Let’s be honest: the term “e-commerce” has come to signify about as much as a bar of soap. With as many deceptively expensive hosts as there are barely functional half-platforms, it’s more disorienting than ever to find the right place for your company’s store. Sure, the right platform needs to fit what you’re selling (Software? Hardware? Menswear?), but if you’re in the majority of online retailers you’re simply trying to showcase physical goods in the most attractive–yet functional and cost-efficient–manner possible. And this is Shopify’s central triumph–an ever-evolving balance of high end design with accessible customization and minimal startup cost.
We should start by debunking the common misperception that open source is even remotely feasable for the average e-com noob. It’s not. By the time you’ve paid a third-party developer (or multiple) to put the pieces together and make a presentable storefront, your startup costs have likely exceeded those of a template-based platform. Similarly, supposedly free platforms like Magneto and the myriad “____Cart” sites are pitched to developers, and offer all the uniqueness of a paper bag. Additionally, many supposedly free e-com platforms pride themselves on their extensive client lists, most of whom use astronomically priced full-service editions that are wholly out of the budgets of most smaller companies. The choice of platform ultimately hinges upon a simple, two-part question: do you care how your storefront looks, and do you want it to grow with your company?
Rather than anchor itself to one extreme of the e-com spectrum, Shopify balances the polish of professionally designed templates with accessible customization menus and generous support (including a free hour of theme customizations by a Shopify dev for each store opened). The advantages to this approach lie not only in aesthetics but in flexibility: rather than simply rearranging the same set of elements like most free/OS platforms, Shopify’s moderately and transparently priced themes permit a more dynamic relationship between form and content.
For instance, say you initially decide on a hip, minimal theme like “Jitensha,” but then radically alter your product lines and decide a glossier, more conservative theme like “Technophile” or “Stratus” would better frame your goods. Rather than reacquire third-party OS devs to code and implement changes to your site, Shopify allows you to perform a full face transplant with minimal (monetary and temporal) cost, and with enough packaged support to considerably fine-tune your new storefront. And fine tune you can: Shopify’s customization structure is comprised of two main divisions: the more user-friendly theme settings (from which nearly all visible content fields can be changed or manipulated) and the more advanced (but still quite navigable) liquid css templates. In presenting two levels of customization, in this way, Shopify allows novices to significantly personalize and transform their storefronts without significant supplemental knowledge; and, complimentarily, it provides a clear and impeccably organized directory of css templates with which the more advanced user can fine-tune details. It’s this kind of simultaneously accessible and professional storefront design that makes Shopify the most balanced e-com platform (the “baby bear porridge” if you will) for both new and experienced retailers.
And it’s this balance that led us to partner with Shopify. Their equity of platform and design strength presents an exceptional opportunity for designers to evolve new mechanics and aesthetics; and, of course, provide retailers with an incredibly novel system for multilevel customization with almost no need for outside support. The larger impact of this model is considerable: in one sense, Shopify is in a position to become the e-com Tumblr of store-hosts, offering the most straightforward and easily-customized platform in the field. More specifically, though, Shopify stands out for constructing a truly mutually-beneficial community–one that brings together designers, developers, freelancers, and businesspeople of all stripes. Ease of use, beautiful design, ingenious support structure, and a supportive, ever-growing community: what else could you ask for?