Is Shopify the Best ecommerce Platform for Small Retailers?

With an unpredictable retail environment, it is more important than ever to expand your business into the online space. Although Shopify is incredibly popular, is it the best choice for your business? Read our latest piece to help you weigh up the options available and help you make your choice.

AirPOS
AirPOS
11 min read

Facing an increasingly challenging retail environment it has become important that business owners start to move their offering into the ecommerce space to continue to grow.

This is now more important than ever as with the current pandemic preventing many stores from opening. Thankfully, getting started with an ecommerce store has never been easier with various platforms available to make ecommerce accessible to anyone at any skill level.

Shopify is probably the best advertised ecommerce platform for small businesses.They have been helping businesses get started with their ecommerce stores for over a decade. The question is, is shopify the best ecommerce solution for your business?

In the following article we take a look at the key benefits of Shopify for small retailers and why you need to start building your online ecommerce store. More importantly we will help you decide if Shopify is the right platform for you.

Why do you need an ecommerce Store?

In 2020, as much as 87 per cent of UK households made online purchases within the last 12 months, making this the highest online purchase rate in the country in the past 11 years, according to Statista.

Ecommerce has been a trend that has been growing exponentially for a number of years however many businesses continue to avoid it in an attempt to keep their physical store as their sole focus.

It is hard to understand why small businesses wouldn't take advantage of this online opportunity especially with all it’s benefits and potential for business growth.

So why do you need an ecommerce store in 2020?

The Global Pandemic

It’s the elephant in the room which can’t be ignored. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. We don’t know how long it will take to reach a level of normality where the highstreet can operate safely and therefore it is crucial that you evolve how you reach and sell to your customers.

There has never been a better time to invest in building your online store. With the Christmas period around the corner, setting up an ecommerce store will future proof your business and make your products accessible to consumers no matter the situation.

Setting Up Ecommerce Has Never Been Easier

With platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Magento and Squarespace all offering easy ways to set up stores without the need for a developer, setting up your ecommerce store has never been easier and more cost effective.

From as little as £29 per month you can start selling online reaching more customers than ever before.

Your Store Is Open 24/7

Imagine having a salesperson who never sleeps and doesn’t need a break? That’s exactly what you get with an ecommerce store.

Even when you are closed, for the weekend, public holidays or an unforeseen circumstance, your customers will never be disappointed and can buy your products directly from your online store.

Serve Your Customers Anytime, Anywhere

An online store allows you to take well needed breaks from your business. You can go on holiday, work from home etc and still make sales without sacrificing any visibility or control of your business.

This level of flexibility is becoming even more prevalent with the unpredictability that COVID has created.

Grow a Global Audience

Yes, your local community and following are important. They may have helped to grow and develop your business, but in order to scale and maximise your sales, you will want to grow your business to a wider market.

This doesn’t require a huge level of effort, simply creating a basic online store and enabling them to buy through your ecommerce store.

Going online doesn’t mean you have to open your business to a global market immediately, but it could help you reach more locations that make sense for your business growth.

Sell With Social Media & Ecommerce

The beauty of the internet is that everything can be connected, including your ecommerce store to your social media and mailing list.

When releasing new products or holding sales you can let your customers know and drive them to your site to generate sales.

This will help to build your loyal following and increase your customer base. Allow customers to visit your site effortlessly through your Facebook or Instagram and keep them updated with regular posting.

Why is Shopify the best Ecommerce platform for small retailers?

Shopify is an ecommerce website builder that helps you build your very own online store. It is the most popular ecommerce website builder powering over 500,000 online stores worldwide & chosen for it’s the ease of use and flexible integration options.

The brand themselves state that their platform is easier, faster and more scalable than any other ecommerce platform which appeals directly to most retailers who want to venture into selling online.

Shopify has made it simple for businesses to get started with simple drag and drop capabilities and free trial allowing you to go in a play around with the system before entering into any kind of subscription.

Below we have highlighted the key selling points of Shopify for small retailers as well as its limitations.

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Features and Ease of Use

Shopify has an extensive feature list that will help any small business get started with an ecommerce store.

They have themes that are ready out of the box for you to use so you have an attractive and functioning ecommerce store that’s on brand and user friendly.

With a built in blog you have the opportunity to create a content that attracts visitors and adds value to your customers, as well as allowing you to upsell them on your products or services.

Other notable features include abandoned cart recovery so you can remind users they have left something in their cart, which can increase revenue, options for several payment methods including credit card, apple pay and more.

Business Analytics

When it comes to building your business, having access to analytics is important. You need to be able to monitor the progress of your business as well as use your data to act strategically.

Shopify offers professional reports as part of their “Shopify” and “Advanced Shopify” subscriptions. As well as this with Advanced Shopify you will have access to advanced report building letting you customise existing reports so that you can see the most relevant information for your business.

Using analytics can help you uncover top sellers, products that aren’t selling and much more.

Marketing Tools

What’s the point in building an attractive ecommerce store if no one knows it exists?

Shopify offers a variety of SEO plugins and also makes it easy to update and optimise.

The Shopify platform allows you to add basic SEO information such as Metadata etc and the plugins they offer will scan your site for you to highlight any problems that may be harming your site performance.

Shopify also offers email marketing which is one of the most cost effective ways to generate sales for your business.

With this information you'll be able to learn more about customers and improve sales with an email marketing strategy. They also offer automated personalised abandoned cart emails which can easily help reduce abandoned carts by 10-30% according to Barilliance, this can mean more revenue with no additonal cost to your business.

Product Management and Organisation

Shopify allows you to build your store using simple drag and drop features which allow you to build and organise your store in whatever way works for you.

This user friendly interface also translates into Shopify's management of products.

They’ve made it incredibly easy to build out your store and keep it updated. From the main menu tab “Products” you can add products into the Shopify backend. You can then add information such as product descriptions, attributes and images.

Running your business will keep you busy enough, with Shopify you can create products & variants easily saving you time when getting started with ecommerce.

Unlimited Bandwidth

Many small businesses will have concerns in regards to hidden fees when it comes to their online store. This often can be in the form of throttled Bandwidth or storage.

With Shopify you will never have a limit on the number of people who can visit your store. When you start to build out your marketing strategy you don't want your store to dampen your efforts preventing interested customers from viewing your site.

Shopify Support

With all it’s pricing plans Shopify offers 24/7 support as part of their subscription fee. The only difference is that on the “lite” tier, this support will be limited to live chat and email.

The company has been praised for their support and with many of their competitors charging premium prices for things as simple as weekend or evening support, you can be sure that you’re in good hands with Shopify.

Shopify Pricing

When speaking of Shopify as there are three pricing tiers ensuring there is a plan to meet all business’ needs no matter the size.

Pricing starts at £29/m for the basic plan, £79/m on the Shopify plan and £299/m with the Advanced plan.

All tiers will enable you to sell online, your choice will come down to the additional features you require and with the number of plans you are sure to find one that suits your budget.

So Why is Shopify so popular?

Although Shopify has a long list of benefits, the glaring reason why it is the preferred platform for small businesses is it’s ease of use.

Shopify has made it incredibly simple to get your ecommerce store set up in no time with no coding knowledge.

It’s common for ecommerce platforms to overcomplicate their offering making them pretty unusable for users with no coding experience.

It’s also worth noting that Shopify has 1000s integration options available through their dedicated app store. This will enable you to build a system with all the functionality to manage your business more effectively.

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What are Shopify's limitations

Shopify is clearly a very powerful platform for ecommerce, but like everything it does come with it's limitations.

Let's take a look at some of the most common issues with shopify.

Sales Commissions

A major issue businesses have with the Shopify platform is the transaction fee you will be charged if you do not use them as your payments provider.

Therefore if you would prefer to use a third party such as PayPal, Stripe etc you will be charged a 0.5-2% transaction fee on top of your payment processor fee depending on your Shopify plan.

This could mean that on a cheaper tier, you could be paying out more on transaction and card fees.

URL Structure

Complaints have been raised in relation to Shopify’s URL structure, specifically on their blog and regular pages (i.e our story).

Having proper page structure is fundamental in building & optimising your site can perform poorly in terms of SEO largely due to Shopify’s use of subdirectories.

Theme Custimization Can be Difficult

Whilst shopify is relatively simple to get started with, if you require a bespoke store design you will need the help of a developer. This can be expensive for small businesses.

Thankfully Shopify does offer plenty of free and paid themes that will work right out of the box, no developers needed.

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Alternatives to Shopify

Shopify is an incredibly popular platform but it’s not the only ecommerce provider for small to medium sizes businesses. Let's take a look at some of the most popular Shopify alternatives in 2020.

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WooCommerce and WordPress

Woocommerce is another ecommerce giant and can turn any WordPress site into a powerful online store. Unlike Shopify, it is a free plug-in and will cost you nothing to install. They make money based on the extensions you choose.

Although this can cause your fees to go up you will only be charged for the features that you really need so if you are organised you can build an effective yet inexpensive store.

The possibilities with Woocommerce are limitless allowing you to build a completely bespoke site to meet your needs however it will take more time and technical knowledge than with Shopify. One of the beauties of Shopify is that it allows anyone to build their ecommerce store and sell online, no matter your technical experience.

Woocommerce on the other hand can be a little more complicated and may require some coding experience. Like shopify there are plenty of free themes that you can use right out the box with no coding experience.

Key benefits of WooCommerce

  • Free Plugin
  • Easy to extend functionality
  • Easily customizable with themes
  • Strong SEO options
  • You own your data and store
  • Strong analytics & reports
  • Large community of developers

Key limitations of WooCommerce

  • Requires hosting
  • Can be difficult to modify without coding
  • Can be slow
  • Need to pay for premium extensions

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BigCommerce

BigCommerce is another example of an ecommerce platform with usability in mind. Similar to Shopify, users can build their BigCommerce store with ease, not needing any previous coding experience.

Like with all of the other platforms BigCommerce enables you to sell online but where it stands out is on its marketing capabilities as well as it’s impressive data reports.

It’s worth noting that although BigCommerce is considered user friendly 14% of users find it more difficult to use than shopify which could be a result of it’s advanced functionality.

Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce users have mentioned that their use of technical language on the platform can make it difficult for beginners to understand and therefore more time needs to be taken when setting up and learning how to use the site.

Like Shopify, they do offer free themes for setting up your store, but they are somewhat limited in comparison to shopify.

They have similar customer service options with 24 hour customer service and also offer good reporting options out of the box.

Pricing starts from £29.95 for BigCommerce standard which is comparable to the basic Shopify plans.

Key Benefits of BigCommerce

  • 24 hour Customer Service
  • Multiplatform integration with Facebook, Amazon & Ebay
  • Decent SEO options
  • Free Shop Templates
  • Strong Analytics & Reporting

Key Limitations of BigCommerce

  • Limited theme selection
  • Poor availability of add ons
  • Complicated inventory management

Magento

Magento

When speaking about Magento there are two options available to retailers, Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. For our purposes we will talk about Magento Open Source.

Magento Open Source operates similarly to WooCommerce in that it gives you complete creative control, being able to build a system that fully meets the needs of your business.

Magento Open Source is free but you will be charged depending on the extensions you choose meaning that you can choose just about any feature you would like to have on your site.

Unsurprisingly, it is used on 20% of all ecommerce sites largely due to its flexibility and expandability. Also Magento offers the most extensive list of features of any ecommerce platform making it the obvious choice for larger businesses which have development teams.

With this added flexibility you are sacrificing the ease of use particularly for a beginner. One of the largest issues users have with Magento is the incredibly steep learning curve for those with no coding experience which can cause issues with a platform that offers limited support on the cheaper subscriptions.

If you have no experience with development and plan on working on the site yourself, Magento is not the platform for you.

If you want maximum flexibility and have the resources to build something custom then magento is a strong and scalable platform.

Key Benefits of Magento

  • Incredibly powerful
  • Advanced SEO features
  • Multiplatform integration with Facebook, Amazon & Ebay
  • Limitless customisation
  • Faster loading store

Key Limitations of Magento

  • Poor Technical Support
  • Complex for beginners
  • More expensive than other platforms

Should you integrate your ecommerce Store with your POS?

Yes, it’s important to build out your online store particularly with the current challenging economic landscape however the importance of your physical location should not be ignored.

You will want to choose a platform that seamlessly integrates with the point of sale in your physical store so that you can maintain complete visibility across your business.

If something sells out in store you will want this to be updated on your ecommerce store. This stock management will also allow for more accurate reporting, you can see where your best sellers are and whether certain products did better in the physical shop etc allowing you to build relevant offers that your customers will love.

Having a fully integrated system will take your business to the next level. You will be able to serve more customers than ever before all whilst ensuring you can make sales no matter the situation faced.