There’s a lot of options for running an online store, and your choice of best eCommerce platform can have just as big of an effect on your business as choosing a building or location for a physical store. It’s not the end all of the business – but it certainly can make or break your business – and can either expand your opportunity or severely kneecap your business.
Shopify is part of a group of turn-key eCommerce (aka “hosted eCommerce”) solutions that provide everything you need from end to end (minus the product and business know-how) to set up and start selling your product(s) to the world as opposed to you putting all the pieces together yourself.
There are pros and cons to the approach – which is what we’ll get into. But basically know that Shopify competes mainly with BigCommerce and Volusion – all three of which provide turn-key eCommerce solutions, which in turn compete with non-turnkey solutions (like setting up your own store with WordPress).
Aside – Shopify also has a “Buy button” functionality that allows you to use Shopify as Point of Sale (POS) / Inventory option – and let customers click to buy your products anywhere online (Pinterest, Facebook, WordPress blog, Tumblr, etc). I’ll be looking less at that – and more at Shopify’s full online store package. You can get the Buy button only as part of the Lite Plan, but it competes with PayPal rather than full online store options.
Shopify is fairly straightforward – which is sort of their whole selling point. The broad process is as follows –
There are a lot of Shopify reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. I’ve worked with Shopify not only as a store owner but also as a consultant to stores running on Shopify – plus, consulting customers with stores running on platforms ranging from custom built platforms to WooCommerce and dozens of others. There is no such thing as a “best” choice – only the right choice for your store based on your resources and objectives.
With that in mind – here’s what I found to be pros of using Shopify – not just in comparison to BigCommerce and other direct competitors, but also as an overall eCommerce solution.
Here are the results of a speed test for my local coffee shop that runs their store on Shopify:
One of the challenges of running an online store is that you have dual needs from your hosting: you need it to be screaming fast and you need it to be super secure if you are processing credit cards.
For every extra tenth of a second that a customer waits for your page to load is a second that they might very well leave and go to your competition. In fact, most studies show that people will only wait up to 4 seconds for a site to load before leaving – and this gets even tighter for eCommerce sites.
On the flip side, you also need to route your customer’s credit cards through extra layers of security to remain PCI compliant and process credit cards. Many stores outsource payments to a third-party vendor (such as PayPal or Google Wallet), but even that connection can be slowed if your store isn’t set up right.
An all-in-one solution like Shopify allows you to turn that side of the business over to the pros and just let them worry about hackers, caching, compliance, and a whole range of issues that come with hosting an online store. Shopify can do things like pay bounties to security researchers to hack-proof their systems. Shopify is safe and legit. They are a publicly traded company with huge investments in software & security engineering.
There are a ton of factors that go into website speed, but, since Shopify can handle speed & security at a “global” platform level – they can do it especially well. They provide 100% SSL, keep their sites screaming fast, and integrate with payment providers well so that you can always get paid, and customers are never waiting for their page to load.
Whether you are building your own eCommerce solution or shopping for an all-in-one solution, getting all the pieces of an online store together can actually be a bit challenging.
Sure, you can strip the bare bones down to having a product up to buy, and allow someone to pay and give you their information – but to do it right – you’re going to want other features on top.
You’re going to want integrated payments; you ‘re going to want an easy way to add and remove products; you’re going to want to be able to customize the look of your store; and you’re definitely going to want to have solid, easy to implement analytics to track everything (something that Volusion makes it tough to implement).
Whenever I have run stores for clients or myself in the past, Shopify had everything I needed to run an amazing online store – without being nickel and dimed in upgrades or left out to dry without a key feature.
I think that good web platforms should always offer at least 3 levels of customization: first, it should look fine out of the box; second, it should be easily improvable without having to employ and professional graphic designer or developer.
WordPress is a good example for this – it looks great out of the box; it has tons of custom themes that you can buy and apply, but it also has the ability to be wielded by a professional designer to create a really high-end website.
Shopify has this ability as well, and I give a huge pro to Shopify for that. Shopify runs off a theme system. It has free themes bundled out of the box to choose from, and a wide variety of custom-built themes to purchase through their marketplace. In addition, as you can see in the screenshot above, Shopify makes its theme system available so that a designer or developer can customize it and create any type of shop you want – whether you are a tiny niche boutique or a multi-million dollar enterprise.
If you are just starting, you can make do just fine with a free theme and upgrade as you can justify/need it.
Shopify comes with a ton of features built-in, but no platform can possibly accommodate all the features needed by storeowners – so Shopify took a page from Facebook, Apple, and Android by starting an App Store.
Shopify provides the platform and all the core features, plus it allows developers to offer hyper-specialized products that plugin seamlessly to Shopify’s platform.
Some are paid and some are free. The Chimpified App is my favorite example though. Not all retailers need or do email marketing, but some love it. It’s not a core feature of Shopify – but MailChimp (an awesome email marketing company) built an App that integrates MailChimp seamlessly with Shopify. It’s free and awesome.
With this setup – you don’t have to worry about finding a developer every time you want a certain feature because it’s probably in the App Store…and will be a lot cheaper and will work exactly as advertised.
And over the past year, this has turned into one of Shopify’s “killer features” that puts them ahead of much of their direct competition. So many companies integrate directly with Shopify that it’s straightforward to purchase the right solution for whatever you need (ie, for email, retargeting, CRM, etc).
Additionally, Shopify has really invested in their Buy button. On one hand, it’s a bit confusing to sell product separate from your website. On the other hand, it adds a lot of flexibility for brands that have a presence all around the web – or for merchants that just don’t want to set up a full online store on a domain.
Not all platforms have the scale to pull this off correctly, but Shopify does – and they have a business development team that specifically works on developing new apps and bringing new developers to solve problems. The App Store is a huge pro for me with Shopify.