Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
Last Updated: January 22nd, 2014.
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Shopify is a fully web-based eCommerce shopping cart software that gives you the ability to sell retail goods online. You can create your store, pick your design, customize it, add products, adjust tax and shipping settings, manage orders, manage customers, etc, etc... It's an all-in-one solution for the eTailer, both big and small. The software sits on Shopify's servers (not yours), so you'll be relieved of having to download/install, upgrade or back-up anything.
Shopify is based out of Ottawa, Ontario Canada and has been in business since 2005. They currently more than 50,000 customers under their belt, and that number is growing daily with clients like the Foo Fighters, Amnesty International, and Github. The original software was developed by the trio Tobias Lütke, Daniel Welnand, and Scott Lake. You can check out a store gallery here. The three partners created Shopify when they realized they couldn't find an easy-to-use shopping cart platform anywhere on the market. The keyword being "easy-to-use." I'd say they've done a pretty damn good job of filling that gap.
Shopify 2 was rolled out in April of 2013 with more robust and merchant-minded features and a cleaner backend design. Shopify was already good, but Shopify 2 makes big improvements that takes the shopping cart to the next level. Shopify 2 adds a live theme editing tool 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.
I spent hours researching and toying around with the Shopify platform, and the following review is a culmination of all that time spent. 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 (can anyone say transaction fees! If you don't use Shopify's own payment processor, that is.) Even so, the beauty, simplicity, and customer support earned Shopify a near perfect rating. Continue reading for all the details.
Shopify gets a 4.5 out of 5 from Merchant Maverick. Keep it up guys!
2005 (Shopify 2 was released in spring of 2013)
All Shopify plans come with a fully functional 14-day (no credit card required) trial. There are no setup or cancellation fees either. If you pay upfront for 1-year, you'll receive a 10% discount and 20% off for 2-year upfront payment.
- Starter. - $14/month, free setup, unlimited bandwidth, 2% transaction fee*, 25 SKUs, 1 GB storage, plus other features.
- Basic. - $29/month, free setup, unlimited bandwidth, 2% transaction fee*, 100 products, 1 GB storage, unlimited staff logins, plus other features.
- Professional. - $79/month, free setup, unlimited bandwidth, 1% transaction fee*, 2,500 SKUs, 5 GB storage, unlimited staff logins, discount code engine, plus other features.
- Unlimited. - $179/month, free setup, unlimited bandwidth, no transaction fee, unlimited SKUs, unlimited storage, unlimited staff logins, discount coupon engine, real-time carrier shipping, plus other features.
- Enterprise. - If you're planning on selling over a million dollars per year, you'll need to contact them for special pricing.
I'm not too fond of Shopify's transaction fees. The other carts that I've reviewed like Magento Go, BigCommerce, and Volusion don't charge any transaction fees, so that's something to consider when making your decision. The only Shopify plans that do not have a transaction fee are the Unlimited and Enterprise plans. That said, Shopify does offer unlimited bandwidth on all plans. Some hosted shopping cart vendors have been known to gouge customers on hidden bandwidth fees, so that may even things out a bit.
*Note that as of August of 2013 if you sign up for in-house processor Shopify Payments transaction fees will be waived. You can also integrate a secondary processor like PayPal for no extra fee.
Web-Hosted or Licensed:
Ease of Use:
It only takes a few minutes to open and create the bones of your store using Shopify. I like that when you first start to build your site but aren’t ready to launch you can view your store either via the live editor in the backend or online by using a password mailed 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 to get selling: adding products, customizing look and feel, setting up your domain, and nailing down shipping and tax info. In reality you’ll also want to spend time writing store policies, adding a shop description and details in general settings, integrating add-ons like Google Analtyics, and more. It’s hard to imagine a much easier system for inputting collections (AKA categories,) customer info, items, images, etc. The improved fraud detection and partial returns features offered in the new version only sweeten the deal.
Additionally, it seems they've put their focus on getting the most important things right (e.g. adding products and easy theme editing), thus allowing for extensions and add-ons to handle the rest (see "Integrations/Add-Ons" for more info). What I've learned in my time in the eCommerce world is that simplicity is indispensable. If a business owner (big or small) has to spend more time learning the cart rather than launching their store, there's a problem. What you want is a cart that lets you get your store off the ground quickly, then allows you to add features and customizations later.
Some more bullets about Shopify's ease of use:
- Adding products is a cinch, which is more than I can say for some other carts...ahem...Magento Go.
- You can drag and drop links in your navigation menu in order to rearrange them (I'm a big fan of drag/drop).
- 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 get any more simple.
Hardware and Software Requirements:
Since Shopify is a web-based (hosted) ecommerce software, all you'll need is a web-enabled internet connection and a browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). There are no hardware or operating system requirements, but it's obviously better to have updated technology.
Shopify 2 includes a slew of 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: Order editing to partially refund or charge orders that have been placed without first canceling them, in-line editing for inventory items and variants that can be completed without opening a new page, 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 more than 100 fully-customizable, beautiful themes that you edit and customize to fit your store. Product management includes bulk import/export of products via CSV and inventory and stock level tracking. You’ll have access to all the order management tools you’ll need, including new order notifications and tracking for payments and shipping. Shopify integrates with virtually all major payment gateways and orders are completed in shops that are Level 1 PCI-DSS compliant and use 128-bit SSL encryption.
Shopify’s SEO and marketing features include built-in analytics, easy Google Analytics integration, and the ability to generate promo 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 downloading an add-on to edit meta descriptions, that feature is included out-of-the-box with Shopify 2. 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, the new tool lets you customize your store’s aesthetics while tracking changes in a preview window without having to first publish the changes. I like that you can change and tweak fonts, colors for each section, headers and footers, and more design elements in real time and I found the theme editor to be incredibly easy to navigate. 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. While we’re talking about fonts, it’s another plus that Shopify offers several nice, classic options that are easy to switch up if you want to make a subtle change to your store from time to time.
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 customizability 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).
There are dozens of free and paid themes in the Shopify theme store, 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 nice, very professional. If I was just starting out, I would definitely choose to purchase a theme over hiring a design firm. It'd be way cheaper. However, if you do need a design pro, then head over to the "Experts" section. You'll be sure to find one there.
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 cost money, 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 from Visa and PayPal to lesser known vendors, 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 choosing the right processor, head over to our comparison page to find one.
In August of 2013 the cart rolled out Shopify Payments. The in-house 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 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. Developers can check out more details and documentation over here.
It’s clear that Shopify puts time and effort into merchant 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.
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.
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. The only pricing tier that does not have to deal with transaction fees is the Unlimited tier ($179/month). 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.
Finally, to do your own research, you can search on Google for terms like: shopify reviews, shopify complaints, shopify comments, shopify scam, shopify testimonials, etc...
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
You can find a large number of positive testimonials directly on the Shopify website. 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 down. 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 Back-Ups.
- Mobile Friendly.
- Good Track Record for Uptime.
- Compatible with Many Payment Gateways.
It may have taken more than five years to roll out, but Shopify 2 is proof that good things come to those who wait. Even so, the shopping cart market is a tough one, and although Shopify dominates it’s clear that free open source software like Spree Commerce and really smart licenced 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 total usability.
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 into areas that they do not understand. By doing so, they've created a great product, and free'd 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 the transactions fees and add-on expenses, which price Shopify above the cost of most other shopping carts. 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 think you should take Shopify for a trial run. It's important to test out the product for yourself to see how it works for you.