Following on from my recent article about Shopify I spoke to independent business owner Emily Rees (founder of Edge of Home, an innovative and contemporary homeware label based in Hastings) about her experiences using the platform.
She gave me an insider’s look at how she took her business online, the problems she faced along the way and how she overcame them.
Here’s what she had to say:
Which online shopping solutions did you look into?
I actually spent weeks researching all the different options. I’m pretty clued up on WordPress – and had set up websites on there before – so initially I thought that would be the way to go. But when I looked into it in more detail there were too many limitations.
When you’re creating a shop your number one concern is that you want it to be as easy and accessible for people buy as possible. But at the same time it needs to be something you can easily add to, tweak and update.
I’d rather spend my time creating new designs for the business, than tinkering about with code and complicated plugins.
There are a few different options out there. Big Cartel is a good one and it’s very competitively priced, but for me it was important to have my own branding [with Big Cartel you have to use their url] and the design templates were just too limited for what I was trying to achieve.
Shopify gives you loads of scope to tweak your site and make it the way you want while being really easy to run. In fact that’s the main thing I like about it, you don’t really have to run it, other than updating your stock counts from time to time and adding new products.
Do you need any tech skills to set it up?
No. They do a brilliant job of getting people up and running. You can have absolutely no technical know how and still turn out with something really professional looking.
The free templates aren’t bad either, in fact I’d say they’re better than the premium ones. They also send you a load of emails when you join encouraging you and offering support and motivation.
It sounds like a small thing but this really does help and guides you through the process. They even send you an email congratulating you when you sell your first product. It’s that attention to detail that can really help when you’re just starting out.
What have you found are the most useful features?
Ease of use would have to be the thing I like most about Shopify. They also give you really in-depth analytics.
Imagine you’re a shop selling lots of different brands for example, it gives you the analytics between the brands. So if someone bought these particular trainers from you, you can also see from the analytics that they tend to buy this brand of socks as well. A bit like on Amazon.
The other really nifty thing that Shopify lets you do is track and respond to your orders. It’s the kind of thing that you might normally need to pay an admin person to do for you full time, but it’s all automated and included in the service so it saves you a great deal of time, money and frustration – which is essential when you’re starting out!
How does the payment processing work?
For me this was one of the number one reasons for signing up. You don’t need a merchant account.
If you do already have a merchant account and want to keep using it, that’s fine. They also let you set up your shop using your existing set up (for example Sagepay or Worldpay).
But to be honest I found it much better to connect directly with Shopify. They seem to have matched their prices with the main providers (e.g. Sagepay) and you don’t need a merchant account.
Do they charge you a transaction fee?
For instance on the pricing page it says you’ll pay 2.9% – 2.4% + 30c per sale depending on which plan you’re on… but then below that it says ‘no transaction fees’. I don’t understand, which is it?
Ah, I can see that could be a bit confusing. Shopify don’t charge the transaction fee, the credit card company does and they’ve agreed it with Shopify in advance. It’s on a par with other payment gateways on the market.
If you use a third party (for example WorldPay or SagePay) you don’t pay the transaction fee with Shopify you’ll pay it to the third party instead if that makes sense.
How long did it take you to set up you site and get up and running?
It took me a couple of days to get mine exactly how I wanted it. 80% of that was me faffing about with tiny design tweaks!
What’s the fastest you could set up a shop (if you did minimal tinkering)
Technically you could have your shop up in minutes if you went with one of the ready-made templates and no customizations or changes.
To make something with looks half decent and have few products up there I’d say you need at least a couple of hours.
Once you’re set up, updating listings and adding new products takes just minutes.
Can you include a blog on your Shopify shop as well?
You can set up a blog on Shopify to go with your shop and it’s completely fine, it’s just not as advanced or flexible as WordPress.
If you are thinking of running a blog alongside your shop, I would personally recommend setting it up separately on WordPress, but to be honest you might not need all that functionality.
What advice would you give to someone who was completely new to Shopify?
It’s worth adding a newsletter sign-up (if you haven’t got one, create one!). The best customers are repeat customers, so it’s worth having a dialogue with people who’ve gone to the effort of buying from you.
A lot of businesses, especially startups, make the mistake of thinking that you need to put all your focus on getting new customers. New customers are essential, but your best customers are the people who’ve already bought from you. They like your product and have invested in your brand so chances are if you communicate with them effectively they’ll buy from you again and again.
You don’t need to do a lot, you could just let them know about any special offers or discounts from time to time.
You could code a signup box yourself or buy a plugin for around $5 that does it for you (they call them plugins). There are plugins that Shopify endorse and others that they don’t. They integrate with MailChimp and a number of other email broadcasters.
The signup plugins that Shopify don’t endorse still seem to work fine, but it’s worth bearing in mind they don’t offer technical support on them. You’d need to go to the developer direct for help if you needed it. You can also use plugins for the shop page as well.
Another great feature is discount codes. This is incredibly easy to put in place. You can target certain products or your whole range and specify the time scale so that it automatically closes the sale when you want it to. You can also have ‘evergreen’ discounts which apply to new customers.
On my site I offer a £10 discount for any new customer who signs up to my email list. This can be a really good way to get over that initial barrier in closing the sale. The customer gets a great deal and hopefully, if they like my stuff, I’ll get repeat custom so it’s win win.
How does shipping products work?
You can either fulfil orders yourself, or Shopify seamlessly ties in with Shipwire, Rakuten Super Logistics or Fulfilled by Amazon.
If I have an offline shop can I connect it with that?
Yes, that was a must have for me because I sell some of my products in the high street now. Shopify lets you do offline sales. So you could sell stuff in your café or shop and also sell bits online.
It all ties in because you can do your inventory through Shopify. So even if you sell stuff through different vendors you can update it on the main Shopify account so that it reflects your whole business.
What has the customer support been like?
I’ve never had to use it, which is a good sign. They’re really good with new business advice, it’s simple step-by-step stuff.
The walkthroughs are excellent and anything I’ve needed I’ve been able to access quickly through the forums.
Are there any downsides you’ve come across?
It’s hard to think of any off the top of my head. It doesn’t help you with the marketing so obviously you have to do that yourself, but then they don’t claim to be able to help with that.
With that said Shopify really try to promote their users in their emails and on their website, constantly showcasing new talent which is a nice touch.
The other slight downside is with international currencies. Even though Shopify accepts them it always charges it in GBP, which could be tricky with the exchange rate because it does it on the current exchange rate.
So say you are based in the UK and you’re selling to Italy you can’t set the base price for those customers in the Euro it simply does it on the exchange.
If that’s a big problem you could get round this by setting up separate shops for the different countries you want to be based in.
Thanks Emily, that’s been really useful! Any Jerry Springer style final thoughts?
They’re not necessarily the cheapest, but I genuinely think they’re the best in the market.
It’s definitely worth giving them a go if you’ve already got a business which sells products or you’re thinking about selling products online.
I would go so far as to say that they have designed how ecommerce shopping works.
You can see Emily’s website, Edge of Home here