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Shopify: Great for simple e-commerce

December 27, 2007 | 18 Comments »

When it comes to e-commerce, there are literally hundreds of options available to sell products online. Everyone seems to offer some kind of e-commerce system which they say is easy to setup and use. So how do you choose which system to use? Each one has it’s strengths and weaknesses, however for simple, straightforward e-commerce Shopify is an ideal solution.

Strengths of Shopify

Cost – As always, the cost is always an important factor when determining which e-commerce solution to use. Shopify has multiple plan levels each with their specific cost, but in general the average website will be paying a monthly fee of $24 and 2% per transaction. Many other (decent) shopping cart systems can cost around $500 just for the software. Shopify is a hosted solution meaning you don’t need to pay for web hosting and they have their own SSL certificate. With hosting being $10-15/month and SSL certificates about $10/month, that basically covers the monthly Shopify cost meaning the only thing you really pay them is the 2% per transaction fee. For smaller shops with few transactions or small transactions, this 2% is not very much and can easily be overcome with a slight shipping cost increase.

Simple setup – With Shopify, you can literally have a new store up and running in just a few minutes (using one of their default, basic templates). Just create an account like you would on any other website and you’re basically ready to start selling.

Easy to use administration – Novice web users can usually figure out the administration area of Shopify. Adding collections, products, managing orders, etc. is very easy compared to many of the overly complex and poorly organized interfaces you typically find in other solutions. Most other shopping cart administration areas take weeks of fiddling with before an average user gets the hang of it.

Simple update process – When Shopify releases updates to their system, you don’t have to do anything. Because they are a hosted solution, they make the updates to the core and it automatically applies to every website using their system. With other shopping cart systems you have to update your own cart when the makers release a new version. For many online retailers, this means paying their web developer to do this. With Shopify, updates are free.

Templating system – Shopify is hands down the easiest e-commerce system to customize the look and feel of. This is why we at AshWebStudio can setup a Shopify store much cheaper than any other solution available. With some cart systems we have used it has taken upwards of 30-40 hours to apply a design to whereas Shopify is significantly less.

Weaknesses of Shopify

Lack of features – Shopify’s ease-of-use is likely the result of not having enough features to overly complicate it. If you just want to sell simple products, you’re fine. If you want to take advantage of more complex features available in other commercial products such as recommended products, email product to a friend, contact forms, saving wish lists or other proven features which help sell more products you are out of luck. Shopify can really only be used for basic e-commerce.

Slow improvement process – It takes ages for Shopify to release new features which are truly beneficial and improve it’s core feature set. Since Shopify is a hosted solution, you can’t modify it yourself to improve upon it like you could if you bought a cart system and installed it yourself. There are no extra plugins you can quickly add either. You’re stuck with the features they have and there isn’t much you can do about it. The developers also do not post any plan of action for what features they are working on and when to expect them. If Shopify was open-source this would be understandable, but for a paid solution they should at least offer customers some kind of timeline for new features (even if they don’t stick exactly to a timeline, at least knowing they are working on them would be a huge benefit).

Why we recommend Shopify

Although Shopify does have it’s limitations, it does not mean it should be written off. The cost, ease-of-use and simple templating system make it an ideal solution for startup online retailers looking to get the most bang for their buck. Shopify allows new stores to have a solid system that can look great and be easy to use without a huge investment of many thousands of dollars.

Our example Shopify stores: Stringbean Company, Happily Ever Annie, and Blaster’s Den

Comments

Posted by Ryan on December 28th, 2007 at 9:27 am

As a fellow web/Shopify designer I just wanted to post and give kudos to Derek for the review. Yes, Shopify does has its drawbacks, but it also is an ideal solution for those just starting out in ecommerce.

Posted by Steven Jones on January 7th, 2008 at 6:39 am

I was just wondering what your comments on the WP e-commerce plugin (available at: http://instinct.co.nz) for wordpress. I found it to be highly usable, free and has good integration with Paypal. I don’t know if you’ve come across this so far but if you or any of your readers have then I would like to hear some comments.

Cheers,
Steve

Posted by Morgan on January 9th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

I’ve read your post at Shopify forum and I really like your review. I’ve also noticed that there began a conversation about project management tools. I’m interested in which one do you use? I use Wrike http://www.wrike.com, just like the guy in the forum, cause I got tired of Basecamp. What about you?

Posted by admin on January 9th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

@Steve – I’ve never used WP E-commerce Plugin so I can’t comment on it.

@Morgan – I stick with phone/email for project management with clients. Unfortunately clients don’t want to break away from email. I tried using Basecamp but I would continually receive emails – the cost just wasn’t justifiable anymore.

Posted by max ericson on April 23rd, 2008 at 12:11 pm

i was with shopify for a few months and I switched over to corecommerce.com a few weeks ago.

We do about $15-20k / month in sales and shopify is limited on their features for serious ecommerce merchants. My customers were complaining about the slow servers at shopify–they must have 500 customers on a server or something (50-100 is more ideal). The sales rep at corecommerce told me they use rackspace–which is a VERY SOLID, premium hosting company–so far I am very pleased.

Posted by Baby Hair Clips Tinybowtique on February 26th, 2009 at 12:31 am

I built my wife’s baby hair clip business using Shopify… the system is flawless and the guys behind it are dedicated to making it better.

Posted by Web-Site-Now on April 2nd, 2009 at 7:14 am

We used the WordPress ecommerce package, including the gold cart upgrade (to get the grid view). I have been fairly pleased with the product but it has almost no support. As of this writing, I have four or five unanswered posts in their forum that are over a month old. If you run into something new, you are pretty much on your own.

I like the neat look of Shopify and the included security certificate. If it can call an API for other sites and will support affiliate linking at the conversion point, I might consider using it.

Michael

Posted by joe on May 15th, 2009 at 10:30 am

@Michael

I’ve had the same problem with WP-Ecommerce and I’ve had it fail on PCI scan for cross-scripting vulnerabilities. They simply don’t comment back on their forums. Its quite frustrating. I’ve had a problem where the tax was not being send to Google Checkout. Without support resolve issues like that. Its pretty much useless to my clients.

Posted by Stephen Davis on October 24th, 2009 at 8:09 am

Thanks for the info… really helpful.

Posted by Nathan stewart on November 6th, 2009 at 7:35 am

In your Shopify weaknesses section you seem to have overlooked the difficulty in implementing shopify into an existing website, the fact that you have to recreate each page of your site using Shopify’s ‘Liquid’ coding and the lack of support available if you don’t use one of the shopify templates, kind of a pretty big weakness to overlook!

Posted by Derek on November 6th, 2009 at 10:44 am

@Nathan I would actually say that Shopify’s Liquid template system is one of it’s biggest strong points – it is so easy to use and integrate an existing design into their template system. Compared to other shopping carts, if you wanted to integrate an existing design, Shopify is hands down the easiest to do so. We don’t ever run into any difficulties with default Shopify templates because we always do custom Shopify sites anyway.

Posted by debra on November 14th, 2009 at 4:22 am

SEO? I never hear people talk of SEO issues. Does shopify put your unique products into google?
I sell antiques and each product is unique…does anyone know?

Posted by Web Design Company Sheffield on November 27th, 2009 at 6:30 am

I love using Shopify, So far I have found no limitations apart from the lack of independant 3rd party mods, So far any mods are only available through the app store and are charged monthly. thats my only gripe, i love Vision, and the template engine and template tags are easy to learn and pick up.
Nice review.

Posted by Adrian on March 2nd, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I am a web designer and have been considering using shopify as an e-commerce solution to offer my clients. Most of my clients who have approached me regarding e-commerce are small businesses or individuals and from looking at shopify it looks like it would be a great solution to fit many of their needs.

I’m just trying to work out how I’d go about offering this to my clients. I’m thinking, if I was to design and set up the website and then show them how to log on to add products etc passing any monthly fees on to the clients?

Just trying to get it clear in my head the stages involved in setting up a shopify website as a web designer for a client.

Any advice on this anyone?

Posted by Derek on March 8th, 2010 at 10:08 am

@Adrian We are upfront with our clients about Shopify, we do not try to “hide” it in any way. You can’t hide it anyway since they see Shopify’s logo every time they login! We have our clients setup an account on Shopify (using our referral link, of course) and then we get admin access and go from there. Trying to inflate the monthly cost is not possible as they will quickly find out they can get the same thing for less. Just passing the cost on to the client, through you, is a waste of everyone’s time since the client can simply pay Shopify automatically each month.

Posted by Adrian on March 11th, 2010 at 1:28 am

Thanks for the reply Derek,

So I guess you would just charge the client for the design of a custom template etc. This is pretty much what I was thinking. I definitely would’t try and hide the fact that I was using shopify from them or try and increase the charges or anything, because as you say, they can easily find out all the details surrounding shopify via their website.

Suppose the only down side is that clients may be very tempted to just try and set everything up themselves, without any need for a designer :o)

Posted by Geri Miller on May 27th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Thank you very much for this extremely helpful review and all the great Q&A afterwards! I’m an online store newbie so this was very beneficial!

Posted by Paul on July 29th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for the very informative review!

I’m just beginning to research shopify and other online retailing solutions for a potential client (I am not a developer myself, which will probably be evident shortly!). My biggest question/ concern is whether or not shopify will allow customers to make bulk orders, but then present customized data for individual items within the order. Example, ordering sports jerseys that all look the same except they require unique numbers and names on the jerseys. Is there an interface available that will allow customers to enter the required information and also allow for simple extraction of that information on the receiving end to process the order?

Thanks again!

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