Before we begin, let’s give you a quick summary of Shopify itself. Shopify is a hosted e-commerce platform and its primary purpose is to allow you to sell products online. If you imagine a traditional e-commerce website, you’ll be thinking of the Shopify model.
Throughout this article, we’ll be comparing Shopify to other e-commerce platforms. The current market leader is WooCommerce, followed by Magento. Both are good at what they do, but all three have very different offerings, so it’s important to understand the differences and limitations.
Let’s start with hosting. An often after-thought when building a website. If you had a brick and mortar store on the high street you can think of hosting like rent for the building. The more traffic or footfall you get, the more expensive it is. Equally, the larger the store or website, the more expensive it is. You’ll also need to ensure your store is safe, which is where hosting is important.
When working with WooCommerce and Magento you’ll need to factor in hosting costs. Generally, you’ll find that Magento requires a substantial investment to keep your store online, this is partially due to the complex structure used to house its database. You can find more cost-effective hosting for WooCommerce, but security is a serious concern because it’s a plugin for WordPress.
Shopify differs quite drastically here. A Shopify subscription covers both your online store and your hosting. Beyond plugins and payment gateways, there are no additional costs beyond the standard subscription to keep the store online.
For anyone who has run a successful online store, you’ll understand how much of an advantage this is. The nature of running an online store means you get peaks and troughs of traffic throughout the year. A perfect example of this is the infamous Black Friday sale. Last year, online retailers in the UK alone took £1.5bn in sales in one day on Black Friday. That doesn’t take into account the increase in spending on the days before and after the big day itself, including Cyber Monday.
A traditional hosting setup would simply fail with a huge influx in traffic like this, but because Shopify hosts thousands of sites, their infrastructure is built to cope with these enormous peaks.
GymShark, a large gym-wear brand, experienced this first hand. Their Magento site experienced a huge spike in traffic which lead to it going offline for the peak parts of Black Friday. It’s reported to have lost them close to $150,000 in sales, plus countless unhappy customers taking to social media. There were also reports of money being taken but customers did not receive confirmation emails and there were no thank you pages, just errors and unhappy faces.
On a similar note is disaster recovery. When we speak about disaster recovery, we’re often talking about what would happen in the event of a catastrophic failure with your website. Often, these are referred to as ‘acts of God’ such as hurricanes wiping out a data centre, or a tsunami taking out your server. However, issues at data centres do happen and are not usually because of natural disasters. In 2017 there was a huge outage caused by someone mistyping a command, and sometimes entire data centres can have power issues.
So, what happens when your server, or entire infrastructure, is no longer available? At the very least you should have a backup available so that your data is safe, but having the data doesn’t mean you’re back online and taking transactions.
For the most part, unless you have some cross-data-centre redundancy in place, you’re going to have to accept that your website will be offline for a substantial amount of time. You’ll need to provision a new server, (or servers), get them set up and then deploy your backup. You’re probably talking days worth of work.
Shopify’s infrastructure is built to handle disaster recovery extremely well. Last year, Tobi Lütke, Shopify’s CEO, tweeted about hurricane Florence. At the time, Florence was heading towards a number of data centres on the East Coast of the US, threatening a degree of destruction. To quote Tobi: “We moved all US East coast Shopify stores to US Central as a precaution for hurricane Florence. This was done automatically with zero downtime.”
Moving onto Shopify, it does everything you’d expect from an e-commerce platform. This includes the ability to add categories, search, product pages, blogs, content pages, contact pages and more. We can’t list every single feature of the platform as there are just too many, so take a look for yourself.
One of the features I love about Shopify is the ability to sell on multiple channels. Most of our clients sell exclusively online, but from time to time they have a requirement to sell in person.at a pop-up brick and mortar store, a trade show or an expo. Shopify makes this transition exceptionally easy. There are a number of apps available for mobile and tablet that can turn your device into a fully functioning EPOS (point of sale). This mimics your full product catalogue and enables you to take card payments in person. There’s even a little gadget available to allow you to take contactless payments on-the-go.
If you’re fortunate enough to run a store that also needs to operate a warehouse of some sort, and you have an ERP system, then you’ll be glad to know that Shopify has your back. Their app store is heavily vetted by Shopify staff to ensure apps perform properly and that there are very few, if any, customer service issues. This is even more important when the app involves payment.
The Shopify app store contains lots of plugins for your store to interact with ERP systems. Of course, there’s also a powerful API for interacting with your data within Shopify, so we’re able to build middleware to integrate with any ERP system if one doesn’t already exist.
If you have ever run an online store with high turnover, you may have come across PCI/DSS compliance. PCI compliance is a set of technical rules and policies that must be implemented across your business in order to ensure your customers’ payment details are kept safe and secure. Implementing PCI/DSS can be expensive and time-consuming, as can proving that you are compliant. If you’re running a self-hosted operation then you are solely responsible for every aspect of PCI/DSS compliance. However, Shopify, and all of their hosted stores, are certified Level 1 PCI DSS Compliant so you would not be responsible.
Our final topic is arguably one of the most important. Security. Let’s start by looking at the competition.
WooCommerce is built on WordPress, which is the most popular CMS in the world. With a 47% market share, the second most popular CMS is Drupal with a 5% market share . However, WordPress’s popularity is its own downfall and has painted a huge target on its back. Malicious developers have created tools that crawl the Internet hunting for out of date WordPress installations, vulnerable plugins, poorly developed themes and known exploits for WordPress. WordPress itself is relatively secure, but the code people write for it by way of themes, plugins and third-party additions isn’t always as secure. Because of this, security is a huge issue for anyone running a large WordPress website, and it’s even more important when dealing with money and commerce.
Magento is another big target for would-be attackers. Magento used to be the e-commerce leader but has since lost ground to both WooCommerce and Shopify. On top of that, the community have also discovered a number of extremely dangerous exploits for Magento. Patching Magento can be substantially more complicated than WooCommerce. It leads to delays in sites being patched when the security fixes are released, which can, in turn, lead to vulnerable sites. MageReport offers a service which shows how vulnerable your Magento website is which highlights how big the problem is if a tool like this has to exist.
As we said earlier, Shopify is a hosted platform. You, as a developer, don’t have access to the underlying backend code that runs Shopify. You can extend it through APIs, build standalone apps for the admin area, but you cannot manipulate, change or see the code that runs Shopify itself. This makes it extremely secure. In the rare case that a security vulnerability is found, it will be fixed by Shopify themselves and rolled out across the entire platform in silence, without anyone ever noticing.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Shopify, or for a demo of an online store, please get in touch.