Shopify is a site builder that’s heavily geared towards eCommerce stores. It can help you easily build and manage from end-to-end almost all aspects of the business, from design to inventory management. Learn more.
April 15, 2021•
Frankly, Shopify is so much more than your average website builder. It in fact doesn’t even brand itself as such but lays claim to be a complete eCommerce platform.
Growing out of Ottawa, Canada in 2004, the company today supports more than 1,000,000 businesses contributing $319 billion in economic activity worldwide.
Pros of Shopify
Cons of Shopify
Shopify Plan & Features
What the company does is offer the tools for people to setup online store easily.
From offerings quick-build designs to supporting services such as payment gateways, marketing tools and even inventory management, Shopify is really a one-stop shop for the budding eCommerce merchant.
One major plus point about Shopify is its smooth and seamless onboarding experience. It guides users flawlessly through close to the entire process of establishing an eCommerce site very shrewdly.
Once you’ve registered with them, the entire process from start to finish is very closely streamlined. At every step along the way, Shopify does its best to interact with users to try and build a picture of what the site is intended to be.
Through a series of short questions, you can help Shopify come up with an ideal solution customized to your needs. In fact, it even works out so that the system can recommend a theme based on the type of business that you will be running with it.
Once you get through the initial setup phase, then you can wander around and explore the remaining features at your leisure. At least you will have the basic framework in place. This is especially good for those who are trying to use Shopify but don’t really have anything particular in mind when they sign on to test it out.
The process is good not only for new users, but even for those with specific needs as well. For example, if you already have a physical retail outlet and are looking to extend operations online, or if you want to move your entire store to a fully digital presence – there’s that option as well.
Just by answering a few questions as you go along, you will be guided along in the process by Shopify. Just to clarify – it’s guidance, not an overbearingly strict process.
While Shopify does offer themes for various needs, these are intended as guidelines and it is likely you will need to heavily customize them to fit the desired business you uniquely have. This means that you can add different images and backgrounds for look and feel.
Then there are the key elements which make up your site – for example, you might have a blog section to help you with some SEO objectives, or you may need a product catalogue that lists everything you have and their prices, images and so on.
Various layouts are suitable for different things, so you may need to take a little time to get used to it. I think that what fits will depend heavily on what you’re selling. For instance, if you’re selling a large range of tiny items a large-image layout will be a bit strange.
You can opt for something that’s more of a quick access catalogue of inventory bits. Now if you were to be promoting things like travel tours, nice scenic images would be the call of the day. In essence, it’s really about customer experience and needs.
No matter how you look at it and run around things, you will eventually notice that the whole Shopify customization experience is designed to help you build a better quality of online store. The building blocks they offer is a case example.
Many of them are dedicated to ecommerce sites, such as a newsletter, or product catalogue. However, there might be a little confusion since it does use Shopify terminology sometimes.
When it comes to eCommerce, website performance is a massively crucial metric. Your online store needs to be fast and reliable in order to compete against others. Slower sites lose customers and suffer from lower conversion rates as well.
Reliability is important for your brand image. Remember that you’re running a site which processes payments for customers. They need to know that the platform they are on is rock-steady.
In terms of speed, we established a Shopify test site and have tested it numerous times. To date it has not disappointed. In fact, on almost all occasions it shows an impressive A+ rating on the Bitcatcha speed test utility.
|US (W)||US (E)||London||Singapore||São Paulo|
|2 ms||1 ms||2 ms||2 ms||3 ms|
|2 ms||1 ms||70 ms||2 ms||2 ms|
Testing our Shopify site with WebPageTest, we see green lights across the board which is what should be ideal for sites built with tools like this.
It can be hard to tweak settings for server optimization on site builders, so you want them to work out of the box.
We also monitor the site using UptimeRobot to see how well it does.
Uptime since 9 July 2020
So far we have seen highly impressive results with little to no outage.
I still recall in my Squarespace review what a limited amount of options it has when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Running a successful site depends a lot on traffic volume as well, and SEO is one of the ways to do it.
When it comes to Shopify they have two distinct advantages in this respect. The first is that at its core, eCommerce sites built on the platform already have clean, easily crawlable code. Aside from that, you can also take it further by inserting custom tags and meta descriptions.
Next, I discovered the joy of being able to create marketing campaigns through the Shopify dashboard. As someone who works on multiple platforms at a time, I certainly can see the beauty of having everything integrated in one place.
While the screenshot I’ve shown only lists three, don’t fret, these are the defaults and you’ll have access to others if you decide to use those apps from the Shopify Apps list. These will let you even create landing pages for each of those individual marketing platforms right from the Shopify dashboard.
This is something I haven’t seen done so well or comprehensively on any other site builder to date and impresses me no end.
Despite an already massive knowledge base of help and FAQ articles, Shopify also has a community of users who bind together to discuss various points about the platform. Organized by Shopify itself, you can also get updates on news and developments in the Shopify universe here.
To have a large, active community like this is much different than relying on just a knowledge base and support staff. Different users have different levels of capability and maturity in their use of Shopify, so it is easy to get help where necessary.
A knowledge base and FAQ can serve as a good first line of defence, but it is so much better to have a massive pool of other users you can call on for help if you’re facing something that’s not in the books. It’s informal and, well, a real community.
Technical questions aside, I have even seen some users add a forum post simply asking for feedback on their Shopify sites. This is not just a great way to get constructive criticism, but can also serve to self-promote within the Shopify community.
As mentioned earlier, Shopify has a marketplace where you can choose and install other third-party apps that can work with your online store. These are by developers who have seen a need for certain niches and have done their own work to support it.
Of course, Shopify has its own apps as well for other areas that it probably thought didn’t make sense to have in the core version of the builder by default.
Browsing the Shopify App marketplace is a very familiar experience, like the Apple App Store or Google’s Play Store. Browsing the store, I was extremely impressed with the depth of thought that has gone into many of the offerings there.
Sure, you would expect to find things like design add-ons and the usual newsletter stuff and so on, but there really is serious depth here. Take for example one of the areas I found – fraud protection. For an online store, this would be something vital and yet not something a new store owner would probably have thought of.
Or perhaps more innovative means of customer support, such as offering a chat bot on your store, or an app to manage exchanges and/or returns? There is simply so much here that could be of immense value, and I rarely see anything that’s just ‘fluff’ or junk.
Do note though that many of the apps available come at a price – albeit a reasonable one. Once such case is the ShipStation app which helps you extend and automate the shipping process for goods bought through your store. At only $9 a month, this app will not only do that but also give you access to discounted rates for some companies such as FedEx and USPS.
The number of apps on Shopify has been increasing over time. Today it offers over 4,200 apps that can enhance the functionality of your business.
Earlier when I discussed the marketing campaigns you could run right from the Shopify dashboard, I was already itching to share this other information – not only does Shopify help you create a store to sell and market, but you can extend your presence further onto other channels.
The system shows extreme maturity in thought that moves from jealously guarding your customer to full-heartedly assisting your customer to achieve success in their business. A very refreshing concept amongst service providers I will say.
In fact, Shopify encourages you to make full use of any and all good channels to push your sales even further. You can integrate your Shopify store with Facebook, connect to Amazon, Pinterest or even on mobile apps you develop.
With physical retail suffering from the online shopping boom, there are obviously retailers who are looking for a way to leverage on this. Some might want to create an online store in addition to their physical store or move online altogether.
For those seeking to have their cake and eat it, this is where Shopify has a unique proposition – an integration with its own Point of Sale (POS) system. What this means is that you can use the Shopify POS in your physical store and utilize a combined database that is shared between both.
The combined database can help you better manage all the data you need to run your business – customer information, sales, inventory and more. Shopify POS devices can also help you process payments via over 100 international payment gateways, making you a truly global business.
The move from physical retail to online is not an easy one for those used to traditional ways of doing business. By making available the possibility of an integration of the two and keeping traditional elements such as the POS system, Shopify serves as a bridge between two worlds for those seeking to make a change.
With such extensive features such as it has, in addition to the excellent onboarding process, Shopify has an extremely comprehensive help system to support it.
We’re not talking about the random limited help most companies put out to show that they are trying, but Shopify’s help database does its best to advise, not just fix specific problems.
You can find multiple topics on topics very close to the online storekeeper’s heart, such as on SEO, marketing and even data analytics. This sits in stark contrast to some competitors who try to restrict their help purely to their own functions and refuse to assist or advise on anything further.
If you should feel that trying to dig an answer out of a database is not your thing, Shopify also has a support team that’s available 24/7 – not just by email, but also accessible through phone and live chat.
Some platforms that support a handful of international payments processors. Shopify isn’t one of those. Although Shopify Payments is limited to some countries, you can choose from a great many others – some which are very localized.
For example, Shopify users in Malaysia can process payments though MOLPay and iPay88. These very recognizable processors can be a big help to reassure some customers. Fees can vary greatly though, so choose with care.
I was at first a little insulated from looking at tons of details in the Shopify account simply because of that excellent onboarding process that I discussed earlier. Yet once I had done the basics and was let loose, I found myself spending a huge amount of time wandering around the interface trying out various things.
To put it more simply, there is a massive – and I do mean massive – number of things you can make use of on Shopify. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good thing in terms of potential. But if you allow yourself to wander too much you may very easily lose focus.
Distractions aside, if you’re not careful, you may end up taking on more than you can chew with all the optional extras and lose track of your real goal for your store. Yet at the same time, if you ignore what’s on offer then you may very well miss real opportunities that you may not have thought of on your own.
Also, because of how cheap many of the add-on services are, you may end up with a final bill that is beyond your ability to cope with and end up having to re-configure your shop many times.
My advice is that before you let yourself loose in the Shopify play space, make sure you keep in mind exactly what it is that you hope to achieve online and work more closely on the tools that can help you achieve what you specifically want.
Anything else can be considered eye-candy and can come later. In version 2.0 of your store, perhaps.
Up next is something that is not a unique Shopify problem but rather of anything that works with third-party integration. This is especially of concern when it comes to software, since there may easily be bugs which haven’t yet been caught or fixed when two pieces of software try to work together.
If you combine that with individual code or scripts that might somehow get added in here and there, things might go belly-up for the most unexpected reasons. Sometimes, these problems might not be easy to rectify, especially if you’re dealing with an app or software that works with your core database information.
Debugging and/or seeking help is an arduous process, even with the impressive amount of helpful resources that Shopify has. This isn’t exactly a Shopify failure but is something that anything can fall prey to and can’t be avoided.
Shopify has a native payments gateway. For those who use it, it does away with transaction fees, which is great. Unfortunately, Shopify Payments is only available in these countries:
If you’re operating in areas not listed above, not only are you stuck with the transaction fees, but the payments provider fees as well.
Depending on which you choose, this can end up to be quite costly. When a third-party payments processor is involved, you have to take into account transaction fees, setup fees, annual fees, or even withdrawal fees in some cases.
There is also a long list of businesses which cannot use Shopify Payments, even in countries that can. For example, US-based users cannot use Shopify Payments for sites that sell virtual currency, financial or legal services, adult content, and more.
Thankfully, Shopify has extensive documentation to support the complexities of their payments system. Just make sure to read through it thoroughly before you choose your plan with them.
Starting from the most basic plan at $29, Shopify runs up towards a whopping $299 per month. Yet that isn’t all it will take – there is also the cost per transaction to consider. At its lowest tier, you will be paying a 2% transaction fee in addition to the monthly fee.
If you were to earn a revenue of $1,000 from your online shop, you will be paying Shopify $29 + $20 (the $20 being in transaction fees).
Now, there are two cases to compare this against – other site builders and hosting your own eCommerce site on an alternate platform. Other site builders will charge you a pretty hefty fee as well but may not have a transaction fee.
If you were to host your own eCommerce site, you will pay less in hosting, but you’d have to do everything yourself. PLUS, you will still need a payment gateway, which costs money as well. Take for example WorldPay, one of the top payments’ processors online.
If you were to set that up with your own site, WorldPay would need either a monthly fee plus low transaction fees, or a pay-as-you-go model that has a higher transaction fee. It will probably end up costing more than Shopify!
The point here is that Shopify isn’t cheap, but for running an online store, your other options probably won’t be too cheap either. There are fees involved in payments that simply can’t be avoided. Even PayPal will suck the blood right out of your veins if you’re a merchant.
In terms of resources and capabilities, I feel that Shopify is at the very top-tier of their business. Nowhere else have I seen such a stable and comprehensive offering that is dedicated to helping its clients run successful online stores.
True, it does have some minor weak spots as I’ve mentioned, and the price is not exactly cheap, but that is simply the cost of doing business. If you are serious about running an online store, Shopify is a fantastic option.
The sheer amount of automation is staggering, and you could well run a one-man operation globally with the help of Shopify. Heck, it can even help you with your accounting at the end of the day.
So, to me, the question really is not if this will work for your business, but if you are serious about running an online store. If you are then there is no reason not to give Shopify a go. I am certain that if they haven’t thought of it, you probably shouldn’t be using or doing it!