Shopify is a fully hosted, web-based eCommerce platform that specializes in ease of use. Reasonably priced, with a solid feature set and round the clock customer service, Shopify is one of the best shopping carts on the market today.
The company’s philosophy can be described simply: If you don’t want to join them, try your best to beat them.
Based out of Ontario, Canada, Shopify began as a better way for Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake to sell their snowboards online. Since its founding in 2006, though, Shopify has grown to be much more. The company now hosts more than 325,000 stores worldwide and has facilitated over $24 billion in transactions.
And it’s not just about snowboards anymore. Shopify merchants sell everything from handmade soaps to refrigerators, and Shopify hosts a handful of big-name clients, including the Foo Fighters, Amnesty International, and Github.
Despite its lack of some advanced features, Shopify’s platform provides the basics that can support most merchants. The rest can be added on with integrations and applications.
Shopify is one of the shopping carts that we most frequently recommend here at Merchant Maverick, quirks and all; it’s fully deserving of its high marks. Keep reading to find out why.
Don’t have time to read an entire review? Take a look at our top rated eCommerce solutions for a few quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.
Shopify’s pricing plans are billed on a month-by-month basis. While there are no contracts to sign, if you choose to purchase a full year-long plan, you can save 10%. If you purchase two years at a time, you’ll save 20%.
Here’s the full rundown of Shopify’s four basic pricing tiers.
Shopify Lite plan: $9/month
- Credit Card Rate:
- 2.9% + 30¢ Online
- Transaction Fee:
- No transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments. If you choose an external payment gateway, there will be a variable transaction fee, based on your plan.
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Unlimited number of products
- Unlimited online storage
- Facebook integration
- Chat & Email Support
- One staff account (in addition to the owner’s account)
Basic Shopify plan: $29/month
- Credit Card Rate:
- 2.9% + 30¢ Online
- Transaction Fee:
- Additional Features:
- Pinterest integration
- 24/7 Support
- Shopify Mobile
- Discount code engine
- Free Shopify Card Reader
- Online store and Blog
- Two staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
Shopify plan: $79/month
- Credit Card Rate:
- 2.6% + 30¢ Online
- Transaction Fee:
- Additional Features:
- Gift cards
- Professional reports
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Five staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
Advanced Shopify plan: $299/month
- Credit Card Rate:
- 2.4% + 30¢ Online
- Transaction Fee:
- Additional Features:
- Advanced report builder
- Real-time carrier shipping
- Fifteen staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
If you’d prefer a visual representation of Shopify’s plans (not including Shopify Lite or Shopify Plus), this screen shot might help you out.
You may have noticed the transactions fees listed under each plan. While most other shopping carts have eliminated transaction fees, Shopify maintains theirs, which is, no doubt, a pain. On the other hand, Shopify waives those transaction fees if you choose to use Shopify Payments as your payment gateway. More on Shopify Payments in the Payment Processing section.
Web-Hosted or Licensed
Shopify is web-hosted, SaaS (Software as a Service) technology. You’ll never have to worry about coordinating with a third party hosting service.
Hardware and Software Requirements
Because Shopify is a web-based platform, all you need to access it is a computer, an internet connection, and a reliable web browser.
Ease of Use
There’s a Free 14 Day Trial available for you to test out Shopify, no credit card required. When you sign up, you’ll receive an email with a login for your admin as well as a link you can use to view your storefront. The account automatically cancels at the end of fourteen days; in order to activate it again, you have to purchase a plan.
I think you’ll be pleased with your trial of Shopify’s admin. Ease of use is what Shopify does best.
Shopify’s dashboard is clean and orderly.
Although there is no tutorial video or setup wizard, Shopify helps you get started with a checklist on your dashboard. From here, you can choose a theme, add products, and set up your domain (you can also purchase a domain from Shopify. Last I checked it cost $13).
Adding products is easy. It only takes a few clicks and keystrokes.
There’s a visual theme editor available, and you can preview all of your changes before your store goes live. Read more about the theme editor in the Web Design section of this article.
The only thing about the admin which really bothers me is that the pages don’t load immediately. I often have to wait a few seconds before the next page is ready. It’s slightly irritating, but it really isn’t too bad.
Overall, Shopify gets an A+ in terms of ease of use.
Why not sign up for that Free 14 Day Trial to try it out for yourself?
Shopify comes with all of the basic features you need to set up shop, right out of the box. Advanced functionality often requires add-on applications, but if you don’t need to have a bunch of bells and whistles, Shopify likely has enough features to get you rolling.
You should note that some of these features are only available with higher level plans. Look into each plan before you purchase.
- Language Capabilities: Your checkout can be displayed in over 50 different languages.
- Automatic Shipping Rates: Shopify calculates shipping rates from UPS, USPS, and FedEx (available only in the Shopify Advanced Plan). And, you can select the factors that determine the cost of shipping, whether it be a fixed rate, a tiered rate, a weight-based rate, or a location-based rate.
- Abandoned Cart Recovery: When a customer leaves items in their carts without purchasing, you can automatically send an email to encourage them to complete their purchase.
- Automatic Tax Calculator: Shopify calculates tax rates based on your location and the locations of your customers.
- Guest Checkout: Don’t let a customer’s fear of commitment keep them from purchasing. Shopify allows customers to buy without creating an account.
- Customer Accounts: On the other hand, customers are also able to create personal accounts to make future transactions easier and to receive your promotional emails.
- Customer Segmentation: Use those customer accounts to find out more about your customers and to group them by factors like location, shopping tendencies, and demographics.
- Fulfillment Center Options: Shopify connects with fulfillment services like Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), Rakuten Super Logistics, and Shipwire.
- Dropshipping Apps: Shopify integrates with Ordoro, Inventory Source, and eCommHub.
Marketing and SEO
- SEO Best Practices: Shopify follows SEO best practices with features like a customizable H1 and the ability to write title and meta tags as well as product tags. Also, a sitemap.xml is automatically generated for your store.
- Discounts: You can create discount codes and coupons. Gift cards are available at higher plans.
- Social Media Integration: Sync your information with Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr. You can even use Shopify to sell on Facebook, provided that your page and products comply with Facebook’s terms.
- Email Templates: Shopify comes with its own email template. The platform also integrates with MailChimp if you’re looking for more complex email functionality.
- Product Reviews: Let your customers give your products star ratings and write comment-style reviews. Potential customers will trust your brand more if they know that others approve of it.
- Analytics: Use Shopify’s built-in analytics to view product reports, export reports, and traffic reports. Or, you can integrate with Google Analytics.
- List Unlimited Products: Keep track of all of those products with Shopify’s inventory management and product category organization features.
- Product Variations: List variations on your products like size, color, and material. You can list up to 100 combinations per product.
- Digital Products: Sell both physical and digital products from the same site.
- Bulk Import/Export: Use this feature to facilitate migration from your previous platform.
- Unlimited Bandwidth: You’ll never be charged bandwidth overage fees.
- Daily Backups: Ensure your content is saved.
- Automatic Upgrades: Keep your site up to date with Shopify’s newest features, without any effort on your part.
- 99.9% Uptime: With a record like that, you can be confident that your store will stay online through high traffic seasons.
- Access your Site from Anywhere: Use Shopify’s app to manage your admin from your mobile device.
But, wait! There’s more! For Shopify’s full features list, click here.
These themes are among the best I’ve seen. They’re professional, elegant, and easy for your customers to navigate.
Editing these themes is also relatively simple. Using the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, you can update content on your pages quickly. The theme editor in the backend allows you to make small changes to your theme and to preview those changes in real time, without reloading the page. From the theme editor, you can change backgrounds, images, colors, and fonts without ever touching a piece of code (hallelujah). This is what the theme editor looks like.
Shopify has also recently introduced a new way of theme editing. It’s called Sections, and it’s currently available with select themes. Sections is almost a drag and drop feature. You can arrange the order of your storefront’s widgets by dragging and dropping elements in the toolbar on the left. Shopify hopes to make Sections a feature of all of its themes soon.
Here’s what the Sections theme editor looks like.
On the other hand, if coding is your thing, there’s an HTML/CSS editor. You should note that Shopify themes are built with Shopify’s own coding language, Liquid. Here’s an example of Liquid code.
If you know what any of that means, congratulations. For the rest of us, I’ll translate a bit. Liquid is a flexible code that allows changes in the admin to be featured on your site. While I personally do not speak computer, I’ve read several reviews from developers that praise Liquid as an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use language. So, that’s a plus.
Although Shopify is not open source, further customization is still an option. There are Shopify Experts ready to help you with that.
Integrations and Add-on
The Shopify App store is one of the most extensive I’ve seen. With over 1500 apps available, I can say with certainty that Shopify integrates with whatever you’re looking for.
A word of warning: Part of the reason Shopify’s App store is so extensive is because Shopify stores often have to use applications in order to get all the features they want. While Shopify does a great job offering the features most stores need, any additional functionality requires an app.
So, if you want to add faceted search AND automated email marketing AND one-page checkout, you’re going to have to spring for three apps, most of which are billed on a monthly basis. That can get expensive. Make sure you know which features you need before joining Shopify. While Shopify is typically one of the least expensive shopping carts, it can quickly become the most expensive option if you need lots of advanced features.
(If you’re looking for an easy-to-use cart with lots of advanced features already built in, I suggest you take a look at Zoey. Their plans are slightly more expensive than Shopify’s, but you won’t have to purchase as many add-ons.)
As I’ve mentioned before, Shopify also offers its own payment method, Shopify Payments. With Shopify Payments not only do you enjoy 0% transaction fees, but also you may benefit from reduced credit card fees. Shopify Payments is currently available to merchants in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Ireland. Take a look at the graphic below to see what credit card fees would be for your plan.
Customer Service and Technical Support
Customer service is available through all of the typical channels. You can contact support by email, live chat, and phone.
Shopify’s phone support is available 24/7. The phone number for the US is listed below. There are separate phone numbers for customers from Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. You can find those numbers here.
There are lots of other ways you can find the information you need to resolve issues on your own. Here’s a quick list of all the support options available.
- Support Center
- Knowledge Base
- Shopify Experts
- Email from their web portal
- Phone (US): 1-888-746-7439
The quality of Shopify’s customer service varies depending on who you ask. Some merchants absolutely rave about Shopify’s “gurus.” They say that Shopify provides informed, friendly support. On the other hand, I’ve also read a lot of angry comments that condemn Shopify’s support representatives for reading answers from a script. These customers say that the representatives they contacted did not have the power to help.
I’ve had fairly neutral experience with Shopify, myself. When I called with a simple question, I received an informed answer after waiting on hold for thirty minutes. I was satisfied with the support, though a little nonplussed with the wait time.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Shopify has overwhelmingly positive reviews on most comment boards and third party review sites. However, that doesn’t mean every merchant and developer is satisfied with all aspects of Shopify. These a few of the complaints that I’ve seen most often.
- Limited Functionality: Because Shopify aims to keep its functions basic and easy-to-grasp, there are a few missing elements in their features list. Complaints focus on limited discount features (you can only list one condition at a time for a discount–see screen shot in Ease of Use). Customers are also frustrated with limited variations for their products and with the lack of wholesale selling options.
- Costly Add-ons: In order to make up for that lack of functionality, merchants often enlist add-ons, which can become quite expensive.
- Sub-Par Checkout Features: Shopify’s checkout redirects your customers to Shopify’s own checkout page, which does not belong to your domain. While this isn’t likely to scare away many customers, some merchants would prefer to do everything on their own site. Also, there’s no one-page checkout feature (unless, of course, you use an app).
- Poor Customer Service: As I’ve mentioned, opinions on customer service are widely varied. For every frustrated customer bashing Shopify’s service, there’s one singing its praises. Take that how you will.
While the following complaints are less frequent, I also see these factors mentioned in negative reviews:
- Transaction Fees: Most shopping carts have moved away from transaction fees by now, but Shopify is still going strong.
- Learning Curve to use Liquid: Although many developers like Liquid, it does take some time to learn the new language in order to use it effectively.
- No Real-Time Shipping Quotes: Real-time shipping rates are only available at the highest plan ($299/mo). Alternatively, you could use Shopify’s ShippingEasy app to connect to UPS and FedEx.
- Some reports of downtime: Some customers have reported that their sites went down during critical selling periods.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
Shopify has far more positive reviews than negative. Here are the most commonly voiced pros.
- Ease of Use: As I’ve said before, ease of use is Shopify’s niche. You can get a store up and running in just a day. It’s a great approach for startup and midsize businesses alike, even if you have very little experience with creating a website.
- Beautiful Themes: A professional-looking site inspires trust in your customers. Shopify helps by providing the best-looking themes I’ve seen from an eCommerce platform.
- Liquid Coding: Isn’t it strange how sometimes a negative can become a positive? Although Liquid does take a bit to learn, once you’ve got it down, it’s easy to make changes to your theme at the base level. Most developers love Liquid.
- Good Customer Service: I can only shrug.
Other customers mentioned:
- A Well Documented REST API: It’s easy to build integrations and applications.
- The Benefits of a Fully-Hosted Platform: It’s nice to not have to worry about organizing a third-party host for your site.
Shopify is Level 1 PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant, which is the gold standard for eCommerce platforms. Every merchant gets a free 128-bit shared SSL certificate.
Shopify is currently working on encrypting every page on every site that they host. You just have to opt-in. Read more about why and how to encrypt your store on their blog post.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, dependable, and elegant online platform for your store, you can stop the search now. I feel confident recommending Shopify to most merchants, provided they aren’t seeking lots of advanced functionality on a shoestring budget.
But before you make the leap, I encourage you to take the admin for a test drive. Sign up for your free trial, call into customer support with any questions you have, and see what features you may need to add-on. You’ve got nothing to lose.