One of the most important decisions you will have to make is deciding which eCommerce solution is best for your business. There are many platforms out there all with their pros and cons, but in this article, we will be doing a comprehensive Shopify Review for 2015.
You may not want to trawl through the entire post so here are the areas we think are most important that need to be read.
Note: Updates have been made to bring this article to the "current times" with features ending the year 2020.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a cloud platform that enables you to set up your own online store.
There are several key structures that are provided and offer you the ability to piece together all the elements to be commercial online. Shopify Themes provides you with a wide range of "Themed Layouts" which are either free or at a nominal cost that helps you display your products and services with the styling you are looking for, allowing you to sell either physical or digital products. Additional facilities such as Shopify App Store provides you with additional features such as marketing aids and algorithms that will deliver the experience to the end-user that you are looking for.
Given that Shopify is a build-your-own commercial online business with clicks and drag-n-drop there are areas where Shopify Web Developers can add additional value. Areas in HTML and CSS can be easily accessed to tweak and customize the front end of your store. For the more mature and complex setups, Shopify offers API access for the use of Custom Shopify Apps, or Shopify Private Apps that can interface with external architectures and complement the Shopify architecture (Like 3PL systems, ERP's, Financial Systems, etc.)
Shopify eCommerce Platform:
Shopify is an off-the-shelf Cloud-based hosted eCommerce platform hosted and managed by Shopify. It was created for those without access to web designers or a developer to set up a basic online store with ease. Despite being easy for noncoders to change the look and feel of their store, Shopify provides access to the HTML and CSS of your website theme. Shopify Experts skilled in Liquid code can customize the look and feel of your store to make it stand out.
Shopify comes with all the basic functionality one would expect to find within an eCommerce platform and you can easily expand the functionality via the multitude of apps from the Shopify App Store.
Shopify is trusted by over 175,000 online shops in providing a solid foundation for their eCommerce business. We highly recommend Shopify as an eCommerce solution however some limitations may not make it a suitable platform for your specific business needs.
Shopify Adoption in eCommerce:
Since 2004 the platform has grown to over 1,000,000+ Businesses, 5000+ staff, and between 2016 and 2019 have generated $319bn in sales on its platform.
A massive community of Shopify Web Developers, Shopify Experts, Shopify App Developers, Shopify Support, and Help are now available to help business owners set up their online presence.
Shopify Review: Features Overview
Shopify comes with quite a few handy features to help get you selling with ease.
Here is an overview of what Shopify offers:
Ability to sell physical and digital products.
Free themes to get you started
Supports responsive/mobile design
Create product categories/collections
Create landing pages for specific campaigns or product brands using collections
CMS so you can make pages
Excellent built-in product import/export tool
Well supported app store with 1 click installs
Third-party ERP integrations
Marketing app integrations
Accounting app integrations
Basic discount code engine
Order management using tags
Reporting (Pro, Unlimited, and Plus plans only)
Abandoned cart recovery (Pro, Unlimited, and Plus plans only)
Google Analytics integration
Google Shopping feed integration
Social media buy buttons
Mail Chimp integration
Shopify Review: Pricing
Upon first glance, Shopify Pricing is not 100% clear. On their pricing page a Shopify eCommerce store starts at $29 USD per month with a 2.4% + 30c/ 20p transaction fee if you opt to use Shopify Payments as your payment gateway.
Here is a table showing the Shopify price plans.
If you wish to integrate your own payment gateway you will be charged your agreed payment gateway transaction fees plus Shopify transaction fees. The current Shopify transaction fees for 2020 are plan dependent and are as follows:
Basic Shopify – $29 per month + (2.4% + 30c) of transaction value
Shopify – $79 per month +(2.6% + 30c) of transaction value
Advanced Shopify – $299 per month + (2.9% + 30c) of transaction value
All these plans feature unlimited products, unlimited storage, and unlimited bandwidth which is a very good deal.
Shopify Review: Payment Gateways
Shopify certainly doesn’t fall short when it comes to payment gateway integrations. They have their own Shopify Payments solution which is powered by Stripe.
Possible issues with Shopify Payments:
Using Shopify Payments means you avoid the 2%, 1%, and 0.5% transaction fee. This is great if you have the cashflow but not all small businesses can afford to wait 2 weeks to receive money from sales.
A lot of online stores wish to use pre-authorization on their gateway. If you use Shopify payments with pre-auth you only have a 5-day window to capture the payment. There is no ability to reauthorize the amount at a later date. This could be a problem if you are trying to take pre-orders.
If you can afford the delay and you don’t need to deal with backorders, then Shopify payments will save you money in the long run.
Third-party payment gateways that integrate with Shopify
If you choose to use a third-party payment gateway with Shopify then you are spoiled for choice. Shopify has a great selection of payment gateways ready for seamless integration.
Major Shopify payment gateways supported in the United Kingdom
Major Shopify payment gateways supported in the United States
Shopify Review: App Store
The Shopify App Store has many high-quality apps to extend the functionality of your Shopify store. These include Marketing, Accounting, and third party ERP apps.
Shopify integrates with the following third-party ERPs.
Brightpearl, Tradegecko, Veeqo, Orderhive, Ecomdash, Hublogix, Duoplane, Stitchlabs, SKU Vault, Order Harmony, and more.
Installing Shopify Apps
Apps are a breeze to install and can be installed with just a click. Compare this to Magento Connect, where although it is one of the largest eCommerce app stores, it often requires a developer to oversee the installation. When installing an app on Magento the risk of it breaking your store is quite high and undoing the damage may require help from a developer.
With Shopify, App installation is worry-free, and if the app you installed is not what you expected you can just as easily remove it.
Shopify Review: Order Processing and Management
One of Shopify's appeals is its very clean and user-friendly backend. The orders section expands into Order List, Drafts, and Abandoned Checkouts (If you are on the Professional, Pro, or Plus Plans). The Order list screen below is what you will see when you start processing orders. The default order statuses are Open, Unfulfilled, and Unpaid.
Powerful Order Search
One area where Shopify shines is its powerful order search functionality. You can search within the order screen for order numbers, email address, payment status, fulfillment status, product names, order total, customer name, tags assigned to orders, credit card number, telephone number, and even product variation value e.g Color: Blue or Size: Large.
Custom Order Statuses
When you click on an order, Shopify allows you to assign custom tags to orders. This can also be done on the first-order screen if you bulk select orders and click ‘Bulk Edit’. These custom tags act as custom order statues so you can adapt Shopify to your order processing workflow.
You can save frequent searches as tabs by using the ‘Filter orders’ drop down to the right of the search bar. This is useful if you need quick access to a certain type of order. For example, you may need quick access to your custom order statuses.
Can’t edit products in an order
One shortfall of the Shopify order management feature is the inability to edit a product within an order. Sure you can edit the shipping address and customer email but if a customer has placed an order and wishes to add a product or change it to something different, it requires a completely new order to be created manually.
Thankfully you can now create a new order from within the admin whereas before you had to place a new order on the frontend as though you were the customer.
There is an app available which allows you to edit orders and get around this limitation.
Shopify Import of Products: Data Preparation
Formatting Data for Importing into Shopify
Shopify allows you to import products via a CSV file. When considering a migration from another eCommerce platform, bulk export and upload products to your Shopify store will require review and careful formatting compatibility
When it comes to text-based content, If you want to import Blog posts from a blogging platform such as Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress, your options are to:
Copy and Paste the content
Use the Shopify API
Invest in a third-party app (such as the ‘Blogfeeder‘ app).
Shopify Review: Managing Products and Categories
Importing and Exporting Products
Shopify comes with a really nice import/export tool for you to manage your products. Imports are quick and you can expect your edits to reflect instantly on your store frontend.
The Shopify product management screen has similar features to the order management section so you can search and filter through your products with ease.
Products and Variants
Creating and editing your products in the Shopify admin is generally a wonderful experience. Shopify has made it quick and easy to add new products and variants to your store.
There is a potentially serious limitation surrounding Shopify variants that need to be considered before deciding to use the platform.
Shopify 100 Variant Limitation
Shopify is an excellent eCommerce platform, however, it doesn’t cater to everyone's needs. It’s vital that you identify if this limitation will cause issues with the products you sell.
A product in Shopify is allowed only 3 product options (Not variants). For example, if you sell a T-Shirt you could only have Size, Color, and Material as options (See above image). Within these options, you can add variants, but there can’t be more than 100 variants in total. A warning message will appear if you exceed 100 variants.
If you need to add extra options to a product, there are a few Shopify apps that will solve this. The downside is you won’t be able to import or export these additional options along with all the product data that appears in the built-in import/export Shopify tool. You also can’t assign a SKU to track stock for the additional variants created by these apps.
Thankfully most eCommerce businesses will not encounter this limitation, but it’s worth considering before you dive straight onto the Shopify platform.
Shopify Categories and Collections
Shopify calls its categories ‘Collections’. Collections are product landing pages that can be used for more than just categorizing products. Collections come in the form of manual or automatic.
Manual collections allow you to manually assign products to that specific category. Automatic "collections" is a dynamic rule-based category that can save you time categorizing products in Shopify.
Collections can also be used to set up landing pages for brands and special offer pages. An example use case is a ‘Sale’ section where you can use automatic collections to add products where the ‘Compare at Price’ is greater than 1. This will fill the collection with products that have an RRP (Compare at Price) as these will most likely have a sale price.
Shopify tags are the equivalent of product attributes which you may be familiar with from another shopping cart system. If you need to assign attributes to products to help your customers narrow down their choice, then Shopify tags will help you do this. For example, if you have a product such as a T-Shirt you may wish to assign the following tags to it. Men's, Long Sleeve, Brand Name, and Size.
In Shopify, tags act as a filter that can appear on category/collection pages. By default, Shopify displays tags as a tag cloud (see image below).
It is possible to have advanced group filtering in Shopify so your tags/product attributes are grouped with headings. To do this, your Shopify theme may need to be customized. Once implemented into the theme you have to add the group name before the tag value e.g if you want the color Yellow to appear underneath the heading ”Color’ your tag value needs to be this Color_Yellow.
This is how grouped tags will display on a Shopify store.
Shopify Review: Blogging
Shopify has its own built-in CMS which includes pages and a blog. If your store is starting from scratch, you can start using the blog without any issues. If you are migrating to Shopify, there is no functionality to import or export your posts. Shopify has provided a WordPress importer app, but this only imports text and leaves the images. If you have a large blog with hundreds of posts, it may not be viable to reformat every post. In this case, it would be best to use an alternative blogging platform.
We recommend using WordPress as your blogging platform and running it separately to your Shopify store. You have it set up on a subdomain e.g blog.mystore.com and link to it from within your store.
Shopify Review: SEO
Shopify is generally well optimized for SEO. When editing products and collections, there is a section showing how the page will appear in the search engines.
It allows you to edit the URL Handle, meta title, and meta description also indicating when you exceed the recommended character limit of 70.
The free Shopify themes generally handle the canonicalization of products quite well, however, if you have a custom Shopify design, it is an area that may need some attention.
Shopify products are accessible via two URLs. See the example below:
We need to tell Google which URL should be favored and indexed otherwise it risks being classed as "duplicate content".
Be Careful About Shopify Tags
Shopify tags are very useful. However, they can also cause duplicate content on collection pages. You need to ensure that only the collection page has the canonical SEO tag so the Shopify tag URL doesn’t get indexed by Google.
Page Load Time – Shopify is Fast!
One SEO ranking factor is page load time. It is important to provide your customers with the best user experience possible and in the area of speed, Shopify doesn’t disappoint.
Shopify is speedy even after adding products. I tested one of the free Shopify themes in Pingdom and Gtmetrix and here are the results.
Shopify Review: Shipping
In Shopify, you can setup custom shipping rates based on weight or order value. One disadvantage of Shopify is the lack of an import/export feature for shipping rates. If you have a lot of shipping rates, the process of entering your rates can be very long and drawn out.
Shopify also offers live shipping rate integration for the following couriers:
Shipping integrations can be expanded via Shopify Apps for example Shipstation.
Shopify Review: Tax
Shopify allows you to easily set up tax rules for individual countries. Where Shopify’s feature set falls down again is that can’t import/export these tax rates.
In Shopify, you can specify whether your product prices include or exclude tax. If you are selling in the USA prices most often exclude sales tax, however in the UK and Europe prices displayed to B2C customers include tax.
This leads to another limitation that should mainly affect high volume sellers selling internationally.
Tax limitation for sellers whose prices include tax.
If you set the tax setting in the Shopify admin to ‘Product price includes tax’ Shopify is unable to remove tax from the order total for a customer in a country that is not supposed to pay tax.
The image below shows the Shopify checkout page and how the tax amount is displayed.
If your prices include tax and a customer purchases from a country that is tax-exempt, Shopify will keep the total as though it includes tax, and display the tax amount as zero.
There is a workaround for this:
Shopify recommends using a coupon code for tax-exempt countries
Shopify recommends refunding the tax amount after customers purchase
Shopify Review: Support and Community
Shopify offers excellent support via telephone, email, or live chat. If your query is technical, usually it will be converted into a ticket and you will have to wait up to 24 hrs to hear back.
Shopify has a small active community of liquid experts and you can find some useful info by searching through their forums if you need to. https://ecommerce.shopify.com/forums
Shopify Review: Hosting, Security, and Backup
Hosting and Security
Shopify is hosted on a cloud server so resources are shared with other Shopify stores. A benefit of a SAS system like Shopify is that store owners can focus on their product and marketing rather than the platform/software. Upgrades and security are managed by Shopify so you can rest assured you are always running the latest software.
Shopify allows you to export your products so you can have a backup. Imports are seamless so if you mess something up, you can re-import your master copy.
"Theme files" can also be exported. In fact, you can clone your store design to a new theme so you can work on and preview the modified theme without affecting your live store.
Shopify Email Marketing: The basics
Shopify Email Marketing basic description
Shopify noticed that online businesses saw it to be an important part of running an online store is their email marketing by sending newsletters and blogs to your mailing list has been key to generating online sales.
The Shopify Marketing Team recognized this and in 2020 recently introduced a new feature, "Shopify Email", which allows you to create e-newsletters and carry out email marketing "in the box".
The current deployment offers a very basic email marketing tool, which simply allows you to send branded newsletters, if you are looking for more capable mailing tools, the Shopify App Store will provide you many options.
Shopify Review: Pros and Cons
Shopify is a strong choice for your eCommerce store as it does the basics well without the worry and stresses that can come with a self-hosted open-source shopping cart system. There are some instances where a Shopify store just won’t fit your business so an alternative would have to be considered.