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What is Shopify?

Shopify is a subscription-based ecommerce platform which enables you to create an online shop. It also offers an app for retail point-of-sale systems.  It is easy to use and designed with the beginner in mind. It intends for all persons, novice and experienced to create an online stores without coding, quickly and efficiently.  So you can go and create your shop now and sell your products all through lockdown now.  Perhaps though you want to still find out more.

How does Shopify work?

You simply go to their website, create an account, buy a domain name/url, upload your products, setup how people will pay you and how you will deliver your products to them. Voila!  You don’t have to pay some hosting company that makes fun of over-weight men in sporting gear as your is self-hosted.  It also means that you don’t have to hire web developers like us.  Instead you pay a monthly fee, much like a subscription.

Is Shopify really the right tool for you?

You want an ecommerce website to sell your products, service and so on. You know about Shopify but you aren’t sure if it is the right way to go for your products.  Well you found the right place.

We love Woocommerce so we feel a bit dirty writing about Shopify.  These days however, with the uptake in selling online and online store, more and more clients want to find out more about Shopify.  Which is good as there is a place and budget for it.

Shopify is an excellent product. No arguments here. But what lies in the fine print of what is undeniably a really good platform.  You see, after more than a decade in web development, we know there is no one size fits all perfect solution. Every ecommerce store with software is as unique as you and your brand.  Making a bad choice is an expensive mistake.

In the below article we are going to unpack just a few of the pros and cons of Shopify.

How to Use Shopify

Shopify’s Payments

Their transactions fees are one of their biggest problems.


Pricing plans:

Shopify has 3 tiers to its pricing plans, the Basic Shopify, The Shopify plan and the advanced Shopify plan. These plans are fixed costs and exclude the Shopify transaction fees.

what is shopify

Transaction fees:

Shopify charges for every transaction.
As a South African based shop, you have to integrate it with a payment platform. They have their own, available at no cost – but not available in SA. So, by default you will have to pay a percentage of every transaction to Shopify, for using that payment processor into Shopify.

Credit Card fees:

You then still have credit card processing fees, which varies from 2.9% to well over 5% depending on which payment gateway you use. (See our preferred payment gateway articles)

So that means:

The basic store starts at R420 per month.
+ 2% of each transaction
+ credit card processing fee

The Shopify plan will cost you R1150 per month.
+ 1% of each transaction.
+ credit card processing fee

And the Advanced Shopify plan R4500 per month.
+ 0.5% of each transaction
+ credit card processing fee

**(Prices vary according to dollar/rand exchange)**

So, on a basic Shopify store, by way of example, you end up paying:

Transaction Amount R100 R500 R1000 R1000
Shopify Basic Fee (2%) R2 R10 R20 R200
Payfast Fee (3.5% + R2) R5.50 R19.50 R37 R352
R7.50 R29.50 R57 R552

Domain registration + Email registration fees

So, what is included in each package:

  • Shopify Lite Plan:
    Cost: $9 per month | R130
    Functionality: Lets you sell via social media or existing website.
    Transaction fee: 2% per transaction fee, unless you use Shopify Payments, which is not available in SA.

Basic Shopify:
Cost: $29 per month | R420
Functionality: The cheapest plan to build your own store; provides all the essentials.
provide core e-commerce functionality — you can choose a template, upload a catalogue of products, accept credit card payments, sell gift cards and access a wide range of third-party apps
Transaction fee: 2% unless you use Shopify Payments, which is not available in SA.

Cost: $79 per month | R1150
Functionality: Designed for growing businesses; includes features such as gift card creation.
Transaction fee: 1% transaction fee, unless you use Shopify Payments, which is not available in SA
Advanced Shopify:
Cost: $299 per month | R4339
Functionality: perfect for big businesses wanting to scale up; includes advanced reports and third-party calculated shipping rates.
Transaction fee: 0.5% transaction fee, unless you use Shopify Payments, which is not available in SA.
Shopify Plus:
Cost: custom pricing
Functionality: for large-scale, enterprise level businesses with huge budgets.
Transaction fee: custom quote.

If you are not sure which direction to go in, Shopify offers a free trial period. So, you can register, load and test it free for 14 days – which can usually be extended if you need more time to complete a store).

The pro’s

Shopify has a clean, clear, and simple interface that makes setting up a store a breeze, even for total beginners.

The quality and quantity of the available themes is varied and impressive, mobile responsive and customizable. The only drawback, is that of that array on offer only 19 are free, so you may need to fork out a little more to get what you want!  There are free ones lurking out there too but always be careful using them by checking for malware.

All themes include:
• Customizable content sections on the home page
• SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
• Drop-down navigation support
• Free theme updates
• Mobile-friendly design
• Social media icons
• Built-in styles and color palettes
• Free stock photos by Burst
• A payment processor, buy buttons, blogging platforms and email marketing tools
• Stock control

Also built into the Basic Design and Setup platform are inventory management, payment gateways, social media, discount codes, and SEO guidance. So for all intents and purposes, a simple store should be able to function perfectly well independently.
The SEO tools are limited and basic, but do include the essentials, including header codes and (fairly) customisable URLs. When you add products, Shopify prompts you to implement SEO best practices, which is perfect for someone flying solo and just starting out.  Customer data and payment transactions are encrypted via SSL.

Shopify does offer real time 24/7 customer service and support via email and live chat although efficiency varies from country to country.

Shopify POS or Point of Sale allows you to sell your product in person using their app. You can literally use it anywhere.

Shopify has an app store.

The con’s

Package fees, transaction fees and credit card fees aside, the Shopify principle is simple, the more you need, the more you pay for. So do your numbers and be very sure of exactly what you need before you subscribe because it can get expensive really quickly.

Their transactions

And by that I mean, far more than you would have paid a woo-commerce developer like me, to build, customise and oversee your store.

Themes. While the available themes do meet the needs of a basic shop, the more functionality you require, the more costs rise and quickly. Remember, the basic entry level packages only offer basic functionality so you might need to upgrade your plan to increase functionality of some of the pre-existing features.

Remember that Shopify is a ‘hosted’ solution so you don’t actually “own” your website as you would in WooCommerce, for example. Under normal circumstances, if you leave your web developer, you leave with your site. This is not so with Shopify. If you cancel your “subscription” which by the way, is not that easy, you walk away with nothing.

Think of it as renting a house. You can make it home. Paint the walls, hang pictures, decorate – but there comes a point where you have to draw the line as you don’t own the house!
It’s the same with Shopify.
If what Shopify offers, fits your needs exactly – wonderful. Go for it.
But, if the rental needs a lot of alterations in order to meet your needs – then don’t rent!

SEO. Remember Google is still king and their algorithms change all the time, demanding more and more clarity and integrity from your site. The better you can meet these demands, the greater your gains in search rank. With Shopify you only have a limited arsenal to meet these needs. One of the primary SEO tools missing from Shopify’s SEO arsenal is keywords. So if your site is going to rely on Google and organic search, you may need to keep that in mind.

Other concerns, that may or may not be relevant to you are:
* Shopify does not include any content management system
* The product search and filter mechanism do not function optimally at this stage.
There is currently no “Related Items” feature to help Upsell
No “Filter By” Feature, no “Product Fields” Feature and limited categories (3 to be specific)
You may not think this is not a big deal at first, but it really does depend on your product. Put it in the context of your own personal online shopping experience. What refinements do you use when you shop? Do you refine your search?
Well, all of those refinement are filter features …

* Then lastly, but very importantly, make sure the products you intend to sell, fall within Shopify’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Do this first, because if they don’t, you may well find yourself removed from their platform.


In summation, all cards on deck. Shopify is a great platform. Especially if you are an ecommerce business owner just starting out. Or someone whose primary focus will be running your online store. Everything you need is right there, at your fingertips. No coding, no experience necessary.
But, it can and does get expensive.
So, you need to weigh things up.
You need to go in with your eyes open and don’t assume.
You need to know exactly what you want for your store.
Then you need to critically analyse the packages offered – against those needs.
Monthly subscription + commission per transaction for online credit cards + extra 2% for every payment processed. Now, what would it cost you to use a web developer to build a customised woo-commerce store for you that you own!  And to monthly manage your online concerns and presence.
From my numbers, we may well be cheaper – and of course, we invest back.

For a more extensive deep dive I would recommend reading this review as it gives a thoroughly comprehensive breakdown.