What Is Shopify: Five Things You Need to Know to Create a Winning eCommerce Site 

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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We are currently living through the golden age of eCommerce. No matter if we are discussing the nuances of selling on Amazon versus eBay, adding a shop to a Facebook page or integrating an entire omnichannel strategy with a dedicated Shopify store, getting started in online retail has never been more accessible–or profitable.

As reported by Marketing Charts:

“E-commerce sales growth in the U.S. shows little signs of leveling off as, once again in Q2 2019, online sales have increased by double-digits. Retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. reached an estimated $146.20 billion in Q2 2019, accounting for 10.7 percent of total retail sales.”

However, those figures are only for a single quarter. When zooming out to view annual sales, in 2018, U.S. eCommerce sales amounted to a staggering $501 billion, with projections expected to surpass $740 billion by 2023.

Given that Shopify merchants sold over $41 billion in 2018, over eight percent of the industry’s total revenue, it is safe to say that those who are new to the industry might want to take note.

But what is Shopify? Many aspiring sellers have probably watched a couple of YouTube videos on the platform and conducted some clarifying Google searches (which is probably how you ended up here).

However, there is a lot more to the question of “What Is Shopify?” than meets the eye.

To help shine some light on the topic as a whole, this piece will cover everything sellers need to know about the platform, how it works, the benefits of using Shopify and how to use it to create a winning eCommerce website.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

What Is Shopify?

Shopify is an eCommerce platform that enables online retailers to create a digital store for their products. However, Shopify doesn’t merely relegate itself to digital spaces as the company also offers Shopify POS for brick-and-mortar retailers.

shopify analytics dashboard

Shopify’s platform is utilized by everyone–from novice sellers to industry titans such as Budweiser, Sephora, Tesla, Red Bull and Nestle.

Shopify provides everything a seller requires to create and customize an online store, including cloud-based hosting, an intuitive store builder and theme library, payment gateways, security elements and an extensive app store for integrating new features and functionalities to a seller’s website.

While setting up an eCommerce site might seem intimidating to newcomers, Shopify also supplies sellers with an excellent support team who can assist with an array of questions and concerns.

For those who want to take a test run, Shopify offers a 14-day free trial in which merchants can establish their store, test out various apps and potentially earn some sales.

Shopify pricing starts at a mere $9 per month through the Shopify Lite plan. However, as the company explains about its plan features:

“The Shopify Lite plan comes with Shopify’s standard features for the point of sale, Facebook Shop, and Buy Button sales channels, the Overview dashboard, and the Finances report. Shopify Lite does not allow you to build an online store.”

Therefore, most sellers opt for the company’s more popular packages, which include:

Basic Shopify

Basic Shopify is $29 per month and comes equipped with two staff accounts. Outside of this, there are no extras or added perks.

As far as payment rates are concerned, the Basic package online credit card rates are 2.9 percent, plus $0.30 per sale. Moreover, retailers under this plan receive a 64 percent shipping discount with popular shippers like UPS, USPS and DHL Express.

shopify popular packages graphic


This is the mid-tier package, costing retailers $79 per month. With this plan, retailers gain access to five staff accounts, the ability to create gift cards, professional reports, USPS Priority Mail Cubic® pricing and unlimited Shopify POS staff PINs.

The online credit card rates are 2.6 percent, plus $0.30 per sale, with a shipping discount of 72 percent.

Advanced Shopify

This package runs $299 per month and provides access to 15 staff accounts, an advanced report builder and third-party calculated shipping rates, in addition to the standard features.

With Advanced Shopify, online credit card rates are 2.4 percent, plus $0.30 per sale, with a shipping discount of 74 percent.

Additionally, while not for new sellers, Shopify Plus is the company’s enterprise platform for larger organizations that aim to scale their brands. In addition to the ability to manage higher order volumes, Shopify Plus is great for eCommerce SEO, supplies advanced reporting features and garners higher priority for customer support issues, alongside a number of other powerful features.

The Benefits of Using Shopify

It is undoubtable that Shopify provides a slew of benefits to its merchants.

Ease of Use

The simplicity of Shopify is by far one of the platform’s main draws. Shopify is made for those with less technical knowhow. Therefore, it is exceedingly simple to build websites with drag-and-drop editing features, add products, generate discounts and process orders.

Minimal Startup Costs

Speaking bluntly, some eCommerce platforms can be quite expensive to utilize. While there are reasons for the bulkier price tags, Shopify’s incredibly affordable platform provides retailers with everything they need to build a successful brand.

However, just because Shopify is less expensive does not mean that it is an inferior platform. Again, this service is employed by the likes of Red Bull and Budweiser.

Professional-Grade Themes

Shopify subscribers gain access to a catalog of free, mobile responsive themes that can be customized in many ways to suit a brand’s personality. This (again) makes Shopify the perfect platform for novice eCommerce retailers who are unfamiliar with utilizing UX design for a better on-site experience.

trending this week screenshot

Retailers have the option to alter fonts, color schemes, stock images from Shopify photographers and tons of other elements to make a site unique and enjoyable. However, for those who are looking for a higher degree of personalization, paid themes are also available to those who want to open up a more extensive array of customization options.

SEO Features

Without naming names or slinging any mud, there are a fair number of eCommerce platforms out there that are abysmal when it comes to search engine optimization features.

Shopify is not one of those platforms.

Achieving search engine success with Shopify is a real possibility given that the service enables access to many of the necessary backend technical features required to optimize a site for SERP visibility.

A Vast Catalog of Apps

With Shopify’s app store, retailers can add nearly any feature or functionality imaginable to their digital shop.

shopify app store

Moreover, while there are a variety of paid apps that sellers can employ, there are also tons of free Shopify apps that can significantly enhance a store’s performance, on-site experience, SEO possibilities and so much more.

Great for Dropshippers

When it comes to the best eCommerce platforms for dropshippers, Shopify is almost always in the mix.

Moreover, the platform features a variety of dropshipping integrations such as those for Oberlo, Spocket and others, thereby making the process even more streamlined.

benefits of using shopify graphic

Comprehensive Admin Panel

Shopify’s backend gives merchants access to an array of features and reports for understanding a store’s performance and overall health. Sellers can see the number of orders, best-performing products, average order values, a variety of store visitor data and so much more.

Shopify supplies all the necessary information to gain an in-depth understanding of all the store’s most important metrics.

A Slew of Support

Since much of Shopify is geared toward a do-it-yourself mentality, the company provides a plethora of support options for retailers.

Shopify users can access technical support at all hours of the day and night via various contact methods like:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Live chat

Moreover, the company’s Help Center features an extensive catalog of documents that can help sellers understand everything from adding products to a webstore to successfully migrating to Shopify.

With the “What Is Shopify?” portion of this piece covered, let’s go ahead and dive into the necessary tactics for creating a profitable eCommerce website with this preeminent platform.

Strategies for Creating a Winning eCommerce Website

To start things off, the list that follows is by no means comprehensive. That said, these are the foundational elements the merchants must implement if they wish to create a commercially viable retail presence online.

strategies creating winning ecommerce site graphic

Make the First Impression Count

User experience is vital for eCommerce websites, often to a greater degree than for other types of destinations.

When a visitor lands on a store’s homepage, they are presented with an option: Bounce or continue browsing. If a retail site’s interface is clunky, if the navigation is not intuitive, if the homepage is cluttered and frenetic, merchants can be sure that they will send their prospect to another site.

Some of the ways that retailers can avoid this scenario and improve the UX on their eCommerce site is to:

  • Tout a responsive design to ensure usability across devices
  • Include prominent links to popular products
  • Utilize calls-to-action that drive consumers to category or product pages
  • Build a clearly labeled and uncluttered navigation menu
  • Employ a search field at the top of the site
  • Feature banners promoting any deals or specials
  • Provide links to social profiles

These are just a few strategies for lowering eCommerce bounce rates that retailers can employ on their store’s homepage.

Create Fully Optimized Product Pages

Product pages are the heart and soul of all eCommerce websites. Therefore, it is necessary to build better product pages by including elements that are known for increasing conversions.

Some of the elements that retailers must feature on these destinations include a detailed and original product description, customer reviews and ratings, relevant CTAs (Add to Cart, Buy Now, etc.), multiple high-quality, zoomable images, product videos, item specs and information such as where it was manufactured or materials used and similar details.

Take a look at one of Red Dress Boutique’s product pages:

red dress shoe product page

Moreover, retailers should not discount the impact of features that seem ancillary, but that are actually necessary. For example, the inclusion of related products is a fantastic upselling or cross-selling opportunity for increasing average order values.

Similarly, by including wishlist functionality, retailers can enable shoppers to add items to a list that are either currently out-of-stock or that they simply plan on purchasing later.

However, while there are a variety of important product page features, it is also crucial to not clutter these listings or make the pages too busy as this will likely result in a failure to convert consumers.

Generate Blogs that Add Value

In today’s eCommerce ecosystem, retailers must do more than merely peddle products. Under the current paradigm, consumers are researching products and services more than ever, taking a deep dive into the pros, cons and competition before they spend their hard-earned dollars.

Moreover, if retailers don’t have any informational pages that cater to consumer questions, obtaining visibility in the SERPs will be extremely challenging.

Therefore, merchants must take the time to conduct keyword research and understand the intent of their audiences so as to establish the kinds of questions and concerns they have about specific topics. It is through this kind of research that sellers can develop an effective eCommerce content marketing strategy that will enable them to reach prospects at various points in the buyer’s journey, eventually framing the products sold on-site as the solution to their conundrum.

Gerber has a blog of helpful tips for parents with small children:

gerber our blog section screenshot

However, blogs aren’t the only content offerings that retailers can craft. Get creative with things and churn out valuable educational tutorials, video content showcasing various items, listicles that relate to particular products or consumer-related issues, promote a podcast or highlight user-generated content to provide others with social proof of customer satisfaction.

Without content, a brand will have a heck of a time showing up in the SERPs. Without search engine visibility, sales are destined to be nil.

Build a Streamlined Checkout Process

While product pages are the heart and soul of eCommerce operations, the checkout process is the lifeblood. After all, it doesn’t matter how great the product pages are if the checkout process is clunky and frustrating.

shopify subtotal checkout options

This is evident in the cart abandonment rate research from the Baymard Institute which shows that nearly one in four consumers ditch their potential purchases because the checkout process was “too long/complicated.”

Therefore, it is critical that retailers understand how to create a checkout flow that increases conversions. While this task is most certainly easier said than done, it is doable with the right knowledge.

Firstly, guest checkout options are a must. Over 30 percent of shoppers abandon their carts purely because they do not want to create yet another account. Fail to provide guest checkout at one’s own peril.

Furthermore, it is necessary to limit the number of pages and form fields as much as possible. Again, the length of the process is another huge deterrent. Instead of gathering all sorts of details, limit fields to only those that are necessary for fulfilling an order.

However, what is most important here is to not surprise consumers with hidden shipping fees, taxes and other sorts of charges. This is the number one reason (cited by 53 percent of Baymard respondents) that shoppers scrap their orders.

To avoid flummoxing would-be customers and driving them away before buying, provide a tax calculator and showcase shipping costs in the cart before checkout.

Lastly, provide shoppers with a myriad of payment choices. The more payment options at the customer’s disposal, the more likely they are to convert.

Prominently Display Contact Methods

Sometimes consumers have questions about products that aren’t addressed in the description or details sections. Sometimes a hiccup occurs and consumers receive a wrong item or no item at all (thanks USPS!). Sometimes a shopper just wants to express their gratitude.

No matter the reason for reaching out, site visitors should have no problem understanding how to connect with a retailer.

sculpthouse contact us options

Therefore, it is vital that merchants prominently display their content methods and information on their site. Some web stores place their phone number right at the top of the website. Others have a live chat icon that lives in the bottom right of the screen. Others still list all their contact info in the footer of the site.

The point is that consumers should never have an issue with contacting a brand. List your company’s contact and social media info in a prominent location so that shoppers can reach out with comments, questions and concerns quickly and conveniently.

While the “What Is Shopify?” question has many facets to it, what is not in question is the preeminence of the platform. After all, there is a reason why Shopify merchants generated over $41 billion in 2018.

Shopify provides potential retailers with everything they need to succeed in the eCommerce arena. From professional templates to drag-and-drop editors to powerful marketing tools, Shopify is the complete package for novice and expert retailers alike.

If you are in the market for an eCommerce platform, Shopify is likely the perfect platform for your brand’s requirements.

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