A Bit About Shopify
Shopify has an incredible history. No doubt, the platform has become the preferred eCommerce technology for many small and medium scale enterprises across the globe. But it had not always been so. On the contrary, in 2004 the company was just a simple web-based snowboarding equipment retail partnership operating from Ottawa, Canada. But in 2005 one of its founders, Tobias Lütke (a German expat who was also a programmer at heart), decided that all the existing eCommerce platforms in those days weren’t flexible enough. Thus he went on to build custom eCommerce software for their store. Soon other online store owners took notice. Before long, folks were asking for how to get their hands on similar software. And that was it. In 2006 Shopify was launched, no longer as an online store, but as a robust platform on which customizable online stores are built.
As at 2016, the Shopify brand of eCommerce platform has been used by over 200,000 merchants from about 150 countries. Collectively, up to $10 billion worth of gross sales have been processed on the Shopify platform till date. And in this section of the book we’re going to talk a bit about Shopify. And after that we’d proceed to exploring the basics to cracking the Shopify code and getting a comprehensive understanding of how the platform works.
The Downsides of Shopify
Yea, I think we need to clear this up first. But let’s start by putting things in perspective. Thing is, Shopify targets a specific kind of customers. And, as Koh Chin Siong a Singaporean startup nerd clearly explained at Quora, “Shopify customers don’t do any custom code, [they] value convenience and support and they’re willing to pay for it”. Thus you can safely presume that some of what we may call “downsides” here actually exist to make Shopify’s primary target customers happy. And that’s kind of awesome in a way. However, here are some things that may come across as downsides to some people regarding the Shopify eCommerce platform:
● Little Option For Customization – of course it’s possible to hire an expert to kind of custom-code your store and make it super outstanding. But that’s not the norm. in fact Shopify makes it clear that their Support Team may not be able to help you sort things out if you go overboard in customizing your Shopify store. But, as we mentioned earlier, majority of Shopify merchants just want to sell their products. They don’t wish to write custom codes. However, those who have experienced the extreme liberty to customization offered on most open source applications (like WordPress/Woocommerce) may feel disappointed when confronted with the limited customization options on Shopify.
● Potential For Too Many Monthly Subscriptions – Shopify comes with a set of lean core-functions. And to extend the platform beyond those core-functions (as you’ll sure need to) you’ll have to subscribe to third party apps and services from Shopify App Store. Many of these apps and services are free. But most of them charge recurring fees, which can easily add up monthly. This may not be significant though if your store is small and uses few apps and other third party services. But there’s a huge possibility that you’d run up some astronomical numbers in annual overhead costs as your store grows. This is something to really think about before signing up.
● Vendor Lock-in – Shopify is a vendor-hosted solution. While this is a good thing in many fronts, one of its drawbacks is that you don’t fully own all your store’s data – at least not when you choose to dump the platform. Thus migrating your Shopify store to another platform can easily translate into losing most of your existing data permanently. Simply put, getting into Shopify is pretty easy and fast, but getting out – when your store had gained some traction – may pose a serious challenge. Shopify is not for hoppers. The platform actually hopes that its users will stick around long enough to grow and sustain their stores at the unlimited enterprise level. But virtually all other brands of hosted eCommerce platforms also share the same sentiment.
The concerns listed above are the things that some techy-folks tend to talk about more often as Shopify’s cons. But, most users don’t seem to be bothered about any of those. However, there may be other things that someone else may consider a drawback to Shopify (say, for example, the surprising learning curve that it takes to get a Shopify store going in the proper direction).
The Upsides of Shopify
Fact is, over 200,000 merchants can’t be all wrong at once. There’s definitely a bunch of awesome stuffs that make Shopify the preferred eCommerce solution for many. However, more often than none, this awesomeness is better experienced than explained. But let’s try to explain a bit of it here.
● Reliability and Security – maximum security is a requirement in today’s eCommerce space. And Shopify is on top of it. Shopify is a vendor-hosted service. So it has the capacity to deploy high-level online security on its platform. Thus even the least store owner on the Shopify platform enjoys the kind of top-notch security features and uptime-ness that were previously available only to independent enterprise brands who have massive budget, expertise and people at their disposal. Recently Shopify even launched a site wide SSL encryption for all stores on its platform. Stuffs like this (coupled with the fact that you don’t have to bother about cyber-attacks and so-what-nots) makes Shopify adorable to its users.
● Flexibility and Integration – Shopify can be very lean. But it can also be so freaking robust. That’s flexibility. Thanks to the massive collection of third party SaaS and apps that integrate seamlessly with it through the Shopify App Store. But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Shopify itself was invented following its creators’ crave for a flexible eCommerce platform.
● Speed and Beauty – there are certain platforms that seem to eat their cakes and have it too in some ways. Shopify is one of such platforms. And one of the ways is its ability to give you a stunningly beautiful store that manages to load pretty fast. Of course this doesn’t mean that your store should become the new Instagram. Fact is enough un-optimized and bloated product-images can slow any online store down very fast. Yet Shopify gives you a huge leg up to obtaining both beauty and speed for your store.
● Helpfulness and Customer Support – Shopify is hugely famous for taking good care of its customers. And full-scale customer education is a core part of their service. Think of regular staff-blogs, massive online business encyclopedia, online ecommerce university, community forums, and then the multi-channel 24/7 live customer support. It’s a widely known fact that Shopify is always there to help it’s users grow.
● Pricing and Plans – Shopify pricing model is very flexible and affordable, at least for small stores.
Unlike some other e-commerce platforms, Shopify does not impose any sales or dollar volume caps on your business. What’s more, you can literally switch up or down from one plan to another without hassles. And did I mention that you don’t have to worry about hidden fees? Yea, unless it’s those charged by your third party Credit Card payment processor. Shopify’s starter plan free trial you can get an online store and sell up to 25 products at $14/month, though with very limited core features.
Some Shopify Competitors
Shopify is definitely one of the most popular eCommerce platforms on the planet today. But that notwithstanding (and even though this book is strictly about Shopify) I will still go ahead to mention that Shopify does have a couple strong and awesome contenders in the eCommerce space. Below are three of such alternative big names in the league of eCommerce platforms.
WooCommerce is a world-famous open source eCommerce plugin for WordPress. It’s 100% free. And you’re literally allowed to customize the plugin to your heart’s content. But there’s a catch. You’ll have to buy your own hosting, pay for your own security, and may not have anyone to lash when things go wrong. To newcomers, WooCommerce may be a hard nut to crack. And that’s why Shopify exists. But folks who possess some level of tech-skillset (and a sizeable chunk of learning time) may find that WooCommerce can be fun to own. The most attractive part of WooCommerce is that, in comparison, it can easily make the monthly cost of a big Shopify store to look like a daylight robbery. Thus, to cut down on recurring costs, some large scale merchants prefer to migrate to WooCommerce after starting small and growing big on Shopify. And, yes, there’s a tiny tool that helps to make the entire migration process a breeze, without losing your store’s data.
See Cosmin’s article here for a detailed comparison between Shopify and WooCommerce.
SquareSpace was originally a Content Management System (CMS) with a heavy slant towards photo blogging. This explains why it features some of the most stunning site-templates out there. But in 2013 the company introduced its eCommerce platform – the Squarespace Commerce. The major upside of Squarespace Commerce is that it’s an all-inclusive platform. This means you’d get all the core ecommerce tools they have to offer on each plan, at no extra charge. No need for third party apps. And there are no fixed transaction fees. The downside, however, uses only one payment processor – Sprint. The implication of this single payment system is that most countries are locked out. And by design, the Squarespace Commerce platform is made for small stores with little inventories. This means it’s possible that your store can quickly outgrow the platform. And that could pose a little challenge. But heck, even Shopify can be overgrown, unless you have a limitless budget.
For a detailed Shopify and Squarespace Commerce comparison, you may want to see Catalin Zorzini’s article here.
Bigcommerce is another vendor-hosted platform just like Shopify. The good thing about the platform is that, unlike Shopify, it does not charge a fixed transaction fee on any of its plans. And each of the plans are loaded with comprehensive set of advanced eCommerce tools at no additional costs. Of course, you can find similar tools and more at Shopify App Store, but some of them will be at extra costs. On the flipside, however, Bigcommerce is not yet anywhere near as feature-rich as Shopify is. And again it puts both sales and dollar limits on your transactions. In other words, you’d be required to upgrade to a costlier plan once your sales volume or turnover amount goes beyond the annual limit on your current plan. For a detailed comparison between Shopify and Bigcommerce you may like to read Jeremy Wong’s article here.
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