Practical Ecommerce

Cart Of The Week: Shopify

Practical eCommerce counts over 300 different shopping cart platforms. This includes licensed carts, hosted carts and open-source carts. In this, our new “Cart of the Week” feature, we’ll profile a specific shopping cart and ask personnel of that cart about its strengths and weaknesses. We’ll then ask a competitor about that cart, too.

In this first installment, we’ve featured Shopify, a hosted solution known for its ease of use and simplicity. We asked Dimitri Onistsuk, Vice President of Marketing, about the benefits of that cart. We then asked Rick Wilson, Executive Vice President with Miva Merchant, a licensed cart and a competitor of Shopify, for his evaluation of Shopify.

Dimitri Onistsuk

PeC: What are Shopify’s strengths?

Onistsuk: Shopify is both easy to use and elegant. Shopify makes it simple to sign up (a couple minutes) and to start selling your products in style. It also gives you real peace of mind. Shopify is a hosted ecommerce solution, so we take care of the hosting, backup, bandwidth and scaling issues for you. There is no need to ever look for a hosting company with Shopify. More importantly, Shopify is a product we believe in. Before we offered it as tool for others to sell their products online, we were using it ourselves. We saw what was missing in other ecommerce solutions and we built it.

PeC: What are Shopify’s weaknesses?

Onistsuk: Shopify is intended to be the best ecommerce solution for 95 percent of businesses selling online. Unfortunately, we know that there are some shops that need some very specific requirements, but we do not try to be all things to all people. Shopify hosts a wide range of shops spanning single-person operations all the way to large multinational corporations. Part of the reason we can provide all of these users with such an excellent experience is that we focus on exceptional design for the most common situations and workflows instead of trying to pack every possible feature into an increasingly unusable interface.

PeC: What are your plans for future cart development?

Onistsuk: We are continuously developing new features, but the most important new developments are the Shopify API and online marketing integration. The Shopify API will allow the storeowner to develop customized applications for whatever the shop needs. This will really strengthen Shopify as a whole because it will add a whole new dimension of functionality and give the user the ability to be in control. We are also working hard on integrating marketing features that will help our customers sell their products. There are several approaches to doing this, and we are looking at the most effective means possible.

PeC: Other thoughts for our readers?

Onistsuk: A lot of people seem intimidated by the notion of starting a business online. We understand that completely, which is why we made Shopify as simple to use as possible. From setup, to listing your product offering, to fulfilling orders, the process is straightforward and logical. For those who are thinking of starting an online business, we created a trial plan that allows startups to sell 10 items before they are charged a single penny. This means you can validate your market, and only if things are going well do you have to sign up fully. You don’t even need to enter your credit card for a trial account. While you have your trial account, Shopify picks up all the hosting and bandwidth charges.

Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson, Executive Vice President of Miva Merchant, offers his thoughts on Shopify.

PeC: What do you think are Shopify’s strengths?

Wilson: The product was very nicely laid out and simple to use. One of the hardest things to do in ecommerce is simplify a complex process (running a business) while still offering the features people need.

PeC: What do you think are Shopify’s weaknesses?

Wilson: The obvious weaknesses I saw were the limits on what they called ‘enterprise’ level offering of only 10,000 SKUs. The other major weakness is the product is built using Ruby On Rails. Ruby On Rails seems to be a development environment with a lot of future possibilities, but as a general rule you don’t want your revenue-generating product to be based on cutting edge technology. There’s a lot of unforeseeable pitfalls in that area.

PeC: Other thoughts for our readers about Shopify?

Wilson: Generally speaking 10,000 SKU’s is not a big database, so why is there such a low ceiling? What is that also indicative of as far as database limitations? That combined with the product being Ruby On Rails would personally lead me to the conclusion that it’s not ready for prime time.

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Brendan Gibbons
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Comments ( 16 )

  1. nfstern August 13, 2008 Reply

    Wilson’s comment about Rails being a weakness is utter nonsense. The canard’s been extensively debunked.

  2. Brian Getting August 14, 2008 Reply

    I’m surprised that nobody else has chimed in about that. I would have to say that I agree with _nfstern_ on the Rails issue. Then again, I suppose that I may be biased, considering that our site is built on Rails.

    To anyone that is interested, here is a brief list of other (large) sites that are also built using Ruby on Rails:

    – [Basecamp](http://basecamphq.com)
    – [Campfire](http://campfirenow.com)
    – [Odeo](http://www.odeo.com)
    – [43Things](http://www.43things.com)
    – [Jobster](http://www.jobster.com)
    – [A List Apart](http://www.alistapart.com)

  3. gdonald August 14, 2008 Reply

    I’ve used Miva Merchant. It’s a proprietary system that uses closed-source databases for storage. I found data corruption many times while using it. The plugin costs will nickel and dime you to death.

    Meanwhile, if you don’t think Ruby on Rails is ready for prime time you must be living under a rock, or trying to promote your closed -source proprietary product, as is likely the case here.

    Look here: [http://www.vimeo.com/1104164](http://www.vimeo.com/1104164)

    250TB/ of genetics data processing per day with Rails. That’s way more that 10K retail skus.

    Then look at who is already using Rails:

    – [http://rails100.pbwiki.com/Alexa+Rankings](http://rails100.pbwiki.com/Alexa+Rankings)
    – [http://rails100.pbwiki.com/Compete+Rankings](http://rails100.pbwiki.com/Compete+Rankings)

    Your conclusions are clearly faulty.

  4. markdanielkelly August 14, 2008 Reply

    Shopify also takes a percentage of each transaction. Though one could build that cost into your business model I’ve never understood why I would want to cut my software vendor in on my sales.

    My experience with MOM goes back several years to a test version – I found the back end to have some great functionality but their websites seemed a bit clumsy.

    Ruby on Rails is reasonably mature at this point. 10,000 sku’s is about 9,700 more than I’m currently using but I can see where it would be a limitation to some users.

    I currently use [Instantestore](http://www.instantestore.com/) and find it to offer the most functionality for the price – sure – it is missing a few features I’d like but it’s worked for me for 5 years.

    Mark

  5. nobrainerbargains August 14, 2008 Reply

    I went to the Shopify site to look at websites that are using them. I noticed that all of the sites that have a blog do not offer comments after each blog entry. Coincidence?

  6. Soleone August 14, 2008 Reply

    @nobrainerbargains

    We redesigned all the blog-features this month, and now look into the commenting. In fact we are working at the commenting-function (incl. moderation and spam-check) at this very moment, and it should go online in September.

    Did you mean to imply with "Coincidence?" that Rails can’t scale all the amout of data? I don’t hope so, because that is surely not the case!

  7. nobrainerbargains August 14, 2008 Reply

    Not at all, Soleone. I just couldn’t believe if all of these sites had the option to include comments that these sites would choose not to include it.

    I’m currently looking for the right shopping cart platform for a new website and these kinds of details are important to me.

    I may be in touch after this commenting function goes live.

  8. nobrainerbargains August 14, 2008 Reply

    One last thing on the sites’ blogs: I didn’t see anywhere I can click to subscribe. Is this included or will be included?

  9. Soleone August 14, 2008 Reply

    There is an option for the shop owners to include an Atom-Link to the blog. But by default Newsfeeds are always available on the address-bar, do you see the RSS-icon there when you visit a blog?

  10. Denny Sheridan August 14, 2008 Reply

    Using Shopify’s managed solution to build your e-store and populate the inventory is very easy. As a developer, I found it frustrating. I had been asked to make some small changes to an existing store. I wanted to adjust some textual formatting in the page layouts and also capture some extra data. There is no way to do this… and no ftp access either.
    Shopify is great – but wysiwyg – nothing more.

    PS: Ruby on Rails rocks!

  11. Soleone August 14, 2008 Reply

    @Denny Sheridan

    1. I wonder what kind of textual formatting you wanted to change, because the Liquid Templates should allow you to do visualize the data exactly as you want.

    2. What kind of extra data did you want to capture, that wasn’t available for you?

    3. And why have FTP access when you can download your templates and design your shop with the Vision tool (which exactly shows the look of your shop locally), and then upload it all after your finished?

    I’m sorry, but it’s definitely not WYSIWYG, just look at all the different shops around there.

  12. kgendrich August 17, 2008 Reply

    Brendan

    While I find the topic interesting, the evaluation is not very useful.
    We just made such a choice and the decision was much more involved than was the system usable by 90% of business and what is the underlying technology. Almost every system will make the claims that they are usable by 90% of businesses and have an appropriate underlying technology, AND be correct. [by the way, you should consider brushing up on your Rails research before you discount it, there are many strong revenue producing rails projects. We don’t use it, but it’s already accepted as a mature tool in the web world…]

    What we need to make these comparisons are the business issues behind them:

    Examples:
    How secure are these shopping carts (and why)?
    How flexible are these carts at promoting product (and why)?
    Does the cart have marketing campaigns?
    How does the cart manage order processing workflow?
    What kinds of pricing models does the cart support?
    How does the cart handle tax calculations?
    How customer friendly is the flow of the shopping and checkout experience.
    What kinds of accounting interfaces does the cart support?
    What kinds of fullfillment and shipping models does the cart support?
    What kinds of payment processors are automatically supported?
    How much technical support from a webmaster is needed?
    What is the Total Cost of ownership: Initial investment 0-$20,000 including the help to setup the system.
    Operating Cost: % impact on your sales cost.

    Finally, what’s REALLY the weaknesses, every package will have one.
    (The vendor cannot answer this… someone with ecommerce experience must help you).

    There are many more, but you get the idea…

    Ken

  13. Claudiu April 4, 2009 Reply

    Hi everyone

    @gdonald: The not so proprietary DBF data type was used till 2004-2005 … Since then, Miva Empresa (the Miva Script engine) allows you to use MySQL, Miva-SQL (that’s the proprietary database type based on SQL grammar), SQL, DBF and Oracle…

    I can see it’s not well received when an e-commerce specialist with years of customer experience behind, can give his honest opinion on some technologies, just because he’s selling some "concurrent" type of product. But that’s not a reason to "attack" back saying "Miva Merchant" is bad. It’s a great product with many years of hard work behind with no security holes in the latest versions … I’m not a Miva Merchant seller at all, but I’m working a lot with Miva Script (I started late 1999 and still doing Miva Script since then)

    I worked with Ruby on rails too and I like it a lot (very powerful)…and I won’t comment on Shpify as I don’t know very well the product. Rick Wilson wanted to say, like every experienced e-commerce specialist would say, that using a new technology in production can be a problem because of the security wholes:

    http://secunia.com/advisories/search/?search=ruby

    So, before judging his critics by his Miva Merchant "color", people should try to understand the message behind :-) which is security first!

    Claudiu

  14. HoustonWebDesign May 16, 2009 Reply

    From an SEO stand point, this platform seems promising. I am going to play around with it more but it passes my initial test. I have had an issue finding a lighter-weight platform for my clients that don’t have a lot of product. The ones I have find, have little support for a wide variety of merchant accounts and have poor search engine optimization. I am really hoping this works for my clients and am looking forward to exploring it more.

    Shelly Fagin
    <a href="http://www.highlysearched.com">Houston Web Design & Internet Marketing</a>

  15. teiro August 4, 2009 Reply

    Where could I find an easy to use software platform for webshops, that would be suitable for private labeling.

  16. Rick Wilson June 13, 2012 Reply

    I had all but forgotten about this article, but someone on Twitter pointed it out recently and asked me about my thoughts on the article now many years later.

    I would say my primary comment was the format for this process was fundamentally flawed. Practical Ecommerce assigned me Shopify as a competitor to evaluate and I knew next to nothing about them as a platform and then asked me about their strengths and weaknesses.

    I essentially shot from the hip and had to come up with "content" and in hindsight I wouldn’t have written it this way the following week, let alone 3 years later.

    If given the opportunity again, I would just not discuss our competitors and I think PeC saw this too because they changed the format of this series shortly thereafter.

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