Clutch spoke with Rob Alan, the Founder and Creative Director of Monumental, about Shopify - one of the most well-known platforms used to build an e-commerce site.
Please introduce your business and what you do there.
I’m the Founder and Creative Director at Monumental. Businesses who want websites that look great but perform even better partner with us. We identify and fix performance inefficiencies and find opportunities for optimization using design, development, and marketing. Currently all of our work is with clients on (or looking to migrate to) Shopify, though we’ve partnered with BigCommerce and are eyeing Reaction Commerce for some.
What are the main challenges clients will have when contacting you about building a new e-commerce site?
More often than building new, we see clients reaching a plateau and wanting to level up their presence as they grow or compete with others in the market. Most of the time they’ve started on a standard theme, stretched it to its limits, and they’ve recognized performance or user experience issues that they believe are holding back their conversion rate, AOV [average order value] or other key performance indicators. They reach out to us for technical and design expertise. Through research and testing, brand and web development, and performance and optimization, we go beyond assumptions and figure out what actually needs to change in order to empower their customers and grow their business.
The challenge for someone starting completely from scratch, whether a small business owner, entrepreneur or marketing director, is that they’ve never set up a store or at least know their limitations. There are functionality requirements that may need to be figured out and it’s always beneficial not only to have someone familiar with Shopify and the App ecosystem, but also custom App or script development that sort of breaks out of Shopify and allows different workflows or front-end experiences.
Will this typically result in custom solutions?
Every client is different, so it really boils down to their needs and technical requirements, and ultimately their budget. Sometimes custom solutions are necessary, but often we can piggyback on work that has already been done to create ‘lite’ custom solutions, if that makes sense.
Are there any factors someone should consider before choosing an e-commerce platform?
Absolutely. The top five in our view are security, stability, extensibility, support, and price. I think the question in most clients’ minds should be, “At the end of the day, is this platform going to keep me up at night, wondering or worrying—or will I be able to focus on the business and let the platform work as it's supposed to?”
With the right platform, questions like this should have a simple and clear answer.
Could you provide an introduction into Shopify itself, and how it’s different to other platforms?
Sure—Shopify is a hosted e-commerce platform offering turnkey solutions for everyone from entrepreneurs and small businesses to large-scale enterprises with Shopify Plus. The advantages of a hosted platform are a lower barrier to entry in the initial setup (typically in terms of cost) and having an all-in-one solution.
It has all the basics necessary and is also known for its vast app ecosystem, which allows users to extend the functionality of the core product with click-through products from technology partners. As Shopify Partners, we can also create private apps for clients which aren’t available in the broader marketplace. We’ve created apps that extend product details or availability, connected to various enterprise systems for data and marketing, and so on.
Those things aren’t necessarily exclusive though. As far as how it’s different, we’ve been working with Shopify since 2010 or 2011, and have watched it mature. It’s simple, intuitive, friendly, and supportive. They truly have user experience at the center of what they’re doing.
Are there any people whom you think Shopify is perfect for? Anybody who you would not recommend Shopify to?
The ideal client for Shopify has rather simple variations on a product, not really something which would require a lot of customization. Historically, Shopify has been a simple, streamlined platform for simple products. Anything “way out there” may not be a good fit.
Customizations come at a cost. In order to make it work, you may have to invest in custom scripts and apps. The app store is fantastic, and there are many apps within it, but most have additional costs as well. It’s not that anyone would necessarily be a bad fit, but it depends on how much they are willing to invest to make it come together. Shopify helps get a business up-and-running quickly, with an intuitive interface allowing users to add products and do everything else needed for a simple e-commerce store. Anything beyond this takes some coordination and consulting.
Something which oftentimes frustrates me, but is actually impressive, is that, even though they’ve evolved over time, they ultimately refuse to clutter the platform with features which are going to go unused by most customers. We’ve had fringe cases requiring specific functionalities, and Shopify hasn’t been a good fit but, on the other hand, we are able to use their APIs to build additional capabilities. I can only think of one client who chose another platform but they eventually came back when Shopify Plus launched.
Is it necessary to have a technical background when owning a Shopify website?
Not at all. They’ve excelled at creating a platform which makes it easy for anyone to get started. Once they’ve reached the plateau, and require help, Shopify can provide an extensive network of experts and partners ready to assist. This is where we come in.
What interactions have you had with the Shopify community?
The community is open and friendly. We have attended the Shopify Developer conference the past two years and the connections we’ve made there are fantastic. I would say it’s one of my favorite developer communities, by which I mean people in the same position as us—Shopify experts working with customers, helping them better their websites. There is very little feeling of competition or hiding intel. The Shopify forums and partner areas we’re able to access in order to discuss issues are also very open, and everyone gets along. It’s refreshing to see.
Are there any steps which someone can take in order to make sure their Shopify site is as secure as possible?
Shopify being a hosted platform basically means that users don’t have to worry about payment security. When it comes to the checkout process (specifically when using Shopify’s checkout, and not an app or integration which would pull the user off of the platform), they have their own security certifications. It’s level one PCI-compliant, [Payment Card Industry Compliance] with 256-bit SSL certificates. It’s the top industry standard, not just a bare minimum.
Shopify is hosting 400 to 600 thousand stores, and they’re a publicly traded company, not just a handful of people are contributing to a code repo. We’re all prone to error, things can happen, but with a company like Shopify, there are more stringent standards. The chances that sensitive data will be compromised because of bugs in the code seem less likely.
Are there multiple payment integration options for Shopify clients?
I don’t know what the count is currently, but I’d say there are more than 50 different payment gateways. They also have their own, Shopify Payments, which allows for faster checkout by saving credit card information, and works across all Shopify stores once you’ve checked out on one. This means that after shopping at a shoe store one day and saving information, someone can go to another Shopify store the next day and still use that information. It’s a unique functionality, in that it’s not tied to any one store. There are other benefits to their payment processing as well. When using any of the major credit card gateways, the possibilities are wide open, and we can create custom payment options as well.
Are there any particular features or aspects of Shopify which you find impressive?
They’ve invested heavily in the user experience of their admin interface. I think it’s the best out there, and I’ve used many other platforms. It’s clear to me, as a user-experience and visual designer, that they are committed to creating a beautiful product which works well and is simple to use. They’ve also built a network of open-ended APIs which allow developers like us to create custom solutions within the platform, or that link to Shopify. It’s not that rare these days, many other platforms are doing it, but I would argue that Shopify was one of, if not the first, to really put a lot of emphasis on it.
Are there any features or functionalities which you think could be improved?
One thing we’ve been looking at for years is the ability to easily manipulate custom fields (what is called metafield data) in order to allow clients to expand the usefulness of different segments like product details, without resorting to hacks in the WYSIWYG editor or in the code logic. For a client with a feature-rich product that they want to display in a unique way, the process is currently pretty hacky. We can accomplish it by adding custom data to a product, but doing it through metafields requires a browser extension and a lot of knowledge on the client’s side, in order for them to not break something.
We’d like to see this developed as advanced functionality. It doesn’t have to be present for everyone, but when it is required, it would be nice to have it. Unfortunately, Shopify has indicated that they’re not planning to do this, but I know that we’re not alone in our need; there are many partners who would like to see it.
We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate Shopify on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate Shopify for its functionality and available features?
How would you rate Shopify for ease of use and ease of implementation?
How would you rate Shopify for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?
4 – Their support is fantastic. As much as they’ve put into improving the user experience, they’ve also invested heavily in the support team. It’s easy to start an online chat or call and get a real person who, for the most part, knows what they’re talking about, and is able to either help or escalate the issue. The overall support and response is great.
The Shopify forums are chockfull of information, but a lot of it is outdated. It can be confusing to figure out what the actual answer to a question is now, and what was an answer for 2013.
How likely are you to recommend Shopify to a friend or colleague?
How would you rate Shopify for overall satisfaction with the platform?
5 – If it was any less, we wouldn’t be Shopify Partners.