Recently I had a friend ask me for help setting up an eCommerce store to sell her products online. She had her products ready to sell, but wasn’t confident in her ability to put together an online store by herself.
Now, I had never built my own eCommerce store either, so I took it upon myself to do some research on what it would take to build one.
First Published on: March 7, 2016
Last updated: March 7, 2016
I noticed that Shopify seemed to be getting the most favorable reviews and it was presented as a complete, easy to use turnkey solution for building a fully functional online store.
Since they had a 14 day free trial of the service, I decided to give it a try.
What I found is that Shopify is a great platform for getting an online store up and running fast. And if you are willing to put some money into a nice looking theme, you can create something that looks really slick and professional.
Once I signed up and integrated with Shopify payments, I had a basic, yet fully functional store that was ready to sell my friend’s products. All this, in just a few hours. Pretty cool.
Of course there is more to Shopify than that. And I’ve learned much more about how Shopify works since then which I’m going to share in this in-depth, comprehensive Shopify review.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is an online service for creating a professional online store that can sell both physical and digital products. You can style and brand your store very easily by selecting from one of their extensive selection of themes.
What makes Shopify compelling is that you don’t need to have any coding or design skills to create a great looking store. Shopify’s user interface is easy to use, and all customizations can be done using its point and click interface.
Shopify is a fully hosted solution. That means your store is hosted on Shopify’s own servers. So you don’t need to worry about things like figuring out which web hosting to purchase, and how to find and install all the required software that would be needed.
You can also easily link an existing domain to your store. Or if you don’t have one, you can even purchase one through the Shopify interface.
Essentially, Shopify takes care of all the technical details of creating an eCommerce store and lets you concentrate on the details of running your online business.
Shopify is also very customizable. If there is something you need out of the box that Shopify doesn’t offer, you can probably find an app that does what you want. Similar to the Apple app store, apps in Shopify are 3rd party extensions that hook into the platform. There is a wide selection of apps and they fulfill a variety of functions you may need for your business.
Of course, all this functionality doesn’t come free. Shopify has 4 different monthly plans to choose from. And while there are free themes and apps, there are also premium themes and apps which you will have to pay to use.
So who’s using Shopify? Lots of small businesses, actually.
At the time of this review, over 243,000 businesses are currently using Shopify to power their online stores.
For example, popular online web comic Penny Arcade is using Shopify to power their online store.
Shopify offers a variety of themes to choose from in their Theme Store, both free and paid. What’s nice is that they have industry specific themes as well. So lets say you wanted to setup a store to sell Electronics. Shopify has several themes perfectly suited for that niche.
Want to setup your own sports store? Shopify has themes for that as well.
Most of the themes also have two or three style variations.
So as you can see here, the free Boundless theme has 2 styles called Black & white and Vibrant.
What’s nice about the Theme Store is that it provides you with easy to use filters so you can quickly find the theme you want. You have the option to filter by free or paid themes or by niche.
Paid themes vary in price from $80 to $180. As you browse through the themes and you can see they are all beautifully designed. Shopify actually enlists the help of professional designers to create these themes for them.
Shopify themes are also mobile friendly. That means your shop will look great no matter which device your customer is viewing it on. When customizing your theme you can easily see how your site looks on desktop, tablet or mobile devices.
One of the most important aspects of any eCommerce solution is accepting payments. Especially credit cards since that is what most of your customers will be most comfortable using.
Fortunately, Shopify has Shopify payments which allows your store to accept all the major credit cards from customers in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. You will have to pay a credit card fee for using Shopify payments, which is based on which plan you are on.
On the Basic plan, you’re charged 2.9% + $0.30, the Pro plan is 2.6% + $0.30 and the Unlimited plan is 2.4% + $0.30.
For comparison purposes, Paypal charged 2.9% + $.30 per transaction.
If you want to accept credit card payments, there really is no way to avoid these fees so it’s pretty much the cost of doing business.
For customers in other countries, you will have to use a third party payment gateway to process their transactions. Shopify supports a number of different payment gateway services. A little more setup is required to use these gateways and transaction fees vary depending on the processor chosen.
The beauty of using the Shopify platform is that it is easily extendable beyond it’s core functionality via apps. Visit the Shopify App Store and you can search through over 1100 apps.
While there are some truly free apps, there are many freemium and paid apps in the store where you have to pay a one time or recurring fee.
The Shopify app ecosytem is very large. You can find apps for helping you do accounting, customer service, inventory and fulfillment, marketing, reporting and much more.
What’s nice is that you only need to pick and choose the apps necessary for making your store better and your life easier.
Here are several of my favorite Shopify apps that I’ve used so far.
Facebook Shop – Adds the ability for your customers to shop for your products directly on your Facebook page. This allows you to leverage the social aspect of Facebook to attract even more customers.
Yotpo – Sends your paying customers an email that allows them to review their recent purchase directly by just replying to the email. Generates up to 9x more reviews and helps influence more people to buy your products.
AfterShip – Automatically tracks all your shipments, including UPS, USPS, and Fedex. Displays the tracking results in your stores and notifies your customers when their shipping status changes.
Shippo – Integrates with your orders and helps you print shipping labels for your customers with just one click.
Shopify also integrates with many different services. Email is an important integration for any online store and if you use any of our favorite email service providers, you can see that Shopify has apps for each of them.
And it works the other way too.
When you have a service like Shopify that can do so many things, it can be very overwhelming, especially when you are just starting out.
That’s why it’s extremely important for a service like this to have very good documentation and excellent support.
Shopify does both these things well.
The Shopify Help Center has lots of tutorials with pictures that explains in great detail all the functionality that Shopify offers.
Customer support is also excellent. You get full 24/7 support with phone, email and live chat options. I’ve found the Shopify support staff to be very capable and helpful in my limited dealings with them so far.
And if you don’t want to go through these built in channels, there’s also the Shopify forums where you can engage with the Shopify community. Here, you can get feedback on your store and ask questions and learn about a variety of topics. It’s really an amazing resource.
If you’re looking for the cheapest way to build an online store, then going with Shopify or any turnkey solution probably won’t fit what you’re looking for. Instead, you might want to look at WordPress plus Woocommerce.
But if you value your time and don’t have the expertise to build something yourself, then Shopify is certainly a great solution.
It’s also quite comparably priced with other similar products like BigCommerce and Volusion.
Shopify offers 4 different pricing plans, and it’s important to look at them closely to know exactly what you will get.
The Lite plan starts at $9 a month. But it doesn’t actually let you setup an online store. Instead it gives you the ability to sell products on your Facebook page, use Shopify to sell goods at a physical location and lets you sell products on an existing site via the Shopify Buy Button.
The other plans are Basic ($29/month), Pro ($79/month), and Unlimited ($179/month).
The Basic plans and above give you the ability to setup an online Shopify store.
The features you don’t get with Basic are:
- Gift Cards
- Professional Reports
- Abandoned Cart Recovery
- Advanced Report Builder
- Real Time Carrier Shipping
The Pro plan adds Gift Cards, Professional Reports and Abandoned cart recovery while the Unlimited plan gives you everything.
Shopify also has a fully featured 14-day free trial. Signup is painless and you don’t even need to enter in your credit card information to get started.
Pros and Cons of Shopify
- Easy to launch store fast – it’s simple to have a fully functional store that accepts payments in a few hours.
- Built-in fast hosting – Plus unlimited bandwidth makes this great for non-techies.
- Excellent customer support – 24/7 chat/email/phone and extensive documentation.
- SEO friendly stores – clean code, easily crawable, add custom title tags and sitemaps.
- Professional designs – look great out of the box, easily customized by non-designers.
- Large app ecosystem – have apps for almost every functionality you can think of.
- Can get pricey – depending on what theme you pick and the apps you need, your costs can add up.
- Vendor lockin – not specific to Shopify per se, but going with a turnkey solution means it’s hard to move to another platform.
- Limited language support – if you want your store to support a language other than English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Overall, Shopify provides everything you would need to create a successful online shop.
What I like most about Shopify are its excellent selection of themes. Not only do they look good, but the variety of niche themes is great and ensure you will find something that meets your needs.
This is important, because it attracts your customers and keeps them on your site longer to browse through and buy your products.
The other thing that makes Shopify stand out is its app ecosystem. As your store grows, you will find the apps you need to make your business scale and run more smoothly. Plus, creating a platform for developers and passionate users ensures that Shopify will continue to improve for the future as well.
If you want to sell products online, then you need a flexible platform that can support you. This is what Shopify provides and it’s why I highly recommend them to build your next eCommerce store.