Ecommerce Platform Review: Shopify
Search, order, receive: Nowadays, these three steps are what customers expect when making purchases online. To meet this need, more and more platforms have appeared providing business owners with the ability to provide precisely that. This doesn't only apply to the ecommerce giants like Amazon or eBay though, if you're a small business owner, you can also cut yourself a slice of the online sales pie. No knowledge of programming or web design? No problem! One of the most well-known names in the business is Shopify, and in this review, we're going to take a closer look at them!
What is Shopify?
Shopify is an all-inclusive ecommerce platform from Canada which caters to both small and large businesses seeking to sell online. From its humble beginnings as a sales platform for snowboards, over the recent past, it has grown into one of the world's leading ecommerce solutions, servicing more than 1 million businesses.
There's no mincing of words here: Shopify is the veritable giant in our evaluation series, however, in this review, we're going to take a look at whether its place of primacy is deserved, or open to challengers.
Pros and Cons
Easy to set up; free trial version
User-friendly dashboard with straightforward navigation
No-nonsense site builder for personalizing your store
Well-stocked App Store
Excellent support center featuring numerous FAQs, a video library, and podcasts
Poor support response time
User-defined checkouts only for Shopify Plus customers
Transaction fees, if using external payment gateways
Configuration & Usage
Like nearly every provider we looked at, Shopify offers a free trial version of its platform (14 days), which doesn't require the input of any payment information. Registering for the service is easy: Simply enter your email address on Shopify's homepage, and in the next window, a password and name for your store. After this, you'll be asked a few questions about your business, which Shopify uses to make recommendations in the dashboard, later on. After this, registration is finished, and you can start putting your store together.
All that separates you from creating your own online store are a few clicks; what are you waiting for?
Shopify's dashboard is logically arranged. In the Home area, where you'll wind up after finishing registration, the first content blocks will walk you through how to get started creating a functioning online store. These include the ability to add new products (more on that below), how to adjust the theme, link to a domain, set shipping costs, and include legal information.
A search bar, which you can use to take quick actions or look for guides, figures prominently at the top of the page. In the bar to the right, you can make adjustments to your user account, as well as general and security settings.
Shopify lends a helping hand right off the bat.
To the left is a sidebar menu, which you can use to navigate between the Home, Orders, Products, Customers, Analytics, Marketing, and Apps areas. Here, you can also find different sales channels, should you offer your products elsewhere.
In the bottom left, you'll see Settings: Here, you can edit general information about your business, such as its name and address, or make changes to payment methods, checkout, delivery, taxes, and more.
All of the most important settings are easily reachable.
Overall, Shopify seems to do everything in its power to make the first steps of creating an online store as easy and accessible as possible, scoring with its user-friendly dashboard and simple registration process (which again, doesn't require inputting your payment information). The platform also offers Android and iOS apps, which you can use to work on your store on the go.
Score: 4.7 / 5
Selling your products is the reason why you're opening an online store in the first place, and most likely, the component which you'll spend the most time working on. As such, we watch out for services that make adding new products, or editing and managing existing ones, as straightforward as possible.
In Shopify, you can manage your offerings through Products in the sidebar. Once clicked, you'll see the sub-areas All Products, Inventory, Transfers, Collections, and Gift Cards.
Product management in Shopify.
If you already have a list of your products in a CSV file, importing this into Shopify is easy. Otherwise, you can manually input products through the dashboard. Simply give them a title, a description, and add pictures.
To be able to sell your product, you'll need to include some additional information, such as the price, quantity available, shipping costs, SKU, or tax status. It's also possible to see services and digital articles, which don't require shipping, weight, or similar details. To provide your customers with a download link directly after purchase, you'll need an additional app from the App Store.
You can create variations of your physical products, changing their size, color, or material. Three's the limit though, as you can't offer more options for a single item than that, which is a bit frustrating and not found on any of the other platforms we reviewed.
Shopify allows you to quickly add new products to your store.
You can upload a unique picture for each variation, showing customers how each item looks in reality. In the bulk editor, it's possible to edit multiple variations at the same time, however, if these have different pictures, you'll need to manually change each of them. The bulk editor could be a bit more intuitive in this regard, however, it doesn't take long to manually change the pictures.
Shopify supports the creation of multiple variations of individual items.
Alongside brand information and the product's type, you can also assign items to a collection (category), to help your customers in their search. For an apparel store, this could be a summer collection, or for a book store, employee recommendations.
It's possible to manually add products to collections individually or to base this on the meeting of certain conditions, which will see products automatically delegated to categories. For example, products of a certain type will be assigned to a category automatically when they reach a certain in-stock quantity.
With Shopify's collections, it's possible to group your products into categories, either manually or automatically.
Inventory is managed through the similarly-named sub-menu. Here, you can manually set how much you have in stock of specific items, or add new stock to your existing quantities. In the Transfers sub-menu, you can follow orders you've placed for more stock, and track their progress. Here, you're able to see the number of incoming articles and their expected delivery date, after which, your inventory will be automatically updated to reflect the new quantity.
Payment options can be adjusted in Settings.
Taken together, Shopify does a good job of making it easy for pretty much any kind of user to manage their products and create a digital catalog. The nifty automations for incoming inventory or creating categories save time and help those overseeing large portfolios of products.
Unfortunately, there are some basic features that require the usage of third-party apps, such as for download links of digital purchases. In other areas, Shopify could easily make certain aspects of its platform more straightforward. Limiting the number of variation characteristics to three is odd to us. All the same, Shopify provides pretty much everything you need to be able to market and manage your products online.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Personalizing Your Store
By clicking on Online Store in the Sales Channel menu, a sub-menu will open, which serves as a kind of mini-CMS for your store. Here, you can create blog entries or add sub-pages to your online store. It's also possible to adjust the appearance of your store by clicking on Themes.
After registration, Shopify automatically selected the Debut theme for us. In the Themes Store, you can select from additional options, nine of which are free.
Shopify offers a wide selection of themes, most of which cost extra.
Regardless of whether you stick with the theme assigned to you, or want to make a change, by clicking on Customize, you'll be taken to Shopify's editor, where you can modify your store's user-interface. For anyone with experience using a site builder, it won't take long to find your feet. In contrast to traditional site builders, your freedom is somewhat limited, which translates into greater ease.
Shopify automatically creates all default pages, such as a homepage and shopping cart. You're able to jump between different areas using the navigation bar in the upper part of your screen. Instead of being able to manually edit all elements by dragging and dropping them, content is arranged using the sidebar on the left. Here, it's possible to add new sections and adjust text or images.
In addition, you can also edit the general theme settings, such as the color scheme or font. By clicking on Edit Code you can work directly with the source code of your store's theme. Shopify's themes are based on Liquid, an open-source template language created by Shopify, the source files of which can be freely edited. If coding isn't an issue for you, then the themes are highly flexible, or even entirely customizable.
In the middle of the screen, you'll see a live preview of your store, through which it's possible to immediately view any changes that you make in the sidebar. As a result, it's possible to customize your store to your liking without a great deal of skill or background knowledge. Once you're satisfied, click on Save.
Shopify's editor is streamlined to make it easy to use, however, it's absence of drag and drop functionality is unfortunate.
It isn't possible to directly edit all elements in the store builder. Parent menus, for organizing your online store, can be added in the Navigation section of the admin area.
By default, each theme comes with a main menu and a footer menu, however, depending on the theme which has been selected, additional menus might also be included. It is possible to create drop-down menus, and to group certain products into them.
To understand how menus work in Shopify (and how to create them), we recommend taking a few minutes and playing around with them. The entire process is well-explained In the help center, so you won't be left in the dark.
Adding menus takes a little bit of getting used to, but Shopify's guides walk you through the process.
Set alongside editors or site/store builders with full drag and drop functionality, Shopify comes up a little bit short. At the same time, you aren't limited to using Shopify's default configuration for your store's user-interface: In the Apps area, you can check out the App Store, and peruse the numerous extensions and add-ons for the platform, some of which are free.
For example, the Buildify app adds drag and drop functionality into Shopify, making it possible to create entirely user-defined websites, albeit, for a monthly fee.
Shopify's App Store includes numerous free and premium extensions.
Shopify's editor makes it fairly simple to design an attractive-looking online store. Of course, this ease comes at something of a price, since you'll have to make do without drag and drop functionality. Similarly, the service's free templates are a bit lackluster, and throwing in a couple more at no charge wouldn't be the end of the world. At the same time, you can freely interpret the design of your store using Liquid, the service's own theme language, or the extensions in the App Store.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Now, it's time to start selling! To prepare for this, you'll need to decide which payment methods your customers will be able to use. You can set these by clicking on payment settings, with both PayPal and Amazon Pay available for immediate integration.
To enable card payments, you'll need to add a credit card gateway, like Stripe or PaymentExpress by clicking on the Add a provider button. Shopify's own payment solution, Shopify Payments, is also available.
Shopify supports all major payment methods.
By clicking on Checkout in the settings menu, you can manage how customers place orders. These include the ability to set which contact information your customers need to input, which information the checkout form requires, and if customers need to review their order before confirming it. The only downside is that you're bound to Shopify's standard layout - user-defined checkouts are only available to Shopify Plus subscribers.
Taxes are automatically calculated by Shopify, however, you can overwrite this manually if necessary. You can show both before-tax and after-tax prices to customers in your store and configure taxes for different countries or regions.
Delivery settings can be adjusted in the Shipping and Delivery submenu. Here, it's possible to set rates for different delivery regions, local delivery, and pickup, as well as package sizes. You're also provided with an invoice template, which you can edit using HTML.
Delivery options can be found under Settings.
You can manage orders in the similarly named menu item of the sidebar. Here, each order that a customer has placed in your store is listed, and sortable on the basis of four criteria (unfulfilled, unpaid, open, closed).
By clicking on the order number, a detailed overview will open, showing information about that particular customer as well as an activity timeline. The service also includes a very nifty fraud analysis, which gauges the likelihood that an order is genuine.
Individual orders can be marked as completed, and it's also possible to inform your customers about the dispatch of their items and tracking number.
In the order overview area you can keep tabs on all orders you've received.
It's also possible to integrate additional sales channels into Shopify, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Amazon. You're given the option of adding these into your Shopify admin area so that you can follow all of your orders from a single location.
In the sidebar under Sales Channels, a number of options are listed, the most interesting of which is the Buy button. You can add this button to specific products or collections, even on different sales channels that you use, with a snippet of HTML code, making it possible for customers to buy the item through your store elsewhere.
Dropshipping and points of sale (POS) are also possible with Shopify.
Follow all of your orders from a single place.
In terms of selling, Shopify definitely excels, however, we wouldn't classify it as perfect. Rather, the service demonstrates a slight lack of flexibility, which other providers don't suffer from. We're certain that Shopify could compensate for this without sacrificing any of its ease of use.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Marketing & Analytics
In terms of marketing, Shopify offers pretty much everything. It's possible to create digital coupons in the Products area and send them to customers either directly or through your alternative sales channels. To offer gift certificates you'll need a (free) extension, Shopify POS.
You're also given the ability to entice customers with sales and discounts. With Shopify, these can be offered as manual or automatic discounts and given specific periods of validity. They can also be limited to certain collections or products, as well as a minimum order amount or quantity.
Gift cards and certificates, as well as discount codes are easy to create.
Perhaps the most important marketing aspect of Shopify is the service's own email marketing tool, Shopify E-Mail. With this, it's possible to create email newsletters featuring your store's branding, and send these to selected groups of customers. You can choose which groups of customers to send these to, for example, new customers, those who haven't purchased anything, or even those from a specific country.
In the marketing overview, you can keep track of your campaigns, their costs, and how many sales they have generated.
In the marketing overview, you can see how effective your marketing campaigns are.
You can manage your customers and customer groups through the sidebar menu. Should you already have a customer list in a CSV file, it's also possible to import it here.
Of course, Shopify E-Mail can't really hold a candle to dedicated email marketing tools, considering how limited its features are, but, it is possible to use it to launch simple campaigns. Additionally, Shopify is one of the few ecommerce platforms to include an integrated email marketing tool, so, we applaud its presence.
Shopify E-Mail allows you to create basic email campaigns with just a few clicks.
Should you want to advertise on other channels, you can use the free extension for platforms like Facebook, Google, or Snapchat.
Thankfully, Shopify makes SEO fine-tuning easy: Each theme is optimized for OnPage SEO, meaning that you'll only need to enter the right keywords, titles, meta-titles, and tags in the editor and product descriptions. If you really want to boost your SEO rankings, there are a number of tools and apps available in Shopify's App Store.
To gather customer reviews and testimonials you'll also need a separate app, Product Reviews. This gives your customers the ability to leave star-based reviews on your products' pages.
In the Analytics area, you'll be able to gain greater insight into your sales and customer/visitor behavior. Each subscription package includes an overview of total sales, sessions, returning customers, average order totals, and conversion rates. Top sellers, the most visited landing pages, and marketing-based sales are all displayed in the dashboard.
More detailed information can be found in the Reports submenu, however, the usefulness of this depends largely on the subscription package you've purchased. Sales reports, which include information about orders based on criteria such as "sales over time" or "sales by product" are offered starting from the Shopify package. User-defined reports with individual filters are reserved for Advanced Shopify and Shopify Plus subscribers.
You can watch real-time developments and activity in your online store through the Live View, which includes a world map, customer activity, and page requests per minute.
The level of detail provided by the reports depends almost entirely upon your subscription package.
If you would like additional insights, it's also possible to integrate Google Analytics and Facebook-Pixel.
Overall, Shopify ticks all of the proverbial boxes as far as marketing and analytics are concerned. For anything missing, or not provided by the platform, you can be sure that apps and extensions will offer the desired functionality.
Score: 4.7 / 5
In Shopify's guides, it's possible to find detailed explanations of all features, as well as walkthroughs for the platform. The help center is very informative and well-structured. In the dashboard, you'll also find links that will take you directly to relevant FAQ sections on the website. During testing, these allowed us to figure out some issues on our own, without the need for support team intervention.
In addition, there's also a video library, which contains video guides and relevant podcasts. Regular webinars on specific topics, such as "SEO for Beginners" or "The Basics of Store Design" are also frequently held.
Shopify provides a great deal of both live and DIY support.
We were slightly underwhelmed at the possibilities provided by Shopify for getting in touch with live support. The service guarantees responses to email queries within 48 hours, however, for us, we waited for a total of 288 hours (or 12 days). Even though the staffer apologized and blamed the matter on higher-than-expected email traffic due to the ongoing pandemic situation, no one should have to wait (nearly) two weeks for support to get back to them.
Shopify does provide a support chat, however, the waiting times advertised could again do with a dose of reality. We were told to expect a response within 40 minutes, however, the actual time was closer to an hour. The staffer was very helpful and enthusiastic though, readily apologizing for the longer than expected wait.
The saying, "heavy is the head that wears the crown" seems to be applicable here. With more than 1 million customers, it's little surprise that Shopify's support is overwhelmed. As we've noticed elsewhere, larger digital service providers tend to beef up their non-live support, offering excellent guides, FAQs, and tutorials, seemingly in the hope that it will reduce live support queries. This is more of an economic necessity than anything else, but Shopify still needs to step up its live support game.
Score: 3.3 / 5
Shopify is available in three different subscription packages: Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify. These differ largely in terms of the amount of user accounts (2, 5, or 15) and some features. Professional reports are included starting with the Shopify package, and only Advanced subscribers can make use of advanced reporting features or live integrated shipping costs.
Transaction fees are only charged if using a payment gateway other than Shopify Payments. These are 2% for Basic subscribers, 1% for Shopify users, and 0.5% for Advanced customers.
In addition to the regular subscriptions, Shopify Plus is offered as a special solution for larger companies or businesses. Shopify Lite, on the other hand, allows you to add products and accept payments to an existing site.
Shopify's 14-day free trial is a nice touch, as is the fact that you don't need to enter payment information to access it. You'll only need to provide these to Shopify if you decide to accept payments. Even then, it's possible to back out of the subscription so long as you do so before the first payment is scheduled.
An overview of Shopify's rates can be found here:
|Price per month||$29.00||$79.00||$299.00|
|Transaction Fee||2 %||1 %||0.5 %|
|Contract period (months)||1||1||1|
|Number of Products||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
There are definitely reasons why Shopify has become one of the most popular ecommerce platforms available. Its ability to make creating an online store easy and uncomplicated, all the while packing its store builder with features and a sleek user-interface are at the top of our list. But so too is the ability to quickly add products, launch a marketing campaign with a matter of clicks, or stay on top of your orders and sales, all the while gleaning insight from them to help drive growth down the road.
Of course, there are a few blips here and there. The platform could be a bit more flexible, enhancing the ability of users without a background in programming to design a store or sell their wares. And live support could do with a lot of work.
All said, Shopify's position at the top of the heap isn't undeserved, but that doesn't mean it's the undisputed best. Still, the platform is one of the strongest all-in-one options available.
Even though a detailed review such as ours is good and well, we couldn't possibly cover all aspects of the service, so, we've compiled user reviews for you here, to help shed more light on some areas that we might not have covered.
If you lack programming know-how and feel unnecessarily constrained by Shopify's limitations to design, you can try other ecommerce platforms with more powerful and versatile site/store builders, such as 1&1 IONOS and Wix. With 1&1 IONOS, you'll need to make do with deficits in terms of marketing, and the absence of a free trial version. Wix, which was our overall winner, can easily go head-to-head with Shopify.
A list of popular alternatives can be found here