Last year we helped a few of our clients set up their e-commerce businesses for the first time. As they were new to the world of e-commerce we wanted to offer them a platform which was easy to manage, secure and reliable. We’d used various e-commerce platforms in the past including Magento, WooCommerce, osCommerce and for smaller projects SquareSpace’s own e-commerce offering, but we wanted to provide a platform which was hosted, offered great support, partnership opportunities and of course covered the items above in terms of great usability, integrations, security, reliability and SEO.
Shopify was born out of necessity when its founder set up an online store to sell snowboards. Building their own system, as there wasn’t a platform which solved their own set of requirements, it soon became apparent that other businesses could benefit from the bespoke e-commerce platform they had created. So, in 2006, Shopify was born.
When we first looked at our options it became apparent that Shopify was certainly a platform making waves and successfully too. We put it under some tests to see what was what and fell in love with it.
So what’s so great?
OK I’ll break this down into a few of our top reasons;
Shopify is a hosted web application. No more installing software on a server you need to maintain, making sure you’ve battened down the security hatches, set up fail-safes, fail-overs, backups, rollbacks and so on. Shopify handles that for you – in fact you can completely forget about it. Shopify host their platform on Level 1 PCI DSS compliant servers with free 128-bit SSL certification, which means all the data of the store and the customers who use it is secure. That was one big tick in my box and the peace of mind that a huge team of developers and support technicians were ensuring the reliability and security of our clients’ online store is invaluable.
Themes and templates
Shopify has over 100 templates you can purchase for use on your store so whatever your style, ethos or tone of voice, you can have a design off the shelf which will suit your needs. ‘But what about custom code?’, I hear you cry. Well, Shopify gives developers complete control over the front end code using the Liquid templating language, so you can create an entire template from scratch if you are so inclined.
The really key point here is the quality. The themes are clean, professional and some just down right sexy. Compared to the offerings by other competitors such as 3dcart or Big Cartel, the quality difference is quite obvious.
One thing we really loved was Shopify’s core feature set. It felt well considered and provides you with everything you would ever need to set up an e-commerce website and get selling.
Extensive as the core feature set is, there will be times when the products being sold require some more advanced customisation or the processes need more in-depth reporting. In this case you can turn to the Shopify App Store where a plethora of apps exist to help you fill the gaps. There are well over 100 apps and add-ons which will integrate with your store. These are free or subscription based – in fact Shopify have recently changed their model recently to make the subscription process far simpler for the end user by making developers integrate their payment mechanisms with the main account.
One appeal of Shopify’s app library, although the same is true of BigCommerce, is that you can easily find what you’re looking for by utilising the search and filter options. This saves a lot of time and effort especially if you’ve a rough idea of the area you need to look at but not the specifics.
Shopify is just one in a whole library of options when it comes to an e-commerce solution. SEO is a really important factor and the core features give you everything you need to handle your core SEO best practices.
- Independent Navigational Links – You can create complete menus, sub-lists, mega-navs and more.
- Custom Page Titles – Shopify will automatically generate a page title if you don’t supply one, but you have complete control over this key SEO factor, so you can rename this you require.
- Custom Page URLs – As with the page title, Shopify will automatically generate the URL for you, but you can replace this with your own custom URL. This is particularly useful for products with long titles that result in huge, cumbersome URLs.
- Custom Page Descriptions (Meta Description) – The product description is used if nothing is entered but again, as with above, you have control over what is used. A character count keeps track of what you enter so that you know it will fit when shown in Google results.
- Image ALT tags – You can add alt tag data to each image you upload. A very minor factor in SEO now-a-days but good practice for accessibility.
- Integrated Blogging – You can create a simple blog for your online store using the inbuilt blog facility right out of the box. There are also some great plugins which allow you to expand this functionality if you’re looking for something more complex.
Support and Community
Shopify offer 24 hour customer support with phone and online chat. As with all support the complexity of your issue will directly affect the speed at which said issue is resolved, and typically, as e-commerce experts, we don’t encounter too much trouble, but on the two occasions we had to call up the issues were resolved efficiently. I always get the impression each time I’ve spoken with a development team or sales member face to face (Shopify do some great meet-ups and conferences in London and the rest of the UK) that the Shopify staff know their stuff, which is always reassuring.
Of course, the fact the e-commerce platform is so well furnished, intuitive and easy to manage means that most users can go from sign-up to sell in a few easy steps without any real difficulty. Shopify provides a sizeable repository of videos, guides and walk-throughs which cater for store owners and developers alike, but if there are any problems it’s always worth giving the community a try as you can guarantee someone else has had the same issue and posted and even if not, fire a question online and either a Shopify expert, Shopify partner or another store owner will help out.
Shopify is a very popular and feature rich e-commerce platform which caters for beginners to advanced users in small to large businesses. It comes with a well-considered core feature set which is extended by a large library of professional apps and add-ons, has a large library of smart, unique and responsive templates and is backed up by a superb library of support documentation, blogs and support.