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.
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.
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.
- Unlimited bandwidth
- 25 Products
- 1 GB File Storage
- Chat & Email Support
Basic plan: $29/month
Credit Card Rate:
- 2.9% + 30¢ Online
- 1GB File storage
- Unlimited products
- 24/7 Support
- Shopify Mobile
- Discount code engine
- Free Shopify Card Reader
Credit Card Rate:
- 2.5% + 30¢
Basic Plan Features, plus:
- 5GB File storage
- Gift cards
- Professional reports
- Abandoned cart recovery
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 (see ‘in-store’ 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Knowledge Base and Forum
- Live Chat
- Phone (US): 1-888-746-7439
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.
- Good track record for server uptime.
- Compatible with many payment gateways.
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.
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.