There’s a bewildering array of options available for businesses wanting to sell products online. In this series we will take a look at the most popular eCommerce platforms, to help you decide which one is right for you.

Today we’re looking at Shopify.

Shopify began life as a custom, one-off snowboard store in the mid-2000s. It has since become home to over a million merchants, who have collectively made over US$200B in sales.

Who is Shopify for?

Shopify was originally designed for small stores selling a reasonably limited range of products, and it’s fair to say this is still where Shopify shines.

The cheapest plan is US$29/month, which gets you everything you really need to sell online.

The most expensive plan is a hefty US$299 month, and this is the only plan with calculated shipping rates at checkout. If you’re looking at this plan, there are probably better options for you than Shopify.

It has tools to let you easily manage a few dozen products, but you’ll start to struggle when you get into the hundreds or thousands. One of the biggest limitations is its category structure, which won’t go beyond two levels without awkward workarounds and theme hackery.

Last year Shopify launched Shopify Plus which is aimed at the enterprise market, offering more advanced features than the standard platform. Pricing starts at US$2000 / month, so it’s clearly at the Serious end of the off-the-shelf eCommerce market.

Should you use Shopify?

It’s a great option if you are comfortable with the pricing, and you fit the target market discussed above.

Use Shopify if:

  • You want to directly create and manage your own small-to-medium online store
  • You don’t want to deal with too much technical stuff – you just want the thing to work
  • Shopify does everything you want your store to do, on your pricing plan

Do not use Shopify if:

  • Your catalogue has many categories and subcategories, or more than about 100 products
  • You have very specific design or layout requirements
  • You want custom functionality or integrations with anything remotely obscure

Migrating to (or from) Shopify

Importing and exporting data is actually pretty easy, at least for products and customers.

You won’t be able to migrate customer passwords, but that’s true of most systems.

If you’re importing products, you’ll need a CSV (comma-separated values) file from your old system. This file needs to be rearranged into the Shopify CSV format before you can import it.

You’ll also need to make sure your product images are hosted online somewhere, either on your old store or via something like Dropbox.

As long as you have a publicly-accessible link to the image, Shopify can import it.

Exporting is simple too – just go to Products > All products and there’s an export option which will produce a CSV file in the Shopify format. This can be used to import your products into another eCommerce system like WooCommerce.


Shopify has most of the basic features you’d expect from an online store, but it also has an app store with a large selection of apps offering additional functionality.

Some apps are integrated into your Shopify dashboard, but others will direct you out to some third-party dashboard or service to do whatever they do. This can feel pretty clunky and disconnected at times.

In my experience, Shopify apps are fine for simple enhancements to your store – maybe email signups or some sort of basic integration with your CRM.

More advanced stuff – complex pricing or shipping tiers, fancy subscriptions etc – feel decidedly ‘bolted on’. 

The store owner experience

Getting back to Shopify’s strengths, the store owner experience is really pretty slick.

You can go from zero to a working store within an afternoon without much trouble. Sign up, pick a store theme and start loading your products. Connect your custom domain name and you’re away.

You don’t need to worry about ongoing hosting, maintenance or security – that’s all taken care of. Shopify will likely handle all the traffic you can attract, and deliver with decent speed.

You can keep an eye on your store and manage orders from the beach with the Shopify Mobile App.

If you get stuck or can’t figure something out, there’s plenty of great resources in Shopify’s help centre, plus human support available if you need it.

All pricing plans include discount codes, abandoned cart recovery, gift cards and at least a couple of staff accounts for administering the store.

The developer / designer experience

Shopify uses its own templating language called Liquid, which gives you just enough power and features to do most simple theme customisations.

It deliberately does not provide deep access to the underlying platform, but you get basic loops, conditionals, logic, variables and ‘includes’ to use in your custom design.

The markup itself is just HTML mixed with Liquid syntax:

<h2>{{ product.title }}</h2>

You can host or include your favourite JavaScript libraries to do reasonably fancy front-end stuff too.

Following the general principle of keeping it simple with Shopify, it’s best to choose an off-the-shelf theme close to what you want, and keep modifications to a minimum.

In conclusion

Shopify is designed to be a simple, off-the-shelf solution. If you use it that way it can be really awesome, but it does not lend itself to non-trivial modifications or custom features, nor is it ideal for large, complex stores.

If you need any help with a Shopify store – moving in, moving out or making changes – please get in touch.