Like any other component of a business, the website is an important part of grabbing customers’ journey—arguably one of the most important. Whether one has a retail shop, is thinking about opening one, or wants to stay completely digital; creating a memorable online shopping experience for customers is critical. It’s not enough to have a nice-to-look-at website.
If you want your customers to continue to shop your site, it must have the functionality, design, and capability to create that noteworthy experience that customers have come to expect from brands.
How your ecommerce shop is built can mean the difference between customers making a purchase or moving on to another brand. So it’s critical to build your ecommerce store in a way that is not only cost-effective for you, but that is also easy for your customers to navigate (and leaves a great impression). But with so many ecommerce website builders out there, how are you supposed to know which one is right for your business? Selecting the right builder goes beyond what’s right for your business as it currently stands. Investing in a platform that can scale with you will help reduce friction between your customers and your products, and bulk up your bottom line.
History – What is Shopify?
Back in 2006, a German youngster living in Canada decided to sell snowboards online. He created his own ecommerce solution and soon realized others could also use it.
Fast-forward several years and Shopify has become the #1 tool for many (and that youngster is now loaded). Shopify is the leading ecommerce solution with more than 800,000 online stores, offices around the globe, $63 billion worth of sales and over 3,000 employees.
How does Shopify work?
Shopify is not only an easy way to launch and manage your online store. It’s geared towards supporting store owners in crucial aspects like opening additional channels (e.g. Amazon, eBay or Facebook), offering customer support tools (e.g. live chat) or by taking care of the technical hassles.
Ease of use:
Shopify is really easy to use and is an extremely powerful tool too. Their backend is intuitive and straightforward to navigate. Whenever stuck, all one has to do is check their tutorials or ask support on their live chat – most of the time support is helpful and quick to answer.
Templates & Design
Shopify is not short on templates and they generally look modern and professional. They are also responsive, which means that they’ll look great on any device – Google really likes this last point. They only offer a handful of free templates (about 10)
However, if you have a budget, you can buy one of their paid themes that cost between $140-180. Another option is to purchase a theme from an external marketplace like Themeforest, where prices are generally lower (around $50). Or if you need a specific design you could get one exclusively developed for you from one of the many Shopify experts.
In terms of template customization, Shopify gets it right. Users find it super easy to personalize store templates. Changing global styles is a super easy (e.g. colors, fonts, or social media buttons) with the theme editor menu. Even better is the way they let one add, remove or even move sections up and down with a couple of clicks. The shortcoming here is that users are limited to the available sections of their templates. Hence for big business houses getting one customized or developed is the best idea.
Blog and content generation
Shopify comes with a blog you can use for your content marketing strategy. It even has a lot of blogging features you’ll need. Some of their best features are:
- It’s fully integrated with your store site
- Tags are easy to set
- You can have more than 1 author
- SEO parameters are customizable
Reporting & Data Analytics
The Reports are available on the users plan basis. The Basic Shopify plan reports are limited to:
- An overview of a few key metrics (e.g. sales, user sessions, orders, etc)
- Real-time reports
- Finance reports (e.g. sales, taxes, payments, etc.)
- Acquisition reports – general information about how you got your visitors
- Some behavior reports (e.g. conversion rates, check out rates, etc.)
- Analytics by marketing campaign linked to a UTM campaign (e.g. a newsletter)
The ‘Shopify’ plan comes with a couple of nice perks:
- Sales report – connects customer metrics with sales metrics
- Customer report – to find out things like returning customers or customers by country
If users have the Advanced Shopify plan or Shopify Plus, they will be able to create custom reports. Using the filters one can dig as deep as they need into the data. Connecting Google Analytics (with conversion tracking) is also possible. Additionally, there are dozens of reporting apps you can get from the Shopify App Store.
Add and manage products: Products can be added easily using Shopify’s interface or users can even import products via a CSV file – this last option is pretty useful for large online stores. It’s also possible to import and export other pieces of data like customer lists, orders or even reviews using CSV files.
Filling the product information is intuitive (e.g. title, description, images or videos, price or SEO options). Finally, collections (category) can be assigned to keep your online store tidy. The SKU (stock-keeping unit) and the inventory tracking features let users manage their stock more efficiently and prevent them from selling out-of-stock items.
Limitation of Variants: Users may require selling several variants of the same product. Be aware that Shopify will let you add a maximum of 3 variants (e.g. size, color and material). The system will then generate all the necessary combinations, and individual inventory tracking can be setup. The cap is at 100 combinations (unless you use a paid app or edit your theme’s source files). This could be limiting for projects with complex products but will be enough for most store owners.
Selling digital products (e.g. videos, images or documents) with Shopify, users will need to install a (free) app developed by Shopify themselves. Creating a subscription store or taking recurring payments can get expensive. Users will either need an app or a developer to code this for them.
Abandoned Cart Recovery
Abandoned cart recovery is where your website automatically sends your site’s visitors an email if they leave your online store without checking out. It may not seem important, but the reality is more than 3 out of 4 online shoppers leave a website without completing a purchase. Just think of the money you could be missing out on! You can set your Shopify store to generate abandoned cart emails, so you can rest assured you’re getting the best possible chance of making each and every sale.
Categories (or collections as Shopify calls them) can be manually assigned to products to group them. For example, let’s say you sell pet food, you could have a collection for dogs, cats or snakes.
Shopify will automatically generate a page for each collection showing all the included products. But be aware that creating sub-categories with Shopify (e.g. puppies food or senior dog food) isn’t possible unless you use a complicated workaround or an app. Try setting up automatic rules to create collections. For example, create a ‘Promotions’ collection with all products that currently have a discount.
Payment processors and transaction fees
Shopify has more online payment processors than any other alternative – over 100 providers. All big names like Stripe, 2Checkout, PayPal or Authorize are included. They also have their own system, Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe).
Shopify charges extra transaction fees if one doesn’t use Shopify Payments – 2%, 1% or 0.5% depending on their plan. And since, Shopify Payments is not available in every country, so users have to end up paying extra.
Shopify Payments is currently available in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. They have plans to launch this in other countries soon.
On top of that, manual payment methods can be enabled too. For example, cash on delivery, bank deposits or money order. On these orders you won’t have to pay any commissions to Shopify.
Shipping and Costs Involved
Ecommerce logistics (shipping) can get tricky and having an efficient system can save time and money. Shopify does a great job here. Shipping rules can be set up easily (e.g. flat rate, free shipping, country or region based rates) from their backend for individual products, collections or for your entire store. They have live shipping rates. This sytem connects your store with carriers (like USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc) and provides accurate shipping costs during checkout. Live shipping rates are only available for some countries (e.g. US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, etc).
When fulfilling orders, users can buy (discounted) shipping labels from Shopify’s backend. Users only need to print it and stick it on the parcel – a big-time (and money) saver. But for this to work, users need to specify the weight of their products.
Shopify is the leading solution for dropshipping – an ecommerce model where the order processing and fulfillment are done by someone else (a dropshipping provider). Users can connect your Shopify store to several dropshipping providers like Rakuten, Amazon Fulfillment or Shipwire. Other services can be manually connected (via email) if you need to. Some solutions such as Oberlo, can be added via the App Store.
Taxes and Setup
Shopify taxes can be easily setup and they allow users to
- Display prices including taxes or excluding them, whatever works for them.
- Shopify includes an automated tax calculator by ZIP code – only for US based stores.
- Manual tax settings can also be added for countries or regions.
For targeting customers in Europe, you can also adapt the taxes settings to comply with the European legislation, even for digital products. This means letting your business customers shop VAT-free, using the reverse charge-mechanism, however, this will require an external app.
Exploring other sales channels
Ambitious marketers want to explore different ways to sell products. Shopify helps them in the following ways:
- Sell your products directly on Facebook – Shopify will create a shop section on your Facebook page.
- Sell your products on Instagram by tagging your products.
- Selling on Pinterest is also an option for Shopify store owners with a Pinterest business account.
- Similarly, you can connect your Shopify store with Amazon to sell on this popular marketplace.
- eBay is another available marketplace.
There are other Shopify sales channels (e.g. BuzzFeed, Wanelo, etc.) one can explore. Advantages of these are that it allows users to maintain and manage their sales from one place (your Shopify backend). Some channels work smoother than others. For example, with the Instagram integration, many users have issues getting their store validated
SEO ranking issues are related to poor optimization jobs (e.g. bad content) and not Shopify (or other tools) issues. However, Shopify has a few SEO drawbacks users should be aware of:
- Shopify URL structure isn’t 100% customizable. For example, product pages will include always ‘/products/’ in their URL – this can’t be changed.
- Shopify auto-generates the Robots.txt file, and users can’t customize it.
- Shopify doesn’t make it easy to create sub-categories, which can be an SEO pain for some.
- Although you can create non-ecommerce content easily, it can be a bit limited (e.g. not possible to add widgets or maps).
- Sometimes, you may need a bit more (content) flexibility to support your overall SEO strategy.
However, despite the above-mentioned pitfalls Shopify SEO is good and intuitive. For example, customizing most of your SEO parameters (e.g. title tags, descriptions, slugs, etc) is easy. They also have a redirect system. When you change a URL, Shopify will automatically create an optional redirect from the old URL to the new one – so you don’t generate 404 errors.
Shopify has an app market where users can find extensions (for adding extra functionality) for their online store. These are very similar to the ones in the smartphone. Shopify has an insane amount of apps. From email marketing integrations to dropshipping connections, you name it, they have it. These definitely save users a lot of money and time – especially when compared to custom-developed solutions.
There are a bunch of free apps (over a thousand), but many others are paid apps. And the app quality depends on the app. Some of the apps are developed by Shopify themselves. For example, the digital downloads extension or the Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest integrations. The problem area is that it can get expensive to purchase the paid apps for every ecommerce provider.
|Shopify Pricing Plans||Monthly ($/month)||1-Year ($/month)||Savings (%)||2-Years ($/month)||Savings (%)|
$29 – Basic Shopify
Sell unlimited products. Shopify will charge a 2% transaction fee unless you use Shopify Payments.
$79 – Shopify
With more ecommerce features like gift cards and abandoned cart recovery transaction fees are 1% unless you use Shopify Payments.
$299 – Advanced Shopify
Get advanced reports and automatically calculated shipping rates. Transaction fees are 0.5% unless you use Shopify Payments.
Additional plans: The Lite plan to sell on social media can also be purchased for about $9 a month. Shopify also offers an enterprise plan (Plus) for gigantic online stores – it’s not cheap as it starts at $2.000 a month.
A domain name costs extra (starting at $14 per year for a .com), but can be added through Shopify or any external registrar. If you can, it’s recommendable to use Shopify’s own payment gateway as this will save you additional charges. It’s currently only available in the USA, Puerto Rico, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Please note that transaction fees won’t be charged for manual payment methods (cash on delivery, bank transfer etc.).
BigCommerce and Shopify are relatively equal. But for some, even their small differences can be crucial: BigCommerce is in the lead when it comes to SEO. This added flexibility can be valuable in competitive markets. Also, unlike Shopify, BigCommerce doesn’t charge any transaction fees. However, they will put users into a higher pricing plan as they hit certain thresholds in sales.
WooCommerce should be your preferred choice if you’re not afraid of terms like FTP, MySQL and plugin updates as you’ll have to install it on your own WordPress site. The main reason to choose it over Shopify, from our point of view, is if you need a multilingual website and you need a lot of flexibility.
Wix Ecommerce plays in a different league as it’s made for smaller stores. So if you primarily want to have a great looking website with a blog and an added shopping cart, Wix is for you. As it’s geared towards beginners, adding content and managing your store is a lot easier than with Shopify. It’s not to be underestimated as it comes with customer accounts, lots of payment methods and the ability to sell digital products.
From powerful management tools and well-designed themes to world-class apps and features, Shopify really is the best all-round ecommerce website builder on the market.
Shopify is designed for big businesses and small ones who have aspirations to grow. Its analytical and management tools help you keep track of everything, and there’s a ton of features that can help you scale up quickly.
Its pricing plans may seem expensive compared to other products out there, but for what you’re getting, they’re good value for money. Besides, if you’re really serious about selling, your profits will make the monthly fee feel like a drop in the ocean.
From our research, Shopify had the best sales features and customer score of any builder.
Sign up for a 14-day free trial today and try it yourself.