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Shopify review: A powerful tool for building online stores

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £19
Basic plan (paid monthy), inc VAT

It might not be the most versatile or flexible website builder, but Shopify is fantastic for building online stores


  • Excellent product- and inventory-management features
  • Easy to create usable, consistent storefronts
  • Strong marketing and analytics tools


  • Design tools are lacking
  • Back-end and storefront tools feel disconnected
  • Quite expensive, even on the basic plan

As you might expect from the name, Shopify is a specialist website builder aimed at doing one thing exceptionally well: developing an online store. While it has features to create blogs or support your store with other content, it’s much more focused on creating and managing a substantial product catalogue, with the website functioning more as a shopfront than as a destination in its own right. This makes Shopify a serious contender if you’re looking to launch a store, but does that come at the expense of flexibility and features for more inventive and creating site design?

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Shopify review: What do you get for the money?

Shopify’s plans start with the Basic plan at £19 a month and scale up to the Advanced plan at an eye-watering £259 per month. The Basic plan gives you everything you need to build your store and manage your inventory and transactions, but only gives you basic reporting features and support for two staff accounts. Moving up to the mid-range Shopify plan, at £49 per month, gives you access to the service’s professional reporting features and up to five staff accounts. The Advanced plan throws in a custom report builder and support for up to 15 staff accounts. All plans come with a 10% discount if you pay for a year upfront.

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Otherwise, the plans differ in how many inventory locations they can manage and their fees on credit card transactions. Shopify is designed to help you manage your overall product inventory, not just what’s sold through your online store, so where the Basic plan can only track inventory across four locations (physical or online), the Shopify plan can handle five and the Advanced plan 8. And where the Basic plan’s fees of 2% plus 25p for each online transaction aren’t going to be an issue for small-scale sellers, those working at a larger scale will see the benefit of the 1.7% plus 25p of the Shopify plan or the 1.5% plus 25p of the Advanced plan.

Just be aware that if you plan to use a third party, such as Paypal, to handle payments on top of the built-in Shopify Payments system, you’ll face a third-party transaction fee for those, ranging from 2% on the Basic plan to 0.5% on Advanced.

Shopify also offers what it calls a Starter plan, but this is designed to give you a simplified, mobile-focused online store aimed at selling products direct through social media. It’s quick and easy to use, but gives you very little real control over the look and feel.

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Shopify review: How easy is it to set up?

Sign up for an account with a username and password and Shopify practically sets itself up in minutes, partly because it makes the safe assumption that you’re trying to build an online store. In fact, it’s telling that where other website builders start you off by asking you to decide on a template or style, Shopify’s priority is to get you adding products to your catalogue and organising them into categories or collections. You don’t actually start making decisions that affect the look and feel of your site until later on.

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Shopify review: What’s it like to use?

In fact, using Shopify isn’t so much about building a website as about customising whichever template you use. It’s a modular system where you can add new sections to each page’s vertical stack, but very much focused on page elements that showcase your products or collections and drive visitors towards them.

This means you don’t get the flexibility you’ll find in other website builders. For instance, text handling is fairly basic. You can set fonts on a global level, but individual text elements can only have bold, italic and list styles applied or the size switched between small, medium and large. There are similar limitations for most other page elements, including images and video, and while this helps give you a well-designed, consistent look and feel, it also restricts what you can do to some extent.

What’s more, it’s not always clear how you tweak or customise certain features, and while there are some excellent guides and video tutorials to help, they’re not always immediately available. Other, less specialist website builders like Wix or SquareSpace win on overall ease-of-use in many scenarios.

But then this is fundamentally a website builder for online stores, so these issues aren’t as problematic as they would be if you were, say, trying to build an artist’s portfolio site or a news and reviews-based blog. While there are blogging features built into Shopify, the presentation is again fairly basic and clearly aimed at blogs to build and maintain a relationship with customers rather than build an audience in and of itself.

We should also mention that Shopify seems to lack some built-in features, like reviews, social media feeds or subscription schemes, that you might expect in an eCommerce site builder. However, these are all available through a sizable ecosystem of add-on apps, with many of the most useful available for free.

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Shopify review: Is it good for ecommerce?

Not surprisingly, Shopify shines when it comes to ecommerce. Adding and categorising products are easy, and you can tag them and add them to collections from the same screen. You can also set up variants for different sizes, formats, colours or finishes and set different prices and inventories for each one.

What’s more, it has a very comprehensive set of features for tracking customers, along with sales and visitor analytics and automated marketing campaigns. Shopify has built-in tools for producing marketing emails, plus tools for creating discount codes and promotions.

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Shopify review: What other features does it have?

Shopify has some useful integrations, some of which it will suggest if you’re building a specific kind of store. When building an online store for art prints, for example, we were gently nudged towards using Printify – an online service that prints and sells merchandise based on your photos, designs or illustrations. Social media integrations aren’t as well developed as on SquareSpace or Wix, but the biggies – Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter – are all accessible through Shopify apps.

Shopify review: Is there anything it could do better?

Shopify’s design processes can seem opaque, and at times you wish that basic tasks could be more intuitive. There often seems to be a disconnect between the tools you use to maintain your store’s back end and those you use to customise the look and feel, and switching can be a pain. What’s more, while there’s a fairly extensive selection of templates available, not all are free and many don’t reach the same level of design that’s the norm from the likes of Squarespace. As a result, Shopify might not be for you if you’re after a distinctive, custom-designed look and feel.

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Shopify review: Should you sign up?

Shopify makes a lot of sense if you mostly want a means to sell physical or virtual products to as wide an audience as possible. It’s one of the most comprehensive website builders when it comes to organising products in a catalogue and handling all the functional elements of a store, and it’s also strong when it comes to reports, analytics and marketing.

There’s room for improvement when it comes to design finesse and ease of use, and it is an expensive option, but it’s relatively quick and easy to build a good-looking storefront with promotions and all the relevant info.

Other website builders can handle a range of tasks and do them all pretty well but, by focusing squarely on ecommerce, Shopify makes itself the go-to website builder for online stores.

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