Shopify is one of the biggest eCommerce platforms in the world and popular with online retailers big and small.
But with competition from the likes of BigCommerce, Wix and WooCommerce, read on to find out if Shopify is right for you.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is the leading eCommerce solution, offering an all-in-one platform to start, run and grow a business. With no hosting, software installation or coding required, you can launch and manage an online store quickly and easily.
Founders Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake wanted more control over their fledgeling snowboarding business. After coding a solution themselves, they quickly realized it would fill a gap in the market for quality eCommerce products and thus Shopify was born. The first store to use the platform? Their own – Snowdevils!
Since its launch in 2006, it has grown to be one of the most popular eCommerce platforms, powering over 1 million businesses in more than 175 countries. At the time of writing the share price stands at $1581.32 CAD, suggesting it’s not just businesses finding value here.
Not bad when it IPO’d at just over $34 a share. (This is not to be taken as investment advice.)
Shopify offers 3 main plans which are sufficient for the majority of businesses:
- Basic Shopify: $29/month (USD)
- Shopify: $79/month (USD)
- Advanced Shopify: $299/month (USD)
Except for reports, many of the features are available across all the plans, making it a competitively priced solution.
Read more about what each plan offers here.
Shopify offers over 170 themes to choose from, all of which are fully responsive. While there’s only a limited number of free ones, the quality and quantity of designs are excellent. In addition, you can access stock photography and a business name generator to get your store looking and sounding professional from the outset.
It’s incredibly easy to personalize templates without coding knowledge. You have the option to add/remove/move sections and change colours, fonts and social media buttons with just a few clicks. However, if you have the skills (or the budget to pay someone who does) you can also code your own.
Shopify App Store
The App Store has over 1000 apps (free and paid) that allow you to add features, optimize and personalize your store even further. Some of the apps are even developed by Shopify themselves.
However, make room in your budget because it can get expensive – just 2 or 3 can set you back $50-60 a month.
Shopify eCommerce Features
Product Presentation & Article Management
Presentation-wise you have access to zoom features, picture galleries and videos as standard. Define product options (size, colour, material etc), add the variants, and Shopify will generate up to 100 possible combinations. Although it’s worth noting that BigCommerce offers up to 600 if that is important to you.
For custom fields allowing users to leave comments while purchasing you’ll need to tweak the codes or add an app. It’s not that easy to do and frustrating when it can be done with BigCommerce in a few clicks! While not an issue for everyone, if you offer services such as personalization then it’s worth bearing in mind.
Categories are fairly straightforward. They can be manually assigned to group products and then pages are automatically generated in response. The one downside (which like many things can be fixed with an app) is that sub-categories aren’t available as standard. However, a great feature of Shopify is the ability to set automatic rules to create collections. If you’re looking to create a promotions page for sale items then this could save you a lot of time and effort.
Keeping track of inventory is easy – Shopify does it for you. Set automatic notifications for low stock levels and never run out product. You can add your own SKU numbers and their POS system manages both online and offline inventory.
If you’re moving an existing shop, the ability to import product data (from CSV, Magento, eBay, WordPress etc) saves a lot of time. Exporting data via CSV is also possible, as is exporting order data which has direct integrations with accounting tools like Xero and Quickbooks.
Checkout and Abandoned Cart
2 out of 3 users won’t complete their purchase. However, with the platform’s integrated abandoned cart recovery feature you can remind visitors with an automated email. The downside is that you can only set it to 1,6,10 or 24 hours after and there are no rules when to trigger, for example, minimum order amount. Again, there are apps to give you more control over this.
In addition to allowing customers to checkout with accounts or as guests, you can also send customized email confirmations. If you’re a brand with a lot of personality this can be a great way to demonstrate it. However, if you want to create a loyalty programme to encourage customer retention it will require additional app integration. Not the end of the word but still one more thing you’ll have to do manually.
Gift Cards & Discounts
Gift cards and discount codes are supported on all plans giving you the flexibility to offer customers great prices whatever your size. You can set the offer, the duration and the minimum/maximum usage and let Shopify take care of the rest.
Sale of Digital Goods
To sell digital products you can install a free Shopify app. It’s then possible to limit the number of downloads or the time of availability while abiding by the new rules on charging VAT for digital goods in the EU. Delivery is handled via email so for digital sellers this is an easy way to get started.
Tax and VAT
Tax is not the most exciting topic and neither is Shopify’s offerings, however, they get the job done all the same. US tax rates are pulled automatically and you can set the rates for other countries individually. There’s also the option of displaying VAT prices on product pages if you’re selling to the UK and Europe. As we said, there’s nothing groundbreaking here but it’s functional and straightforward for businesses selling in multiple markets.
Subscriptions & Recurring Payments
For subscription stores and recurring payments, it can get expensive as you’ll need an app or a developer to code it. However, it’s worth noting that competitors don’t integrate this as standard either so you’re not missing out by choosing Shopify.
Feedback & Reviews
Customers can leave product and user feedback, allowing you to take advantage of social proof as a marketing tactic.
Shopify Sales Channels
Shopify supports multi-channel selling really effectively. You can sell directly on Facebook, and automatically create a Shop section on your Facebook Page. Store owners with a Pinterest business account can sell on Pinterest, and you can sell on Instagram by tagging products. Stores can also be connected with websites such as Amazon, eBay, Buzzfeed etc so you can manage your sales in one place – easy!
In addition to a range of online sales channels, the platform also supports offline selling with POS integration. Shopify POS Lite comes as standard and allows you to accept in-person payments instantly at pop-ups, markets, fairs, and more. For access to the Pro plan with store management tools and omnichannel features essential for physical stores expect to pay $89 a month.
Currently, email marketing tools are fairly simple, so you might want to look to alternatives via the App Store or external providers for more flexibility.
Payments & Security
Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) come as standard with accounts and enable customers to pay their way. Automatically setting you up to accept all major payment methods for a more convenient checkout eliminates the hassle of manually setting up third-party payment providers. PCI-compliant, it enables businesses to track orders and payments all in one place, offering a complete view of finances.
In addition, the platform integrates with more than 100 payment processors including PayPal, manual payment options and BitPay for Bitcoins. This is more than their competitors giving Shopify the edge when it comes to payments.
However, business owners can expect to pay 2% additional fees for every payment made outside of Shopify Payments. This reduces to 0.5% with the Advanced plan, but can still add up quickly. Given that it’s not available everywhere, this has the potential to end up costing some businesses quite a bit more per month – especially given that some external payment processors charge fees too.
Shopify Payments is currently available in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States (excluding US territories except for Puerto Rico).
SSL encryption comes as standard, meaning customer data and payment transactions are encrypted at no extra cost. Updates and security matters are taken care of in the background and the platform runs on level 1 PCI compliant servers so there’s little to worry about there.
Although there is a backup system in place that can, in theory, restore a shop, it’s not an official service. Therefore it’s recommended that you run regular backups and export a series of CSV files, which can get a little time-consuming. More advanced backup solutions are available in the Shopify App Store and may be worth considering to save time.
Shipping is straightforward with Shopify. Costs are set by country or carrier (UPS, FedEx, etc.), and with live shipping rates you’ll never lose out on postage costs.
Discount shipping labels can be purchased through the platform, saving you money, although you will need to specify the weight.
Shopify is also the leading solution for dropshipping. By default it connects to providers such as Rakuten, Amazon Fulfilment and Shipwire but also supports app integration with Ordoro, Inventory Source, and eCommHub, making it easier than ever to set up a dropshipping business.
Reporting & Analytics
As we mentioned above, your access to reports and analytics depends on your plan.
Reports start with the Shopify plan and above and give you access to data like product and order reports. However, the basic plan popular among small businesses doesn’t offer any reports which is a real shame.
Having said that, it’s possible to integrate Google Analytics across all plans giving you access to their reports and data. For many, this alone offers enough customer insights but for those wanting more, there are additional apps in the Shopify App Store.
Shopify Customer Service
Shopify’s award-winning 24/7 support is one of the reasons thousands of businesses choose to sell through the platform.
All plans give you access to their round-the-clock support as well as detailed tutorials and guides designed to solve most problems. There’s even a directory of certified experts to help if you’re really stuck!
In addition to the support team, you also get access to Shopify Community. A great way to meet fellow shop owners, here you’ll find discussions, updates and Q&As. Members often use it to ask for feedback on websites to ensure ongoing customer satisfaction so it’s a helpful tool.
SEO features are fairly mixed and one of the areas where Shopify has the potential to fall short compared to competitors.
Whilst it has most of the standard features online stores need, its URL structure leaves much to be desired. It uses subdirectories as standard (/pages/ or /blog/news) and these can’t be changed which isn’t ideal for SEO.
With that being said, the rest of it is fairly intuitive. It’s easy to customize parameters such as title tags, descriptions, slugs etc and optional redirects are automatically created when URLs are changed so there are no more 401 errors.
Creating non-eCommerce content can be done easily, although it is limiting (for example no widgets or apps). It’s usually sufficient for most businesses but it’s worth considering if you’ll require more content flexibility to support your overall SEO strategy.
Blogs are fully integrated however the editor doesn’t come with many elements and the layouts aren’t as flexible. For example, there’s no related posts feature and you can’t embed products in posts. However, some of these missing features can be added with apps.
With that being said, Shopify’s blogging capabilities are better than the majority of its competitors and are enough for most eCommerce sites.
Shopify Pros & Cons
|User friendly and offers great support and tutorials for setting up and troubleshooting your shop||URL structure isn’t ideal for SEO as it uses subdirectories|
|Live preview in the backend allows you to see what your store looks like without pressing publish on any changes||Multi-language stores aren’t standard across the plans and the solutions for basic plans are expensive and offer limited functionality|
|All designs are mobile-friendly and easy to personalise sections, fonts etc.||Up to 2% additional fees on all payments made outside of Shopify payments|
|Powerful system that’s easy to scale, so your store can grow with your business||Getting non-eCommerce content to look great can be tricky|
Shopify has earned the reputation of being the leading eCommerce platform and it seems like it’s well deserved. Offering award-winning 24/7 support, fully responsive designs, a user-friendly interface, access to thousands of apps and add-ons and powerful scaling capabilities, it’s a great choice for businesses looking to sell online.
With a 14 day free trial you can sign up to see for yourself, just watch out those apps and additional charges don’t add up if you go ahead with a plan.