Web Development

E-Commerce done easy with Shopify for users and developers alike

Ian Hardenburgh shares an overview of the cloud service Shopify, which provides a scalable online retail platform.

The SaaS E-commerce market isn't exactly saturated with contenders. Sure you have you have a multitude of well-known cart solutions out there, like Magento and osCommerce, as well as your CMS plugin specials, as with Wordpress or Drupal. However, you might have wondered if there is nothing truly cloud-like, à la Salesforce.com? Enter Shopify, a complete online retail platform, which aims to offer itself as an integrated environment for enterprises of any size and users of various job functions.

For business-users and marketers

Shopify is user-friendly software, chock-full of goodies like customer analytics and seamless product checkout, allowing for upselling, cross-selling, and SEO. For the developer, Shopify serves as a scalable platform allowing one to expand upon the functionality that comes bundled in a nice neat package for your everyday user. It provides something of a symbiotic relationship for users and developers, as any good SaaS platform should, and here's why...

Shopify features

  • Allows for use of own domain, thus making Shopify completely transparent to the customer.
    • Supports a multitude of PCI compliant payment gateways, with PayPal as its recommended carrier. See this link for a complete list of Shopify's supported payment gateways
  • Tools for keeping and listing a catalog of products for comprehensive inventory and supply chain management.
    • Think somewhere along the lines of listing products on Amazon, and all the functionality one can notice when searching and viewing a results page.
    • See this link for an idea as to how inventory can be added to Shopify.
    • See this link for an idea as to how a store front can look with Shopify.
    • Customer UI controls like related products, recently view items/pages, limited purchase quantities or product availability, product options (i.e., product colors or size), and available variants for unavailable products.
  • Fully customizable HTML/CSS themes and pages (that aren't necessarily directly associated with the E-commerce portion of a site), with built-in elements like nested drop-down menus, breadcrumb navigation, individual landing pages for products, tagged items.
  • Internal blogging/user review system with ability to import data/integrate with other blog platforms like Wordpress, Tumblr, and Blogger.
  • Internal statistics (e.g., search terms, referring URLS, page hits and unique visitors), as well as Google Analytics and Crazy Egg integrated ones.
  • PCI compliant promotional, flat, and variable rate UPS and USPS carrier shipping.
  • Integration with a number of Google services.
  • Numerous methods for troubleshooting and Support (e.g., phone, wiki, knowledge base, Twitter and hub for connecting clients with design, development and Internet marketing/SEO experts).

Custom development

Shopify uses a proprietary, high-level markup language called Liquid for custom theme development, which can be called from any Shopify page, as well as manipulated via Shopify's built-in components. Furthermore, the language is used interchangeably with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, as is done with other server-side languages, like ASP.NET and PHP, in order to make an application more extensible. However, the real focus of Liquid is to bring elements of one page into another. For instance, one might feature a product seen on the store portion of his/her Shopify site on his/her home page, as a linkable image.

To help cut down on design/development time, the Theme and App Stores allow developers to purchase apps that either extend the functionality of Shopify parts, or integrate with other services, like MailChimp, FreshBooks, Olark, and QuickBooks. Shopify's continued support of this community based service is evident through the hundreds of thousands of dollars it pours into Theme/App Store competitions, annually.

Choosing a plan

All of Shopify's plans are able to be upgraded or downgraded, on a monthly basis. Furthermore, its pricing model is  arranged in a way to incentivize users to scale their business in accordance with each plan. This is probably most evident through the allotted amount of SKUs each plan allows. For a complete breakdown of Shopify's plans, go here.

However, a store owner can essentially determine if he/she needs anything more than the Basic (entry-level) plan by asking himself/herself the following questions:

  • Do I need to list more than 100 SKUs/products?
    • If you answered yes, start at the $59.00 a month Professional plan.
  • Do I want to offer discount codes to my customers?
    • If you answered yes, start at the $59.00 a month Professional plan.
  • Do I require a shipping solution?
    • If you answered yes, start at the $99.00 a month Business plan; not offered through Basic, nor Professional plan.
  • Do I need unlimited SKUs and storage, as well as can greatly benefit from 0% transaction fees?
    • You're running a serious enterprise, and need the $179.00 a month Unlimited plan!

About

Ian is a manager of business intelligence/analytics for a small cap NYSE traded energy company. He also freelance writes about business and technology, as well as consults SMBs upon Internet marketing strategy.

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