Are you about to build an ecommerce website?
Shopify might be a good option for you.
There’s a reason it’s used by 1,000,000+ businesses including the The New York Times for all their ecommerce needs. But is it the best one for your business?
We’ve taken a deep look at Shopify. Now, we want to show you what we found and how it compares to its competitors.
But first …
What is Shopify?
Shopify is an ecommerce tool. They help brands and businesses create online stores to sell products to customers.
It was created in 2006 by three friends who were unhappy with ecommerce solutions for a snowboarding store they wanted to open. Now, Shopify has exploded and become a household name in the ecommerce world.
Shopify currently has more than a million online stores across 175 countries. Here are a few Shopify customers you might recognize:
So you’re in good company — world-class brands and massive ecommerce sites have been built on Shopify.
They also have a net worth of more than $87 billion. Not bad for a business started from a snowboarding shop.
In-Depth Shopify Review and Methodology
For this review, I’ve broken down all the core ecommerce site features and rated Shopify by each.
I’ve used a simple 5-point scoring system on each ecommerce feature below: 5 for “amazing,” 1 for “it sucks.”
I’m not a complete Shopify fanboy. There are a few areas where Shopify could do better. And one category Shopify completely fails.
If you’re building an enterprise ecommerce site and evaluating new tools, it’s worth having the Magento and Shopify Plus (Shopify’s enterprise version) teams do a bake-off for your business. Otherwise, go sign up for Shopify and build your site there.
Ease of Use: 5/5
Shopify is one of the easiest ecommerce tools. It’s also considered one of the easiest tools across all business apps. It’s true — lots of other business tools use Shopify as inspiration for how to build their apps.
We aim for Shopify to be the first thing that merchants open in the morning and the last thing that merchants close at night. In other words, we want Shopify to be the heart and soul of a merchant’s business, helping them sell more and work more efficiently so they can focus on the things that really matter to them. The features that our product team shipped this year were geared toward achieving this. —Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein in the 2018 Q4 Earnings Call
One example of just how easy it is to use Shopify is its Flow app (available only to Pro users) that lets you automate tasks and ideas from a pre-made library of automation templates or by building your own. A few examples: automatically create a support ticket when you get a negative review, send daily top searches to a spreadsheet, hide and show products based on inventory, automatically add a free gift to orders over $100. It also integrates with Asana, Slack, and other common ecommerce tools.
If you’re looking for an ecommerce tool to get all those annoying tasks out of your way, Shopify is a good best option.
Site Customization: 5/5
Shopify managed to do something that’s exceptionally rare in software: build a tool that’s both extremely easy to use and has all the flexibility that you’d ever need.
Most tools only achieve one of these. They’re either easy to use and limited, or they’re flexible and complicated.
As you grow your business, you’ll have the ability to evolve your store however you like. While you’ll most likely start with one of the pre-built themes, you can build a theme from scratch. At some point, you’ll need a theme that embodies your brand and has a unique feel. When you’re ready, find a ecommerce site design agency that has experience with Shopify. They’ll be able to build the entire thing for you.
When you’re ready for the big leagues and need a tool that has complete flexibility, Shopify has an enterprise version called Shopify Plus. So it’ll scale with you no matter how big you get.
Shopify charges you in four ways:
- Choose from three pricing tiers, Basic at $39 per month, Shopify at $105 per month, and Advanced for $399 per month. The more expensive plans have extra features along with larger shipping discounts.
- If you use Shopify as your online payment provider, you’ll be charged 2.9% + 30¢ to process the transaction. The fee comes down slightly each time you upgrade: it’s 2.4% + 30¢ on the advanced Shopify plan. There’s a similar fee for in-person payments that’s slightly lower.
- If you use another payment provider, Shopify charges a percentage on top of the payment provider fee. Shopify’s fee starts at 2% and decreases to 0.5% on the advanced plan.
- If you choose to use Shopify’s POS hardware, there’s a one-time fee of $656 for the entire package, which includes an iPad stand, receipt printer, cash drawer, and card reader. Each of these can also be purchased individually. If you only want a basic card reader, you can get one for free with your Shopify account.
All of these prices are in sync with the rest of the industry. They’re exactly what you’d expect. Plus, you get a discount if you pay annually, making the monthly pricing $29, $79, and $105, respectively.
Some ecommerce site builders advertise the fact that they charge 0% transaction fees. This isn’t entirely true. Yes, they don’t charge anything. But you also have to set up your own payment provider, and that payment provider will charge you a payment fee.
In other words, Shopify is your site builder and your payment provider. All payment providers charge a standard fee, including Shopify. That’s why Shopify charges you a monthly subscription and a payment processing fee.
The one fee that’s a little annoying is the fee to use other payment processes. This is the fee that starts at 2.0% on the lowest plan and comes down to 0.5% on the advanced plan. This fee applies to payments accepted through Paypal and Amazon Payments, among others.
I totally understand why Shopify charges a processing fee when they’re handling the payments. That’s completely normal for the industry. But the fee on top of other processing fees is a bit of an overreach, in my opinion.
The vast majority of your payments will come in through Shopify Payments anyway, so it’s a minor annoyance. This mainly impacts transactions that will come in through Paypal. You’ll have the Paypal processing fees and Shopify’s fees on each transaction.
That said, the extra cost is still worth all the extra value that you get from Shopify.
Shopify has removed all the friction from shipping. It’s as easy as it gets.
Core integrations with all major shipping companies are built right into your store. You get discounted rates, and you have multiple options for how to handle shipping during the checkout (flat rate shipping vs individual quotes).
Simply print shipping labels at your home or office for each order. That’s it.
Shopify Themes: 5/5
Shopify has dozens of themes to choose from. Some of them are paid, ranging from $140–180.
But there are a lot of amazing free themes, too. Even the free Shopify themes look like they were built by top-tier website designers.
When you build your site on Shopify, you’ll look through the theme store to find one you like. If you choose a paid theme, you get a professional-looking site for a nominal fee that will easily support your business until you’re large enough to have the budget for a customer-built theme that conveys your brand perfectly.
With the Shopify theme store and how easy it is to set up a site on Shopify, you can build your entire site on your own without needing a site designer and developer. Cutting those costs goes a long way for a new ecommerce site.
App Store: 5/5
The Shopify App Store is amazing.
You’ll find an app for just about every extra feature you could ever want for your store: email abandonment, Facebook Messenger, recurring billing — it’s all there.
This is what really sets Shopify apart from other ecommerce tools.
I know several CEOs of Shopify app businesses that are doing extremely well. They’ve built businesses with hundreds of employees.
What this means is that with a few clicks in the App Store, you can add an extremely advanced app on top of your Shopify store. It’s like buying an entirely new tool for your business that’s integrated perfectly with Shopify.
No other ecommerce tool has an app store with as many apps or as high quality as Shopify.
Expert Directory: 5/5
Sooner or later, you’re going to want some help with your site.
Maybe you want to tweak the layout of your product pages. Or maybe it’s time to do a complete brand revamp, and you want your Shopify theme built from scratch.
Whatever it is, you’re covered.
Shopify has an extensive network of professionals to help you with your site. Any ecommerce agency will have deep experience with Shopify at this point.
Shopify also has an entire directory of experts for you to search. Designers, developers, photographers, and marketers, all categorized by city. It’s super easy to find the help that you need.
Marketplace Integrations: 5/5
There are a few ways to build an online store.
Quite a few ecommerce companies choose to focus exclusively on Amazon for example; they don’t have their own website at all.
But what if you want both?
Shopify has made this much easier than it used to be. Instead of having to build out all your product listings by hand multiple times — on your own website, Amazon, and eBay — Shopify will handle it for you. Build your products in Shopify first, then add integrations for Amazon and eBay:
Once you’ve connected Shopify to your Amazon and eBay accounts, Shopify will automatically add your products to those platforms.
It saves a ton of time.
Product SEO: 5/5
Out of the box, Shopify has great SEO for your product pages.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have to do a bunch of work to get your product pages to rank for any keyword that’s even somewhat competitive. But Shopify gives you everything that you could possibly expect from an ecommerce tool.
You’ll be able to optimize your product pages, photos, and descriptions for keywords just like you’d expect. All the standard “on-page SEO” items are right where you’d expect them to be. In other words, Shopify’s on-page and technical SEO won’t slow you down at all. It’s everything that you need to rank.
That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically rank for the keywords you want. You’ll still need to create a ton of great content to increase your site’s authority and do a bunch of link building. In my opinion, that’s outside the scope of an ecommerce tool.
Content and Blog SEO: 1/5
This is the one category where Shopify completely fails.
Yes, Shopify technically has a blog feature. They built it out just enough so they can say that they have it. In reality, there’s no real reason that you’d ever want to use Shopify for your blog. Shopify lacks the management features and SEO that you’ll need.
If I’m using a blog to grow my business and traffic, I get the blog on WordPress. End of story.
If you’re going to get serious about blogging, you need to use WordPress. It is possible to have Shopify and WordPress on the same domain. So you’ll use Shopify for your online store and WordPress for your blog.
I break all of this down in my guide on WordPress ecommerce.
Point of Sale (POS): 2/5
I don’t know anyone who uses Shopify as their POS system. Nor have I ever seen one in the wild as a customer.
I consider that a… bad sign.
Nearly every POS I run into is Square, tailed by Clover and Revel. I’ve even seen Shopkeep a few times.
Following my rule of using business tools for the one thing that they’re best at, if I needed a POS, I’d go get the best POS tool. For a small business, the most popular choice is Square. I’d only use the Shopify POS if the majority of my business was an online store, I occasionally did some in-person retail, like at a farmer’s market, and I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible by using a single tool.
But if I had a brick-and-mortar location, I’d look into one of the dedicated POS tools instead of using the Shopify POS.
I give Shopify a rating of 2/5 since I consider their POS to be a neutral benefit. It’s nice to have maybe, but you’re probably going to with something else.
The Final Choice: Shopify vs BigCommerce vs Magento vs Wix
For small and medium-sized ecommerce businesses, the choice really comes down to three options: Shopify, BigCommerce, or Wix.
While Shopify gives you good tools and ecosystem, Wix edges them out with its SEO-friendly platform and intuitive drag-and-drop builder.
BigCommerce takes a knee to Shopify, though. The platform is better, the apps are better, the agencies are better — all of it.
What this costs you is an extra fee on payment providers on top of what the payment providers charge. Now if you use Shopify payments, you skip all that entirely. The extra fee also comes down from 2% to 0.5% as you upgrade plans. So as soon as you start to feel the impact of the extra fee, you’ll upgrade, and the fee will be lowered.
The extra payment fee is kind of annoying for folks who want to use another payment provider and give their customers as many options to pay as possible. But it’s a cost that’s worth enduring to get on the best ecommerce tool.
At the end of the day, this choice is ultimately up to you and your needs. If you’re interested in learning more, we have an article on the best ecommerce website builders out there with more reviews.
We also put together an entire guide on how to create your store if you’re ready to build with Shopify.
Our recommendation only changes for true enterprise ecommerce businesses. If that’s you, check out Shopify Enterprise and Magento. Contact both companies and have them fight for your business.