What is Shopify?
There are a lot of sophisticated products, that only a few experts manage to handle properly, ending creating many more problems than solving.
Shopify is the exact opposite, and in this article I want to tell about its pros and how you can start using it. Not before telling you something about its story, which will surely surprise you. Bet it?
The brief history of Shopify
As all the companies that have a great success online, Shopify was born in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco (California).
Ok, I am just joking. Shopify is a Canadian company, founded in Ottawa a couple of years ago. No, I am joking again (this is the last one, I swear). Shopify has existed since 2004. I mean, the same year that Facebook was founded and the “Social Media” phrase was also coined. Sixteen years ago, they are almost adult.
As in the best entrepreneurial stories, Shopify was conceived from a problem: the three founders, Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinard and Scott Lake wanted to create an online shop for snowboard equipment (Canada, you see? Cold, snow.. brrr). After noticing that whichever already existing platform was quietly bad – which is far, considering how bad even Faceebook was in 2004 – decided to create one on their own, using Ruby on Rails – note to all the geeks like me.
In 2006 the e-commerce platform was officially launched with the name of Shopify. After a few years of self-financed growth, Shopify entered the venture capital system and collected $22 millions in two financial rounds between 2010 and 2011.
In the following years, Shopify focused on the acquisitions and became public in 2015, enjoy such a great success that the initial share price was $28 instead of the $17 estimated during the pre-IPO (a 64% higher value!).
Recently, Shopify followed unexpected growth rates, thanks to the collaborations with Amazon, some high-profile acquisitions (including the one with Oberlo, which is the most famous and curious) and the new technologies developed. During the last years, the company was able to also leave a mark in the physical retail, coming up with innovative and easy-to-use solutions for the merchants.
A wonderful story, so many achievements, champagne and caviar for everyone, ok. But the question is: why is there so much talk about Shopify nowadays?
Shopify: the E-commerce available to everyone
When I talk to customers or acquantainces related to the e-commerce world, I prepare myself for the inevitable criticisms – and sometimes the insults – that they address to the most popular e-commerce platforms.
“Magento is too complicated”, “What a mess with Prestashop”, “Who made me do it to develop a custom e-commerce”. I could go on for hours, but I am pretty sure that this is not what you are looking for. If you had a passion for offenses against the e-commerce frameworks, you could call any e-commerce owner / manager and surely be able to fill a bucket.
In the midst of this sea of complaints, I have never heard speaking of Shopify badly. I want to clarify, in order not to convey the message that Shopify is the definitive tool that can solve the problems of the whole world, that it is not so. But it has so many pros – which some people consider as cons.
For example, it is a fairly closed system. As anyone with a minimum of familiarity with a computer will tell you, “great flexibility comes with great responsibilities” (and, in general, great messes). As a software developer + marketer + business guy, let me tell you something. Unless it is absolutely vital to the survival of your business, do whatever it takes to remove the complexity.
Shopify does exactly that and it does it very well. I like to think of Shopify as the crasis of Shop + simplify, in other words making it easy to have an online store. I do not find any evidence to support my thesis, nor articles that disprove it, so I will embrace this interpretation, not giving a damn about everything and everyone.
By creating an ecosystem that leaves little room for the user’s imagination/madness, Shopify has managed to create an almost perfect machine that allows everyone, even those without technical skills of any kind, to open their own store and start selling online.
What are the concrete benefits of Shopify?
What are the concrete benefits of Shopify
Shopify has numerous pros and a few cons. The very funny thing is, if you try ask ten people, they will probably tell you more or less the same ponts, but sorting them differently. It is understandable that a software developer raised on bread and code may have some grievances towards the almost hermetic Shopify system; but the opposite is also understandable, namely that a person who has been working on e-commerce for years and has understood that the problems are always the same is ready to raise hands and give up flexibility in exchange for fewer problems.
Certainly, a person that wants to sell products on-line cannot but appreciate the simplicity of Shopify. Even those who do not have excellent technical skills can build their own store in a little time, perhaps even searching for some tricks to do it at best, both among the free researches made available by Shopify itself and the ones created by the other people that browse the same environment.
Let’s see the most common pros used to support Shopify.
1 – Ease of use: have I already said it? Obviously, this is one of the points which Shopify has built its success on. Clear pricing, direct management of the issues related to the checkout and payment processes, well-done documentation and many free courses make the platform very suitable for non-technical users.
2 – Flexibility: Shopify gives you access to the code and, if you have the skills to do it, you can customize your shop and connect external services to it without problems. Ease of use + flexibility = bingo!
3 – Design: There are many themes available to customize the look of your shop, and they are ready to use and perfectly responsive. Not able to find what you like? Or maybe do you want a unique and unmistakable one? You can buy themes created by other developers or hire someone to develop your own customized theme at attractive prices.
4 – Scalability: whoever is not familiar with a website has no idea of the numerous activities required to put it online and keeping it active. One of the most critical points has to do with managing the users’ flow.
Imagine this scenario: one day, an important influencer who you follow sees your product somewhere, decides to repost it with a couple of hearts and a foolish hashtag. Hordes of avid fans flow to your site.
Scenario 1: You or a friend of yours have set up a nice and simple site. But the wave of visits crashes everything, your site is unreachable and you lose 99% of the possible present and future revenues deriving from this megagalactic shock … well, good luck.
Scenario 2: You are using Shopify and the user load is not a problem for you. The site stands with no effort, you sell all your products and drive your suppliers crazy as they have to handle so many orders that even Amazon could have not to. With no problem, Shopify handles the emergency for you and leaves you free to have fun with your cash gun.
5 – A community of experts and developers: even though whoever friend of yours is good at fiddling with the computer, it cannot compete with the number of professionals who love Shopify madly and now help people who use Shopify as their main job. Who has two thumbs and is perfectly recognizable in this description? Me!
You can always find someone to help you improve your store, modify your message, advertise on social media, sell more and better. The Shopify community is growing steadily, and many people are extremely proud to be a part of it (I truly am one of those).
In addition to the experts, you can find many ready-made applications to connect to your shop. Some require a very few clicks and help you manage or automate certain aspects of your store; some others are more complicated, require a little more patience and experience, but they can help you grow your business and make it better from different points of view.
I also include the support team in the community. Yes, I know it is not quite the same, but the support team @ Shopify is super human and friendly. I often ask them for help, advice, or information on what I read about Shopify when browsing around. Usually, they answer me very quickly and are always very helpful. Hence, the support is a huge pro!
Do not be fooled, there are also some downsides to Shopify, but that is not what I want to write about today.
What are the first steps to get started with Shopify, then?
How to start using Shopify
I add this section because many people ask me about how to start using Shopify in the right way. Well, we can say that a proper “right way” does not exist. My advice is always to try it out, get your hands on it, look for some beginner’s course or additional resources that can guide you and throw yourself out of your head.
In practice, you can register on their website and follow the instructions step by step. Frequently, Shopify offers trial periods with variable duration; in any case, the cost to open a shop and do some tests is certainly not prohibitive.
What is my advice? Take a scientist’s approach: do experiments, see if they work, and based on the results, change your strategy or go ahead with it.