A little over a decade ago in 2004, a group of ambitious young Canadians wanted to sell their snowboarding equipment but didn’t like any of the available ecommerce options. Rather than settling, they set about to create their own platform. Developed in local coffeehouses, their original ecommerce platform performed rather well — so well, they decided to sell it instead of snowboards. In 2006, they launched their platform Shopify for the public.
In the subsequent years, Shopify has expanded to become a cornerstone of online shopping and the third largest ecommerce platform in the world. In 2016, it raked in $389.3 million in revenue, and accounted for 4% of all online stores around the world.
There’s no doubt that Shopify is a powerful and attractive foundation for ecommerce entrepreneurs to build their empires on… but is it the right platform for you? The top 3 platforms — Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento — all cater their services to different needs and methods, so whose needs and methods does Shopify cater to?
In this article, we give an honest critique of Shopify, so you can decide whether or not it’s right for you.
What Is Shopify?
Breaking it down to bare bones, Shopify is a fully hosted ecommerce platform and website builder. Unlike some of its competitors, Shopify combines hosting, payment integrations, and the website CMS all in one.
Similar to WordPress, its website builder relies on downloadable themes and plugins for customization, some free and some paid. However, Shopify is designed specifically for ecommerce and nothing else, whereas WordPress is more open-ended.
Shopify allows users to sell virtually anything: physical goods, software, and even services. Shopify Payments accepts all major credit cards and PayPal, plus it offers its own POS processor on mobile devices for in-person transactions.
Pricing Plans and Features
Shopify has three main paid tiers of service: Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify. Additionally, there are two other variations, Shopify Plus for large-scale enterprises (>$2,000/month) and Shopify Lite ($9/month) for selling on social media, in-person, or on an existing site. All tiers are paid by a monthly fee, but offer a 10% discount on annual registration and a 20% for biennial.
With the exception of Shopify Lite, all the pricing plans include most of the main features:
- Free Shopify Payments transactions
- Unlimited products
- Unlimited file storage
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Custom domain name
- Discounted shipping labels
- 24/7 customer support
- Fraud analysis
- Discount codes
- Blog capabilities for your website
- Free SSL certificate
The main differences between the main three tiers are the transaction rates. The Basic plan has the highest credit card rates and transaction fees on third-party gateways, the Advanced plan has the lowest. Higher-tiered plans also receive a better discount on Shopify Shipping, and more staff accounts.
For extra features, the regular Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans can use gift cards, receive special reports, and have access to automatic abandoned cart recovery emails. The Advanced plan can also display the calculated shipping rates for third-party carriers like FedEx and UPS at checkout.
How Does Shopify Compare to Magento and WooCommerce?
As impressive as Shopify’s performance stats are, it only comes in third to other ecommerce platforms in the number of sites they support.
As we said above, each of these ecommerce platforms uses different strategies to appeal to different kinds of ecommerce businesses. So what’s the difference?
Technically, WooCommerce isn’t a platform on its own, but a WordPress plugin that lends ecommerce capabilities to any WP site. For die-hard WordPress users, this is a true blessing because they’re already familiar with the interface and plugin library. The advantages of WooCommerce are the advantages of WordPress: a nearly limitless library of free and paid plugins to customize your site as you want.
The downside is that you have to roll-up your sleeves and take a more hands-on approach to building your site. At the very least, you have to go through and set up the specific preferences for every aspect of your site. If you want additional features, you have to hunt down the plugins yourself — that’s why having experience with WordPress is a huge advantage with WooCommerce.
Magento takes the pros and cons of WooCommerce to extremes. It’s known as the most flexible ecommerce platform on the market, but at the cost of usability. You can do whatever you want in Magento, but you have to work hard to do it.
It’s not that Magento is only for big businesses; quite the opposite, Magento is highly scalable and beneficial to small and large stores alike. The problem is that the level of involvement depends on your team’s coding skill. To take full advantage of Magento’s extraordinary customization, you need to know your way around PHP.
Shopify’s strengths and weaknesses are almost the reverse of its competitors: Shopify is exceptionally user-friendly and easy-to-use; however, its customization features are somewhat limited. Compared to Magento and WooCommerce, Shopify is a bit closed off, meaning you’re restricted to the options it gives you. On the plus side, this makes it more self-sufficient, such as the inclusion of hosting in the package.
While Shopify has an adequate library of plugins and extensions, WooCommerce benefits from the entirety of the WordPress library, which can incorporate plugins that weren’t necessarily designed for ecommerce. Likewise, Magento allows you to manipulate the code any way you want. In this respect, Shopify’s biggest drawback is its limitations; although that doesn’t make it a deal-breaker.
Should You Use Shopify?
What we can infer from above is that Shopify works best for companies that don’t want to worry about technical details. You don’t need the technical know-how you do for Magento, nor the patience of sifting through the plugin library for WooCommerce. The beauty of Shopify, as they state themselves, is that their ecommerce platform handles all the technical details so you don’t have to, freeing you up to focus only on managing your business.
Again, it’s not about big business or small; the different payment tiers offer enough variation to suit companies of any size. What it really boils down to is, how much effort do you want to put into the actual designing of your website?
Shopify targets users who want the development of their website to be quick and easy. That’s not to be confused with “basic” — you can still build a rich and robust website on Shopify. The difference is, building a complete website will take less time on Shopify, at the expense of the options available.
But, if you’re looking for a more traditional ecommerce site anyway, there’s no harm done. Shopify still has everything you need to sustain a fully functioning online store from a bare-bones startup to a titan of ecommerce.