Shopify: A New Frontier in E-commerce Stores?
These days an online store is a decision that is on par with setting up a physical one. Everything about the decision will have a profound impact on your business and its ability to generate profits. To choose the right e-commerce platform you need to make an informed decision.
E-commerce platforms can quite literally make or break your business. So, you can run towards an opportunity or from it. It all depends on your choice of platform.
Now that we have established that e-commerce platforms are important, let’s understand what they are. Think of it this way, you are building a house but instead of using sub-contractors that you must deal with yourself, you give the project to a general contractor who manages everything for you.
Now, there are merits to this choice, but like everything that is easy, it has its flaws too.
Shopify is a turn-key “hosted ecommerce” or e-commerce solution that allows you to get a hassle-free setup for starting an e-store immediately. By providing end-to-end solutions, Shopify ensures that the consumer is not stuck putting all the pieces together to get an e-commerce website up and running.
Off course, Shopify can give you the tools to make an online business run more smoothly, but not how to run it. Let’s keep our expectations realistic here.
Right now, Shopify competes with other turn-key platforms like “BigCommerce” and “Volusion”. As far as running an e-commerce website goes these platforms are a better bet than none turn-key solutions like WordPress. In a way Shopify also competes with the more popular website builders like Wix.
Here are key features of Shopify that has made it such a hot commodity in the market.
As simple as it gets!
Shopify’s entire marketing campaign and the lion’s share of its branding goes into building an image of “ease”. Using Shopify is simple and straightforward. Shopify offers an interesting edge to its clients by giving them a “buy button” functionality. This feature allows users to use Shopify as a “point of sale” (POS) or as an inventory option.
Why does this give Shopify an edge?
It allows consumers the option to purchase products anywhere online; the sale can happen anywhere from Pinterest, WordPress blog, to Facebook and Tumblr.
The only drawback is that this feature is only available in the “Lite package” and while it’s a great alternative to PayPal its lack of accessibility causes it to lose some of its merits.
How does Shopify operate?
The entire purpose of Shopify is to make things easier for the user. At the end of the day all a business really wants to do, is focus on selling rather than building an E Commerce website from ground up.
To start an E Commerce website on Shopify all you need to do is link up the domain that you bought from any registrar for example, Namecheap or GoDaddy to your Shopify store. Off course, you can always purchase a domain using Shopify.
Next, you can choose a design or a template for your E Commerce store and get started. if you are looking for some degree of customization, Shopify makes that possible by letting you edit/alter any template using a drop/drag tool. If you are not satisfied with what Shopify has to offer in in terms of design, you can always hire your own designer to work in more creativity.
Shopify also allows you to buy premium templates if you want to.
After you set up shop all you need to do now is add your products, payment options, page content and any other details you want to, and Voila! you are ready for business.
What makes Shopify Worth it?
The true worth of any tool depends on how you utilize it. Shopify, like many others, is simply a tool and a means to an end. So how do you know that Shopify is for you? for example, if you are looking to sell a single product on your website or your blog, then Shopify is probably not for you.
A simple WooCommerce plugin would work just fine too.
Now, if you are looking to run an online business that requires inventory, customer records, a wide assortment of marketing tools, then Shopify is one of the best tools in the market. To make a final decision, all you need to do is to weigh in all your resources, goals and expertise and figure out if Shopify gives you the opportunity to build definitive online success.
Ultimately, you must consider the pros and cons of using Shopify before you go with it. Here is a detailed look at the pros and cons of using Shopify.
Benefits of using Shopify
The most important thing for any business to understand is that there is no perfect choice when it comes to platforms like Shopify. There is, however, personal experience that allows for a client to decide whether Shopify or any other platform for that matter, works for them or not.
It’s never recommended to go deep diving into the comments section, or even customer reviews. It’s fine if you’re looking for funny anecdotes, but not the best place to look for advice when it comes to choosing a platform for your E-commerce business. There is no best choice, only the right one.
every business is different, with different needs, goals and objectives.
Here are key features off Shopify that make it an excellent choice and not just against its competitors like “BigCommerce” etc. but, also as a complete e-Commerce solution.
1.Speed and Security
The best part about platforms like Shopify is that it allows you to breathe easy when it comes to security and speedy hosting. Since e-commerce websites need to go the extra mile when it comes to secure purchase and payment options for consumers to trust them, it’s a matter of key interest for e-commerce websites.
Consumers do NOT like to wait, every second they do, they might as well move on to a competitor website for no other reason than it’s faster. Current market research shows that consumers are not willing to wait more than four seconds on average for a website to load.
This type of pressure is worse for e-commerce websites, especially since they must process their customers’ credit cards through tougher security measures to ensure PCI compliance. Many E-commerce stores opt for third party service providers like PayPal or Google Wallet. The drawback to that can be slower connection if a store setup has glitches in it.
All-inclusive solutions offer clients the opportunity to work stress-free. If Shopify is worrying about security and speed that just leaves you with more energy and focus for your business.
Shopify offers a comprehensive safety net to its users; they go out of their way to hacker-proof their systems even offering bounties to private security firms to update, check and improve their defenses.
Shopify also happens to be a publicly traded enterprise with a stake in security engineering and software development; giving it that extra layer of legitimacy.
Shopify is a global platform and that allows them to provide 100% SSL, seamless integration with payment providers and faster page load speed. Considering how challenging putting together the setup for an e-store can be, there is no wonder why Shopify is receiving such glowing reviews from most of its users.
2. Everything under one roof
Before making the choice for an all-inclusive package offered by Shopify or going solo, it’s important to know that you can opt that route if it suits you. However, you need features to make everything work like a cog in an efficient machine. Doing it on your own is satisfying, but it can be cumbersome managing a site on so many fronts.
Here is what you need:
- Integrated payment methods are efficient and the best way to go
- A simple method to add and remove products from cart needs to be in place
- The look of the store must be customized to suit your business needs and look good while doing it
- Analytics are a key feature for any e-store, if they are easy to track and apply, your business has the potential to grow exponentially
Now, “Vollusion” is a great platform but it lacks in the analytics department. Shopify offers all the above and anything that one can possibly dream up to run a great online store. Shopify doesn’t hold out using upgrades nor does it leave you hanging because of missing features and that makes it one of the best e-commerce platforms in the market right now.
3. Customer support on Shopify
When you build a customized website yourself and use, let’s say, a WordPress plus WooCommerce combo you are looking at managing an e-commerce website yourself; a complete distraction from the actual running of the business.
On the other hand, running a business on Shopify is far easier and one of the things that make life far easier for an online business owner is good customer support. An operation run by you will hit more snags than you would like to admit or even imagine. Your only go to would be expensive developers and confusing online forums that might be able to help.
Shopify has excellent customer support; you get great solutions fast. The best part is the customized support from the perspective of a developer and a storeowner which saves so much more time that an individual might spent searching for answers online.
What’s more? Shopify has an extensive database of FAQs giving you a great knowledge of the platform and they give first-rate email, chat and phone support. They also don’t outsource representative work to bots, you get to talk to real people with real knowledge.
4. Great marketing
The success of any e-store relies greatly on the traffic it pulls. If people show up on a Shopify store, it’s because of their effective marketing. While Shopify doesn’t offer an extensive range of marketing tools, the ones it does provide are both essential and effective.
Their main package is lacking in fanciness but there’s more of that in their App market if a user is looking for it.
Basic Marketing: it’s very easy to create landing pages for essential marketing strategies like Google Adverts, Facebook promotions and ads or email campaigns. This gives Shopify a whooping advantage over its competition; most all-inclusive platforms do not offer this and neither do a few DIY builders.
SEO: Shopify offers its users a 100% clean, crawlable code, allowing everything from customized “Title tags”, Meta descriptions to essential items like sitemaps and search consoles. Shopify also protects against duplication of content. Shopify takes the liberty of handling crucial elements of SEO like Schema, Sitemaps, SSL, Canonicals etc. and due focus can finally be given to content strategy.
Great design options
Any platform worth their salt offers three degrees of customization to its users:
- Ready to go designs that can be used right out of the box
- Existing designs that can be tweaked to satisfy some degree of customization without spending a fortune on developers and graphic designers
- A largely customized design option that allows for a unique look in the hands of a real professional
Shopify offer all three; they offer ready-to-launch templates, customized design options in their App Market and even allow its theme system to be accessed by designers for a higher degree of customization.
Shopify’s app store
Shopify has a plethora of built-in features but taking a hint from other platform successes (read: Facebook, Apple, Android etc.) and incorporated an extensive App store. Another aspect was to cater to as many shop owners as possible, this was the way to do it.
Furthermore, Shopify really takes it a step further by allowing developers to offer specialized features on their platform alongside a selection of their own core ensemble. Shop owners don’t have to run after expensive developers for something customized, chances are whatever they’re looking for is in the Shopify marketplace. This offers users better access, diverse selection and everything else but cheaper!
This really puts Shopify ahead of the competition, they offer such a diverse range of integration that usually everything is simpler with Shopify in the mix. They have a solution for everything! Whether you are looking for retargeting, CRM or need something for effective email marketing, Shopify probably has it.
The “buy button” is just another add-on that has gotten Shopify popular. While to many storeowners this feature is confusing; why would anyone want to sell their products outside of their website? But there are businesses with a spread-out presence on the internet and the “Buy Button” really makes things more flexible for them. Moreover, there are plenty of people that are not looking to set up an e-store just yet and just want to test the waters first with their product.
Shopify has gone the extra mile with its application store. They routinely work with developers; trying their best to provide e-stores with more solutions and that gives them an edge with users that is yet to be matched by any other platform.
Downsides to using Shopify
Shopify is great! But just like everything else in the market, it has its flaws. Here are some drawbacks to using the platform.
It can get expensive:
Shopify restructured their pricing model to meet industry standards back in 2014 which sets their lite plan at $9 which is just for “Buy Button” sellers and not appropriate for e-store owners. So essentially the most basic plan for e-stores start somewhere around $29/month.
Pricing is one aspect (perhaps even the most important one!) that is always one of the most important considerations by new entrepreneurs. If you have a tight budget, by comparison BigCommerce tends to win out on the simple merit of being cheaper.
Here are how their different plans are split:
- Lite Plan is charged at $9/month with a Buy button
- Basic Shopify Plan starts at $29/month with an added 2.9% and 30 cents per transaction
- Shopify Plan starts at $79/month plus 2.6% and 30 cents per transaction
- Advanced Shopify Plan starts at $299/month plus 2.4% and 30 cents per transaction
- Shopify Plus is the most extravagant plan from Shopify and starts at $2000/month plus 2.15% per transaction
While the features offered in the Shopify Plus plan are enough for a large-scale operation, the pricing can be adjusted based on your needs after connecting with Shopify. This is the best support any e-store can ask for and it covers everything under the sun.
However, look at the transaction fees! It’s important to note that it might be cheaper if you use Shopify Payments instead of third-party vendors like “Authorize.net” etc. as a credit card processor. The overall costs are high here.
If you didn’t budget for plug-ins, add-ons or any other features when planning your e-store you could be surprised by unexpected finances sucked in by the application store! There are many basic applications that are free, but many require payment, and these are things that make your store look good.
The price difference with Vollusion (slightly cheaper) and BigCommerce (slightly expensive) is tight enough that the comparison with Shopify can be made, at least initially, on performance and features. It all really depends on whether you are using Shopify’s payment methods or outsider software. That point can be a crucial deciding factor when deciding on this platform.
Also, any self-hosted store is always going to be cheaper compared to a platform-run one. This holds true for all platforms and not just Shopify; the running expenses are going to be higher every month. Now, the choice is between a self-hosted operation that could have a hefty price tag on any developmental needs in the long run or the slight price bumps in running an operation on a platform like Shopify.
Liquid setup for customization
While their design setup has everything to offer from right out of the box themes that look great and the ability to go for high-end customization, it’s how they do it that can be a bummer.
Shopify does not utilize PHP for its templates; they rely on a sophisticated liquid setup system. This has its merits off course and the support offered is great too. But, for people that do not have the technical knowledge the learning curve can be steep, not to mention irksome.
Light tweaking is off the table for first timers and people that are used to PHP; a common language that most users are familiar with.
Not the best blog functionality
Content marketing are the lungs of any e-commerce marketing strategy. Content can really make the difference between a good and a great store. Not only do blogs and good content surge organic traffic, social media influence, it also boosts your brand’s value.
Great content is how consumers know you, communicate with you and measure your worth as a brand. Moreover, content is how you can really make an impact on your customers and potential consumers. Shopfiy has a built-in blogging feature, but it could really use some upgrading. It is a functional tool that gets you through blogging and its better than what Shopify’s competition offers.
A stepper learning curve
Every platform requires a learning period to get a handle on things, but Shopify has complex jargon that can be difficult for new store owners to navigate. Take for example their liquid theme setup or their “collections” feature instead of “categories” etc. these tiny little variations and changes are things that take more time to learn than other platforms.
At the end of the day there is going to be learning curve with every platform, you just need to decide whether Shopify is worth the effort for you or not. As compared to Vollusion that gives a great deal of attention to inventory features, Shopify users repeatedly complain about their collections feature, calling the categorization as problematic.
While this is not big problem, users do prefer a more straightforward approach that they find with BigCommerce in this regard. They have better feedback than Shopify in this respect because they keep things simple.
Shopify has not been deaf to the complaints and the issues are not as bad in the Shopify 2 but they are still there.
Be prepared to be locked-in
While the entire purpose of an all-inclusive platform is to discourage users from leaving, some users still might want to. This is where things can get scary with Shopify; the platform locks you in. While this is true for nearly all e-commerce platform is a downside nonetheless for store owners that ever want to move their e-stores from Shopify.
It’s not to say it can’t happen, its just not going to be a smooth transition. This means that all users must think long and hard about the future of their business and not just the immediate costs and ease of operation. Knowing where you want to take your business is an important step towards knowing whether Shopify is for you or not.
If you do choose to take shake hands with Shopify for the long haul, it’s a great platform in terms of business growth. This is one aspect that can ease a business owner’s mind. If you expand your business, shopify won’t hinder you, quite the opposite; they offer an excellent plan for growing businesses as well.
If you do decide to leave after choosing Shopify, at best you can export your product information via a CSV export, everything else goes up in smoke. However, this is exactly how it happens on BigCommerce and Vollusion. In fact, this is what might happen on most “hosted platforms” online.
Setup can be tricky
The tricky initial setup can be daunting for many users. The initial setup process has been improved in Shopify 2, but it has a long way to go before it can be regarded as user-friendly.
The technical knowledge for the setup, especially when you are redirecting your domain name, is essential for a glitch-free initial setup.
If you created an e-store on Shopify with an expectation of making money immediately you are dead wrong. The setup takes time and a great deal of patience. Your store is not going to start churning money immediately, but it will eventually, and that guarantee is what makes Shopify so popular.
Off course, Shopify can ONLY aid and assist you, poorly run operations are not going to succeed anywhere. Shopify is probably the most well-rounded choice in e-commerce platforms with a great margin to grow with the platform.
You can add more products over time and really expand with Shopify. If marketing and growth are not your immediate goals and you are more interested in something easier and cheaper than BigCommerce might be more up your alley.
Essentially e-commerce solutions are just as good the people that are using them, Shopify is a great tool, but in the right hands.