Shopify is a SaaS (software as a service) Ecommerce Platform and it has made my short list of platforms I am considering using for my own Ecommerce business. If you aren’t familiar with SaaS it means that the software is remotely hosted by the company that developed it and they offer that software as a service to their clients. It’s not something you can buy, install or download for use on your own servers. All of that is taken care of by the company that operates the SaaS solution. In this case, Shopify is owned an operated by a Canadian company called Jaded Pixel Technologies Inc. from Ottawa and has seen some tremendous growth over the last couple of years.
I have been involved in Ecommerce for a very long time and I have never been impressed with SaaS solutions for something as important as your ecommerce platform. My main complaint is and always has been that you have no access to the code and are at the mercy of the software provider for features. Typically, what I find is being confined to a specific feature set is fine in the beginning because your needs are usually pretty basic. However, every business is unique and as you grow you will find your needs change and you need a platform that is capable of growing and adapting with you. It’s tough to do that with a solution you don’t have control of.
With all that said, it’s been a long time since I have had to find a new Ecommerce platform and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have come a long way. Several big solutions have made it easy for 3rd party developers to create add-ons or extensions that add functionality to the standard platform. Because of that, for the first time, I am willing to consider a SaaS solution for my upcoming Ecommerce store. I am still slightly biased against them but will give them an honest and thorough review in my search for the perfect platform for me to start with.
So let’s get started. I setup a trial account and played around with it quite a bit. If you want to setup a free trial yourself to follow along with this review, click here. I also went back and forth via email with someone at Shopify to clarify any questions I had. Read below for my take on this ecommerce platform.
Things I like about Shopify
Ease of Use – This is probably it’s best feature. Shopify is one of the slickest, easiest Ecommerce Platforms I have ever come across. It is very easy to sign up, setup and start using. If you were so inclined, you could be up and running in one day. You don’t need a lot of technical know-how to setup a good looking, working online store. They lay out the steps pretty clearly in their initial setup wizard and guide you down the path of setting up quickly so you can start selling quickly.
It’s Pretty – While this isn’t nearly as important as most of it’s feature set, Shopify does offer a very nice UI (user interface) and that’s a plus in my book. Let’s face it, you are going to be looking at this interface often so if it’s laid out well and looks pleasing, it’s a nice added bonus to the rest of the features.
Open API and Tons of Apps – One of the things that made this a worthwhile platform for me to look into was the fact that it had an open API and lot’s of Apps to help add to the functionality of the basic system. As I already mentioned, as businesses grow they face unique challenges and you need to be able to come up with solutions to those challenges. Hopefully, businesses using systems like Shopify are able to meet those challenges with existing apps or pay a developer to design an app just for them. It makes the solution quite a bit more scalable. The only downside here is that many of the apps cost extra but more on that later.
Lot’s of Themes – Along the same lines as all the apps, they also have a lot of themes to choose from that you can tweak and add your own flare to or just run with it exactly like it is right out of the app store.
Active User Base - As with any important piece of software, an active user base is almost always a big plus. Customer service and support from the company is important but it’s always nice to know that there is an active community of users that have been there and done that. They will often have insights into things that the company that created the software won’t have because they are both thinking about the problems and solutions from different angles.
More Robust than I Thought it Would Be – I read a lot of reviews of Shopify before diving into my own and I must admit, I came into this convinced that Shopify wasn’t very robust. While I did find it lacking in some areas, it’s more robust than I think many people give it credit for. There were things I was sure Shopify didn’t do but in an effort to make sure my review was as accurate as possible, I dove a little deeper and sent them quite a few emails with questions. In almost every case, they showed me features I was missing in my initial review. I would not say that Shopify is the most robust platform I have looked at but I will say it’s more robust than I thought it was going to be.
Things I am on the Fence About
Customer Service – I have seen in review after review people praising Shopify for exceptional support but I have had a mixed experience so far. I had setup two separate trial accounts, one a few months back when I was initially checking out the software and one just recently in order to to do this review. When you sign up with Shopify you get an email pretty soon after from your assigned Shopify guru that is supposed to help you get started. My first experience was less than stellar. I had sent a few emails and most were ignored. This second time around my experience was much better. I got an answer to all of my emails and the response time ranged from 18 – 36 hours. I was satisfied with the under 24 hour responses but I wouldn’t call a 36 hour response exceptional. The one caveat I will give here is that since I didn’t have a live store, I never dealt with their actual support system, just the Shopify guru I was assigned.
Lot’s of Apps… Expensive Apps – I have the apps in both the things I like and the things I am on the fence about section. I know, kind of confusing, but the truth is, I am impressed that they have an open API and the ability to develop apps that can enhance their platform but they are going to cost you. Most are a monthly fee, which I really don’t like. I would much rather pay a flat fee and own it then be stuck paying for it month after month.
Things I Don’t Like
Search Engine Friendliness – The main feature that I found to be lacking was the ability to fill out the meta tags for each item and page. I asked my Shopify Guru about this and his response was “We don’t have meta tags built in because their use is limited. You totally can add it with apps like Meta Tagger and MetaFields if you think you’d find value in them.” First of all, editing the Meta Description on every single page of any ecommerce platform or web site should be a basic feature, I shouldn’t have to pay extra for an app to do something so simple yet critical. Secondly, the fact that he didn’t understand or recognize the the Meta Description is vital since it usually ends up as the description in the search engine results was pretty poor. The meta description tag may not help with rankings in any way but it is your chance to write copy that will get people to click through to your store.
Cost and Transaction Fees – I don’t like the way Shopify has their packages setup. Their cheapest package is $29 a month which isn’t bad except for two things. They charge a 2% transaction fee and they don’t include important features like coupon code engine or calculated shipping. If you want to get the coupon feature you have to upgrade to the $59 a month plan and if you want calculated shipping it’s $99 a month. Pretty steep for fairly standard features especially since I consider the additional $6 a month app for managing the meta tags a must (s super basic and standard feature). It’s real tough to charge appropriately for International shipping if you can’t automatically calculate the shipping cost. I also don’t understand why any shopping cart solution would or should charge a transaction fee unless they are also processing the credit cards for you. It’s hard enough to get an online store off the ground, you don’t need them taking a cut of every sale you make.
Here are a Few Videos About Shopify
Quick Intro to Shopify
All in all, I like the platform. I wish they did the pricing differently and added some better SEO features but despite that, it’s a pretty slick system. Take it for a test ride yourself and setup a free trial by going to Shopify.com