- Highs: Lots of additional tools can be added. Wide choice of online payment options. Integrated with in-person sales. Dropshipping option.
- Lows: Steep price curve. Most templates cost £100+. Could be more user-friendly. Customer support not always helpful.
- Best for: Small-to-medium businesses wanting a relatively simple interface, but with the most customisation options for an online store.
How Shopify works
Shopify is one of the original ecommerce platforms, with over 1 million users across many countries including the US, UK and Canada where it is based. It is fully hosted, so the website and payments are run by Shopify for a subscription cost.
After filling in a brief sign-up form online, you get a 14-day free trial allowing you to pick a website template, build the online store, add products and most other things a paid subscription includes. Once subscribed to a paid plan, you can start accepting payments in the online shop and connect a unique domain name to it.
Given its presence in many countries, Shopify is able to accept online payments in many different ways. The preferred method is ‘Shopify Payments’ accepting Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, Shopify Pay, Apple Pay and Google Pay. You can also connect nearly any other payment system popular in your country, for instance SagePay and Worldpay in the UK.
The paid plans directly integrate with Shopify’s own point of sale (POS) system for iPad and Shopify card reader. This makes it an excellent choice for those primarily selling online (because that’s what Shopify is best at), but also in person.
Shopify pricing and payments
An oddity of Shopify is the requirement to pay in US dollars instead of pounds sterling. This is a reflection of their customer base being mostly American.
Currency aside, Shopify’s three main plans for building a web store include Basic Shopify, Shopify and Advanced Shopify. There is a fourth plan called Shopify Lite, but this is just for ‘buy buttons’ and selling over social media, not for managing an online store. A Shopify Plus plan is also available, but this is only for enterprises, large and/or high-volume merchants.
You can choose to pay monthly, annually, every other year or every third year upfront. Save money the more you pay upfront, but then the price is a lot higher and you cannot get the money refunded. It is therefore quite a commitment to go for any other plan than the pay-monthly ones.
|Plan||Monthly*||Yearly*||2 years*||3 years*|
* VAT not included. All US$.
|Monthly*||Yearly*||2 years*||3 years*|
* VAT not included. All US$.
Each subscription level includes the ability to accept payments via Shopify Payments, but card rates are highest for Basic Shopify, lower for Shopify and lowest for Advanced Shopify. If you’re a high-volume business, it might therefore make sense to pay for the priciest plan as the savings through the lower card rate could justify it.
|Shopify Payments||Online||Shopify reader||Other card terminal|
|Basic Shopify||2.2% + 20p||1.7%||3.7%|
|Shopify||1.9% + 20p||1.6%||2.6%|
|Advanced Shopify||1.6% + 20p||1.5%||2.0%|
|Basic Shopify – card rates|
|2.2% + 20p||1.7%||3.7%|
|Shopify – card rates|
|1.9% + 20p||1.6%||2.6%|
|Advanced Basic – card rates|
|1.6% + 20p||1.5%||2.0%|
Shopify Payments is also for in-person payments through Shopify card reader, fees of which are lower than for online payments. There is no fixed fee added to the percentage rate for card machine payments, like you see with the online payments. For an additional 2% fee on Basic Shopify, 1% on Shopify or 0.5% on Advanced Shopify, you can use a different card machine connected to Shopify. It’s a type of penalty fee to encourage using the Shopify card reader.
Additional fees apply to integrations with other online payment systems. For instance, connecting with Worldpay costs an additional fee to use on your website, as well as the costs associated with the separate Worldpay contract.
As to website templates, only a minority are free to use. Most cost a one-off price of around US$160-US$180 each.
Examples of Shopify checkout buttons that are customisable.
All three Shopify plans allow you to build and run a full ecommerce store with blog included. You can add unlimited products and sell on social media or another website through pay buttons via the Shopify system. Let’s go through some important features available on all plans.
Product catalogue: Add any products, services or gift cards to the product library, or import them in one go if they’re in a spreadsheet. Choose what sales channels (online store, point of sale etc.) you want to sell them through, track inventory levels, add variants, SEO data and more to each item. Out-of-stock items can be hidden automatically and search filters added to your website so customers can find products easily.
Image: Mobile Transaction
‘Edit product’ page via Shopify dashboard.
Order management: The order section lists all sales alongside payment and fulfilment status and customer details. Connect with fulfilment solutions like Amazon and Shipwire to make the dispatch system more efficient.
Discounts and promotions: Set up a variety of discounts to incentivise customers, e.g. discount codes, Buy One Get One Free offers and timed or persistent offers. Promotions are powerful tools for growth.
Abandoned cart recovery: A proven way to increase sales conversion is sending emails to customers who abandoned their shopping carts. Shopify can do that automatically.
What, then, are the differences between the price plans? Most built-in ecommerce features are the same for everyone, except for:
|Feature||Basic Shopify||Shopify||Advanced Shopify|
|Advanced report builder|
|Calculated shipping rates via third party|
|Advanced report builder|
|3rd party calculated shipping rates|
Staff accounts: Refers to the users allowed to log in and manage the online store. This is only relevant if multiple people manage customer orders, online store etc. You can set restrictions on what colleagues can do in the account, while the admin account retains full control over all functions.
Gift cards: Available on Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans only. This allows you to sell gift cards in the online store for redemption on your website.
Reports and analytics: Basic sales reports with taxes and payments can be generated on any plan, but the number of analytics are tiered according to the subscription level. Basic Shopify gives access to inventory, acquisition and behaviour reports and also some marketing analytics. Upgrade to the Shopify plan and you have all marketing and behaviour analytics, profit reports and most sales and customer analytics. Advanced Shopify includes all customer analytics and the ability to create custom reports.
Analytics overview through Shopify’s dashboard.
Calculated shipping rates: Shipping rates need to be shown or calculated at checkout. All Shopify users can set package size, shipping location, rates and more, but Advanced Shopify enables calculated shipping rates via FedEx, UPS and other carriers.
Dropshipping: First, what is dropshipping? It’s when customers on your website can buy items you don’t stock, ship or handle personally – instead, you get a supplier to send the products to customers directly. This means you don’t have to purchase large inventories before the sales are secured. Shopify allows you to connect with dropshipping suppliers such as Oberlo (extra costs apply).
Setting up the website
Getting started with Shopify is pretty standard. After sign-up, you land on your online dashboard where there are links to adding products, picking a website theme and more. If you’ve built a web store before, you know what to do, but first-timers could do with a little more guidance.
Instead of showing prompts everywhere (user-friendly alternatives like Wix are good at that), Shopify leaves it more up to you what to do next. The website editor could also be more user-friendly, as it is not drag-and-drop, so you have to guess where in the side menu certain elements are edited.
Another standard feature is the blog editor where posts are published from, accessed through the browser dashboard. It’s quite a small editor compared to the whole browser window and only has essential functions like text alignment, bullet points and core SEO settings (we noticed there is no undo button). You can switch to an HTML editor any time, allowing a bit more freedom if you can code.
Through the online dashboard, you can go to Shopify Themes to pick a design template for the web store. Only 8 templates are free, although each has 2-3 variations to pick from. There are 64 other themes costing $140, $160 or $180 each – a total of 72 themes including the free options.
Image: Mobile Transaction
Example of a paid and free Shopify theme.
You can generally expect the free themes to be simpler than the paid ones. We tested a free template, which did not have as many editing options as other top ecommerce platforms, so when choosing a theme, expect that some design elements are not flexible. Of course you can add sections (e.g. video, featured collection, text, blog post) to each page in any order, and change basic things like typography, images, text, logo, footer and more.
Image: Mobile Transaction
Shopify templates are responsive, i.e. they fit nicely on a small mobile screen.
Instead of overwhelming the merchant with design options after you’ve chosen a theme, you can filter templates based on the style you’re going for before getting to the editor. For instance, pick a template based on layout, navigation style, what social media feeds you want, what industry you’re in, type of product pages and whether your store sells many or few products. Once the fundamental template is chosen, the design choices will be shaped around it.
All the styles are responsive, i.e. look fine on a smartphone or tablet screen. While using the editor, you can switch between desktop, mobile and tablet view any time to check how the edits look on any device.
Domain and hosting
As with most mainstream ecommerce providers, Shopify manages the hosting (i.e. storing and processing) of your website on their choice of servers, covered in the subscription cost. This includes a free SLL certificate ensuring your website is safe to browse.
They boast unlimited bandwidth and a quick load time regardless of location in the world, largely due to a worldwide server network enabling quick processing to local website visitors.
The only extra thing you pay for is a domain name, unless you stick to a free URL in this format: https://your-website-name.myshopify.com
If you already have a domain name purchased elsewhere, this can be connected to your online store. There is a benefit to buying a domain through Shopify, though, as it gives you an unlimited number of forwarding email addresses (e.g. [email protected]) that forward emails to an existing email address of yours (e.g. yourema[email protected]). However, we’ve seen feedback that replying to customers will show your personal email address to the customer.
A POS hardware bundle that works with the Shopify plans – for shops that sell in person too.
POS integration and extra tools
Brick-and-mortar shops, seasonal stores and even pop-up shops could benefit from Shopify’s integration with its very own POS system and card reader. On the main three Shopify plans, you can download a complimentary POS app on iPad or iPhone and connect it with Shopify card reader (£59 + VAT). Products already added in the online store can be added to the POS library and sync so stock levels are correct across all sales channels.
A few POS features require more than Basic Shopify: register shifts can only be recorded on Shopify and Advanced Shopify, and unlimited staff PINs (passwords for the mobile app) also require either of those plans.
If additional tools are needed, the Shopify App Store has an unparalleled selection of tools to download and use with the Shopify store: 3339 apps, actually! Suffice to say, this gives a lot of options to shape your web store and business operations as it grows bigger.
The app tools have separate costs – even if Shopify created it – on top of the ecommerce subscription, although some may be free to use. They are categorised into these areas:
- Customer support
- Finding products
- Inventory management
- Orders and shipping
- Places to sell
- Sales and conversion
- Store design
- Trust and security
In other words, even with a simple, free template for the online store, there is still much in the way of customisation through third party features.
If you already have a blog on another website, the Shopify Lite plan ($9 per month) lets you embed buy buttons on that site to accept payments through Shopify.
Image: Mobile Transaction
Example selection of the many Shopify apps compatible with the online store.
Customer service and user reviews
24/7 customer support is offered on all plans, although there are mixed reviews around the quality of service.
Some in the UK claim that the customer support is hard to reach or not able to resolve all queries. Other users complain that they pay more in monthly fees and chargebacks (due to fraudulent transactions) than earned on the website, although arguably, how many sales you make is beyond’s Shopify’s control.
Multiple customer reviews mention increased service disruption, especially this year. Not all server downtimes are recorded on the server status page, apparently, meaning the official claim of “99.98%” uptime may be significantly off.
The comprehensive Help Center on the website covers answers or videos on most questions. There are also various guides, forums, podcasts and free tools to help your business. The Shopify Academy is another impressive, free resource for budding entrepreneurs, where you can enrol on short courses divided into learning videos. These cover Shopify-related topics, marketing, business know-how and other ecommerce topics.
However, advanced features require an upgrade to a plan with a monthly fee of £60+ plus transaction costs, or/and external apps costing extra. Add to that a paid website theme (if the few free ones are not attractive enough), and you’re off to an expensive start.
If you anticipate an uncertain turnover, it might be better to choose a platform that’s affordable even for the advanced features you’ll need down the line.
This is why I’d strongly recommend making most out of the free trial before committing to a subscription that could cost more than your sales can justify. If you anticipate an uncertain turnover, it might be better to choose a platform that’s affordable even for the advanced features you’ll need down the line.
That said, the customisation options are varied, and it might just be the most advanced ecommerce solution that syncs seamlessly with a low-cost POS system.