I have written this essay in response to another thread, and generally for all those who at times feel frustrated with Shopify for whatever reason. But as it grew, it became more and more off-topic as a reply to the original thread so here it goes as a separate entity of its own for whomever it may entertain to read my journey with Shopify.
Best wishes, Karl
So this is a little off topic rant from me. See, I became a Shopify Partner because I needed a way to quickly learn the platform so I can support my wife's business. Essentially, my wife is my only client as far as Shopify goes. Now, prior to picking Shopify I searched high and low and compared, evaluated, researched dozens of solutions (not kidding). I should also add that I am a software engineer with almost 20 years experience and a substantial amount of that has been spent working for large enterprises doing global scale content management or omni-channel order management for the larger kind of retailers. So I didn't walk in to this with no knowledge of what I am looking for specifically.
The Long and Winding Road
I'll be honest - I found some fantastic solutions especially in the headless commerce i.e. API only segment. I felt like "yep, that's exactly what I'd build and that's exactly what I'd want" until I looked at the pricing or contacted sales and got back 4 figure monthly subscription plans. So looking at more realistic options for a small hand craft business that my wife runs from her home studio because frankly, the budget was around 50 bucks p/m tops and that'd be pushing it.
As a developer I instinctively turned to open source and started evaluating Magento, WooCommerce which made me cringe, a lot of in betweens I knew from before or exotics such as Netlify's GoCommerce that made me worry due to novelty and lack of comminity support. The biggest issue though was supporting a bespoke installation - sure I am well versed with various cloud providers, and I'll automate the living *** out of it using Terraform, Ansible and K8 but... hang on a minute, we are talking about my wife's hand craft business with small budget, no chance for my full-time services and no reason for all the extra effort around data security and legal compliance if you go down that rabbit hole.
Next I looked at local providers as we are based in Czechia. And again, the market had a few local big names serving the majority of Czech businesses, but prices were either too high, service contracts too restrictive and bound to agencies, or the stores simply didn't have what it takes for going international at some point.
Which leaves us with Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, SnipCart, Lemmonstand etc etc.
SnipCart was a top contender in my books because it offered the API I was looking for. Come with your own static site gen or whatever to serve the storefront, use their API to handle the cart, checkout, etc. However, the few features we also needed (most notably inventory manageement) were only in their Pro plan and that went over our budget considering we'd also need extra cash to serve the content over some CDN plus some sort of user friendly content and product information management UI because my wife and computers aren't best buddies. So thank you but no.
Wix quickly fell short as did Squarespace. These are vendors who hail from the blogging slash light CMS domain and sort of haphazardly stumbled in to commerce seeing Shopify's rise to fame. Wix's API is a non-standard joke IMO. As is Squarespace's... JSON-T, seriously? Pass!
Lemmonstand was interesting. I must admit it was very interesting. And I must also admit I didn't pay due diligence while evaluating their offering for two simple reasons: I didn't like their pricing and I didn't trust their company size. So I sort of glimpsed over them as a noted contender that for some reason, viable or not, fell short.
Again, I will skip a few like Volusion and co. Most had some crazy pricing plans such as formers basic plan being limited to 100 products - seriously guys? Whom are you kidding, go away!
Which left me with Shopify vs BigCommerce. There's a lot to compare as both platforms are very similar. It is rather glaringly obvious that one has been ripping off the other playing catch up. Fair enough and I won't mention which one because it ain't Shopify - oops ;-) Here's the lowdown of why I picked Shopify
Now to be clear, neither of above are bad. I am not affiliated with either of these vendors and even though I am sort of hailing Shopify here, I too have my frustrations with it. Oh I do! As is, in view of the options, Shopify wins!
The Woes of Vows
So decision made, store setup and paid. Wife's happy and learns how to use it within a few weeks, customizes the theme, adds products, goes through all the hoops to get a payment gateway etc. Superb!
That is until one day...
State of Contentment
So as you delve in to the Shopi-verse as a merchant or developer, these issues keep popping up and adding frustration. Which is understandable. But let's flip the coin and look at Shopify's point of view.
They were the first or among the first to define the SMB e-commerce as a service market and 10 and some years later on they, like any such vendor and platform, become a little legacy. It is a reality all software vendors struggle with. At some point you simply have to buckle down and support what you have. When that something you have includes 600k merchant accounts it becomes extraordinarily difficult to do so without alienating some, hurting others, ignoring most.
Shopify has a 10% or so market share among e-commerce vendors. That's considerable and second only to WooCommerce. Even so, 2018 last I read they are still in red numbers with a force of 4000 employees. The market has been catching up and some disruptors are emerging who have the benefit of moving fast and being agile as companies and with their technology stack. Then Amazon, Google and the stratospheric elite of stinkign rich companies with armies of engineers and resources have taken note of the SMB market and are catching up fast and threatening to roll over all and anything like a tank. Shopify ain't in an easy spot IMO.
That said, they are doing what they can and they are on a good road as far and as little as I can tell without being an expert. They are trying to hard to modernize the tech stack. See GraphQL, multi-location, multi-currency to mention a few recents. If you look at their NPM namespace they have A LOT of stuff in the making, stuff they aren't mentioning publicly, but it shows what direction they are moving in.
They are investing heavily on React, see Shopify Polaris. they are investing heavily in GraphQL, see GraphQL Admin API and Storefront API. They are investing heavily in to Node.js tech stack if you follow their efforts moving away from Express and on to Koa which then leads you to finding out their newer libraries for a modular "timber" or sewing-kit which is an entire shrink-wrapped app build system built to quickly bootstrap app devs in future (at least by the looks of it as this is one of those things they haven't talked about yet but can be found on the web if you poke around).
So there are small and big changes arriving and they look good!
But for now, frustrations remain. Or do they?
I've been helping members here for 2 or 3 months now. That's also how long I've been acquainted with Shopify as a developer. Answering questions here helped me learn and grow, get an understanding of the platform in ways that reading docs or writing code simply cannot. I have noticed the community is alive and kicking and I also see that Shopify staff are doing are grand job to help users of all levels. Of course, some requests simply cannot be fulfilled adequately or the way a user would like to. You rarely can.
At first I was VERY frustrated. I was telling my wife how we need to move away from Shopify first thing because - see above points 1 through 8 and more I didn't mention. But my wife already vested a lot of time building up her catalogue and customizing her free theme best she could while patiently waiting for her angry husband to over engineer an almighty solution. With time I relaxed, I learned more, understood more and found out that while EVERY single one of the pain points I mention above still remain, EVERY single one of them can be worked around.
while EVERY single one of the pain points I mention above still remain, EVERY single one of them can be worked around
Really? Yes! And that's when you realize that the Shopify platform is a great place to be.
Does it cost extra and custom development? Yep, sure does. But anything in and around software does. This isn't specific to Shopify. It's present in all walks of life where technology has touched and transformed the prior. Do we, as partners or merchants need to buy in fully to Shopify? Nope! And we shouldn't. Not because of Shopify, but because in general we should heed our business, our data, our customer data, our IP - having our business rely on one single paltform or vendor or whatever is huge risk to take. Shopify may discontinue this or that or discontinue itself and what then? This does happen!
Until then, and for now, Shopify is a fantastic paltform and I for one will remain objective enough to praise and criticize, but most of all try and be part of the community and move ahead toward better and greater goals on this platform.
Rant over ;-)
Karl, an amazing piece of writing - and I think you encapsulate so much of my feelings toward the product.
I think the core of our frustration is that the promise of Shopify is not delivered on (the way we thought it would be). Our team did spend a lot of time looking at alternatives as you did, and we did make the decision to go with Shopify because things were meant to be smoother / easier / whatever..
I think your advice to engage better with the community is the best way forward for us (and, I would suggest, anybody finding themselves here as well).
I have railed against it, not because I don't like being active - I have been active in open source projects before, and it is exceptionally rewarding - you can see the improvement that your involvment makes both to product, and the experience of others with that product.
That however is why I struggled with Shopify - it's not open source, Shopify gave me the distinct impression that they don't want to engage by how they handle their support issues and complaints.
And here we are, luckily, my first post here was met with your knowledgable and empathetic response.
We have a way forward, just not the way I wanted things to go. So now, I do have to be content, write a bunch more code, and get back to work.
I've been here for ~nine years, just shy of the entire lifetime of the app store platform. Far more than otherwise, I've seen the folks at Shopify assemble design patterns that flow well and - crucially - afford enough flexibility to work around them when their material ability falls short. I've found this consistently - a firm +1 to what you said, Karl.
I'm not a merchant; my happy space is in designing away problems, and I have all the tools I need to effect that well. I'm super happy here. :)
great post Karl!
I'm just 7 days into 'evaluating' the Shopify platform but I'm already planning to move over from my very expensive (but very safe) existing ecommerce provider where I've been for 7 years. I'm committed to have the whole kit and kaboodle migrated by the end of November when my existing provider subscription ends - eek!
So far I'm loving graphQL (but still trying to wrap my head around it), the API documentation, smart collections and the site speed. No doubt I'm soon to find out some of the things I don't like!
I'm diving in the deep-end and have a steep learning curve ahead, but I'm encouraged by the vibrant user community helping each other out, yourself included. Hopefully I'll be able to help as well as my knowledge grows.