more apps than their competitors:

Comparing total app count between ecommerce builders with app stores.

Comparing total app count between ecommerce builders with app stores.

2. Shopify Payments

Online stores require a payment processor. Most store builders integrate with a 3rd party processor like Stripe or Paypal.

In 2013, Shopify launched Shopify Payments— their own payment processor. This meant that new Shopify users could start taking payments immediately— there was no need to integrate with a 3rd party payment processor. Everything just worked.

This is a perfect example of Shopify working to eliminating one more barrier to starting an online store.

When To Use Squarespace Instead Of Shopify

I think there are two good reasons to use Squarespace instead of Shopify:

  • Squarespace is easier to use — For example: customizing your theme with Shopify will likely require you to edit CSS code— Squarespace does not.
  • Squarespace has a drag and drop page editor — Squarespace has a drag-and-drop page editor. Shopify does not.

I tend to choose Squarespace over Shopify when I am building smaller online stores and I want to be able to control the design myself.

When To Use Shopify Instead Of Squarespace

There is one really good reason to use Shopify instead of Squarespace: Shopify is much more powerful.

For example: Shopify has an app store with 3,000+ 3rd party apps that extend your store features. Squarespace has 24 extensions.

This makes sense really: Shopify is just for ecommerce websites. Squarespace is for general websites. So Shopify as a company will always be more focussed on ecommerce features.

I tend to choose Shopify over Squarespace when I am building a larger, more mature online store. Shopify already powers many large, unique ecommerce stores (example: All BirdsKylie’s Cosmetics and MVMT) and I know they’ll be able to handle it.