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- Date Established
- Easy to use
- Numerous integrations
- Attractive templates
- Advanced design tools
- Add-ons often necessary
- Variable customer support
If you’ve researched “setting up an online store” for more than 30 seconds, you’ve probably encountered Shopify. You’ve likely already learned that Shopify is a fully-hosted eCommerce platform specializing in ease of use. Shopify is reasonably priced, with a solid feature set and round-the-clock customer service. It’s one of the best shopping carts on the market today, as many independent Shopify reviewers can attest.
The company’s philosophy regarding its place in the eCommerce sphere 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 a million stores worldwide and has facilitated over $135 billion in transactions.
Despite its lack of some advanced features, Shopify’s platform provides eCommerce basics that can support most merchants. The rest can be added on with integrations and apps.
Shopify is one of the shopping carts 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.
Table of Contents
There are five pricing levels, but most of the advertising you’ll encounter focuses on the three plans in the middle. There is a free 14-day trial available with Shopify, no credit card required. The account automatically cancels at the end of fourteen days; to activate it again, you must purchase a plan.
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%.
As we outline Shopify’s subscription levels, you’ll notice a Shopify transaction fee. While most other shopping carts no longer take a cut of each transaction on top of standard card processing fees from a payment gateway, Shopify’s transaction fees, unfortunately, don’t look like they’re going away any time soon. On the other hand, Shopify waives those transaction fees if you choose Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) as your gateway.
Here’s the full rundown of Shopify’s pricing tiers.
Shopify Lite Plan
The Shopify Lite Plan costs $9/month and does not include an online store. If you use Shopify Payments, the credit card rate is 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions and 2.7% for in-person transactions; if you use another payment process, Shopify charges a 2.0% Shopify transaction fee.
Here are the features included with this plan:
- Sell in-person
- Sell with “buy” buttons on existing websites
- Sell on Facebook
- Create custom orders
- Chat and email support
Basic Shopify Plan
The Basic Shopify Plan costs $29/month and includes an online store. If you use Shopify Payments, the credit card rate is 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions and 2.7% for in-person transactions; if you use another payment process, Shopify charges 2.0% Shopify transaction fee.
The Basic Shopify plan includes everything in the Shopify Lite plan, plus:
- Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
- 24/7 support
- Discount code engine
- Multiple sales channels
- Manual order creation
- Online store and blog
- Shopify Shipping
- Free SSL certificate
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Two staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
- Basic Shopify POS features
The Shopify Plan costs $79/month. If you use Shopify Payments, the credit card rate is 2.6% + $0.30 for online transactions and 2.5% for in-person transactions; if you use another payment process, Shopify charges a 1.0% Shopify transaction fee.
The Shopify plan includes everything in the Basic Shopify plan, plus:
- Gift cards
- Professional reports
- Five staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
- Full Shopify POS features
Advanced Shopify Plan
The Advanced Shopify Plan costs $299/month. If you use Shopify Payments, the credit card rate is 2.4% + $0.30 for online transactions and 2.4% for in-person transactions; if you use another payment process, Shopify charges a 0.5% Shopify transaction fee.
The Advanced Shopify plan includes everything in the Shopify plan, plus:
- Advanced report builder
- Real-time shipping carrier rates (outside of Shopify Shipping)
- Fifteen staff accounts (in addition to the owner’s account)
Shopify Plus is for enterprise businesses. If you’re planning on selling over a million dollars per year, you’ll need to contact Shopify for special pricing. Check out our full review of Shopify Plus.
Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed
Shopify is web-hosted, SaaS (Software as a Service) technology. You’ll never have to worry about coordinating with a third-party hosting service.
Specific Size Of Business
As you probably gathered from the Pricing section, Shopify targets the full gamut of business sizes, from startup to enterprise.
Hardware & Software Requirements
Because Shopify provides fully-hosted online stores, all you need is a computer, an internet connection, and a reliable web browser.
Shopify also offers mobile applications for Android (5.0+) and iOS (10.0+). These apps allow you to manage products, process orders, and view analytics anywhere.
Ease Of Use
Ease of use is what Shopify does best. If you decide to test Shopify’s admin with the free trial, I think you’ll quickly become comfortable with the user interface.
The main dashboard is clean and orderly:
Although there is no tutorial video or setup wizard, Shopify provides three suggestions to get you up and running (Add Product, Customize Theme, and Add Domain).
The menu down the top-left of the screen provides your day-to-day store management tools, while the Settings menu contains storewide configurations (such as shipping methods and taxes).
Here are just a few of the Shopify back-end functions I tested:
- Adding Products: Easy! It only takes a few clicks and keystrokes. The interface provides enough detail to be functional and thorough without becoming endless and overwhelming.
Once you’ve saved the basics, you can open a quick product preview screen, which I always find helpful:
- Product Variants: This is always a good ease-of-use test. Thankfully, adding product variations (such as different sizes and colors) is super simple inside the main “add a product” screen:
You can adjust your prices, SKUs, and inventory for each automatically-created variant when you first add all your product options. Alternatively, you can edit these aspects later, along with configuring different product weights for shipping and adding variant-specific photos. The bulk editor is another useful tool for managing data for multiple product variants:
Note that Shopify does sacrifice some flexibility in favor of ease of use with its product variant feature. To add more than three options for a given product (such as size, color, and material) or over 100 variants, you’ll need an extension from the app store.
- Discounts: I dived head-on into this feature and tried setting up a Buy X Get Y coupon since not very many SaaS eCommerce platforms offer this level of discount complexity straight out of the box. I was not disappointed — this feature is also extremely user-friendly. Merchants can create discounts and coupon codes that apply to specific products or categories. Those discounts can be limited to a specific customer or customer group, a specified number of uses, or a minimum order total. The Summary box on the right is also helpful as your discounts become more complex:
As I experimented with these features and the rest of the Shopify control panel, words such as “smooth” and “slick” popped into my head. Overall, Shopify gets an A+ in terms of ease of use.
As you’ve picked up on by now, Shopify aims to strike a balance between its trademark ease of use and additional customization capability. In truth, it tends to err on the side of simplicity. Most merchants will have enough features out-of-the-box to get rolling, but advanced functionality with Shopify often requires add-on applications to keep the baseline admin simple. For example, here are three rather basic features requiring an extension (albeit free) from the app store:
- Infinite Product Options: A third-party app extends the default three options/100 variations per product to infinite combinations.
- Digital Downloads: To sell digital products, install this extension created by Shopify.
- Product Reviews: You’ll need to copy a line of app code into your theme to add customer reviews to your store.
I added all three to my admin with relative ease, but it’s definitely worth paying attention to the associated cost and learning curve for each non-native feature you’d like to implement. Different theme templates may come with slightly different features as well.
As you read through my feature summary list, you should also note that some are only available with higher-level plans. Look into each plan before you make your purchase.
- Multilingual Checkout: Your checkout can be displayed in over 50 different languages.
- Guest Checkout: Don’t let customers’ fear of commitment keep them from purchasing. On the flip side, customers are also able to create personal accounts to make future transactions easier and to receive your promotional emails.
- Automatic Shipping Rates: Shopify Shipping now makes carrier-calculated shipping rates from DHL, UPS, USPS, or Canada Post available for all plans in the US and Canada. (The Shopify Advanced Plan extends your ability to display additional third-party calculated rates at checkout.) You’ll also get a discount on shipping rates depending on your Shopify subscription. And you can purchase and print shipping labels from your admin panel, which we love.
- Flexible Shipping Rates: You can select factors to determine the cost of shipping, whether it’s free shipping, a flat rate, a tiered rate, a weight-based rate, or a location-based rate.
- Abandoned Cart Recovery: When a customer leaves items in a cart 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.
- Checkout On Your Domain: You can now host checkout on your own domain.
- Multilingual Admin: Shopify is beta testing multiple language translations (currently six) for the control panel.
- Mobile Store Management: Shopify is continuously adding functionality to the Shopify App.
- Customer Segmentation: Use customer accounts to find out more about your customers and to group them by factors, such as location, shopping tendencies, and demographics.
- Manual Orders: Use Shopify as a virtual terminal to create and edit orders on behalf of your customers. Send email invoices and manage payment status from within your Orders page.
- Dropshipping Apps: Enabling dropshipping is one of Shopify’s specialties. Shopify integrates with Oberlo and other dropshipping apps. Learn how to start a profitable dropshipping business with Shopify.
- Point Of Sale: Shopify also offers a point of sale (POS) system for in-person selling. It’s recently added a new retail kit to the mix, which includes a tap and chip card reader and a retail stand for the iPad. Read more in our review of Shopify POS.
- List Unlimited Products: Keep track of all of those products with Shopify’s inventory management and product category organization features. Product images are unlimited as well.
- Product Variations: List variations of your products, such as size, color, and material.
- Bulk Import/Export: Use this feature to facilitate migration from your previous platform or make bulk edits to your catalog.
Marketing & SEO
- SEO Best Practices: Shopify follows SEO best practices with such features as 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: Create discount codes and coupons, including BOGO (buy one, get one) discounts. Gift cards are available at higher plans.
- Multiple Sales Channels: Link your store with a large number of popular online marketplaces, along with Shopify’s own POS system (or a third-party POS at the Shopify Plan or above).
- Shopify Email: This new feature allows you to run and track email marketing campaigns inside of Shopify Marketing.
- Blog: Use the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor to create a blog that increases brand engagement.
- Analytics: Use Shopify’s built-in analytics to view product reports, export reports, and traffic reports. Or you can integrate with Google Analytics.
- Image Library: Pull free stock photos directly from Shopify’s curated library (called Burst) into your theme editor.
- Shopify Chat: Enable this new feature to engage with visitors on your site via live chat.
- Unlimited Bandwidth: You’ll never get charged bandwidth overage fees.
- Automatic Upgrades: Keep your site up to date with Shopify’s newest features, without any effort on your part.
- 99.98% Uptime: With a record like that, you can be confident that your store will stay online through high-traffic seasons.
But wait, there’s more! See Shopify’s website for the full feature list.
Note: Shopify has also recently introduced its business financing service: Shopify Capital. Through Shopify Capital, you may be eligible for a merchant cash advance (MCA). Read more in our full review of the service.
Shopify’s web design is truly beautiful. There are over 70 themes available, and all are mobile responsive. Most themes have two to four style variations, which is why Shopify advertises over 100 themes in total.
Of the 70 main themes, eight are free options created and supported by Shopify, while the rest are priced between $140-$180 and are supported by their respective third-party developers.
Even the theme shopping experience with Shopify is well-designed (perhaps not all that surprisingly). You can filter themes by various factors to determine the best option for your store as well as pore over user ratings and reviews for each theme.
In terms of both form and function, Shopify themes are among the best I’ve seen. They’re professional, elegant, and easy for your customers to navigate.
Once you’ve chosen a theme, there are several ways to go about customizing your storefront. Those without coding experience will use two primary tools — Sections and Theme Settings — accessed from the theme editor dashboard:
You should explore these tools for yourself, but here is a quick look at what they do:
- Sections: In Shopify lingo, your storefront widgets are called Sections — think slideshows and photo galleries, customer testimonials, newsletter signup, and the like. “Sections” is a drag-and-drop tool for adding, subtracting, arranging, and customizing the content within each widget.
- Theme Settings: Allows you to adjust site-wide colors and fonts as well as the look and feel of your checkout pages.
As far as eCommerce platforms go, Shopify’s design tools strike an excellent balance between out-of-the-box flexibility and ease of use. For example, the free Debut theme looks a bit like this:
Using only the Sections and Theme Settings tools, I quickly had my storefront looking like this:
Yes, I made it completely ugly, but that was on purpose to prove the point that you get a lot of customization capability without touching a line of code.
On the other hand, if coding is your thing, there’s a code editor. Along with HTML and CSS knowledge, you’ll need to brush up on Shopify’s proprietary templating language called 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 involves a flexible code that allows changes in the admin to be featured on your site. While I do not speak computer, I’ve read several reviews from developers that call Liquid an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use language. Alternatively, Shopify theme design experts are also available for hire.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Similar to shopping for a theme, browsing the Shopify App Store is an informative and well-organized experience, partly thanks to a redesign in 2018. The multitude of reviews and ratings for each app are particularly helpful — that’s one benefit to having a strong and vocal community of users surrounding an eCommerce platform.
Shopify’s app ecosystem is one of the most extensive I’ve seen. With well over 3,500 add-ons and counting, I can say with certainty that Shopify integrates with whatever you’re looking for.
It’s worth reiterating at this point that, while Shopify does a great job offering the features most stores need, additional functionality will require add-ons. That’s part of the reason the app store is so extensive. Some simpler modules are free, but you may find you also need to integrate with a few software platforms that each have their own monthly subscriptions (even if the initial installation is free).
The takeaway here is to make sure you know which features you need before subscribing to Shopify. While Shopify is one of the least expensive shopping carts out of the box, it can quickly become the most expensive option if you need lots of advanced features. On the plus side, there’s a vast array of ways to expand your store’s functionality as you grow.
Shopify integrates with over 100 gateways, including Adyen, Authorize.Net, Fiserv, and PayPal. For all gateways, always verify the availability in your country as well as whether shoppers remain on your website or are diverted to the gateway’s site to complete checkout. Shopify divides these into “direct” and “external” gateways, respectively.
As I’ve mentioned before, Shopify also offers an in-house payment method, Shopify Payments. This Stripe-powered gateway is currently available to merchants in the US, Puerto Rico, Canada, the UK, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong. Below are some key features of Shopify Payments, but be sure to check your specific country for feature availability.
- No Extra Shopify Transaction Fees: The 0.5-2.0% additional fee charged by Shopify is eliminated. You still need to pay regular credit card fees, though!
- Reduced Credit Card Fees: Typically, Stripe and other similar payment facilitators charge 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions. With Shopify Payments, those rates get reduced as you move up the subscription ladder. In-person processing rates also decrease (take a look at the graphic below).
- Fraud Protection: Shopify Payments provides its suite of advanced fraud and chargeback prevention features.
- Shopify Pay: An expedited checkout option that allows merchants to save their checkout information across Shopify websites, thus drastically simplifying repeat purchases on your site.
Here are the Shopify Payments rates and fees by plan:
Customer Service & Technical Support
Customer service is available through all of the usual channels. You can contact Shopify support 24/7 by email, Twitter, live chat, and phone. There are separate phone numbers for customers in North America, the UK, Australia, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand.
The quality of Shopify’s customer service varies depending on who you ask. Some merchants 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 good experiences with Shopify myself. When I called with a simple question, I received an informed answer with no wait time. Live chat has also worked well in my experience, but you’ll need a bit of patience during peak periods (I’m number 122 in the queue but dropping fast as I type this!).
Of course, there are lots of other ways to locate the information you need on your own. Here’s a quick look at Shopify’s extensive (and I mean extensive) resources for solving problems and improving your eCommerce business:
- Help Center: Access the primary knowledgebase and documentation as well as phone, email, and live chat options.
- Academy: Free training courses with videos and full transcripts are available.
- Encyclopedia: Definitions and overviews of eCommerce terms and concepts.
- Guides: Multi-chapter PDF guides on specific topics.
- Forums: Several separate community forums are available, depending on your needs.
- Developer Docs: API documentation and other resources for the technically-inclined.
- Webinars: Sign up for live broadcasts.
- Podcast: The Shopify Masters Podcast features interviews with successful store owners.
- Blog: As you can imagine, the Shopify blog is well-maintained and informative.
- Changelog: Stay on top of new and updated features available for your store.
- Free Tools: Content templates, calculators, and other free resources accessed from the main website.
- Experts: From developers to designers to marketers, Shopify experts are available for hire.
- YouTube: The dedicated Shopify Help Center channel has countless video tutorials posted.
Negative Reviews & 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 are 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 the features list. Customers are often frustrated with the lack of wholesale (B2B) selling options, for example.
- Costly Add-Ons: To make up for a lack of functionality, merchants may have to enlist add-ons, which can become quite expensive.
- 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.
- Poor Service With Shopify Payments: I have read many reviews blaming Shopify Payments for withholding vendors’ payments. Additionally, Shopify Payments reserves the right to discontinue services for any merchant it deems a risk. This has led to quite a bit of frustration among merchants. Read our article on the pros and cons of Shopify Payments for more information.
While the following complaints are less frequent, I also see these factors mentioned in negative reviews:
- Expensive: Separate from the add-on cost issue, some merchants name various fees as being too expensive for their budgets. Prices increase for merchants who want to list many users, and Shopify can take an additional 2% from all your transactions if you’re not “lucky” enough to be in a country where Shopify Payments is available.
- Some Reports Of Downtime: Some customers have reported that their sites went down or noticeably lagged during critical selling periods.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Shopify has far more positive reviews than negative, earning it 4.3/5 stars on G2 Crowd. Users give the platform high satisfaction ratings overall.
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 under a day. It’s a great approach for startup and mid-sized businesses alike, even if you have minimal experience with creating a website.
- Beautiful Themes: A professional-looking site inspires trust in your customers. Shopify helps by providing some of the best-looking themes I’ve seen from an eCommerce platform.
- Good Customer Service: Reviews of customer support are mixed, but at least Shopify offers a phone line and 24/7 availability. Even those two simple facts separate Shopify from a lot of its competitors when it comes to service. Users also praise the free self-help resources and paid Shopify Experts.
- Extendability: The extra cost of add-ons aside, users appreciate how well-connected Shopify is with the eCommerce software world as a whole.
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 not to 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.
Also, Shopify makes site-wide encryption available for all merchants. You just have to opt-in. Shopify also uses white-hat hackers from Hackerone to test its security measures.
We weren’t able to find any information on the measures Shopify takes to secure its physical data centers, but it does advertise a 99.98% uptime and 24/7 monitoring. We’d love to see more information from Shopify on what it does to prevent viruses and if it employs any firewalls.
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 leap, I encourage you to take the admin for a test drive. Sign up for your free trial, call customer support with any questions you have, and see what features you may need to add on. You’ve got nothing to lose.
A Last Look At Shopify’s Most Popular Services:
|Mobile App + Free Card Reader||Point of Sale||Online Store||Social Media Selling|
|Get Started||Get Started||Get Started||Get Started|
|Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware||All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels||Build a store or integrate with your current website||Sell on Facebook and other platforms|
|Starts at $9/month||Starts at $29/month||Starts at $29/month||Starts at $9/month|
|Free Trial||Free Trial||Free Trial||Free Trial|
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.