Shopify is a hugely successful e-commerce platform that makes it easy to launch and market an online store.
The company views themselves as spurring an entrepreneurship revolution, putting business ownership within the grasp of anyone with the discipline and tenacity to succeed.
In this Shopify review, we look under the hood of their technology, plans, payment setups, marketing, support, and more.
Join us for a fascinating and inspiring look at a world where teenagers and total novices have bootstrapped themselves into the upper class.
Pros and Cons
- One of the best e-commerce platforms
- Large Shopify community
- Easy to use
- Customization can become complex
If you want a solid e-commerce platform, you can't go wrong with Shopify. Though the platform isn't without its faults, Shopify's experience with e-commerce means that the company knows how to offer a useful product.
There is also a huge Shopify community that can help you with problems you are having or make suggestions.
Shopify can be expensive, especially when you factor in the transaction costs leveraged by the company on top of monthly subscription fees. Furthermore, the platform is simple to use, but extensive customizations, can be tricky.
Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce platform based in Ottawa, Ontario. It was founded in 2004 by Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake, who were unable to find a suitable online sales platform for the snowboarding equipment shop they wanted to launch.
Since then, Shopify has grown to have over 3,000 employees who assist more than 800,000 businesses located in 175 countries.
The company is publicly traded and earned total revenues of over $1 billion in 2018. All of its measures of GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume) were in the double-digit billions.
“We made history in 2018,” said Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke. “Shopify allows people to partake in the entrepreneurial world who would otherwise not be able to do so. We have been focused on growing this market for the past 12 years even though a lot of people told us that this isn’t a valuable business model. We let the results speak for themselves.”
What Can You Do With a Shopify Store?
Shopify is an easy-to-use, hosted e-commerce platform that allows you to sell your products across multiple channels. Assuming you're not entering a highly-regulated industry (eg, finance, medicine), you can start even without a business license/EIN.
Given our readership on this site includes many web developers, this review will delve into some advanced technical concepts along with the ease-of-use factors.
Aside from setting up an online store, you can:
- Accept payments face-to-face using the Shopify POS.
- Sell your products through Facebook Messenger, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, eBay, and several other platforms.
- Sync your physical store with your online store.
- Automatically calculate your tax rate based on your location.
- Offer free shipping.
Shopify allows you to sell both digital and physical products, accept credit card payments, and integrate your store with over 100 external payment gateways from around the world.
What's New in 2019?
New features and products that have recently rolled out include:
- Shopify Studios: a media production company focused on advancing entrepreneurship.
- Multi-currency selling: sell in multiple currencies and get paid in your own chosen currency.
- New retail hardware products for point-of-sale applications.
What's Included With the Website Builder?
Each Shopify plan includes their user-friendly website builder that enables you to create a professional-looking online store within seconds.
You'll get built-in blogging features and analytics to keep track of your sales, see where your traffic is coming from, and allow you to integrate your store with Google Analytics.
Each store comes with the ability to upload an unlimited number of products, unlimited bandwidth, and a free SSL certificate.
The platform comes with hundreds of themes and a number of features for helping you market your store, manage your inventory and keep track of your customers.
You'll also get access to a mobile app that allows you to capture payments, manage orders, and reach out to your customers.
Let's look at the details.
Themes and Customization
Shopify offers more than a hundred themes that can be customized through the Theme Settings editor.
Each theme is optimized for mobile devices and they range from free to paid.
Theme Development: Liquid Templating
More experienced developers can use the Liquid language to build their own themes and modify the existing ones. Liquid was created by Shopify. It's open source and written in Ruby.
Liquid has gained widespread acceptance and is used by the Jekyll static site generator, Salesforce, Zendesk, and other well-known platforms.
The themes also feature HTML and CSS, so knowledge of these will only help you as you customize your store.
You can also hire a Shopify expert to customize your chosen theme for an additional cost.
Products and Inventory
Setting up a store with Shopify allows you to manage your entire product catalog/inventory in one place.
Products can have different variations such as color, size, and materials, and you can organize them according to the season, type, sale, and more.
Each variation of the product can have its own SKU. You can also display stock levels and indicate an item's status (eg, used or new)
You can connect your store with third-party fulfillment centers such as Amazon, Rakuten Super Logistics, and Shipwire or set up a custom fulfillment solution. You can also integrate your store with several popular drop shipping platforms.
Shopify allows you to store the information about your customers and see their entire order history. Every customer has the option to check-out as a guest or to create an account for repeat purchases. Customers can be grouped together based on location, purchase history, and more.
Marketing and SEO Features
The platform supports SEO best practices and allows you to add and customize title tags and meta descriptions for each of your products and pages. It automatically generates a sitemap for your store to assist search engines in indexing it properly.
Discounts and Gift Cards
Shopify’s marketing features include the ability to create discount codes and coupons, sell gift cards or offer them as store credit, and feature product reviews.
The platform integrates with major social media networks in some novel ways. For example, when you log in and click “Marketing” you'll see personalized recommendations for campaigns, such as running a Black Friday Facebook ad campaign.
What's unique is that you can set your ad campaigns up directly in the Shopify dashboard. That includes building targeted Facebook ad audiences. It's easy to run Facebook and Instagram ads this way.
You'll also want to explore Kit. Kit is Shopify's AI (artificial intelligence) assistant that runs on your smartphone.
It can create and run targeted social media campaigns for you, set up email automation, run reports, and much more.
Note that these integrations aren't just for marketing purposes; you can also sell via social platforms.
You can also make use of its abandoned cart recovery features that allow you to send reminder emails to customers who didn’t complete the check-out process.
Those customers will receive an email with a link to their abandoned shopping carts, encouraging them to complete their purchases.
App Store, Third-Party Integrations, and Add-Ons
Shopify comes with its own App Store that has various apps ranging from free to paid and covering categories such as email marketing, social media, accounting, shipping, payments, and more.
Thanks to these apps, you can connect your store to numerous apps such as QuickBooks, Xero, Conversio, ShipStation, and others.
Some of the best apps available include Oberlo (helps you source a supplier for products you want to sell), Order Printer (which helps you print things like invoices, labels, receipts, and packing slips), and Printful (which enables you to sell print-on-demand items).
Shopify Payments and Payment Gateways
Shopify Payments is the easiest and quickest way to start accepting online payments. That's because there's no need to set up a merchant account.
This payment system is only available in the following countries:
- Hong Kong SAR China
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States.
You can sell in multiple currencies and get paid in your local currency. Be aware, though, that this is only available to Shopify Plus customers. Shopify Plus is an enterprise-level plan for high-volume sellers.
Credit Cards, PayPal, and More
If you don't use Shopify Payments, you still have a choice of over 100 credit card processors.
You can search these providers by country or region on the Shopify site. For example, clicking on “United States” will reveal dozens of options including Affirm, Amazon Pay, Coinbase Commerce, and QuickBooks Payments.
PayPal options include PayPal Flow and PayPal Express Checkout.
You can also let your customers pay via cryptocurrencies.
The support includes a detailed help section with hundreds of articles that guide you step-by-step through the process of setting up and getting started with your store.
Ready For E-Commerce University?
The support section of Shopify’s website includes E-commerce University that contains ebooks, video series, webinars, and other resources that teach you how to successfully sell online as well as community forums where you can connect with other Shopify users.
E-Commerce platforms can be complex, and its robust suite of educational materials can be the difference between success and failure (or at the very least, minimize the amount of time you have to spend on the phone with support).
You can also talk to the support team 24/7 using email, live chat, and phone. If you need dedicated help with your store’s design or marketing, you can hire one of Shopify’s experts for an additional fee. These experts include developers, designers, marketers, and photographers.
Example: Watch Outfitters
Watch Outfitters is a Shopify store owned by a 17-year old. Revenue is over $10,000 a month.
The owner, Jonah, had a slow start until he started studying Shopify's educational material and joined a Shopify Facebook group to learn more.
One of his promotional tactics is to create simple videos of his watches, like this one:
Shopify Plans and Billing
Shopify offers three main plans: the Basic plan, the Shopify plan, and Advanced Shopify.
All of the plans include the ability to use Shopify Payments as well as third-party payment gateways, free SSL certificate, plus you can integrate a custom domain, use blogging features, and have the ability to create discount codes, and print shipping labels.
Shipping Rates and Discounts
Depending on where and what you're shipping, and which plan you choose, you may be eligible for shipping discounts from USPS, UPS, DHL, and Canada Post.
For example, for domestic shipping with USPS, if you purchase the Basic plan, you'll be eligible for shipping discounts of up to 15%. But if you choose the Shopify plan (the mid-tier plan) you'll be eligible for discounts up to 90% off.
Consult the shipping rates table for 2019 on the Shopify site before finalizing your plan choice.
The Basic Shopify Plan
The entry-level plan begins at $29 per month, but be aware that Shopify also assesses a per-transaction fee of 2.9% + 30¢. You may also need to pay up to 2% in fees to the payment processor you use.
The Shopify and Advanced Shopify Plans
The second and third plan comes with additional features such as the ability to sell gift cards, support for discount and promotional codes, get professional reports, make use of the abandoned cart recovery features, and show third-party shipping rates.
Automatic Tax Calculators
Shopify also comes with automatic tax calculation and collection, even if you operate in multiple sales tax zones. Once you toggle sales tax on, Shopify will identify whether it is appropriate to collect tax and how much tax to collect on your behalf.
Transaction Fees and Processing Fees
The difference between the plans is the number of staff accounts and card processing fees which are the lowest on the most expensive plan. If you’re using a third-party gateway such as PayPal or Stripe, Shopify will charge you an additional fee on all plans. However, the extra fee goes down with more expensive plans.
The Shopify Buy Button
Additional plans include Shopify Lite which allows you to insert the company’s buy button on your existing website as well as its plan geared specifically for enterprises and high volume merchants.
All Shopify plans are billed on a month-to-month billing cycle unless you sign up for an annual or biennial plan and include a 14-day free trial.
Security and Uptime Guarantee
As an e-commerce platform, Shopify takes security seriously, especially given what happens if consumer data becomes compromised.
Aside from the SSL certificate, Shopify is level-1 PCI compliant to ensure your customer’s credit card data is processed securely.
All the updates and platform management happen automatically and Shopify guarantees 99.99% uptime and 24/7 monitoring to make sure your store is always online.
Does Shopify Have a Mobile App?
Yes, in fact, Shopify has 2 mobile apps: one for managing your store on the go and a POS (point-of-sale) app which, like Square, enables you to accept payments in person.
Both mobile apps are available for iOS and Android.
Shopify vs BigCommerce
If you're looking at Shopify, you're probably looking at BigCommerce as well.
BigCommerce's selling points include lower transaction costs (meaning you pay less to use the product overall) and more features out of the box (rather than relying on you to install them as apps or integrations). BigCommerce also enforces fewer limits based on the purchased subscription plan. You can get all of this for just a small price increase over Shopify.
Given all of this, why would you choose Shopify over BigCommerce? Well, Shopify offers more integrations with payment processors, better-looking storefront themes, and a robust community that can help you implement almost any project.
In short, the two are comparable, but it appears that Shopify goes for depth over breadth in terms of features.
What Makes It Different
Shopify offers plenty of features that are on par with many of its competitors. What makes the platform stand out is the ease-of-use. Complete novices to the world of websites and online selling will be able to handle Shopify selling.
Another standout feature is the Lite plan, which allows you to sell on a Facebook page and in Messenger or on an existing WordPress, Squarespace, or Tumblr website. This is a great choice for those who want to sell a few simple products and don’t need the complete functionality of an e-commerce platform.
Lastly, the ability to hire one of the company’s experts for help sets it apart and allows you to get specialized help without a high price tag.
Who is it For?
Shopify is a strong choice for those who want to start an e-commerce store, whether they are starting from scratch or want to bring their physical store online.
It is an easy-to-use platform suitable for complete beginners who don’t have the coding skills necessary to develop an online store from scratch. However, it can also be used by more experienced users that want complete control over their store’s functionality and design. Nearly anyone, of any skill level, can use it.
In summary, Shopify makes it easy to start an online store and includes a variety of features designed to help you promote and market it.
The company’s support center features abundant resources that guide you every step of the way and the available plans accommodate both small stores and high-volume merchants. Visit Shopify today.
Your Review of Shopify
Are you a current or past customer of Shopify? Would you recommend them? Please leave your comments below and let our visitors know what you think of Shopify's speed, features and customer service.
Contributing Editor: Sherrie Gossett.