Shopify is by far the most popular hosted eCommerce platform. It offers a variety of plans at different price points ranging from $9/month to $299/month, plus an enterprise solution with pricing available by quote only (users report that it starts at about $2,000/month). Shopify is so well-known that many new business owners opt for it right away without looking at other platforms, but it's worth doing your due diligence to find out how much you really get for your money.
Most Shopify plans are equipped with the basic eCommerce functionality you'll need to build and grow an online store, but do they really have everything you need? If you're not well-informed, you can discover new expenses your business is unprepared for, such as additional app costs, transaction fees on your sales, and a need to upgrade your plan just to get important features. Your best bet is to compare the available Shopify plans with the available plans from other eCommerce providers, and you may need to take a deeper dive to fully understand what's included and what's missing.
Let's start by breaking down Shopify's individual plans:
On the surface, Shopify looks pretty good. However, there's a lot of missing functionality that Shopify store owners usually don't discover until they need it, including capabilities that are considered standard in other shopping carts. For example, it's pretty common in eCommerce for a customer to make a mistake during their order — like selecting the wrong size or color of an item — and contact the merchant to request a change. Almost every shopping cart platform on the market allows the merchant to edit the order to help fix the customer's mistake, but Shopify has no order editing functionality.
Shopify merchants are forced to use workarounds such as canceling the order and creating a new one and asking the customer to submit payment again. This causes poor customer service which turns shoppers away, and also leads to inaccuracies in accounting and sales reporting. Worse, the available order editing apps only automate this process and don't provide true order editing, which Shopify has outright stated is beyond the scope of its software.
There are other missing features that Shopify store owners will only realize they don't have when a situation arises in which that feature is needed. The only way to be fully aware of Shopify's missing functionality ahead of time is to comb through the Shopify forums, which are full of Shopify store owners asking why they're unable to do something they expected to be able to do, or why a specific feature doesn't work in combination with a theme or app they're using. Setbacks like these can be a serious problem.
Promotions are valuable for boosting your sales, attracting more customers, and reaching a wider audience. Shopify includes the ability to create discounts, including direct discounts on particular items or discount codes to provide to customers. However, coupons aren't all there is to promotions and marketing.
Gift certificates are a great asset for encouraging customers to shop even when they don't have a specific purchase in mind, but Shopify limits gift certificate functionality to its $79/month and higher plans. Wish lists are powerful too, especially when customers can create a wish list and then share it to social media, raising awareness of your store in the process, but Shopify has no wish list feature at all and you'll need to pay for an app.
Daily deals or flash sales are another great promotional technique because they create a sense of urgency in the customer, and group deals (such as the type made famous by Groupon) are made to generate interest and be shared. Shopify doesn't include either of these features on any plan, meaning you'll always need to use a third-party app to run these types of sales. In fact, all the best promotional tools require an extra app purchase, so you could easily end up paying more for apps than you do for the Shopify plan itself.
Shopify allows you to sell unlimited products, but you need to be aware that certain limitations on products are in place. One such limit is the number of product options or variants you can have per product. Shopify allows up to 3 "options," which in Shopify terms refers to variant types like size or color, and each of these options can contain up to 100 "variants" such as Small, Medium, Large, etc. While this may be sufficient for many sellers, merchants whose products have more than 3 "options" are in a tight spot and must choose whether to split single products into multiple product listings — which can confuse customers and hurt sales — or pay extra for an app or custom coding.
As a retailer, your sales reports are going to be the lifeblood of your business strategy. You need to know where your customers are coming from, which of your marketing techniques are working, which need improvement, and much more. Shopify provides extremely minimal reporting capabilities until you upgrade to higher-tier plans, hiding valuable information that you need for growth. You can use Google Analytics for free, and derive useful information on your traffic, but you need to edit the code of your store's theme to make it work.
Credit cards are still the most popular method for making purchases online, although it's always good to offer more options to your customers. Digital wallets are extremely popular due to their convenience and the fact that the customer won't have to enter payment information on your website, instead using information they've already saved in the wallet. For example, Google, Apple, and Amazon all offer payment methods that you can integrate on your website to allow customers to check out using their saved payment data for those services. In addition, other alternative payment methods like PayPal are nearly required for some industries.
Shopify runs its own payment processor called Shopify Payments, which is the default payment method for all Shopify stores. Shopify Payments processes credit cards through Stripe at fairly standard rates. However, if you use any other type of payment method on your store, Shopify will apply a transaction fee to every sale made using that method. This transaction fee is in addition to the payment processing fee that is normally taken by the payment provider.
It's a smart eCommerce decision to accept multiple payment methods, but on Shopify, all payment methods other than Shopify Payments will incur this extra transaction fee, so you're penalized if you use other payment methods. You may not even want — or be able to — use Shopify Payments to handle your credit card processing, meaning you'd suffer Shopify's transaction fee on every sale. For example, your business may already have a relationship with a different payment provider that you'd prefer to use, or maybe you don't want your credit card processing tied directly into your eCommerce software. Shopify Payments isn't available at all in many countries and also cannot be used to sell regulated or age-restricted products — those require a special high-risk payment provider. Whether by choice or by necessity, if you don't use Shopify Payments you'll lose a percentage of profits on all sales.
The newest and smallest startups may gravitate to Shopify Lite, the $9/month is the cheapest Shopify plan, but be aware this doesn't even give you a website. If you want your own website with an online store (an essential for building your brand), you'll need to start with Basic Shopify for $29/month at the very least. It's a fantastic idea to sell across multiple channels such as Facebook, but your business really needs its own website to be taken seriously.
A domain name (e.g. www.yourwebsite.com) is also crucial for your branding and your business's professionalism. A domain name is needed for your website because:
Shopify doesn't provide domain names with its stores, instead issuing subdomains along the format of yourstorename.myshopify.com. To get a real domain name for your website, you'll need to register it with a third-party provider. Shopify itself offers domain registration for $11/year (although this price has been known to fluctuate between $9/year and $14/year).
While you can run a Shopify store using your MyShopify subdomain, this is not advisable. Customers may become suspicious since the domain name doesn't match your business name, or view your business as amateurish. In the past few years, numerous short-term scam sites have appeared using the MyShopify subdomain. Scammers will create a store and sell as much as they can before Shopify identifies and shuts their websites down, but they usually don't buy a domain name for a site that won't last a whole year. For this reason, many smart online shoppers won't buy from a Shopify store without its own domain name.
In 2017, Shopify did finally start allowing their non-enterprise clients to check out on their own domain names (without redirecting customers to checkout.shopify.com), but it has been reported that it doesn't work with certain payment methods like Amazon Pay. Additionally, if you run a subscription service, your customers may be redirected at checkout through the subscription app.
Shopify offers some great-looking themes suitable for a large number of industries. Several Shopify themes are also available in different "styles," which are basically slightly different versions using different color schemes. There are currently 10 free Shopify themes available, with a total of 22 styles between them, and 60 paid themes ranging from $140 to $180 in price. Almost all of the paid themes have multiple styles available as well. Numerous paid themes are also available through third-party designers.
Shopify themes have their limitations. 4 of the free themes are specifically designed for stores selling a small number of products, with 2 of those optimized for single-product stores only. There are only 2 free Shopify themes made for larger product catalogs. Additionally, many Shopify themes aren't fully responsive (adaptive to mobile devices), with images that don't properly resize when viewed on tablets or smartphones.
To customize a Shopify theme, you'll need to understand HTML, CSS, and Shopify's proprietary design language, Liquid. This means it may be harder to find a designer who can create the look you want for your store. Knowledge of Liquid is also required for getting certain apps and features to work with most Shopify themes, as you'll have to make manual code edits to fully connect the app or integration to your store. You're also completely unable to customize your checkout pages unless you're on Shopify's enterprise plan, Shopify Plus. Single-page checkout is also unavailable on Shopify stores, despite many customers preferring it as an option.
Shopify touts its app store as a major benefit for online sellers. While it's true that there are some great Shopify apps for expanding the capabilities of your store, many of these apps are required for simple features that other eCommerce software would include out of the box. While other eCommerce platforms use apps for bonus features, integrations with third-party services, and the like, Shopify relies on apps to shore up missing or weak functionality. This means you could end up paying far more than your Shopify plan's monthly fee just to get the features your business relies on.
Shopify rarely releases new features if an app for that feature is already available. Most Shopify apps are developed and maintained by third parties, so if something goes wrong, you'll be reliant on the app's developer to help you out — Shopify's support team has no relation with third-party apps, even if you need the app to run your business. In some cases, an app can cease support entirely, leaving you scrambling for a replacement. And while upgrading your Shopify plan does give you more features, no apps are included in any plan, meaning you'll still be paying for all the apps you need no matter what Shopify plan you use.
The logic behind an app store is to allow merchants to customize their websites by adding extra features, many of which are features that not every business is going to need. But why not just include more features within the shopping cart software itself? The presence of extra features doesn't mean anyone is going to be "forced" to use them, only that they're available if needed — and for no extra charge that can put you over budget. A feature that Shopify considers an "extra" to be relegated to the app store for an additional $15.99/month may be an essential for your business. Before you decide to use Shopify, visit the app store and make note of all the apps that add features you know you'll need. Chances are, you'll need to pay for all those apps alongside your monthly Shopify plan.
Shift4Shop is built for any size business to break into the market, grow, and succeed in eCommerce. Don't let Shopify slow your growth by cutting into your profits with app subscriptions and transaction fees, and don't risk running your business with eCommerce software that lacks important features and forces workarounds. Shift4Shop can support your business for free, whether you're just starting out or you're already established as a large enterprise.
Shift4Shop offers a free, unlimited plan that's fully scalable for enterprise businesses. It includes all features that you'd normally get with the Advanced Shopify plan costing $299/month — entirely free! This makes Shift4Shop perfect for any sized business, from small startups with tight budgets to large companies with advanced eCommerce needs. Shift4Shop is a no-brainer for anyone who needs an affordable, full-featured eCommerce website.