During my interactions with clients, a question comes up, especially from those who are starting their businesses. Which ecommerce platform should I buy?
Finding the right ecommerce solution for your store depends on various considerations. And takes time. What is good for you may not be the right one for others.
I know there are many good platforms. But you need to find the best for your business. Something which best meets your needs. Is well within the budget. And makes your job easy.
So I thought of reviewing ecommerce platforms. Go through their features in detail. Identify their pros and cons. And help you make an informed decision.
I begin my ecommerce platform reviews with Shopify. I took one of their paid plans to play around with the tool and explore its various features. I tried setting up the store, integrating various functionalities like buttons and payments.
1. Plans & Pricing
Shopify’s pricing plans cover a wide range of customer needs and budget. There are 3 plans- Basic Shopify at $29, Shopify at $79 and Advanced Shopify at $299.
The difference in various Shopify Plans
- Staff Accounts: In Basic Shopify, you get 2 staff accounts. Shopify gives you access to 5 staff accounts and Advanced Shopify to 15 staff accounts.
- Transaction Fees: Basic Shopify- 2%, Shopify- 1% and Advanced Shopify at 0.5%.
- Fraud Analysis: Available only in Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.
- Gift Cards: Available only in Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.
- Professional Reports: Available only in Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.
- Abandoned Cart recovery: Available only in Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.
- Advanced Report Builder: Available only in Advanced Shopify plans.
Besides, it also has two other plans- Shopify Plus and Shopify Lite.
Shopify Plus is an enterprise plan targeted towards big brands. The plan offers advanced features like unlimited bandwidth, customization capabilities, and stronger security.
Shopify also offers a “Lite” plan at $9 per month. This plan doesn’t allow you to build an online store from scratch. It is for people who already have a store on other platforms and are happy with it. It is also useful if you have a blog or a Facebook page selling products. And want to convert it into an online store by adding ‘Buy’ buttons.
The other two key features of a Shopify Lite Plan is-
Messenger chat support for your online store and Facebook page
Accept credit cards payments using your iOS and Android devices at events, pop-ups etc.
Shopify’s pricing plans are at par with other high-end ecommerce platforms. The pricing plans cater to varied customer groups. Sole proprietors, bloggers, Facebook sellers to new businesses and big brands. My only point of criticism is on professional reports not being available on basic plans. Other platforms offer professional reports on their basic plans.
2. Setting up the store
As with any ecommerce platform, there is a bit of learning curve in Shopify before you set up an online store. But once you get a hang of things, it’s pretty straightforward to set up an online store. Shopify also offers a 24X7 customer support. You can reach out for their help if you are stuck at any point.
Themes: Shopify offers 10 free themes. The free themes are well designed with modern look and are good to kickstart your business.
If you are not satisfied with the selection of free themes and want something different for your website then you have the option to buy a paid theme from Shopify’s theme store. There are 51 themes ranging from $140 to $180 to choose from. Each theme comes in 3 to 4 variations or styles.
Pages: Once I selected a theme and implemented it, it was time to add pages for ‘About Us’, ‘Return Policy’, ‘Contact Us’ to my website. Adding pages to the store is an easy one. If you have your copy and content ready then it will hardly 15 minutes to create a page.
Navigation: You have two default menus are displayed on the page: the main menu and the footer menu. Organizing navigation in Shopify is little different from the ‘drag-and-drop’ or folder approach available in other platforms. In Shopify, it requires you to create ‘links’ and ‘handles’ to create and organize your menu.
Blog: Shopify offers a built-in blogging engine which is very neat in architecture and suffices most of the needs of a blog with Feature Image, SEO, Author profiles, and Tags.
Creating a store on Shopify is simple and easy. Although they could have simplified navigation menu with drag-and-drop or folder approach. But it does the job pretty well.
3. Organizing & Managing Products
Adding and managing products is an essential part of an ecommerce store. Depending on the size of the store, product management on the store will involve many people. And that’s why it needs to be simple, hassle-free and without any learning curve. So that anyone from your staff can do it. How easy is it to add a product or update it in Shopify? Let’s find out.
Add Product: You can add products by entering product details and uploading images. You can also add other details like weight, shipping, SKU, inventory policy etc. You can add variants if your products come in different variations like size, color, material etc. You can add up to 100 different variants of the store.
Collections: You can group your products into collections to make it easier for customers to find them by category. Here are a few examples of collections that you might create:
- clothes for men, women, or children
- items of a certain type, such as lamps, cushions, or rugs
- items on sale
- seasonal products such as holiday cards and decorations
When you create a collection, it displays in your online store like a webpage with a gallery of the products that you’ve added to it. Customers can click a product image on the collection page to visit that product’s page.
Shopify allows both automated and manual collections. However, you can’t change a manual collection to an automatic collection. To do that you need to add a tag to the products in your manual collection. Then create a new automated collection and set that tag as a condition. After you set up the automated collection, you can delete the original manual collection. Troublesome!
Online gift cards: The gift card feature is available on the Shopify plan and above. You can sell gift cards of any amount. On buying, the customer gets an email explaining on how to redeem the card. In case a customer wants to buy a gift card for someone else, then they need to forward the email to the recipient.
Inventory Management: Shopify allows you set up inventory tracking to view your inventory and adjust your inventory counts. To set up inventory tracking for a product, you need to go to the products page and set your Inventory policy to ‘Shopify tracks this product’s inventory’ from the drop-down menu. This enables you to view-
- the inventory counts for your product variants
- the history of its inventory adjustments.
- the inventory history for each variant that is being tracked
You can view the inventory history of a product or variant only for the last 90 days.
You can hide out-of-stock products from your customers manually or use an inventory management app available in the app store.
Transfers: You can use transfers to record, keep track of, and receive incoming purchase orders and inventory from suppliers. Transfers can help you to manage your purchase orders and inventory in several ways:
- they allow you to record incoming inventory after you’ve submitted and confirmed your purchase order (PO) with your supplier
- they let you indicate whether you’ve received full or partial inventory, which allows you to process inventory at your own pace
- they automatically update your current product inventory after you’ve received the items from your supplier
- they allow you to see the number of incoming items and their expected arrival date right in the product’s details.
You have all the features to organize and manage your products. It is very easy to add products, set up inventory tracking and transfers. However, it is a little different if you are selling services or downloadable digital goods. To provide a download link to your customers for a digital product, you must use an app from Shopify’s App Store.
My other point of criticism is on uploading images with different aspect ratios. Shopify does not crop them automatically and that results in differently sized images on the screen. To solve it, you need to manually manage the aspect ratio before uploading an image. And if you have a lot of images then you have some task in your hand.
You can work around both the issues easily. But keep it in mind while using the platform.
Payments are an essential part of any ecommerce store. Any platform should not only ensure that payment integration is easy but also check that there are multiple platform methods on offer. Does Shopify match up to expectations here?
Shopify offers a wide range of payment methods for your store including-
- Shopify Payments- Available only to stores in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. With Shopify Payments, you are automatically set up to accept all major cards.
- Third Party Providers- If you are not using Shopify Payments and you want to accept credit cards, you can choose from over 70 credit card payment providers (external and internal) for your store.
- Apple Pay
- Amazon Pay
- Alternative Methods- Shopify supports payment using BitCoin
Shopify has covered most of the bases with its payment methods.
If you use Shopify Payments, the platform’s built-in payment method, then the transaction fees are fully waived. However, you need to pay credit card fees between 1.6% and 2.2% which you have to pay on other platforms as well. Please remember that Shopify Payments is only available in United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. So if your business is outside these countries then you have to use a third party payment gateway.
Shopify has the biggest list of third-party payment providers in the competition. To use a third party payment provider, you need to set up an account which is pretty straightforward. However, Shopify charges a transaction fee of 0.5% to 2% (depending on your plan) for third party payment gateways. This transaction fee is over the fees charged by your payment gateway provider.
So Shopify offers a wide range of options in payment methods and the configuration is also easy. Just the way I like it.
5. POS retail package
Shopify offers a Point of Sale (POS) retail package. The POS system not only allows you to sell online but also offline using an iOS or Android device. So if you have a physical retail store, then you can integrate it with your Shopify online store!
You can integrate additional hardware with the POS to create a full retail store experience. It allows you to use a barcode printer, a barcode scanner and a receipt printer to print receipts, gift receipts, and paper gift cards for your customers.
The retail package also helps you manage your store, like cash tracking, register shifts, staff PINs, and saved carts.
Shopify POS’s basic features are available with every Shopify plan at no extra cost. However, if you want extra retail features, then you need to pay $49 to add it to your plan.
Shopify’s POS retail package is a good one and makes it stand out from the competition. No other ecommerce platform, to my knowledge, offers such a feature. The POS package is pretty useful to retailers who sell both online and in physical stores. It comes also handy for online retailers who wish to participate in events and trade shows. The POS system will help them create a mobile physical store and sell their products.
6. Mobile Commerce
Mobile is important in today’s world. Your online store must be mobile friendly. So your customers can access your store on mobile and buy products. A mobile-friendly store offers various benefits like-
- As per Google, “People are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile-friendly.”
- Search engines rank mobile optimized sites higher on mobile-based searches
- A lot of customers today shop on mobile. So mobile friendliness boost conversions.
Shopify offers two apps ‘Shopify’ and ‘Shopify Point of Sale’ to make your business go mobile. With the Shopify app, you can manage your store from your smartphone. You can add products, view orders etc. You need to download the app and log in to your account to get started managing your business from mobile.
The Shopify POS app helps you to sell your products in person in physical stores, markets, popups, and tradeshows.
Shopify is good in mobile commerce. It gives you all the essentials required to run your business on mobile.
Drop Shipping is fast catching up as a business model. It helps you start a business at low investment and in little time. I was particularly interested in seeing how Shopify supports DropShipping?
What is dropshipping?
Dropshipping is a business model where you don’t have to keep the products you sell in stock. When your store sells a product, you purchase the item from a third party and get it shipped directly to the buyer. The product never passes through your hands. Your store acts as a middleman and earns profits on facilitating a transaction.
Shopify has exclusively partnered with Oberlo and Aliexpress for entrepreneurs who want to leverage the dropshipping model. The marketplace gives you access millions of products without worrying about inventory, packaging, or shipping. And you can directly sell your products on the Shopify store without any hassles. The Shopify app store offers over 50 apps to help you in your dropshipping business. You can download these apps and start your dropshipping business with ease.
Shopify is impressive when it comes to supporting dropshipping services. Shopify has an exclusive partnership with dropshipping company Oberlo. In addition, the app store has many dropshipping apps to get your business started. Once you download the app and create an account with the respective company then your orders get forwarded automatically.
8. Shopify’s App Store
Shopify also has an app store with around 2000 free and paid apps available. You will find a range of different apps in various categories for-
- Data collection
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Reporting and analytics
- Social Media
- Customer Service
The app store is really impressive. It brings extra power to Shopify’s ecommerce platform. So if you think there is something, a feature or service unavailable in core platform, then you can always look for it in the app store.
9. Abandoned cart recovery
Cart abandonment is a common problem in eCommerce. So it is essential that any ecommerce platform should provide support to retailers in abandoned cart recovery.
Shopify offers abandoned cart recovery features on ‘Shopify’ plans (available at $79) and above. If you subscribe to above plans then you can view the list of buyers who have abandoned their carts. You have the option to manually mail them or automate one email per buyer.
The abandoned cart recovery feature in Shopify is insufficient. With fierce competition in the marketplace, a single reminder mail won’t get you enough recovery. BigCommerce allows you to send 3 email for abandoned cart recovery. Hopefully, Shopify works to allow more emails in future. But the app store has many free and paid apps to do the job for you. So you can fix this problem by using third-party apps like Jilt, Scout etc.
10. Analytics & Reports
We live in a data-driven world. Data is power. Reports are necessary for your business. You need data to understand your customers and tweak strategies accordingly. Reports help you analyze your business and comply to various financial regulations.
Shopify offers an overview dashboard to give you a bird’s eye on key business metrics like sales, store visits, total orders etc.
Shopify offers a range of reports:
- Finances reports (including taxes and payments)
- Acquisition reports
- Behavior reports
- Marketing reports
- Sales reports
- Customers reports
- Custom reports
You can know about the reports and analytics here.
Shopify scores low on reporting amongst the competition. It offers all the reports as its competition but they all come with expensive plans. And that’s a disappointment considering how important data is for businesses.
You will get access to most of the reports if you have subscribed to ‘Shopify’ and above plans. Others on $9 and $29 plan only get access to the dashboard and few reports.
Shopify also offers custom report builder for ‘Advanced Shopify’ ($299 plan) and ‘Shopify Plus’ (enterprise plan) subscribers.
Shopify Platform Pros and Cons
Overall, I feel Shopify is a robust ecommerce platform offering a range of functionalities. It has an easy to use interface. Barring on some areas, there isn’t much learning curve. You don’t need coding experience to use it which is a huge relief for startups and sole proprietors.
Moreover, the platform caters to the need of all types of businesses- from enthusiasts who want to monetize their hobby or passion, to early age startups with limited resources to big brands that need unlimited bandwidth, high scalability and security.
Dropshipping and POS for physical selling offer new opportunities to your business.
The app store brings in a lot of extended functionality to help you create and manage your store.
Its nearest rival is BigCommerce which is comparable in both pricing and features. Other platforms may compete in prices but are limited in features.
Is Shopify a perfect fit for you?
Get a 14-day free trial here and check for yourself.
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