Clutch spoke with Chad Fisher, the CEO of BTown Web, about the e-commerce platform Shopify - an important option to consider when building a site.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
I am the owner and CEO of BTown Web, which is an e-commerce development agency. We are predominantly focused on WooCommerce and Shopify. Going back five years, we were a fifty-fifty split between the two, but, over the last two or three years, Shopify has become the larger part of our business. We became Shopify Experts three and a half years ago, and Shopify Plus Experts a year ago. We host regular events for the platform on different subjects, including shipping/transportation logistics, marketing and metrics, and inventory management.
We do a lot with Shopify merchants, especially on the Plus side, with businesses making between $2 to $75 million in sales per year. For us, it’s been rewarding, given that those merchants need a lot of assistance, whether they’re implementing a loyalty program, a reviews plug-in, or pushing product feeds to something like Google Merchant Center and Facebook. There is a lot of customization involved.
What challenges are clients trying to address when looking to build or replatform a site?
There are four main areas where we help clients, the most common being the migration or replatforming events. This can involve transitioning a company from Magento, BigCommerce or another platform over to Shopify, specifically Plus. Another area is the migration of order, product and customer data, or even blog content (images, text and metatags).
The second major event would be the formation of a new business and its subsequent site.
The third bucket is integration work, which can be everything from connecting an e-commerce site to a fulfillment center, a support platform like Zendesk, or an ERP system.
The fourth is custom app development. In Shopify, apps are a way in which to extend the core e-commerce software. We’ve done a lot of custom development for clients, helping them with things like Shopify backorder functionalities, exchanges, and other items which may not exist in public apps.
When choosing a platform for an e-commerce site, are there any factors which people need to be cognizant of?
The biggest one to start with is understanding how different e-commerce systems work. The number one factor which differentiates them in my mind is whether a specific platform is a SaaS, cloud-based solution like Shopify and BigCommerce, or an on-premises one like Magento or WooCommerce. With the latter, the owner is responsible for the hosting, infrastructure and security. It can be a drawback, but the plus side is that we gain the ultimate ability to customize the experience. We do have to worry about the infrastructure layer, which makes many customers consider Shopify to be the best answer.
A fully-hosted solution takes away worries about a site being up. A Shopify Plus website going down at 4 AM, will go down with half a million other large sites, which is unlikely.
From there, it’s only a matter of looking at what features they want, and what the size of the business is ($25 million in sales will require a different answer than $500,000).
Could you give a brief introduction to Shopify, and what makes it stand out from other platforms?
The e-commerce space breaks off into two camps, with the fully-hosted solution being relatively nascent, compared to on-premises ones. Shopify has been around for a lot of time as well, but, over the last three years, they’ve decided to go from targeting hobbyists and people starting businesses out of their homes, to enterprise-level customers, companies with $2 million or more in sales. They started adding many great features, coming close to parity with many of the on-premises platforms. This has made Shopify an attractive solution for the $2-to-$75 million-per-year businesses. They’ve added things like wholesale ordering, and many of the 1,500 public apps out there allow users to extend functionalities, adding loyalty programs, reviews, connections to different accounting systems, and so on.
Shopify also takes away the infrastructure pain, which is an attractive concept to many businesses which are tired of dealing with administration and different programming teams every time they want to make a little change. Because there are so many public apps available, which are easy for merchants to install and test themselves, they can rapidly iterate different customer-acquisition channels. Testing out Facebook or Instagram advertising is extremely easy through solutions like Kit CRM, which is a great chatbot that can make integrations between a Shopify store and social advertising campaigns, in order to make suggestions about which products would be best to sell.
There are many things on Shopify which make life easier, and people are realizing that this can save them money and allow them to move faster.
Who is the ideal Shopify client? Are there any client or company types to which you wouldn’t recommend it?
The answer is varied—for a business just starting out, the basic Shopify plan at $30 per month can be a fantastic answer for someone who wants to get going quickly, without needing coding skills or the server administration component. A larger business looking at Shopify Plus (which starts at $2,000 per month) will have access to a lot of features, including store cloning, for setting up multiple variants in different languages and currencies, wholesale ordering and flash sales (which are great for events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday). Shopify Flow is a great tool for automating many backend store tasks, similar to IFTTT (if this, then that). Depending on the needs and requirements of a customer, and where they fall within the size scale, Shopify can be a great answer.
It’s easy to distinguish it from Magento, which is an on-premises solution. It gives users ultimate flexibility and customization, so many larger businesses which had been around for a while started with its enterprise solution. There can also be a level of familiarity, or an in-house development team. Magento can and is a solution for many different businesses, but, while it was a no-brainer solution in the past for large businesses, the question has changed over the last three years. Shopify has inserted itself into the conversation as a viable and even more interesting option. They’ve added many great new features.
Is it necessary to have a technical background in order to maintain a Shopify site?
When getting started, having basic CSS and HTML skills will allow users to edit Liquid templates (Liquid is the platform’s templating language, and controls most of the visible frontend part). Updating a Shopify site is a less technical process than updating a Magento one, which requires programmers.
Could you talk about the payment integration options available for people using Shopify sites?
The default is Shopify Payments, which has varying commissions of 3-4%, depending on the credit card type and location of the customer. It will tier down based on the plan, coming to mid or low 2% for Shopify Plus customers. We can also bring in our own payment processors, and many of our merchants use solutions like Authorize.net. This requires paying a bit extra, but the rate can still make sense, compared to Shopify Payments.
The platform has added features around their payment system, including Shopify Pay, by which customers with Shopify accounts can log in with a single click, get a verification code sent to their mobile devices, and not have to log in again on another site. This makes a quick checkout possible, even if someone hasn’t been to the store before.
Are there any steps which someone can do to ensure that their Shopify website is as secure as possible, especially when entering credit card and similar information?
The great thing about Shopify being a fully-hosted solution is that they have a proprietary database on which all customer data is stored. Merchants themselves don’t even get access to it, which may sound limiting, but is actually great. It means not waking up in a cold sweat, thinking about whether data has been compromised. Once again, this would be a Shopify-wide problem, unlike with on-premises solutions like Magento or WooCommerce, where we have to lock down credit card information, either on our own servers or by using something like Stripe Checkout.
With Shopify, there is so much included from a security perspective—like SSL for all sites—that things become inherently easier to manage.
Are there any features which make Shopify stand out as a platform?
Going back to public apps, there are many companies which have thrown their weight behind creating them. Kit CRM is fantastic for Facebook advertising. Wheelio is another one, which brings up a pop-up meant to gamify the email-capture experience through a functionality that can give the user different discounts after they’ve offered their email. Merchants who have implemented it have seen their email capture go from 300 to 2,000 per month.
There is returns-management software, loyalty programs (Smile.io is a great one), custom search (everything from Nextopia to InstantSearch+) and much more. It’s really a matter of finding our way around the app ecosystem, and, once we’ve understood it, or found an agency which can give us recommendations, things will start to come to life.
Are there any features which could be improved or added to the platform?
Selling in multiple currencies and languages, through the creation of multiple stores, is a bit of a clumsy experience at the moment. It’s not an impediment to using Shopify, but it does require a bit of work and creativity. It ties to how they’ve set up inventory management. Shopify is aware of this, and the team is working on solutions to help merchants. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came up with something in the next one or two years.
By their own admission, the Shopify wholesale ordering platform for Plus customers doesn’t have many of the features we’ve come to expect for a business engaged in this area. The solution is only six to nine months old, and it’s a target area for Shopify, as they’re continuing to add more and more features.
Could you talk about the Shopify community—the interactions you’ve had, and their supportiveness?
We’re official Shopify partners and experts, and, because of this, it has been an amazing experience for us. They’ve given us training, we can connect with their sales team, and, if we have questions or need help with a new prospect, we can send that client to Shopify’s solution engineers. Gaining access to this area and having them address the pain points merchants have, and how they can potentially be helped with custom development, has been great.
We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each platform on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate them for functionality and available features?
Shopify – 4
How would you rate each for ease of use and ease of implementation?
Shopify – 5
How would you rate them for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?
Shopify – 4.5
How likely are you to recommend each platform to a friend or colleague?
Shopify – 5
How would you rate them for overall satisfaction?
Shopify – 5