Shopify Review: World-Dominating E-Commerce for Bloggers
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Last Updated on April 8, 2019
Shopify is a turnkey e-commerce platform that powers over 600,000 online stores worldwide. These stores account for an eye-popping $82 billion in global sales.
If 2019 is your year to start selling online, you should take a good look at what Shopify offers.
Shopify is like Disneyland: you can spend a whole day exploring it and just scratch the surface.
In this review, I’m going to give you a grand tour, so you can:
- Determine what you need for your e-commerce venture
- Discover what Shopify can do for you
- Learn about alternative e-commerce solutions
Ready? Let’s go!
Figuring Out Your E-Commerce Needs
Let’s start by sorting out what you need.
Do You Need a Website?
If you don’t have a website, the good news is Shopify comes with over 100 pre-built ready-to-go websites. You’ll simply customize the design you pick with your own images and content. And Shopify provides a blog for your store site.
If you already have a website or blog, you can still use Shopify’s store templates. You can simply add your store to your existing site and list it in your navigation.
WordPress and Shopify
Do you already have a WordPress site or blog? Here’s what you need to know.
- You can import your WordPress blog into a new Shopify store.
- Or you can use embeddable Shopify “buy” buttons on your WordPress site.
- Before you pick Shopify you’ll want to also take a look at WooCommerce, which is a plugin that gives you everything you need to sell online.
“Ask Jane” is a Shopify-sponsored YouTube channel. Jane takes you along her journey — with its ups and downs — of creating and launching her own Shopify store. In its first year, the store grossed over $80,000.
Are You Selling Products or Services?
Shopify can be used for either type of business. And you can use it to sell physical products or digital downloads (of music, images, books, software, etc.)
If you’re only selling a few digital downloads (like audio), you may want to explore E-Junkie, which gives you an easy-to-use shopping cart to add to your site.
Don’t Know What to Sell?
Shopify can help here as well.
Pro tip: Order samples first before you sell a product.
- Browse Shopify’s App Store, and look under “Find products.” Apps like Sprocket, Dropified, Modalyst, and Oberlo will help you find thousands of products. Then you can import the product images, SKUs, prices, and descriptions into your site with a few clicks, and start selling immediately. (More on apps later in this review.)
- Some of these manufacturers will customize their existing products by removing their brand and putting your brand on them. For example, if you have a recipe blog, you could sell cooking gadgets branded with your blog name and logo.
- Apps like Printful and Merchify will allow you to sell printed custom merchandise (e.g. a T-shirt, iPhone case, or coffee mug) with your blog’s name and logo on it. You simply upload your custom design to be printed. When a customer orders the item from your Shopify store, the vendor is automatically notified, they produce the item “on-demand” and ship it for you. This is ideal for bloggers who want to start with a few simple products like yoga mats, mousepads, posters, or hoodies.
You can use any of these options without having to store inventory or ship any products yourself.
That helps you stay focused on producing great content.
Video: Learn more about selling products with zero inventory.
Need a logo? Shopify provides a logo generator that’s easy to use.
Shopify has over 100+ professionally designed store templates to choose from. You don’t need any coding or design knowledge to use these. Simply browse the designs and select one you like. Then add your brand colors, logo, products, and content.
Some of the templates have been designed by well-known digital agencies like Pixel Union.
Each theme is built on the Shopify “CMS” (or, content management system). You can think of this as the foundation for your site. It’s programmed to provide visual options and to power your store.
Fun fact for those of you who are tech-savvy: Shopify created its own templating language — called Liquid — which is based on the Ruby programming language.
Easy For Beginners to Use
If you’ve ever posted content to a website before, you’ll find Shopify is a breeze to use. If you’re new to using websites don’t fret! Shopify does a good job of providing easy-to-understand, step-by-step directions for beginners.
Less Than 60 Seconds
It takes less than 60 seconds to sign up for the 14-day free trial and get your basic store generated for you.
At this stage there are no products: you have add those, plus the prices, descriptions, and images.
If you run into questions you can tap their 24/7 customer service. Remember, they’re vested in your success. The more successful you are, the better they look. So don’t hesitate to take advantage of their resources.
Customize Your Store
You can customize your store in many ways, just with a few clicks. For example, you can alter:
- And add promotional banners and social media feeds
Want Someone Set Up Your Store For You?
Shopify has an “Experts Directory.” This is a listing of Shopify professionals who can set up your store for you or create a custom design from scratch for you.
If you’re just looking for basic set up you might be able to find a college marketing student to do it for you for a reasonable fee. Shopify skills are fairly common
Add a Blog
A blog is a powerful content marketing tool. If you don’t already have one, you can opt to add a blog to your Shopify store.
You can also import a new or existing WordPress blog.
- Customize the layout of your blog
- Schedule posts to be published in the future
- Set up bulk publishing of multiple posts
- Allow readers to comment on the posts and moderate the comments
Add Functionality With Apps
Shopify apps are like software programs that you can add to your website as easily as snapping a Lego block onto a Lego project.
From your dashboard, you can click through to view available apps directly from your store dashboard. The Shopify Apps marketplace includes free and paid apps.
Apps enable you to do powerful things with order management, shipping, marketing and sales. We’ll look at apps in detail under marketing.
Built-in SEO Features
Like most modern CMSs, Shopify has the expected built-in SEO features, like:
- Customizable title and meta tags.
- Automatic generation of sitemaps.xml files. Translation: when you add new products and content changes, those changes will show up on search engines quickly.
Yes, Web Hosting is Included
You’ll get unlimited bandwidth and the ability to add unlimited products. The differs from some other e-commerce providers who charge you according to how many products you offer.
Content Delivery Network (CDN) Included
Your web hosting uses a CDN — or content delivery network. Translation: This helps speed up your site loading.
A CDN is a global network of databases sprinkled around the world, each of which keeps an updated copy of your Shopify store on it.
When a visitor attempts to access your store, Shopify can detect their location and their system will serve up your website from the database that is geographically nearest to them.
E-Commerce Features: Products, Inventory, and Selling Features
Now let’s take a look at e-commerce features of your Shopify store. Here are some of the most important ones available.
Like all e-commerce platforms, you’ll be able to upload images of your product, a description, and you can set variants. Variants might be size and color, for example.
Shopify will automatically optimize your images for you (this means they’ll make sure your images files don’t bog your page loading speed down).
There’s even a Shopify app that automatically makes your product images look more professional. If you’re a blogger just starting to learn about photography, this can help speed your store launch up.
A time-saving feature is the bulk import function: this allows you to import all products and product information into your Shopify store via an Excel or CSV file. You can also use the same feature to migrate your products over from a Magento store or eBay.
“I am seriously happy about running our store on Shopify. Powerful features and easy to set up, running an online store shouldn’t be this much fun!”
— Tina Roth Eisenberg, Founder, Tattly
Categorize Your Products
You’ll have plenty of options in how you categorize your products. Shopify uses the term “Collections” to mean “category.” You can use an obvious categorization, like type (e.g. “Clothing”) or you can create your own, like “Under $50.”
Shopping Carts and Payments
The entire checkout process is baked into Shopify.
You can accept credit card payments or PayPal via over 100 payment gateways. And it only takes a few minutes to get set up.
Establish Trust With a PCI-Compliant Store
Like many e-commerce platforms, Shopify offers a shopping cart that is “PCI-compliant.” This is a security standard designed to ensure transactions are secure and cardholder data is protected.
Shopify stands out because its shopping cart technology meets the highest standard in the world for PCI compliance: it’s what we call “Level 1 PCI-DSS compliant.” (PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
That certification covers:
- Your store
- The web hosting
- And the shopping cart.
All Shopify stores use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), a technology which encrypts the connection to the web server, protecting all information a web visitor or customer shares with you, like email or physical addresses.
Global Sales: Currency, Language, and Automatic Tax Calculations
Your store’s shopping cart can display in over 50 languages. It will automatically be set up to use your local currency.
Selling globally is a breeze: when someone checks out, the appropriate tax will automatically be calculated and displayed based on your business’s location and the location of the buyer.
Marketing: Create Awareness and Increase Your Sales
Consider: There are already over a half a million Shopify stores out there, and the entry barrier is low. Simply having a stunning store won’t sell products for you. So let’s look at marketing.
What does Shopify offer you that will help boost awareness of your brand and sell products?
Say Hello to “Kit” – Your New Personal Marketing Assistant
Have you ever felt stymied by the prospect of learning digital marketing? While Shopify simplifies much of it, they’ve gone a step further and launched a futuristic AI marketing assistant called “Kit” who can handle much of your marketing for you.
Kit will communicate with you via text message. She not only takes orders from you (so get ready to delegate) but more importantly, she makes suggestions based on your personal store, your goals, and the prior performance of your marketing.
Here are a few things this cool “robot” can do:
- Kit can write, create, and launch a highly-targeted Facebook or Instagram ad campaign for you.
- She can send custom thank you emails to new customers and send marketing emails promoting new products or offering discounts.
- She also integrates with the Shopify apps you’re using so you can give her tasks to do with those as well. (Read on to learn about apps.)
“Now I run ads from the airport or from the swimming pool. Ads that actually work.”
Dave Glass — Owner, Hungry Castle
This promotional video provides a helpful overview of what Kit does.
“Sell Everywhere”: Amazon, eBay, and Social Media
One strong feature I really like about Shopify is the ability — with a few clicks — to start selling your products in other channels.
“Channels” is marketing-speak for where you sell: such as social media and online marketplaces like Amazon.
It makes sense to go to where the crowds are. This is also a way that you can reach new audiences for your blog.
So, Shopify gives you a choice of 20 channels to sell in including:
- Walmart (Yes, you read that right, Walmart)
- Google Shopping
- Best Buy (Canada)
- Facebook Messenger
How Does Selling in Facebook Messenger Work?
This is what Shopify refers to as “conversational commerce.” People can browse your products, read descriptions, and buy directly in Facebook Messenger. The checkout process takes only seconds.
They can also ask you questions in Messenger before they buy.
Afterward, they get a receipt or invoice. Plus they’ll receive tracking updates automatically.
Watch the video below for a quick overview.
Video: Get an overview of how selling in Facebook Messenger works.
Face-to-Face: Brick-and-Mortar and In-Person Events
“Point of Sale” (or “POS”) refers to selling in person. This could refer to selling at a permanent address like a brick-and-mortar store or an office. Or it could refer to selling at events like meetups, arts and crafts fairs, business conventions, or blogging conferences.
Shopify provides hardware and software for both: sleek cash registers and handheld payment processors for taking payments on the go.
The included software allows you to track sales, give discounts, or issue refunds. And of course you can accept cash, and those sales are tracked as well.
Being able to track all of this and integrate it in your one single Shopify dashboard simplifies selling in multiple “channels.”
From soap-making experiments in the basement to Shopify and a successful brick-and-mortar store, this is the story of Purple Urchin.
If you are interested in in-person sales using your Shopify account, you will need the hardware to support such transactions.
The first decision you will need to make is whether you are going to purchase the Shopify’s POS hardware or use another brand’s.
The Shopify store sells complete hardware kits available for purchase (though you’ll need to provide a compatible Apple iPad tablet).
Shopify’s complete hardware kit comes with:
- An iPad stand
- A credit card reader
- A cash drawer
- A receipt printer
The exact cost of the package varies based on the options you choose.
If you already have one or more of the items listed above, you are welcome to purchase the remaining items a la carte.
Video: Get a quick introduction to how Shopify’s Point-of-Sale (POS) options work.
Bring Your Own Hardware
If you have your own hardware, you’ll want to make sure that it is compatible before you switch your payments features over to Shopify.
If you have any questions, call Shopify and ask for assistance on this.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
SEO is considered part of marketing. It refers to a set of practices that help you rank as high as possible in search engine results pages for key terms.
Some SEO is related to the structure of your site. We’ve discussed that.
Then there’s “on page SEO” – this refers to whether each individual page in your site (including new blog posts) adheres to best practices. Shopify has resources to teach you everything you need to know about on-page SEO quickly.
Get an “SEO Manager”
SEO Manager is a popular app that guides you step-by-step to improve your search engine ranking.
This is a smart app that has some cool features built into it, like:
- Scanning your site to see if you’ve left out any SEO tags
- Simulating what the impact of certain changes might be on your ranking
- Suggestions for next steps
Video: SEO Manager can simplify your SEO tasks.
Offer a Variety of Discounts
Some Shopify plans allow you to create discount codes. You can tweak these to work by percentage off or a set amount off. You can also time them for expiration or for use with a minimum order total, among other options
Recover Abandoned Carts
An “abandoned cart” is when someone stops mid-way through checkout. “Recovering an abandoned cart” refers to persuading that shopper to return and complete their transaction.
You can set up an email to be sent to them automatically inviting them to complete the checkout. (Since they began checking out, they will have entered their email address.)
One popular strategy is to email them a discount offer.
“Shopify has helped me grow my business amazingly. It’s been a pleasure because everything has been easier than I ever imagined.”
— Corrine Anestopoulos, Founder, BIKO Jewelry
Grow Awareness With Facebook and Instagram Ads
The genius of Facebook ads is that you can target exactly the type of audience you know will be interested in your product. You decide who will see your ads based on the viewer’s age range, interests and hobbies, geographic location, and more.
Shopify, in keeping with its simplicity and focus on teaching entrepreneurs everything they need to know about digital, enables you to run Facebook ads right from your Shopify dashboard.
It only takes a few minutes to set up a Facebook campaign. You do not need experience. You won’t be intimidated by this process.
You’ll be able to see how your ads are doing and get automatic recommendations for improvement.
You can use Kit to set up and run your Facebook and Instagram ads.
Find Interested Buyers with Google Smart Shopping Campaigns
You can run Google Smart Shopping ad campaigns from your Shopify dashboard too.
It only takes a few minutes to launch them.
What is Google Smart Shopping?
Google’s “Smart Shopping” technology combines your product information and mixes it with its machine learning algorithms to get your ads in front of the most interested people.
Your ads may run in Google Search, Gmail, YouTube and what’s known as the Google Display Network. (The Google Display Network is a huge network of websites that allow Google Ads to run on their sites.)
You’ll need to create a free Google Ads (it used to be called “AdWords”) account.
To run your Google Shopping campaign, you’ll set a daily amount to spend. The minimum is $5. Then set the length of your campaign.
From college dropout to successful Shopify entrepreneur: watch Jake Kassan’s story.
Add Reviews to Your Product Pages
One of the most things you can provide to potential customers is product reviews written by real users.
While the descriptions you write will provide the factual information people want to help them make their purchasing decisions, user reviews typically provoke an emotional response that tips the scale in your favor.
(In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether the reviews are positive or negative — positive reviews help move a product, while negative reviews reinforce the fact that your content came from real people and not bots, and give you feedback on which products are unpopular — and why.)
Shopify’s product pages do not come with the ability for users to leave reviews by default so you will need to install the appropriate app to implement such functionality. (We’ll cover that next.) Shopify offers a free reviews app (and it’s well-rated, to boot!).
The Shopify App Store
Shopify’s base package comes with everything you need to launch a successful online store, but what if you want to extend the functionality of your e-commerce platform? What if you wanted to do things like:
- Set up shipping notifications
- Allow customers to review products on your site
- Make smart recommendations of related products based on individuals’ browsing behavior
- Automate invoicing
- Handle returns easily
- Add a chatbot that negotiates with your customer
- Continue improving your store’s SEO
Well, with the Shopify App Store, you can do so without hiring a developer. In the App Store, you’ll find both apps created by Shopify, as well as those launched by third parties not affiliated with Shopify.
Apps are plugins: code packages that you install with an easy click. After installing an app, you’ll receive instructions for its use.
Note: Some apps are free but many charge a monthly fee. Pro tip: Think through what you need before buying lots of apps. Ask: What problem am I trying to solve? This will help keep your budget down.
Upon navigating to the app store, you’ll find a prominent search bar that allows you to find exactly what you need.
There are 12 categories of apps and well over 1,000 to choose from.
Explore the Staff Picks
However, what if you’re not sure of what you need or you’re just interested in seeing what you could add to your website? Well, there’s the Staff Picks section, highlighting interesting and well-developed apps, as well as lists of trending apps based on what others are purchasing and installing.
As we have previously mentioned, Shopify ships with everything you need, but the app store allows you to add frills to easily make your online store a unique and interesting experience for your customers.
This app will automatically provide related product suggestions to your store visitors.
Shopify Pricing and Plans
Shopify allows you to use their product free of charge for fourteen days (you don’t even have to provide your payment information).
Once your free trial is up, you’ll need to select the plan that is right for your needs. For most people, one of the three pre-packaged options will be more than sufficient.
For Those Who Are Just Getting Started
The entry-level Basic Shopify plan is a good choice that includes all of the “basics for starting a new business.” You’ll get everything you need for an online store, as well as support for two staff accounts, the ability to sell on multiple channels (online marketplaces like eBay and social networks), manual order creation, support for discount codes, a free SSL certificate, and abandoned cart recovery.
Need a bit more? The midrange option, called simply the “Shopify plan,” is suitable for growing businesses, comes with everything in the basic plan, as well as three additional staff accounts, gift card support, and reporting.
Finally, the top-tier plan (“Advanced Shopify”) comes with even more advanced features. In addition to everything we’ve already mentioned, you’ll get a total of 15 staff accounts, an advanced report builder, as well as the ability to calculate third-party shipping rates.
You should know that the more expensive your Shopify package, the more significant your discounts will be with regards to shipping and payment processing.
Finally, if you are interested in point-of-sale support and functionality, these features come only with the mid-range and high-end plans.
Go Big or Small with Two Specialty Plans
Though most bloggers won’t need to worry about this, there’s an enterprise option for when the main plans we described in the section above just aren’t enough.
With features like special wholesale stores, campaign launching capabilities, and even automation of manual tasks like restocking, this is only for large companies.
If Shopify’s main product doesn’t seem to fit, the Shopify Lite plan was made to suit much smaller businesses. If you’re just selling a line of swag to support your blog or testing things out with a handful of products, this plan is for you.
The “Lite” plan has trimmed down options, but it’s worth exploring. You can sell on Facebook, on a pre-existing website such as WordPress, or in-person with the POS (point-of-sale) app.
Even the invoicing feature is included. If Shopify itself feels like too much, don’t hesitate to try the Lite plan out.
Payment Gateway Fees
The specific fee you’ll pay when receiving credit card payments depends on:
- The Shopify plan you have chosen
- Whether you accepted the payment online or in person
- Whether you’re using Shopify’s payment system (called “Shopify Payments”) or a third party.
The higher plan you choose, the lower the transactions.
Here’s a simplified chart:
|Shopify Lite||Basic Shopify plan||Shopify plan||Advanced Shopify plan|
|Monthly price for Shopify store||$9||$29||$79||$299|
|Shopify Payments: Online credit card rates:||2.9% + 30¢.||2.9% + 30¢||2.6% + 30¢||2.4% + 30¢|
|Additional fees using all payment providers other than Shopify Payments||2.0%||2.0%||1.0%||0.5%|
Customer Service and Technical Support
If you’re impressed with Shopify, you should be — there is a reason it’s one of the most popular e-commerce platforms around.
But that’s not where it ends.
Shopify provides you with many resources in the event that you have any questions, comments, or concerns.
You can begin the support process by providing a brief description of the problem. The first stop is looking on their site for the answer, but if that isn’t sufficient, there will be someone available to help you.
First, all subscribers, regardless of the package purchased, get access to 24/7 customer support. This is nice, especially if your website goes down 3am on Black Friday.
You can get in touch with Shopify via:
- Live Chat
If you get stuck or just want to brush up on your Shopify-related knowledge, take a look at the guides – in article or video format — podcasts, or the business encyclopedia.
You can also learn from other users by reading the posts they make on the official Shopify forums.
Need more help? Head to your favorite search engine. There are countless Shopify communities and forums, as well as individuals and agencies whose jobs include helping those struggling or wanting to improve their Shopify stores.
Professional Services and the Shopify Community
Shopify has one of the largest communities around in terms of e-commerce platforms. In addition to the free help resources available on the internet, there are lots of companies and individuals offering professional services to those needing help with their Shopify sites.
Whether you need just a new theme or you want to outsource the maintenance of your website entirely, there’s likely to be a contractor available to help you out!
Not all contractors are created equal: some are much better than others. Where do you find a trusted party?
Well, in addition to the typical ways you might find contractors (job boards, agencies, and so on), Shopify maintains the Shopify Experts directory. Using this directory, you can find someone well-versed in Shopify to complete the project you had in mind.
Alternatives to Shopify
While Shopify is a great product, there are many reasons why someone might not be interested. If this is the case for you, here are some alternatives you might consider:
- BigCommerce: BigCommerce boasts no transaction fees, lower monthly subscription fees, and a feature list that is longer than Shopify’s
- Magento: There are a lot of options under the Magento umbrella, ranging from a free-to-use, open source version to enterprise-grade, cloud-based products. One size does not fit all, and Magento offers multiple products catering to different niches.
Conclusion: A Winning Package
Shopify is definitely a worthy contender for your e-commerce plans and dreams. There’s little dispute here:
Shopify is great for bloggers looking to start a store with minimal complications.
Regardless of whether you sell in person, an artist who wants their creations on shirts and mugs, or the creator of large projects that are simply backed by a blog, all are served here.
If you can dream it, Shopify can do it. And that’s where the appeal comes from. Shopify manages to make every project seem unique, each feature special, and give all users with potential the ability to grow. It does an excellent job of educating customers on every step of creating, launching, and growing their store.
Try it For Free
Not sure if Shopify is the right option for you? You can take Shopify out for a test drive, so to speak, with the free, fourteen-day trial.
No need to provide a credit card number. Simply sign up for an account and you’re off to explore.
Let me know what you think. Come back and share your experience in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you decided on or answer any of your questions on this.