4.5

Shopify Review

  • 15 comments
  • Updated on:
  • Review by: Erik Robie

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Date Established
2005
Location
Canada

Overview:

Shopify is a fully web-based eCommerce Shopping Cart that gives you the ability to sell retail goods online. You can create your store, pick your design, customize it to suit your brand, add products, adjust tax and shipping settings, manage orders, manage customers, get sales reports, and so on. It’s a feature-rich sales register for online retailers, both big and small. The software sits on Shopify’s servers, which all but nullifies the cost and effort of maintaining your own servers.

Shopify is based out of Ontario, Canada, and has been in business since 2005. They currently serve more than 50,000 merchants, and that number is growing daily with clients like the Foo Fighters, Amnesty International, and Github (see full gallery here). The original software was developed by the trio Tobias Lütke, Daniel Welnand, and Scott Lake, who created Shopify when they realized they couldn’t find an easy-to-use shopping cart platform anywhere on the market. Rather than complain and move on, they saw it as an opportunity to fill a business niche.

The original release of the software was very good, but when Shopify 2 rolled out in April of 2013, it came with more robust and merchant-minded features, as well as a cleaner backend. It also added a live Theme Editor, and better search and filter functionality to its admin. The ability to issue partial refunds (without having to go through PayPal) and improved analytics and reporting tools are also bright spots in the new version.

We extensively researched and tested this software. Keep in mind that the info you’ll read in this review applies to Shopify’s latest version. In my opinion, Shopify is one of the best (if not the best) shopping cart platforms on the web today, although I can’t say that it isn’t without its downsides. Even so, the beauty, simplicity, and customer support earned Shopify a near perfect rating. Continue reading for all the details.

Pricing:

All Shopify plans come with a fully functional 14-day (no credit card required) trial. There are no setup or cancellation fees. While their plans are offered on a month-to-month basis, users can opt to subscribe for a 1-year contract, payable up front, for a 10% discount, or 20% for a 2-year contract.

Starter: $14/month

Credit Card Rate:

  • 2.9% + 30¢ Online
  • No transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments. If you choose an external payment gateway, there will be a 2% transaction fee.

Features:

  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • 25 Products
  • 1 GB File Storage
  • Chat & Email Support

Basic plan: $29/month

Credit Card Rate:

  • 2.9% + 30¢ Online

Features:

  • 1GB File storage
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 Support
  • Shopify Mobile
  • Discount code engine
  • Free Shopify Card Reader

Professional: $79/month

Credit Card Rate:

  • 2.5% + 30¢

Basic Plan Features, plus:

  • 5GB File storage
  • Gift cards
  • Professional reports
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Unlimited: $179/month

Credit Card Rate:

  • 2.25% + 30¢ Online

Professional Plan Features, plus:

  • Unlimited Storage
  • Advanced report builder
  • Real-time carrier shipping

Enterprise: If you’re planning on selling over a million dollars per year, you’ll need to contact them for special pricing.

Note that there are slightly different credit card rates when used with the Shopify POS system. That information can be found here (the ‘in-person’ rates.)

I’m not too fond of Shopify’s transaction fees, although they do get waived if you use Shopify as your credit card processor. The other carts that I’ve reviewed like Magento, BigCommerce, and Volusion don’t charge any transaction fees, so that’s something to consider when making your decision. It’s absolutely worth crunching the numbers with your projected yearly sales to determine if these fees are something you can handle. Shopify does offer unlimited bandwidth on all plans, however. Some hosted shopping cart vendors have been known to gouge customers on hidden bandwidth fees, so that may even things out a bit.

Web-Hosted or Licensed:

Web-Hosted.

Ease of Use:

The most important part for a Shopping Cart is not how easy it is for you to use; it’s how easy the customer finds it to use. No customer will depart with their hard-earned cash if the sales process is frustrating. That’s a sure way to have a very high volume of abandoned carts. Furthermore, most of those customers will not return, and worse, not recommend your store to their sphere of influence.

With that in mind, Shopify gets 5 stars in the Ease of Use department. I do not give a perfect score lightly. The Shopify cart was very easy to set up and manage. I was able to complete a mock transaction, to test how the software works from both the customer side and the admin side. If I had been a customer transacting that deal, I would have felt assured that the retailer was legitimate, organized, and professional. The icing on the cake is that I saw no Shopify branding, giving me a consistent shopping experience.

As for getting the online store set up, it only takes a few minutes to open and create the bones of your store using Shopify. When you first start to build your site, you can preview how it will look before you go live. You can view your store either via the live editor in the backend or online by using a password, which is emailed to you when you sign up for a free trial. To make the process of opening your store even easier, Shopify also offers a service for purchasing and setting up a domain name (under “store settings” then “domain”) or walks you through how to use your current URL in your store.

Your admin homepage outlines the four main steps you’ll need to take before you start selling: adding products, customizing your branding, setting up your domain, and determining your shipping and tax info. But of course, the seasoned retailer knows they will also want to spend time writing store policies, adding a shop description and product details, integrating add-ons like Google Analytics, and more. Inputting collections (aka categories), customer info, items, images, etc was very straightforward. The improved Fraud Detection and Partial Returns features offered in the new version only sweeten the deal.

 

In the eCommerce world, simplicity is critical. If a business owner has to spend more time learning the cart rather than launching their store, they are likely to look elsewhere for a more manageable shopping cart. Shopify makes it easy to get off the ground, and allows you to fine-tune later on.

Some quick notes about Shopify’s ease of use:

  • Adding products is a cinch, compared to some of their competitors.
  • You can drag and drop links in your navigation menu in order to rearrange them.
  • There’s a blog/article section that comes standard with every shop, and adding pages or blog posts is incredibly easy to do.
  • Editing themes couldn’t be simpler.

Hardware and Software Requirements:

Since Shopify is a web-based (hosted) ecommerce software, all you’ll need is an internet connection and an updated browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). There are no hardware or operating system requirements, but it’s obviously better to have updated technology.

Features:

Shopify 2 includes more than 60 new features, including built-in meta tags and image alt tags, product variant editing, and live theme editing. Also just rolled out: in-line editing for inventory items and variants, a fulfillment request notification template, and better filtering and searching. Improvements to reporting include a page designated for abandoned checkouts. In addition, you can choose different templates and edit post date info on blog entries.

Shopify offers fully-customizable, beautiful themes that you edit and customize to fit your store (See the Web Design section, below.) Product management includes bulk import/export of products via CSV, and inventory tracking. You will have access to all the order management tools you’ll need, including new order notifications and tracking for payments and shipping. Shopify integrates with all major shipping couriers, and can automatically determine shipping fees as needed.

Shopify’s SEO and marketing features include built-in analytics, easy Google Analytics integration, and the ability to generate coupon codes for sales. Sitemaps.xml files are automatically produced, so when you add items or alter your store search engine crawlers will be able to detect changes with ease. While the original Shopify required you to download an add-on to edit meta descriptions, that feature is now included out-of-the-box. Shopify 2 also offers a customizable mobile theme that’s compatible with most smartphones.

If there’s something missing, you can most likely find add-ons to complete your site in Shopify’s App Store.

Web Design:

As I mentioned above, the dashboard in Shopify 2 received a complete makeover. The end result is a really refined, functional admin. I especially like the super intuitive live theme editor (found under “Themes,” then “Theme Settings” in the backend.) This new tool lets you customize your store’s design elements while tracking changes in a preview window without having to first publish the changes. I love that as soon as you save a change–say switch the font from Arial to Verdana–it instantly appears in the live editor without having to refresh the pop-up screen.

Shopify’s Theme Settings make it really easy to customize the most important areas of your template without requiring you to edit the raw files. Shopify gives you an incredible amount of control in a “for dummies” format, which is essential for anyone who doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of web design.

For all you hardcore developers, no need to worry; Shopify also gives you the ability to edit raw files directly in the Shopify admin area under “Template Editor.” I know some of you aren’t happy with the Liquid Templating Language though (see “Negative Reviews/Complaints” for more info).

As of the date of this review, there are over 100 premium themes to choose from, 11 of which are free, with new skins from third-party developers being uploaded all the time. I have to be honest, these themes are some of the best looking designs that I have seen. Very clean, very stylish, very professional. If I was just starting out, I would definitely choose to purchase a theme over hiring a design firm. It would save me from one more headache, and save some hard-earned cash in the long run. However, if you do need a design pro, then head over to the “Experts” section. You’ll be sure to find one there.

Your own domain name can be added, or you can purchase one through Shopify for as little as $9.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

There are entirely too many integrations and add-ons for me to list here. Chances are, if you can think of it, they’ve already made it. In addition to apps developed by Shopify (there’s a popular Shopify iPhone app that’s free to download) you’ll find a plethora of accounting, social media, marketing, reporting, and more third-party add-ons. It’s all there.

Some of the apps are free, and others charge a small fee, so if you’re consistently adding new paid apps to increase the functionality of your store, then things may get pricey. Check out Shopify’s App Store to browse offerings.

Payment Processing:

Shopify is compatible with more than 70 gateways, including top names like Visa and PayPal, so chances are great that you’ll be able to work with your credit card processor in order to accept payments from buyers around the world.

If you need help navigating the world of payment processors, check out our Merchant Account Comparison page or contact us for a consultation.

In August of 2013 the cart rolled out Shopify Payments. The in-house credit card processor seamlessly integrates into merchant accounts, instantly green lights payments, enables easier chargeback recovery, and lets merchants view payments in real-time. If you decide to use Shopify Payments, your transaction fees will be lifted regardless of your plan, and you can add on a second processor like PayPal for no additional fees. You can read more about the program here. At last check Shopify Payments was only available to merchants based in the U.S.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Shopify offers phone, email and live chat support in addition to a whole slew of other resources, including a support center, wiki, a discussion forum, and a Shopify “Experts” page where you can find experienced professionals in design, marketing, development, and photography.

It’s clear that Shopify puts time and effort into customer relationship development, since the more your store grows the longer you’re likely to be a customer. I could spend hours clicking around Shopify’s eCommerce University that spotlights topics like SEO, dropshipping, and growing your business.

They also have a Facebook and Twitter account that can serve as additional channels where you can get your questions answered, should you not have any luck with the above resources.

While Shopify used to lack 24/7 phone support I was happy to see that merchants can now contact a support person directly for assistance with different numbers for users based in North America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Phone numbers are available for UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. See the list here.

My overall experience with their Customer Service and Technical Support was positive. I submitted one general question and one technical one, and in both cases, I got a satisfactory response the same day.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

I had a hard time finding many negative reviews of Shopify 2. Overall, the online chatter seems to be very positive. However, Shopify was not completely without complaints. The main things that customers have been talking about are:

  • Add-Ons Can Get Expensive – Some users are a bit upset with how expensive the add-ons can become. Since Shopify is focused on minimalism right out the box, most store owners have to buy add-ons to increase the functionality of their store.
  • Transaction Fees – There are quite a few customers complaining about Shopify’s transaction fees, which is understandable. Nobody wants to pay out a percentage of their sales, especially when they’re already doing it with their credit card processor. Keep in mind that Shopify Payments users are exempt from transaction fees.
  • Checkout Redirects to Shopify.com – When someone wants to pay for the product that they bought from your store, they will be redirected to the Shopify domain (checkout.shopify.com). It’s possible that seeing the domain change may scare off some customers, but I haven’t seen any studies to verify the claim.
  • Designers Don’t Like Liquid Templating Language – Some hardcore designers and developers are complaining about Shopify’s use of Liquid Templating. Apparently there’s a slight learning curve, and designers prefer to work with something that they already know.

And here are some less frequent complaints:

  • No Real-Time Shipping in Lower Plans.
  • No one-page checkout.
  • Can’t create custom checkout URLs/fully customize checkout pages.
  • Room to expand internationalization.
  • No Discount Codes in Starter or Basic Plans.
  • No Ability to Issue Gift Certificates – Users can create one-time use discount codes instead.
  • Limited to 100 Product Variations – Apps like the Product Customizer can help you get around that for a small monthly fee.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

You can find a large number of positive testimonials directly on the Shopify website, but that’s no surprise. Elsewhere on the web the feedback that I’ve read about Shopify is very positive, with most people praising Shopify’s ease of use and excellent customer support. I personally agree with those reviews. Most users are happy with Shopify 2 and report few issues transitioning to the updated software. Here are some user highlights:

  • Easy to Use – This is by far the most frequent glowing review that I’ve read about Shopify. They’ve really nailed the “simplicity” thing. I am yet to try another shopping cart that is easier to use than Shopify. Kudos on this one.
  • Gorgeous Themes – I couldn’t agree more with the online chatter about this one. Shopify’s themes are really nice. And they just keep getting better.
  • Excellent Support – A lot of people are raving about Shopify’s customer support, which is a rarity in this industry. Most shopping cart providers fall short on the customer service end, but Shopify seems to be doing well.

And here are some less frequent positives:

  • Full-control over HTML/CSS.
  • Unlimited bandwidth.
  • Offers a CDN (Content Delivery Network).
  • Automated backups.
  • Mobile-friendly.
  • Good track record for server uptime.
  • Compatible with many payment gateways.

Security:

After speaking with a Customer Service Representative, I was able to determine that Shopify is certified as Tier 1 in PCI compliance. They employ 128-bit encryption, and offer free shared SSL certificates, which is an additional charge for some of their competitors.

More information about their hosting solution can be found here.

Final Verdict:

It may have taken more than five years to roll out, but Shopify 2 is proof that good things come to those who wait. Although Shopify has a decisive edge in the shopping cart market, it’s clear that free/open source software like Spree Commerce and options like LemonStand are also making a splash, alongside merchant-focused, easy to use cloud-hosted competitors like Ashop Commerce and Big Cartel. Still, Shopify 2 remains ahead of the curve by anticipating what you want before you realized you wanted it and still maintaining user-friendliness.

I especially appreciate the ability to use multiple registers/locations, using iPads and traditional registers alike, with no-hassle inventory syncing. And for larger retailers, the added feature to automatically email users who have abandoned their carts could definitely prove to bolster the bottom line.

If you’re looking for simplicity, great customer support, and some nice looking designs, then Shopify is the cart for you. They’ve figured out how to focus on making the core features of a shopping cart work without overextending their product. By doing so, they’ve created a great shopping cart solution, and freed their time up to provide exceptional customer service to their users.

That being said, Shopify is definitely not without its downsides. The biggest of which are these:

  • Transaction fees and add-on expenses, which price Shopify above the cost of most other shopping carts.
  • There is no way to create tiered pricing (different prices for various options for a single product, such as size.) The only way to navigate this is to give each product option its own SKU. In this case, getting a barcode printer and reader are highly recommended.
  • They also lack some built-in features that some other carts come standard with (e.g. real-time shipping for all plans and one page check-out).
  • Finally, many merchants are upset about the fact that their customers are redirected to a Shopify URL during checkout.

Would I choose Shopify if I was building an online store? In spite of the negatives, I can honestly say yes. But regardless of what I say, I recommend taking Shopify for a trial run. It’s important to test out the product for yourself to see how it works for your business.

Start your free trial here.

Erik Robie

Erik Robie

Erik is a writer, small business developer, and photographer, making his home in Northern Colorado. He has been publishing his writing for 15 years, and occasionally sells his photos when he can pull himself away from the keyboard.When he's not writing the CRM, HelpDesk, and Shopping Cart categories for Merchant Maverick, he can usually be found on his mountain bike, playing volleyball, hiking with his camera, or keeping the local coffee shops in business.
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15 Comments

    Jose

    One downside to shopify is that they do not integrate real-time price quotes for DHL. A functionality which they refuse to implement for whatever reason.

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    Bob

    I’m considering Shopify and would like to be updated as new comments are posted.

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    Jordan

    Great review of shopify…seems like it’s one of the best. Have you heard of any other similar apps/plugins?

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    Sara B.

    Hi Jordan, thanks for your comment. Shopify is one of the best carts we’ve reviewed. Check out Ashop Commerce and CoreCommerce for some comparisons.

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    Kirk Smith

    We have been more than pleased with both the Shopify platform and the customer service we have received from the Shopify gurus.
    We had a website for years that was not functional for today. It took up some time to convert the info from our old site to the new Shopify platform, but we are so happy we made the change. I can’t say enough about how much help the Shopify gurus were in answering all of our questions and giving great advice.
    I highly recommend Shopify to any small business owner looking for a comprehensive web hosting platform with future growth capabilities.

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    Kirk Smith

    Shopify has been a fantastic ecommerce site for our small business. It is easy to navigate and the customer service is outstanding.
    Great customer service and a great hosting platform gives Shopify 5 stars.

    Rating55555
    Jordan

    Really big fan of shopify. I think it’s one of the few companies doing it right. Thanks for your review tough, I am going to bookmark for later reading. Just tweeted this out to my followers. Thanks!

    Jordan.

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    Bob

    Pretty disappointed with theme supplier Out of the Sand Box- they are very slow to answer questions and assist. Quite sad because I loved their design (for $140).
    Unless you are a person with a lot of HTML experience, avoid Out of the Sand Box.

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    Steve

    I’m sorry but I think your review of Shopify is VERY misleading, uninformed and doing a terrible disservice to your readers. Shopify is a terrible platform. Shopify has been riddled with problems, bugs and instability from day 1.
    Their “support” is none existent when it comes to REAL problems with the software. Sure, they will tell you how to change the colour on your “add to cart” button, but they will deny and lie about anything that is a real problem…until you send them a video of it happening. Then (no longer unable to deny it) they will state that they were unaware of the problem (even though you told them about it weeks-months ago.) At that point, they will state that “you are the only one experiencing it”, even though people on their own Forums have been posting about it for weeks. When you point that out, they will finally, begrudgingly admit that the problem exists and will give you no indication as to when, if EVER they are going to fix it. Read their forums, they are FULL of these examples. No firm release dates for updates, bug fixes, new features etc. are EVER provided. EVER. It took them 4 years to add “Gift Cards” and drop down menus. That is all they have added in the past 4 years. (They also removed functionality in that time. ?!)
    I have been on the platform for approx. 3 years and sell just under 20,000 products. In that time, I have spent 10-20 hours a day, 7 days a week on their software. I can honestly tell you, Shopify DOES NOT WORK.
    For 2+ years their inventory did not work correctly, only after 6+ months of me going insane trying to figure out what was happening, did one of their support staff tell me “off the record”, that the inventory system has never worked. This was the primary reason they developed Shopify 2.
    Shopify 2- what a TOTAL DISASTER.
    For 3 months Shopify 2 could not even save the price, sku, description and inventory correctly. Removing the ability for its users to go back to Shopify 1, the company FORCED its customers to pay to BETA test its new software. Meanwhile, Shopify would sell products 80% BELOW my cost! Every day I would have to email customers, explaining to them why I can not sell them the product that I paid $40 for, for the $9.95 price Shopify was incorrectly displaying. To this day Shopify 2 still can not duplicate a product correctly.
    If you are serious about your store’s integrity and go with Shopify, forget ever having a good nights sleep. I would not use them if it was free. The fees are irrelevant compared to the damage they can and will do to your business.
    I have nothing to gain by posting this review except to know that perhaps I am saving some people months-years of frustration if they decide to go with this deceitful and disastrous company.
    You can immediately see how they are trying to trick their customers right from the day one, by visiting their “pricing” page. Hover over the “0% transactions” fees posted and you will see a hidden pop-up showing you the ACTUAL transaction fees…
    AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

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    OTS

    Here are the things that I think it hurts or it will hurt Shopify;
    - Very elementary business intelligence reports. I am not sure how a business can run their business with these type of very limited reports.
    - Do not use Shopify Credit card system. It is a: very expensive 2.5% plus 0.30. Money is deposited to your bank 7 plus days (some time 9 days due to weekend.
    I am not sure what others see in this system..If you want to just sell but not manage the business, it may be OK..

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    Jim

    Which plans provide Real-Time Shipping?

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    Sara Billups

    Hi Jim,

    Real-time shipping is supported on the Unlimited plan only, but it can be added to any other Shopify plan for an additional $20 per month. More details here: http://docs.shopify.com/manual/settings/shipping/carrier-calculated-rates

    Thanks for reading!

    Sara

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    Paul Burkhart

    After getting set up with Shopify recently for a show, I was amazed at how easy it was to get started. I was just using the site as a POS cash register and that was all that I needed. Well, once I had started using it and had about $2500 in sales I received and email that seemed to come from Shopify that asked me for my drivers license so that they could verify my identity. It took me many days of going back and forth with them to verify it really was shopify and then sending them my drivers license. They immediately came back and asked for a color copy ( I had sent mine in a scanner). I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t asked for this up front before I had twenty or so orders in their system that they wouldn’t pay me on. I figured out I could photograph my id and so I did and sent it to them and they then asked me for my suggestions as to how I could prove who my company was. I suggested sending them my FEIN approval from the US government and they agreed and asked me what more I could give them. It became apparent that Shopify for some reason was stalling me. I am now on a 45 day wait period and if nobody requests money back from a transaction then they will deign to transfer my money to my account. This company is terrible and the above review has no bearing on my experience which was totally negative and indecipherable. It was as if they didn’t want my business.

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    aaron pruss

    Well for starters I found out about this site through Facebook and currently have an eBay online store selling video games for the past 3 years, but am looking to now expand out of the eBay universe. My main question is do you guys do any sort of integrating with eBay so I could sell through shopify and eBay at the same time. This has been something I have been trying to do for a long time now and would love some info. Thanks for your time.

    Rating55555
    Marcus Allan

    Shopify is crap for a computer business its all looks and no brains

    Rating11111

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