You’ve done your market research, you are convinced there is a gap to exploit. You have your products lined up and ready to go, but you don’t know where to sell them online. Well good news, I come bearing the gospel of Shopify. Shopify is an all in one eCommerce solution. They were founded in 2004, catering specifically to the non-tech savvy entrepreneur. They provide easy to use tools for setting up a custom store front, allowing you to sell products all over the world. I have looked at pretty much all of the viable options on the market at the moment, from BigCartel to PrestaShop, and though each one has a niche they excel in, none can match the versatility offered by Shopify.
There are a fair few things to take into account when entering the world of eCommerce, so I have broken this piece down into five sections. First we will be taking a look at the front end.
Shopify Appearance, Professionalism, & Overall Look
It’s the first thing a customer sees, so it had better look good. A well designed storefront is crucial to any online sales. Many eCommerce solutions still sell horribly outdated site designs, think pre-bubble burst style blotched messes, but thankfully this is not true of Shopify. While there is a huge variety of nuanced designs out there, there are really only two viable core concepts at the moment. The Amazon-like ream of products, properly streamlined so as not to overwhelm the shopper with information, and the ultra-modern online pedestal stores, for selling bespoke or boutique items. Thankfully Shopify offer themes that can cater to both tastes.
When you buy your Shopify account one of the first things you will have to do is select a theme. Theme’s are site templates, designed to make building the site easier. With other solutions you may have to design and build from scratch, and likely have to hire a third party if you want something professional. All of Shopify’s themes are created by professional designers, and can be subtly, and not so subtly, customized, allowing you to have a top quality site that is unique to your store. Editing is pretty easy, a drag and drop interface in addition to allowing some custom code injection. There are around a hundred free themes to choose from, and a fair number of premium themes too. You needn’t bother with the premium designs though, all of them are to the same standard, and unless you fall in love with a paid option you don’t need to worry.
I’d recommend looking through them yourself, you’ll see what I mean about the variety, and it may get those creative juices flowing.
Shopify Features & Integrations
There are a few things that are standard across the eCommerce provider industry. You must be able to list and sell items, you need custom SEO tools and you need social media integration. Shopify has all of those and much more besides. The core item listing and tracking features are fairly robust. You have a wide range of options for editing listing details, adding deals and giving your customers options, but the interface is streamlined. You won’t find it difficult to edit product details, but it does require you to pay attention to your sidebar. You may also list an unlimited number of items, have unlimited storage and no bandwidth limits.
On the SEO side of things I was very happy to see all the standard options, custom URLs, meta keywords etc. Making sure your product ranks highly on google is paramount. Another often overlooked SEO tool is the blog. If you want to rank well you need content. Lots of it, all written around keywords, drawing customers in. Shopify, unlike other service providers, give you top-notch blogging support in the Basic package for free. As an established company, Shopify boasts some of the best customer support out there. Some products, like Magento allow the community of users to take over that job, while other limit you to email support during weekdays. Shopify has 24/7 phone support available to all of their customers, so if you come across a problem it can be easily rectified.
When it comes to bonus features there are plenty. Shopify have a huge app store. Each and every one is well implemented, so you don’t have to worry about an app not playing nice with others, and many of them are free. Beyond Facebook, which is built into Shopify proper, it is in the app store that you will be adding your every important social media functions. There are hundreds of free apps, and a fair number of premium apps too. Be sure to look through them and tailor your Shopify experience to suit your needs.
The final feature I want to talk about is the Shopify POS system. Their retail system is unique to them, no other company offers tools that are comparable. It is an offline integration tool, that allows you to control your online store and your brick and mortar store at the same time. You use an app to track inventory across the board, manage your staff and even take payments on the fly. You just plug a little dongle into your iPad and set up the app. It’s great for those who already have a store, or if you like to sell at conventions or festivals.
Shopify Flexibility, Ease of Use, & Scalability
As an all in one solution Shopify lacks the breadth of options available in from built to order sites. So long as you have the required knowledge, solutions like OpenCart are endlessly customizable, and infinitely flexible. But in my opinion Shopify has crafted a services that can very nearly match those competitors in terms of flexibility while making it accessible to everyone. Shopify’s site editing tools are great, and they allow you to change aspects of your site at any time. Add in the robust listing features and the fact that the service is modular and you have more options than most people can count in a decade. It’s the strength of its apps that really pick up the slack here. And the fact that you will be paying a simple monthly fee really helps.
The user-friendly design philosophy ups the ease of use. As versatile as Magento is, it has a very steep learning curve. If you can’t code it might as well not exist. Shopify have been able to streamline the whole business of running an online store, and with few exceptions, made the easiest to use product on the market. The option to complicate things still exists, just look at the custom code you can put in there, but on the surface this is a wonderful system to get to grips with.
As for scalability I found it shocking that outside the do it yourself solutions none of Shopify’s competitors could match them in terms of scaling. Shopify offer three packages that come with stores. As your business grows the idea is to upgrade your package, thus gaining appropriate tools for the now larger business. It seems to work too. The list of extra tools may be relatively small, but each one is designed to make the day-to-day running of an ever-expanding business easy.
Taken as a whole Shopify has managed to create a system with the best of both worlds. The ability to go into the back-end and code new features exists, the free apps address a wide range of needs, the vanilla back-end is clean and easy to understand and you have excellent options for growth. A balance has been struck, and no other firm can boast of that.
Shopify Cost & Value
The value of the product seems to speak for itself. You gain access to a full shop, including design, SSL and hosting for as little as $29 per month. There are other all in one solutions that offer fewer features for more money and with a do it yourself solution SSL and Site hosting can run anywhere between $20 and several hundred dollars per year. Add in the cost of setting up a custom site, a few thousand, and factor in ongoing maintenance and site scaling and Shopify’s price seems ridiculously small.
You have to bear in mind a few ongoing charges, such as transaction fees, credit card fees and bandwidth fees. Shopify do not have bandwidth fees, unlike Volusion, and thus there is nothing to worry about there. There is a credit card fee, something it shares with every other solution on the market. They are able to keep it low though, due to their size and influence. With the Basic package you are charged 2.9%+30c. As you move through the packages this becomes cheaper, eventually hitting the low of 2.4%+30c. As for transaction fees, there are none. But only if you use Shopify Payments. If you implement another service, like PayPal, you’ll be paying 2% with the Basic Package, dropping to 0.5% with the top-level package. I stress though, if you use Shopify Payments it is free.
The other packages from Shopify are the Pro and the Unlimited package. The Pro Package is $79 while the Unlimited is $299. As your business grows you will likely want to move through those. Finally there is the Retail add-on. The Retail package adds the Shopify POS service I mentioned earlier, and costs an additional $40 per month.
Overall you’ll find their prices compare favorably with similar services, and are lower than most.
FREE TRIAL LINK: If you want to take advantage of a no obligation, free trial of Shopify you can click here to automatically apply a free trial when you sign up.
Shopify – Recap & Review
- All in One Solution
- Huge selection of professional themes
- Streamlined back-end
- 24/7 Customer Support
- Shopify POS offline system
- Well priced, with a plethora of useful features
- Excellent Scaling
- Robust app store with new apps added all the time
- In depth editing capable, allows custom code in CSS and PHP
- SEO tools and blogging as standard
- Language support still not great
- Customization not as extensive as a do it yourself solution
I have made it my mission to find the best eCommerce solution on the market. In this day and age, where we have the technology to make site creation intuitive and easy, where we can click a button and run complex math on sales data, where we can know without training how well we are doing in the global market, I believe that because we can do all of those things, that it should be the standard. Shopify removes the barriers put up by programs like Magento and Opencart. Sure, they are easier to use than straight up coding, but Shopify has managed to allow the lay person to leap whole heartily into the market. And for that reason, they are the best option.
You can currently get started with Shopify for free. Why not give it a shot and get your online store rolling. You can click here to automatically apply a free 14 day trial when you sign up.