Editor's Note: This article was updated 9/2017. Although 2014 may not seem like that long…
Shopify Review: The Easy Way to Get a Great E-Store Running in No Time
Starting an online store can be a very serious undertaking, especially if one is absolutely adamant about maintaining even a modest amount of aesthetic control over the store. Some people visit their local bookstore or log on to Amazon.com and start buying guides in PHP with the intent of building a store from scratch, and that is not surprising considering how many of the so-called turnkey e-stores are genuinely unattractive. What is the point of spending time tweaking a WordPress site and theme to look just so, only to have an online store that looks more like ‘so what?’
The answer is that there is no point, and that is why those who know about Shopify’s offerings rarely go back. There are countless examples of how Shopify works running on some of the best looking sites and blogs around the web. What makes Shopify different than other e-commerce solutions is the fact that Shopify is almost completely customizable, and was designed by people who probably could teach Apple a thing or two about making user-friendly yet powerful software. That does not mean that Shopify is without its flaws, one of the most notable is the pricing structure. All but the most expensive monthly plan requires both a monthly fee and a transaction fee, which is not entirely unheard of in the e-commerce solution industry, but the lack of real-time stats on all plans seems hard to justify at any price. Even e-commerce solutions that come with many hosting accounts, as visually unpleasant as they may be, often offer real-time stats.
These small quips aside, the entire process of signing up for and establishing a new Shopify powered e-store is remarkably simple and straight forward. There are only four things that have to be done to get started, but a fifth step that will be covered in a moment is often involved. The first step is to choose a plan, but more on that in a minute. After all, who cares about prices for something that they do not know enough about?
Attack of the Templates
Shopify, like other e-commerce providers, brings with it an arsenal of professionally designed templates. If that is enough to make one cringe and/or gag, do not worry; all of Shopify’s templates allow for 100% complete control over HTML and CSS. Yes, that is not a typo, Shopify offers 100% control over HTML and CSS. Put those PHP books away, sit down and relax a minute…this revaltion tends to hit people hard, so here it is spelled out: Shopify allows complete artistic control, and pre-made tools to add basic elements that people will usually want. Don’t like an element? Just tweak it in the HTML view.
This flexibility is what truly makes Shopify interesting, as the most popular way to get a similar result is to buy an expensive template or have a developer build one by hand and host it on a VPS or dedicated server. The level of control offered by Shopify is impressive to say the least, but pales in comparison to their WYSIWYG editor.
Edit Me This, Edit Me That
WYSIWYG is an old idea, but being able to develop a store in a WYSIWYG format when one wants and being able to add custom HTML/CSS whenever necessary is impressive. Ease of use is always important, but so is accuracy, and Shopify’s editor offers with both surprising grace and ease. Why can’t other WYSIWYG editors be so powerful yet easy? Microsoft and Adobe, there is something to learn here. This is really a fifth step in the process, but it is something that most people will probably do at some point. After all, as good as some templates are what are, the chances that anything will match any given website well enough to not cause at least minor concern to customers?
What Do You Want to Sell?
Once the store is designed, it is time to populate it with items for sale. This process is also surprisingly simple and continues to show of Shopify’s dedication to providing an ease to use service. Of course, selling also requires a payment gateway, which Shopify handily provides access to. This allows users to focus more on building a better mousetrap and selling it, not worrying about the financial mechanics and technical interfaces between a website and payment clearinghouse.
A Tale of Four Plans
There are currently four plans. The basic plan is $29 per month and comes with a 2% transaction fee, a 100 SKU limitation, and 1 GB of storage. The professional plan comes with a 1% transaction fee, a 2,500 SKU limit, and 5 GB of storage. The business plan comes with a 1% transaction fee, a 10,000 SKU limit, and 10 GB of storage. The unlimited plan comes with 0% transaction fee, unlimited SKU’s, and unlimited storage. All plans come with a $100 Google Adwords credit and a $100 Amazon ads credit.
Wrapping Everything Up
Getting customers to buy can be difficult. More than a few websites get started with a great idea and a solution to sell, but the sales just do not roll in as expected. What happened? It may be nothing more complex than the fact that the e-commerce suite looked unprofessional, or did not match the caliber of the main website. This won’t happen with a well laid out Shopify-powered store, and there are really not many limits to what one can crate with Shopify. In short, Shopify should be on the short list of anyone looking to monetize their web presence in a direct fashion. If that sounds like you, then you owe it to yourself to look at Shopify, but first look at your own e-commerce solution from the perspective of a customer and ask what could be done better. Chances are good that Shopify can help make that list a lot shorter, so give them a look.