“A bit pricey, but easily one of the best eCommerce solutions on the planet.”
(Updated Summer 2016) At $29/month, Shopify certainly isn't the cheapest eCommerce provider on the market, but sports an expansive set of features that are nearly unmatched. With impressive store designs and incredibly easy back-end management, Shopify is one of my favorite eCommerce platforms (particularly in comparison with other competitors like BigCommerce, Volusion, etc.).
The back-end is intuitive, easy for beginners to learn and use, and Shopify's app store allows you to expand the functionality of your store with relative ease (warning: some apps can be reasonably expensive, don't say I didn't tell you so!). Read our full review below to get more information.
Customizing an online store can be incredibly time-consuming, and I would know - I've been redesigning eCommerce sites for almost 10 years now.
Most eCommerce sites give you a variety of bland, cookie-cutter design templates to choose from, and the final result tends to be a lack-luster site with poor sales. Shopify is a bit different.
They, too, offer free design templates, but frankly, their templates look a a heck of a lot better than the competition - in fact, they look borderline professional in some cases. Here's an example:
Shopify's theme store carries at least 100 free templates (and many more paid ones), each with several page variations to choose from.
Even without editing HTML & CSS (which Shopify allows with their $29/month package), you can edit the color of most page items, the fonts, header & footer, and various other aesthetic options for individual page types (home page, product page, cart page, etc.).
Disclaimer: you'll almost always see better sales from a completely custom-designed website, but if you're short on budget and time, choosing a template from Shopify is probably the way to go.
No Shopify review would be complete without a look at their pricing. Shopify's pricing ($29/month-$299/month, depending on how many products you'll need to list) is relatively reasonable, and along the same lines of what you'd pay from other eCommerce providers like BigCommerce.
They also offer a cheaper, $14/month package with 1 GB of file storage, but doesn't allow for any HTML/CSS customization - or, to put it in layman's terms: you're basically stuck using one of Shopify's set templates.
If you're running a small store that doesn't require any custom features, you might be alright with the $14 plan, but for most, it won't do.
Processing credit card payments online through Shopify costs 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. This is relatively normal when it comes to eCommerce, but many beginners aren't aware of it.
Purchasers of more expensive plans will enjoy more storage space, fewer restrictions (like no file storage limits), more options, and lower transaction fees.
Keep in mind that the total cost also depends on what third-party apps you use, as some really useful apps require monthly fees of their own or even per-transaction fees.
If you're running a small store with less than $100k/revenue per year, I'd suggest their mid-range package ($79/month), because it includes the crucial "Abandoned Cart Recovery" feature that saves your cart items even if you leave the site (this can make a surprisingly big different when it comes to sales).
If you're managing a larger store, you'll likely need the $179/month unlimited plan - which is pricey, but will allow you to (surprise) upload unlimited products.
A huge part of my job is helping eCommerce store managers learn how to manage their online inventories, and by far, most clients prefer Shopify's management interface. Why?
Shopify has reimagined the typical eCommerce management system by simplifying navigation, making product options easier to find and edit. Take a look:
(Click images to enlarge)
Online product management can be ridiculously complex - most platforms offer literally 50 or more options for each product, and things can easily become overwhelming. I deal with 6-7 eCommerce platforms each week, and making edits to Shopify stores almost always takes less time, and less hassle.
It typically takes 10-15 minutes to configure a new Shopify store from scratch and set up the very basics (like paying for a domain name, entering your shipping and tax info, and entering your brand information).
The amount of time it takes after that depends on how many products you need to list, how many pages you want to create, and how quick you are at writing copy for your pages. If writing isn’t your forte, you could always make a quick post in the forum and hire someone to do it (more on that soon)
You'll also need to write product descriptions and store details (which are crucial for SEO), making sure images appear everywhere they’re expected, establishing your store policies, and getting started with any plug-ins that you know you’re going to use. All-in-all, a typical Shopify store takes 4-6 hours to fully complete - which is slightly faster than Shopify's competitors.
Almost all eCommerce providers have lots of features, and Shopify is no different. Here are a few worth mentioning:
Most of these features are standard for eCommerce platforms, but the Shopify POS (point-of-sale) system is a bit unique.
Some online stores offer POS apps that coordinate with your brick-and-mortar store, but these can be clunky and unreliable. Shopify's built-in app - in my experience - has been solid. If you're looking to synchronize your online and offline operations, it's a great choice.
Shopify is a hosted e-commerce platform - which means that all of your products, files, etc. are stored on Shopify's servers, and you're not given access to the inner workings of the store itself.
Typically, this isn't a bad thing: if you don't have access to those sensitive files, you can't break your store (which can happen relatively often with other platforms).
The downside is that adding custom features can be much more difficult than it would be with a non-hosted solution (like WooCommerce).
If you need a custom feature and can't find something similar in the Shopify App Store (which I cover later in this Shopify review), you'll have to hire a developer to create it for you, and expect to pay $1,000 or more to get it done.
The back-end is pretty important, yes, but not as important as the way your customers will experience your store. Believe me, the difference between a well-designed store and a lack-luster store can be 10:1 when it comes to revenue, and that's no exaggeration.
One of the biggest factors that contributes to that feeling of a good design: general smoothness. When you click any button on your site, it should process quickly, and pages should load without errors 100% of the time. These might seem like obvious points, but with some eCommerce providers, it can be easy to run into snags. Shopify is not one of those providers.
I've been impressed by their savvy when it comes to user experiences: they do a solid job of including lots of calls-to-action in their templates, offer abandoned cart recovery (which is crucial), and have a clean, simple design to their product pages (which can make or break a site).
Shopify's pages - since they're hosted on their relatively high-performance server - tend to load pretty quickly on average, which is awfully important. Unsurprisingly, according to several consumer psychology studies (like this one), pages with slow loading times can cause your users to leave, and abandon their shopping carts in the process.
Note: We used to see a lot complaints about speed/usability certain stages of Shopify’s check-out process (a process which is crucial to successful conversions), but it looks like those problems have been remedied as of Jan 2014 or so, with most merchants and store owners pretty happy about how things work now. We'll continue updating this review of Shopify as things develop.
The short version: yes, Shopify is good for SEO.
Shopify lets you edit page titles, meta descriptions, and a variety of other SEO settings that are looked down upon favorably by Google. Even more importantly, Shopify has a visual editor for product descriptions that makes it somewhat easy to input and change product text - this doesn't seem like an SEO feature, but in reality, it's likely the most important SEO service of all.
Google, above all, loves pages that have lots of helpful, relevant text on them - particularly if that text occasionally contains keywords your customers are searching for. Not including enough text on eCommerce pages is (and I'm not kidding here), the #1 mistake you can make with your eCommerce store's SEO.
No matter how beautiful your product photo is, or how nice your site looks, if you don't have enough relevant text on the page, Google will flat out ignore you. Here are a few quick tips that you can apply to your Shopify SEO pages:
Note on SEO: when it comes to search rankings, Google doesn't care which eCommerce provider you use, they only care about the text and images that actually end up on the user's screen when they view the site. Shopify is good for SEO because they give you tools/help that make SEO management easier, that's all!
Shopify offers an extensive selection of apps which you integrate into your store, including apps for marketing, sales, social media, shipping, inventory, accounting, customer service, reporting & analytics, and additional SEO support.
Merchant favorites include the self-explanatory Order Printer, a for-mobile optimizer called ShopPad, the aptly named Facebook Store which allows direct Facebook sales, and the apparently very useful Plugin SEO.
One more favorite worth mentioning by name is AfterShip, an app that allows you to auto-track all shipments from all major mail couriers, plus tons of other smaller companies. It will even display shipping and tracking information right on your page for customers.
Some other popular favorites do things like facilitate and integrate product reviews, display real-time analytics, build Shopify-based widgets for other websites, and facilitate social media shares.
All-in-all, the Shopify app selection is marginally more extensive than most other eCommerce providers, and earns a 5/5 stars in my book.
Although Shopify is really intuitive and easy to use, it’s always nice to know what kind of support a service has to offer when things aren’t quite working as expected, and no matter how simple the platform may be, things can and do go wrong with any e-commerce endeavor.
Shopify offers e-mail support, 24/7 phone support, and live chat. I've tried them all at one time or another - my typical wait time was between 5-10 minutes, and the service reps I've dealt with so far have been reasonably friendly (we'll update this Shopify review if anything changes on this front).
Shopify offers forums where users can discuss topics like industry trends, marketing, SEO, accounting, and more. There’s even a forum for showcasing your store and getting feedback from other store owners.
Aside from general e-Commerce discussions, there are also forums for Shopify-specific topics, like which apps are most useful, effective Shopify design, announcements about the platform’s API, and more. Live help is great, but it can be really helpful to see what other merchants have found works for them. After all, there’s no guarantee that the support techs have ever even used the platform for creating stores of their own.
In addition, store owners with a need for employees can post job listings directly on the forums for things like social media management, content & copy writing, graphic design, and app development. Shopify is a huge, self-contained system that extends far beyond the platform itself.
Despite being an extremely large company (it's valued at over $1b), Shopify has received surprisingly strong reviews from its customers.When I typically research companies for our clients, I find a string of horrendous BBB complaints, but Shopify has a fantastic reputation for solid customer service.
Shopify has received and answered just 28 complaints from the BBB - less than 1/5th of the number of complaints received by other smaller competitors like Volusion. I don't have to tell you that - considering the enormous number of customers serviced by Shopify - these are excellent numbers.
On the few occasions that our clients have had Shopify issues, Shopify support has been responsive and helpful - and in nearly all of the BBB cases researched above, Shopify seemed to provide a satisfactory response (according to the customer involved).
As with any hosted eCommerce platform, because they have all of your products and images on their server, transferring your data to a new system can be a hassle and a half.
You can export your products to an Excel-editable .CSV file, but there's no guarantee that they will import smoothly into other systems like BigCommerce, etc.
Full disclosure: this sort of thing is 100% standard for eCommerce providers. There isn't any sort of standard format for storing products or categories, and each system does it differently. I wouldn't necessarily call it a con of Shopify, but it is something to be aware of.
Shopify itself has what appears to be a pretty informative and relevant blog, with article titles like “50 Ways to Make Your First Sale”, “6 Ways You Can Make Your Website More Trustworthy”, and “How to Use Video to Increase Conversions and Sales in Your Ecommerce Business”.
It’s certainly not going to be the reason you go with Shopify, but it’s pretty nice to have these useful tidbits just a few clicks away while working on your store.
Other articles cover topics like how to get ready for a day of work at home, achieving work / life balance, articles on trends within particular industries, and more. It’d be easy to make a really bland blog in the name of just having a blog, but it looks like Shopify took the high road on this one.
You can view successful stores (which gives you an idea of what products can be profitable), and, better still, you can read interviews with the store owners about how things got started, what it took to get the store up and running, what strategies they use in terms of marketing, what apps they’ve found most useful, and any other tips or useful information they have to offer. Check this out under Shopify's "success stories" tab. We've designed a number of successful Shopify stores, too (check out Zaps - a neat little startup that sells light up shoes for adults).
You might be really surprised at some of the ideas that have taken off, and how. For instance, take a look at IDRAW, a Chicago-based company that got its start when it raised over 500% of its Kickstarter goal.
If you’re intent on starting an online business, and you’re not quite sure what to sell yet, these stories can act as a roadmap to marginal success. Some more examples of somewhat unlikely products that have become best-sellers include tattoo mustaches, PowerPoint templates for churches, specialty bidets, and plenty of others that will raise more than a few eyebrows.
Not surprisingly, clothing lines are among the most common best sellers, and we could guess that with the right niche and marketing strategies, anyone could take that route with success.
If you're running a small business or new enterprise that needs to get online quickly: yes.
If you have a limited budget, but aren't in need of a free solution: yes.
If you don't require any serious custom functionality, just the typical eCommerce features: yes.
If you want to coordinate your online store with your offline store: yes.
If you have no budget, or are looking for more intensive custom features: no. Instead, choose a system like WooCommerce - custom systems (like social media websites) are best developed in platforms that have a little more flexibility.
If you're interested in drop-shipping products or working with suppliers: yes. Shopify is most likely the best platform to use when it comes to drop-shipping and wholesale items that require synced inventories (Shopify offers a few 3rd party apps that handle that pretty seamlessly).
Shopify's reasonable prices and impressive feature set currently make them one of the top 2-3 eCommerce providers on the planet (along with BigCommerce).
If you're interested, feel free to try out a two week trial. There's no credit card required - after the two weeks are up, you can either choose a paid plan, or forget about the system entirely.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope I helped you make your eCommerce decision!
Project Manager, Plato Web Design