This is an independent review, but note that it contains affiliate ad links. When you buy via these, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you.
The quick verdict
Shopify is a best-in-class online store builder. It’s a highly-scalable solution that lets you sell in more ways than its competitors, and it’s a particularly good option for dropshipping, point-of-sale and multi-currency ecommerce.
It does have its disadvantages though. Unlocking important functionality often involves adding expensive apps, there are only a few free themes bundled with the platform and its drag-and-drop editor could be better.
Key pros and cons
|✔️ Easy to use||❌ Product option and variant limits are small|
|✔️ Great option for dropshipping and print on demand||❌ Unlocking key functionality often requires an app|
|✔️ Excellent multi-currency selling features||❌ Small number of free themes available|
|✔️ Excellent multilingual features||❌ Transaction fees apply if you use a third-party payment gateway|
|✔️ Built-in point-of-sale features||❌ Adding custom fields is tricky|
|✔️ Built-in email marketing tool with generous send limits||❌ Drag-and-drop editor could be better|
Our overall rating
4.5 out of 5 | ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
There is a huge number of online store building tools now available, and choosing the right one for your business can feel really difficult. Shopify is probably the best-known ecommerce solution — but is it actually the best one for you?
In this review, I’m going to help you find out. I’ll cover the platform’s pricing, templates and selling features in depth — and by the end of the post, you’ll have a clear idea of whether Shopify is the right ecommerce solution for your project, and what the key alternatives are.
Let’s kick things off with a quick look at how Shopify works.
How Shopify works
Shopify is a ‘hosted’ solution, meaning that it runs on its own servers, and you don’t have to buy web hosting or install any software to use it.
You build and manage your Shopify store in a web browser — so, as long as you have access to the Internet, you can run a Shopify business from any location.
The platform aims to give you all the things you need to build and market an online store ‘out of the box’ — templates, a payment processor, a content management system, a blog, hosting etc.
Although its built-in features should cover merchants’ core selling needs, you can also customize a Shopify store more extensively through the addition of apps or by using custom code (CSS, HTML or Liquid, Shopify’s templating language).
Finally, because it’s a ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) product, you don’t own a copy of Shopify but instead pay a monthly fee to use it.
I’ll come to pricing shortly, but first a quick note on something important: the number of people using Shopify.
The number of Shopify users — and why this matters
Shopify was founded in Canada in 2006 by German-born entrepreneur Tobias Lütke, who realized that an ecommerce solution he had created to sell snowboards could actually be used by — and sold to — other businesses.
Fast forward to today, and the platform has generated over $812bn in sales and is used by millions of merchants in 175 countries — according to Internet stats company Builtwith.com, Shopify currently powers around 4.7 million online stores. 11,600+ employees now work for the company.
These statistics matter because when you choose a hosted solution for your online store, you are placing a huge amount of trust in the company providing it.
There have been instances in the past of similar store building solutions closing down, resulting in serious problems for their users, who had to migrate their stores over to a different platform at very short notice.
However, Shopify’s large user base and market share makes the prospect of this happening extremely unlikely.
Now: how much does Shopify cost to use?
There are five main Shopify pricing plans available:
- Starter — $5 per month
- Basic — $39 per month
- Shopify — $105 per month
- Advanced — $399 per month
- Shopify Plus — custom pricing, but starting at $2,000 per month.
There are a couple of things it’s worth mentioning quickly here:
- If you pay annually for your plan, you can avail of a significant discount — paying for your first year’s service upfront gives you 25% off your plan.
- Additional fees apply to make the most out of Shopify’s point-of-sale (POS) features, which let you sell goods in a physical location (more on POS later).
There is also a free trial available, which lasts for three days. When this is over, you are given the option to get three months’ access to the platform for $1 per month. After that, regular fees apply.
You can access this free trial here.
Key differences between Shopify plans
All the Shopify plans provide the core ecommerce functionality you’d expect — on every plan, you can create catalogs of unlimited products, accept credit card payments, sell gift cards, offer discount codes on purchases and make use of a wide range of third-party apps.
But there are a few key features to watch out for — and not miss! — by selecting the wrong Shopify plan.
- A fully-featured, standalone online store — the ‘Starter’ plan doesn’t let you create one. Instead, you can use this plan to sell on social media and messaging apps, or embed your products on other websites via a ‘buy button’.
- Staff accounts — the number of ‘seats’ you get varies by plan (from 1 user on ‘Starter’ to 15 on ‘Advanced’).
- Reporting tools — these get more sophisticated as you go up the pricing ladder.
- Ecommerce automations — the option to automate aspects of your marketing and fulfillment processes is only available on the ‘Shopify’ plan or higher.
- Third-party real time carrier shipping — this is only available if you’re on a a monthly ‘Advanced Shopify’ or ‘Shopify Plus’ plan (or if you’re on a ‘Shopify’ plan and happy to pay either an additional fee or on an annual basis).
- Transaction / credit card fees — these get lower as you go up the pricing ladder.
- Shipping discounts — the more expensive the plan, the more generous these are.
- International selling features — you can only apply duties and import taxes at checkout on an ‘Advanced’ or higher plan.
Shopify Plus, the enterprise-grade version of the platform, provides additional functionality and elements aimed at big corporations, including:
- the option to host and manage ten stores using one account
- access to a drag-and-drop checkout editor
- guaranteed server uptime
- enhanced API access
- ‘white glove’ level of support via a dedicated ‘Merchant Success’ programme
- access to more apps and integrations
- more sophisticated options for selling in multiple currencies
- access to premium training resources, like the ‘Shopify Plus Academy.’
I’ll discuss all the core Shopify ecommerce features in more depth in just a moment — but first, let’s look at how Shopify lets you accept payments for your goods.
Accepting credit card payments with Shopify
There are two ways to accept credit card payments with Shopify:
- by using Shopify Payments, its built in payment processing system
- by using a third-party payment gateway.
Let’s take a look at both options in turn.
The cheapest and easiest payment processing option is to use Shopify Payments, Shopify’s built-in payment system.
If you use this, you don’t have to pay any transaction fees at all on any plan except the ‘Starter’ one (which applies a fairly high rate of 5% per sale).
Additionally, there’s a credit card rate to factor in — in the US, depending on your plan, you can expect to pay a credit card processing fee of between 2.4% and 2.9% of each sale made on your online store.
Other payment gateways
The other way to accept payments in Shopify is by using a third party ‘payment gateway’ — of which there are 100+ to choose from.
If you do this however, Shopify will apply a transaction fee to each sale. On the ‘Basic’ plan or higher, this will be between 0.5% and 2%, depending on the plan you’re on (5% on the Starter plan).
So, unless you’ve got a very good reason not to, using the built-in ‘Shopify Payments’ payment processor will usually be the most cost-effective option.
However, you should note that Shopify Payments is only available to users based in certain countries (these include many EU countries, major English-speaking markets, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan).
Shopify pricing plans video guide
Related resource: How to pick the best Shopify pricing plan
Now that we’ve discussed pricing, let’s discuss how Shopify stores actually look.
Shopify provides 12 free ecommerce templates (or ‘themes’) that you can use as the starting point for your store design.
Now, this number of bundled templates is small by comparison to the range offered by key competitors like Wix or Squarespace, which offer 816 and 154 themes respectively.
The free Shopify themes are attractive however, and they are fully responsive too, meaning that they will automatically adjust their layout to suit the screen size of the device they’re being viewed on — smartphone, tablet, desktop computer etc.
And, if the free templates don’t appeal, you can use a paid-for or ‘premium’ theme — at time of writing, 154 of these are available.
(Many of these premium themes are provided in a few variants, further extending the template choice available to you.)
The premium themes range in price from $150 to $390, and like the free ones are all fully responsive.
In the Shopify theme store, you can browse all the free and paid templates using a range of filters, including:
- theme price
- industry type
- catalog size
- template features
This means that you should be able to find a suitable theme for your store without too much difficulty.
In terms of the aesthetics, the Shopify templates are all professional in appearance and very contemporary in nature — no complaints here.
You can browse the Shopify themes here.
All in all, Shopify’s template offering is of a very high standard — but if you aren’t happy with the options provided, and wish to create something that is truly unique, there is always the option of building your own theme.
It’s easy to access the Shopify theme code, and a lot of support materials and tutorials are provided to help you develop your own template or modify an existing one.
Now, once you’ve started a Shopify trial, picked your theme and decided upon a plan, you can focus on selling with the platform.
So, let’s look at how easy it is to do that.
Interface and ease-of-use
Shopify is fairly easy to use – it’s got a modern, intuitive interface, and provides a generally good user experience (UX).
You can import and export products via CSV file; adding product descriptions and images is very easy; and sorting inventory into product catalogs is straightforward too.
(The process of writing product descriptions can be sped up via a new AI feature, ‘Shopify Magic,’ which generates descriptions for you automatically, based on keywords you provide.)
In common with many other content management systems, a menu on the left-hand side of the screen allows you to access key features or content, which you can then configure or edit on the right.
The Shopify interface lets you set up and manage a variety of ’sales channels’ — the different platforms where you sell your products.
Key sales channels include:
- An online store: your main website, which you host on your own domain name.
- Facebook: a section of your Facebook page where users can browse and buy your products.
- Buy Button: this channel allows you to add ecommerce functionality — via ‘buy buttons’ — to any website or blog.
- Instagram: this allows you to make your Instagram posts ‘shoppable.’
- Shopify’s ‘Shop’ channel — this allows you to make use of accelerated checkout features via the ‘Shop Pay’ system, and sell on Shopify’s Shop app.
- Wholesale: this lets you create a separate, password-protected storefront where you can sell products B2B (note: Shopify Plus customers only).
Now, the above list covers the key sales channels that you can use ‘out of the box.’ Several others — including big-hitters like Amazon, Ebay, Etsy and Pinterest — are available via third-party apps.
In general, it’s fairly easy to use these sales channels — and the interface in general — but there’s a couple of problems worth zooming in on, relating to content layout and images.
Over the past couple of years, Shopify has been rolling out a new theme format, ‘Online Store 2.0’ (OS 2.0). This unlocks a lot of useful content presentation options that weren’t previously available in the platform.
Chief amongst these is a drag-and-drop builder (pictured below) that lets you add blocks and sections to page layouts, and move them around with ease.
There is a confusing aspect to page editing in Shopify’s OS 2.0 format, however.
Instead of using the drag-and-drop editor to change the content of your pages, you use it to edit page templates. You still have to edit page content using a basic WYSIWG editor (see screengrab below) — and then apply the relevant template you’ve designed to it.
You get used to this, but it makes for a bit of an odd workflow!
Another improvement that could be made to Shopify’s drag-and-drop editor involves forms — at the moment you can only drop a simple ‘contact’ or mailing list signup form into page templates.
It would be better, as is the case with competing platforms like Squarespace and Wix, if a built-in form builder was available for creating more bespoke forms.
So, if you need to add custom forms to your Shopify store, you will need to resort to some coding, or the installation of an app.
If you upload images to Shopify with different aspect ratios, they won’t be cropped automatically to a uniform ratio.
In other words, your product catalogs will consist of a series of differently-shaped images — something that can negatively affect the design of your store.
You can get around this problem by cropping your all your images to a uniform ratio using a photo-editing app (like Canva or Photoshop) before you upload them. Alternatively, you can do this afterwards, using Shopify’s built-in photo editor (pictured below).
Other workarounds involve adding some code to your template to force images to display in a certain ratio, or using a paid-for Shopify app to standardize your image ratios.
These issues with the drag and drop editor and product images aside, the Shopify interface is user friendly. It shouldn’t present too much of a learning curve to users who are setting up an ecommerce store for the first time.
Working with product variants and options in Shopify
Shopify allows you to create up to 100 different variants of a single product.
However, out of the box, these variants can only involve 3 product options.
So, for example, if you were selling shoes, you could allow users to choose from up to 100 different versions of a particular shoe, each involving 3 different product options (i.e., color, size and style) — but you couldn’t let them pick a shoelace color on top of this.
Thankfully, a workaround exists involving third-party apps — there are quite a few available (like ‘Infinite Options,’ pictured below) that lift these limits, but you will need to pay for them.
Another option is to add ‘line item property’ code to your store to capture more product options, but you’ll need to be comfortable with editing code in order to do so.
Ultimately, if you are selling something that doesn’t involve a large number of variants and product options you will be fine with Shopify — and if your needs are more extensive, apps do exist that get rid of the limits discussed above.
That said, it would be better if a more flexible approach to product options was available ‘out of the box’ (as is the case with rivals BigCommerce and Squarespace — both provide much more generous product option and variant limits).
Now, let’s take a look at how you can organize your products in Shopify.
Using Shopify product categories
Although there’s room for improvement regarding how Shopify handles product variants and options, the way it handles product categories is superb.
First, it’s extremely easy to manually add products to a collection.
But Shopify also gives you the option to create ‘automated collections.’
This feature lets you set up rules based on product information (titles, tags etc.) that automatically categorize your products.
Doing so can save you hours if not days of data entry and manipulation — especially if you are selling a large number of products.
You’ll need to make sure you name or tag your products in a consistent way to take advantage of this functionality, however — the automation only really works if you use the same naming convention on product titles, tags etc.
But used in the right way Shopify’s automated collections feature is great.
Selling digital products
However, when I tried to create them, I found myself getting a bit confused.
This is because in order to sell downloadable files, you need to install a separate app first — the ‘Digital Downloads App.’
The good news is that this is free — and easy to use. You can configure it to work automatically, so that a download link is sent to the customer immediately after checkout; alternatively, you can use the app to fulfill digital products manually.
You can also use the Digital Downloads App to bundle digital products with physical ones — for example, to offer an MP3 version of an album to everybody who bought a vinyl copy of it.
There is a limit on the file size of products you can sell, but it’s a generous one — 5GB. This limit compares very favourably to other platforms — Wix, for example, limits downloadable product size to 1GB, BigCommerce to 512MB and Squarespace to 300MB.
If 5GB is not enough for your needs, you can use third-party apps to host larger files, or use file sharing services like Dropbox to deliver them.
Custom fields and file uploads
Some store owners require their customers to provide some text at the point of purchase.
For example, jewellers might need copy for an engraving, musicians might like to give customers the option to have a dedication added to a signed LP, etc.
Shopify does allow you to capture this sort of data, but it’s a fiddly process — you’ll 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 need to offer your customers the option to send files with their orders (for example, an image to be used on a t-shirt), you’re going to have to get coding or, yes, you guessed it, pay for a relevant app!
I would prefer if text fields and file upload buttons were simply options that could just be selected and enabled when creating products.
Now, we’ve looked at various aspects of setting up products on Shopify. But how do you actually ship them?
Shopify is flexible when it comes to shipping, allowing you to set:
- Free shipping rates
- Flat rates
- Price-based rates
- Weight-based rates
- Local delivery / pickup rates
- Calculated (‘real time’) shipping rates
It’s easy enough to set up shipping rules based on price or weight, and you can create ‘zones’ to cover groups of countries really easily.
When it comes to real-time shipping rates — where carriers provide live estimates at checkout, based on distance, weight and the number of boxes needed to ship items — you have two options, depending on your location.
In certain countries — the ones highlighted in the table below — you can use the ‘Shopify Shipping’ service. This lets you provide real-time shipping quotations from local postal services, print shipping labels and provide preferential rates on shipping.
|Fulfilment location||Available shipping carriers|
|United States||USPS, UPS (not available in Porto Rico), DHL Express (continental US only)|
|Canada||Canada Post, UPS|
|United Kingdom||Evri, DPD|
|France||Colissimo, Mondial Relay, Chronopost|
If you’re based in a country where Shopify Shipping is available, you’ll find the feature included on all plans, and the discounts provided can be quite significant on the higher-level Shopify plans (in the US, you can avail of up to 88.5% postage discounts on higher-tier plans).
The other real-time shipping option is to use third-party calculated shipping rates. However, this can work out quite expensive, because these are only available if you:
- pay monthly for an ‘Advanced Shopify’ or ‘Shopify Plus’ plan
- subscribe to the ‘Shopify’ plan on an annual basis
- subscribe to the ‘Shopify’ plan and pay an additional monthly fee.
This contrasts negatively with some competitors, notably BigCommerce, which makes this feature available on all its plans, even its $39 entry-level one.
Now, let’s look at another type of shipping…
Dropshipping with Shopify
Many potential users of Shopify will be wondering how it facilitates dropshipping.
With dropshipping, you take an order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client — you don’t make, store or fulfil any products, and your ecommerce site becomes a ‘middle man’ of sorts.
How to dropship with Shopify — video guide
There are various pros and cons associated with this approach to ecommerce, but overall, dropshipping is a low-risk way to start a business that can end up being very profitable.
The good news is that Shopify offers an extremely large range of dropshipping apps that allow you to source and sell a variety of suppliers’ products online.
There are 502 such apps available at time of writing, with popular services like Spocket, Ali Express and Modalyst are all being catered for.
One thing I’d really like to see from Shopify however is more information on the quality of dropshipping suppliers — an ‘ethical rating’ or similar.
This is because a lot of dropshipped goods are produced in countries where working conditions can be very poor. As things stand it’s hard to be 100% confident that the goods you sell via many of Shopify’s dropshipping apps are ethically produced.
So, if you are concerned about the ethical dimension, you’ll need to do some due diligence research before committing to a particular app or supplier.
But in terms of the range of dropshipping options available to you as a merchant, the market leader is definitely Shopify.
The Shopify dropshipping starter kit
If you’re interested in dropshipping, I’d recommend that you take a look at Shopify’s dropshipping starter kit — with this, you get a free trial of Shopify, lots of bundled resources and tools that show you how to launch a successful dropshipping Shopify store.
Shopify Point of Sale (POS)
A particularly strong feature offered by Shopify, and one that helps it stand apart from its competitors, its comprehensive Point of Sale (POS) features.
Shopify’s POS system is bundled with all its plans, and lets you use the platform to sell not just online but in physical locations too.
A wide range of hardware is available — card readers, barcode scanners, tills, receipt printers etc. — to help you do this.
Shopify POS pricing — video guide
Up until recently, the only way to connect these hardware items to your Shopify store was via a tablet or smartphone, but there is now a dedicated device available — ‘Shopify POS Go‘ — that offers a more ‘all in one’ solution.
‘POS Go’ looks just like a smartphone, but comes with a built-in barcode scanner and card reader, and connects to your Shopify account over WiFi. This makes POS particularly easy to get started with.
Shopify ‘POS Go’ is quite expensive, however: it retails at $299. For now, it is only available to Shopify merchants based in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland, but you can expect it to be rolled out to other countries over the next few months.
As for where you can buy Shopify POS devices, there is a dedicated Shopify ‘hardware store’ that sells them. It can be used to purchase POS equipment in many territories, including the US, several EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK.
If you’re based outside a supported country, you can still buy Shopify POS hardware, but will need to do so from an authorized reseller.
Now, there are several applications for these point-of-sale tools. For example, they allow you to sell
- in a ‘brick and mortar’ retail outlet
- in a pop-up shop
- from a market stall
- at an event.
And all whilst keeping your offline and online sales data in sync, and your inventory figures accurate.
It’s important to note however that if you’re serious about selling in person, you’ll usually need the ‘Shopify POS Pro’ add-on to get the most out of the point of sale features.
This is because although all Shopify plans let you use POS, with the exception of ‘Shopify Plus’ they limit you to doing so in one location and don’t give you access to the best POS features. You will definitely need the ‘POS Pro’ add-on if you want to do things like:
- work with an unlimited number of store staff
- define staff roles and permissions
- facilitate exchanges
- provide custom printed receipts
- create purchase orders
- attribute sales to particular staff members (for commission assignment or performance-analysis purposes).
- get low stock warnings
- sell in up to 1,000 physical locations
Unfortunately, the cost for the Shopify ‘POS Pro’ add-on is relatively high: $89 per month, per location ($79 per month if you pay upfront for a year). This means that if you run a few physical stores, your monthly POS outgoings will increase significantly.
(Note: if you’re a Shopify Plus subscriber, you get 20 POS Pro locations included with your plan).
Tax calculation in Shopify
Automatic tax calculation
One of the challenges of selling online is that you can end up making sales in a variety of jurisdictions with different tax rates — something you have to reflect in the pricing of your products.
Thankfully, Shopify allows you to apply tax rates automatically for most territories, which is a huge time saver.
Additionally, registration-based taxes (which cater for VAT / state-based taxes etc.) are available for:
- European Union
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
Not all competing products facilitate automatic tax calculation, and those that do tend to limit the feature to a smaller number of countries — so a thumbs up for Shopify on this.
A really strong aspect of the Shopify platform — and one that is often overlooked in other Shopify reviews — is the way that it caters extremely well for the EU’s VAT MOSS rules (or, to use its full title, ‘VAT Mini One Stop Shop.’).
VAT MOSS is a requirement that sellers of digital products to consumers in the EU add value added tax (VAT) to each product on a per-country basis — i.e., there’s one VAT rate to be applied for France, one for Ireland, another for Germany and so on.
Unlike a lot of competing products, Shopify calculates and applies the appropriate digital tax rate automatically. So there’s no messing about with setting up manual tax rules to worry about.
This is an extremely useful piece of functionality and for me, it’s a USP.
And speaking of selling in other countries…
Accepting multiple currencies in Shopify
Displaying prices and facilitating checkout in local currencies can improve sales rates considerably.
And, unlike several other well-known ecommerce solutions — notably Squarespace and Wix — Shopify lets you do this really easily, thanks to its ‘Shopify Markets’ feature.
This tool lets you define selling areas — ‘markets’ based on country or groups of countries. You can then manage currencies, languages, local domains and payment processors for these markets all in one place.
Shopify simply looks at where your visitors are located (based on IP address) and automatically presents your product prices in their local currency. Checkout happens in that currency too, which can further improve conversion rates.
There is a little bit of room for improvement with this feature: you can only apply duties and import taxes if you’re on the ‘Advanced’ or ‘Shopify Plus’ plan (both of which are very expensive).
And currency conversion only works if you’re using Shopify Payments. If you are based in a country that doesn’t yet support Shopify Payments, you’ll need to use a third-party app to gain multi-currency features.
But overall, the way that Shopify handles multi-currency selling is superb.
Building a multilingual website with Shopify
In addition to facilitating transactions in multiple currencies, Shopify lets you sell in multiple languages. With the exception of its ‘Starter’ plan, all Shopify plans let you create up to 20 translated versions of your store.
When you enable multilingual selling, a language ‘folder’ is added to your domain. So you’ll end up with myshop.com/fr, myshop.com/de etc.
Alternatively, you can use ‘international domains’ — myshop.fr, myshop.de etc. — to host foreign-language versions of your store.
Abandoned cart recovery
Abandoned cart recovery lets you identify store visitors who go part of the way through a purchase only to change their mind about it, and email them an incentive to complete their purchase (usually a discount code).
The good news is that abandoned cart recovery is included on nearly all the Shopify plans, meaning that you get this key piece of functionality at a lower price point than its key competitors.
For example, while Shopify gives you an abandoned cart saving feature from just $39 (i.e., on its ‘Basic’ plan or higher), BigCommerce and Squarespace only offer it on their $105 and $65 per month plans respectively.
In terms of how abandoned cart recovery in Shopify works, you can choose to send messages based on whether a user has:
- abandoned their cart during the checkout process
- left the site with items in their cart, and without starting checkout
- browsed products on the site, but not added them to a cart.
What’s great about Shopify’s approach to abandoned cart recovery is that you get the option to configure the process exactly the way you want, via editable workflows.
As the screenshot below shows, you can add conditions or actions to each step of proceedings, which means that if you require a very bespoke approach to cart recovery, you can have one.
All in all, Shopify’s abandoned cart recovery tools work superbly, letting you create custom workflows that are not available from most key competing solutions.
Search engine optimization (SEO) in Shopify
Is Shopify good when it comes to SEO?
The short answer is yes — its SEO features are strong and compare favourably with other hosted site-building platforms.
The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO are certainly very easy to manage — changing page titles and meta descriptions is very easy, as is adding headings and alt text. You can also tweak your robots.txt file extensively in Shopify.
And a paid-for integration with the popular Yoast SEO tool, which lets you sense check the quality of your on-page SEO is particularly welcome – Shopify is unique among the major hosted store builders in giving you access to this.
Adding 301 redirects — which let search engines know when a page location has changed — is particularly easy in Shopify. In fact, the platform automatically prompts you to do this, and creates the redirect for you too, if you change a page’s URL.
As forgetting to set up 301 redirects is a common source of lost rankings, this automated reminder is an extremely useful feature.
Shopify’s theme designs are all responsive, meaning they’ll display nicely across all device types, and a CDN (content delivery network) is used to decrease your page loading times — both of these approaches to web design can lead to preferential placement in search results.
With regard to the latter, a new ‘site speed’ report lets you compare how fast your Shopify store is compared to similar ones — you can use this data to try to speed it up (usually by reducing image size or removing unnecessary scripts or apps).
You can also — with the help of an app — present all your products and pages in AMP format (a faster, stripped-down version of your content) which can bring some benefits in mobile search results.
And a free SSL certificate is provided, letting you run your store over a secure, ‘https://’ connection (something Google approves of).
Finally, unlike some competing ecommerce solutions, it’s possible to get a Shopify store to meet Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals‘ requirements.
Core Web Vitals are a set of targets relating to the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of a website — and sites that meet them can receive preferential treatment in Google search results. There are various apps available for Shopify which can help you meet these targets; alternatively, you can commission a Shopify developer to do so.
The only area where I feel that Shopify could improve its SEO setup significantly involves image file names — if you want to change the file name of a product image for SEO purposes, you’ll have to rename it locally and then re-upload it. This can pose problems for users with a lot of images on their site in need of optimization.
That aside, the SEO features of Shopify are strong.
Email marketing in Shopify: ‘Shopify Email’
An absolutely vital part of running an online store is email marketing: sending e-newsletters to your email list is key to generating sales.
Recognizing this — and the fact that other leading ecommerce platforms like Squarespace and Wix offer built-in email marketing features — Shopify now provides a free app, ‘Shopify Email,’ that allows you to create e-newsletters.
Now, Shopify Email started out as a very basic email marketing tool that only allowed you to send very simple e-newsletters.
But over the past couple of years it’s evolved significantly, and now offers you the option to segment your mailing list more extensively and automate your mailouts using conditional logic.
(For example, you can configure Shopify Email so that it sends welcome emails, upsell emails etc., based on particular subscriber actions.)
And new AI features let you optimize the send times for your emails automatically, or generate email subject lines.
While not quite as sophisticated as dedicated email marketing tools like GetResponse or Mailchimp, the deep integration with Shopify’s ecommerce tools is great, and the feature will definitely prove useful to many merchants (particularly those who like to manage all aspects of their ecommerce business in one place).
But the best thing about Shopify Email is probably its price: you can use the app to send up to 10,000 emails per month for free, with a $1 fee applying to every additional 1,000 emails sent after that.
(If you’re a high-volume user, sending over 750,000 emails per month, this fee drops to as little as $0.55 per additional 1,000 emails).
You can learn more about Shopify Email here.
Blogging in Shopify
Blogging is one of the key ways to increase organic traffic to your site — and usually a pretty vital activity for online merchants.
Helpfully, Shopify comes with a built-in blogging tool that allows you to create the sort of content you’ll need to ensure your site is visible in Google search results.
However, this blogging functionality is not as sophisticated or powerful as that which you’d find on some other platforms — especially WordPress. There are no version history tools and when it comes to categorization of blog posts, Shopify only allows you to use tags (i.e., you can’t apply categories).
(Professional blogging platforms will typically permit use of both tags and categories).
That said, the built-in blogging functionality is generally good and will meet most merchants’ requirements perfectly well. You can also — with a little bit of configuration — connect your Shopify blog up to the commenting tool Disqus, which is useful.
And, as with quite a few standard Shopify features, if you’re not happy with the blogging setup you can always turn to an app for help — quite a few dedicated blogging apps are available in the Shopify app store.
And on that subject…
The Shopify app store
In addition to Shopify’s core functionality, there is also an app store that store owners can visit to obtain applications — both free and paid-for — that add new features.
This contains a huge number of apps (8,000+) — making Shopify’s app store bigger than those of all the other ecommerce platforms we’ve reviewed. These apps either add specific functionality to your store or let it work with other key business apps.
This wide range of apps is one of the strongest arguments for using Shopify over its rivals — but interestingly, it’s also an argument against doing so.
On the plus side, it means that you have a fantastic range of options for adding functionality to your store and integrating it with other tools.
On the downside, it leads to situations where getting the functionality you need — relating for example to product reviews, GDPR, AMP, additional product options and custom fields — often involves installing a paid-for app.
And, the more apps you add, the slower your store can perform (something that can have negative implications for SEO).
Competing platforms like Wix and BigCommerce, by contrast, tend to include more functionality like this out of the box — meaning that you don’t end up spending quite as much on apps.
Examples of the sort of Shopify apps you can install on your store include:
- data capture apps
- accounting apps
- abandoned cart saver apps
- multi-currency selling apps
- advanced reporting apps.
Key business admin apps that are supported via integrations include Xero, Hubspot and Zendesk.
Shopify provides a comprehensive range of reports, including:
- sales reports
- customer reports
- marketing reports
- search data reports
- finance reports
- abandoned cart reports.
There is a negative aspect about Shopify reporting worth pointing out however: the most useful reports are only available if you are on one of the more expensive plans (the $105+ ‘Shopify’ plan or higher).
(And to build custom reports, you’ll need to be on the $399 ‘Advanced’ plan).
This contrasts negatively with key competing product BigCommerce, which includes full reporting functionality on all its plans.
But all that said, the reporting functionality you do get on the entry level Shopify plans is comprehensive — and if you need more, you can always consider adding Google Analytics to your Shopify account.
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.’ These are available for both iOS and Android.
The main ‘Shopify’ app scores 4.5 and 4.1 out of 5 on the Apple and Google Play app stores respectively. The ‘Shopify POS’ app fares less well in terms of Google Play reviews however, being rated 3 out of 5 by Android users (iOS users are more enthusiastic about it, giving it a score of 4.4 out of 5).
The ‘Shopify’ app lets you:
- customize your store theme
- view and fulfil orders
- add/edit products
- view reports
- communicate with your team members via an order ‘timeline’
- use Shopify Email features.
The ‘Point of Sale’ app, as its name suggests, lets you use Shopify’s POS system — you can use it to take card payments in person, track inventory, text receipts to customers and so on.
In addition to the store management apps, there’s a useful app called ‘Shopify Inbox‘ available, which lets you add a live chat service to your Shopify store.
It also makes it easier to answer queries, capture leads or share your product details with customers when chatting with them over Facebook Messenger or Instagram.
(The Shopify Inbox app is rated particularly highly by its users, with iOS and Google Play store scores of 4.8 and 4.3 out of 5 respectively.)
Depending on whether you’re using iOS or Android, there are some other apps available too, including a logo-making app and a stock photography app.
Of all the above apps, the main ‘Shopify’ app is likely to be the most use to the vast majority of merchants, however.
The ‘Shop’ app from Shopify
In addition to providing apps that let merchants manage their business, Shopify also provides a more ‘customer centric’ app, ‘Shop.’
This provides its users with an accelerated checkout experience on any Shopify store, a way to pay for products in interest-free instalments, a buy-now pay later option, a merchant-tipping facility and personalized shopping recommendations.
To enable your customers to use the app to purchase goods from your store, you need to add the ‘Shop’ sales channel to your Shopify store.
You can learn more about the ‘Shop’ app and ‘Shop Pay’ in the below video.
Security and backing up data
One of the main advantages of using a hosted solution like Shopify over a self-hosted one (like WordPress or Drupal) is that keeping a site secure is largely the software company’s job.
With a Shopify store, there’s never any core software or plugin updates to worry about; Shopify runs these sorts of updates for you in the background.
Similarly, ensuring that credit card transactions are safe for your customers is something that Shopify takes responsibility for (via PCI compliance).
You will need to give some more thought to data backups however; although in an emergency you may be able to retrieve data via a Shopify helpdesk enquiry, it’s safer to either export your product data regularly to a CSV file, or invest in a dedicated content backup tool from the Shopify app store.
As the latter option will increase monthly outgoings a bit, this is not ideal.
Shopify customer support
Shopify’s customer support is comprehensive — help materials are available in 21 languages, and you can contact the company 24/7 by email, live chat or phone.
(The 24/7 customer support is offered in English; the availability of support in other languages depends on your country.)
The support materials are on the whole very clear — the only thing I feel is missing from them really is screenshots and videos. Nearly everything is text-based.
Overall though, Shopify’s support services are significantly more comprehensive than those offered by some competitors — for example, key competitor Squarespace doesn’t provide phone support at all.
There are a couple of issues worth pointing out, however.
When I’ve used Shopify support, I’ve sometimes found it hard to get a satisfactory answer to technical questions (involving coding etc.).
If you find yourself in that situation, you’ll probably have more luck posting a query in a Shopify community forum (and getting your answer from a developer or Shopify expert).
And, somewhat frustratingly, in order to access the contact details for Shopify’s support team, you’re required to search help pages for a solution to your problem first.
This is fairly standard practice these days, but it’s annoying.
Shopify user reviews
So far in this review, you’ve heard my views on Shopify. But as part of my research for the piece, I collated some user reviews of the platform for inclusion too. Here are some ‘real life’ takes on Shopify from some of its customers.
“I have used Shopify to build several successful ecommerce stores. Previously I had used WooCommerce, but in the last few years Shopify has just become the de facto choice. Its ecosystem, functionality, support and and ease of use make it fundamentally so much better than any of the other options. I won’t consider using anything else for a new project.
In terms of the downsides of Shopify, I find the site editor a bit harder to use than I’d like, and setting up on-page SEO is not as straightforward as in WordPress.”
– Ian Clifford, DJtechreviews.com
“We’ve been using Shopify POS for around 5 years now. For the most part, it is easy to use, reasonably priced and reliable. It’s been quite straightforward to set up.
However, we have had issues with updates running during the day when we are trading, occasionally leaving us unable to take card payments, and this has resulted in lost sales.”
Liz Jones, ziggysgiftshop.co.uk
“I use Shopify to run the store for the art rock band Five Grand Stereo. On the whole it’s a great solution for selling their merchandise, and it’s particularly good for bundling physical and digital products together.
I’d like to see a better site editor added to Shopify however. The way that the drag-and-drop tool works is a bit strange — other than the home page, it doesn’t let you edit individual pages, just templates. I worked out what to do eventually but it took me longer than I’d like.”
Emma Finnigan, fivegrandstereo.com
Shopify review: conclusion
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 an extremely good solution for users who want to dropship, run a print-on-demand business or sell products in multiple currencies.
The product is competitively priced, particularly when you consider that abandoned cart saver functionality and multilingual tools — features that many other platforms charge a premium for — are included on most plans.
It’s also easy to use, integrates well with a huge range of other apps, and its templates are attractive.
And it has a very big user base, which also inspires confidence.
All in all, Shopify is a very good option for anyone hoping to start a business, or existing small businesses wishing to take their product offering online — but there are some disadvantages of using Shopify to be aware of too.
The main one to watch out for is the transaction fees applied to merchants using a third-party payment gateway (many of Shopify’s competitors don’t charge any transaction fees at all, regardless of the payment processor used).
Second, Shopify’s limit of three options per product isn’t ideal, nor is its lack of a built-in tool for collecting custom data from customers at checkout.
Third, Shopify’s multi-currency selling features, while generally very good, don’t work with third-party payment gateways.
A more complete summary of Shopify pros and cons follows below, but as always we strongly recommend that you try before you buy — it’s worth having a good play with the platform via the Shopify free trial. You can access this here.
And of course if you have any questions or feedback on the platform, do leave them in the comments section at the end of this post.
Shopify pros and cons summary
Pros of Shopify
- It’s easy to use.
- It supports a large range of external payment gateways.
- Shopify templates are attractive and fully responsive (mobile, desktop and tablet friendly).
- It’s a particularly good option for anyone interested in dropshipping or print on demand.
- True multi-currency selling is possible with Shopify — something that can’t be said for a lot of competing platforms.
- The point-of-sale options are comprehensive.
- It gives you sophisticated and affordable abandoned cart recovery tools.
- Its automatic tax calculation tools are comprehensive and have the potential to save merchants a lot of time and admin.
- You can use any Shopify plan (except ‘Starter’) to create versions of your site in up to 20 different languages.
- You can avail of generous shipping discounts if you use the built-in ‘Shopify Shipping’ service.
- The ‘Buy Button’ feature allows you to use Shopify to add a shopping cart easily to any website or online business presence.
- It gives you generous email marketing features.
- You can extend Shopify’s core functionality easily thanks to a huge range of apps and integrations.
- Shopify’s SEO features are good, and you can use Yoast with the platform.
- ‘Starter’ plan aside, there are no transaction fees if you are happy to use the built-in payment processing system, Shopify Payments.
Cons of Shopify
- The number of free themes provided (12) is quite low compared to competing online store builders.
- While you can create 100 variants of a product, these can only involve up to 3 product options. Increasing these limits will involve purchasing a third-party app.
- Key functionality that you might expect to be provided out of the box often requires installation of a paid-for app.
- Adding custom fields such as text boxes or file upload options, while doable, is unnecessarily complicated (or involves purchasing an app).
- Shopify’s built-in payment processor, Shopify Payments, only allows you to sell from certain countries.
- The built-in multi-currency feature is only available if you are a Shopify Payments user.
- You can’t avoid transaction fees if you use a third-party payment gateway.
- Transaction fees on the ‘Starter’ plan are very high (5%).
- Product images have to be uploaded with the same aspect ratio to display neatly alongside each other.
- When using a dropshipping app, it’s hard to be sure that the goods you’re selling are ethically produced.
- If you’re not using ‘Shopify Shipping’ to provide real-time carrier quotes to your customers, or live in a country where it’s not available, getting your hands on this functionality can prove expensive.
No Shopify review would be complete without a look at the alternatives!
Of the ecommerce solutions I’ve tested to date, I’ve found that BigCommerce probably represents the strongest alternative to Shopify. It’s similarly priced, easy-to-use and its feature set is broadly comparable with Shopify’s.
BigCommerce video review
For more information on the product and how it stacks up against Shopify, do check our our BigCommerce vs Shopify comparison.
If you need more flexibility with regard to how you lay out content, or have a particular need to showcase images, videos or blog posts, you might like to check out Squarespace, which has a really lovely approach to managing content. Its drag-and-drop editor is significantly better than Shopify’s.
Squarespace video review
You’ll need to bear in mind that Squarespace’s ecommerce functionality is more limited than Shopify’s, however — particularly where multi-currency selling and point-of-sale ecommerce are concerned. But for an ecommerce beginner with simple selling needs, it’s great.
Shopify vs Squarespace comparison
Webflow is also an interesting option for users who want a huge degree of control over layout – check out our Webflow review, Webflow vs Wix shootout and Squarespace vs Webflow comparison for more details on this platform.
You might also be wondering whether online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay and Amazon are good options for starting an ecommerce business.
If so, take a look at our Shopify vs Etsy comparison, our Shopify vs eBay comparison and our Shopify vs Amazon comparison for more details on how selling on platforms like these compares to using a standalone store builder.
If you already run a website, you might like to investigate Ecwid, which allows you to add an online store to an existing site (Ecwid offers similar functionality to Shopify’s ‘Buy Button’, but with more advanced features).
However, as with Squarespace, these products are more ‘general purpose’ website builders and consequently are rather more limited in terms of ecommerce functionality than Shopify.
Big Cartel vs Shopify video comparison
Check out our latest Wix review and our Wix pricing guide for more information about Wix; our Wix vs Shopify, Squarespace vs Wix and Wix vs WordPress comparisons will also help you decide whether the platform is for you.
Wix vs Shopify video comparison
If POS functionality is a key concern, Square Online may potentially be a good fit for you — this solution lets you build a pretty decent online store but also gives you access to a sophisticated range of POS hardware and features (some of which can be used for free). Check out our Shopify vs Square comparison for more details.
And finally, there’s always self-hosted WordPress. This is a different beast to Shopify in that it is not a ‘hosted’ solution: using it involves building your own site and buying server space to host it on.
However, there are LOTS of plugins available that let you sell your products using it — with WooCommerce being the preferred option for many.
Take a look at our WooCommerce vs Shopify comparison for more information about how the WordPress + WooCommerce approach stacks up against using Shopify to build an online store.
Got any questions? Leave a comment!
After reading our Shopify review, do you have any queries about the platform, or whether it’s the right option for you? If so, leave a comment below! We aim to answer all questions.
Shopify review FAQ
What’s the best value Shopify plan?
It really depends on your selling requirements, but for me the ‘sweet spot’ plan is probably the mid-tier ‘Shopify’ plan as it gives you the bulk of functionality you need for an online store, including professional reports, full control over multi-currency payments and store translation features.
Does Shopify charge transaction fees?
You can avoid transaction fees by using Shopify’s built-in payment gateway, Shopify Payments. However, if you use a third-party payment gateway, Shopify charges you a transaction fee of between 0.5% and 2.0%, depending on your plan.
Do I need any special hardware or software to use Shopify?
Building a standard Shopify store can be done on any sort of desktop computer, and doesn’t require you to install any software locally. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a Mac, PC or Chromebook — all you need is a web browser and access to the internet to build your store. If you are selling at point of sale however, you will usually need to invest in some hardware, like a card reader, receipt printer or till.
Can I sell video content on Shopify?
Yes — you can use Shopify’s free ‘Digital Downloads’ app to do this, but you might find that a dedicated third-party app like Sky Pilot works better (particularly if your customers need to stream your content).
Can I create multilingual versions of my Shopify store?
Yes. With the exception of ‘Shopify Starter,’ all plans let you create up to 20 different language versions of your store.
Can I sell in multiple currencies with Shopify?
Shopify’s built-in multi-currency feature lets you sell in over 130 currencies — but it is only available if you are using Shopify Payments as your payment gateway. If you are based in a country that doesn’t yet support Shopify Payments, you can still sell in multiple currencies, but you will need to use a third-party app to do so.
Is it easy to upgrade or downgrade my Shopify plan?
Yes, you can do this at any time. The price of your previous plan is prorated and applied against the cost of your new subscription.
Should I use a free or paid-for Shopify template?
For most new merchants, a free Shopify template will work perfectly fine — the bundled templates are attractive and their visuals can be easily tweaked to make your storefront consistent with your brand. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the free templates are all fully supported by Shopify; if you use a paid-for theme, you may need to source support from a third-party developer. That said, some of the paid-for options can provide a more ‘bespoke’ look for your online store.
What’s the best alternative to Shopify?
There are lots of alternatives available to Shopify — we discuss some of them in depth above. However, for us, the most similar ‘hosted’ product in terms of pricing and basic features is probably BigCommerce.
How we tested this product — and why you can trust this review
We regularly help clients build Shopify stores, and have extensive knowledge of how the platform works. So this Shopify review is based on building many stores from scratch; editing existing ones; and using a wide variety of Shopify apps to configure them.
For more information about the criteria that we use to evaluate ecommerce tools, please see our ecommerce platform buyer’s guide, which contains a list of the factors we typically consider when testing and reviewing products like Shopify.
And finally, we have a strict honesty policy — while we do make use of affiliate links to fund our research and testing, we strive to be 100% impartial in all conclusions.
More Shopify reviews and resources
If you’re thinking of buying rather than building a Shopify store, do check out our guide to purchasing one safely; if you’re thinking of exiting your Shopify business, check out our guide to selling your Shopify store.
And finally, this post is also available in French! Check out our ‘Shopify Avis’ article on the Style Factory France site.