Is Shopify Right For You?

Do you ever have that feeling of what I can only describe as “TMI Paralysis”? That’s when you need to make a big decision (like choosing your website platform, for example) so of course, you do some research on your options. The problem I find is, I can sometimes end up researching everything so thoroughly that I wind up with so much information, and so many pros and cons for each decision, that I can’t make a choice at all. This actually happened a few years ago, when I was researching alternatives to Shopify, a platform I build a lot of my ecommerce websites on. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on platforms like Volusion and Bigcommerce – and still I couldn’t make a decision. There were so many exuberant fans (as well as furious haters, thank you internet commenters) of each platform, and so many platform comparison articles (all with different winners, of course) that I just felt completely stuck in limbo.

Sound familiar? Great, because today I’m not going to run you through my whole crazy-long decision making process. I’m just going to talk to you about Shopify, why it ended up being the platform I recommend to a lot of my clients, and why it could be the right solution for you too.

Point One: Shopify is Easy

And I’m not just talking about how easy Shopify is for me to set up (although it does make set up pretty damn speedy). I’m talking about how easy it is for you to actually use for the next however-many-years you’re running that business. Most web designers don’t even consider this part, because they’re not store owners themselves and just can’t imagine the teeth-grinding frustration of using an unintuitive website backend, day-in, day-out.

However my background is in ecommerce, so I’ve actually had to spend time on the client side of the table, and I know exactly how irritating it is to spend every day struggling with a complicated website admin area. Sure, for the first month or so you’re getting used to a new platform anyway, and everything takes a little while to do – but six months down the line, when you realise that it’s not just you, it really does take 10 minutes just to update a single product title, and you have 400 products to update – you’ll start realising that your choice of platform is actually hampering, rather than helping your efforts.

That’s just not the case with Shopify. Just look at this dashboard – want to edit a product title? Great, click "Products", then choose the specific product from the full list available, or add a new one if needed. Need to check one of your orders? Well take a guess at where you’re going to find that. Bingo! Under "Orders". There’s no hunting around a confusing maze of options, no convoluted steps you have to take – some of my previous clients have been such self-confessed technophobes that they make your granny look like Steve Jobs in comparison, and they loved Shopify for exactly that reason.

shopify-dashboard

Point Two: It’s beautiful

When it comes to beautiful templates you can use to control the appearance of your online store, Shopify frankly dominates this area. Even the free themes look fantastic, the paid ones can look like you’ve spent hundreds of thousands instead of mere couple of hundred for your store. Now I’m a designer, so of course I care that their templates are stunning. But who cares what I think, it’s your customers that really matter, and so the main question here is: does a beautifully designed website help you sell more?

You’re probably expecting me just to say a straight “yes”, but it’s a little more complicated than that: if you sell anything “non-essential”, like gifts, art, fashion, homeware, even food products – then your site design absolutely matters, because a lot of the time, it’s not just a product your customers are buying, it’s an experience – they are buying into your brand as much as anything else and your online storefront needs to communicate that brand to them.

Even if your selling points are a little different – let’s say your main point of difference is that you sell cost effective cleaning supplies in bulk – your website still needs to be clearly laid out. It may not necessarily need to be as visually appealing as a lifestyle brand, but your customer still need to be able to find what they are looking for and understand their options easily. Look at Amazon: it’s hardly the most beautiful ecommerce design out there, but it makes shopping very easy for customers, and that’s what matters to them. So whatever you are selling, Shopify’s templates are a very helpful resource – they don’t just look good but are also well thought out, with your customer’s experience in mind.

Point Three: Their Support is Phenomenal

Of course, all the main website builder platforms out there have reasonably good support teams, that’s kind of a necessity for a fully-hosted website solution. But Shopify by far and away leads the industry with their support team. They are available 24/7 via phone and live chat. They are kind, and ultra patient with beginners who may still be getting to grips with all this online business stuff (so you don’t need to worry about getting some superior tech nerd going all patronising on you) and best of all, they actually want to help, rather than just getting you off the line quickly.

Real life example: just recently a client had asked me to set up some A/B tests on their Shopify store. I was struggling to find a solution that gave us the functionality we needed without being prohibitively expensive to set up (these were just tests after all). Eventually, as a last resort, I contacted Shopify’s support team, fully expecting them to trot out the old “We’re sorry, but we don’t help with these kinds of store modifications” line.

Sidenote: I’m not sure how Bigcommerce and Volusion’s support teams are with more basic customer questions, but I can tell you from personal experience they are agonizing to deal with as a developer. Their technical knowledge appears to be zero, they clearly use scripts (since I got the same copy paste responses from multiple different reps, a pet peeve of mine) and worse, they occasionally gave me factually inaccurate information (must have forgotten to update those scripts I guess).

And this affects the customers in the long term: since with a fully hosted platform, developers don’t usually have access to every area of the store, and can need help with troubleshooting issues that arise. That’s why I love Shopify so much – when I reached out to their support team, they actually went looking for A/B solutions for me, and found a great one so that my client’s problem was solved. Whereas with Bigcommerce, I was directed to the same generic help guide five different times (after explaining that the information there wasn’t relevant to my specific question), Shopify’s support team make sure that you actually have helpful information to go on, and that your issue really is resolved. That’s what really makes them the stand out option for customers, in my opinion.

Conclusion: Is Shopify right for you?

Much as I love the platform, it’s not even the only one I work with, still less the only option out there I would recommend. It has the same limitations as all fully-hosted websites, and if flexibility is a priority for you then Shopify may not be the best choice for you. Although there are apps available that can extend the functionality of your store, for example by adding multi-language capabilities or marketing features like a loyalty programme, the monthly costs can add up quickly and start to make Shopify a rather expensive proposition. Even gift card functionality is something that is only available on Shopify’s Pro Plan ($79 / month, plus transaction fees) so if you’re seriously bootstrapping your business then you may want to research other fully hosted platforms.

But if you’re looking to get up and running quickly, and you just want a great looking online store you can run by yourself, then I can wholeheartedly recommend you give Shopify a try – I’m even happy to set you up with a blank store for free so you can have a tinker about and see for yourself. Just get in touch!