If you have an online business, then choosing which ecommerce platform you use is perhaps the biggest decision you’ll have to make.
As an online business, your website is your store, and it reflects who you are as a business. If you make the right decisions you’ll attract customers and if you make the wrong decisions you won’t. With stakes this high, it helps to have all the information about the various top ecommerce platforms so that you can choose the one that best suits your business. Last month, we wrote an article about the big companies who use Magento, so this month we’d like to look at Shopify, helping you gauge whether it is right for your online business.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a hosted, turnkey ecommerce service that gives you everything you need to run an online store. Shopify’s selling point is that it is easier to create an ecommerce site with it than the other big ecommerce platforms. With Shopify, you get to make judgement calls about how your site looks and operates, but you don’t have to do a lot of the work involved with getting it up and running. This means that it is perhaps the best platform for any business owner who is incredibly busy or not great with computers, as so much of the work is done for you. There are positives and negatives to Shopify’s fully-hosted ecommerce service, which we’ll go into later in this blog post.
How Does Shopify Work?
Because Shopify is selling a fast, easy service, it is unsurprisingly simple to start up. You choose a Shopify plan that fits your budget and has the features you want for your site. Then you point your domain to your Shopify store (whatever domain you bought from the likes of 123Reg or your domain registrar). However, you can also buy a domain directly from Shopify (because they’ve thought of everything!).
You choose a website template/design from a large selection of Shopify themes – or have a web developer such as Peacock Carter create your own bespoke design to use. You can also buy a pre-made premium template or pay a designer to make a bespoke website for you. We have recently added designing and managing Shopify websites to our list of services. The next stage is to add your products, content, and payment options. Then the website is ready to go and you just need to start marketing your online store!
Shopify Pros and Cons
It’s a good idea to look for reviews of Shopify online, as this will let you read about the different experiences business owners like yourself have had with the service. Make sure you read a range of reviews so that you get a balanced account of the pros and cons associated with Shopify. However, we’d like to include a few of the pros and cons of our own.
Shopify is very fast. It is run by experts who ensure that all Shopify accounts run as quickly as possible. This is particularly important when you consider that users are likely to leave a website if it takes even one second too long to load – and this likelihood is even higher with online stores. Not only are potential customers impatient, but they also associate the speed of a website with its trustworthiness, which is incredibly important to any online business.
Shopify is very secure. All ecommerce stores need to charge credit and debit cards. However, in order to be PCI compliant you have to have many layers of security on your site, which can slow it down massively. To combat this, some stores outsource their payment system to third parties like Google Wallet and PayPal, but this also slows down your store if you don’t know how to implement it correctly. But as Shopify is a fully managed service, they have experts behind the scenes that ensure your site is secure enough to be PCI compliant and still incredibly fast. For many other ecommerce platforms, if you want them to look as polished whilst being as fast and secure as a Shopify website, you’d have to put in a lot of time, money, and expertise (which also costs money).
Shopify also offers fantastic customer support should you encounter a problem. Obviously, any website problems could cost an online business huge losses – not just if a website is down, but also a loss in future customers as online customer loyalty is very fickle. So it’s pretty handy that Shopify’s customer support is fast and very helpful – either when talking to the owner of the ecommerce store or to a developer like ourselves who is managing the account for one of our clients. With email, chat, and phone support, it’s easy to get answers fast and get your website up and running at full power again as quickly as possible. Most business owners are busy enough as it is and they can’t afford to become web development experts, so it’s fantastic that Shopify have put so much time and effort into their customer support service. In fact, it’s difficult to think of an ecommerce service with as good customer support.
Shopify doesn’t offer the most cutting-edge marketing tools out of all of the different platforms. It does, however, do the basics very well. And it’s the basics that really matter – search engine optimisation (SEO), in particular. This is because Shopify creates clean code that is completely crawlable by Google. Put simply, Shopify speaks Google’s language. Shopify also has other SEO features, including a feature that automatically discovers duplicate content and uses canonicals to ensure they aren’t a problem. And as duplicate content is perhaps the biggest bane for ecommerce sites, this feature is hugely beneficial. Shopify also allows you to create quick landing pages, making it perfect for AdWords campaigns. So, if you’re very proactive with your SEO and PPC marketing strategies, then Shopify is a good option for you.
Shopify’s range of design customisations, as I mentioned earlier, allows you to either buy a premade template or employ a designer to make something completely bespoke. Shopify offers a huge range of themes, including free and paid-for options. This accommodates all kinds of different businesses – from small start-ups (who can choose a free template) to large companies (who can pay for a truly unique website design). This means you can start out with a small, free template, then upgrade the look and functionality of your website as your business grows.
Shopify also allows ecommerce web developers to make highly specialised add-ons that can be seamlessly added to its platform. This allows businesses to customise their website as much as they like whilst still enjoying the built-in core features.
One potential con is that the monthly price you pay for the service with add-on fees can add up if you aren’t careful. Although Shopify is definitely worth the price, it is undeniably more expensive than self-hosted platforms like WordPress (with WooCommerce) or Magento. However, as long as you keep an eye on the add-ons you buy and choose the right payment bracket with features that meet your needs, then you shouldn’t run into trouble. And all of the pros listed above kind of make any added costs feel justified.
Shopify’s built-in blog interface is better than other hosted services, but it isn’t as good as WordPress. You can still make your blogs look good, but if you have been used to a WordPress CMS previously, then you may be a little frustrated with Shopify. Blogs, guides, and other content marketing strategies are becoming increasingly important for online stores, so this is something we expect Shopify to improve in the future.
One potential con for people new to Shopify is that it uses a lot jargon that you might not have come across before. This means that there is a slight learning curve at the beginning that you won’t find with many other platforms. For example, it uses the term ‘collections’ instead of ‘categories’ and other slightly unintuitive terms. That said, as a lot of the work is done for you with Shopify, you might not understand how it’s working, but it’ll work nonetheless!
Who Are Shopify’s Competitors
You could perhaps list all the top ecommerce platforms as Shopify’s competitors, but as it is fully hosted turnkey service, its competitors are really Volusion and BigCommerce as they also provide hosted, turnkey ecommerce services. All three services make your job as the business owner as easy as possible and allow your online store to integrate easily with Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. Shopify out competes Volusion and BigCommerce, however, and can be considered the superior service because it offers greater flexibility and has a Buy Button that enables customers to click and buy your products anywhere they see them online, such as on Facebook or Tumblr. Also, in our experience, Shopify’s customer support, as I mentioned earlier, is vastly superior. Having this safety net alone puts it way ahead of its competitors.
That’s everything for this guide. I hope it has answered a few of your questions about Shopify and that you have a better idea of whether or not it is right for your business. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about our Shopify, WordPress, or Magento services.