What is Shopify and is it Right for Your Online Store?

Shopify logo

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Shopify is an ecommerce platform you can use to make an online store and website without any coding or website design experience whatsoever. It’s our top-rated web store builder – rated 4.7/5 for business use – thanks to its effective inventory features.

We’ve tested more than ten competitor products, and found Shopify outperforms them on almost every count. It’s certainly not the cheapest option, but Shopify's superior sales and website features would likely deliver better ROI in the long-run.

We’ll break down what Shopify is, how it works in Australia, who should use it, and what exactly you can expect to pay.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is professional grade software for selling products (physical and digital) that lets you put together a fully functional, scalable web shop without needing to write code. Put simply: it’s a website builder that lets you create an online store, market your products, and handle shipping all from one place. And you can link it to a real-world card reader and Point of Sale system.

It's one of those online programs that lets you pick a template, and drag-and-drop design elements to put together a custom online shop. Our research found it’s one of the best web store builders, with more effective sales features than competitors.

We’ve rated it 4.7 out of 5 overall in our recent independent testing. Shopify connects with more sales channels than competitors, and more of our test users said they’re likely to recommend Shopify compared with Wix, Bigcommerce or Volusion.

In our comparative research, Shopify scored top for quality of sales features and joint second for website features.

You don't actually have to build a full website, though most people do. If it's easier, you can just sign up for the cheapest Shopify plan (named “Starter”) and add “Buy” buttons to your existing social media channels, blog or website.

Did You Know?

Shopify is Australia’s most widely-used web shopping platform. In Australia, 25% of live online stores are made with Shopify, 20% are made with WooCommerce Checkout and 19% with Wix.

How does Shopify Work?

Shopify offers different subscription packages depending on how you’d like to use it; there’s three main plans that give you access to the website builder and product sales platform. That means you design your website (along with a tutorial), then add your listings for items, services or digital products.

Then you’ll connect payment service providers and any social media accounts you’d like to publicise or sell through. You can also connect your shop to other web marketplaces such as Google Shopping, Amazon and eBay.

When customers buy your items, you can arrange shipping through Shopify too. You can print shipping labels and take advantage of discounts on Sendle.

If you already have a physical store, market stall or vending truck you can use Shopify Point of Sale (POS) – a card reader – hardware to take contactless payments. A lite version is included in the main Shopify plans or you can upgrade to more in-depth reporting for US$89 (AU$134) per month.

A lot of Shopify features operate through apps in the Shopify App Store.

When adding features to your Shopify website, you’ll soon encounter the Shopify App Store. Here you can download plug-ins that add extra functionality to your sales platform, such as marketing tools or dropshipping services. Some have free versions but many require extra payment.

Who should use Shopify?

Although its tools are powerful, Shopify is popular because it’s accessible for non-experts. While it’s really aimed at business-minded folk, this definition is very loose because there’s not one particular industry or sector it’s best suited to.

So Shopify is ideal for…

✔️Fashion, clothing and accessories retailers

Why: Connect with a wide range of web sales and social channels.

✔️Online consultants, coaches and counsellors

Why: Automated marketing templates keep followers coming back.

✔️Restaurants, coffee shops and beverage sellers

Why: Synch your inventory with sales online and offline.

✔️Electronic goods, motor parts or sports products

Why: Track analytics like average order value and top products by units sold.

✔️Financial services and crypto businesses

Why: Import customers, create segments and send personalised comms.

Shopify automations help you fine-tune marketing and keep track of conversions.

As the monthly pricing goes up pretty steeply, you’ll need to figure the platform cost into your overall business budget. Shopify is meant to enhance your online sales by making it easy for customers to find and pay you online (and offline).

But if you’re not really looking to bring in revenue through your website, we wouldn’t recommend Shopify for you at all.

For instance, if you need a website that gives details of your physical location, some customer reviews and an overview of your services but you don’t take payments online then Shopify is not the answer.

Shopify isn’t a great match for:

❌ Cash-based services such as casual DIY, babysitting or pet care

❌ Free video streaming or media hosting

❌ A portfolio

❌ Contract services such as legal representation or architecture

Shopify pros and cons

Shopify logo
Shopify
4.1
Pricing US$29-299
Quick overview

Shopify provides good opportunities to sell across many areas of the web, including via dropshipping. You can also connect to in-person sales as the software synchs with your inventory.

Pros

Great functionality

Link to wide range of social media

Connect to POS hardware

Weaknesses

A little tricky to use

Charges transaction fees

Not the cheapest

Shopify is better set up to connect with external shopping channels than many of its competitors. For example, you can link up your Shopify account to niche social media such as Pinterest, Discord and Twitch, as well as subscription platforms like Substack and Patreon. These options are far better than competitors BigCartel, Squarespace and GoDaddy.

It’s also quick and easy to get started; you don’t even need credit card or email verification. Customer support is available equally across all subscription levels, and there’s a user questions forum for personalised help.

Although there’s lots we love about Shopify, it was a little harder to use than similar providers – scoring only 3.5 out of 5 for ease of use. Our test users found Wix, Square and Squarespace easier to use than Shopify, with the latter scoring 4.2 out of 5 in this respect.

Finally, it should be noted that not all ecommerce platforms charge transaction fees like Shopify does. This can factor into your business costs, because 2% on every sale really adds up. Unlike Shopify, Wix, Square and BigCommerce don’t charge any transaction fees.

What does Shopify cost?

Shopify has five pricing plans in total, including the very basic “Starter” and enterprise “Shopify Plus”. We've written an in-depth guide on Shopify pricing, or you can check out this quick summary table and easily compare subscriptions:

Swipe right to see more
0 out of 0
Price (Paying Annually)

$7/month

Price (Paying Annually)

$42/month

Price (Paying Annually)

A$114/month

Price (Paying Annually)

A$433/month

Price (Paying Annually)

From $3,000/month

Best For

Adding a buy button to your existing website or social media

Best For

Starting a small online store

Best For

Growing your business

Best For

Larger online stores

Best For

High volume merchants, large businesses

Key Features
  • Get “shoppable links” (URLs)
  • Product pages
  • Basic order management
  • Online credit card rate: 5% + 30¢
Key Features
  • Create an online shop
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 support
  • Online credit card rate: 1.75% + 30¢
  • Sell in 33 currencies
Key Features
  • Abandoned cart recovery emails
  • Five staff accounts
  • Online credit card rate: 1.6% + 30¢
  • Shipping discounts
Key Features
  • Third-party calculated shipping rates
  • 15 staff accounts
  • Online credit card rate: 1.4% + 30¢
  • Custom international pricing
Key Features
  • 99.99% uptime
  • Built-in AR, video, 3D media on product pages
  • Automation for complex processes
  • Faster checkout
Transaction Fees

5%

Transaction Fees

2%

Transaction Fees

1%

Transaction Fees

0.5%

Transaction Fees

0.15%

You should note that payment transaction fees vary depending on your subscription level. Similarly, online credit card rates get cheaper as you upgrade to a more expensive Shopify plan.

The main differences in the price plans are increased staff accounts and more inventory locations. That, and the Advanced plan has the best quality reporting and third-party calculated shipping rates. Sadly you can’t get any automations on the Basic plan, and shipping insurance isn’t included.

How to start selling with Shopify online and in-store (for free)

It takes no time at all to get started with Shopify. Basically you create an account, click a button and you’re ready to make a website. Like many of these products now, you’ll select some multiple-choice answers to guide the program to show you the tools you’ll need.

The basic steps are:

  1. Create an account
  2. Take a quiz to clarify your needs
  3. Start setting up your online store

When you first sign up, you’ll go through a quiz where you select what kind of shop features you’d like to have. You simply select the answers that apply to you, and click “Next”. There’s even “I’m not sure” options if you don’t know exactly how you’d like to sell your wares yet. If you don’t feel like the third degree, feel free to click “Skip”.

The quiz helps Shopify prepare the right toolkits to show you, as not everyone is coming at the program with the same goals.

This gives you an idea of how flexible Shopify is going to be – you can connect your existing social media, website or blog to this platform with a “buy” button. So you don’t have to start from scratch with an entire website if you’ve already got an online presence you’re looking to monetize.

If you already know you want to connect with a physical POS as well, you can indicate this right at the beginning. The quiz shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two, and you can follow the progress bar at the top to see roughly how far you’ve got to go.

Next you’ll get into the website builder dashboard, where Shopify continues to guide you along the set-up process. The menu shows a list of helpful beginner tasks which you can work in any order. This section has straightforward low-tech language so it’s easy for everyone to understand, and each task has a colourful image for the visually-motivated among us.

We found it handy to be able to pick and choose the types of tasks we wanted to work on first. This enabled us to build up the sales platform according to preference and readiness, rather than feeling forced to go along a fixed construction pathway. For example, it’s just as acceptable to activate payment methods first as it is to choose the colour scheme and template.

You’ll find it’s easy to navigate the start-up tasks as you can click “Learn more about… X” on each section. This will open up a helpful article in a new tab that provides more specific guidance. We found Shopify much easier to use than the WordPress website builder, which opens its knowledge centre in the same tab, closing your web builder platform.

Shopify help centre
The Shopify knowledge centre is easy to navigate, via a left hand vertical menu or horizontal bar of links.

If you get stuck for design inspiration, we've put together this visual guide to our favourite Shopify web shops.

Verdict: Would We Recommend Shopify?

We’re not surprised that Shopify is the most popular online selling platform in Australia; but what we are surprised by is that it was no hassle for a total beginner to start using. If you’re eager to give it a go yourself, why not sign up for a free trial with your email address?

You’ll have three days to build out your web store – giving you time to chase up any extra info you need along the way. If, at the end of that time you want to move on, you’ve lost nothing but gained some experience. Or you can upgrade to a paid plan and start supercharging your product sales online.

We recommend Shopify for business leaders of all kinds, except for cash services such as pet care or at-home beauty services. But if you sell products such as gym equipment, dry food, clothing, furniture or just about anything else, then Shopify is a great sales platform for you.

FAQs

What is Shopify used for?
Shopify is an online sales platform to list products and services for sale and take payments. You can use it to build a full website with an online shop, and connect this same inventory with your physical in-person sales. Shopify has a Point of Sale hardware device which you can upgrade to as part of your website builder plan.

Through your web store, you can arrange shipping with discounts from Sendle as well.

Is Amazon and Shopify the same?
Amazon is completely different from Shopify. While Amazon offers a marketplace for various merchants to sell their wares, Shopify lets people build a standalone website with a shopping section.

With Shopify you have to choose and register a domain name, which you then own the rights to. On the other hand, Amazon lets you set up an account and sell items directly on their platform.

Is Shopify free or paid?
Shopify has both a free trial and several paid plans. The free trial can be as short as three days and after that, your web store expires and you need to upgrade your plan to set it live. There are five total options for price plans, including a US$5 (A$7.50) monthly “Starter” plan which doesn’t include the website builder tool.
Why do customers use Shopify?
Shopify is the most popular web shop builder in Australia. We put this down to its ease of use and superior website and sales features compared with competitors like Wix, Squarespace and BigCommerce. According to our research, it's one of the best ecommerce platforms for small businesses.

It’s a handy all-in-one program which includes a website builder, payment gateway, point of sale hardware (if desired), shipping options and dropshipping. This limits the need to set up accounts with many different software tools, since Shopify acts as a one-stop platform.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master's in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camden New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.
Reviewed by:
A head shot of Natasha Willett - a blonde woman in a work shirt with a blue background
For over 9 years Natasha has worked as a mixed method researcher working across a range of sectors from insurance and policy development, to business services and software. As a member of the Market Research Society, Natasha is an advocate for high ethical, commercial and methodological best practices.