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eCommerce Platforms Comparison Part 3 Shopify and Open Source Alternatives

eCommerce Platforms Comparison Part 3 — Shopify, Shopify PLUS vs Open Source Alternatives [Autumn 2020]

As of September 2020, 18% of e-shops on the entire Internet use Shopify. In the USA, it’s 22%.


There are approximately 1 million Shopify merchants worldwide that draw in 319 million unique visitors monthly. These visitors place around 65.5 million orders monthly. Overall, Shopify customers spent $63 billion since the platform was first launched in 2004.

This huge market share and popularity make taking a closer look at Shopify worthwhile. What can it do? Who is it for? Is it worth its price? What are the alternatives?

eCommerce Usage Distribution

 

eCommerce Usage Distribution. Source: Built With

What is Shopify exactly?

Shopify is an eCommerce platform that allows anyone to set up an online (or offline) store and sell their products without software programming. No app installations or hosting services are required.

It’s designed for businesses of all sizes. Whether you sell online, on social media, in a store, or out of the trunk of your car, Shopify will help you.

Shopify offers a variety of options:

  • Shopify POS (Point of Sale) is an application that allows you to sell products offline (old school - face to face). You can accept payments with your iPhone, iPad, or Android using the POS app.
  • Shopify Lite is an affordable plan that allows you to sell products on an existing website. If you have a website that isn’t hosted on Shopify, you can sell with a Buy Button without Shopify’s hosting. As well as use Messenger chats, sell both online and offline, and send invoices on the $9 monthly plan.
  • Shopify Plus is Shopify’s enterprise eCommerce platform for larger businesses or businesses looking to scale. It offers advanced reporting features, higher priority customer support, capacity to handle higher order volumes, and more.

Because the platform is so popular, finding tutorials that solve most common problems is no sweat. A quick search will get you detailed step-by-step instructions for anything from creating a shop from scratch to SEO optimization guides.

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What does a Shopify store look like?

The platform requires virtually no developer’s skills to be set up, so it makes sense to ask if it allows users to infuse their shops with a unique flavor.

Taking a look at top Shopify stores reveals that although the available storefronts look slick, the platform is not built on their customizability.

The power of Shopify lies in a quick and effortless setup. Store owners can choose from various themes that suit their brand vision, and with a few clicks implement the ready-made look. On the downside — only some of the themes are free, and any extensive customization requires proficiency in Shopify’s Liquid code.

Shopify pricing

There is the possibility of using the Shopify engine for an existing website, it’s called Shopify Lite. It costs $9/month and allows people to sell items on Facebook or directly on their blogs. It’s also good if you’d like to easily set up an in-person Point of Sale, or have a tool for invoicing. But most of the store owners will opt for the full Shopify package.

Every new Shopify store owner starts off with 14 days of a free trial. Then there are three basic options:

  • Basic Shopify $29/month.
  • Shopify $79/month.
  • Advanced Shopify $299/month.

The plans differ in terms of available staff accounts, warehouse locations, report granularity, shipping discounts, currency exchange fees, available languages.

Large companies may prefer one of the higher plans that offers some additional features: like Advanced Shopify or even Shopify Plus for huge stores (costs start from $2.000/month) that we cover further in this post.

Shopify reviews

Shopify is praised for its hands-off experience and it ranks quite well among its direct competitors: BigCommerce and Wix. On Trustradius it scores 8.7 out of 10 points. Overall, it looks like people feel they’re getting enough for their money, and although each of them has had some issues with Shopify, there are definitely some users that are delighted with the platform.

For a convenient overview, let’s distill the reviews into a neat list of pros and cons.

Shopify pros:

  • Simplicity — Shopify provides assistance with managing the store’s technological needs, a clear interface that allows users to achieve a goal with few clicks, and great documentation. You also don’t have to sweat about hosting and performance, because in the basic setup it’s Shopify’s job to take care of those.
  • Lots of storefront themes to choose from, it’s easy to setup a store that looks professional (a lot of them are paid, however, which is a drawback).
  • The Shopify app store offers a variety of plugins that help with automation, accounting, customer service, inventory, reporting, shipping, etc.
  • Support 24/7 available via chat, email or phone dedicated for some countries. For non-technical people this is the biggest advantage.
  • Marketing — Shopify offers marketing tools that will help with increasing SEO rankings. You can generate discount codes, offer gift cards, sell products on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) or Amazon/eBay, and create a blog.
  • More than 100 external processors available for payments.
  • No additional transaction fees if you use Shopify Payments (BigCommerce, however, has no transaction fees whatsoever).
  • Product presentation features: gallery, videos, zoom option. Also product variants available (up to 100).
  • Cart functionality and abandoned cart recovery tool. You can setup an automated email marketing for abandoned carts that helps to increase the conversion rate.
  • User ratings.
  • SSL encryption — customer data and payment transactions are encrypted with no additional cost.
  • Built-in customer login functionality.
  • There is a possibility to set shipping rates, tax rates (for US pulled automatically).
  • Customizable email confirmation.
  • Importing/exporting product data (in ex. CSV format).
  • Reports available in “Shopify” and higher plans (product reports, order reports and more). Also possibility to integrate Google Analytics.
  • Export of order data.
  • Extensive API.
  • Possibility to create manually assigned collections (categories).

Shopify cons:

  • Since it’s rather for less technical people, it offers less customization and flexibility compared to some competitors (Magento).
  • Only some themes are free. Extensive theme customization requires familiarity with Shopify Liquid code.
  • Paid plugins.
  • When you need support from a developer, the only go-to places are forums and Reddit threads.
  • Shopify Payments are currently only available in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.
  • A custom domain name costs extra (starting at $14 per year for a .com), but can be added through Shopify or any external registrar.
  • To sell digital products (e.g. videos, images or documents) with Shopify, you’ll need to install a (free) app developed by Shopify. Its not out-of-the-box, though.
  • Subscription stores or taking recurring payments can get expensive. You’ll either need an app or a developer to code this for you.
  • Creating subcategories is not possible with Shopify (unless using an app or complex workaround).
  • Shopify doesn’t come with a loyalty program (e.g. collecting points with each purchase). It can be added by an additional app.

Shopify Plus

Shopify and Shopify Plus work the same way, but Shopify Plus can handle much more than a regular Shopify plan. Mostly large enterprises opt to use this plan. The price varies depending on what you need but overall, the higher price will get you:

  • Multiple stores — up to 10, stores that sell their products internationally will want this (managing multiple languages, locations, currencies, etc).
  • Scalability — Shopify Plus has unlimited bandwidth and can process up to 8,000 orders per minute and 500K hits per minute per store. It’s also hosted with a scalable SaaS platform that assures 99.97% uptime, making highly variable checkouts and flash sales flexible and easy to manage.
  • Launchpad allows you to set up, schedule, and automate almost every process needed to run a flash sale or special event.
  • Wholesale management — a possibility to add a separate storefront that is an extension of your online store and expands it into the wholesale sector.
  • Complete customization — JavaScript and CSS can be used to fully customize your store’s checkout experience. Script editor can be used to customize lots more, like writing scripts for shipping, line items, and payment methods.
  • High-security level — Level 1 PCI DSS compliance throughout the platform, meaning the security burden is on Shopify.
  • Customizable workflows — you are able to automate everyday tasks setting up totally custom backend workflows using triggers, conditions, and actions.
  • Priority help and dedicated Merchant Success Manager that will assist with any issues.
  • Additional API calls that let you integrate custom apps.
  • A Launch Engineer who helps you get your store online faster by assisting with third-party integrations, and finding partners to work on design and development projects specifically for your business.
  • Advanced analytics integration.

Is Shopify worth the price?

The majority of users who chose Shopify feel they’re getting enough value for their money — hence the good reviews. Setting up a shop is quick and doesn’t require extensive technical skills, and selling enough product to cover the Shopify costs is a matter of good marketing.

A better question would be: who Shopify is for?

It’s for the store owners that wish to quickly set up a basic shopping experience for their customers and then focus on marketing, rather than innovative functionalities and website features. Because of this, Shopify doesn’t claim the entire eCommerce market, and customizable, open source alternatives like Magento or Saleor occupy a good chunk of it.

Shopify competitors and open source alternatives

We’ve already mentioned Shopify competitors that offer similar possibilities (BigCommerce, Wix), so let’s look at the major open source alternatives that require a bit more technical knowledge but offer a world of possibilities.

  • WooCommerce. It’s an open-source WordPress plugin. Aside from hosting costs that you pay for a website, it’s free to install, use, and customize. It’s popularity is based on the fact that WordPress is one of the most popular CMS engines out there. WooCommerce allows you to create bespoke shops with unique features if you can handle coding. Websitebuilderexpert did an extensive comparison between Shopify and WooCommerce.
  • Magento Open Source (not to be confused with Magento Commerce). It’s a PHP-based open source platform for building eCommerce websites. As such, it serves as a good basis for setting up a fully customizable shop, in which you can control everything — from the storefront up to customer experience.
  • Saleor. It’s a rapidly-growing open source eCommerce platform that has served high-volume companies from branches like publishing and apparel since 2012. Based on Python and Django, the latest major update introduces a modular front end powered by a GraphQL API and written with React and TypeScript. It’s for everyone who wishes to build an ecommerce platform that caters to the needs of both admins and customers. Saleor’s extensibility and relatively big community make it a true (and flexible) ecommerce powerhouse.
  • PrestaShop. It’s also open source, based on the Symfony framework. It’s mature and widely-used with over 600 features and more than 5 thousand modules and themes in their marketplace.
  • OpenCart. Another open source PHP-based platform for building eCommerce. To set it up in its basic form, you don’t need extensive technical knowledge (but customizability is where the power of open source platforms lies). Out-of-the-box it offers pretty neat features like unlimited products, rewards point system, affiliate marketing, discounts, and more.

When you should use Shopify

Summing up, Shopify is for anyone who looks for basic store functionality, and doesn’t mind quite a generic look and customer experience. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Shopify users are pretty much stuck with this solution for better or worse, and will have to continuously pay fees for using the platform. In short: Shopify gets the job of providing a functional storefront done, and in a quite a hands-off process at that.

But anyone who wants to:

  • Have full control over the provided customer experience and storefront
  • Evolve their shop as they go
  • Expand without paying extra
  • Innovate and customize
  • Handle complex processes

Should consider going with one of the open source options.

Also, here’s a list of all posts we’ve written in this topic so far:

Ecommerce platform comparison -- performance and extensibility featured image Open Source Ecommerce Platforms Comparison Part 2 — Performance and Extensibility [Summer 2020]
Open Source Ecommerce Platforms Comparison Part 1 — The Best Ruby, Node, and Python Ones [Summer 2020]