For many of my readers who have been asking questions like what is Shopify and how does Shopify work? and many other questions about this amazing e-commerce solution, this beginner guide will get you on the road to becoming a Shopify superstar!
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In the five years since leaving the cozy umbrella of full-time employment and setting up my web development business, I’ve used a lot of e-commerce platforms to sell products – ranging from digital to physical inventory.
I started out with osCommerce, Zen Cart and the like, but didn’t know much PHP at the time so settled on Cactushop a classic ASP application. It did pretty much what I wanted, had a good feature set and with full access to the source, let me modify as required for my client’s needs.
At first, I tried to do everything – so I’d come up with a design, then ‘crowbar’ this into a Cactushop template, configure all the options (there were about 200 of them), configure and load the database and resize all the images. This used to take quite a chunk of time and as a consequence increased my costs.
As time went by, I would do more and more bespoke modifications which became ever more complicated to the point where I’d just had enough. There must be another way of doing things.
Then I saw the light…
It was only recently that I discovered Shopify and it’s been a true revelation. Never has the KISS acronym been better illustrated in eCommerce.
Something that used to be complicated and time-consuming is now straightforward and stress-free. I don’t have to worry about the server, the database, the OS, resizing multiple images, ‘hacking’ some code so the template will work with the CSS, upgrading the software or database. Now I can simply concentrate on getting a shop up and running as quickly as possible without any hassles – what a joy!
What Is Shopify?
For those who say Shopify is expensive – you don’t understand the true value of what you’re getting. The Shopify team have provided you with a solid platform on which you can establish a simple system and start selling your goods and services quickly.
Sure it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some other systems, but then does it need to? Based on the 80/20 rule, it covers most requirements that business and store owners truly need.
I for one applaud Tobi and the team for building Shopify into what it is today and trust they will continue to maintain the simplicity and elegance that set them apart from the competition.
I’ll be posting some tips here on an ad-hoc basis about how you can utilize some of the less well-known features of Shopify to optimize your Shopify store to its fullest potential. A lot of these are probably already in the Shopify forums but I’ll be expanding on many of them so you can judge if they’ll be fit for your requirements. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but just want to share my experience of what has helped me since I started on my Shopify journey.
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Short History of Shopify
Shopify was founded in 2004 by Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake. It was coded by Lütke, who at the time was looking for a suitable e-commerce solution for a snowboarding equipment store they were going to open.
Not impressed by what was being offered at the time, Lütke took it upon himself to code their own solution. After trying a series of existing online store software packages, he was so disgusted with the quality of the whole lot, that he decided do something about it just to spite them. After two months, they got their store up and running.
By 2006 their snowboarding equipment store had found success, and it was around that time that they decided to share the Shopify code with the rest of world.
By June 2006, Shopify officially launched to the public. Since its launch, the reception has been nothing less than glowing.
CNET says the platform is “clean, simple, and easy-to-use.” They’ve also been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and Mashable. In 2007, it became a finalist for the CNET Webware 100 Awards. In 2010, the Ottawa Business Journal called Shopify the Fastest Growing Company.
Shopify in 2018…
The growth of Shopify has been tremendous. They generated buzz the “old-fashioned way” by contacting various blogs and using word-of-mouth. Their business strategies and ability to fulfill a gap in the market has helped to make them the successful business that they are today.
Shopify is simply awesome because there is no better platform that enables small businesses to sell their goods online and interact with their customers at the same time.
Here are just a few of the reasons we’re “all in” with Shopify.
- Use your own domain name
- Sell gift cards
- Integrated blogging platform
- Process credit card payments directly through Shopify or another gateway
- Process in-store purchases with Shopify POS
- Receive on-boarding support from the Shopify community
- Access e-commerce analytics
- Shopify offers built-in SEO, coupon codes, and A/B testing
- Rely on fast servers and cutting-edge infrastructure
- Fully PCI Level 1 Compliant checkout
- Unlimited SKUs
- Shopify is always adding free new features to help you sell
- Try different Shopify themes
How Does Shopify Work & What Are The Advantages?
Shopify offers a lot of features too many to list on here, but I’d like to go through some of the best aspects of this e-commerce platform just to show how Shopify works.
Shopify is great for any skill level
The most important thing about Shopify is its ease of use. The reason why this is important is that it opens up the doors for anyone without technical knowledge to be able to run their own online store. They make it easy to add products, keep track of inventory, and take customer orders.
Because Shopify is fully hosted, you do not have to worry about getting your own web host, dealing with any form of software installation, or performing upgrades to the software (which includes high-priority security updates). Basically, any technical aspect that in normal circumstances could create a bother and hinder people from selling product on an online store is eliminated with Shopify.
Easy product listings
Creating product listings is a very easy process. There are enough product information fields that support pretty much anything you want to sell, all while keeping the interface simple to use.
Some of these product fields include different colors, different sizes, attaching multiple photos to each product, inventory tracking, and shipping costs. There is also a bulk upload function, allowing you to create products using a CSV file.
Customizable Shopify themes
Getting started with a design is easy with the use of free templates, and all of these templates can be easily modified to your liking. And aside from the free templates, there is also a large third-party community of designers right on Shopify’s website.
Save time and more!
Because the software is so easy to use, you automatically save time and money. You don’t have to waste time fiddling around with software updates, web hosts, and hard-to-use interfaces. Everything is laid out for you and built from the ground up to keep things simple.
Built-in speed and security
One of the issues faced when running an e-commerce store is that you’ll need fast hosting that is super secure for payments methods like credit cards.
Search engines will reward your website speed with visibility, and customer will convert more easily. Shopify is built for speed and has security features that make it safe for use during order processing.
It routes your customer’s credit cards through several layers of security to stay PCI compliant. Many times businesses outsource payment processing to third-party vendors like PayPal or Google Wallet, but Shopify payments processing comes with enhanced security in mind.
There are many factors to consider when it comes to a websites’ speed and security, but since Shopify handles all that, you don’t have to worry about your page speed or SSL.
SEO & Marketing
Your online store is worthless if you can’t get anyone to see it. Shopify does a really good job of getting you seen at no extra cost. The basic marketing and SEO tools that come right out of the box aren’t so fancy, but they will get the job done up to an extent.
Shopify also has an App marketplace so you get more add-ons to power your store and make it even more awesome.
You can create landing pages for certain types of campaigns and use the inbuilt analytics to see how well your pages are doing.
For SEO, you will get an indexable code with custom Title tags, and meta descriptions. For those who know what they are doing, this can be a treasure trove for your search engine marketing.
The only downside for me is that I don’t have access to the “root” and cannot SSH or FTP into the server. For many people, this isn’t a problem, but for some DevOps like myself, this could be a deal breaker. But hey, if the system isn’t broken, why try to fix it?
You can implement almost anything from the front-end code editor. Shopify already has all the advanced stuff done at the backend and so you really only need to focus on your sales strategy.
Great Customer Support
Shopify offers a customer support service that is exemplary. When I compare my experience with other e-commerce solutions, the difference is glaring. Support is one of my main reasons for choosing Shopify.
With great support, you’ll need someone to help when things go wrong (thing will definitely go wrong, so don’t kid yourself) and you can’t get anyone in the forums to help. With Shopify, you’ll get a quick response.
There’s also have a huge resource center with lots of FAQs to bridge any learning gaps you may have.
Disadvantages of Shopify
Shopify is a good choice for almost everyone, but there are some people who this solution isn’t ideal for. If your store is small and you don’t foresee a growth phase in the near future, then you might want to try a totally free platform like Woocommerce.
Also, if the transaction fees will leave you in a deficit, then you most definitely want to consider other options.
If you need an add-on to make your store more efficient, remember that 3rd party apps come to with a charge. Normally, this will be a one-time fee, but in some cases, they are charged as monthly fees. So, make sure that your budget reflects this fee.
Pricing is the only disadvantage of using Shopify. But when you weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, you’ll start to see why it is all worth it.
Fact is that Shopify is a hosted platform and will cost more than a self-hosted one. It will have no development or maintenance costs when compared to options like Magento, WooCommerce, etc. So the size of your operation will be the determining factor here.
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Try Shopify FREE For 14 Days!
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Factors to Consider Before Setting up a Shopify Store
A shop in minutes. A business for life.
Now, I know what your thinking, “I’ve heard that somewhere before.” Well it’s Shopify’s tagline and used to feature quite prominently in various marketing promos. The thing is you shouldn’t just treat this as some throwaway remark because it’s true.
In just a few minutes, anyone can have a Shopify store up and running. But, just because you can open a store in between the ad breaks doesn’t mean you should. If you really do want a business for life, then think about these things first before you get carried away.
Anyone can sell products online, but will this be sustainable? Shopify isn’t the cheapest e-commerce platform around. As well as a monthly fee, they also charge you a transaction fee on each sale. Will this hinder your growth?
Shopify’s flexible pricing plans allows entrepreneurs to easily take advantage of the solution. There are 4 major pricing plans and each offers more functionality with extra features and tools.
Lite – $9
Basic – $29
Professional – $79
Unlimited – $179
Shopify Plus – starting at $995
None of the plans come with a domain or hosting for your emails. You will get a default Shopify domain that’s something like “store-name.myshopify.com.”
The name is useful if you’re still trying to make up your mind on whether or not to continue using Shopify after the trial period. So you can view your shop and make changes as you build it.
When you’re convinced, all you need to do is add your domain name from the domain menu on the left bar. Alternatively, you can purchase a domain name via the dashboard.
Now I’m not necessarily talking about computer or software system here, more the processes that define your business. This is important. All successful companies have systems which make them unique and set them apart from the competition.
McDonald’s worked out a system of how to create fast food that’s the same the world over. You may not like it but wow what a business model.
Amazon possibly has the most well know ‘system’. Jeff Bezos created the ultimate e-commerce destination by figuring out a great business process. Just seemingly simple things like 1-click ordering make Amazon easier to use and more efficient than there competitors.
You must offer a value proposition that will make your new e-commerce business stand out from the rest. Check out this article on brand awareness for some ideas.
And this leads to…
Yes, you may be a startup running out of your front room, but scalability is key to your success. If you can scale faster, easier and cheaper than your competition, you can save a lot of money. Ask yourself if Shopify is the ideal e-commerce platform for your growing business and if it allows you to scale with ease.
So now you’ve got your Shopify store online, understand that it’s not just a piece of software that’s installed on a server somewhere with a shopping basket built into it. This is an e-commerce solution that can be the center of your business, easily extend into different systems and scale with no hassles.