Have You Outgrown Shopify?
Powering more than 500,000 online stores and growing at an average rate of 74 percent year on year, Shopify has quickly become the most popular e-commerce platform in the world.
Founded in 2004, the cloud-based company sits among a tight bunch of similar sites known as ‘turn-key’ platforms. Such platforms (the main players being BigCommerce, Volusion, and Shopify) are incredibly popular for their ability to provide sellers with everything they need — from a domain name to digital marketing — in one quick and hassle-free package.
This ease and speed is their main selling point, and so many e-commerce sellers start out on platforms like Shopify. However, as when someone outgrows their rented student digs, there often comes a time when a seller is ready to move on from their rented e-commerce platform and set out on their own. Of course, this depends on how much their business has grown and what its goals are, but generally speaking, renting a platform is usually best as a temporary, short-term solution.
To explain why that is, let’s use the analogy of renting a house. Some of the best things about renting include the ability to move in as soon as you want, often into a place that’s fully furnished; the plumbing and electric working and ready to use; being able to add small personal touches to make it your own; the landlord being on call to fix any problems.
But for every benefit of renting there comes an equally significant drawback: The hefty monthly fee; the fact you can’t go knocking down the walls or paint them; there being only one bathroom — behind the kitchen; the landlord showing up too often or not at all; the added agency fees and unexpected costs…
Renting — whether it’s a home or online store — can be a great, comfortable solution that requires little effort and hassle. But, if you’re established financially and are looking for stability, flexibility, and a better investment over the long term, then it makes a whole lot more sense to own.
In the world of e-commerce platforms, ownership means building your own bespoke or custom store from scratch. Instead of simply picking a theme, inputting your data, setting up a payment gateway and clicking launch, you’re presented with a blank canvas and the somewhat daunting freedom of figuring out everything yourself.
So clearly renting and owning have their advantages and disadvantages and are right for different sellers at different times.
But this begs the question: How do you know when you’ve outgrown Shopify and are ready to build your own custom e-commerce store?
The answer lies in three important areas, ownership, pricing, and customization.
One of the biggest differences between Shopify and a bespoke e-commerce website is ownership.
When you use a hosted e-commerce service like Shopify, your website and data is not 100 percent yours. That means everything from your design to your custom setup is owned by the company. But what’s worse, this can cause some of your customer and order data to get tied up and lost, too.
Sellers encounter this problem, known as service lock-in, when trying to transfer their data to another platform. Service lock-in is terrible for sellers but great for the e-commerce platforms. It can make retaining and transferring your data a real hassle, and so the sooner sellers make an exit from Shopify and take ownership, the better.
When you have a custom or bespoke e-commerce store, built on an open-source platform like Magneto, you don’t have any of these problems. All the time and effort you invest in the platform can be owned by you, and your customer and product information is safe and easy to move wherever and whenever you need to.
It’s true that to build a custom store requires specialist development skills and incurs the added costs of hosting, maintenance, and troubleshooting. That’s why so many sellers stick with the former option and don’t think about ownership until something bad happens. But owning your own code is the only way to be in full control of your store, safeguarding you against such potential disasters, sudden price hikes and policy changes.
Pricing & Fees
If you’re a veteran seller or even have the slightest experience using Shopify, you’ll know the costs of using the platform far exceed their set monthly pricing plans.
On top of its monthly fee — starting at $29 and going up to $299 — you have transaction fees, credit card fees, theme and design costs, and, if you want your site to do everything you need to (who wouldn’t), third-party app costs.
All these costs can quickly add up to a hefty monthly sum, particularly as Shopify’s core platform excludes some integral features, for example not including a one-step checkout, multi-language support, or a discount code API, and using third-party apps means tying yourself into more recurring fees.
As mentioned above, with a custom build, you need to pay for things like hosting and maintenance. This can make building a bespoke platform seem much more costly, at least in the short-term. But, with a custom e-commerce site built according to your exact needs, no transaction fees (other than that of the gateway provider you use), and no pesky hidden costs for critical plugins and design features, it can actually save sellers a lot of money over the long-term.
Customisation & Design
How do you stand out in an area that’s becoming more crowded by the day? The answer is customisation.
In some ways, Shopify’s unique Liquid setup makes it easier to make changes. But in comparison to something like PHP, it can cause frustration for sellers who want to make little tweaks here and there, customise the design, and create a unique experience that reflects their brand.
For example, a lot of businesses find Shopify make it difficult to add custom fields, such as in adding specific attributes about products or collecting certain information about customers. Such small issues can be incredibly problematic as the Shopify app store pales in comparison to the number of apps on the open-source market (a lot of which are bug-free and cost nothing). There’s also the somewhat peculiar configuration and terminology of the back-end, which some sellers — or anyone without mid-high technical skills — can find disorientating.
Another big sticking point of Shopify for sellers is the lack of multi-language functionality. If you want your store to be truly global, you have two options: build multiple stores or pay more for an add-on.
When you are in charge of the code, you can pretty much change everything. If you want to change the URL structure of your pages, change it. If you want to add more sub-categories, add them. If you want to customise your checkout flow, customise it.
Unlike off the shelf solutions, custom e-commerce websites don’t limit sellers to standard features and functionality or what happens to be available on the app store. With a team or developer on hand, you can configure every single aspect of a custom store: design, blog, shopping cart, analytics, SEO…
One advantage of having control over customisation is in having an effective blog. Shopify is not a content management system, and so when it comes to adding videos and rich media, linking pages with products, and managing large amounts of content — all things which are paramount to customer engagement and SEO — the e-commerce giant fails to deliver.
Shopify does what it says on the tin — offer a simple all in one solution e-commerce platform for beginners and small-medium sized businesses. And the fact is, nobody does it better. However, at least for established sellers, being such masters of convenience and standardisation is also what makes them miss the mark, in too many areas to ignore.