We’re not going to beat around the bush here—you have most likely heard of Shopify before and have an idea what it’s about.
In the last 10 or so years, the platform has come out of nowhere and dominated the e-commerce industry. When it launched, Shopify brought with it a unique and highly intuitive e-commerce solution and filled a huge market gap.
Today, Shopify is by far the best website builder for e-commerce sites for the general public, hands down.
While we don’t want to spoil the excitement of reading this review, Shopify is very good at what it does. Today, we are going to weigh up a few of the “pros” and “cons” of the platform overall to help you decide whether or not you should use them.
Hint: If you are launching a website where e-commerce functionality is front-and-center (e.g. an online store), then there really is no better solution — unless you want full control over virtually everything, like with Magento (which is incredibly complex and absurdly expensive). If, on the other hand, you are launching a blog, landing page, or company website, Shopify isn’t the best choice.
What’s Unique About Shopify?
Shopify is an e-commerce website building platform through and through—it is not another jack-of-all-trades platform that tries to do a little bit of everything. As we mentioned above (and as Shopify representatives themselves will tell you), if you are building anything other than an e-commerce website, look elsewhere.
As Shopify founder and CEO Tobi Lutke said about the platform, it is what iPods were to the MP3 market.
What We Love About Shopify
These are the things that really stood out to us.
Lots of Shopify Partners
Shopify has a lot of third-party partners and experts who, through official contracts with Shopify, provide their services to Shopify customers. This initiative makes Shopify a sort-of all in one, one stop shop for anything you could ever need for your website.
Shopify developers, designers, marketers, customer support agents, photographers, setup assistants… all these experts (and many, many more!) are on-hand and waiting to help you.
Although these are, of course, additional services that do cost money—partners and experts are not Shopify employees; rather, they are third-party companies that officially provide their services through the platform—Shopify’s partners and experts can be very helpful thanks to the slew of services offered.
An Engaged Community
Surrounding Shopify is a highly engaged community that spans the world in its millions. Thanks to this community—it even includes Shopify’s very own online forum—and the sheer number of people it includes, getting to grips with the Shopify platform is easy and help is never far away.
For virtually any question you could ever think to ask about Shopify, there is more than likely an answer waiting for you via the Shopify forums; everything has been asked before.
This engaged community is partly what makes Shopify the simple and powerful platform that it is.
The community doesn’t stop there. Some successful business owners will also share business advice. How can you put a tag on that?
Today, you need to be selling your products everywhere. It is all well and good having an online store, however, if you aren’t also selling through social media platforms, in addition to other places, then you will be missing out on a huge level of custom.
Shopify, thankfully, supports multi-channel retailing. Unlike other website building platforms with limited e-commerce functionality, Shopify lets you sell your products everywhere.
Online, offline, and through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are some of the places you can sell your wares. Once your store is set up and you have listed all your products, linking them to your social media pages is as simple as a few mouse clicks.
Want to sell offline, too? Shopify will let you with their own point of sale system that supports Shopify payments.
Intuitive Platform with Innovative Features
Innovative features developed by Shopify such as their own payments gateway, Shopify Point of Sale, the Shopify App Store and even Shopify AR—yes, you read that correctly—continue to push the boat out and help the platform outpace their competitors.
Shopify AR is perhaps the best example of Shopify’s ingenuity and commitment to being innovative. Powered by 3D Warehouse, Shopify AR allows you to provide your customers with an augmented experience. By uploading 3D models of your products, your customers can get a better sense and feel for their size, scale, and detail through the use of powerful augmented reality software.
And, because it’s Shopify we are talking about, getting going with Shopify AR is super simple. It’s a little gimmicky but innovation often seems like a gimmick at first.
Lots of Quality Designs
Shopify ticks the boxes of both “quantity” and “quality” when it comes to their pre-made themes and designs; there are plenty of very good options for you to choose from.
All Shopify’s designs are responsive (i.e. mobile-friendly) and if you are unable to find a theme that fits you from their collection of almost 200, you can either modify one, create your own from scratch, or buy one through the Shopify marketplace with a third-party developer.
While what you can do with Shopify’s themes are somewhat limited, you still have a decent amount of scope for making modifications.
Shopify is a very powerful and user-friendly platform that can be scaled up.
Both small, independent online stores and large brands rely on Shopify for e-commerce functionality; you can go from ground-zero to the top floor without ever having to move platforms.
Things We Didn’t Like About Shopify
There are a few downsides that you need to account for.
Transaction Fees for External Payment Gateways
Unless you use Shopify Payments, or only accept Shopify Payments and nothing else, you will need to pay transaction fees on all sales; it does not matter which third-party payment processor you use, you will still need to pay a fee.
There are two types of transaction fee with Shopify:
- Credit card processing fees that are paid no matter what payment method you use. These fees are set by credit card providers and cannot be avoided by Shopify or you. Processing fees are charged on both Shopify payments and third party (e.g. PayPal) payment gateways.
- Transaction fees that are paid only on third-party transactions. If you use Shopify Payments, there will be no transaction fee. If you use another payment method (e.g. PayPal, again), the transaction fee will be charged in addition to the credit card processing fee.
So… using Shopify Payments is your best bet if you want to minimize fees. That is if you are in the USA, UK, Puerto Rico, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or Singapore… if not then you are not able to use Shopify Payments, only third-party processors.
No Free Plan Available
Unlike both Weebly and Wix, Shopify does not offer a free plan. Although Weebly and Wix’s free trial plans are very limited, they are still useful for getting a basic website up if you don’t mind using their subdomains.
On the other hand, Shopify does not provide a free plan. Instead, you can subscribe to a free trial that lasts for between 7 and 14 days depending on where in the world you are.
During this free trial, you will get access to Shopify Basic’s feature and you will not be charged until the end of the free trial period. This gives you a little bit of time to try out Shopify, however, it would be great if it was a bit longer.
Customization Somewhat Limited
Unless you are adept with coding (HTML and CSS, primarily) then you will find that Shopify’s theme customization is somewhat limited and is not as intuitive as major competitors such as Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly.
That being said, Shopify offers far more in customization options for people who are familiar with basic programming languages. If you aren’t then, remember, you can engage a third-party Shopify expert through your website’s admin panel to do it for you. While this will cost extra, pricing is very competitive.
Without coding knowledge, you can still easily make some basic changes.
Awkward URL Structure
One common Shopify-related complaint is the fact that URL structure is not ideal for SEO purposes. Unfortunately, Shopify does not give you ultimate control over how you structure them, either.
Shopify’s native URL structure simply is inefficient. First, by default, all products will go under /collections/ directory (ie – yourwebsite.com/collections/hot-pants/)
Another example of useless URL slugs is, for example, if you create a page called “About Us”. Your URL structure will default to yourwebsite.com/pages/about-us/ instead of yourwebsite.com/about-us/.
This may not seem like a big deal, however, URL structure is a ranking factor and you need to be doing whatever you can to beat your competition to nab Google’s top spots.
Similarly, if you add a blog to your store and create a subcategory called “News”, the URL structure will look something like yourwebsite.com/blog/news/… when it could be optimized like yourwebsite.com/news/.
This has been the biggest downside of Shopify for years. The community wants this, but it seems Shopify does not.
Shopify’s pricing is a bit all over the place. In this section, we are going to concentrate on their three “flagship” plans Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify. There are two other plans you should be aware of:
- Shopify Lite ($9) that simply lets you list and sell products on social media pages; and
- Enterprise ($2,000+) that is designed for very large online stores with thousands of monthly sales.
In addition to each plan’s individual pricing, you should be aware that Shopify will charge you around $15 on top initially for a .com domain. You are much better purchasing your domain name through a reputable registrar such as Namecheap because it will be cheaper at around $10.
Basic Shopify gives you everything that you need for starting a new e-commerce venture. With the plan, you can:
- Create an online e-commerce store with a website and blog;
- Create unlimited products;
- Create two staff accounts;
- Access all sales channels (e.g. social media);
- Create discount codes and manual orders;
- Recover abandoned accounts; and
- Secure your store with an SSL certificate for free.
On this plan, you will be charged a 2.9% fee plus $0.30 per sale online, or 2.7% plus $0.00 for in-person sales. If you use a third-party payment processor, you will be charged the 2.9% figure plus $0.30 plus an additional 2.0% fee. That’s a lot of fees.
The Basic Shopify plan costs:
- $29 per month on a rolling subscription;
- $26.10 per month for a 12-month subscription; or
- $23.20 per month for a 24-month subscription.
Their regular Shopify plan gives you all the above, plus:
- Five staff accounts;
- Gift cards;
- Professional reports; and.
- USPS Priority Mail Cubic shipping pricing
On this plan, you will be charged a 2.6% fee plus $0.30 per sale online, or 2.5% plus $0.00 for in-person sales. If you use a third-party payment processor, you will be charged the 2.6% figure plus $0.30 plus an additional 1.0% fee.
The Shopify plan costs:
- $79 per month on a rolling subscription;
- $71.10 per month for a 12-month subscription; or
- $63.20 per month for a 24-month subscription.
Finally, Advanced Shopify plan gives you all the above, plus:
- 15 staff accounts;
- An advanced report builder;
- Third-party calculated shipping rates (e.g. use your own shipping account);
- Full Shopify POS.
On this plan, you will be charged a 2.4% fee plus $0.30 per sale online, or 2.4% plus $0.00 for in-person sales. If you use a third-party payment processor, you will be charged the 2.4% figure plus $0.30 plus an additional 0.05% fee.
The Advanced Shopify plan costs:
- $299 per month on a rolling subscription;
- $269.10 per month for a 12-month subscription; or
- $239.20 per month for a 24-month subscription.
Shopify Final Thoughts
We definitely recommend Shopify if you are building an online store. Hands down. There really is no competition—Shopify is the market leader for e-commerce, and for good reason.
Shopify is right for you if:
- You want to see digital or physical products online;
- You want customer account functionality;
- You want third-party e-commerce features and apps;
- You want an out of the box e-commerce solution; and
- You want to support lots of payment methods.
We would recommend thinking twice about using Shopify if:
- SEO is of central importance to your business; and
- You run a small store as a side business to your main website (e.g. you are a blog selling merch, or a restaurant selling tinned ingredients.)
For most people wanting to launch a website where e-commerce takes center-stage, Shopify is their best bet.