Squarespace vs Shopify: Understand The Differences

Last Updated Oct 11 2019

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Written By Steve Benjamins

Squarespace and Shopify are both excellent tools that I recommend— but they have key differences. And choosing one versus the other totally depends on the type of website you're building.

At a high level, Squarespace has an intuitive, powerful page editor that lets you design and style beautiful pages. It's an excellent all-purpose website builder that can power a variety of websites.

Shopify is just for ecommerce websites. Because of that focus, Shopify is an ecommerce powerhouse with innovative features that make creating an online store more accessible than ever.

  • All about building beautiful websites.
  • Drag and drop page editor is powerful and intuitive— makes designing pages easy.
  • The best themes (70ish) of any website builder. Plus they're provided by Squarespace which means they're covered by customer support.
  • Excellent style customization. Manages to be both powerful and intuitive. The best style customization I've seen of any website builder.
  • While Squarespace has strong ecommerce features, they won't match Shopify in ecommerce anytime soon.
  • All about ecommerce. Is a complete "back office" for stores.
  • WYSIWYG page editor can be clumsy and demonstrates that static pages aren't a priority.
  • Ten excellent themes are included with Shopify. There are hundreds more available to buy from 3rd party theme developers.
  • Customizing themes often requires editing code (the Customizer tool has limited options).
  • Shopify is the best ecommerce website builder. They consistently lead the industry with innovative features.

Who should Use Shopify?

Use Shopify is you're building an online store. It's intuitive, powerful and full of innovative features that make it easy to start and scale an online store.

Who should Use Squarespace?

Squarespace is the best all-around website builder. It's beautiful templates and excellent content management make it perfect for small businesses, artists, bloggers and more. Squarespace's ecommerce is strong— but I'd only suggest using it instead of Shopify if your website is a mix of content and ecommerce.

Can you use Shopify with Squarespace?

You can! Just install the Buy Button app from Shopify's app store. It will create a Buy Button channel that allows you to embed buttons or collections on any website (you can also customize the button styles).

A lightbox pops in from the side of the users browser when they checkout using a Shopify Buy Button (example).

Jump To:

  1. Two Different Philosophies
  2. Page Editors
  3. Ecommerce
  4. Themes
  5. Theme Customization
  6. Choosing The Right Pricing Plan

Two Difference Philosophies

The first scene sets the stage of any film.

It's why there's no dialogue in the first 6 minutes of There Will Be Blood— just a silent Daniel Plainview struggling against the environment.

Or why the first scene of The Dark Knight is a fast-paced bank heist that introduces the joker as a chaotic character. First scenes are an opportunity for directors to tip off the audience on what you can expect.

In software, the first "scene" is the first screen a user is shown after logging in. The first screen sets the stage and tells the user something important about the software. So what does the first screens of Squarespace and Shopify tell us?

Squarespace's first screen is pretty and austere. It showcases the website by elevating it above the interface— a subtle signal that Squarespace websites are meant to be beautiful.

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Squarespace's first screen. Notice how the website is elevated above the interface? That's unusual.

Shopify doesn't even show your website in the first screen. Shopify's first screen is a newsfeed of what's happening in your store:

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Shopify's first screen is a newsfeed for your store.

For Shopify, the website is important but Shopify has a bigger vision: it wants to be the back office for stores— a place where inventory, sales channels, analytics and orders can all be managed in one place.

So Squarespace is about building beautiful websites and Shopify is about providing a back office for stores. It's important to begin with this high-level difference because it will explain many of the specific feature differences— the rest of this article will demonstrate how these high-level differences manifest themselves.

Squarespace: Better Page Editing

Basically Squarespace has a visual drag-and-drop page editor. It lets you drag content blocks and drop them into columns and rows. Spacers are used for margins. You can't just drag any element anywhere— there are restrictions, though they are sensible.

Squarespace's visual drag-and-drop editor.

Squarespace has a wide selection of content blocks to add to pages— you can create forms, maps, restaurant menus, buttons, audio players, photo galleries, charts and a bunch more:

Adding a Content Block.

Shopify has a WYSIWYG editor. WYSIWYG editors are similar to Microsoft Word— it's a text editor that let's you place images and videos inline with the text (there aren't options for Content Blocks like Squarespace). 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.

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Tip: if you want a better page editor within Shopify, you can try some of the page builders apps in the Shopify app store that add drag-and-drop page editing.

Squarespace's better page editor is a reflection of priorities— the most important pages in ecommerce websites are often dynamic pages (such as product or collection pages) rather than static pages (like an about or contact us page). Shopify's page editor isn't as powerful because it's not as high of a priority for ecommerce websites.

So if designing beautiful static pages is important to you, you might want to choose Squarespace. In fact, I recently started a new ecommerce store and ended up using Squarespace for it instead of Shopify— why? Because I was only selling one product and I wanted to design a long, unique product page. It was just much easier to get this design up and running with Squarespace.

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I recently started this ecommerce website and used Squarespace to design this unique product page with a product 'trailer' front and center.

Shopify: An Ecommerce Powerhouse

Squarespace has strong ecommerce. It's a good choice for small stores. I've used Squarespace for stores in the past and have always been pleased with how simple and intuitive it is— all while still including all the features you need (custom notifications, taxes, shipping integrations etc.).

But Shopify is just in a different class from Squarespace when it comes to ecommerce. Shopify powers many large, unique ecommerce stores— for example 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:

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

Shopify won this market by relentlessly launching innovative features that reduce the barriers to starting and scaling an online store. Let me give two examples:

1. Shopify Payments — Online stores require a payment processor to accept credit cards. Most store builders like Squarespace integrate with a 3rd party processor like Stripe or Paypal. Shopify can integrate with 3rd party processors but in 2013 they launched Shopify Payments— their own payment processor. This means new Shopify users can start taking payments immediately— no need to figure out how to integrate with a 3rd party payment processor. Everything just works.

2. App Store — Shopify was also the first store builder to launch an app store. You see, most ecommerce websites have unique needs— think of all the unusual edge cases in ecommerce: gift wrapping, inventory integrations, product reviews and up-sell recommendations. For some stores these features will be important but for most stores they will not be. These are the types of features available in Shopify's app store.

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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 hard to fully explain just how handy the app store is because it usually solves a problem you don't anticipate. For example, my friend and I started a Shopify store selling toilet paper with a local politicians face on it (don't worry— he deserved it). We discovered many customers lived near us— so we could deliver the toilet paper ourselves and save on shipping. We were able find several apps in Shopify's app store that showed our orders on a map so we could pick and choose which orders we would deliver ourselves. I can't imagine many stores needing this feature— but ours did!

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The Simple Map app show your orders on a map.

Shopify's app store is the type of competitive advantage that just grows with time— because they launched their app store first, they have far more apps than their competitors (see below).

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Comparing total app count between ecommerce builders with app stores.

None of this is a knock on Squarespace. In fact, I rank Squarespace #2 behind Shopify in my ecommerce builders roundup. Squarespace is great for simple ecommerce websites and especially great if you need content alongside commerce. Instead it's just that Shopify is really, really powerful for online stores.

If you'd like to learn more, check out my full Shopify review.

Two Different Approaches To Themes

Squarespace's focus is on building a beautiful website and they offer 70ish 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. Here's an example theme:

Example Squarespace theme

All Squarespace templates are created in-house so they also provide customer support for them:

Example Squarespace theme

One thing I especially love about Squarespace is that the templates continue to look good long after users have customized them. One of the problems with other other website builders is they launch pretty templates that are almost impossible to modify without wrecking. Finished Squarespace websites almost always look better than competitors— just compare live examples of Squarespace websites vs Weebly websites vs Wix websites— you'll see the difference.

Shopify does themes a little bit differently from Squarespace. There are ten themes included by Shopify that you can use. Each is fresh, modern and sophisticated:

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Shopify's 'Brooklyn theme.

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Shopify's 'Simple' theme.

There are hundreds of additional Shopify themes created by 3rd party developers. These cost additional 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 providers can sell their themes in the Shopify theme store. There's around 70 themes available. Verified 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 themes are for sale on other marketplaces like Theme Forest, which has over 900 Shopify themes.

Shopify's difference in themes represents its most users are power users— and will likely be more comfortable jumping into code. Squarespace has many power users and is definitely customizable by code but their theme customization tools are built to be used by anybody.

Squarespace: Better Theme Customization

Squarespace's Site Styles is the best theme customization tool of any website builder. Many competitors have used it as inspiration for their own customization tools.

Basically customization options are on the left and the website is on the right. You can click elements within the website to reveal their style options. It works really well:

Instead of scrolling through the list, you can also click an element to reveal it's individual style options.

Squarespace has put a lot of thought into their style editor— which makes sense, Squarespace is all about beautiful websites.

On the surface, Shopify's Customizer looks similar but it's not as powerful:

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Customizer is Shopify's tool for theme customization.

For example, let's say you want to change the font color and size in the navigation. With Shopify the only way to do that is to edit CSS code— there's no other way. Squarespace's Style Editor lets you adjust the font color, size and more.

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Changing the font color and size of your navigation will require CSS editing.

Shopify's Customizer lets you adjust a few wide-reaching colors and fonts but other than it tends to mostly about enabling or disabling theme options than it is about serious theme customization. In the end if you really want a custom Shopify theme you're not going to be able to do it without jumping into code or hiring a Shopify theme expert.

Squarespace on the other hand has a powerful and intuitive theme editor. I highly recommend it for that.

Choosing The Right Pricing Plan

A few things to note about navigating the pricing plans of Squarespace and Shopify:

  • At $16 / month, Squarespace's Personal plan is the cheapest between Squarespace and Shopify— but it's not an ecommerce plan. Squarespace's Business plan includes ecommerce— but it has a 3% transaction fee (on top of credit card processing fees), so it's not really meant for serious ecommerce.
  • Squarespace's Basic Commerce plan is the first plan for serious ecommerce and it costs $30 / month— which is a hair more expensive than Shopify's $29 Basic plan.
  • Additional costs with Shopify can add up. Purchasing a custom theme typically costs around $150 and many apps in the app store have additional monthly fees.
  • To get 0% transaction fees with Shopify you need to be using Shopify Payments (their in-house payments provider)— otherwise you will pay a transaction fee.
  • Shopify has a Shopify Lite $9 plan that lets you add products to social media or another website.
  • Both Shopify and Squarespace include a 14-day free trial with no credit-card required— which is awesome. Other website builders require a credit card which means if you forget to cancel you get charged... Frustrating!
  • Shopify also has Shopify Plus (more details) which is for online stores with large scale. There's no set price with Shopify Plus, instead prices are set by a quote and run from $2,000 / month - $40,000 / month.

Further Reading