So you want to get into ecommerce? You’re not alone. These days, many online entrepreneurs are getting in on the action, though you will need to consider what you have to do to make it happen. First you need to think about web hosting and a domain name. Then you have to get yourself a web designer to setup your website for you. Finally, you have to think about a reliable and secure payment solution, and arrange for shipping as well. If all that sounds like too much work, then there's the second option; consider allowing Shopify ecommerce software take care of all that for you!
The company was founded in 2006 when its creators were looking for an e-commerce software that would provide the ability to sell a range of retail goods online. The foundation of the product was built on simplicity of use without the technical headaches that had traditionally prevented merchants from effectively selling online. Shopify has powered more than 70,000 active stores including the likes of General Electric, Foo Fighters and Amnesty International.
Just when you may have considered all e-commerce shopping carts to be the same, along came Shopify to challenge your beliefs and almost tease you with its options. While it is impossible to include every feature of the software in this review, the following list of goodies are likely to tantalize you with their focus on creating the best online commerce experience for merchants and customers alike.
You get the hosting you need for your website, and it's easy to get a domain name. You can get one for free, you can use the domain name you already have, or you can let Shopify help you come up with and register the domain name that you want. You have unlimited bandwidth, the servers are fast, and with the 99.94% uptime your site is virtually online all the time.
Running your online store is easy, and you can increase the functionality by buying some appropriate apps. Your customers can create their own accounts, and you can have customer profiles at your fingertips. You can even classify them according to their purchase history or by their location. Managing your inventory is effortless as well. Running your site is easy with the full-featured Content Management System, and there's even a blogging platform so you can engage your customers.
The store-builder interface enables you to add unlimited categories to your inventory, while allowing a variety of item details to display, including quick descriptions and images. You are in complete control of how your site will look.
You have access to create a variety of reports for inventory, traffic and sales analysis for all of your downloadable and physical products. This is supported by an interactive panel that shows statistics in real time.
With Shopify's commitment to providing the best e-commerce user-experience on the market, April 2013 saw the release of Shopify 2. This upgrade to the software has provided merchants with even more robust features that include;
Dashboard re-design for easier tracking and analysis reports
Improved search filters for quickly finding orders, products and customer details
One page in-line product inventory editing
More diverse editing of meta descriptions for SEO
Live theme preview capability for pre-publishing site appearance changes
Non-PayPal partial refund issuing and charging capability
One-click warehouse shipping via connection with Amazon, Webgistix and Shipwire fulfillment services.
Possibly the e-commerce cart that doesn't stop giving, Shopify released their Point of Sale (POS) system in September 2013. POS enables integration of offline stores with the sales system of an online store location, and does so through a simple iPad application. Now, anyone with both an offline and online store presence can manage all of their business from one very clever dashboard.
There is no denying that Shopify does not offer the cheapest pricing plans in the e-commerce space. That said, many merchants consider the costs feasible as a trade-off for the high-end solution and flexibility for growing their business online.
Prior to Shopify 2, three plan types only were (and still are) on offer. These plans are as follows;
Basic: The main advertised features include unlimited bandwidth and products, 1GB file storage, accepts credit cards, has a discount code engine, phone support 24/7, free set-up, unlimited staff logins, and more.
Professional: As above, with the addition of 5GB file storage, gift cards, professional reports, abandoned cart recovery, and more.
Unlimited: As above, with the inclusions of unlimited file storage, advanced report builder, real time carrier shipping and more.
With the introduction of Shopify 2, new price plan types have been added. These are as follows;
Starter: Your inclusions here are free set-up, unlimited bandwidth, 1GB storage, 25 SKU's and more.
Enterprise: If you plan on selling millions per year, you will qualify for unlimited cloud hosting and design flexibility, dedicated support, SSL and more. Enterprise customers are encouraged to contact Shopify for a list of committed options.
Shopify offers a 14 day free trial on all plans so that you can "try before you buy". There is no obligation to continue after the 14 day period and, regardless of the plan you select, there is no set-up fee. All plans can be changed from one to another at any time, and all are monthly payments unless you opt for an annual or biannual option which offers 10% and 20% discounts respectively on up-front payments. If you are interested in Shopify's POS facility, then add another $49 monthly to your plan.
Starter: $14/month + 2% transaction fee
Basic: $29/month + 2% transaction fee
Professional: $79/month + 1% transaction fee
Unlimited: $179/month (no transaction fee)
Enterprise: Contact Shopify for special pricing, but estimated fee is $1K/month (no transaction fee).
Note that transaction fees are on top of those charged by your payment processor. Not many merchants grasp this fact prior to purchasing. That said, if you sign up for the new "Shopify Payments" in house processing facility from August 2013, then your transaction fees will be waived.
Any savvy online merchant is aware of how important it is to have an eye-catching, appealing and attractive store in order to keep customers and prospects attention on the page. Shopify can definitely assist with this, offering both free and premium paid themes that are known to build trust with visitors and ultimately sell products.
For paid themes, expect to pay anywhere between $80 and $180, which is a one-time payment per theme. Paid themes are of the highest quality, having been produced by professional designers with the end-result in mind; seducing and selling. You can always start with a free theme and upgrade when you are ready. Shopify also provides access to their "Shopify Experts" service, which is an option if you require design and set-up assistance.
Like to go at it alone? That's no problem either with Shopify's dummy-like customization format for changing templates without requiring a degree in website design. You can make aesthetic changes from the live theme editor in your dashboard, and preview the results of your skills in the live editor as you do them before publishing your new design online.
For everyone else, there are 30+ pre-designed templates that can be customized with ease, and on which such features as images and logos can be applied. This system also allows for integration with other designs.
Like any good hosted ecommerce software, Shopify makes managing SKU and inventory easy. Whether you have 100 products for sale or 1,000 products, Shopify makes uploading inventory in bulk a simple process. You have the option of adding new products manually, importing in bulk from CSV files, or importing products from another e-commerce platform.
You can add products, expand on price and description, add images, as well as adding new product meta descriptions for SE optimization, along with keeping track of stock via Shopify's order tracker facility.
Given that Shopify makes it so easy to be online quickly, it would make no sense for them to then just leave you to defend on your own in a world that depends on people knowing about you so that you can make a sale. You will have no concerns here.
Here's a sample of what you can do to win new customers and lure back previous clients and potential buyers;
Make special offers, discount types and codes
Publish engaging and informative posts from your blogging platform
Email 'abandoned checkout' prospects
Create and send newsletters
Apply apps for; driving traffic, managing SEO, providing recommendations, growing your social presence and engaging customers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites
Your SEO and marketing needs are taken care of with Shopify. The SEO manual is quite helpful, and all the themes have social network integration. There are built-in analytics, and you get some free credit for Google and Facebook advertising. Shopify's SEO friendly CMS will automatically generate sitemaps.xml files allowing for site changes to appear quickly in the major search engines.
Shopify has mobile-ready features that will not disappoint. The platform has a built-in mobile feature that allows anyone to browse your store and make purchases directly from a mobile phone. The settings work with an iPhone, Blackberry, Android or other smart phone facility. As the merchant, you can also manage your store from a mobile phone by checking customer data, sales statistics and customer orders at any time.
Working with your payment processor will be a breeze given that Shopify platform supports more than 70 payment gateways, including PayPal, Quickpay, and Authorize.net to name a few. A complete list of supported payment gateways is listed on the Shopify website. Alternatively, you can make use of the platform's in-built Shopify Payments program which eliminates the need for merchant accounts and third-party gateways. This feature is currently available to US and Canadian merchants only.
The payment system is very secure and reliable. The shopping cart comes with a 128-bit SSL certificate, which is the encryption level used by banks online. Shopify accepts credit cards like MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and even PayPal. The checkout comes in multiple languages, you can choose from several local currencies, and country and state tax rates are handled by Shopify for you. The shipping rates can be set up several ways, and for some they can get automatic shipping rates from shipping carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS.
As mentioned, your information is kept secure with a 128-bit SSL certificate, meaning that your security is taken seriously. It is certified PCI DSS (Level 1) compliant for accepting credit and debit card data. Shopify manages all server security upgrades and precautions to prevent hacking, and provides automatic back up of your data.
Shopify has a lot of guides for you to consult if you want answers to your questions. Its Knowledge Base has step-by-step answers for FAQs, and you will find guides and tutorials to help you handle any aspect of your ecommerce website. There are discussion forums you can join if you want to talk about any subject from accounting techniques to marketing strategies, and if you have coding experience you can consult the Theme & API documentation.
If you still have any questions or problems, you can email, chat, or call the toll-free number to get a real person with immediate answers to speak with you—on any day and at any time.
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Shopify has excelled at providing an easy to use e-commerce capability backed up with excellent customer support. It has impressed with its seamless integration and upgrade to the Shopify 2 software, making it one of the strongest players in the online retail market today. It is easy to use, has beautiful themes, is mobile and marketing friendly, and makes accepting payments very reliable.
As good as a cart can be however, there are none can claim to exist without at least some flaws. Shopify has been criticized for its inclusion of transaction fees, the expense of add-ons for increased platform functionality, and for the marketing and shipping limitations in its two lowest pricing plans. There have also been grumblings about customer redirection to a Shopify URL during the checkout process.
As with all things, deciding on which e-cart is best for your business requires doing your homework and weighing up the positives and drawbacks, depending on which features will have the biggest impact on your business. At least with Shopify, you can try the no-obligation offer and test-run its capabilities before outlaying anything or making a long term commitment.
That said, Shopify is about as good as it gets for users right out of the box, and the owners are, by all accounts, determined to provide their merchants with the latest in e-commerce software technology.
Why not giving Shopify a test? Get a fully functional 14 day free trial - no credit card is required.