Many Canadians have heard of Shopify, and know it's one of the hottest tech startups around. But what exactly does Shopify do?
For starters, Shopify bills itself as “a complete e-commerce website platform that lets you start, grow and manage a business.” It’s one of the most popular online store building tools out there that powers more than one million online stores.
What sets Shopify apart from other web building tools like Squarespace is that Shopify is a dedicated exclusively to building e-commerce websites. It’s a specialist, not a generalist. If you’re looking for a blog or a portfolio you’d best look elsewhere.
Shopify’s offers a nice balance of user-friendliness and deep customization options, thanks to its many built-in features, apps and marketing tools. Regardless of whether you’re a small-scale, first-time seller or seasoned e-commerce magnate with thousands of products, Shopify lets you quickly and easily build a scalable online store without needing to know coding or web design.
Another thing to note is that Shopify is an “all-in-one” fully hosted platform, so there’s no going elsewhere to buy web hosting or install third-party software. Instead, the idea is that Shopify provides everything you need to run and operate your online store right from the get-go.
So, if you're thinking of building a business website, is Shopify the right platform for you?
Shopify pricing and plans
There are three main monthly plans, so you can pick a price point that matches your budget.
Here’s a quick overview of what features and functionality you get. Although Shopify is a Canadian company, oddly all of their prices are in USD:
At the low end of the price range is the “Basic Shopify” plan at $29/month. This gives you all the foundational tools for getting your full-fledged online store up and running, including:
- Fraud analysis tools
- A discount code engine that lets you generate promotional codes for products on your site
- Shopify point-of-sale (POS) app
- The ability to upload an unlimited amount of products
- A free SSL certificate
- Unlimited file storage
- 24/7 support
As part of the Basic Shopify plan, you’ll also pay an additional 2.9 percent and $0.30 per transaction. Pick this plan if you’re looking to set up a basic online store for your business and don’t want to spend a small fortune while doing it.
Next up is the “Shopify” plan at $79/month. You’ll also pay 2.7 percent and $0.30 per credit card transaction. This plan gives you everything included with the “Basic Shopify” plan, along with several key upgrades, including:
- The ability to offer gift cards
- Professional reports
- Abandoned cart recovery
The abandoned cart recovery tool can be a game-changing feature for your online shop. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons most Shopify users tend to opt for this monthly plan. With this feature, you can send automated emails and promos to further entice customers that may have left your site without buying the items in their shopping cart.
Be sure to pick the “Shopify” plan if you’re planning to scale up your business quickly in order to do higher-volume sales.
At the top of the list is the “Advanced Shopify” plan at $299/month. This gives you all the features from the previous two plans, along with a number of advanced features designed for businesses doing higher-volume sales each month.
Some of those advanced features include:
- Completely unlimited storage capabilities, which allow you to upload as many products, videos, images, etc., as you like
- Third-party calculated shipping rates
- An advanced report builder tool
- Slightly lower transaction rates at 2.4 percent and $0.30 per transaction
About Shopify Payments
Shopify Payments is Shopify’s own, in-house payment gateway and works similarly to Square, Stripe or PayPal. You can set it up to process all your store’s payments and it’s designed to accept most major payment methods.
The basic idea behind using Shopify Payments is that it eliminates the hassle of connecting a third-party payment processing provider (like PayPal) to your site. This keeps all your transactions and payments neat, tidy and in-house. Using Shopify Payments is the only way to avoid Shopify’s transaction fees and support multiple currencies in your store. So, by default, it’s your best option for processing payments.
Advantages of using Shopify
You can sell products on multiple channels
Shopify gives you an easy way to integrate other potential channels to help boost sales of your products. Shopify’s platform allows you to sell products through a Facebook Page, through “pins” on Pinterest, via mobile apps or by connecting your Shopify site to an Amazon Professional Seller account.
Shopify plays well with many different payment gateways worldwide
Shopify already comes with built-in payment services like Apple Pay and PayPal. Shopify also integrates with over 100 payment gateways worldwide and handles multiple global currencies. This ensures your customers – wherever in the world they may be – have a smooth checkout and payment experience.
Ease of use and quality template designs
One of the great things about Shopify is that you can create a professional-looking website with relatively little effort. All Shopify themes (templates) are professionally designed, eye-catching and can be customized to your liking. Prices for Shopify themes range from free to $180 USD. If you do opt for a paid “premium” theme, know that it’s a one-time investment; once you buy it, it’s yours without any monthly fees.
Themes aside, Shopify provides all the basic tools you’ll need for your online store, so there’s no looking around for third-party solutions and tacking them on to your site piece by piece. Shopify also handles online payments for you. That way, you don’t handle any sensitive credit card data.
Useful apps and software add functionality to your site
Shopify already serves up a solid array of built-in features and lets you add even more useful add-ons through its Shopify App Store. The App Store is home to over 1,200 free and paid apps that run the gamut from inventory and account management tools, to email marketing solutions and page speed boosters.
In-depth customer support and education
Starting your own business isn’t easy at the best of times. Shopify helps soothe some of the growing pains of setting up your e-commerce site with some of the most comprehensive customer education and support out there. Through their online help centre, Shopify Compass, you can access on-demand business courses, tutorials, live workshops and a deep user community that can help field questions. You can also reach out and contact Shopify 24/7 via live chat, phone and email.
Disadvantages of using Shopify
You’ll pay transaction fees…unless you use Shopify Payments
Shopify is the only platform that imposes its own transaction fee, which – as we mentioned before – can only be avoided by using Shopify Payments. While Shopify Payments isn’t a terrible solution by any stretch, you do get more locked into the Shopify ecosystem.
Monthly app fees can add up fast
You’d do well not to get too carried away with paid apps from the Shopify App Store. Many of those apps have monthly fees that can quickly add up (and create unnecessary additional costs) if you’re not keeping careful track of what you have installed – and what you’re actually using.
No free plan available
Unlike Weebly, Wix and WordPress, there’s no free option for Shopify. There is a 14-day free trial but it’s strictly pay-to-play after that.
No built-in email hosting
Yes, web hosting is included in all three Shopify monthly plans, but they leave out email hosting. That means you can’t host a domain-based email address (like firstname.lastname@example.org). You can, however, set up email forwarding so that if someone does send a message to email@example.com, it’ll automatically bounce over to your regular email account.
You can leave, but it won’t be easy
If you plan to move on from Shopify at some point choose another platform for your online store, just know it’s not as easy as packaging up your site. The best you’ll get is a .CSV format export of your product information…and not much else.
We hope this gives you a better idea of whether Shopify’s the right tool for your growing online business. Once you’re ready to dive in, be sure to check out our guide to building an e-commerce website with Shopify.