January 27, 2009 in 4 out of 5 stars, e-Commerce Solutions

What is it?

Shopify: A hosted store/shopping cart solution which allows you to heavily (and easily) customize the design. You can have a professional-looking store, with a fairly modest investment. It’s aimed at helping folks who want more than a PayPal link off their site, but who can’t afford (or don’t need) a custom solution.


Who makes it?

jadedPixel Inc.

Why is it the killerest?

First - you have to understand that the options for robust hosted shopping cart solutions out there, which allow you to heavily customize the look of your store, are pretty dismal. Most force you into using their proprietary templates or severely limit your flexibility, and usually top it off with terrible customer support.

Shopify does a good job of addressing all of those issues.

I interviewed Scott Lake of Shopify back in 2006 as they were launching. I didn’t have an opportunity to really put Shopify through the paces until late last year, however, when a client of mine was a perfect fit for Shopify. So I finally took the plunge and helped them get everything set up, and I found the experience with Shopify to be just as good as I’d hoped. My client is now successfully processing sales, and I can comment on the whole process.

The first thing I needed was the flexibility to customize the look of the store to match my site.

On this front, Shopify gets an A+. I should note that fully customizing the look is not for the non-technical. If you’re not technical, you need to hire someone who is. To customize it, you need to know XHML, you need to know CSS, and you need to learn a little bit of their proprietary code for pulling in the store elements on a page. That said, the interface and system for working with all of that is just superb, and the support documents (via a wiki) are solid. I started with a little trepidation, and the usual fierce resistance to reading anything, and was quickly making very favorable progress.

So here’s a screenshot from a page on the site in question (

Madsen Cycles Website

And I wanted to bring a similar look into the store, creating a seamless experience for users from site to store, and back.

Here’s a screenshot from the store, hosted by Shopify (

Madsen Cycles Store

By the time I was done, I didn’t feel like I had to make compromises on design. Shopify gave me the flexibility I needed to make the store look like I really wanted it to, and at a tiny fraction of what it would have cost to build a custom solution.

I should mention here that if you don’t need the look of your store customized, Shopify has a range of “themes” you can choose from – no deep technical expertise is required to set up a store using one of the themes.

Here’s what else I like:

  • Order management has all the features you would want for viewing, filtering, organizing and printing. You can get an RSS feed of your orders and email alerts. You can send out shipping notifications to customers include sending shipping tracking info. Plus you can download csv files of your orders for processing and reporting in your own system.
  • Product management has inventory management, variations on a single SKU (think: red/blue/pink shirts), multiple photos, flexible descriptions and pricing. You can also organize items into collections for easier display and cross-linking/up-selling.
  • You can add any additional pages you need that aren’t part of the product/checkout flow, for example your privacy or return policies.
  • While I haven’t used it, they have the ability to add a blog to your store.
  • They have an opt-in (or out) email list they’ll build as people buy, and you can download a list of those people to use in email marketing.
  • You can set up discount codes to provide either a percent, or a dollar amount off of orders that meet a certain criteria, and you can limit them by date, and number of uses. Very nice.
  • You can use virtually any payment processor if you already have one set up with your merchant account (I used this, and it works great), and/or you can use PayPal and Google Checkout, or even good old fashion Checks, Money Orders or COD.
  • You can have customized shipping prices provided by carriers, or come up with your own.
  • They’ve even got relationships with some of the large fulfillment service companies (like Amazon Services).
  • They also make it very easy to hook Shopify up to your Google Analytics.
  • If you’d like you can password protect access to your store (handy when you’re under construction).
  • Finally, they’ve made the checkout clean and simple. This increases conversions, and is a welcome difference from virtually every other hosted shopping cart solution.

What could be improved?

My list of complaints is short, but it’s strong. None of these are deal-breakers for me, but I hope they’ll be addressed soon.

Must haves:

The final payment and checkout pages do not retain the look and feel of your site. This is the #1 issue they should address. The jarring transition when customers may already be nervous about pulling out their credit cards is surely causing cart abandonment. The crown jewel of Shopify is the ability to customize your site look, and this shouldn’t stop on the most important page of the process. Fortunately, while they work on that feature, there is a little-publicized way you can at least update the look somewhat using CSS. See here for details.

Support responses are a bit lagged. I found it look a couple days for them to respond by email. I fortunately didn’t need support much, but I’d prefer a snappier response. I talked to them about this, and they said they’ve just started using a new system to help them improve on this.

Would be extra super nice to haves:

I would really like the ability to swap the main (large) product photo, as I swap the selected product variation. I could have hacked this together using javascript, but I’d prefer that functionality be available in the system.

A built-in custom affiliate program. In other words – an affiliate program I can offer to my customers, managed within Shopify. Clearly this is a beast of a job, but it would make Shopify a tremendous force in the marketplace.

More flexibility with promo codes. They’re pretty good as is, but I’d like to offer free shipping, or buy X get X free.

Gift certificates. I’d like the ability to sell gift certificates which generate a code my customers can enter at checkout. Again – a beast, I know, but a guy can want.

Better reporting on discount codes. Right now, I have to open an individual order to see which code was used. I’d like a report of all the codes used, how many times, and by date. This is partly to address the lack of an affiliate program, but would be a nice feature to have.

The ability to allow regular users to login so they don’t have to re-type their information. This should be unobtrusive, to be sure, and ideally it would be an option a store owner can enable or not – but it would be nice.

How much does it cost?

From $24/mo + 2.0% of transactions, to $299/mo + 0.5%



Reviewed by Carson McComas

Get free blog updates and tips by email

I built my wife's small craft business with this system. They are always adding features and it is very easy to use even for my wife.

Posted by: Gianni D'Alerta | Jan 28, 2009 11:57:38 AM

I referred this post to a friend. Very good review! 5 stars. :)

Posted by: Marie | Jan 28, 2009 2:44:57 PM

I'm also a Shopify client and was initially put off by the inability to style the checkout. After spending a few weeks thinking about it, I wonder if making the checkout look completely different (like a transaction) is a good thing. You can really get the user to pay attention to the fact that the checkout process is in place and drive them to convert. The missing key is to ensure that the page looks like an extremely secure checkout page. I think it's good right now -- but it could be better.

Posted by: Alex Foley | May 4, 2009 3:42:12 AM

I'm considering launching an online store and have narrowed it down to Nexternal vs. Shopify. For a small start up with no budget, Shopify wins out hands down however, Nexternal has so many great functions, I keep overlooking the price. Does anyone have experience with Shopify's social media integration? Nexternal seems to win out here with the "Email a friend" and integration with RSS Feeds, Twitter and Facebook. I need to know more about this and have yet to see more detailed information on forums, boards.

Posted by: Kristina | Sep 29, 2009 1:31:02 PM