Spree vs Shopify

What is Spree?

Spree is a full featured e-commerce platform written for the Ruby on Rails framework. It is designed to make programming commerce applications easier by making several assumptions about what most developers needs to get started.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is a complete e-commerce solution that allows you to set up an online store to sell your goods. It lets you organise your products, customise your storefront, accept credit card payments, track and respond to orders — all with a few clicks of the mouse.

What does this actually mean?

The key difference between the two is that Spree is an e-commerce platform, while Shopify is an e-commerce solution. Your Shopify store is created and hosted for you. Shopify handles security, and is relatively easy to extend or integrate with other services via the Shopify App Store.

If your business simply wants to start selling products online, Shopify is a great choice. For a Shopify store, operating and implementing basic customisations (such as changing a theme) is possible without any code or deep technical knowledge. On the other hand, deeper customisations require both programming knowledge and intimate knowledge of the Shopify platform itself. For example, integrating with a shipping carrier that Shopify does not support can be a very difficult problem to fix. Developing features specific to your business can range from difficult to simply not possible. When using Shopify, your business is, for better or worse, locked into the Shopify way of doing things. There will always be large parts of your system that you cannot change.

Spree is a free, open-source platform. The benefits for a business of using open-source software are beyond the scope of this article but are varied and well documented. Spree being a platform is an important idea because it means that technical knowledge is required to start selling products with Spree. The system must be installed and hosted manually. Most companies that sell products through Spree either have a dedicated IT team to handle the storefront, or alternatively employ a company that specialises in Spree to implement and maintain the storefront for them.

Luckily there are proven companies out there with great track records of rapidly implementing, customising and maintaining beautiful and robust Spree-based storefronts for you (hint hint). The main upshot of using Spree over Shopify is in the ability to tailor the entire e-commerce system to meet any and every business requirement:

  • Launching a new product and want to provide your favourite customers with the ability to order first?
  • Want to test out two different layouts or features on your site at the same time to see which one is more effective at converting clicks into sales?
  • Do you want to launch, say, an online magazine alongside your products which you can create, edit and release yourself as a writer, rather than a techie?
  • Do you want to launch a mobile app that works with the same user accounts and data as your storefront?
  • Want to get involved in serious data mining and custom analytics to completely smooth out your conversion funnel?
  • Want to implement a loyalty program which is specifically tailored to the way your company operates?
  • Is your business really a lot more than “just an e-commerce store”?

These are all areas in which a flexible platform like Spree excels.

Conclusion

No one e-commerce system is ever right for all businesses. There are tradeoffs between cost, flexibility, simplicity and customisation to consider. This article barely scratches the surface, and both options have free trials available, so why not have a peek at both?

Having said that, and with the preface that we may be a little biased, we believe that your e-commerce system should be a command H.Q. for your business. Your employees should be empowered to get creative and suggest new ideas without the fear of being told “I.T. says that isn’t possible”. Most of all, your e-commerce system should be built with you in mind, rather than built on what all businesses like yours have in common.

Distinguishing your business from your competitors is very difficult when you’re both locked into the same technology. Indeed, this report for instance suggests that while there are around 100 times as many Shopify sites as there are Spree sites, there are only 5 times as many in the Alexa top 100k. Also, the Alexa top 10k apparently has more sites using Spree! To us, this seems to suggest that as businesses grow and adapt, the flexibility that Spree provides is what puts them ahead of the pack.

In the end, it’s about choosing what’s right for your business. We haven’t met yet, so we have no way of advising you about whether Spree would be a good fit. We should probably change that.

About the Author

Fareed Dudhia

Former Software Engineer at Made Tech. Member of the full-stack brat-pack. Enjoys a good blue cheese.

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