Starting a shopify ecommerce website
Shopify is an e-commerce solution based in Ontario, Canada, and is one of the leaders in the ecommerce software market. They currently serve over 160.000 customers. Shopify is not open source such as Magento. They offer their software as a service (SaaS – for more information on the difference between open source and SaaS read our article)
Ecommerce Income does extensive research on ecommerce software. This Shopify review reflects this ongoing research. I found out, for example, that Shopify is less complete out of the box than Bigcommerce, but that it probably still beats this competitor on design. Also check out that link if you want to know how easy it is to set up an online store with Shopify (spoiler: easy!).
Shopify has a lot going for it. As the most popular Ecommerce SaaS solution in the world, Shopify offers one of the widest range of solutions and features available in its class. The huge offer in the Shopify app store means there is a solution for virtually every problem, but don’t forget that it comes at an extra cost. I will discuss some of the nice features and some of the disadvantages of Shopify.
Shopify’s Offering and its Prices
For $29 per month you get access to most of Shopify’s features. You will pay a fee of 2% per sale. When you use Shopify Payments, you don’t need to pay a transaction fee. When you pay $79 per month you pay a fee of 1% and you have access to all but two features. At $179 per month
you don’t pay any extra fee based on your sales volume and enjoy all features that Shopify has to offer you pay a transaction fee of 0.5% per sale. In case you are planning to sell over a million dollars per year, you should contact Shopify for special pricing (Shopify Plus). If you really don’t know yet whether you want to start selling online, or if you only have one or a few products, you could try out the starter plan that comes cheap at $14 per month.
Rich in features and integrates with (almost) anything
Shopify is an ecommerce solution that looks great, has a lot of handy features and has many third-party developers and designers working with the platform. Although it scored less well than Bigcommerce and SEOshop in terms of readiness out of the box – a score of 6.95 versus 9.45 (out of 10) for Bigcommerce, Shopify has the widest selection of apps in the ecommerce software universe.
Shopify integrates with the most important software, such as Mailchimp (e-mail marketing) and Quickbooks (accounting), as well as with hundreds of smaller and less well-known add-ons. If you want to see how it works for yourself, sign up for a free 14-day trial here. You could also have a look at how I set up a trial store to have a look at the ease of use and the looks of Shopify – you can do that here.
There is no way one review can go through all the features that Shopify has to offer. I will discuss the main features below, allowing you to make your own well-founded decision whether this is going to be your ecommerce software platform of choice.
Beautiful free templates for your online store
There are enough templates in Shopify to satisfy your needs, and every template is of a very high quality. Most templates need (almost) no adaptations and can be directly used for your online store.
11 templates can be used free of charge. If you are ready to pay a one-time fee of about $150 you will have a choice of over 40 templates. Of course you can edit the templates according to your wishes through the HTML and CSS editor. If you have difficulties tweaking your chosen theme to your needs, you can contact a designer. Designers and developers are easily found in the experts section on the Shopify website, or by making a google search.
You can also contact an expert if you don’t find a theme of your liking. See Shopify’s expert section here.
Shopify Point of Sale (POS)
A very nice feature of Shopify is the POS system. POS is short for Point of Sale. This is an iPad application that lets you sell your store’s products in a physical, retail setting.
Advantages are that you have a sleek payment system in-store which also allows you to manage your stock for both the physical and online store in a unified way in the application.
You do need to be a Mac user to be able to use the system – there is no Android equivalent of the Shopify POS system yet.
So far a Shopify credit card reader is only available in the US. It is possible to use a third-party card reader if you have an online store in other parts of the world, which for example also allows debit cards, and set up a custom payment method on the POS app. However it is not possible to fully integrate the hardware, which would mean you need to manually key the due amount in your third-party reader.
The costs of Shopify Point of Sale are $49 extra per month Shopify POS now costs $20 per month less than the pricing for selling online. If you want to sell both online and offline through Shopify POS, you don’t pay anything extra.
Security, Branding and Checkout
Shopify is certified as Tier 1 in PCI compliance and uses 128-bit encryption. The shopping cart offers free SSL certificates (unlike for example Pinnacle cart that charges you extra for these security features). If you are not sure what this means: it means that your customers can securely buy from you online, as the connection is secured during checkout, ensuring that personal and payment details remain private.
There is no forced Shopify branding in the guise of “powered by Shopify” or the like*, allowing you to build your own brand. However, and this is an issue that annoys many Shopify merchants, when a customer goes to check-out there is a URL-redirect to Shopify.
* Most themes have a sentence “powered by Shopify” built in though. It is easy to remove this sentence, and you will not be charged if you do so.
Shopify really seems to care about their customer relations. They have 24 hours phone support included for all their plans. There is a support center, a wiki, a discussion forum and a Shopify “experts” page (as we already discussed above). In 98% of cases that I wanted to find out something about Shopify, I could find an answer in one of the many Shopify support pages (either in the documentation/manual section or in the forum).
There are dedicated phone numbers availabe for the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
You could spend whole days reading the Shopify Ecommerce University pages and learn a great deal about how to improve your Shopify store as well as how to become a better and more knowlegdeable ecommerce entrepreneur.
Shopify customers seem generally happy with the amount and quality of support provided.
Shopify offers less features out of the box than, say, Bigcommerce (see my articles on this topic here and here). Some users complain that they have to pay monthly fees for quite a number of apps to increase the functionality of their store and/or to sell more. It would be wise to make a list of apps you reckon you need and see how much it will cost you by visiting the Shopify app store and/or checking out our comparison. When checking out the comparison, you right away get an impression of the prices of competitors.
Shopify does look stunning and with the very extensive App store and the POS system integrated, it has a lot going for it. Especially if you are in the arts and crafts business, and you are looking for a great looking store without much hassle, don’t look further. Shopify is not only used by the hip and arty, it is the preferred ecommerce solution of many merchants operating in as many business areas. Just test it out for yourself to see if it is the right ecommerce platform for you.
Should you use Shopify when your business is based in Europe?
Although the major market for Shopify is still North America, the all-in-one e-commerce software solution is busy with it global expansion. It is becoming a more and more interesting option for European ecommerce entrepreneurs, although it is sometimes slow to adapt to local, European requirements.
In fact, it is Although (third-party) developers have made improvements, it is still quite hard and in some cases impossible to find basic integrations that are a bare necessity when doing business in some European countries. Lacking important plug-ins for payment providers and shipping companies.
To name but two examples from my home market, the Netherlands: there has finally been made a (third-party) integration with the number one payment method in the Netherlands – Ideal. The developer who made this, is still working on an integration with the biggest Dutch letters and parcels delivery company, Postnl. We are not talking about small companies or obscure payment methods here: in 2014 over 180 million transactions were made with Ideal.
Also when researching the German market it becomes apparent that not all the links and plug-ins, that you would like to see when operating a German store, are available.
In short, Shopify is a North-American company that has (at times) been slow to adapt to European conditions. One more example: according to EU regulations, which are adopted by various European countries as national law, it is required that a customer has to tick a box in which (s)he acknowledges the Terms and Conditions during the check-out phase. It took a long while before the Shopify team took decisive action on this matter, which was very important to European Shopify online store owners.
I saw more such examples which show that Shopify’s primary focus in developments is the North American market. Perhaps this will change somewhat as Shopify is now expanding more and more outside Northern America as well.
In short: if you are not operating your online store in North-America, it is important to check if the plug-ins you need are available. If they are, Shopify should be on the top of the list of e-commerce software to consider. If not, it may be better to look for open-source solutions or something like SEOshop.