Shopify Just Works,... Until It Doesn't February 18, 2020

Shopify is a popular ecommerce platform that offers an easy path to your first online store. Many new small business owners praise Shopify for its simplicity and low setup overhead.

As the business grows, the limitations of Shopify become apparent, and the operating cost starts to add up. However, Shopify's product features are carefully designed to put the customers on a distorted trajectory. Once you are "in the Shopify universe", it is difficult to see the missing elements that are crucial for business growth.

This article discusses these missing components from a structural standpoint. We'll see that the pricing structure, product features, limitations and risk profiles are all by design. We will also describe how Antradar's ecommerce technologies and their derived products handle these issues in a superior manner.

Search Filters

There is a reason that many Shopify stores feel the same, despite different looking themes. This is because Shopify looks at your products through a flat lens. "A product is a product is a product". To a new online store owner, it's a blessing not having to deal with the scary word "taxonomy". Hiding behind the "simplicity", Shopify does not, and cannot handling the concept of dimensionality.

What is a "dimension"? It is a categorizing attribute that typically shows in a search filter. For example, the brand, weight and type of a shoe can all be dimensions.

Shopify does not have dimensions. It uses "variants" to mimic filtering attributes. Out of the box, Shopify can handle only 3 variants. With the help of 3rd party apps, one can extend the limit to more variants, HOWEVER, this doesn't stop the very fact that Shopify is hijacking the true meaning of a "variant".

At the end of this article, we have listed out a few Shopify stores that were randomly discovered online. See for yourself what kind of "filtering" they offer.

Say, you have two t-shirts. They have the same SKU, same price, same everything. They come in two colors - red and black. As a store owner, you wouldn't bother running a separate inventory so that both t-shirts are treated as if it's the same product. The color is picked upon checkout. This use case is common when the t-shirts are manufactured on-demand.

A better way to organize the inventory is to give each type of t-shirt its own identity. In this case, the t-shirt has no variants. Color is a dimension. One t-shirt can be red, and another can be black.

Proper dimensionality is the basis of Faceted Navigation. Antradar has been optimizing and enhancing its faceted engine for over a decade. If you would like to see the engine at work with your own data, all we need is a tabulated data sheet such as an Excel document.

Rich Product Semantics

Shopify has one level of grouping - "collections". You can create as many collections as you want: a collection of discounted products, a collection of cat food, a collection of dog food, a collection of pet grooming services. Similar to the flexible use of "variants", Shopify's treatment of collections is a curse rather than a blessing. The platform has no understanding of the meaning, or semantics, behind product grouping. To make things worse, Collections are often abused by 3rd party apps to emulate search filters. The result is unnecessary complexity and duplicate content. Duplicate content is one of SEO's worst enemies.

In contrast, our ecommerce solution does not shoehorn the products in arbitrary, redundant and messy collections. Furthermore, not every product is truly a product. For example, a store could be selling paintings and wine at the same time. Paintings come with optional mounting options, and a bottle of wine may be paired with accessories as well as fancy concierge delivery services (yes, we made that put but let your imagination run wild!)

Here's a demo page that show cases the pairing between a poster and its framing options. Note that the source availability and size, along with some other factors, decide on the available framing options. You may try a few other posters and see the smart pairing in action.

Once the story behind your products and services is truly understood and respected, it is possible to have rich navigation and pairing possibilities. For example, the store locator can be used to set a physical location filter to further find, and purchase products at a specific store. Conversely, the detailed view of a single product can be augmented with store availability information.

Another example is the use of "Guides". Many Shopify stores have separate pages on how to use a certain product. But since there is no linkage between a product and the manual, the user experience is poor.

High Product Discovery Rate

To a store owner, the giant banner and pretty story behind each product may create a vital first impression. In all honesty, an average shopper would not give a damn. Chances are, a prospective buyer has learned about your product from an Instagram post, or a Facebook share. The would-be buyer goes straight to a product listing. But what else does your store offer? Alas, there is no faceted navigation or meaningful cross-promotion.

Take a look of the list of the random Shopify stores at the bottom of this article again. Can you tell, at a glance, all the actual products they carry? No. Your only best option is the list of, hrrm, "collections".

Now looking at the opposing side, in addition to Antradar's quality faceted navigation and semantic pairing, we have other tricks up our sleeves. For example, on the home page, trending blog articles can serve as a lead into related merchandise. Best selling products can form dynamic "sets" of 4 or 5 that are complimented with other upselling options.

Speaking of blogging, Antradar's ecommerce platform supports smart linking between blogs and related products. For example, a lifestyle article talking about nutrients may link to a list of recommended supplements. When new products in the mentioned categories become available, the related section of the blog is automatically updated.

Wholesale Portal

Unless you are using ShopifyPlus, managing wholesale in an organic manner is not an option. Shopify, again, uses an over-simplified perspective on wholesale. Shopify has suggested the non-Plus users to create a collection, or even duplicate the entire store to implement vendor discount.

In an Antradar store, each registered user can be expanded to a wholesale partner. Thanks to our custom-built data structure that is true to the store, it is possible to assign vendor discount to a dynamic set of rules. All this, is an integral part of the solution. There is no need for a "Plus" plan.

Custom Shipping and Tax Rules

If you have been in business for a while, there is a high change that you have some quirky rules when dealing with shipping. Shipping further impacts the calculation of taxes.

Shopify has a one-size fits all approach to shipping. Being a Canadian provider, it's also a surprise that their tax calculator works by ZIP code lookup, which does not work with Canadian users.

Sure, one can find yet another App and pay a Shopify export to awkwardly dance around the limitations of the Shopify core.

Alternatively, a tailored implementation can fit your checkout process perfectly. There is nothing you have to uncomfortably "live with". There are no "exceptions" you have to explain to your accountant.

Order Fulfillment

Shopify takes care of the purchasing flow from product listing, to order placement. To the consumer user of a Shopify store, the payment page is the last point of contact. This page is typically hosted on the main Shopify domain, not your store.

If you want to custom this checkout page, you will be advised, by a Shopify guru, to upgrade to the much more expensive ShopifyPlus plan. Unless you can hit a million in sales, your store does not even qualify for this plan.

The store owner may review the placed orders. Depending on their choice of Apps, their capability of tracking, adjusting, rerouting, consolidating orders varies, and is likely limited.

With an Antradar store, placing an order is not the end of a shopping life cycle. Rather, it is the starting point of using our powerful Gyroscope backend - a platform that has so far proven itself by handling complex business scenarios in many industries.

The typical setup of a Antradar store consists of an FFC cart system (another Antradar specialty) and a Gyroscope back office. These two systems work together to cover all your online selling and fulfillment needs.

Handling High Traffic

To be fair, Shopify is a marvelous piece of engineering. The core Shopify developers are talented and capable. They have put in tremendous effort in making the platform run smoothly, and at scale.

However, Shopify only promises high throughput to their Plus customers. What does it say to non-Plus users? We don't know, but it's irrelevant, as our platform aims to beat the performance of ShopifyPlus without a plus-sized hosting budget.

Both FFC and Gyroscope, the two key subsystems in an Antradar store, are designed to handle extreme traffic with modest hardware resource. FFC sports a unique decentralized cart structure and a 2-phase checkout flow to ensure that the growing visitor base adds little stress to the server. Gyroscope, since its inception in 2008, has been engineered to rival the performance of heavy duty ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems.

Your Choice of Payment Processor

Shopify claims to have a large sets of payment processors. What's not obvious is that on top of the processor's fee, Shopify charges an extra. The only economical option to process payments on Shopify is to use Shopify Payments. At best, one can get a preferred rate of 2.4% + 30c per transaction.

There are processors that offer much lower volume rate. Your store might even be using one in the past. Unfortunately with Shopify's added fees, the cost of receiving payments gets high.

The good news is that Antradar is not a payment processor. We do not charge any fees on top. As an added advantage, we also don't police your products or services. Every payment processor has a list of risky products that they do not want your business to get involved with. As long as your practice is compliant with their requirements, we pose no additional restrictions.

No Risk of Shut-Down Surprises

Shopify, as a service provider, can be vengeful. Store owners have complained on Shopify forums. Many of these threads were quickly shut down. The "surviving" owners may face two kinds of fate. They are either given special care so as to give birth to a new "success story", or their store is simply shut down. The latter happens quite often.

The above screenshot is a painful reminder of what many past Shopify owners have to endure.

An Antradar store will not be unexpectedly shut down. As long as the hosting is paid up, and domains and security certificates are in good standing, your online store will continue to function.

Cost and Ownership

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering about Antradar's cost for a custom online store solution. In short, our pricing is highly competitive and hence affordable.

We price-match Shopfy - feature for feature, dollar for dollar, and yet we deliver a much higher quality product. For example, if your store operates at a scale that would have cost you $300/month by Shopify, we'll charge you just that amount; if you need ShopifyPlus features but your sales volume is not quite there yet, we also offer highly negotiable discounts.

But we don't just build shops for any business. The reason we target Shopify is because for a sizable number of stores, Shopify is charging a heavy fee without delivering a matching value. We strongly believe that the price tag and value should be reasonably proportional. Granted, some small stores that sell 5 types of socks would benefit greatly from Shopify. But if you are already paying Shopify $2000 a month and still struggling, why don't you pay us instead?

To further sweeten the deal, the monthly payment to us, after a generous development-phase low-cost discount, contributes to the "buy out" of your store. Making custom software is costly; this is especially true with quality software. When cost becomes a deciding purchasing factor however, many prospects go with the short-sighted solutions such as Shopify. Therefore, we are taking the cost off the equation. The total cost of development will be tracked as more customization is built. You may walk away any time, and the unpaid cost will be forgiven. However, we are confident that our online stores are unmatched by other providers and that you have all the reasons to stay with us for the long haul.

So why would you care about owning your online store anyway? Well, it doesn't, if your store is just another cookie-cut shop. When your store is fully customized, it adds resale value to your business. When a future suitor looks at buying your business, your digital infrastructure can contribute greatly to the bottom line. In the case of Shopify, you simply hand over your password with nothing to gain.

Solution Partners

Antradar is a technology and knowledge company. In addition directly developing web solutions, we enable our solution partners by supplying them our frameworks and technical know-hows. This translates to two advantages: quality and availability. Unlike other generic mills such as Wordpress, our tech stack is highly specialized. This will become evident the moment you speak to our team or a solution partner. Inexperienced developers have no place in our ecosystem. With multiple solution partners in the mix, you also benefit from our pooled availability and domain knowledge.

The "List"

The following list of Shopify stores are arbitrarily collected. You can see for yourself the commonalities between all Shopify stores. Antradar is in no way affiliated to any of these stores. Our assessment to the stores' quality, whether implied or not, speaks only for the quality of their software platform, namely Shopify. The comments made in this article are irrelevant to the quality of these stores' actual products or services.

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