Shopify is a site builder that’s heavily geared towards e-commerce stores. It can help you easily build and manage from end-to-end almost all aspects of the business, from design to inventory management. It can do almost anything except cook dinner, so it is a little surprising that it lags a bit in the speed department. Learn more.
Shopify Review – 8 Pros and 3 Cons to Consider
January 23, 2020
Frankly, Shopify is so much more than your average site builder. It in fact doesn’t even brand itself as such but lays claim to be a complete e-commerce platform. Growing out of Ottawa, Canada in 2004, the company today supports more than 600,000 merchants turning over a gross volume of more than $82 billion.
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 e-commerce merchant.
What We Like About Shopify
1. Smooth And Comprehensive Onboarding Experience
I think one of biggest plus points about Shopify is its smooth and seamless onboarding experience. It guides users flawlessly through close to the entire process of establishing an e-commerce 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 or become.
Through a series of short questions, you can help Shopify come up with the ideal solution for you within the system. 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 people who are trying to use Shopify but don’t really have anything particular in mind when they sign on to test it out.
This process is good not only for new users, but for those with different situations as well. For example, if you already have a physical retail outlet and are looking to extend operation online, or if you are moving from a physical store to a completely online platform – there’s that option as well.
Just by answering a few questions as you go along, you will be helping Shopify help you in this process.
2. Customizable Themes
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 what you’re selling. Take for instance the sample site I setup. It was meant to sell tiny PC components, some as small as screws.
Having a large-image layout seemed a little ridiculous and it made more sense to have a quick access catalogues of inventory bits for sale.
Consider that against a site promoting things beautiful like travel tours perhaps. For a site like that, nice, large spread images would convey a more positive emotion in the potential customer.
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 online store. The building blocks they offer is a case example.
Many of them are dedicated to e-commerce sites, such as a newsletter, or product catalogue. However, there might be a little confusion since it does use Shopify terminology sometimes.
3. Shopify Has Amazing Marketing Tools
I still recall in my review of Squarespace what a limited amount of options it has when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). That’s not so much the case in Shopify. In fact, aside from the fact that Shopify already has clean, easily crawlable code, it allows you to insert 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 two, 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.
4. Community Support
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.
5. Access For Third-Party Apps
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.
6. Sell Everywhere!
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.
7. Expand Physical Stores Online
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.
8. Awesome Knowledgebase and Customer Support
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.
What We Didn’t Like About Shopify
1. There Are LOTS Of Details
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.
2. Third-Party Apps Can Break Your Site
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.
3. Dubious Site Speeds
This was one of the areas in which I was originally least concerned about when I began my Shopify review, but then in the blink of an eye, it did become a problem. I ran the speed tests a few times and it turns out, sites powered by Shopify may not be the most agile.
On the Bitcatcha speed test, my sample Shopify site barely eked out a C+ grade. Speeds were okay starting in the US zone at 55 ms, but as they drew further East towards Asia, speeds dropped further with Japan clocking in at 892 ms.
Turning to WebPageSpeed Test, results were not much better and here I got a little more detail which frankly, I was a little surprised at. Time to First Byte got a D rating and there seemed to be some slight issues with content caching as well.
The reason why I find this unusual is that most site building software is usually very sped efficient, especially since in most cases they charge a premium over what a standard web hosting company would charge for resources.
Shopify Plan & Features
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 e-commerce 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 e-commerce 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.
Verdict: Is Shopify Right for You?
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 as table 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!
- ✓ Excellent onboarding
- ✓ Solid & reliable interface
- ✓ Huge number of apps
- ✓ Good support & material
- ✓ Helps with order fulfilment
- ✓ Integrated payments processing
- • Online stores of any size
- • Internet-based businesses
- • Retail shops seeking online expansion