So you’re thinking of starting an e-commerce business. Or maybe you’ve got one that’s in need of a new lick of paint. Chances are, you’ve had a look at setting up your business on Shopify. With over 2M stores generating over $200 billion in sales using Shopify, the platform is certainly not one to ignore.
The draw of Shopify comes from its apparent ease of use. Where e-commerce platforms like WooCommerce might require some tweaking, Shopify is designed to be used right out of the box. Shopify claim that you can “build a website in minutes” using their platform.
But is it really that simple? Let’s find out.
Getting Started With Shopify
Before we get into the nitty gritty of building a website on Shopify, lets have a look at how much it costs and how to get started.
Getting started with Shopify is as easy as you’d expect it to be. Enter your personal or business email address on their homepage to get started and they’ll give you two weeks on the house. Depending on the requirements of your store or business, this could be all you need to get your website designed and ready to start selling.
If you opt to use a Shopify website designer, they can develop and transfer the website to your account without you paying a penny until it’s live. For most businesses this is the way to go. More often than not, you’ll find website projects taking over 2 weeks.
So how much does Shopify cost? Well the answer depends on a few factors, but don’t worry, we’re here to break it down for you.
Firstly, you’ve got the store plans. As a hosted solution, this is essentially your Shopify subscription, hosting, security and more all rolled into one monthly payment. Each tier gets the same server speed and includes a CDN (Content Delivery Network), powered by Fastly.
CDNs are basically servers around the world that host a copy of your site locally, making it load quicker for users in countries outside of your country. The alternative is no CDN, which would mean that if your server is located in the UK, it would take much longer for someone in the USA to load your website.
So what's the difference?
While all the plans share the same core set of features, such as abandoned cart recovery and unlimited products, there are some key differences setting them apart. Right off the bat, the higher tiers allow you to have more staff accounts, more inventory locations (if you’ve got multiple retail stores, warehouses, etc.). The tiers feature more advanced reporting depending on which plan you choose.
One thing that’s missing completely from the basic tier is the e-commerce automation. This includes automating day-to-day tasks, building workflows and so on.
And last but not least, the Advanced tier features a more robust shipping rates calculator designed for integration with third party services.
You could end up paying more when it comes to the “apps” but we’ll get to that soon.
Shopify Payments is Shopify’s own payment gateway. Think of it like Stripe. Now, while you can integrate third-party gateways into your Shopify store, it can be a bit costly, as Shopify will take a fee as well as one from your gateway. Whereas using Shopify Payments ensures you’re only paying one fee for every order you receive.
On the Basic plan, the Shopify Payments fee for domestic credit/debit cards is 2% + 25p. On the mid-tier Shopify plan, this is reduced to 1.7% + 25p. The advanced plan brings it down even further to 1.5% + 25p per transaction.
Note: the third-party transaction fee is reduced on the Shopify and Advanced plans.
Building your Shopify website
For the sake of discussion we’ll skip past the part where you have to enter store details and such, and dive straight into the more exciting stuff.
Setting up your products
If there’s one thing Shopify truly excels at (in our opinion at least), it’s product creation. We’ve worked on a variety of e-commerce platforms, and we often find that our clients can find the product management side a bit overwhelming. Shopify have simplified the process in a very clean and efficient way. Most users will find it easy to navigate with little to no training at all.
One of the best things about the inventory system is just how smooth it loads. If you’ve used other e-commerce platforms before, you might have noticed that loading your inventory list can get a little bit slow when you’ve got hundreds of products. Fortunately, we’ve yet to see this happen with Shopify.
The Product Variations Limits
It’s worth noting that Shopify has a couple of limitation when it comes to the number of variations a product has. Firstly, you can only have 3 individual options. Then, you can only have a maximum combined total of 100 variations on a product. Normally this will be more than enough, especially if the variations are just based on colour.
Occasionally however you might run into a problem. If you have a product with multiple types of variations (size, colour, etc.) the way Shopify handles it is that each it creates a variant based on each possible combination. Essentially you just multiply the number of options.
We’ll use an example from a Shopify website we’re currently working on for a client. The client specialises in home-baked desserts. One their products had the following options on available on a cake:
- Size – 3 variations
- Flavour – 5 variations
- Colour theme – 8 variations
Since Shopify will create a variation for every possible combination, you need to multiply each type to get the total. So in the case of this product, its 3x5x8 which comes out to 120 possible combinations.
Now, there are two solutions to this problem. The first is that you just have to restructure your product to meet the variant limitations. For a clothing store with multiple sizes and colours, this isn’t exactly ideal, so the second option is to use an app to bypass the limitations.
Picking a theme
If you don’t use a web developer to make your site, the first step in getting your Shopify website up and running is picking a theme. With the Summer ’22 update, there’s currently a total of 9 free themes available. In some cases, these are sufficient. In most though, you’ll be looking at a paid theme.
There are currently 76 paid themes available, with some of them including features that aren’t baked into the platform by default. The advantage here is that you won’t have to rely on an app to fulfil those specific needs. These themes are exclusive to Shopify’s Theme Store and can set you back a few hundred.
However, they’ve also gone through Shopify’s strict review process so there’s a certain degree of quality and stability you can come to expect from them.
There is a cheaper alternative to the Theme Store. Many developers choose to release their themes on platforms like Themeforest. In contrast to the Theme Store, Themeforest currently has a whopping 1,507 Shopify themes available.
However, there’s a catch! Since they don’t go through the same review process, you’ll find a variety of quality themes. Some are bloated, some are out of date, and so on.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some really fantastic products there. It’s just that your mileage may vary. The biggest draw with these themes is that they claim they’ll save you thousands per year by having certain functionality built in instead of requiring premium apps.
Like many other content management systems, Shopify relies on apps to provide functionality that isn’t covered by their themes. Let’s say you want to add an Instagram feed to your website. You’d go to the Shopify App Store, add the extension to your website and then configure it from there.
There are over 7,000 apps available. Over 50% of apps are either free or have a free plan available. There’s an app for just about anything, and since the platform is e-commerce focused, you don’t have to wade through a bunch of irrelevant apps to find what you’re looking for.
The paid apps generally tend to be have more premium features from visual page builders, review systems, marketing tools and more. Almost all of these apps come with a free trial period, followed by a monthly fee. Generally, you not likely to go over £100 a month in subscriptions, but the alternative is still very possible.
Again, some of these costs can be side-stepped depending on the theme you use.
Now this isn’t exclusively a problem with Shopify (in fact, it’s probably less of a problem on Shopify), but some apps can bloat your site. Now and again, you’ll come across an app that adds code outside of where you need it to be.
For example a review box on your product page may also run it’s code on your homepage if the developer thinks you might want to show your reviews there too. This can also cause conflicts between your theme and the app. It can be difficult getting these issues resolved as developers tend to avoid touching code that they didn’t develop themselves.
Sometimes an app can leave behind fragments of its code when you remove the app. This random bits of code can cause further conflicts with new apps your trying out, your theme file, or your Shopify Liquid code itself.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t use apps at all. Again, this isn’t a problem that exists only on Shopify, but on virtually all CMS platforms. Rather, you should treat app installs like a key business decision as it can impact your source of income.
It’s always best to do your homework and research an app before using it. Often you can find a lot of user discussion about apps on places like Reddit.
So by this point, we’ve looked at getting started on Shopify and what you need to build your website. Ultimately, how well Shopify works for you depends on the size of your business and what you’re trying to achieve.
Startups may find it difficult to implement a lot of the feature they desire simply due to cost. However, in many of these cases, the free resource tend to suffice.
SMEs and larger organisations generally tend to fare better, as they have the capital to invest in key features, along with hiring a Shopify agency, developer or freelancer to meet to their needs.
When it comes to starting your e-commerce business, Shopify can be a great starting point, especially when paired with their POS system (stay tuned for an article about that!) and one we’d definitely recommend. The platform is designed with the specific purpose of making it easy to run an online business without much hassle. When you do come across issues, there are a ton of resources available online to you out.