Shopify (www.shopify.com) is a hosted ecommerce software aimed at small online retailers. Their main goal is to make it easy for online retailers to get a store up quickly and start shipping product as soon as possible. Being a second generation ecommerce solution (Shopify was launched in 2006), they have learned from the best practices and mistakes of older ecommerce software.
Shopify provides most of the features a small retailer needs while still being extremely easy to use. This combination of just-enough-features and focus on ease-of-use makes building, customizing, and using a Shopify store a very pleasant experience -- a claim very few ecommerce platforms can make. On top of its power and ease, Shopify also has an affordable pricing structure. All of this makes launching an online business possible for very small home-based retailers.
Detailed Review of Shopify Features
1. Technology and Hosting
Because Shopify is a hosted solution, all of the technical heavy lifting is taken care of by the Shopify team. You don't need to find your own Web hosting or deal with software installation and upgrades.
What sets Shopify apart from other hosted ecommerce solutions is the friendly pricing. For a small retailer with less than 100 unique product SKUs, Shopify only costs $24 / month. (For pricing details, see our Shopify profile.) A standalone Web hosting plan could cost that much on its own!
Even though you can have a fully functional store without getting your own Web hosting, Shopify does give you the option to host your store at your own domain. If you wanted to, you can easily have your store at www.myonlinestore.com versus the default location of myonlinestore.shopify.com.
Not much. Shopify's hosting infrastructure is fast and reliable. The only downside to using a hosted ecommerce software is you can't upload additional software. For example, you can't upload forum software to www.myonlinestore.com/forums because you won't have access to your store's hosting account. But that's an issue with all hosted software, and you can easily work around that restriction by having software installed on a sub-domain (eg., forums.myonlinestore.com).
2. Product Listings
Shopify's product upload form is easy to use. There are enough fields to accomodate the vast majority of sellers without making the upload form too complex. Shopify allows multiple pictures per product, product variations (different sizes, colors, etc), stock level tracking, and product tags (categories). Product URLs are sensible and SEO friendly.
Shopify also has a bulk product upload facility. You can create a comma separated file (CSV) of products to quickly fill out your store. One of the best features of Shopify is the ability to upload images using the bulk uploader. You can specify the Web address of a product's image in the CSV file, and Shopify will automatically import, resize, and use that image. This feature is a huge time saver. Many first generation ecommerce solutions allow bulk product uploads, but still require you to manually upload product pictures one at a time, thereby eliminating the benefits gained from bulk uploading.
Products can be organized into categories (or "collections" in Shopify lingo). Products can also be tagged -- think of tags as secondary categories for your products.
You can't create custom fields like you could with self-hosted software like osCommerce.
Shopify offers 5 store templates you can use immediately. The design templating system allows you (or a Web designer you hire) to modify any template using a simplified programming language they call "liquid". This system also allows you to create a design from scratch.
The 3rd party design community around Shopify is growing quickly. As Shopify has grown over the last few years, many Web design firms have begun to specialize in building or customizing Shopify templates. Furthermore, Shopify offers a public forum for sellers to talk to each other. The Design sub-forum is the most active section. Because of this ecosystem and the ease of its templating system, Shopify stores are some of the most beautiful online stores on the Web. (See our Shopify profile for links to sample stores.)
There's only 5 designs to choose from when you get started, and none of them look that great. They are good enough to launch a store with, but you will probably want to hire a Web designer to create a custom layout for your store. Fortunately, many Web designers are starting to specialize in Shopify designs.