ShopifyStarting at $29/month
- Super easy, fast set-up
- Tons of apps & themes.
- Worry-free performance & speed.
- Lots of certified partners to help you.
- Apps can add up and become costly.
- SEO limitations like URL structures.
- Unable to customize checkout process.
- Need a developer for advanced features.
Thinking of building an ecommerce site?
Shopify is a name that frequently shows up in lists of the best ecommerce website builders.
For those who aren’t familiar with this cart, questions like “what is Shopify?” and “How does Shopify work?” are common. I had the same questions when I first looked for an ecommerce cart. I wanted a solution that let me sell in marketplaces as well as on my own site.
I’d heard of Shopify before, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I really paid attention to it. This is when Amazon announced Shopify was the marketplace’s preferred migration provider for Amazon Webstore merchants.
Shopify’s close relationship with Amazon continues to grow. Now you directly on Amazon from their Shopify stores. I wish that feature had been around years ago.
Things to Consider Before Choosing a SaaS Ecommerce Website Builder
When choosing an ecommerce cart, there are plenty of options. You can choose something like X-Cart that’s open source and lets your play with the code in the backend. Or go for an option like WooCommerce that integrates with WordPress easily.
If you want to open your store the same day you buy the cart, though, neither of those are great options. Ecommerce store owners who want to get started quickly need web host provided ecommerce solutions (SaaS) that make all the steps of opening a store easy – from marketing products to creating content.
Keep in mind that there are several factors to consider when investing in an ecommerce store builder:
- fit with your ecommerce store model (most important)
- load time
- site performance
- SEO options
- payment gateways
- advanced features
- the ability to create blog posts…
…the list is daunting.
When it comes to performance, Shopify is near the top. Its the second fastest ecommerce platform tested. Load speeds on mobile are fast, keeping customers attention where you want it: on your site.
Payment Gateways & Transaction Fees
Shopify works with 70+ payment gateways, but setup can be complex. Make sure you are using Shopify Payments if you are working with a major gateway that is part of their program. Otherwise you may wind up paying avoidable fees for credit card and other sales transactions.
Shopify’s market share is increasing, and many former BigCommerce, Big Cartel, and Volusion users prefer the platform. Roughly 71% of the stores built with Shopify are based in the US, but the cart is home to companies around the globe and offers multiple language integrations.
Image credit: https://trends.builtwith.com/shop/Shopify/Market-Share
The fact that Shopify is winning new customers from ecommerce giants doesn’t mean you should immediately opt to work with them, though.
Shopify is an easy-to-launch option for ecommerce store owners that integrates well with drop shipping companies like Ordoro, but can also be used to sell white label and manufactured products.
I’m focusing on the $29-299 plans, as most ecommerce stores will require at least the $29 level. A ‘lite’ option is available for $9/month and a custom quote can be provided for more advanced needs.
At first glance, Shopify’s plans appear to be a solid solution for new ecommerce store owners who want something they can set up and start selling on over the weekend.
If you’re looking for backend customization and SEO, though, you might want to rethink this ecommerce store builder. As good as Shopify is, the SEO marketing features could use some work. I hate that Shopify sticks things like /collections/ in the url. This limits your information architecture.
Price is one area where Shopify is not a clear winner. This ecommerce comes in at a monthly fee of $29-299. But if you want advanced marketing features like eBay integration, smart product search, or a recurring billing you’ll pay extra on top of Shopify’s monthly fees.
Don’t be fooled by Shopify’s pricing the ‘lite’ plan like a mini-store. This membership only allows you to set up a Facebook store, sell offline with Shopify, manage inventory, or use a ‘shopify’ button on your site – it is NOT a fully functioning ecommerce store.
If you’re looking to save a little cash, don’t opt for lite. Instead, pay upfront for 1-2 years to receive a 10-20% discount on your monthly fee.
For many ecommerce entrepreneurs, Shopify is worth the extra cost. It gives industry leaders like BigCommerce and Volusion a run for their money, but offers a design that is geared towards ease of use for the store owner. In business since 2004, the company has had the chance to iron out most of the kinks in their platform.
Brands Using Shopify
- Penguin Books
- The Economist
- Tesla Motors
- Red Bull
Shopify Plans And Pricing
The price varies based on the number of personal accounts, cart abandonment recapture features, reports, and shipping costs, as well as the transaction fee the cart charges. Shopify fees range from 0.5%-2.0% per transaction unless you use their Shopify Payments option, powered by Stripe.
This ecommerce site builder generates sitemap.xml and robot.txt files for you, as well as canonical URL tags. You’re also given the ability to provide ALT tags, meta descriptions, and title tags.
There are some recent changes to URL structure options, but this is one area that makes me nervous with Shopify. Overall, the URL structure is too rigid. The ranking performance for Shopify sites is also lower than I’d like to see.
Shopify does have a blog, and its features are impressive – you can change author info, categorize posts, and adjust the meta description – but the design is not as intuitive as WordPress.
You might want to shy away from using the Shopify blog feature if you want a content heavy ecommerce site.
If you want to use a WordPress blog with Shopify, it could end up being a technical nightmare for you. You have to install the blog on a separate subdomain for it to work.
You want your customers to be able to find what they’re looking for on your site. That takes good in-site search. Unfortunately, Shopify doesn’t deliver.
Fuzzy search and faceted search are important for ecommerce sites. People can’t spell – they expect the search engine to figure it out.
Keep this in mind if you plan on carrying several products – if everything you sell isn’t clearly visible and easy to find, your site visitors might not be able to locate it.
Abandoned Cart Recovery
Shopping cart abandonment is one of the areas where online retailers lose the most money from would-be customers, so weigh this carefully when choosing your ecommerce store builder.
The least expensive Shopify subscription does not let you send cart abandonment emails. Luckily, if you’ve got the cash to spend, the two more expensive subscriptions offer excellent cart recapture capabilities.
There’s just one catch – you can only send one email, but a series of three would be more effective. Shopify also dictates when you should send that email – 1, 6, 10 or 24 hours after cart abandonment are the options, and the platform recommends 1 or 10 hours.
If you’d like to have more freedom with cart abandonment recovery, Shopify does have several apps that offer greater flexibility for this purpose.
Coupons and Customer Loyalty
In addition to general coupons, Shopify allows store owners to create targeted campaigns. You can adjust the type of discount or coupon, as well. Options include percentage and monetary discounts as well as shipping discounts. Setting up a discount takes about 5 minutes and the process is intuitively designed.
Swell, Smile.io, beans, LoyaltyLion, and several other reward apps are available to Shopify store owners for integration into their stores. But again, it comes at an extra cost.
Selling Online With Shopify
Out of the box, Shopify lets you offer product variants – different sizes, colors, or styles of a product – without any hassle. You don’t have to worry about adding multiple pages for each variant, either. The entire process takes about two minutes and you can adjust prices and SKUs as well as show pictures of the different variants.
You can sell digital products out of the box, but if you want to sell personalized products, like monogrammed scarves – you’ll need the help of a free app.
Shopify works with Amazon in a way other ecommerce carts are envious of, like I mentioned earlier. In addition to FBA integration, the platform is integrating with Amazon in some new and intriguing ways that might boost its stock and market share considerably over the next year.
Shopify also allows you to setup Amazon Pay in three simple steps – set up an Amazon Pay account on Amazon, fill out the related tax interview, and activate the feature in your Shopify account. This is quickly becoming a popular payment option, competing directly with PayPal.
Shopify is great when it comes to selling on Amazon and Facebook, but if you want to go beyond that – it will cost you. Integration with Google Trusted stores can also be a pain with Shopify.
Cross-Selling and Upselling
Upselling and cross-selling is an easy way to drive up average order value. If you want to add it on Shopify it will cost you extra.
Real Time-Shipping & Tracking
If you and your customers want the ability to keep track of packages while they are in transit, you need to opt for this cart’s most expensive plan or look elsewhere. The feature is a premium option for Shopify users but is not available to the mid-range and low-price plans.
Shopify Themes and Apps
Shopify’s design flexibility is high thanks to the 59 free and premium themes provided in the store builder’s theme store. Not to mention hundreds of other private-label Shopify themes available on the web.
The themes are beautiful, look great on mobile and are fast loading.
What can’t be done by choosing a particular theme can probably be done with one of the dozens of apps in the Shopify app store.
Here are some apps, that can help extend the functionality of your Shopify Store:
- Product Filter & Search
- Oberlo Drop Shipping
- Smart Upsells
- ReCharge Recurring Billing & Subscriptions
A Quick Note on Taxes
If any of your customers are in the European Union, you need to worry about two things: VAT taxes and cookies. Make sure you are in compliance with both. For VAT, even when selling digital products you need to apply the country-specific tax rates. Shopify calculates these automatically, saving you time and hassle.
Ease of Use
Despite numerous theme options, only a handful are free and the premium templates range in price from $140-180.
If you want to change more than the template you select allows, you’ll need to hire help (or be a whiz at programming), so keep that in mind, too.
There are also thousands of Shopify Partners that can help you, which is a huge advantage compared to other platforms.
The customer service number for Shopify is 1-888-746-7439, and although wait times can be long, 24/7 support is available by chat, email, and phone. Although Shopify has an international support base, many users report that the platform is friendlier for US and UK-based merchants.
Of course, the posted times can be a bit distressing – email responses often take 10+ hours and chat responses are usually 5 minutes or longer.
Shopify Alternatives to Check Out
If after weighing the pros and cons of using Shopify, it sounds like it’s not your thing, there are plenty of online store builders to choose from. Weigh each carefully based on the ecommerce features discussed above, and find the ecommerce platform that works for your business.
The tradeoff with Volusion is more features than Shopify, but lower performance. Site loading time and mobile performance are markedly lower.
Volusion’s pricing plans start at $25/month for small businesses, but if you want to test the waters, a 14-day free trial is also available.
Like Shopify Payments, Volusion Payments is an additional service you can pay for that lowers monthly credit card transaction fees.
Priced affordably and feature-loaded, 3D-Cart is a solid Shopify alternative. It loads faster than Shopify, but the themes are not designed as well. For example, the mobile UX score is much higher on Shopify than 3D Cart.
This shopping cart offers a 15-day free trial if you want to give it a test drive. A big plus for 3D-Cart is the number of payment gateways they work with: more than 100.
The big drawbacks? Notoriously bad customer service and limited support from outside developers and marketers.
Ideal for bare bones, low budget stores, PrestaShop is a good choice for entrepreneurs who want a ‘starter store’. Another open source solution, users can choose from cloud or self-hosted PrestaShop software. If you want to manage multiple storefronts from a single admin panel, PrestaShop does support this feature.
Although some free support can be obtained through the cart and its large user community, paid support is more effective and pays PrestaShop’s bills. Oh, and it’s free.
Feature packed and ready for the big leagues, a quick search for Shopify vs. BigCommerce will show that BigCommerce is very similar to Shopify in most respects.
The $29 and $79 plans for BigCommerce offer more bang for your buck than Shopify’s equivalent plans. Premium features like gift cards and real-time shipping and tracking are included in all BigCommerce plans out-of-the-box.
There’s a catch, though. Credit card fees for BigCommerce are marginally higher and there are limits to the number of sales transactions you can make each month before needing to upgrade to a more expensive plan.
- Check out our review of the BigCommerce here.
Is Shopify Right For You?
I like the overall feel and flexibility of the design, although the SEO features and the need to pay or add additional apps for some features that should be standard can be frustrating. The cost of those apps varies from free, Shopify-made options to $99+ developer-created widgets.
If your business is based on subscription products or recurring purchase patterns, you might want to look at a different cart. The average cost to add this feature is roughly $19.99.
Multiple product customization apps exist for Shopify at monthly price points ranging from $9.99 to $60+. If your business is based on personalization, it should be easy to find an option that works for your store.
If you’re looking for an easy to use, reliable ecommerce store with good service, highly flexible design, and the ability to drop ship, Shopify is a platform I’d recommend.
Think Shopify is the right fit for you? Click here to check it out. Do you have experience with Shopify or questions I didn’t answer? Comment below. Found this post useful? Give it a share.