This is a genuine Shopify review, based on over 12 months of experience using the Shopify platform, and over $350,000 in sales across two ecommerce sites running on the Shopify CMS.
This is not a short review, so if you’re looking for a one minute wonder, you’re in the wrong place. Pull up a chair, brew a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable and get stuck in. Choosing an ecommerce CMS shouldn’t be a spur of the moment decision – it’s a decision that could have implications for your business for months and years to come, so take your time to make the right decision. I’m not going to bamboozle you with irrelevant pictures or distract you with funny videos – this is a cold, hard review with lots and lots of words!
I have a confession to make: About three years ago, one of my friends (who builds ecommerce websites for a living) advised me to use Shopify for a new ecommerce website I was planning to launch. In my infinite wisdom I ignored his advice. I looked at the Shopify website, but for some reason I just wasn’t “wowed” by what I saw. So, I decided to go with a cheap WordPress ecommerce template that promised the world and delivered very little (big mistake). Soon after I found myself defecting to Open Cart – another less-than-positive experience. Two years later things just weren’t working out, so I looked into Shopify again.
After lots of deliberation I decided to take the plunge with Shopify (around May 2013). I posted a job on Elance to find a trustworthy Shopify developer – in the end I paid about $1,200 for a completely custom design. During the development phase the site was hosted by Shopify for free, once the site was ready to be launched I paid a small monthly fee so I could open my online store to the public (from memory, I think it was about $29/month).
As time has gone by and my store has started to become increasingly popular, I’ve gradually upgraded my subscription to the point where I’m now on the “Unlimited” plan at $179/month.
It’s over 12 months since I used Shopify for the first time. The second I laid eyes on the backend of Shopify I was impressed, it looked fairly intuitive – and it was. I was a little apprehensive about paying a monthly subscription, but then I weighed up the cost of solid ecommerce hosting, CDNs and all the other bells and whistles. I realised that Shopify is actually a bit of a bargain, when you look at what you’re getting for your cash.
Adding products to Shopify was easy, I didn’t need to read any of the official documentation. To this day I’ve only ever visited the Shopify support section a couple of times – that’s how easy this platform is to use. In the backend you’ll find lots of knobs and switches to play around with, some of the features (like custom reports and cart abandonment emails) require you to be on the highest package – but the majority of settings can be manipulated even on the basic plan. You’ll find all the essentials you would expect in an ecommerce CMS, like the ability to generate voucher codes, publish blog posts, customise your store emails, and more.
I could go on about my initial thoughts but you probably get the gist – I was impressed. Shopify is a comprehensive ecommerce CMS. I’d go so far as saying it’s the best I’ve worked with to date.
Ten things I love about Shopify
- Cost flexibility: I’ve already mentioned that I started out by paying roughly $29/month. As sales grew I upgraded my subscription to make it a little more cost-effective (there’s a trade off between the monthly subscription fee and the individual transaction processing fees). Now I’m on the Unlimited package because my sales dictate that’s the best package to be on. The fact I have gradually worked my way through the packages has kept costs low, and relative to my store’s financial performance – so I’m very happy about that.
- Apps: There are hundreds of great apps available for Shopify – I could write an entire article about apps alone (and I probably will at a later stage). I remember the phrase “Google shopping” sending shivers down my spine – I heard horror stories from other ecommerce business owners who had nothing but trouble with formatting feeds that Google could read. I was amazed to find a free Google shopping app on the Shopify platform – my feeds were being shared with Google in less than five minutes (it’s fair to say I was pretty gobsmacked). I also use a host of other useful plugins for Shopify that make life a lot easier – the platform appears well supported by third party developers, which is great news for every store owner.
- Range of payment processing options: I already had a WorldPay account as a result of my two failed ecommerce sites. It was just a case of speaking to WorldPay and having a new installation ID generated – I punched the numbers into Shopify and my installation was activated in a matter of days. Again, setting up payment gateways makes me feel physically ill – I’ve had some terrible experiences. It was a breeze setting up WorldPay on Shopify though.
- Intuitive GUI: I hate learning new things, especially when it comes to administration panels on content management systems. From day one I felt right at home in Shopify’s backend (hmmm…) – everything is completely intuitive and where it should be. If I get stuck with anything, the Shopify support website is comprehensive, but if I can’t find the answer I’m looking for there, the support forums are a great place to post.
- Easy to customise: Shopify is a blank canvas, with the right skills (or in my case, the right developer), you can do pretty much anything you want with it. I expected it to be quite a rigid platform to work with because it’s a hosted solution (in truth, I associated “hosted solution” with negative connotations) – but the finished site I had developed far surpassed my expectations on every level. It’s not constrained or impeded by the platform – which can only be a good thing.
- CDNs come as standard: Back when I ran an ecommerce site on a WordPress template, any more than 20 visitors online at any one time would bring the site to a halt, or even knock it offline. There’s no danger of that with Shopify, and even if you do enjoy a surge in traffic figures, Shopify plans come with CDNs as standard – ensuring your site is served up in super-quick time to all visitors – enhancing the overall user experience. Setting up CDNs on self-hosted content management systems can be a huge chore – so it’s nice to know Shopify has you covered from the word “go” (at no additional cost). Over the Christmas period – while lots of our competitors were knocked offline over Black Friday and Cyber Monday – our website was unaffected due to the resilience of Shopify’s servers. We raked in sales.
- Exporting products is a piece of cake: Recently I had to move some products from my original Shopify store, to my [new] second store. I expected a boring day of cut and pasting each field individually – but I soon discovered I could export the products in a CSV file, delete them on the original website then upload them to the new website. The whole process took about five minutes (which left me half a day to spend doing something much more productive).
- A blog section comes as standard: Some snake oil salesmen out there will charge thousands of dollars to add a blog section to your website. Shopify comes with a blog feature built in – it’s up to you how you utilise it. You can keep your blog updated with lots of “on-trend” posts to keep your visitors engaged – or you can hide it away and let your product pages do the talking. You decide!
- Easy to install analytics and tracking code: I can’t edit a string of code to save my life – but with Shopify it’s really easy to install tracking codes and conversion scripts. Off the top of my head I’ve installed the following codes without the assistance of my developer: AdRoll conversion tracking, Bing Ads conversion tracking, Google AdWords conversion tracking and Google Analytics tracking. That’s a big thing for me! I can track traffic and conversions easily as a result of pasting these tracking codes onto my website.
- Support is great: I have a developer who’s just an email away, so I very rarely have to reach out to Shopify’s support team. When I have done so in the past however, they’ve responded to my messages promptly and with clarity – you can’t really ask for more than that! As I’ve already mentioned, the Shopify support forums are also a great place to seek help and guidance from Shopify staff, and other Shopify store owners.
What I don’t like about Shopify
I’ve got another confession to make: I wrote this subtitle, then struggled to find anything to write (seriously). After an hour of deep thought, I’ve come up with a few things:
- It seems like every time I login to the backend of my website, there’s a forthcoming “planned maintenance” notice. I know a solid platform needs to be updated and tweaked regularly, but a lot of these notices come with a potential downtime warning. And when I see the word “downtime” I automatically think “lost sales” – which is every ecommerce business owner’s worst nightmare.
- Another thing that’s slightly annoying is that checkout pages are locked down tight (and I mean tight). This is kind of understandable because they’re hosted on Shopify’s secure servers. That being said, I’m not convinced the layout is as user-friendly as it could be. It might work great for North American customers, but some of the language on the checkout page just doesn’t translate across the pond in Europe, or indeed other areas of the world. It’d be nice to have a little more freedom in customising the checkout page, I’m certain I could wring out extra conversions if I had the ability to A/B test with the layout.
- When I added products initially (around 350 in one week), I found that sometimes I’d fill out a product page, hit “Save”, then experience the Shopify equivalent of a 404 error. I’d then have to go back and create the product page all over again. This happened a handful of times and it was hugely annoying.
- Third party apps come and go, which can be a bit of a pain. Recently the Madify email app was discontinued (which syncs lists between the Shopify platform and our email newsletter provider) – this meant we had to switch from Mad Mimi for our email lists (we changed to Mail Chimp). I have to say, I much preferred Mad Mimi for a host of reasons, I really don’t rate the Mail Chimp platform or the Chimpify plugin. That being said, it’s not Shopify’s fault that a third party developer pulled their plugin from the platform – so raising this is probably a little harsh (but hey, I told you I’m scraping the barrel for negatives to write about!).
These really are just small things on the whole. The maintenance and checkout page layout points are slight annoyances, but the other things I mentioned aren’t huge issues. In the interests of providing a balanced review, I wanted to highlight all of the drawbacks I’ve experienced.
What other reviewers are saying
While I was trying to convince myself to take the plunge with Shopify last year, I read some reviews written by some existing Shopify users. A lot of them said that they saw the cost of themes and Shopify apps as a major downside – but I have to disagree. As I’ve found in business (and in ecommerce in particular), you get what you pay for! If you want a website that looks the part, you have to be willing to spend a bit of money on a premium theme, or a custom theme. It’s not realistic to expect Shopify to supply hundreds of amazing themes at little or no cost.
Remember this, your website is your very own piece of virtual real estate. A nice website doesn’t come for free, so you need to have at least a little bit of cash free to invest in a theme or custom layout. If you don’t have a dime to invest, perhaps it’s time to take a step back until you do.
Other reviewers have said that Shopify doesn’t include many “out of the box” features – but again, I’d have to disagree. Shopify is essentially just an ecommerce content management system – it does exactly what it says on the tin. The few things I’ve found the CMS lacking tend to be supported by apps anyway. If you want to start adding bells, whistles and frilly bits, you can – just install a few apps like I have. Keeping core functionality to only the most essential aspects keeps overall cost down (ie, you’re not subsidizing features for other users to benefit from, that you don’t use).
Some reviewers have said that it’s not clear that you have to pay for the privilege of payment processing. I’ve never heard of any CMS or selling platform offering free payment processing, so the usual fees apply, whether you’re planning to use PayPal, WorldPay, Sage Pay, or any of the other major payment processors.
I’m not trying to devalue other people’s reviews and I realise that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I do feel these downsides highlighted by others are slightly unfair. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – Shopify isn’t free to use, but I’d definitely say it’s extremely cost effective overall.
During my time as an ecommerce business owner I have used lots of different content management systems and pieces of software. Invariably I’ve had bad, bug-filled experiences. It feels like Shopify is ahead of the rest of the pack, it feels like the developers are one step ahead of the game. The CMS is very well supported, and I’ve experienced very few problems with it. Stability is what I crave as an ecommerce business owner, and Shopify delivers that.
Compared to the rest, Shopify is a breathe of fresh air – I can’t recommend it highly enough. I recently launched my second ecommerce website, and yep, you’ve guessed it, I launched it on Shopify. Soon, I’ll be launching a third… and I’ll be running that site on Shopify too. I can’t pay Shopify a higher compliment than that!
Still unsure? Take 10 minutes to sign up to Shopify and have a poke around. You’ll see everything’s right where it should be, and I’m confident you’ll love the platform just as much as I do!
My rating: 9.5/10