In the previous articles in our series, “How to choose an ecommerce platform for your business,” we covered both Magento and WooCommerce, two popular platforms for online stores. In this third article, we look at Shopify, a Canadian ecommerce company that serves businesses worldwide.

Shopify has quickly become one of the most popular ecommerce platforms today due to its ease of use and numerous offerings.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is a self-hosted ecommerce solution that bundles both web hosting with ecommerce software, making it easy to create and launch an online store from one place. When it comes to building an online store, Shopify may be one of the easiest tools to use today.

Start with a free template or purchase one—no development experience needed. Upload your content, and you’re only a few keystrokes away from opening your store online.

According to their website, Shopify hosts a half million businesses with more than a million users and has sold more than $40 billion worth of products.

At the time of this writing, Shopify offers five ecommerce options to accommodate almost any budget, store size, or medium.

  • Shopify Lite. If you have a website or blog and want to sell from there—or from Facebook—then Shopify Lite may be a great option for you at only $9 / month.
  • Basic Shopify. With this option, you have what you need to open an online store, including support and two accounts to access your store. Like Shopify Lite, you can sell from your website or blog with the basic plan for just $29 / month.
  • Shopify. The middle of the road plan gives you additional features, such as reporting, gift cards, and abandoned cart recovery. Transaction fees and credit card rates are also lower with this plan. You can expect to pay $79 / month.
  • Advanced Shopify. The Advanced Shopify option offers everything in the Shopify and Basic Shopify plans, but also includes an advanced report builder and third-party shipping rates in case you want to use UPS or FedEx. For $299 / month, you can also expect lower transaction fees and credit card rates.
  • Shopify Plus. Shopify describes their top-tier plan as “Enterprise-grade solutions for high volume merchants, and large businesses.” Click the link for more information and you’re sent to a form. No pricing is listed for this option, so they either don’t want to scare any businesses off or they customize a price for each business depending on requirements.

With all of Shopify’s plans, you get an unlimited number of products at no additional cost unlike some plans that charge more for listing more products. For the Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify plans, there’s also discounted USPS shipping.

Advantages

If you like what you’ve read so far, then here are a few more reasons to like Shopify.

Online and offline sales

Shopify supports selling online not only through your Shopify site, personal website, or blog, but also through social media. It integrates with both Facebook and Pinterest so that you can reach an even wider audience.

In addition, you can sell on other popular sites, including Amazon, Wanelo, and BuzzFeed to name a few.

Want to sell in person? You can do that too with Shopify POS. Get a free chip and swipe reader and you can start selling offline, too.

Lastly, Shopify offers a retail package (an additional $49 / month for the Basic, Shopify, and Advanced plans) along with the hardware necessary (for an additional price) to set up a cash register in almost any location—store, tradeshow, or pop-up.

Speed and load times

There are two critical features for any online store: it must be fast and secure. With some ecommerce platforms, those two features only come with the most expensive of hosting packages.

With any online store, seconds can cost you customers and not just sales. When you host your store with Shopify, regardless of the package you choose, your site will be fast and reliable, and your payment transactions are always secure.

Apps

Like Magento and WooCommerce, Shopify has plenty of apps (plugins and other extensions) available in their App Store. If your store template doesn’t have the features you need, you can expand the feature set with apps, some free and some paid.

With hundreds of apps, chances are that you won’t need developer to customize your store. Shopify’s easy to use interface lets you quickly add new features and functions to your site.

If it turns out that you need a developer or consultant to help you improve your store, Shopify has a network of experts. From designers and developers to marketers and photographers, you can find someone to help.

Disadvantages

No ecommerce platform is perfect, so what disadvantages can you expect with Shopify?

Ongoing cost

If you’re considering a Shopify plan, then $29 per month or maybe even $79 per month isn’t too much. With the right amount of sales, even $299 per month may not seem like much. But if you need to customize your store with plugins those monthly costs can add up.

The monthly fee for some plugins may easily double or triple your plan cost each month. Some of the more expensive plugins can add $100 or more each month to your ongoing costs.

Proprietary code

Out-of-the-box, Shopify can do almost anything you need it to do, but if you need to access the back end, you’ll encounter proprietary coding. Hiring a developer to make modifications can increase maintenance costs, while also causing delays.

The self-hosted solution trap

The gotcha with a self-hosted solution like Shopify is that the moment you cancel your plan, you may no longer have access to your content. Unlike an online store that you host yourself, when you shutdown your store, you still have access to the content on your web host. Not so with Shopify.

If you close your store, but realize that you didn’t transfer your Shopify domain to a new host or uninstall a paid plugin, then you have to reactivate your account to make changes. You have only 30 days to do so. Shopify may not store your data any longer than that.

If you’re not sure about closing your store, Shopify lets you pause it. You continue to pay a monthly fee, albeit a lower monthly fee, to keep your store online. Pausing lets customers browse your products, but disables checkout, so no one can purchase from you.

Ready to reopen your store after pausing? Sadly, you’re not guaranteed the same plan that you had before you paused the store. If you had an older plan that was grandfathered in, it may no longer be available.

Is Shopify right for you?

If the cost of Shopify doesn’t deter you and if you like having your web host and online store bundled, then try Shopify for free. They offer a 14-day trial with no credit card required. Sign up right from their home page.

What’s next?

That’s three down in our ecommerce platform series with only one left to go: BigCommerce. If you haven’t already, check out our previous two articles on Magento and WooCommerce to learn more.