on | by Pauline Feraren

The pandemic has hit every business hard, but it’s no secret that bigger businesses have better connections and resources to allow them to weather long lockdowns and months of business interruptions. Where does that leave small and medium businesses, however?

SMEs are in a very difficult position right now. Representing more than 95% of enterprises worldwide, the current circumstances are testing the stability and resilience of their business plans, even with support from the government, locals and financial institutions.

As various online activities prove, however, lockdowns and significantly reduced foot traffic to physical stores don’t have to be the end for sellers. Business owners can migrate the bulk of their operations online and enjoy the same level of patronage from customers -- or more, if they play their cards right and partner with an e-commerce provider like Shopify.

What’s Shopify and Why Is It Gaining so Much Buzz?

From its humble (and unlikely origins) in 2006 as a software made to get around the rigid structures of existing e-commerce platforms to retail snowboards, Shopify has come a long way to become the premier online storefront builder. With a particular focus on the product platform’s accessibility and flexibility, the Ottawa, Ontario-based company made waves in the industry with its grand plans for expansion.

Shopify’s extensive range of customisable tools and features enable businesses of any size to create and manage their own storefronts online. 

  • Fully hosted shops - online sellers need not worry about finding a suitable hosting site for their shops because the Shopify platform already takes care of that.
  • An excellent content-delivery network - to help ensure the business’ site is up and running as soon as possible, the platform provides the services of top-notch content services, free of charge!
  • 100 customisable themes - Shopify makes good on its promise to help the business owner create a site that reflects their brand by offering a variety of themes they can choose from and tweak accordingly.
  • Tipping feature - think excellent service merits a tip? So does Shopify. To include a tip option on your online store, simply go to the settings and select the corresponding feature.
  • More than 50 payment options, including PayPal - business owners aren’t tied to a handful of major payment options when with Shopify. Besides PayPal the platform offers several other ways to pay for products.
  • Customer tracking -  Shopify has integrated a critical feature on its platform that could help business owners refine their target market parameters. With customer tracking, stores can gather data on their customers’ shopping behaviours.

Unsatisfied with merely providing online sellers with an easy-to-use online store builder, however, Shopify intends to set up the foundation that will allow them to facilitate every layer of the online shopping experience. How does it plan to take the market by storm? Simple: by offering their merchants more customisable features that allow them to interact authentically as their brands with end-users.

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Shopify Provides Several Enticing Features 

As a platform, Shopify boasts a comprehensive range of options for anything a business owner would need to showcase their brand and place their unique stamp on their customers’ experience with them. But you can classify them into four main categories: Simplicity, Accessibility, Variety and Engagement.

Simplifying online store setup and design

Sign up to the software subscription - Shopify allows you to explore their software features. So even if you’re still testing the waters for your online business, you’ll be able to experience firsthand what it’s like to work with the platform.

To start, fill out some details (make sure that your store name is unique!) and click the “Start free trial” button. After the initial screen, you’ll need to provide a little more details before you’re good to go. If you’re just exploring, click the “I’m not sure” option on the drop down menu.

Set up and design the online store - After signing up, you’ll be directed to the store admin screen, where you can get started on uploading the products you intend to sell and setting up your payments and shipping preferences.

You’ll also be able to customise your store to reflect your brand. Shopify offers various designs in its official theme store for you to choose from. The best part about it? Each design has varying levels of modifications you can do to it without having to touch the code plus you are guaranteed full support from the designers. 

Customise Shopify settings - Besides the ability to create a digital storefront that’s distinct from all other e-commerce stores, Shopify allows you to directly customise settings and theme functionalities.

Common features you can tweak are:

  • Adding in related item functionality on your product pages
  • Color schemes and font choices
  • Setting how many items appear on each line of the collection pages
  • Uploading logos, as well as slides to a carousel in the home page
Other options on select themes will allow you to:
  • Reposition page elements (left, right or center)
  • Display social proofs, including the number of likes, tweets and pins
  • Encode product details - On the navigation bar, you’ll find the “Products” button. It will lead you to a screen with a blue button in the middle which says “Add a product.” You’ll be able to input your products and relevant details here. The trick here is to provide information that will appeal to both your customers and search engines.

The inclusion of details users will want to know (high-quality images, specs, and a convincing description) is a given, but for the back-end, you’ll need to keep good SEO practices in mind, including: names and titles, meta descriptions and URLs.

TIP: to make your customers’ experience top-notch, group your products into collections. You can do this directly on Shopify either manually or automatically, based on predetermined criteria that a product must meet.

Tracking, Taxes and Shipping - Before you can go live, you need to iron out the details of how your digital storefront will fulfill customer orders. That means getting into the nitty-gritty of your taxes and shipping.

Critical to these endeavours is your business information. Make sure your company NAP and other relevant data are correct and consistent everywhere they’re listed online. Additionally, you’ll want to have your tracking and analytics feature on. The data it will gather is a gold mine for customer behaviour.

Next, you’ll need to indicate whether a product will be taxed and will require shipping (make sure to include the product’s weight, if so!). You’ll find the checkboxes under the tab “Variants.” Then, from your Settings, go to the Shipping page where you’ll be able to set your rates according to weight and product specifications.

To be extra sure that your Shipping settings work properly, Shopify has a feature called Bogus Gateway. You can use it to simulate a transaction and test your system. (And, yes, it’s FREE!)

Add a domain name - You’ll need a domain to complete your store preparations, and there are two ways to go about this: either you’ll course your purchase through Shopify which takes care of the migration automatically and is cheaper at around $9-$14 USD per year or buy your own domain via a third party like GoDaddy.

Third party domains typically start at $10 USD per year, however, you’ll have to redirect your DNS records by yourself, which might be a daunting prospect.

Once you secure your domain, it’s just a matter of moving to your domain. Don’t forget to:

  • Update your DNS records
  • Remove any storefront passwords
  • Set it as primary, if relevant
  • Add your other domains

Accessibility

Shopify is a platform designed to be easy-to-use. Even merchants with relatively little technical expertise should be able to navigate it and take advantage of its features without any issues. 

To be specific, Shopify empowers the digital store owner to: set up an online store quickly, add products, tweak its look and customise design elements to match the brand’s feel. This way, you won’t be bogged down with concerns about website building and development. 

You’ll be able to focus on engaging with customers, optimising products according to fresh, first-hand feedback, and growing your business.

Various product options

Part of why Shopify makes such an appealing platform for online merchants is the various ways to set a customer’s preferred product style. For instance, it allows you to create 100 different variants of a single product with three options. You can turn to third party apps if you need to expand the product customisation options.

Shopify also absolutely shines in the way its system handles product categories and collections. Merchants can choose to manually add their products to a collection or use the “automated collections” feature -- which is a huge boon to business owners with a wide range of products to encode and manipulate.

The online merchant will be able to set collections based on their product needs and the system will automatically categorise any new data that is inputted, as long as it is consistent with the already existing parameters and naming conventions. 

Lastly, Shopify is very flexible on the matter of product shipping. As a merchant, you’ll have the ability to set various features, including:

  • Calculated/real-time rates
  • Flat rates
  • Free shipping rates 
  • Price-based rates
  • Weight-based rates

Unique customer touchpoints

Shopify emphasises establishing, growing and maintaining healthy relationships with customers. To that end, the platform hosts several features that help merchants and ecommerce business owners create unique touchpoints between them and their customers which are purely their own.

Budding entrepreneurs on the platform can nurture customer bonds with quality conversations, and Shopify delivers. It recently launched Shopify Chat, a native live-chat feature on top of its already existing messaging capabilities that allows sellers to converse in real-time with store visitors -- for free.

How does it work?

Once enabled, the feature appears on all of your online store’s pages. Customers won’t have a hard time looking for the chat function because it’ll always be there ready to provide answers with a couple of taps. With the added ease of communication, you’ll be able to drive more conversions and increase sales.

Additionally, since the chat feature is hosted on Shopify Ping, you’ll be able to share product recommendations, discounts and draft orders directly inside the conversation. The dialogue between you and your customer will stay relevant and prompt, but still personal. In fact, live chat has been found to be the most satisfying way of communicating for almost 73% of respondents.

Putting Local Brands on the Radar of Local People 

While it’s true that Shopify focuses on giving budding entrepreneurs the tools to build a digital storefront that’s all their own, it doesn’t mean that the platform lets audience-building opportunities fall to the wayside. It simply takes a different approach.

Unlike Amazon’s ready-made traffic which, for a price, immediately puts you in front of its audience, Shopify merchants build their following from scratch.

Is that a bad thing? Not quite. While Amazon comes with a big following, its users aren’t all good leads that lead to conversions for your product. Shopify’s strategy gives savvy digital business owners the ability and control to market their business and build solid relationships with ideal customers -- locals and people nearby.

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Shopify’s new app: Shop

While it’s true that the pandemic has changed online shopping and shipping expectations, it doesn’t mean that it completely changed the course of the development of digital entrepreneurship; rather, it only fast tracked it. 

This is why Shopify refitted an older platform built for tracking packages called Arrive and rebranded it as “Shop.” They wanted to “reimagine the online shopping experience for customers” so they can benefit from greater convenience, transparency and personalisation.

With its old package tracking capabilities and additional features that allow users to recommend products and sellers and to learn more about brands and sellers on the platform, customers can quickly and easily make purchases with their favorite local business. Moreover, it also exposes them to new products and businesses within the community.

Lastly, the platform offers users visibility on the entire retail experience. Starting from product discovery all the way to purchase and checkout to package tracking, customers will be able to find where their product is in the system all in one handy app. 

It’ll be a time-saver and spare the user the hassle of searching for disparate tracking IDs and receipts on different email and text messages.

Shopify and Your SME

Shopify has  become one of the most lucrative platforms used by online merchants. With its success directly linked to the successes of its users, the brand has worked hard to make its use even more accessible and versatile. It’s ambitions to encompass the entirety of the shopping experience has led it to keep improving on existing systems.

With online selling becoming even more critical to living life due to the pandemic, Shopify helps end users find local brands and products while providing merchants with the tools to learn about their customers’ online behaviour and see how their products are being used.

Savvy online business owners will now have the best chance to further improve their products based on their customer’s tastes and needs.

Tags: digital marketing ecommerce

About the Author

Pauline has been writing for the industry long enough to have lived through several Google Updates. She is also a HubSpot certified Content Marketing Specialist. When she's not dancing a step ahead of the algorithms, she's busy trying to find a common free time with her MTG EDH playgroup. She likes cephalopods, but she isn't HYDRA.

Pauline Feraren
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