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Bigcommerce vs Shopify (2018) - Which is Best?
 Bigcommerce vs Shopify (image of the two logos in a notebook)

In this Bigcommerce vs Shopify review, we compare and contrast two of the leading online store building tools. 

Read on for a discussion on the two products' pricing, templates, important features and the key reasons why you might choose one of these leading e-commerce solutions over the other.

By the end of this comparison, you will hopefully know which of these two products represents the best e-commerce platform for your particular business (and of course, do feel free to leave your own thoughts on both Bigcommerce and Shopify in the comments section!).

Right - let's start this comparison with an obvious but important question: what do Bigcommerce and Shopify actually do?


What do Bigcommerce and Shopify do?

Bigcommerce and Shopify are pieces of software that allow you sell products - digital or physical - online. Both products run in a web browser: this means that there is nothing to install on your desktop or laptop computer, and you can manage your store from anywhere (so long as you have an internet connection).

The key idea behind both products is that you can use them to build an online store without needing to design or code anything - you pick a template from a range provided, upload your products, set your prices and you are (in theory at least) good to go.

It's worth saying however that although you don't need to involve a web designer when building a Shopify or Bigcommerce store, a good eye for design, along with some professionally-taken pictures of your products, are nonetheless very important (regardless of the platform you eventually choose).

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify are 'software as a service' (Saas) tools. This means that there is an ongoing cost to use them - you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the software.

And speaking of fees...


Bigcommerce pricing vs Shopify pricing

One of the first (although arguably not the most important!) questions which potential users have about Bigcommerce and Shopify is 'how much do they cost?'

Bigcommerce offers 4 pricing plans:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: varies depending on requirements

 Bigcommerce pricing table

Bigcommerce pricing table

Shopify offers 5 pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements

As can be seen above, you can start selling goods online a lot cheaper with Shopify, with the 'Lite' plan only costing $9 per month. However, there's a big BUT with this plan: it doesn't actually provide you with a fully functional online store.

Rather, it allows you to

  • make use of a "Shopify Button" - an embeddable widget, sort of like a Paypal 'buy now' button, to sell products online on an existing website

  • use your Facebook page to sell products.

You can also use the Shopify 'Lite' plan to sell goods offline (at 'point of sale') and use the Shopify backend to manage orders and inventory.

 Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Bigcommerce Enterprise and Shopify Plus

You'll notice from the above price breakdowns that there are two plans listed above without specific pricing, 'Bigcommerce Enterprise' and 'Shopify Plus.'

These are basically 'enterprise-grade' versions of the platforms, which are aimed at corporations or store owners with extremely large volumes of sales.

As such, they contain a lot of advanced features, including:

  • guaranteed server uptime

  • advanced API support

  • dedicated SSL / IP address

  • advanced security features

They usually offer more in the way of account management and onboarding too - you'll get far more hand holding ('white glove' style service) from Shopify or Bigcommerce if you plump for one of these plans.

They are also more 'bespoke' affairs than the other plans discussed above - a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus purchase typically starts with an in-depth conversation where requirements are gathered; after this, a plan is tailored to suit those requirements. Accordingly, the price of a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus plan can vary from customer to customer.

(That said, there is a reasonable amount of consistency in the Shopify Plus pricing - from conversations I've had with Shopify, the monthly pricing for Shopify Plus tends to hover around the $2000 mark.).

The fairest comparison: Bigcommerce 'Standard' vs Shopify 'Basic'

The fairest comparison to make between Shopify and Bigcommerce is probably between the 'Basic Shopify' plan, which costs $29 per month, and the Bigcommerce 'standard' one, which costs $29.95 - there's only 95 cents between them.

Both these plans allow you to sell an unlimited number of products, with Bigcommerce - generally speaking - winning in terms of out-of-the-box features.

The standard Bigcommerce plan provides four particularly important things that you don't get on 'Basic Shopify', namely

  • gift cards

  • professional reporting functionality

  • a built-in ratings and review system

  • real-time carrier shipping quotes

On the subject of ratings and reviews, it's worth pointing out that Shopify does not provide this functionality on any of its plans: you'll need to use a separate app to handle this.

Fortunately, Shopify provide a free app for this purpose (the appropriately named 'Product Reviews' app). This has garnered good reviews from its users, but I find it slightly puzzling that the functionality isn't included as a standard feature.

 Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

In addition to Shopify's own reviews app offering, you can install a wide range of third-party apps to provide reviews and ratings functionality, many of which offer more advanced features than the standard Shopify 'Product Reviews' app (and integrate with the likes of Google Reviews, Disqus and Facebook).

However, there are two aspects of the 'Basic Shopify' plan which trump the Bigcommerce 'Standard' plan.

First, the Shopify plan doesn't impose any sales limits; by contrast a sales limit of $50,000 per year applies on the Bigcommerce Standard plan.

Second - and this is a pretty recent development - Shopify offers an abandoned cart saver on its entry level plan, whereas this is only available on the Bigcommerce $79.95 plan and up. The abandoned cart saver - which automatically emails people who leave your site mid-way through a transaction - is a very useful piece of functionality which can increase the revenue of your store significantly. 

(Sales limits and abandoned cart saving are both discussed in more depth later on in this comparison.)

Transaction fees

A big question that potential users of Shopify and Bigcommerce may find themselves asking is this: what's Shopify or Bigcommerce's cut of my sales - i.e., the transaction fee per sale - going to be?

Well, it's a bit of a win for Bigcommerce here, because Bigcommerce charges 0% transaction fees on all plans.

Shopify, by contrast charges 0% on all plans too BUT only if you use their own 'Shopify Payments' system to process card transactions rather than an external payment gateway.

If you don't use Shopify Payments, transaction fees do apply and these vary with the kind of plan you're on (2% for ‘Shopify Lite’ and 'Basic Shopify'; 1% for 'Shopify' and 0.5% for 'Advanced Shopify').

The key thing worth noting about Shopify Payments is that it can only be used in certain countries: 

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

So, if you don't live in one of those countries, you'll have to use an external payment gateway provider (fortunately, there are loads to choose from with Shopify - we'll return to this issue later).

Credit card fees

In addition to transaction fees, there are credit card fees to consider. These are the fees charged by the company providing the software / systems to process your customers' card payments.

If you decide to make use of a third-party payment gateway (an app for processing credit cards, basically) these will be whatever your chosen provider's rates are. 

However, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'out of the box' or recommended payments functionality, which can reduce these fees in certain cases (and make it much easier to set up card payment processing).

If you use Shopify Payments, credit card fees will vary according to whether you are selling online or in person (in a retail setting, market stall, pop-up shop etc.).

The online rates vary by country, but the US rates are as follows:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.9% + 30c per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.9% + 30c

  • Shopify: 2.6% + 30c

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4% + 30c

If you're selling in person (i.e., using Shopify in a point-of-sale context, like a retail outlet or at a market) you're looking at the following rates:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.7% per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.7%

  • Shopify: 2.5%

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4%

Bigcommerce's recommended partner for credit card processing is Paypal, powered by Braintree. The credit card rates using this arrangement are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c

As you can see the Bigcommerce US credit card fees are therefore a bit lower than the Shopify equivalents - merchants selling low volumes of goods won't really notice the difference too much, but store owners with high volumes of sales definitely will.

If you live in the UK or another European country however, you will generally be able to avail of considerably cheaper credit card fees with Shopify.

Annual discounts

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide a 10% discount if you pay upfront for a year's service (note however that Bigcommerce only facilitates this on the 'Plus' and 'Pro' plans). Shopify goes one further and gives you a 20% discount if you pay upfront for two years.

Maximum annual sales limits

One thing to watch out for is sales limits - with Bigcommerce, your sales are limited to $50,000 on the 'standard' plan, $150,000 on the 'plus' plan and $400,000 on the 'pro' plan. Sales limits are described as 'custom' if you're on Bigcommerce Enterprise (which indicates they are negotiable). All these limits are calculated on a trailing 12-month basis.

I contacted Bigcommerce to find what the financial implications are for breaching these limits and the response was:

"There is an additional 1,000-2,000 order limit per plan that users be able to go over before being forced to upgrade. During this time users will receive notifications about upgrading their plan as they are over the limit. But we will not prevent additional orders from coming through until they exceed the additional 1,000-2,000 overage order provided."

No such limits exist at all on Shopify plans, so it's a win for Shopify here. That said, I'm not sure anybody selling in excess of these limits would be overly concerned about the additional fees. Still, it would be better to not have to worry about them.

Conclusions on pricing

It's a big case of swings and roundabouts when it comes to comparing the pricing structure for Bigcommerce and Shopify.

For me, the key plus points of the Bigcommerce pricing plans over Shopify's are that quite a few more features are provided on its $29 plan than on the Shopify equivalent (gift cards, professional reporting, ratings and reviews); no transaction fees apply to any Bigcommerce plan, regardless of the payment gateway used; and the credit card processing fees are slightly lower than Shopify's (in the US at least).

The advantages of the Shopify fees structure are that unlike Bigcommerce, no sales limits apply at all; and the $29 plan includes abandoned cart saving functionality.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that Shopify's $9 Lite plan can get you selling online much cheaper than any Bigcommerce plan (albeit only in certain context - via a buy button, Facebook page or point-of-sale situation).

However, when deciding between Shopify vs Bigcommerce there is a lot more to consider than just pricing, as we'll see below.


Templates

Free templates

Shopify has an edge over Bigcommerce when it comes to its free theme offering, because it provides a wider selection of themes - Shopify provide 10 free themes to Bigcommerce's 7.

Within both the Bigcommerce and Shopify themes, there are different styles to choose from, so both products give you more choice in the free template department than the above numbers might initially suggest.

However, the Shopify themes differ from each other in a much more significant way than the Bigcommerce ones; several of the Bigcommerce free themes differ only in the fact that slightly different colours are used (you could in fact argue that so big are the similarities between the free Bigcommerce themes that there are only two free themes on offer - not seven!).

 The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

Factoring in both the number of themes provided by both Shopify and Bigcommerce, and the differences between theme variants, I would argue that Shopify offers the user more variety in the free template department. 

From a design point of view I prefer the free templates provided by Shopify too; but this is a very subjective area and the themes provided by Bigcommerce are definitely professional and contemporary in appearance (see image below for an example of Bigcommerce's 'Stencil' template).

 The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The bottom line is that you'll be able to use either a Bigcommerce or Shopify template to create a professional looking store, but you'll get more choice from Shopify.

(It's important to remember, of course, that your chosen template is only one part of the story when it comes to aesthetics: you'll need to ensure that your product photography and descriptions are up to scratch too - no template, no matter how well designed, will look good if it's populated with poor-quality content.)

Paid-for templates

Bigcommerce provides around 110 paid-for themes. They start at $145 and cost up to $235. Occasionally however, Bigcommerce discounts some of their paid-for templates, and you can pick up certain themes at a cheaper 'sale' price.

Shopify currently offers 57 paid-for templates, which range from $140 to $180 in price.

Although the above numbers seem to imply that there is a greater choice of paid-for themes available with Bigcommerce, it's worth sounding a note of caution here: as with their free templates, many of the Bigcommerce paid-for themes are very similar to each other.

This is fairly evident in the Bigcommerce template names too: 'Chelsea Bold', 'Chelsea Bright', 'Chelsea Warm' and 'Chelsea Clean' are all positioned as being separate templates, but to my eyes they are effectively variants of the same theme and (in my view anyway!) shouldn't really be presented as separate templates at all.

 Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?

Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?


Bigcommerce themes also tend to come in a few variants - i.e., you buy one and can choose from a few different variants of it - but again, there isn't much variety to spot between the variants!

By contrast the paid-for Shopify themes are more distinct from each other - and most themes come with a selection of variants which are more obviously different from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

 Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

The other nice thing about the Shopify template offering is that it is really easy to browse the template gallery and find a template that suits your requirements. A wide range of filters is available to help you choose a template based not only on industry type but design type too (you can select templates based on preferences for design elements like video backgrounds, parallax scrolling, wide or narrow layout style etc.) 

Bottom line on templates: for my money, the Shopify offering when it comes to 'out of the box' templates is a bit stronger than Bigcommerce's - and better value.

But don't forget: if you're not entirely happy with your chosen theme, there's always the option to customise it...

Customising templates

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you customise their templates quite extensively – either using controls provided within the content management system or by diving into the HTML / CSS – meaning that with either system you should be able to end up with a nice looking online shop window that presents your products in a professional way. My gut feeling is that with Shopify though, you’ll possibly need to do less tweaking. 

Something to note regarding design changes and Shopify: making these HTML / CSS tweaks will sometimes involve using a templating language called Liquid.

Liquid is essentially a simple programming language that allows you to make use of HTML and CSS but also allows you to insert tags, operators and variables to produce dynamic content (for example, in order to display the title of a product on a certain page, you would write {{ product.title }} in a liquid file).

This all sounds more complicated than it actually is though, and unless you want to tweak your Shopify store to the nth degree, you'll probably find you can simply pick a pre-existing template and change colours, typefaces and certain aspects of the layout simply by using the standard controls provided.

Third-party providers of Bigcommerce and Shopify themes

One final note on templates: if you're really not happy with the selection of themes available direct from Shopify and Bigcommerce, you also have the option of buying them from third parties. Sites like Themeforest offer a wide range of templates for these two platforms; you may find something that floats your boat elsewhere.


Key features

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide users with more than enough features to set up and run a very professional online store.

They allow you to create products, optimise them for search engines, manage inventory and accept – via a wide range of payment gateways – credit card transactions.

Let's zoom in:

Payment gateways

Shopify and Bigcommerce both allow you to connect an extensive range of payment gateways to your store: the number available varies by country but you'll find that both Bigcommerce and Shopify support the major ones - like Worldpay, Quickbooks, Paypal, 2Checkout etc. Shopify offers more however: 100+ to Bigcommerce's 40 or so.

Normally speaking, connecting a third party payment gateway can be a slightly fiddly process which sometimes involves a contract and/or monthly fees, so users who are not in the mood for that sort of thing might prefer to use one of the 'out of the box' options provided by both Bigcommerce and Shopify.

In the case of Shopify this means using either Paypal or, as discusssed above, its 'Shopify Payments' option.

With Bigcommerce, this means using Paypal powered by Braintree (Bigcommerce have teamed up with Braintree to provide a solution that both offers some preferential Paypal processing rates and a system whereby the user can pay via Paypal without ever having to leave your storefront).

The 'out of the box' rates provided by Bigcommerce are cheaper than those provided by Shopify (in the US at least).

As a side note, it's probably worth pointing out that it is in the area of payment gateways that Bigcommerce and Shopify have their biggest advantage over a key competitor, Squarespace: whilst the payment gateway options offered by both Bigcommerce and Shopify are numerous, Squarespace only allows you to use Paypal or Stripe. The payment gateway functionality offered by Bigcommerce and Shopify is probably one of the strongest arguments for using either of these platforms over Squarespace. (For more information on Squarespace, you may wish to check out our Squarespace review).

Product categories

Any online store is likely to make use of several different product collections - for example on a guitar-related store you might expect to find categories such as electric guitars, acoustic guitars, plectrums, straps, amplifiers and so on.

Setting up categories in Shopify and Bigcommerce is straightforward enough but Shopify's approach is, in my view, niftier, because not only can you add products manually to collections, you can create categories which are automatically populated with products based on on conditions you supply. In other words, you can create 'smart categories' with Shopify (the company refers to these as 'automated collections').

This involves using various criteria to populate a collection, including product title, tags, price, weight and more - so, using our guitar store example again, rather than having to browse through all your products and manually add electric guitars to an electric guitar collection, you could just tell Shopify to automatically add any product with the word 'electric guitar' in its title to the electric guitar collection.

This is particularly useful functionality to have handy if your store contains hundreds (or thousands!) of products, but you will have to remember to use consistent naming conventions for your product titles to make it work.

Although Bigcommerce does have a 'bulk edit' option to speed up category assignment, it doesn't yet provide similar 'smart collection' functionality, so Shopify definitely has an edge here.

 In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

Product options

What Bigcommerce lacks in the categorisation department it more than makes up for with its product option functionality - and is considerably better than Shopify in this area.

With Shopify, you're limited to offering customers 3 sets of options per product - for example, size, colour or material. It's very easy to set these options up - but also very frustrating if you need to sell products that come in more than three versions (workarounds exist, but either fiddly and time-consuming to implement, or involve purchasing a third-party app, thus increasing your costs).

Bigcommerce, on the other hand, allows you to create large lists of product options - I can't find details on an exact limit, but whilst testing Bigcommerce, I was able to create 10 options for a product very easily. If your products come in all shapes, colours and sizes, you should get the flexibility you need.

So clear win for Bigcommerce when it comes to product options (and if you're interested in finding out more about how products options in Bigcommerce work, I'd strongly suggest watching the below video).

Text fields and file uploads

Some merchants will require their customers to enter custom data at the point of purchase - for example, a jeweller might ask a customer to enter some text for an inscription on a pendant. This is possible with both Bigcommerce and Shopify but it's significantly easier to set up with Bigcommerce - you just add a text field as an option to your product.

With Shopify, you're going to have to add a piece of code to your template (to extract a 'line item property') or invest in an app to take care of this.

A similar situation exists with file uploads - if you're selling photography or clothing related products for example that require the customer to upload an image, then you'll find that this functionality is included out of the box with Bigcommerce; but with Shopify, you'll have to resort to a bit of coding or a third-party app again.

A definite win for Bigcommerce here - merchants who need to collect custom data from customers in order to personalise products will find things much more straightforward with Bigcommerce than Shopify.

Importing and exporting products / data in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to upload a CSV file containing all your product data. 

In terms of exporting your data, Shopify allows you to export to CSV format. Bigcommerce is more flexible in that allows you to export to both CSV and XML (although it recommends the use of CSV format for exports wherever possible). So a slight win for Bigcommerce here.

Neither Bigcommerce or Shopify are great when it comes to importing or exporting other types of content however - neither platform provides an obvious or easy way to import / export blog posts or static pages. 

And speaking of blogging...

Blogging

Blogging, when done correctly, arguably provides one of the best ways of driving traffic to a store (if not the best!). The more you blog about the 'niche area' in which you are operating, the more visitors you are likely to attract to your site (as long as each piece of content is really strong, optimised for search correctly and promoted heavily). 

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce will allow you to create a simple blog easily (and tag / categorise posts as needed). If your blogging needs are complex, you can always integrate a third party blog (such as a Wordpress one) into either platform (it'll involve a bit of messing about with subdomains / system settings but it's all doable).

You can import posts from an existing blog into both Bigcommerce and Shopify, using the Bigcommerce 'Blog Sync' and Shopify Blogfeeder apps respectively. 

One thing you'll need to watch out for with Bigcommerce's blogging tool is RSS feeds - there aren't any, something I find really strange. RSS feeds are useful because you can use them to syndicate content and automatically send out e-newsletters containing your latest posts. 

Abandoned cart recovery in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Something worth paying particular attention to in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify comparison is abandoned cart recovery functionality. This is a useful feature which allows you to automatically email visitors to your store who add something to their cart but do not complete the purchase.

According to behavioural marketing company SalesCycle, 1 in three recipients of abandoned cart emails click on a link in those emails, with 28% of those users going on to make a purchase - so abandoned cart functionality is extremely important.

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver - which the company argues allows you to recover 15% of lost sales - is arguably better than the Shopify equivalent, as the Shopify only allows you to send one automated email to users who abandon their cart, whereas Bigcommerce allows you to schedule up to three automated follow-up emails.

However, with the ability to send a several emails to people who don't complete a purchase comes the ability to spam and annoy, so whilst extremely useful, abandoned cart saver tools should be used judiciously. 

 Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

An interesting aspect of Shopify's abandoned cart saver involves time intervals - you are only allowed to send your automated email at one of the following times:

  • 1 hour later

  • 6 hours later

  • 10 hours later

  • 24 hours later.

Of these times, Shopify strongly recommend going for the 1 hour later or 10 hours later intervals, as their research shows that users who have abandoned their carts are most likely to come back and complete the purchase upon receiving an email sent after those specific particular periods of time. (This is handy information to have actually, regardless of which e-commerce platform you eventually plump for...).

Given that abandoned cart recovery has the potential to significantly boost sales, a plan with this functionality is definitely worth looking at, regardless of which online store builder you eventually decide on.

I suspect that a lot of users may be nudged in Shopify's direction here, because although Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saving functionality is more flexible, it is also considerably more expensive to get your hands on. An abandoned cart saver is available on Shopify's $29 'Shopify Basic' plan, meaning you can access this important functionality for $40 less per month than if you were using Bigcommerce.

It will be interesting to see if Bigcommerce follow suit and start including an abandoned cart saver on their plans too. 

(Tip: you could also consider purchasing one of the cheaper Bigcommerce or Shopify plans, and using a cart saver app in conjunction with it - the options are much more extensive here with Shopify, thanks to its more comprehensive app store, of which more anon).

Analytics

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify offer a wide range of reporting tools. These include: 

  • customer reports (where your customers originate from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last placed an order)

  • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)

  • search data reports (what products customers searched for in your online store)

  • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)

  • abandoned cart reports.

In addition to the reports mentioned above, you can also avail of a couple of other reports on Shopify and Bigcommerce. Shopify allows you to create custom reports (available on 'Advanced Shopify' and 'Shopify Plus' plans only) and Bigcommerce - for an additional fee - provides you with access to an 'Insights' report giving you more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.

This Bigcommerce 'additional fee' is quite expensive though, at $49 on the 'Standard' and 'Plus' plans, $99 per month on the 'Pro' plan and $249 on the 'Enterprise' plan.

Despite the pricey 'Insights' option, I think it's fair to say that Bigcommerce ultimately offers a significant advantage over Shopify when it comes to reporting, because you get the vast majority of report types as standard on any Bigcommerce plan.

With Shopify, by contrast, you have to be on one of the more expensive plans - the $79 per month 'Shopify' plan and up - to avail of comprehensive reporting functionality.

If you're on a cheaper Shopify plan, you can avail of some statistics via an 'online store dashboard', but these are pretty basic and 'top line' in nature.

 Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

For additional insights into your store (particularly where traffic to it is concerned) you can of course also install Google Analytics and use goals to measure conversions and create custom reports.

Buying domains through Shopify and Bigcommerce

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to buy domains directly from them, and this will enable you to get your website up and running quickly without the need to configure DNS (domain name settings) records with domain name provider.

Bigcommerce advises that domains purchased with them have limited DNS capability though - as the company puts it, "if you need (or may later need) features such as forwarding or domain privacy, you may wish to use a domain from a third-party registrar instead."

The other thing worth bearing in mind with purchasing domains from Shopify or Bigcommerce is that not all extensions are catered for - so depending on your requirements you may be better off buying your domain name from a dedicated provider.

Email forwarding

If you have bought a domain from either Shopify or Bigcommerce, you can create 'forwarding addresses' that forward your mail from your bought domain to another email address - for example, you could set up firstname.lastname@mystore.com which forwards mail onto firstname.lastname@anotherdomain.com.

More useful though is the ability to configure DNS settings on either your Bigcommerce or Shopify-bought domain so that you can use Google Apps to manage your email; this gives you a proper email account that uses your domain name - i.e., youraddress@yourdomain.com. 

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you access the DNS settings via the standard Bigcommerce interface.

Personally speaking, I would be inclined to ignore both Bigcommerce and Shopify's built-in email forwarding and pay for a G Suite or Office 365 account to manage email — simply because in doing so you get a very robust email solution AND a host of useful business tools (calendars, file storage, video conferencing and so on). Bigcommerce actually recommends this too.

App stores

There are 'app stores' available for both Shopify and Bigcommerce - with Shopify's containing significantly more apps than Bigcommerce's; whereas there are hundreds Bigcommerce apps available, we are talking about thousands for Shopify.

The difference in quantity may to a degree reflect the fact that Bigcommerce provides a bit more functionality straight out of the box.

It may also reflect the fact that is that there is a bigger user base for and eco-system built around Shopify. As such, you will be able to integrate Shopify with a much wider range of third-party apps and add more interesting functionality than with Bigcommerce.

Point of sale options in Shopify and Bigcommerce

When it comes to using either platform for point-of-sale (POS) transactions, both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to use mobile devices to to facilitate point of sale transactions.

Other devices - such as barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills and a label printers - can also be integrated. 

All these help your Shopify or Bigcommerce store become more than just an 'virtual' entity and turn it into a tool for running a business in the physical world too - useful applications of a POS system include accepting credit cards at a merchandise stand at a gig; processing credit card payments at a flea market stall; or just using Shopify or Bigcommerce as a payment processor in general. All your customer and order data is synced with your online store's back end, so everything is kept neat and tidy.

 Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

To use POS with Bigcommerce you will need to integrate a third party platform, namely Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail hardware (with more options on the way soon apparently); the Shopify hardware kits are available from the Shopify site itself and Shopify POS is more of an 'out of the box' affair.

Which approach is better will boil down to customer requirements - users with an existing relationship with Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail will value the flexibility provided by Bigcommerce; users who want a more tightly integrated approach will prefer how Shopify handles POS.

On thing you will need to watch out for with Shopify POS is the fact that to get the most out of it, you’ll need to be on a $79 ‘Shopify’ plan or higher, meaning a fairly steep increase in monthly overheads for Shopify POS merchants.

Although you can sell in person on the cheaper Shopify plans — using a mobile and a card reader — you won’t be able to use the more extensive range of POS hardware which works with Shopify (barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills etc.). This probably means that — depending on the hardware used — Bigcommerce can facilitate POS slightly cheaper than Shopify.

Mobile

So how do Shopify and Bigcommerce shape up when it comes to mobile devices?

Templates

When it comes to how your store is actually displayed on a mobile device, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'responsive' template designs which automatically adjust the layout of your online store so that it displays nicely across a variety of devices (although if you are not happy with the 'out of the box' design for mobile, you'll need to tweak HTML / CSS to change it; that said, the responsive site usually works very well for most users and will not need to be edited unless you have very specific design / brand requirements). 

Mobile apps

When it comes to mobile apps, Shopify is a hands down winner, offering quite a few different smartphone apps to its userbase. The two main ones are 'Shopify' and 'Shopify POS', which are available on both iOS and Android. The first allows you to manage basic aspects of your store (fulfil orders, add products and view reports); the second, as the name Shopify POS suggests, is there to help you sell via Shopify in a physical location (accept credit card payments, sync products, email receipts etc.).

In addition to the apps mentioned above, there are various Shopify apps available which are designed to help you with various aspects of setting up an online store - a logo marker, a business card making app and an 'entrepreneur articles' app (note that the last two are Android-only).

Bigcommerce used to provide a mobile app but no longer does. (The company says that the desktop version of the Bigcommerce control panel may be accessible using some versions of Android, but that using the desktop control panel from a mobile device is not supported by the company.)

There are some third party apps for managing a Bigcommerce store on a smartphone available - for example, the 'Admin for Bigcommerce' app - but you won't be able to rely on support from Bigcommerce for them. 

Ultimately it's fair to say that Shopify offers more comprehensive - and official - options when it comes to managing your store on a mobile device, particularly in a point-of-sale context.

AMP format

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google-backed project that has, over the past year or so, really started to take off - lots of site owners are now presenting their content in AMP format on smartphones.

Basically, pages displayed in AMP format are cut-down versions of your content (certain scripts and page features are removed); because of their cut-down nature they load significantly faster on mobile devices.

The key advantage of AMP format is that the number of users abandoning your site (after getting bored waiting for your content) is drastically reduced. There may also be a bit of an SEO benefit to consider too, because Google sometimes positions pages in AMP format above other content (using a featured-articles style carousel).

Although many website owners currently use AMP format to speed up the delivery of largely text-based content like blog posts or news articles, AMP usage has started to crop up in e-commerce contexts too, notably on eBay product pages.

The good news is that both Bigcommerce and Shopify allows you to present your product pages in AMP format.

As far as I understand it, you can use AMP on any Shopify template - you just need to install a third-party AMP app (the downside: you'll need to pay for this).

If you'd like to use AMP with Bigcommerce, you can do so without any additional charges. AMP can be enabled on all of the free Bigcommerce themes, and a large number of its paid ones too. To find a Bigcommerce theme that supports AMP, you just go to the Bigcommerce theme store and select the 'Google AMP enabled' option when browsing the themes.

Given that you can use AMP on all the free Bigcommerce templates out of the box and without the need for any additional app installations, it's a win for Bigcommerce here.


VAT MOSS in Bigcommerce and Shopify

If you intend to sell digital products to EU consumers with Bigcommerce or Shopify, you'll need to familiarise yourself with something called VAT MOSS (short for 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop').

VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products - even if you are running a business that is based outside of the EU.

Shopify has a clear edge over Bigcommerce here, because it can automatically work all the relevant tax rates out for you. With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - which will take you a while.


Dropshipping in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock - instead, you take the order, pass it to a supplier, and they send the goods to the client. Your online store, in effect, becomes a front end or 'middle man' for somebody else's business.

Online retailers tend to like this business model because it doesn't involve much investment to start a business; you don't have to spend a lot of money purchasing or manufacturing goods before you start selling. The flipside is that margins tend to be quite low due to intense competition in the dropshipping marketplace. And it can be hard to find ethical suppliers of goods — lots of dropshipping suppliers provide goods manufactured in China, where working conditions can be very poor (on this point, it would be good to see Shopify and Bigcommerce provide lists of ethical dropshippers).

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce faciliate dropshipping - you can either use your store in a bespoke manner with a supplier with whom you have a relationship, or alternatively you can dropship for various retailers by installing an app from Bigcommerce or Shopify's app store (popular options include Oberlo for Shopify or Ali Express Dropshipping for Bigcommerce). 

As discussed above, the Shopify app store contains significantly more apps than the Bigcommerce equivalent - and as you might expect, this plays out when it comes to dropshipping apps - there are a lot more options to choose from with Shopify.

NOTE: For more information on dropshipping as a business model, you could do worse than check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Interface and ease of use

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce are straightforward to use. Their interfaces are also now very similar in appearance, and work in a similar way.

In both Bigcommerce and Shopify you use a menu on the left hand side to choose what you'd like to do (add some content, view orders, take a look at reports etc.) and the right hand side of the screen allows you to view data or upload / edit content accordingly. 

Both content management systems are not terribly dissimilar from Wordpress and Squarespace, so if you've used either of those content management systems before, you'll be on familiar ground if you end up using either Shopify or Bigcommerce. 

Below you'll find a video overview of the Bigcommerce interface:

And here's a walkthrough of the Shopify interface (albeit in a slightly more 'vloggy' format):


SEO in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify perform well on the SEO front.

The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO in both Shopify and Bigcommerce are easy to manage - changing page titles and meta descriptions is very straightforward, as is adding headings and alt text.

Creating page redirects is also very straightforward, with Shopify perhaps having a slight edge in this area, because it automatically prompts you to do this (and generates the redirect for you) if you change a page's URL (redirects are important because they tell browsers and search engines where a page has moved to if you change its URL).

Overall however, I’d say Bigcommerce’s SEO functionality is a bit better than Shopify’s, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it allows you to create Google friendly URLs more easily. With Shopify, although you can customise your URLs so that they contain keywords and are relatively short, they don’t end up perfect because the platform adds prefixes to your pages, blog posts and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages

  • /posts/ before posts

  • /products/ before products

Bigcommerce by contrast allows you to create much shorter URLs, i.e., ‘www.mystore.com/red-dress,’ which Google prefers.

Second, because AMP is enabled automatically for all pages and products — there’s no faffing about with app installs to get this important functionality in place.

That said, the SEO features in Shopify are strong too, and the fact remains that you can optimize a website for search engines very easily in either product.


Support for Shopify and Bigcommerce

Shopify and Bigcommerce offer similar support options, with phone, live chat, forum, FAQs and email support available. 

Contacting Bigcommerce

With Bigcommerce, you get 24/7 support across phone, email and live chat. However, before you get access to a phone number or email addresses, you are encouraged to fill in a form and review potential solutions suggested by the Bigcommerce website first.

Helpfully however, Bigcommerce provide a 'skip this step' option for users who are 100% certain they need help from a human being!

Contacting Shopify

Shopify's support is also 24/7. And as with Bigcommerce, you have to search for solutions to your problem before being given access to the contact details you're looking for.

 Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

One thing that is slightly unclear regarding Shopify phone support is who can access it: phone numbers are provided for North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, but it's unclear what number you should dial if you live in a country other than these.

Bigcommerce by contrast lists more phone numbers for more countries, plus provides an 'any other country' option too. So if phone support is what you're after, Bigcommerce's offering is arguably the more comprehensive one — or at least easier to figure out how to access.


GDPR compliance in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll be aware that website owners now need to comply with the EU’s General Dart Protection Regulations (GDPR). Now, please note that I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t treat anything here as legal advice; but that said, I’m going to spell out how I see GDPR issues affecting potential Bigcommerce and Shopify site store owners.

With the introduction of GDPR, there are several legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting their EU visitors' privacy. There are serious financial penalties for not doing so; and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.

Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key priorities for prospective Shopify and Bigcommerce store owners are to: 

  • provide adequate privacy and cookie notices

  • process and store data securely

  • get clear consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters

  • provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website before they are run(and to log that consent).

As far as I can tell, both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you meet the first three requirements easily enough, although you will need to spend time (and possibly money on lawyers) creating the relevant notices and tweaking data capture forms in order to make them GDPR compliant.

Neither product in my view adequately caters for the the fourth requirement — cookie consent. To ensure GDPR compliance in this area, you are required to display a cookie banner to your website users which

  • allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give 'prior consent')

  • logs their consent to run cookies

  • allows them to revoke consent at a later stage

So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Shopify or Bigcommerce store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a solution in place which does all of the above.

Now, out of the box at least, no adequate cookie banner solution is provided by either Shopify or Bigcommerce.

However, there are quite a few apps in the Shopify app store which claim to deal with this problem and provide this functionality. Some seem considerably better than others however; several apps that I looked at, whilst claiming to provide GDPR compliance, came nowhere near doing so.

I couldn’t find anything in the Bigcommerce app store claiming to provide this functionality. But it looks as though using a new product called Cookiepro may solve the problem. I’ve been having a play with it for some Squarespace sites I manage (another hosted solution without a solution to this GDPR cookie banner problem) and, although it requires quite a lot of setup and configuration, it does seem to work well. I haven’t quite finished getting Cookiepro up and running, but I’m making good progress and will be reviewing it in depth shortly as it may be a very relevant tool for Bigcommerce, Shopify and Squarespace users (not to mention a bunch of other hosted solution customers).


Bigcommerce vs Shopify: review conclusions

In previous comparisons I've done of online shopping tools - for example Shopify vs Volusion - I've generally been able to broadly pick a 'winning' product.

However, for this particular comparison, it's harder to pick a hands-down winner: both Shopify and Bigcommerce have various strengths and weaknesses which often seem to cancel any advantages of one platform or the other out.

For me, the strongest reason for using Bigcommerce over Shopify is that it includes more useful features out of the box on its cheapest plan - gift cards, reporting, ratings and reviews. Another key reason would be product options: you really can tailor them to the nth degree on Bigcommerce, where as Shopify limits you to three options. And finally there’s AMP format — it’s great that so many Bigcommerce templates have it built in.

For me Bigcommerce is really well suited to merchants who are going to be selling their own products, need flexibility when it comes to customisation options, and generally want a 'one-stop-shop' in terms of functionality for their online store. It's a good 'get up and go' option.

For me, the strongest reason for using Shopify over Bigcommerce probably boils down to financials: there are no sales limits, credit card fees are lower, and you can start selling cheaper with Shopify thanks to the 'Lite' plan.

My other main reasons for choosing Shopify over Bigcommerce would be to do with templates (the selection of both free and paid-for templates available in Shopify is better than the Bigcommerce equivalent) and integrations (Shopify offers a much wider range of apps than Bigcommerce). And finally, there's the fact that abandoned cart saving functionality is now included on Shopify's $29 per month plan - this is likely to tempt a lot of merchants into the Shopify camp.

But finally, don't forget personal preference: you might simply prefer the interface of one of these tools to the other, and as such I'd definitely advise you to try both out. You'll find links to the free trials below:


Key reasons for using Shopify over Bigcommerce

  • The 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling goods online considerably cheaper than Bigcommerce's entry level plan.

  • The template offering is significantly stronger.

  • Abandoned cart saving is available at a much lower price point than Bigcommerce.

  • It's arguably better for dropshipping.

  • Paid-for Shopify templates are slightly cheaper than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • Shopify templates are more distinct from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • iOS and Android apps are available for managing your store on the go - Bigcommerce don't currently offer any mobile apps for this purpose.

  • Shopify's approach to product categorisation is much better than Bigcommerce's - you can create collections which automatically populate and update themselves based on criteria you supply.

  • There are significantly more third-party apps available for Shopify than for Bigcommerce.

  • Adhering to VAT MOSS rules is easier with Shopify, because it can calculate the relevant tax rates automatically for you.

  • Point of Sale is more tightly integrated with the product and a dedicated mobile app is available for this functionality.

  • Shopify's blogging tool comes with an RSS feed - Bigcommerce's doesn't.

  • There are no limits on the amount of sales for your store.

You can try Shopify for free here.

Key reasons for using Bigcommerce over Shopify

  • No transaction fees apply, irrespective of the payment gateway used.

  • You get more e-commerce bang for your buck on the $29.95 and $79.95 Bigcommerce plans than with the Shopify equivalents - both of these Bigcommerce plans come with more selling features than their Shopify equivalents (with abandoned cart saving being a notable exceptionon the Bigcommerce $29.95 plan - Shopify is better value on that front).

  • It's much easier to create AMP versions of your store in Bigcommerce (and it's free too).

  • A comprehensive set of reports is available across all plans - this is not the case with Shopify.

  • Real-time carrier quotes are available much more cheaply with Bigcommerce - it's included in their $29 per month plan, whereas Shopify only provide it on their $299 per month plan.

  • You can use far more product options with Bigcommerce: on Shopify, although there are workarounds available, you're limited to 3 options out of the box.

  • You can easily include custom fields and file uploads as product options on a Bigcommerce store - this is not the case in Shopify, where workarounds or app installations are necessary.

  • The Bigcommerce abandoned cart saver functionality is more flexible than Shopify's.

  • Credit card fees are slightly lower (if in the US and using Braintree powered by Paypal)

  • Dedicated phone support appears to be available in more countries with Bigcommerce than with Shopify.

  • Works with more POS systems (and POS will often work out cheaper, depending on the setup used).

  • You can export product data to CSV and XML (Shopify only permits export to CSV).

You can try Bigcommerce for free here.


Any thoughts on Bigcommerce vs Shopify?

If you have any thoughts or queries on Bigcommerce vs Shopify, or feedback on either product, do feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Note: if you're viewing this on a mobile device, you may be reading a streamlined "AMP" version of the post which doesn't feature the comments section - in which case please just click here to view a version of the post which includes commenting.


More Shopify and Bigcommerce resources from Style Factory

Other related e-commerce resources

How to Increase Blog Traffic — 10 Simple Steps (2018)
 A typewriter (image accompanying our post on how to increase traffic to your blog posts)

In this article we look at ten ways you can increase blog traffic. Some involve simple tweaks, others require a more fundamental look at how you approach blogging. 

Before we delve into specifics though, let's start with an important question: why blog?


Why blog?

There are two main reasons.

First, blogging can be a lot of fun. It allows you to express yourself and share your views with a potentially large audience.

Second: done well, blogging has the potential to dramatically increase the number of people eyeballing your site. According to inbound marketing experts Hubspot, businesses that blog regularly tend to attract 55% more traffic than those that don’t (it's usually the best way to go about creating an inbound marketing campaign). 

So, if you write well and are blogging about a subject in which there is a sizeable interest, you can end up with a large amount of traffic on your website. And we all know what lots of traffic to a website means: increased sales opportunities and revenue.

But how do you go about creating a successful blog?


1. Find the right writer! (Hint: that might not be you)

At the heart of any successful blog is really great content – and that content is going to be much better if the person writing it is both knowledgeable and passionate about what they are writing about.

Posts that are written from the heart – and not by a content farm – are far more likely to be the posts that interest people and crucially, get shared.

BUT: it might be the case that you personally are not the best person to write the posts for your site. Perhaps you're not a great writer; perhaps you don't have time to devote to blogging. If either of those statements sounds like it might apply to you, consider finding a writer who is capable of creating really great posts and putting in the hours to do so.

Whoever ends up writing the posts on your website, their personality has to shine through. Readers identify with writers because there is much to like (or even dislike) about their personality, mouthiness or tone of voice.

If a reader likes YOU as a writer – and not just the quality of the content you are producing – you are far more likely to attract a dedicated following.

So make sure your personality comes across in your posts; this helps you form a rapport with your readers, who may be more inclined as a result to come back to your blog simply because they like you as an individual.


2. Use keyword research to identify good topics to blog about

It's dead easy to sit down and write blog posts which cover, in considerable depth, topics that nobody is particularly interested in.

Similarly, it's easy to write a blog post covering an area that people are really interested in, but to give it a title containing keywords that nobody ever searches for. 

Keyword research is your friend here: you can use a wide range of tools including Ahrefs, Semrush, Serpstat and Google Keyword Planner to discover the number of monthly searches for particular keywords, and find out how difficult it would be to rank for particular search phrases.

For a very detailed look at how to go about keyword research, you could do worse than check out Ahref's 'how to do keyword research' guide.

Once you've done your keyword research, you should ensure that your keywords feature in all the right places in your post - its title, meta description, headers and body copy. (For a full overview of how to go about this properly, you might want to check our our new SEO book.)


3. Focus on producing long-form content

Studies show that long-form content performs better in search results than short or 'thin' posts.  Producing long-from content on a blog basically means that you need to write posts that go into HUGE depth on a particular topic.

There are a couple of reasons for this - first, longer posts will naturally be more keyword-rich and therefore more likely to crop up as results for 'long tail' keyword searches.

Secondly, the in-depth nature of a long post is more likely to satisfy readers who come across it. The post will be more likely to answer your visitor's query, or solve their problem. As a result, the post is more likely to get shared on social media or get linked to from other sites — with very positive implications for traffic.


4. Keep your content fresh by updating existing posts

If you do any online research into blogging or SEO, you'll come across loads of articles which stress how important it is to create 'fresh' content in order to generate good search results and traffic to your site.

However, I'd caution against interpreting this as an instruction to constantly produce new posts. With my own content, I've found it much more useful to focus on quality over quantity; and rather than blogging just for the sake of it, I prefer to invest my time in keeping my existing content as strong (and as in-depth) as possible by continuously reviewing older posts and enhancing them with the most up-to-date information that I can. 

Not only does this send the 'freshness' signals to Google that the search engine's algorithms reportedly approve of, but it typically increases the length of posts and helps provide the 'long-form' content which tend to perform better in search results..


5. Accompany your blog with fabulous images

It’s important to use really good images in any blog posts you publish.

There are four main reasons for this: firstly, it helps readers get a sense of what you are writing about (this is particularly important if you are exploring difficult concepts – visual aids can really help simplify matters).

Secondly, the main picture accompanying your post will show up whenever your visitors share one of your posts on social media, and if it is a dull picture, it’s far less likely to generate clickthroughs to your site.

Thirdly, as with text, images can be optimised to help your content appear in search results. By adding suitable keywords to the 'alternative text', file names and captions for the images in your post, you can help search engines gain a better understanding of what your post is about (and by extension, help the post appear in relevant search results).

And finally, good images help to make your content look authoritative. If you use a beautiful piece of photography instead of a dodgy piece of clip art to accompany a blog post, it is far more likely to be taken seriously — i.e., read in the first place! — by people who come across it.


6. Optimise your blog posts

There are a series of technical steps - known as 'on page SEO' which you should take to give your blog posts the best chance of performing well in search.

You should always:

  • create blog post titles which reflect your keyword research, and accurately describe what you are writing about

  • include keywords in each post’s URL that reflect the content

  • use keyword-rich headers to break up content

  • use keyword rich alt text and file names for your images.

For a few more tips on this area, check out our article on how to make your content visible in Google search results or download our SEO e-book.

There are also a few 'technical SEO' steps you can take. Google prefers content that loads really quickly - a few things that can help in this area include:

  • ensuring all image files are as small as possible (without being pixelated)

  • avoiding use of unnecessary scripts on the page

  • using a CSS stylesheet rather than loads of inline CSS

  • registering your site with Google Search Console


7. Capture email addresses

Once you’ve attracted a visitor to your blog, you should ideally capture their email address. This allows you to notify visitors via e-newsletter of new blog posts, which can result in more traffic and shares.

To do this, you need to ensure that there is a data capture form on your blog post, not just on a 'sign up to our mailing list' page on your site. You can do this using a sidebar, pop-up box or a simple text call-to-action to encourage people to join your mailing list.* 

If you use an email marketing tool (like Getresponse, Aweber, Mailchimp or Mad Mimi) you can use your RSS feed to power your e-newsletters, meaning that every time you add a new blog post your subscribers will automatically receive an e-newsletter with a notification about the new content.

* Be careful with pop-ups (or 'interstitials' as Google likes to call them). They can dramatically increase the number of leads you generate, but they can also have a negative impact on search traffic, particularly if over-used on mobile versions of your site. Read more about Google's approach to pop-ups here.


8. Encourage social sharing

Actively encourage your readers to share your blog posts.

If they follow these encouragements, not only should you see a rise in traffic to your posts, but you may also be sending subtle ‘signals’ to search engines regarding the popularity and quality of your posts (the jury is out on whether social sharing has a direct impact on search results, but there does seem to be a correlation of sorts).

Using a tool like Sumo – which allows you to add a truckload of clever social sharing icons to various parts of your website, as well as data capture forms - can help in this regard.


9. Encourage comments and user engagement

Encourage people (yes, even trolls!) to add their own views at the bottom of your posts. There are three reasons why this is beneficial:

  1. It creates more keyword-rich content on your website

  2. It can help encourage return visits to your blog, as discussions take hold on your comments section

  3. Some SEO experts believe that Google treats posts which generate a lot of community discussion preferentially to those without any comments.


10. Build backlinks to your posts

At the simplest level, there are two key ingredients to ensuring a blog post ranks in search:

First, your post has to be contain quality content.

Second, it has to have a lot of backlinks - links from other sites - pointing to it.

We've covered the 'quality content' bit earlier: you basically need to focus on producing long-form posts which cover the topic you're writing about in huge depth.

Getting backlinks is arguably a harder task, as it involves reaching out to other bloggers and asking them to include a link to your content on their posts. This is a time consuming affair, but it's absolutely essential, and if you take a thorough approach to it, it can prove very fruitful.

You'll find a really helpful list of link building suggestions over on the Backlinko website.

One thing: never buy links from spammy SEO services! This can actively damage your site's position in search, and is technically in breach of Google's terms and conditions.


Any thoughts on blogging?

We hope you've enjoyed our tips on how to increase blog traffic. If you have any suggestions or queries relating to blogging, we'd love to hear them - feel free to add a comment below.

(Note: if you're reading this on a mobile device, you may be reading the faster-loading 'AMP' version which doesn't feature comments. You can add comments on the regular version of this article by clicking here).


Further reading on SEO / traffic-increasing strategies

You may find a couple of our other traffic-generation posts helpful:

Shopify vs Ecwid (2018) - Comparison Review
 Shopify vs Ecwid (image of shopping cart accompanying the two companies' logos).

In this article we compare Shopify vs Ecwid, two well-known tools for building an online store. Which one best meets your needs?


Deciding on the type of e-commerce solution you need

There are two main types of solutions you can use to build your store: a tool that lets you build a complete e-commerce site (a whole website, basically, with a shopping cart), or a tool that lets you create a store which you then 'plug in' to an existing website.

In the case of the products we're discussing here, the general idea behind Shopify is to allow you to build a complete e-commerce site from scratch, whereas Ecwid is more for users who want to sell products on an existing site (or, indeed, a social media page).

(Well, in truth, it's slightly more complicated than that, because recently Shopify introduced a new plan, 'Shopify Lite', which allows you, much like Ecwid, to sell products on an existing site...and Ecwid introduced a new 'Starter Site' feature which allows you to run an Ecwid store as a standalone site...but we'll come to all that later!)

Which approach is for you depends chiefly on whether you already have a website (that you are happy to sell from) or not.

If you don't have a website, or have a poorly-designed one, you may be best off opting for Shopify (or a similar 'all-in-one' e-commerce platform), as it comes with a range of free, professionally-designed templates that you can use to lay out your website, as well as e-commerce and blogging functionality.

If on the other hand, you have a website that already looks fantastic and works great — perhaps a good Wordpress website — then Ecwid is quite possibly for you.

Let's take a look at how Shopify and Ecwid work.


How Shopify works

What is Shopify?

Although Shopify is generally perceived as an e-commerce solution, it is, technically speaking, a combination of a website builder and an online store builder: as well as letting you showcase and sell products (digital or physical) you can use it to create regular web content as well — static pages, blog posts, contact forms and so on.

Once you sign up for an account (there's a two week free trial available) you can then select a 'theme', tweak the design a little, create some pages and add some products along with relevant pictures, prices, weights and so on. Shipping costs are calculated automatically by Shopify based on the information you give it about postage costs in your country, and the weights of your items.

When you are ready to publish your store, it can either live at a 'myshopify' web address, or at a domain name of your choosing (www.yoursite.com etc.). You get a lot of control over search engine optimisation (SEO), with the ability to add meta data, page descriptions and so on; it's very flexible on that front.

Shopify and payment gateways / transaction fees

A payment gateway is the software that processes credit card transactions when visitors to your site make a purchase.

With Shopify, your options on this front are as follows:

  • 'Shopify Payments' (Shopify's own built-in payment gateway) 

  • Paypal

  • a wide range of third party payment gateways (Shopify works with over 100 of them).

If you use Shopify Payments, there are no transaction fees to worry about - i.e., Shopify won't take a cut of your sales if you use their own card processing option,but you'll need to note that Shopify Payments is only available to merchants selling from certain countries:

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

If you use a third-party payment gateway provider, transaction fees will apply - how much depends on the Shopify pricing plan you're on.

On top of transaction fees, you will need to think about credit card processing fees. These will be applied irrespective of whether you use Shopify Payments or a third-party merchant gateway, and the percentage applied varies depending on the country you are based in and the type of Shopify plan you are on (with, as you might expect, the percentage being lower on the more expensive Shopify plans).

Templates

Shopify is pretty flexible when it comes to design - the templates are all very 'tweakable' using the controls provided, but with the 'Basic Shopify' plan or higher you also get full control over CSS and HTML. This makes it a good solution for both users who want edit their design without resorting to coding...or users who really want to use CSS and HTML to tweak their site design to the nth degree.

 Example of a Shopify theme.

Example of a Shopify theme.

There are 10 free templates available in Shopify and 57 paid themes (within each theme there are several variants if it, so the number of designs available is a bit higher than those figures suggest). 

How much does Shopify cost?

Shopify provides 5 plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements, but typically comes in at around $2000 per month

With the exception of the 'Lite' plan, all the above allow you to create fully functional online stores. The Lite plan is more restrictive in that it doesn't allow users to create a standalone store but instead permits you to:

  • sell on Facebook

  • use Shopify to sell goods in physical locations (i.e., for point of sale applications)

  • make use of a Shopify 'Buy Button' which can be integrated on an existing site (this works in a similar way to Paypal but allows users to make use of a much more sophisticated back end and inventory management system).

A free trial lets you evaluate the product and get a sense of your requirements. 

It is also possible to buy 'apps' which add particular bits of functionality to your store (for example, you can buy apps that let you create social media 'coupons' for certain products, or apps that provide additional accounting information on your sales).

And as mentioned above, you are also able to purchase Shopify themes created by professional web designers. These tend to look slicker than the (perfectly usable) free templates, but they come with a one-off fee of around $140-$180.

Shopify's Buy Button

Perhaps in a bid to capture some of the users that Ecwid is appealing to — i.e., those who wish to add e-commerce functionality to an existing website — Shopify introduced a 'Buy Button' which, like Ecwid, can be embedded onto a site using a few lines of code. This lets you display individual products or collections on your site.

The Buy Button is available on all Shopify plans, but unless you intend to use Shopify to create both a standalone store and to embed products elsewhere, the $9 'Lite' plan is all you need to make use of the button.

The functionality you get with Shopify's 'Buy Button' is not as comprehensive as that provided by Ecwid: with Ecwid, you're getting a complete store on your site (one which facilitates user account creation, more comprehensive product options, product search, social media sharing of products etc.); as thing stand, the Shopify 'Buy Button' is more about providing basic 'add to cart' and checkout functionality.

Shopify's point-of-sale functionality

A key feature which differentiates Shopify from a lot of competing 'standalone' solutions is its point-of-sale functionality - you can use an iOS device plus various pieces of kit sold by Shopify (tills, receipt printers, barcode scanners etc.) to sell in physical locations as well as online. You can work with third party equipment - such as credit card readers - too. However, you need to be on a more expensive Shopify plan (the $79 ‘Shopify’ plan or higher) to be able to use this point of sale functionality to use the full range of hardware that integrates with Shopify. If you are on a ‘Lite’ or ‘Basic’ plan, you can still use point of sale functionality, but only via an app and a card reader (i.e., tills, receipt printers, barcode scanners etc. cannot be used on the cheaper plans).

Ecwid can be made to work in point-of-sale contexts too but it is arguably a more limited offering (we’ll discuss Ecwid POS in more depth later in the review).

Dropshipping in Ecwid and Shopify

Many users are drawn to solutions like Ecwid and Shopify because they want to start a dropshipping business.

Dropshipping is a way of selling goods without stocking anything - you take an order, send it to a supplier, and they fulfil the order. The advantage of this selling model is that you don't have to invest in lots of stock to set up your online business - rather, your money can go straight into marketing your business. The disadvantage is that droppshipping is very competitive — there are lots of people at this game — and it can be hard to find suppliers of goods that are produced ethically (as many of them are made in China, where working conditions can be very poor).

Neither Shopify nor Ecwid facilitate dropshipping 'out of the box' but the good news is that it's still really easy to dropship with both products - you just need to add an app to your store.

Dropshipping in Shopify is simply a case of adding an app like Oberlo to your store (there are many others available), picking some goods you'd like to sell, and putting your site live.

Similarly, you can also dropship with Ecwid using apps such as Inventory Source or Wholesale2B. 

It's probably fair to say though - that thanks to Shopify's significantly better stocked app-store, that there are more options available to Shopify merchants in the dropshipping department.

Shopify and product options

One thing paying close attention to with Shopify involves product options: you are limited to three per product.

For example, if you were selling a birthday card on Shopify, you could allow users to choose card size, card colour and envelope type...but if you wanted to then allow them to choose envelope colour, you wouldn't be able to. Now, there are workarounds available - you can use a third party app to facilitate more options, combine two options into one, create separate products, or do some manual coding to add more options...but it's all a bit more complicated than it should be.

Ecwid, by contrast, is more straightforward in this regard and doesn't limit product options to such a small number - I'm not sure of the exact limit, but I was easily able to create a large number of product options when testing the app.

Another issue with Shopify's product options is that allowing your customers to provide bespoke information or items - for example, text for an engraving, or an image to be printed - is not possible without either manually adding some code to a product template, or investing in an app.

Again, Ecwid works better here, simply allowing you to capture your desired data (via text box, file upload button etc.) very easily in its product options section. Note that the 'file upload' option is only available in the 'Venture' and higher plans however.

For many users, Shopify's three 3 options and its limitations around bespoke data capture won't really pose problems, but for users who have specific requirements and want want a standalone hosted e-commerce site, I'd suggest taking a look at Bigcommerce.

Another option to increase the product option limits in Shopify is to invest in a third-party app from Shopify’s app store - there are several available.

SEO in Shopify

Search engine optimisation in Shopify is generally very strong: it’s easy to tweak all the major SEO components — headers, page titles, URLs, meta data and so on. Although Ecwid performs reasonably well on all these fronts too, it’s worth singling out two areas where Shopify outperforms Ecwid in SEO terms: URL creation and AMP format.

In terms of URL creation, it’s easier to create ‘clean’ URLs with Shopify; although they are not quite as short as search engines like (being prefixed by identifiers such as ‘posts’ and ‘products’), it’s easy to ensure that Shopify URLs are relatively simple in nature and contain your product keywords. In Ecwid, by contrast, you are stuck with whatever is generated by the system for you. Now, if you ensure that your product title is SEO-friendly, it will be included in your Ecwid URL, which is something — but the Shopify approach is unquestionably more flexible and better from an SEO point of view.

Another edge that Shopify has over Ecwid involves something called AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages format. Pages in this format basically load faster, leading to an improved mobile experience for users, and potentially some SEO benefits (search engines are believed to reward faster-loading pages over sluggish ones by ranking them slightly higher in search). With the addition of a third-party app in Shopify, it’s possible to display all your site content in AMP format — as far as I can ascertain, this is not possible (out of the box at least) with Ecwid.

Is Shopify for me?

Utlimately Shopify offers a quick, user-friendly way to get an online store together quickly and is ideal for anyone who doesn't already have a website. It's also a good option for people who have an existing site and wish to sell a product or two on the side with a minimum of fuss. The main gripe I have with it is the options limit discussed above.

Most users who want to build a standalone e-commerce site will find Shopify to be a very robust solution, but as with any online product though, it's best to sign up for a free trial and test it out yourself before committing to it.

You might also like to read our in-depth Shopify review for a more detailed breakdown of pros and cons of the product. Also, if you’re interested in building a Shopify store, do get in touch — we can help you build one!

Right, now on to Ecwid.


How Ecwid works

What is Ecwid? 

Ecwid is a tool that is mainly focussed on giving you a store that 'plugs in' to your existing site. Although its new 'Starter Site' feature (more on which below) means you can now use it to create a basic standalone online store, it's primary purpose is still to allow you to add e-commerce functionality to an existing online presence.

As with all the leading online store building tools, Ecwid allows you to set up ‘catalogs’ of products (both physical and digital), add photos, pricing, weights for each etc. You can define shipping rates, accept card payments and so on – all the standard tasks that you’d expect to be able to perform using an e-commerce solution. You can tweak design elements using controls, or, again - if coding is your bag, you can edit the CSS stylesheets (though not HTML).

Where Ecwid differs quite fundamentally from Shopify however is that it is not really a 'standalone' hosted solution but a widget that gets placed on other sites (hence the name: Ecwid stands for ‘E-commerce Widget’). As such, you get a few lines of code to add to your existing website or social media page; your store is displayed wherever you’ve inserted this code. This is good because you can effectively host your store on multiple locations.

(As discussed above, Shopify's 'Buy Button' also allows you to sell products on an existing site, but it is a more basic affair.)

How much does Ecwid cost?

If you’ve only got a few products to sell (up to 10), Ecwid is free.

The $15 per month 'Venture' plan allows you to sell up to 100 products; the $35 per month 'Business' plan allows you to sell up to 2500 and the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan, as the name suggests, allows you to sell an unlimited number (if you pay annually it works out cheaper).

There are no transaction fees on any plan. As you’d expect, the more you pay, the more additional features you get – discount coupons functionality, better support etc. 

One thing to watch out for with pricing: unlike some competing solutions, the price varies significantly according to where you live. So for example in the UK, Ecwid's 'Venture', 'Business' and 'Unlimited' plans cost £15, £35 and £99 respectively - considerably higher than the US costs, particularly since the Brexit-related fall in the value of Sterling.

Ecwid and payment gateways

As with Shopify, you can either use Paypal or a payment gateway (or both) with Ecwid to process credit card payments. Ecwid does not provide quite as many options with regard to payment gateways however, giving users 55 to choose from versus Shopify's 100+. That said, it's still a considerable number (and more than you can use with competing products Bigcommerce and Squarespace, for example).

Strong features

Five features of Ecwid are particularly strong: 

  • You can use it to present your storefront in up to 45 different languages (something you can't really do out of the box with Shopify).

  • Like Shopify, it offers point of sale functionality, integrating with four POS providers, NCR, Clover, Square and Vend. However, to use the full range of POS hardware (i.e., not just a mobile device) when selling, you will need to be on the most most expensive Ecwid plan (the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan). You should also note that one of the POS integrations — with Square — is limited to certain countries: the US, UK, Canada, Japan and Australia.

  • Ecwid comes with a free plan that is very usable - you can sell up to ten products with it.

  • A mobile app is automatically created for your Ecwid store which can be published to the Apple App store or Google Play (and these apps accept Apple Pay). This is useful for users who are adding Ecwid to a non-responsive website (although if your website isn't responsive yet, I'd do something about that!).

  • Ecwid integrates very neatly with Wordpress sites, thanks to a dedicated plugin.

 Ecwid's card reader, powered by Paypal, allows you to carry out point-of-sale transactions.

Ecwid's card reader, powered by Paypal, allows you to carry out point-of-sale transactions.

The abandoned cart saver in Ecwid

One thing worth paying particular attention to in Ecwid is the fact that it offers abandoned cart saver functionality much cheaper than Shopify (and indeed other competing e-commerce solutions).

An abandoned cart saver allows you to send automated emails to visitors to your store who go part of the way through the sales process only to leave your store without buying any products. These sorts of emails can increase conversions and have the potential to increase your revenue significantly with little effort.

The abandoned cart saver tool is available on the cheapest Ecwid plan, meaning that you can avail of this useful functionality from just $15 per month. By contrast, you have to be on the $29 ‘Basic Shopify’ or higher plan to get access to an abandoned cart saver.

Ecwid's Starter Site option

A new and potentially very useful feature in Ecwid is its Starter Site option. This allows you to use Ecwid to build a one-page site feature your online store. It's by no means as comprehensive as a Shopify site, but it nonetheless allows you to use Ecwid to build a standalone site. If you're on a paid plan, you can map this to your own domain (meaning that your Ecwid site will sit at www.mystorename.com etc.).

One potentially useful application of the starter site option is using it a 'holding store' whilst your main website gets built — this lets you sell products successfully via an Ecwid starter site despite your full site not being 100% ready.

Is Ecwid for me?

Ecwid is ideal for anyone who already has a site and wants to add a professional online store to it. It saves you from reinventing the wheel by designing a new website, and the fact that you can plug your store into a variety of online locations is excellent - your store can live on your website, your Facebook page, anywhere you can whack a little bit of code in. As ever, try before you buy - the free Ecwid plan can be found here.

You can also read our full Ecwid review here.


Review conclusions

Reasons to use Shopify over Ecwid

  • It’s good for users who don't already have a website, and need a fully-featured standalone store containing features like static pages and blog posts in addition to selling features

  • The SEO features are a bit stronger in Shopify than Ecwid.

  • More payment gateways are available in Shopify than Ecwid.

  • The point-of-sale options are arguably a bit more comprehensive and ‘baked in’

  • You can use the ‘Buy Button’ to sell on other sites a bit more cheaply than via Ecwid, although the functionality provided by it is not as comprehensive as what you’d get from an Ecwid store.

A free trial of Shopify is available here.

Reasons to use Ecwid over Shopify

  • It’s a good option for users who already have a website that you they are happy with, but wish to add a fully-featured online store to it.

  • Ecwid’s multilingual functionality is considerably better than Shopify’s.

  • Ecwid is great for users on a budget or those who have basic selling requirements, because its free plan may actually meet many merchants’ needs.

  • It provides considerably more flexibility with regard to product options than Shopify.

  • It provides abandoned cart functionality at a considerably lower price point than Shopify.

A free trial of Ecwid is available here.


Alternatives to Shopify and Ecwid

If you're looking for a hosted solution for your online store, we'd probably recommend Bigcommerce as a good alternative to Shopify. You can read our Bigcommerce review here, or check out our e-commerce platform reviews section for more online store reviews and comparisons.

Other hosted solutions for e-commerce include Squarespace, Jimdo and Wix, but these are more general website building platforms than specialised e-commerce tools (especially the last two of these three products). See our Squarespace review, Jimdo review and Wix review respectively for more information on these products.

If you are running a Wordpress site and want a store that 'slots into' your site in a similar fashion to Ecwid, then WooCommerce is definitely worth a look too.



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Shopify Reviews (2018) - all the Pros and Cons of a Leading Online Store Builder

In this Shopify review, we look at one of the most popular online-store building tools currently available. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of this e-commerce solution.

Our overall rating: 4/5


What is Shopify?

Shopify is a web application that allows you to create your own online store. It provides you with a wide range of templates that can be customised to meet individual users’ branding requirements, and it allows either physical or digital goods to be sold. 

One of the main ideas behind Shopify is that users without much in the way of technical or design skills can create a store without the involvement of a design agency or web developer; however, people who are familiar with HTML and CSS will be pleased to discover that Shopify allows you to edit both, giving you a lot of control over the design of templates.

Because Shopify is a hosted solution, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more individual requirements through the addition of apps - more on which later - or using custom code).

Shopify is a software as a service ('Saas') tool - this means that you don't own it but rather pay a monthly fee to use it. As long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.


How many people use Shopify? And why does this matter?

According to Shopify the product has

  • been used to power 600,000 stores

  • 1,000,000 active users

  • generated over $46bn in sales.

Now without getting a mole into Shopify's accounts department, it's impossible to verify the accuracy of the above numbers, but it's fairly safe to say that Shopify is definitely one of the more established e-commerce platforms out there.

This is important because when you choose a hosted solution to build an online store with, you are placing a huge amount of trust in the company providing it. There have been instances in the past of similar services closing down in the past - Magento Go being a case in point - resulting in all manner of problems for their users (who had to migrate their stores over to a different platform). 

Shopify's strong market position and very large userbase should make the prospect of financial difficulties for the company far less likely, which in turn makes the prospect of a store you host with them suddenly disappearing far less likely. 

We'll have a look at what you can do with Shopify shortly - but first, let's check out the pricing.


Shopify pricing

There are five Shopify pricing plans to choose from:

  • 'Shopify Lite' - $9 per month

  • 'Basic Shopify' - $29 per month

  • 'Shopify' - $79 per month

  • 'Advanced Shopify' - $299 per month

  • 'Shopify Plus' - fees are negotiable, but in the region of $2000 per month.

Shopify represents one of the cheaper ways into selling online, with its starter plan, "Shopify Lite" costing $9 per month and allowing you to sell an unlimited number of goods.

Shopify pricing table (correct as of August 2018)

However, it's important to note that this plan does not actually allow you to construct a fully-functional, standalone online store: rather, it

  • lets you sell via your Facebook page

  • allows you to use Shopify in a physical location to sell goods or manage inventory

  • gives you access to Shopify's Buy Button, which allows you to sell goods on an existing website or blog.

The Buy Button works similar to a Paypal 'Buy Now' button, but because it links back to Shopify, more sophisticated options regarding tracking orders and their fulfilment status are available.

Using the Shopify Buy Button allows you to integrate Shopify into a site built on another platform - for example Squarespace, Wix or Wordpress; this is a useful feature for users who are generally happy with their existing website but wish to integrate some Shopify e-commerce functionality onto it.

As you move up the pricing scale, you'll encounter the ‘Basic Shopify’ plan for $29 per month; the 'Shopify' plan for $79 per month and the 'Advanced Shopify' plan for $299 per month. Unlike the 'Lite' plan, all of these plans do allow you to host a fully functional online store; unlimited file storage and bandwidth are also included.

Finally, there is is also the ‘Shopify Plus’ plan to consider – this is an ‘enterprise grade’ solution which is designed more with big businesses in mind rather than the average user; it offers advanced features regarding security, APIs and fulfilment. 

So what are the main differences between each plans?

Key differences between Shopify plans

Key features to watch out (and not miss by selecting the wrong Shopify plan) are:

  • reporting - professional reporting functionality is only available on the $79 'Shopify' plans and up

  • advanced report builder - advanced reporting tools (which allow you to create your own custom reports) are only provided on the most expensive 'Advanced' Shopify plans

  • gift cards - these are only available on the $79 'Shopify' plans and up.

  • real time carrier shipping, which is only available on the most expensive 'Advanced Shopify' plan

  • staff accounts - these allow you to give different members of your team different permissions (which is useful for restricting access to sensitive data); you are allowed 2 staff accounts on the 'Basic Shopify' plan; 5 on the 'Shopify' plan and 15 on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan

  • point of sale functionality - unless you are on a 'Shopify' or higher plan, some point of sale features will not be available to you (we'll discuss point of sale in more depth below).

It's worth mentioning that you don’t have to pay for plans on a monthly basis – you can pay on an annual or biennial basis - Shopify offer a 10% discount on an annual and a 20% discount on a biennial plans, when they are paid upfront. 

Overall Shopify’s pricing structure is fairly consistent with key competing products like Bigcommerce, Squarespace and Volusion; the main difference involves the 'Lite' plan really, which whilst not giving you a fully hosted online store, does allow you to make use of many key Shopify features on an existing website for a very low monthly fee.

If I had a criticism of Shopify's pricing structure it would be that some features which you might expect to find on entry level plans - like gift cards and professional reporting - only become available when you opt for a more expensive one, or make use of an app. 

Other solutions, notably Bigcommerce, are considerably more generous with the entry-level feature set, offering a bit more of an 'all-in-one' approach.

Let's take a look at how Shopify actually lets you accept payments for your goods - because this is where some key advantages of using the platform can be found.


Shopify Payments, payment gateways and transaction fees

There are two ways to accept credit card payments on Shopify.

The most straightforward, for users in countries where it is supported, is to use Shopify Payments, Shopify’s built-in payment system. 

If you use this, you don't have to worry about transaction fees. However, there is still a 'credit card rate' to consider: in the US, you can expect to pay a rate of between 2.4% and 2.9% of each credit card transaction (plus on some plans, an additional 30c). In other countries, the rate is lower (the UK range of credit card fees, for example, is 1.5% to 2.2%).

The exact rate depends on the type of plan you are on, with the lowest transaction fees (as you might expect) becoming available on the most expensive monthly subscriptions.

Alternatively, you can use a third party ‘payment gateway’ to process card transactions - of which there are over 100 to choose from (far more than are available from competing platforms Bigcommerce, Volusion or Squarespace).

Using a third-party payment gateway requires a bit of configuration – you’ll need to set up a ‘merchant account’ with a payment gateway provider. Depending on the payment gateway provider you use, you can expect to pay a percentage of a transaction fee, a monthly fee or both.

If you use a payment gateway, Shopify will apply a transaction fee as well (of between 0.5% and 2% depending on the Shopify plan you're on - again, the fee gets lower as the monthly plans get more expensive).

Whether or not it works out cheaper to use Shopify Payments or a payment gateway will depend very much on the kind of payment gateway you’re thinking of using, and the Shopify plan you’re on. 

One important thing worth nseooting about Shopify Payments is that it is available only for users based in certain countries.

These are:

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Republic of Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

So if you’re not selling from one of those territories then you will have to use another separate payment gateway provider (meaning you'll definitely need to factor transaction fees into the equation).

As mentioned above however, Shopify integrates with far more payment gateways than other competing products do (over 100 of them), so if you are selling outside of these countries, you should easily be able to find a payment gateway that’s suitable for your location.

Now that we've gone through pricing and payment functionality, it's time to discuss how Shopify themes actually look.


Shopify themes 

Shopify provides 10 free e-commerce templates (or 'themes') that you can use – each of these comes in two or three different variants, so these templates actually translate to quite a lot of fairly different designs.

These are all attractive templates, and they are responsive too, meaning they will display nicely across all devices.

If the free templates don't quite float your boat however, you can use a paid-for or 'premium' theme - of which there are 55 (and again, each theme comes in a few variants). These range in price from $140 to $180 (and are all responsive too).

Some examples of free Shopify themes

In the theme store, you can browse all the free and paid templates using a wide range of filters - for example, you can view templates by industry, home page type, layout style and so on. This means that you should be able to find a suitable theme for your store fairly easily.

In terms of the aesthetics, the templates are all professional in appearance, easy on the eye, and very slick in nature - no complaints at all here.

Some themes allow you to make use of contemporary design features such as parallax scrolling and video backgrounds; all in all, Shopify's template offering is one of the highest-quality in the e-commerce marketplace.

And of course, if you are not content with the theme offering provided by Shopify and wish to create something that is truly distinctive, there is always the option of building your own theme; it's easy to access the theme code, and a lot of support materials are provided to help you develop your own Shopify template.

One thing worth bearing in mind when making a decision on theme is whether or not it is officially supported by Shopify. All the free themes are - but if you use a premium template, you may need to contact a third-party developer for any assistance you might need with installing or customizing it.

 Examples of Shopify's most popular premium themes

Examples of Shopify's most popular premium themes


Core features of Shopify

As discussed above, the features you get with Shopify vary a bit according to the pricing plan you opt for.

All Shopify plans from $29 ('Basic Shopify') and up provide:

  • the ability to sell physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates / methods of your choosing

  • a wide range of themes (free and paid) to choose from

  • credit card processing via Shopify Payments or a third party payment gateway

  • integration with Paypal

  • blogging functionality

  • abandoned cart functionality

  • import / export of customer data

  • content management (CMS) functionality

  • good search engine optimisation (SEO) options – it’s easy to add relevant keywords to your products and site pages

  • integration with Mailchimp

  • discount codes

  • the ability to edit your store's CSS and HTML

  • a 'buy now' button that you can use to sell goods on an existing blog or site

  • access to a point-of-sale app

  • the option to create multiple staff accounts (as discussed above, how many you can created depends on the plan you're on).

  • the option to integrate your store with 100+ payment gateways

If you opt for the more expensive 'Shopify' plan, you also get:

  • gift cards

  • professional reports

  • full point of sale functionality

If you're on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan you get the following additional features:

  • advanced report building

  • real-time carrier shipping

Finally, there's Shopify Plus to consider: this is an enterprise-grade version of Shopify, providing features such as

  • guaranteed server uptime

  • API support

  • 'White glove' level of support via a dedicated 'Merchant Success Manager'

  • dedicated SSL / IP address

  • advanced security features.

Let's zoom in on a few key aspects of Shopify that are worthy of particular attention.


WHILE YOU'RE HERE...
If you're interested in using Shopify to build an online store, we can help. Get in touch today to see how we can assist you in getting a professionally designed Shopify site off the ground quickly and easily.


Shopify Point-of-Sale

One particularly nice feature offered by Shopify which deserves a special mention and makes it stand out from its competitors is its 'point of sale' (POS) options and hardware.

 Shopify's point-of-sale hardware. The 'Point of Sale' kit allows you to use Shopify to not only run your business online, but to sell in physical locations too.

Shopify's point-of-sale hardware. The 'Point of Sale' kit allows you to use Shopify to not only run your business online, but to sell in physical locations too.

Shopify's POS hardware lets you use Shopify to sell not just online but in physical locations too – as long as you have an iOS or Android device. A wide range of hardware is available to purchase (barcode readers, tills, receipt printers etc.); and merchants in the USA and Canada can avail of a free 'chip and swipe' card reader for their mobile device (iOS or Android) from Shopify.

There are a several applications for Shopify's point-of-sale tools: for example, they allow you to sell in a pop-up shop, from a market stall, at an event or even in a permanently located retail outlet, whilst keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synced.

It's important to note however that you need to be on the 'Shopify' plan or higher to get the most out of point of sale. This is because although the 'Lite' and 'Basic' plans do let you sell in person using a card reader, they don't allow you to use any additional POS hardware. They also don't facilitate multiple staff accounts. So basically, if you have serious point of sale requirements, you will effectively have to opt for a more expensive Shopify plan.

This video is a little bit on the old side - but it gives you a basic idea of how Shopify POS works.


Interface and ease-of-use

Shopify is pretty straightforward to use – it’s got a nice clean, modern interface.

Shopify's interface

The interface lets you set up and manage a variety of what Shopify labels 'sales channels.' Some of the main ones include:

  • An online store: this is your main Shopify website.

  • Pinterest: you can add 'Buyable Pins' to any products from your Shopify store that have been pinned on Pinterest.

  • Facebook: a tab on your Facebook page where users can browse and buy your products.

  • Messenger: you can sell directly to customers in Messenger conversations with them (as well as provide order and shipping notifications, and respond to customer enquiries).

  • Buy Button: this channel allows you to embed e-commerce functionality - via 'buy buttons' - on any website or blog.

  • Amazon: this allows you to manage your Amazon listings and Shopify products in one location.

Other channels are available too (including Ebay, Instagram, Houzz and Buzzfeed - but whether or not you can use these depends on the country you are selling from).

All in all, it's pretty straightforward to use these sales channels (and the Shopify interface in general) but there's a couple of little niggles worth mentioning:

Product images (Online Store channel)

If you upload images on Shopify with different aspect ratios, then Shopify does not crop them automatically. In other words, your product catalogues will consist of a series of differently-shaped images; this impacts negatively on the design.

You can get around this by using a photo editing program to ensure consistent image aspect ratios for all your products - but unless you do this before you start uploading your images, you may find yourself with a headache, particularly if your store contains a large number of products.

Selling products on Facebook with Shopify

It's probably worth flagging up that the Shopify-Facebook integration won't suit every merchant. As things stand, it's easy enough to use Shopify's 'Facebook Channel' to populate a Facebook page's shop section - but your customers will only be able to buy one item at a time on the Facebook page in question (there's no 'add to cart' option).

This will be okay for some sellers (for example bands and artists who want to sell a new CD via their Facebook page should be fine) but any merchants who have a customer base that normally buys items in multiple quantities will possibly find this setup frustrating.

To be fair, as far as I can tell this is a limitation at the Facebook end, but it's something you need to be aware of if you have grand plans for selling on Facebook. You may be better off simply encouraging your Facebook following to click a button which takes them to your full online store.

These gripes aside though, Shopify’s interface is clean, user-friendly and shouldn’t present too much of a learning curve to most users. You can take a look at a vlog-style video overview of it below:


Importing and exporting data

Like most similar store builders, Shopify allows you to import product data from a CSV file. This is handy if you want to bulk upload a lot of new products to your store, or are migrating data from another e-commerce platform.

Importing data into Shopify using a CSV file

If you want to import posts from a blogging platform such as Tumblr or Wordpress, this is possible too, but you will need to use a third-party app (the paid-for app 'Blogfeeder' is your main option here).

With regard to exporting data, you can export product data to CSV file very easily; but as far as I can tell there's no simple option to export static pages and blog posts - they are exportable, but it seems that you need to make use of Shopify's API to get them out of the Shopify platform (or, if you have a lot of time on your hands, you could consider copying and pasting them!).


Working with product variants and options in Shopify

Shopify allows you to create up to 100 different variants of a single product. However, these variants can only involve three product options.

So, for example, if you were selling shoes, you could allow users choose from up to 100 different variants of a particular shoe, each in 3 different options (for example colour, size and style) - but you couldn't allow them to pick a shoelace colour on top of this.

I ran into a problem with this actually with an Irish wedding invitations site I built for a client recently. My client wanted in many cases to offer four or more options per wedding invitation, for example:

  • envelope colour

  • card colour

  • card size

  • ribbon colour

Shopify's hard limit of 3 options meant that I couldn't facilitate this request without resorting to a workaround, which was to combine two product options into one, i.e., envelope and card colour. Although the client was broadly happy with the outcome, it made for a slightly fiddly build and a user experience that could have been a bit smoother.

On the plus side, third-party apps are available to enhance the product option offering in Shopify, but you will need to be prepared to pay for these. Another option is to add 'line item property' code to your Shopify store to capture more product options.

The bottom line is that if you are selling something that doesn't involve truckloads of variants and product options you will be fine with Shopify. 

That said, it would be better if a more flexible approach to options functionality was available out of the box (as is the case with rival Bigcommerce).


Using product categories in Shopify

Although there's room for improvement regarding how Shopify handles product variants and options, the way it handles product categories (or in Shopify parlance, 'collections') is fantastic, and better than that found in many competing e-commerce platforms.

You can manually add products to a collection or - and this is a huge time saver for users with large product ranges - use 'automated collections.' This basically entails setting up rules (based on product titles, tags etc.) which automatically slot products into the correct collection.

This can save you hours, if not days, of data entry / manipulation - particularly if you have a large number of products in your online store.

You'll need to make sure you name or tag your products in an extremely consistent way to take advantage of this functionality, as the automation only works if you have a consistent naming convention to product titles, tags etc. But used right, it's great.


Abandoned cart recovery in Shopify

Abandoned cart recovery in Shopify is designed to help you sell products to people who went most of the way through a transaction only to change their mind at the last moment.

This used to be only available on the the more expensive Shopify plans - those priced $79 or higher, but recently Shopify introduced it on all plans which come with an online store - this effectively means their $29 'Basic' plan and up.

This means that you get abandoned cart saver functionality at a considerably lower price point than its key competitors Bigcommerce and Squarespace, which only offer it on their $79.95 and $46 per month plans respectively.

The makers of competing product Bigcommerce claim that using abandoned cart recovery tools can boost your revenue by up to 15%, which - if true - is obviously very significant.

In terms of how abandoned cart recovery works in Shopify, it essentially allows you to either:

  • view a list of people who've abandoned their carts and manually send them an email

  • instruct Shopify to automatically send one email to visitors to your site who abandoned their carts (containing a link to their abandoned cart on your store).

The latter option is probably the best way to go about abandoned cart recovery, as it saves time.

Helpfully, Shopify suggests 2 particular time intervals for sending your abandoned cart saver email: either 1 hour after your user abandons their cart, or 10 hours later (you can also send the reminder email 6 hours or 24 hours later). This is because according to research carried out by Shopify, these are the time intervals which generate the most sale completions.

For the sake of balance, it's worth pointing out that despite being more expensive Bigcommerce's approach to abandoned cart recovery is arguably a bit better and more flexible than Shopify's.

With Bigcommerce you can program three emails to be sent out automatically to users who abandon their carts; and inserting discount codes (designed to convince people to complete their transactions) into them is a more straightforward process too.


Custom fields and file uploads

Some merchants will require the functionality to allow a user to provide some text at the point of purchase (for example, jewellers might require inscription copy etc.).

Shopify will allow you to capture this data, but it's a bit of a fiddly process - you need to create a 'line item property' by manually adding some HTML code to your template. The other alternative is to pay for an app to do this job, which isn't ideal. 

It's a similar story with file uploads - if you would like to offer your customers the option to upload a file (for example, an image to be used on a t-shirt or mug), you're going to have to get coding or, yes, you guessed it, pay for a relevant app.

I would much prefer - again, as is the case with Bigcommerce - if text fields and file upload buttons were simply options that could simply be selected / enabled when creating products.


Shopify's SEO features

Shopify's SEO feature set is generally good and compare favourably to other platforms (especially Squarespace and Jimdo).

The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO in Shopify are easy to manage - changing page titles and meta descriptions is very straightforward, as is adding headings and alt text. 

Adding 301 redirects is also very straightforward, and in fact Shopify automatically prompts you to do this (and creates the redirect for you) if you change a page's URL.

There are a couple of areas where Shopify SEO could be slightly better: although you can customise your URLs, the platform adds prefixes to your pages and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages

  • /posts/ before posts

  • /products/ before products

In an ideal world, it would be good not to have these prefixes there, as Google's search algorithms prefers shorter URLs.

The other thing that it should be easier to do is change image file names - if you want to change a file name for SEO purposes, you'll have to rename it locally and then re-upload it.  

But all in all, the SEO features of Shopify are robust and I don't have any major complaints. For more detailed information about how to optimise a Shopify store for search, you can check out our Shopify SEO guide.


Shopify’s App Store

In addition to Shopify’s core functionality, there is also an app store which you can visit to obtain apps (free and paid) that beef up what your store can do.

There is a huge number of apps available (last time I checked, over 2000!), more than any other e-commerce platform that I've come across. These apps either add specific functionality to your store or alternatively make it talk to another tool (like Xero or Zendesk).

This wide range of apps is one of the strongest arguments for using Shopify over its rivals - it means that you have a huge range of options not only when it comes to adding functionality to your store but when it comes to integrating it with other tools and platforms too.

Examples of available apps include:

  • data capture apps

  • accounting apps

  • abandoned cart saver apps (that are more sophisticated that Shopify’s out-of-the box cart saver)

  • advanced reporting apps.

So if Shopify’s ‘out of the box’ feature set doesn’t initially seem to meet your requirements, it’s well worth having a look through the App Store to see if there’s an add-on that will help.

Key third party apps that are supported via integrations include Xero, Freshbooks, Mailchimp, Zendesk and Aweber.


Dropshipping with Shopify

Many potential users of Shopify will be wondering how it facilitates dropshipping, a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock (you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client - your store is in effect a middle man of sorts). 

The good news is that Shopify offers a very large range of dropshipping apps which allow you to source and sell a variety of suppliers' goods online very easily.

For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest watching Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping, which goes through the whole process of setting up a dropshipping business.


VAT MOSS in Shopify

One really strong aspect of Shopify which is not often picked up on in other Shopify reviews is the way that it caters extremely well for VAT MOSS - or, to use its full title, 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop.'

VAT MOSS is basically a requirement that sellers of digital products to consumers in the EU add value added tax (VAT) to each digital product on a per-country basis (i.e., there's one VAT rate to be applied for the UK, one for Ireland and so on).

Unlike a lot of competing products, like Squarespace or Bigcommerce, Shopify calculates the appropriate rate automatically. So there's no faffing about with setting up manual tax rules and so on. This is an extremely useful piece of functionality and for me, it's a USP for Shopify. 

And speaking of digital products...


Selling digital goods with Shopify

If you want to sell digital goods with Shopify, this is perfectly doable but not immediately obvious how to set up. 

A good friend of mine, Diarmaid MacMathuna from Cruinneog (a company making Irish language spelling and grammar checkers for Microsoft Word) recently built his new store with Shopify and initially struggled quite a bit to work out how to sell his software online - until he realised that in order to sell files, users need to install a separate app (Shopify's 'Digital Downloads App').

The good news is that this is free - and very easy to use. You can configure it so to work automatically, so that a download link is given to the customer immediately after checkout, and a link is emailed to them when their order is fulfilled; or alternatively, if for any reason you want to vet your purchases, you can do the fulfilment manually.

There is a limit however on the product file size - you can only sell digital goods up to 5GB in size (there are workarounds however, using different third party apps which host your files or let you use file sharing services such as Dropbox to deliver your files). 


Reporting

 A Shopify sales report

A Shopify sales report

Shopify offers a comprehensive range of reports, including: 

  • customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last placed an order)

  • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)

  • search data reports (what products customers searched for in your online store)

  • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)

  • abandoned cart reports.

There is something negative worth pointing out here however: these reports are only available in Shopify if you are on their more expensive plans - 'Shopify', 'Advanced Shopify' or 'Shopify Plus'.

If you're not on one of these plans you just get a fairly basic dashboard containing topline stats only. This contrasts negatively with key competing product Bigcommerce, which provides strong reporting functionality on all its plans.

An advanced report builder is also available in Shopify, which allows you to create your own custom reports - but again, it comes at a price: you'll need to be on a $299+ plan to avail of this. 


Blogging in Shopify

Blogging is a crucial tactic in getting people to visit your online store; and helpfully Shopify comes with a built-in blogging tool which allows you to create the sort of content you'll need to ensure your site is visible in search results.

Shopify's blogging functionality is not by any means as sophisticated as what you'd find in a Wordpress site. For example, omissions in the Shopify blogging functionality include content versioning and Yoast-style SEO plug ins; and when it comes to categorisation of posts, Shopify blog posts only allow you to use tags and not categories (other blogging platforms typically permit use of both).

That said, the built-in blogging functionality in Shopify is generally fine and will meet most merchants' requirements perfectly well. You can also - with a little bit of fiddling around - hook it up to the commenting tool Disqus, which is useful too.

As mentioned above, exporting Shopify blog posts is not terribly straightforward however - Shopify's advice regarding how to do so is to manually copy and paste your blog content into a new location! From reading around, however, it looks like a more sophisticated workaround exists using an API...but that's not really going to appeal to merchants without technical skills who need to move their blog content elsewhere. 


Managing your Shopify store on a mobile device

Shopify provides two main apps which you can use to manage your store on a mobile device: 'Shopify' and 'Shopify Point of Sale.' 

The 'Shopify' app lets you view and fulfil orders; add / edit products; view reports and communicate with your team members via an order 'timeline'.

The 'Shopify Point of Sale' app, as the name suggests, is for users who want to use Shopify at point of sale - you can use it to take card payments in person, track inventory, text receipts to customers and so on.

 The 'Shopify' iOS app

The 'Shopify' iOS app

In addition to the store management apps, there's a new app out called called 'Ping', which makes it easier to answer queries or share your product details with customers when chatting with them over Facebook Messenger (more chatting services are soon to be supported, according to Shopify). 'Ping' is currently available exclusively on iOS.

 Shopify's 'Ping' app

Shopify's 'Ping' app

If that wasn't enough in the app department, there are some other apps available: a logo-making app, a business card designer and an 'entrepreneur articles' app. (The latter two apps are only available on Android).

Of all the above apps, I suspect that the main 'Shopify' app is going to be the most use to the vast majority of merchants.


Using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in Shopify

Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP is a Google-backed project which aims to speed up the delivery of content to mobile devices by stripping out certain bits of code from web pages.

AMP has become increasingly popular, because - implemented well - it reduces the number of site visitors abandoning slow-loading mobile sites, and also can provide some SEO benefits (Google sometimes prioritises AMP posts in search by placing them in a carousel above other search results).

The good news is that it's possible to use AMP in Shopify - not just for blog content, which is where AMP is most frequently used, but for product pages too (many of Shopify's key competitors do not as yet facilitate use of AMP in this way). This has the potential to ensure that a lot more potential customers engage with your product collections (or, if on slow connections, even get to see them in the first place).

The bad news is that this functionality isn't available out of the box, and that you'll need to make use of a paid-for app like RocketAmp to add it. 

Given the emphasis Google is increasingly placing on AMP content, and despite the additional costs, it's great that you can create AMP versions of your product pages on Shopify - this is something of a USP for the platform.


Support

Shopify's support is comprehensive - you can contact the company 24/7 by email, live chat or phone.

This is significantly better than the support options offered by some competitors - for example, leading competitor Squarespace doesn't provide phone support at all.

There are a couple of niggles worth pointing out though.

First, having used Shopify support in the past, I've found that if your enquiry is of a particularly technical nature - i.e., if you want to code something and need help - then you may not always get the answers you're looking for from the standard Shopify support service. You're sometimes better off posting a query in a forum and hoping a Shopify developer gets back to you on it.

This could be improved a bit I feel - it would be nice if, for relevant queries, Shopify offered a more direct way to contact their developers directly for technical advice.

Secondly, it's unclear as to whether phone support is actually provided globally: support phone numbers are only provided for North America, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand (there's no 'any other country' option).

And finally, in order to access phone numbers (or other contact info), you're are required to search the Shopify help pages for a solution to your problem first, as the screengrab below highlights. This will annoy some, but it's increasingly standard practice for support desks for web applications, and it's not implemented as badly as some other applications.

 Shopify's support screen

Shopify's support screen


Shopify and GDPR compliance

I am not a lawyer, so please note that the below observations should not be interpreted as legal advice, but I'm going to do my best to spell out some of the key GDPR issues facing Shopify users below.

In the light of the EU's new GDPR laws, there are many legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting EU customers' and visitors' privacy. There are pretty serious financial penalties for not doing so (to the point where it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about what to do); and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.

Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key priorities for prospective Shopify store owners are to: 

  • provide adequate privacy and cookie notices

  • process and store data securely

  • get explicit consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters

  • provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website (and to log that consent).

Shopify lets you the first three requirements easily enough, although you will need to spend time (and possibly money) creating adequate notices and crafting data capture forms so that they are GDPR compliant.

Where it currently falls down a bit is on the fourth requirement — cookie consent. To ensure GDPR compliance, you need to display a cookie banner to your visitors which

  • allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give 'prior consent')

  • logs their consent to run cookies

  • allows them to revoke consent at a later stage

So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Shopify store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a banner in place which does all of the above.

Now, out of the box at least there is not a way to give visitors to your Shopify store a way to switch these off. However, there are quite a few apps in the Shopify app store which claim to deal with this problem and provide this functionality (note that some seem considerably better than others however). Alternatively, you can use scripts provided by services such as Cookie Pro and Cookiebot to add a GDPR-compliant banner to your website. 

I would prefer, however, if this issue was dealt with by Shopify at source and adequate cookie banner functionality provided without the users having to recourse to third-party software. 


Shopify review conclusions

Overall, Shopify is one of the best hosted solutions for those wishing to create an online store – and arguably the best for anyone who wants to use one product to sell online AND in a physical location. It’s also great for users who are interested in dropshipping.

The product is competitively priced - particularly when you consider that abandoned cart saver functionality is available on its $29 'Basic' plans. The product is easy to use, integrates well with a huge range of other apps, and its templates are attractive.

It has a big user base - 600,000 users, according to Shopify — which also inspires confidence (the last thing you want to happen is for a hosted e-commerce solution provider to go bankrupt and close down a successful store you might have with them).

The main disadvantages of using Shopify are its transaction fees if you use a third-party payment gateway (some of its competitors don’t charge any transaction fees at all, regardless of payment gateway used); its limit of three options per product (note: don't confuse this with variants, of which you can have 100 per product - see above); and the fact that in quite a few instances, to get the functionality you need, you may have to install an app (key examples of this include selling digital downloads or facilitating ratings and reviews). I'd also like to see professional reporting features provided on the 'Basic Shopify' plan. 

A more complete summary of pros and cons is displayed below, but of course the only way to find out if Shopify is for you is to test it out fully yourself – a 2 week free trial is available here. Or if you need help designing a Shopify website, do get in touch: we build Shopify stores regularly for clients.

Finally if you've tried Shopify before, do feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below! (Note: if you're reading this on a mobile browser, you may be seeing an optimised 'AMP' version of the article which doesn't display the comments section. If so, just click here to view the full article where you can read and add comments).


Shopify pros and cons

We hope you've enjoyed reading our Shopify review! To sum up, these are the main pros and cons that we think you can expect to encounter if using Shopify:

Pros

  • With its 'Lite' plan, Shopify represents one of the cheapest ways to start selling online using a hosted solution.

  • The abandoned cart saver is available on its $29 basic plan - meaning that this functionality is provided at a considerably cheaper price than key competitors.

  • It's a good option for anyone interested in dropshipping.

  • There are no transaction fees if you are happy to use the built in payment processing system, Shopify Payments.

  • It has a clean, easy-to-use interface.

  • It provides a good range of free, responsive and attractive templates

  • The point-of-sale options are excellent and help Shopify stand apart from its competitors.

  • There is a simple Paypal integration available.

  • Shopify states that over 500,000 stores have been built using the platform, which makes it a relatively safe bet that the company (and thus your online store!) is not going to disappear any time soon.

  • You can extend Shopify's functionality easily thanks to a huge range of third-party apps (although note that you will have to pay to use many of them).

  • Shopify handles the creation and application of product categories really well.

  • VAT MOSS rates are automatically calculated and applied by Shopify.

  • The Shopify Buy Button allows you to use Shopify with an existing website built using another platform (for example Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix or Jimdo).

  • Shopify comes with a built in blog.

  • You can create AMP versions of product pages (albeit with the help / additional cost of a third-party app).

  • Both iOS and Android apps are provided to enable you to manage your store on the go.

  • You can avail of a 2-week free trial of the product.

Cons

  • Whilst you can create 100 variants of a product, these can only involve up to 3 product options.

  • Some key functionality which you might expect to be provided out of the box requires installation of an app (notable examples include facilitating digital downloads and reviews and ratings).

  • Adding custom fields such as text boxes or file upload options, whilst doable, is unnecessarily complicated.

  • Professional reporting functionality is only provided on more expensive plans.

  • Shopify Payments only allows you to sell from certain countries – United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. If you want to sell from another country you will need to use a third-party payment gateway.

  • You can’t avoid transaction fees if you use a third-party payment gateway.

  • There is no way to automatically ensure that product images are displayed using the same aspect ratio. This can lead to messy presentation of your products unless you have cropped all your images in advance of uploading them to Shopify.

  • It would be nice if the abandoned cart saver allowed you to send more than one automated follow-up email.

  • Getting your site to be GDPR compliant where cookies are concerned will involve use of a third party cookie banner app.

  • The cheapest plan (the $9 'Lite' offering) doesn't permit you to create a fully-featured online store.

  • It's not easy to export blog posts.

  • It's not clear how to access phone support if you live outside of North America, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.


Alternatives to Shopify

Of the solutions I’ve tested to date – Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion, Squarespace and Magento Go – Bigcommerce is probably the strongest alternative to Shopify.

It’s similarly priced, easy-to-use and its feature set is broadly comparable with Shopify’s. Bigcommerce also provides a 14 day free trial and our full Bigcommerce review is here.

Additionally, you may wish to investigate Ecwid, which allows you to add an online store to an existing website (Ecwid offers similar functionality to Shopify's Buy Button, but with more advanced features). You can read our full Ecwid review here.

You might also like to check out Squarespace, although you need to bear in mind that Squarespace's e-commerce functionality is rather more limited than the likes of Shopify, Bigcommerce or Ecwid.

And finally, there's always Wordpress. Wordpress is a different beast to Shopify in that it is not a SaaS (software as a service) product: you will have to build your own site and host it yourself. However, there are LOTS of ways to sell products using it. Check out our Shopify vs Wordpress comparison for more details.


More Shopify reviews and resources

You may find our in-depth article on Shopify fees useful; additionally, you might like to read some of our other Shopify revierws which compare Shopify against other e-commerce and website builder products:

For more information on how to optimise a Shopify site for search, check out our Shopify SEO guide.

You can start a free trial of Shopify here.


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Subscribers receive key tips on building websites and online stores (covering everything from platform selection to inbound marketing to SEO) as well as receiving discount codes for industry leading apps. You can subscribe for free here.

10 Apps that Can Transform Your Business
 Picture of the number 10. Accompanies article about 10 apps that can improve your business

If you're thinking of starting a business, or improving an existing one, you're going to need the right tools for the job.

In this post we look at 10 types of app that can make your workflow more efficient and lead to an increase in business growth.


1. A productivity suite

Before you can do anything remotely exciting in your business, you’re going to need some apps that can take care of the boring (but very important) things: a reliable email account, file storage and productivity tools.

The industry leading productivity suites which provide all the above are Office 365 and G Suite (formerly Google Apps) - and it's quite hard to choose between them.

As such you might like to read our Office 365 vs G Suite review. This explains the core differences between the two productivity suites, as well as outlining what alternatives are available.


2. A website or e-commerce platform

It goes without saying that you'll need a website for your business. But with many website building platforms available, it's important to make the right decision regarding which one to go for.

If you're not intending to sell services goods online (i.e., your website is more of a portfolio or 'brochure' site with business ultimately taking place offline) then Squarespace is often a good bet for startups, because it's easy to set up a site with it, the templates are strong, and you get access to support.

Wordpress is another great option - and one that will give you more control over the aesthetics and functionality of your site - but there is a bit more of a learning curve involved.

If you’re selling products and services online, more thought is required. Although it's tempting to just embed a Paypal button on a web page to handle online transactions, there are much more sophisticated options available to you.

Ultimately, if you're serious about e-commerce, you’re going to need a platform you can use to to build a fully functional store: one that can adequately cater for things like product variants, shipping, tax rates and abandoned carts.

If you're starting from scratch and don't already have a website, then it's worth taking a look at tools like Bigcommerce, Shopify or Squarespace.

If you've already got a website you might find that Ecwid is a good solution for you (it's a 'widget' that's designed to add e-commerce functionality to an existing site).


3. Email marketing

A large mailing list is VITAL to the growth and long-term success of a business. 

Not only can email marketing provide a fantastic return on investment, it's a great way to share content widely (something which can build great brand awareness and even improve SEO).

Many new business owners think that a mailing list is simply a bunch of email addresses stored in an Excel spreadsheet that get emailed via Outlook from time to time.

Taking this approach is a big mistake. Dedicated email marketing tools allow you to capture email addresses via your website, host a large mailing list online, send beautiful HTML e-newsletters, automate communications and track results easily.

There are many great apps available - our favourites are probably Getresponse (which we use for Style Factory e-newsletters) and Mailchimp.

For more information about your options in this area, you can check out our email marketing tool comparisons here.


4. Growth hacking tools

Once you've got your website live and your email marketing app sorted, the next thing you'll need to do is grow the number of people visiting your site and joining your mailing list.

Now, there are a multitude of tools to help you do this. For example, you'll find apps that let you run A/B tests on your site pages to find out which is most likely to convert a visitor to a subscriber; tools that let you create video recordings of your visitors' behaviour on your site and analyse it; and 'welcome mats' which encourage mailing list subscription before any other action is taken on your site.

You'll find an exhaustive list of growth-hacking apps over on the Kissmetrics site, but for me, there are two particular aspects of growth hacking to zoom in on and prioritise when starting a new business: social sharing, and lead generation. You basically want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to share your content or subscribe to receive more of it. 

Tools like Sumo can really help you here, providing everything from sharing buttons to live chat to data capture 'welcome mats.'

You can get a free trial of Sumo here

Other similar services worth investigating include Addthis and Sharethis


5. CRM

CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’, and these days the acronym is usually used to refer to cloud-based software that allows you to keep track of and manage the business relationships between your organisation and your leads and clients.

Typically, a CRM app will allow you to

  • capture, organise and analyse leads
  • track communication with leads and clients
  • allocate tasks to your team
  • manage your ‘sales pipeline’ (i.e., identify leads and track how the process of converting them to a client is going)
  • manage customer enquiries via a support ticketing system

Now, as with email marketing, many new business owners rely on Excel to handle all this sort of stuff - which, as with mailing list management, is a bad move when there are so many more sophisticated options available to you.

At the cheaper end of the CRM spectrum you'll find products like Capsule or Nimble; but you can pay big bucks for more sophisticated tools like Salesforce.

Which product is right for you will really depend on the nature and complexity of your business, but either way, finding the right CRM tool will usually be vital to ensuring that it grows successfully.


6. Cloud based accounting

Cloud-based accounting apps are increasingly popular and worthy of serious consideration over traditional spreadsheet usage.

A cloud-based accounting solution is connected to your bank account, meaning that all your transactions are imported into your accounting software in real time (i.e., no more copying and pasting transactions from your online bank account into a spreadsheet).

Not only that, but these apps you to raise branded invoices and produce detailed reports at the click of a button. They can give you access to in-depth analysis of your company finances, and make preparing a tax return significantly easier.

Because of these advantages, if you use a bookkeeper, it often makes sense to hire one that works 'in the cloud'.

Industry leading cloud-based accounting apps include Xero and Quickbooks.


7. A notebook

An oft-overlooked aspect of running a business is the amount of note-taking it involves.

From capturing brainwaves to taking minutes to jotting down a phone number of a potentially useful contact, you will find yourself taking a host of notes in your business life.

So, it makes sense to take them in the best possible way - and in my view, that's digitally, using a dedicated notekeeping app.

There are a plethora of notekeeping apps out there to choose from – but Evernote’s got to be one of the best.

It allows you to place text, images, files and research all in one digital workspace which you can then share with friends, colleagues and family. You can access Evernote across all your devices, meaning your notes are always with you. 

If you use a productivity suite like G Suite or Office 365 however, you may find that their 'Keep' and 'OneNote' products meet your needs perfectly well.


8. A to-do list

To-lists have been part of running a business since the year dot. They're a surprisingly vital part of running and growing a business: without them, nothing gets done.

As with much else in the business world, they've now moved online. And again, there are loads of options available.

Todoist is a simple but effective app for managing, as the name suggests, your to-do list. It works across devices and is available as Chrome extension too, meaning your uncompleted tasks are always following you around (perhaps I’m not selling this as well as I should). Nifty features include being able to turn emails into tasks and categorise tasks by project.

Wunderlist is another good option - for a few more, check out The Guardian's guide to to-do lists...


9. A scanner

Because so much of our working lives now involve storing documents in the cloud, having a scanner has become more important than ever.

And the good news is that you no longer need a dedicated device for this: you can use your phone.

Scannable is a must-have app for anybody who needs to scan or photocopy stuff. You just hover your phone above a document and it gets scanned quickly onto your device. You can then email it, save it to Evernote or plonk it in a cloud storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive. 

Dropbox now has its own scanning app too, which allows you to quickly get your stuff onto Dropbox.

Particularly if you need to get documents onto an accounting or CRM tool app quickly


10. A social media manager

Most businesses end up struggling to manage several social media profiles at once. It can be tricky to keep on top of them all or analyse what’s working and what’s not across all your channels.

This is where an all-in-one social media management tool like Hootsuite is invaluable. You can use tools like Hootsuite to manage all your social media accounts in one place; schedule messages across your profiles; measure your social media campaign performance and assign tasks to your team messages to ensure that all messages generated by your social media activity get answered.

All this improves your social media comms, or frees up time to do other important stuff!

Alternatives to Hootsuite include Sendible and Buffer.


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