What is Shopify?

7 questions every beginner will ask

What is Shopify? 7 questions for beginners

Seb Harris

6 minute read14 Jan 2022

What is Shopify? You might have seen the name flying around Twitter but do you know what it is? Whether you’re a D2C newbie or working for an e-commerce multinational, we’ve put together this explanatory guide to show you the ins and outs of Shopify.

We’ll explain what Shopify is, from Shopify Lite all the way up to Shopify Plus. We’ll explain who’s using Shopify, what they’re using it for and why they’re using it. And we’ll look at how running a store on Shopify actually works, how it grows a business and how you can take the first step to a Shopify store of your own today.

What is Shopify and Shopify Plus?

Shopify is an SaaS platform.

Shopify is an SaaS platform for building e-commerce websites. Merchants pay a monthly fee in return for a software that builds scalable, sophisticated and high performance e-commerce stores. 

Shopify handles everything required for building an e-commerce website. The back-end technical stuff, front-end design, site hosting, customer information management, stock inventory, payment options - everything you can think of that’s part of the process of building, running and maintaining an online webshop, Shopify takes care of.

It’s what’s known as a monolithic structure, or an all-in-one e-commerce platform. Founded in 2008, Shopify has grown rapidly and is today indisputably the best e-commerce platform on the market. It’s ease of use and all-in-one approach are the most commonly cited reasons for it’s gargantuan success.

There are numerous subdivisions of Shopify, let’s run through them here:

Shopify Lite is the most basic version. Lite merchants cannot build their own standalone store but can use Lite to sell through Facebook, Instagram and other existing sites like blogs. They can also use Shopify’s back-end system to keep stock of a physical store.

Basic Shopify is the first ‘real’ Shopify option. It’s aimed at e-commerce newcomers and comes stacked with the most fundamental features for building a website and growing an online business. The key difference between Shopify Lite and Basic Shopify is Basic users can actually build their own, independent e-commerce website.

Shopify is the core plan. The features between Basic and Shopify don’t change a great deal but on the Shopify plan they’re tailored towards larger, more established businesses. There are 20 available staff accounts, for example, rather than only 5. Detailed performance reports on sales, marketing, retail and customers are added, and country-specific domains and pricing percentages are available for businesses beginning to think about taking their first steps abroad.

Advanced Shopify continues this theme, tailoring features even more to businesses on the rise. Transaction fees drop to 2.4% + 30 cents and merchants can set product-specific prices for different countries/regions.

Shopify Plus is the enterprise plan and only suitable for large companies making big earnings every single month. There are huge benefits for taking the step from Advanced to Plus, most notably that transaction fees drop to 1.6% + 0.35 cents. 

The mathematicians amongst you will have no doubt calculated that there’s a transaction tipping point at which an Advanced Shopify merchant spends more money in transaction fees than they would paying the higher monthly fee for Shopify Plus. We work it out to be €165k a month, or €2 million a year. Read our article on when you should switch to Shopify Plus for the full calculation.

Who uses Shopify?

As you’ve seen, Shopify’s price plans cover every stage of business development. From the side-hustler designing hand-made t-shirts in their bedroom and selling on Instagram to the multinational fashion house scaling into a new continent, Shopify has a solution.

So the answer is: everyone. Every business owner that wants an online store (and in 2022, we’d highly recommend every business to be present online) can find a Shopify solution for them.

We work solely with direct-to-consumer (or D2C) businesses and we encourage every prospective business owner to resist the retailer and build their own brand in the D2C model. Why? Because D2C is the best model for building a strong and sustainable business, and with Shopify you have all the tools at your disposal for success.

Selling products through retailers only ever results in a race to the bottom. The heavy-hitters like Amazon can always ask for a lower price so there’s simply no way to win. Focus instead on building a brand and an online presence. 

Shopify provides all the tools for building a unique e-commerce store that will stick long in the memory and keep customers coming back again and again.  

Let’s take a look at some successful D2C brands making the most of Shopify:

Patta: A Shopify store with a custom feature for selling one-off items via a raffle. Shopify can meet a business’ requirements no matter how unique they may be. Read more about our Patta projects below:

Read about our Patta project here.

Read about our Patta x Nike project here.

Filling Pieces: Built on our brand new Shopify 2.0 starter, the Filling Pieces store is a perfect example of everything that’s now possible straight out of the box.

Read about our Filling Pieces project here.

Haute Hijab: A headless Shopify Plus store, built with Contentful CMS and Next.JS, for a brand scaling from the USA into Europe and around the globe.

Read about our Haute Hijab project here.

Veloretti: A true digital flagship store. Global scaling, beautiful aesthetics and the highest quality UX, all made possible by headless architecture on Shopify Plus.

Read about our Veloretti project here.

What can I do with Shopify?

With Shopify you can build and grow a business online. Starting from absolutely nothing, and with no previous experience developing websites, you can build a store to sell your products and establish your brand identity.

Build As mentioned previously, Shopify provides everything to build an e-commerce website. If you’ve never done it before you can use their templates to drag-and-drop a website of your design. If you want something a little more spectacular you can enlist skilled designers and developers to build something from scratch.

Grow Shopify’s best feature is its scalability. You can begin on Basic Shopify, selling only two products with a handful of transactions each month, and effortlessly scale all the way to Shopify Plus, selling hundreds of products in thousands of transactions. 

During this trajectory, nothing about the way you run your Shopify store will change. From the back-end product inventory, to customer data reports, to front-end UX design - everything remains the same. Other e-commerce platforms require close to an entire store rebuild for a business to successfully scale but not Shopify.

Mobile-first Mobile is no longer a trend. It’s the dominant channel for e-commerce sales and Shopify stores are built with that in mind. They’re not mobile-friendly, they’re mobile-first.

Integrations Integrate a vast number of apps and software to make your website distinct and memorable. From scrolling animations to intricate real-time product viewers, you really can build anything on the Shopify platform.

Headless development Shopify gives you the front and back-end all in one. But in some situations it’s advantageous to introduce a new front-end system. This is called headless development and is welcomed by the Shopify platform.

It’s too complicated to get into here, but for more information you can download our full whitepaper covering headless e-commerce on Shopify Plus here.

2022 In June 2021 Shopify released a host of new features that will really come into their own in 2022. They include Hydrogen and Oxygen, sections everywhere and metafields updates. For all the info on those updates, read our article on the Shopify Unite 2021 conference here.

How much does Shopify cost?

There’s no set cost to a Shopify store. The cost depends largely on which plan you’re on so let’s start there before looking at some hidden extras.

Shopify Lite: $9 a month. 
Basic Shopify: $29 a month.
Shopify: $79 a month.
Advanced Shopify: $299 a month.
Shopify Plus: $2000 a month.

These are the headlines. Quite interesting but the real decisive stuff comes afterwards. 

Transaction fees when using Shopify Payments:

Shopify Lite: 2.9% + 30 cents.
Basic Shopify: 2.9% + 30 cents.
Shopify: 2.6% + 30 cents.
Advanced Shopify: 2.4% + 30 cents.
Shopify Plus: 1.6% + 35 cents.

Transaction fees when using other payments providers:

Shopify Lite: 2.0%.
Basic Shopify: 2.0%.
Shopify: 1.0%.
Advanced Shopify: 0.5%.
Shopify Plus: 0.15%.

As you can see, the monthly fee only tells half the story and it’s important for all Shopify merchants to know how much they’re spending on transaction fees. At some point on each plan it makes financial sense to step up and embrace the benefits of the reduced fee.

On top of these your monthly costs will include any fees from apps integrated into your Shopify store. There are thousands of Shopify apps and it’s likely that you’ll be using at least one or two of them so always keep that in mind when calculating costs. Head to the Shopify apps store to get an idea of how much you can expect to pay.

Web design with Shopify

Shopify’s best feature is its scalability.

Designing your Shopify store is easy. Well, it can be easy. Or it can be very intricate and complicated. It’s up to you.

If you’re a newbie and want to build a website yourself, with no prior development or design experience, you can. If you’re looking for a digital flagship store that jumps off the screen and immerses customers in your brand, that’s also possible.

Shopify caters to all levels of experience and expertise.

Themes are Shopify’s design templates (we’ll look at them in more detail below). There are tonnes to choose from, some are free and others cost somewhere between $100 and $180.Our advice: if you’re choosing to build your store yourself, don’t be cheap when choosing your theme. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and all that. But it’s true. Customers will judge your store in an instant and if they don’t like what they see, they’re sure to click their way out just as quickly.

But if you can afford it, we’d highly recommend hiring expertise to design and build your Shopify store. The difference a team of skilled designers and developers can make is far more than solely aesthetics. UX design is fundamental to conversion. We’ve been shopping online for so long now we have collective expectations about the way shops should look, the way things should be laid out, how long pages should take to load and much more. If your store doesn’t meet these expectations, customers will either not purchase or not return. Or both.

And if you’re going down the professional route, the store design is only the first step. From there it’s paramount that you optimise in line with findings from your customer data. Data teams are essential to successful e-commerce in 2022, searching for design features to modify and tweak. They give their findings to designers, who update accordingly and the process begins again with the search for the next optimisation.

Web design on Shopify is as simple or as detailed as you want to make it. But keep in mind that for continued growth and success, design is more than simply making a store look nice.

Using templates on Shopify

Shopify templates (or themes) are for the e-commerce beginner. They’re each professionally designed and it’s possible to build a very successful online business using nothing but these themes.

Choosing a theme is an important decision to make, as each one is tailored to slightly different customer needs and tastes. Some are more visually-based whereas others focus on content and SEO. Some tell long and detailed product stories, whereas others display numerous products in a logical and easily ordered manner.

To choose the right template for your site you first need to know your core customer. What are they looking for in an e-commerce website? What do they need to know about your product and what’s the easiest way for them to find the information they’re looking for?

With information like this at hand, it becomes easier to decide on a theme. Be sure to check what your theme looks like on a mobile device and prioritise this over desktop. E-commerce is a mobile industry and the majority of your customers will arrive via mobile.

5 key benefits of using Shopify

To recap, let's look at 5 benefits of using Shopify to build an e-commerce website.

1. Shopify is the best e-commerce platform in the world.

It doesn’t get more simple than that does it? When you consider the price, the features, functionality, ease of use, scalability, hosting, the app store and every other conceivable metric, Shopify comes out above all contenders. Shopify merchants can build their platforms safely in the knowledge that they’ve chosen the leading and most forward thinking software, every feature of which is tailored towards growing their business.

2. Shopify Unite.

Forward thinking. That’s a key characteristic in e-commerce. Shopify Unite is the platform’s annual conference at which they unveil updates and new features. They’re not content with being the best of the best, they’re always looking for ways to improve the platform with new technologies.Unite 2021 was about as explosive as it gets with the announcement of Hydrogen and Oxygen, sections everywhere, new functionality for metafields and more. For all the info, read our analysis of the conference here.

3. Scalability.

Shopify’s best asset. Scale from 1 product to 100,000 products and nothing on the Shopify back-end changes. No site rebuild required, nothing changes in the hosting. Everything smooth and easy just how we like it. Shopify merchants can dream big without the nightmares on other e-commerce platforms.

4. Performance.

Strong store performance is essential to successful e-commerce. Nothing turns customers away quicker than a slow website and Shopify sites are as fast as they come. Shopify is hosted all around the globe so no matter where you’re based, your store will benefit from the same high standards.And with Shopify Hydrogen and Oxygen now in play, Shopify stores can be built on React for even greater speeds.

5. Headless e-commerce.

Shopify have embraced headless technology with open arms. For international brands that are scaling around the world, headless is a viable solution for building a Shopify store that’s flexible enough to accommodate customers in numerous countries.

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