Shopify Reviews (2019) - All the Pros and Cons of a Leading Online Store Builder

Shopify reviews

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 customized 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 800,000 stores

  • over 1,000,000 active users

  • generated over $100bn 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 large 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 at relatively short notice). 

Shopify's strong market position and very large user base should make the prospect of financial difficulties for the company less likely, which in turn makes the prospect of a store you host with them suddenly disappearing 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 (correct as of April 2019)

However, it's important to note that the ‘Lite’ 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. Additionally, you can use a Buy Button to display entire categories of products on another site.

Using the Shopify Buy Button allows you to integrate Shopify into a site built on another platform - for example, Squarespace 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.

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 custom reports) are only provided on the most expensive 'Advanced' and ‘Shopify Plus’ 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 (POS) functionality - you can’t avail of all POS functionality unless you are on a 'Shopify' or higher plan (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 offers 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 another 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 a paid-for 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 at all, which is great. 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, stretches from 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

  • Germany

  • Hong Kong SAR China

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • Spain

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

(Note however that Shopify Payments is not available to US territories except Puerto Rico.)

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 be able to find a payment gateway that’s suitable for your location easily enough.

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 60 (and again, each theme comes in a few variants). These range in price from $140 to $180, and as with the free themes, they are all fully responsive.

Some examples of free Shopify themes

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 without too much difficulty.

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; and 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

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) functionality

  • 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 another 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

  • the ability to print labels for product shipping

  • discounts from couriers on shipping fees (depending on country)

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, on top of all the above 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.

  • If you’d like to try the product out before contacting us about a Shopify project, you can get a free Shopify trial here.


Shopify Point-of-Sale

One particularly strong 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.) to help you do this.

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 all you to

  • facilitate staff PINs

  • register shifts


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.

  • 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.

  • Ebay: this allows you to list your products on Ebay using your Shopify store.

Quite a lot of other channels are available too (including Instagram, Houzz and Buzzfeed).

All in all, it's pretty straightforward to use these sales channels — and the Shopify interface in general — but there's a couple of 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.

Additionally, you can’t sell digital products on Facebook — as I found out when I tried to add my SEO book as product to my Facebook page via Shopify. Only shippable products can be sold on that channel.

To be fair, these are limitations at the Facebook end, but you need to be aware of them if you have grand plans for selling on Facebook. And until they’re addressed, many merchants using Shopify may be better off simply encouraging their Facebook followers to click a button which takes them to their 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

Importing to Shopify

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.

If you’re a Shopify Plus customer, you can also use can the Transporter app and command-line tool to import products.

As for text-based data, If you want to import posts from a blogging platform such as Tumblr or Wordpress, your options are to:

  • copy and paste content

  • use a the Shopify API

  • buy a a third-party app (such as the paid-for 'Blogfeeder' app).

Exporting from Shopify

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 out of the box 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 product 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 (and slow) build and a user experience that could have been a bit better.

Thankfully a workaround exists involving third-party apps — there are quite a few available that lift these limits, but you will need to be prepared to pay for them. Another option is to add 'line item property' code to your Shopify store to capture more product options, but you’ll need to be comfortable with editing code in order to do so.

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 superb, 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 and 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 however, 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.

This means that you get abandoned cart saver functionality at a considerably lower price point than its key competitors Bigcommerce and Squarespace. Whereas with Shopify you can get the functionality for just $9, the Bigcommerce and Squarespace 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.

Configuring the abandoned cart recovery email in Shopify

Configuring the abandoned cart recovery email in Shopify

As you can see from the screenshot above, Shopify recommends that you send your abandoned cart email 10 hours after your site visitor abandons their cart. This is because according to research carried out by Shopify, this is the time interval which generates the most sale completions. You also have the option of sending a reminder email 1 hour, 6 hours or 24 hours after a cart is abandoned.

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 more comprehensive 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 (encouraging 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 rather 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 need 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.

The lack of this sort of functionality out of the box in Shopify is probably one of its most glaring omissions.


Shopify's SEO features

Shopify's SEO feature set is generally good and compares favourably with other hosted site-building platforms (especially Squarespace and Jimdo).

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

Editing SEO options in Shopify

Editing SEO options in Shopify

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 however 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 prefer a simpler URL structure.

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 engines, 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, 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 both one of the strongest arguments for using Shopify over its rivals — but also possibly an argument against.

On the plus side, 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.

On the down side, there are a lot of situations when getting the functionality you need (for example AMP format, more product options or custom fields) invariably requires installing a paid-for app.

Competing platforms like Bigcommerce and Squarespace by contrast tend to include more functionality like this out of the box, meaning you don’t end up paying as much on apps (but equally, can’t integrate with as many third party tools as easily — so it’s a bit of a case of ‘swings and roundabouts’ here).

Examples of available Shopify 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, Zendesk and Campaign Monitor.

It’s worth dwelling a moment on an app for which an official integration which doesn’t exist: Mailchimp. Unfortunately, due to a dispute about data protection and privacy issues, the Shopify-Mailchimp integration has been withdrawn from the Shopify app store. You can still use Mailchimp with Shopify, but you’ll have to use more manual workarounds to do so; alternatively, you could consider using a different email marketing solution, such as Getresponse or Campaign Monitor, to handle e-comms (check out our Getresponse review and our Campaign Monitor review for more information on these products).


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. It’s probably one of the best platforms of its kind for dropshipping.

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 in depth.


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 that sells an Irish language spelling checker 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 provides 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 one of 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 one of the key ways to increase traffic to your site; 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.

That said, 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 — there’s no categories available (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 configuration — hook it up to the commenting tool Disqus, which is useful too.

As mentioned earlier in this review, exporting Shopify blog posts is not terribly straightforward — 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’s algorithm sometimes prioritises AMP posts 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 to add it. 

Given the emphasis Google is increasingly placing on AMP content, and despite the additional costs, it is nonetheless great that you can create AMP versions of your product pages on Shopify — not all its competitors cater for this, notably Squarespace.


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 feet — it 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 page

Shopify's support page


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 Shopify 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 deal with the cookie consent issue. 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 to add a GDPR-compliant banner to your website. 

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


Buying, rather than building, a Shopify store

Shopify now offers something rather unique by comparison to its competitors — a service that allows you to buy a Shopify store.

This is called the ‘Exchange Marketplace’ and it essentially contains listings of existing Shopify stores that can be purchased. The advantage of buying a Shopify store rather than building one is of course that it takes the legwork out of setting one up and, assuming the store you buy is already profitable, can reduce the risk of making a bad investment (be that in terms of time or money).

Stores on the Exchange Marketplace are vetted by Shopify before they are listed and the escrow method — where an independent third party holds the payment until both buyer and seller are satisfied with proceedings — is used to handle the buying process. This means that you can buy a Shopify store from the Exchange Marketplace in relative confidence (although that said, it’s always worth getting financial and/or legal advice before doing so).

For more information on this, check out our article on how to buy a Shopify Store or visit the Exchange Marketplace for more details on what’s currently available.


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 particularly good 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 — 800,000 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 for those using 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, and a more ‘out of the box’ approach to GDPR where cookie banners are concerned.

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: depending on project type and capacity, we build Shopify sites for clients or can recommend a really good Shopify agency for you to use.

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 $9 plan, meaning that this functionality is provided at a considerably cheaper price than key competitors.

  • It's a very 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.

  • The Lite Plan’s ‘Buy Button’ allows you to use Shopify to sell products easily on an existing website.

  • 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.

  • Shopify states that over 600,000 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 buy an existing Shopify store using Shopify’s Exchange Marketplace.

  • 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 (or involves purchasing an app).

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

  • There is no longer an official Mailchimp-Shopify integration available.

  • Shopify Payments only allows you to sell from certain countries. f 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 from Shopify.

  • 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 dedicated e-commerce 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; for more information on the product, do check out our full Bigcommerce review.

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 slightly more limited than the likes of Shopify, Bigcommerce or Ecwid. Check out our Squarespace review for full details on this platform.

If you are on a budget, then Wix is worth a look as it offers e-commerce functionality at a cheaper price point than quite a few of its competitors, including Shopify. However, as with Squarespace, it’s a bit more limited in terms of e-commerce functionality than dedicated store building platforms. Check out our latest Wix review, our Wix vs Shopify post and our WordPress versus Wix comparison for more details on this platform.

And finally, there's always self-hosted WordPress. This 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, or contact us to discuss our Wordpress web design services.


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 reviews which compare Shopify against other leading 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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