Lots of people ask us which ecommerce platform is the best suited for a company just getting started with an online store. If we gave you the long answer it would be a little more complicated. However, a short answer to that question is that Shopify should be able to offer all the functionality you need. It's filled with tools for launching a site within minutes, and you don't have to worry about self hosting or buying a domain name from a third party. You'll find my full review below. For more Shopify reviews from our readers check out the comments area.
In that respect, one could call it the perfect out of the box solution, built with pricing plans that cater to small starter stores as well as shops that are bringing in millions of dollars in sales.
The reason we like Shopify so much is that it's not like WordPress or Magento, (which are great as well,) but you need some sort of development knowledge to keep your site running smoothly. On the other hand, it's not like some of the more simplified solutions like WIX and Weebly, where you're going to have a tough time scaling up.
Shopify is right in the middle, where complete beginners can create products, manage inventory and share promotions, all without having to take a development class. In addition, more advanced designers gain access to CSS and HTML files, and you can upgrade to gain more advanced features as your store grows. Overall, it's a beautifully constructed ecommerce platform with plenty of themes that look modern and stylish but also simple and minimal if that's what you're looking for.
Shopify was founded in 2006 by Tobias Lütke (CEO of the Year in Canada), Scott Lake and Daniel Weinand. Since the launch, the platform has quickly grown from a small player to one of (if not the) leading ecommerce solutions. The company is currently powering more than 220,000 online retailers. Some of their most notable customers include General Electric, Amnesty International, Tesla Motors, Encyclopedia Britannica, Foo Fighters, GitHub, and many more. If you are looking for an ecommerce solution with a lot of great features that still remains easy to use for the novice users, then you should definitely give them a try.
The Platform's Top Features: Shopify Reviews
I have tested quite a few ecommerce platforms in the past, and I must admit, Shopify has the most thought-out feature set I have ever encountered. Almost everything you need to run your own online store is taken care of by a distinct feature. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to run your store fully online or from a brick and mortar setting, there is something for everyone. The reason Shopify manages to achieve such a strong feature-set is because they either have a tool built-in, or they let you install it with an app.
For example, taxes and shipping are included in the Shopify interface, yet for most of the themes you're going to have to find a free app for social media buttons. Both options work, and you often don't have to pay any extra money when opting for an app.
The company has one of the most complete dashboards or control panels I have ever seen. All tasks, from processing orders to managing inventory, are given to you on the backend.
The platform also provides an interface called Shopify Partners, where developers can play around with new websites without having to open up free trials every time. It's like a sandbox interface for those who have several clients and need to present website builds before landing jobs. You can install new themes, customize full websites and seemlessly transition from a Shopify Partners website to a launched site. Not only that, but you gain a commision for every client you bring on board with Shopify.
If you have any familiarity with WordPress, the dashboard actually looks pretty similar to that interface, with the tabs on the left side for you to access quickly. You can also use the dashboard for generating discount codes, or for examining the latest reports. (In fact the reports on Shopify are my favorite out of all the ecommerce platforms. They're organized, clean and simple, with options like sales by billing address, sales by traffic referrer and gross sales by product title).
If you are looking to sell your products in an actual retail setting, then you can opt for the Shopify POS. This includes everything you need to sell your products offline, both on the software and hardware side. The software includes an iPad app, which makes selling your products in a retail setting much easier. With the app you can use the credit card reader to swipe the customer's credit card right there. You can even purchase additional hardware from the company such as a cash register, a receipt printer and even a barcode scanner.
Shopify also offers one of the biggest App Stores out of all the ecommerce solutions; they provide hundreds of free and paid apps that will enhance your store. These have been divided into different categories such as Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Shipping and Customer Service. Thanks to their formidable content management system (CMS) you can easily create additional pages, as well as pages through which your clients can easily contact you. Furthermore, Shopify makes running your own blog super easy, since everything is handled from a single dashboard.
Keep in mind that the entire Shopify feature-set is hard to walk through in a single section, but it's worth mentioning that each of the Shopify themes are responsive with mobile ready checkouts. The responsive checkout means that your site automatically adapts to the size of your screen, whether it be through a tablet or smartphone. Along with direct Facebook and Pinterest integration, gift cards, discount codes and a decent custom profile, the company has pretty much perfected the built-in features.
In general, if you need a feature that's only in the app store, you can test it out, and move onto another option if it's not working out on your website.
Something New: Shopify Sections
Shopify Sections is an exciting new feature that doesn't exactly give your a drag and drop builder, but it comes close. The visual editor offers a wide variety of content sections that you can insert onto your homepage. For example, you might want to place a slideshow, button and product carousel towards the top of that homepage.
It's done with the click of a button. After that, you can adjust the order of those sections by dragging and dropping them in the sidebar.
Shopify Ease of Use
Is it intimidating to handle all of the features in Shopify? Not really at all. In fact, we like the feature-set for companies that are just getting started with web design, since a few steps are given to you for getting your site up and running.
So, you could simply stick to the handful of steps offered in the dashboard (adding a product, customizing the look of your website and finding a custom domain,) or you could expand your store with the help of apps and custom coding.
The apps install within seconds, so it doesn't take a genius to handle those. However, if you are more of an advanced developer, Shopify has the tools for you as well. The only area that may be of concern for people with more advanced coding and development skills is that an FTP client is not included with the ecommerce platform, somewhat hindering the control you have over the site.
In terms of pre-publication, Shopify gives you the opportunity to test your store before it goes public, and the live editor is pretty nice for seeing your changes immediately after a setting is adjusted.
The company is pretty much hell-bent on making their interface the easiest in the industry. What's interesting is that they are walking a fine line, since it's still a platform that can satisfy those with more experience with coding and what not. Overall, importing hundreds of products is simple, and making an item from scratch uses quick tools and settings for things like images, videos, titles, pricing, discounts and more.
I don't really see any beginner or intermediate developer having a problem with Shopify. At the same time, most advanced developers are going to be just fine. There's the select few who are planning on scaling up incredibly fast who might get a little bogged down with the Shopify interface.
However, Shopify has enough flexible pricing plans to keep your comfortable for a significant period of time.
Shopify Pricing Makes Sense
Shopify offers four different pricing plans, and the lowest starts at just just $9 a month. While their other plans range from $29 (for their basic plan) to $299 (for their biggest plan,) you do have the opportunity to try out a free, 14 day trial before committing to anything.
If you want to sell your products both online and offline, then Shopify has plans that you must call in and speak to a rep to setup. Furthermore if you wish to only sell your products offline, then they also offer a plan for that, which can be quite handy.
The cheapest offline plan starts at $29/month while the most expensive costs $299/month. Unlike with the other platforms, all plans come with unlimited bandwidth and, with the exception of the starter plan, an unlimited number of products you can sell in your store.
That said, let's outline some of the online plans for you to understand which one is best for you:
- Lite – $9 per month for credit cards rates of 2.9% + 30¢, a Shopify buy button (so your site is technically not a real online store,) Facebook selling, POS integration, fraud analysis, manual order creation and shipping codes. One staff account is provided.
- Basic Shopify – $29 per month for everything in the previous plan, credit card rates of 2.9% + 30¢, an actual online store, 24/7 support, fraud analysis, manual order creation, discount codes, a website and blog, and a free SSL certificate. Two staff accounts are provided.
- Shopify – $79 per month for everything in the previous plan, credit card rates of 2.6% + 30¢, an actual online store, gift cards, professional reports and abandoned cart recovery. Five staff accounts are provided.
- Advanced Shopify – $299 per month for everything in the previous plan, credit card rates of 2.4% + 30¢, an actual online store, advanced report builder and real time carrier shipping. 15 staff accounts are provided.
Each plan allows for an unlimited number of products, unlimited file storage, shipping label discounts and a retail package if needed.
If you want to learn more about this, check out my full guide on Shopify pricing.
Shopify Templates and Design
One area where Shopify really excels at is its themes and design. The company offers some of the most professional looking themes of any ecommerce platform. As of this article, the company has around 21 free themes for you to choose from. On the other hand, you can pay for a theme, and select from over 100 options. The nicer ones start at around $100, but you may be able to locate a few that are cheaper.
The Shopify Sections functionalty (for dragging and dropping certain sections with the theme) is live for most new themes. Therefore, if you're starting a new site, you shouldn't have any problems getting Shopify Sections. Unfortunately that leaves all the currently running sites in the dark with Shopify Sections.
However, Shopify claims that all online stores will get Shopify Sections by the end of 2016, which is hopefully going to be the case.
As we talked about above, CSS and HTML modules are given for you to make more advanced customizations to the themes you buy. In my experience, the free themes aren't as easy to customize, and Shopify probably does this to get you to purchase premium options. The theme selection includes categories like clothing, electronics, food, toys and much more. I've had my eye on Shopify for quite some time now, and the company seems to share new themes on a consistent basis, and the designs are looking more and more modern.
My main concern with a theme design is how quickly people can checkout and get through the shopping cart process. The Shopify themes have both two and three step checkouts, and you can tryout tools for things like social and guest checkouts.
Once you've found the right theme, you can easily customize the look and feel to your heart's desire, simply by opening the template editor and editing your theme until you feel like it’s exactly what you are looking for. On the other hand, the new Shopify Sections feature is sure to speed up your editing, since it's a rather simple drag and drop editor.
If you have created a theme that you would like to use for your store, then you can upload your own template.
Go to the Theme page and scroll down until you find the Upload Theme button, then just add your own theme.
None of the Shopify themes have Shopify branding. In fact, it's not that easy to find any trace of the Shopify brand on your own site. This is a wonderful thing for beginners, since it's not going to affect your search engine rankings, and people will think you designed the website yourself.
Inventory management is an important part of running your store, and Shopify has you covered in this area too. Once you are ready to add inventory to your store then all you need to do is press the Products tab in the sidebar on the dashboard. You will then automatically be taken to the following page:
As you can see in the image above, everything from product title to description and price is customizable. In addition, you can give each product a distinct SKU, as well as a bar code.
Transfers, Inventory, Collections and Gift Cards are seen as tabs in this area as well. I like the Inventory tab because it features all of the items in your store, all organized into a clean and manageable list. The product page also offers several options for things like SEO, shipping and the imagery that users are going to see when landing on this product page.
Shopify SEO & Marketing
If you have an amazing store but your customers are unable to find it, then chances are you will be very disappointed with the sales figures. Shopify offers great features for both SEO and Marketing. Thanks to the built in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features, your site will easily be found on all major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
What's cool is that even though the SEO settings are automated, you can go into each product page and customize your own target keywords, URLs and more.
If you really want to customize your store further, the company offers customizable H1, title and mega tags. Also, the URLs are all SEO friendly. Shopify has partnered with Google in order to occasionally give you advertising money for a new AdWords account. I certainly wouldn't base my decision on which ecommerce platform gives me money to advertise on Google, but I guess it's a nice bonus.
The gift cards are extremely user-friendly, and you don't have to go out to find a third party app for better gift card features. It depends on your payment plan, but once you get everything activated it allows for gift card codes in the checkout area.
The discount codes are generated on the backend as well.
To help boost your marketing, Shopify created a discount code coupon generator to promote your products on different social networks.
Along with selling options on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, your marketing game is in good hands with Shopify. However, you should know that social media following and sharing buttons are only in the app store. Yes, you can create an online shop through Facebook, but the buttons are in the app store.
Finally, the email collection form is pretty simple. It certainly does the job and integrates with the major email options like MailChimp, but many ecommerce stores tend to look towards the app store to find something more suitable.
Read this post if you want to learn more on which is the best ecommerce site builder for SEO.
Traditionally if you wanted to accept payments you would have to use a third-party payments processor like Stripe, PayPal, or others that would charge a certain fee per transaction. Shopify has created their own payment processor called Shopify Payments (Powered by Stripe). If you decide to sign up for this program then all transaction fees will be lifted regardless of your plan.
We covered credit card fees in the pricing area earlier, but it's worth noting that you do have the option to integrate with over 70 different payment gateways. These include accepting payments from credit cards, Google Checkout, PayPal and many more.
The gateways all come with their own transaction fees. Since these can get a little confusing, I strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with these before signing up, as you might otherwise be surprised at just how much you'll have to pay.
In short, Shopify has one of the biggest lists of supported payment gateways out there. This doesn't mean you'll use them all, but it opens up more opportunity for people from all over the world. It also gives you a chance to research which of the payment gateways are going to work for your particular business.
Security is taken very seriously when you run an ecommerce site. Therefore Shopify has its shopping cart hosted on a Level 1 PCI DSS compliant server. In other words, your data, and the data of your customers, is secure. In addition, all pricing plans (besides Lite) offer 128-bit Free SSL certificate at no added cost.
While data security is very important to retailers, many also worry about their store always being available, and Shopify provides their customers with a 99.94% uptime guarantee. Furthermore, the company creates secure backups of all your data, so even if your store should crash, it will be backed up for restoration later.
Security badges come with your plan, considering those are some of the only ways you can show to your customers that your website is secure. That, along with the https mention and padlock in the URL area of your browser.
Some other things that come into play with security include vulnerability management and access control. You get to specify which users are able to access certain content on the backend. So some people might get a little access, while others might get admin access, and others might get no access.
Finally, the vulnerability management area helps out with catching problems from malicious hackers to fraudulent transactions. You get to monitor what's going on with your site and Shopify assists in identifying criminal activity.
If you find yourself in need of support, then Shopify has one of the best teams in the industry. Regardless of which pricing plan you decide on, the company has 24/7 full customer support, which includes phone support as well as chat and email support. Another great form of help offered by Shopify is the access to a sizeable support system directly through their website, including user forums, tutorials and FAQ’s.
If you are just beginning your journey as an online seller, Shopify has created something called Ecommerce University. Here users gain access to eBooks, videos and guides, with the idea of helping customers learn the ins and outs of running their own web store.
Overall, you have the ability to either speak to a professional or learn about the system yourself. Obviously some people hate waiting on the phone for a support rep, so we feel like the forums, courses and videos are enough for you to figure out your own problems if you'd like. So, the support team has something for everyone, and in my experience they're pretty darn knowledgeable and responsive.
From videos to podcasts, and success stories to a huge encyclopedia of ecommerce terms, the Shopify online support seems to improve on a regular basis. Heck, the last time I did this article I don't recall them having an ecommerce podcast.
A Note On Development Requests
When working with any online platform, app or software, it's nice to have access to the developers or at least some sort of feedback system for letting them know what features you would like to see in the future. In addition, we like to see the developers actually respond to the requests with new features being released on a consistent basis.
I consider this a type of support, since a company that doesn't listen to customers is bound to lose them because of this lack of communication.
Shopify thrives in this department, seeing as how they regularly share blog posts about the feature requests they have listened to and implemented. For example, many ecommerce professionals worry about images slowing down their sites, since media is usually what causes this problem. Well, Shopify responded by optimizing and updating all previously uploaded images on Shopify, while also providing file modification instructions for future image optimization. This not only helps with SEO, but it speeds up the user interface for all Shopify merchants.
Who is the Shopify ecommerce platform built for?
Beginners, intermediates and advanced users (the ones looking to speed up the development process by not spending much time on coding or more complicated processes). I also like it for generalist bloggers or content creators who would like to turn go with the Lite plan to throw some Buy buttons on their websites. The Shopify Lite plan is ripe for converting a regular business site into an ecommerce one. It's also nice to see a homepage builder (Shopify Sections) that has draggable elements.
I would gladly recommend Shopify to anyone, if nothing else then at least give their 14-day free trial a try. I'm certain you will not be disappointed.
So what do you think of Shopify? Let me know what's your opinion by in the comments area, which is dedicated to Shopify reviews.