Shopify Review March 2020

Introduction

Finding an e-commerce software product for our company has led us down a path that involved trials of numerous packages. Now though, we’ve evaluated Shopify and we’ve finally found a way to add a rich array of shopping features to our website. We hope some of what we’ve discovered about Shopify will be useful to you.

Things to Consider Before Buying

Is it right for you?

Solopreneurs and very small companies may find Shopify offers more functionality than very small companies may need — and that it costs more than you might want to pay. Fortunately, other vendors offer e-commerce software that provides the features you’ll need to get started and begin selling quickly. Wix.com and Weebly.com, for example, are both good drag-and-drop website development tools that give you a basic online store at modest cost. [1]

On the other hand, companies that wish to sell physical goods or digital products; to offer subscriptions, paid memberships or gift cards; to offer promotional discount coupons or to accept donations; and even to sell products that a third party drop ships for you [21] — well, Shopify supports all of those. As such, it’s a good choice for established companies of most any size.

In fact, a reported 1,000,000 customers in 175 countries use Shopify. [4] They range from small businesses, mid-sized companies and multinational enterprises. Those include Budweiser (reports show it sold more than $11 billion using Shopify), as well as Tesla, Sephora, Oreo Cookies, Redbull and many others. [3] At the same time, Shopify’s most recent annual report notes that “…we focus on selling to small and medium-sized businesses (‘SMBs’) and entrepreneurs. The large majority of our merchants are on subscription plans that cost less than $50 per month.”

However, before you begin to compare features and pricing of various e-commerce packages, you’ll need to carefully think through what you need your e-commerce package to do and how you want it to work. Here’s a short list that summarizes several of the most important topics to consider.

  • Decide if you want to hire a third party to add e-commerce to your site, or if you’d rather take the do-it-yourself approach. If you don’t want to hire third parties to do the setup, know that users rate Shopify as one of the easiest products to get up and running. For those who want to delve into custom coding, it allows you to write your own code with CSS and Javascript. However, you won’t need to use either unless you want to modify the many templates it offers to change how your store looks or operates.
  • On a related topic, how easily do you want to be able to add new functionality to your e-store over time? Shopify encourages third-party developers [2] to sell extensions to the customers who use the base product. Functioning much like apps for a smartphone, those extensions add a variety of new capabilities to Shopify that enlarge is feature set and prevent it from becoming obsolete as technology and marketplaces evolve.
  • Ease of use is key, and you’ll want to use software that simplifies and streamlines the buying process. Your success in e-commerce depends upon making it easy for visitors to place orders and become customers. The browsing process that precedes a purchase needs to be intuitive. Likewise, the e-commerce search engine that finds the desired product needs to be robust and able to present the product and alternatives the visitor actually wants to consider.
  • How effectively can you control SEO for your store and for every product you sell? Your e-commerce package needs to support up-to-date SEO practices as they evolve.
  • People search using mobile devices today more than ever before. You’ll want to be sure your e-commerce choice does an equally good job presenting your products and your store to desktops and laptops as well as to tablets and smartphones.
  • Finally, check out your options in selecting a merchant account and payment processor. Take time to understand their fees and charges.

What Is Shopify?

Shopify is a software product delivered as a service that requires no local installation. Known as “SaaS” (software as a service), Shopify hosts the software on its own servers. You do not have to pay a hosting fee, but you do pay a contracted monthly rental fee to use it.

Shopify adds a host of the most important e-commerce services to virtually any existing website and even lets you create an entire web presence from scratch. If you’re not able to sell products, take payments or donations at your website, Shopify solves that problem.

If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon.com, you’ve joined millions of people who have experienced what many experts would argue is the best-designed e-commerce shopping site in the world. That fact makes it all the more important to recognize that, in 2015, Amazon recommended Shopify to all its third-party sellers who wanted a presence on the Amazon site.

Shopify converts an ordinary “billboard style” website into a powerful e-commerce engine. Yet several other alternatives can do much the same.

For example, WooCommerce is a lot like Shopify. It’s made for companies small to large, and it’s in use at myriad organizations that have built their websites based upon WordPress. WooCommerce is a “plug-in” that adds e-commerce to a basic WordPress website.

If you’re considering WooCommerce vs Shopify, here are a few ideas to examine. [6,7]

WooCommerce Pros WooCommerce Cons
It’s open source, which means a global team of developers are at work constantly improving it. Users have complained that it’s difficult to build modern-day SEO features into the site.
It’s proven and popular. More than 3 million sites used it as of 2018. While the base package is free, the third-party templates that determine how your store appears can be quite expensive.
It offers well over 1,000 themes, some of which are free, that allow you to create almost any visual appearance you wish. If you’re selling internationally, its lack of built-in multilingual capabilities can hamper your sales. Third-party translation add-ins may be expensive, with one costing up to $4,990 per year. [8]

Shopify’s Features & Benefits

5 Shopify Plans

With so many features and services built into Shopify, let’s begin with the fundamentals. The product is available in several versions designed to address a range of business needs. [5]

  • The Lite Plan, priced at just $9 per month, does not give you an online store, however it does provide a “Buy” button that you can place on a social media page, your blog or any other web page. It’s used by small businesses that do not need the functionality of a full e-commerce store. Shopify handles the back-end processing for the Lite edition.
  • Basic Shopify plan. At $29 per month, this is the entry level product that gives you a robust online store capable of handling an unlimited number of products.
  • Shopify plan. At $79 per month this edition adds several features not included in the Basic plan and supports sales in up to 5 brick and mortar store locations.
  • Advanced Shopify Plan. Intended for large companies with a monthly fee of $299, this edition provides sophisticated report writers and other services needed to manage larger sales volumes.
  • The Shopify Plus plan, with pricing that begins around $2,000 monthly, is designed for the very largest sales organizations. Actual pricing reflects the custom and special features such companies may require. We won’t delve into the Plus plan, but you can read more here.

Features Common to All Versions

All versions of the software, except the Lite edition, share a number of features that have made Shopify so popular. These include a 14-day free trial that gives you time to get familiar with the product and begin building your store. In fact, many have found that’s more than long enough to launch a fully functional store. Even more, you don’t have to pick a Shopify plan to use the free trial, which makes it easy to explore virtually all the product’s features.

As well, each version can handle an unlimited number of products, and allows you to assign between 2 and 15 staff accounts so that various authorized team members can build and maintain the website as needed. Because Shopify intends to be among the easiest to set up and run, the company offers 24/7 support for all versions of the product. Many other products charge extra for support and expect you to use their online help services to solve problems.

Each version has an SSL certificate included, so there’s no need to spend extra to secure your customers’ transactions. You can create orders manually when, for example, taking orders over the phone. You can also sell on social media and, much to the delight of online sales companies, all versions offer abandoned shopping cart recovery services.

Turning to other common features, you can obtain substantial shipping discounts up to 74 percent off from UPS, USPS and DHL depending upon the Shopify plan you select. Shopify didn’t forget the mundane details either: All plans allow you to print shipping labels.

Many e-commerce systems leave you to your own devices in choosing a merchant account and a payment processor, both of whom will charge fees to process debit and credit card payments. Once again, because Shopify wants to make e-commerce easy, they offer you their own in-house payment card processing at competitive rates. These fees are generally 30-cents per transaction and from 2.4 to 2.9 percent of the transaction amount. On the other hand, if you choose to find your own services elsewhere, Shopify supports you there, too, although they do charge extra fees. One more point: “If you are a merchant of any size accepting credit cards, you must be in compliance with PCI Security Council standards,” [10] according to that standards body. Shopify handles that for you as well, instantly making your e-store PCI compliant.

Other Features & Benefits

The Shopify Plan and Advanced Shopify plan bring additional features you may need. Report writers in both versions let you manage your e-commerce system including sales, inventory, financial reports and a host of others. The Advanced version lets you create your own reports from scratch. [11] Because each of these support brick and mortar stores, they also connect to point of sale (POS) systems that integrate easily.

Another useful service: Both high end plans allow you to sell gift cards. Studies show that about half of customers spend more than the face value of their card (according to Investopedia), while nearly one-third of customers never spend their gift cards at all (per Consumer’s Reports). Both of those behaviors can add unexpected profits to your business. [12]

Summary

Shopify developers have a deep understanding of e-commerce. They’ve used that knowledge to build a complete package that, with the free two-week trial, gives a business enough time to explore its capabilities and, in many cases, to build a complete e-commerce site. Compared to competing products we’ve evaluated, we’re pretty certain Shopify will be a good choice for most businesses that need to sell online. But let’s see what others say.

What Do Users Say About Shopify?

FinancesOnline.com [13, 14] offers end user reviews on business software and currently publishes more than 7,000 product reviews. For their Shopify review, their algorithms collected 19 end user reviews from people at companies ranging in size from 10 or less to 100 or more employees. Here’s one such end user review.

This may sound really impartial, but I consider Shopify to be the simplest e-commerce solution available on the market. Forget about complex web coding, painful installation and updating products, your entire stock will be available 24/7 to be shipped the very same day. You can use their amazing templates, but also use your coding skills to tailor one to your own business. They are 100% into sales, and they will cover [sic] for whatever physical product/service you’re selling.

Alternatives to Shopify

You’ll find a dozen or more “shopping cart” software packages. However, if we zero in on Shopify’s three biggest competitors, BigCommerce Essentials, 3dcart and Volusion rise to the top.

BigCommerce Essentials

This product is likely the most direct competitor to Shopify. Its price is comparable to Shopify. It comes with a 15-day free trial and has three versions — Standard, Plus and Pro. [15] Those have features similar to Shopify, which means that companies using one of the Shopify versions would probably fit well into the equivalent BigCommerce Essentials version.

In most respects BigCommerce Essentials matches Shopify feature for feature, even though there are differences under the hood. For instance, BigCommerce uses HTML, Javascript and CSS, while Shopify has designed its own language (known as Liquid) to modify templates that give your site its look and feel. Some find Liquid difficult to use and point to BigCommerce as a better choice where coders can work with traditional development tools they already know. [14]

Unlike Shopify, which offers its own payment card processing service (and charges extra if you choose a third-party processor), Big Commerce gives you the choice of more than 50 processors and does not charge extra. Further, Big Commerce includes a gift card option in its base product as well as sophisticated reporting capabilities. [15]

3dcart

Once again, this company [17] has structured its offering much like Shopify. 3dcart comes in four versions — Startup Store at $19 per month, Basic and Plus at $29 and $79 respectively, with the Pro Store option at $229.

Like the other packages covered here, 3dcart comes with templates that define the look of your site. However, they offer more than 100 free templates — whereas Shopify offers less than ten free templates, but charges $180 or more for dozens of others.

3dcart foresaw that communication with your customers is important when they integrated Mailchimp and Aweber into the product, even in the Startup version.

Volusion

Of the companies outlined here, Volusion [18] has been in business longer than the others. Founded in 1999, they’ve accumulated a wealth of experience as the e-commerce industry has evolved. Like the others, they offer four product versions. Personal, Professional, Startup and Business are each billed on a quarterly basis. The equivalent monthly costs (rounded up to the next dollar) are $9, $24, $54 and $90, respectively.

You can use the customer list that’s generated over time to keep notes to document your interaction with customers. It’s a basic CRM-like function that can also show you purchase history and lifetime value for each customer. [19] On the payment front, Volusion offers its own payment card processing with what may be the lowest rates around: only 2.15 percent plus 30-cents per transaction.

Check Out these Alternatives

E-commerce software, no matter from what vendor, is a complex product that you cannot evaluate without talking with the vendor and trying out the software. Be sure to invest time into a proper evaluation … because companies around the world have found that all of them do an acceptable job.

Conclusion

We’ve found Shopify is a reliable product that gives us an attractive online presence and a well-designed, easy-to-use e-store. It’s chock full of resources and was quick to setup. The company’s 24/7 support helped us move quickly from setup to selling. If you’d like to experience Shopify firsthand, click here and take advantage of the free 14-day trial.

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