4 limitations of the Shopify platform with suggested solutions

  • Technology, Strategy
  • October 19, 2017
  • by Piers Thorogood
  • 6 minute read

We use Shopify every day and, whilst we love it, occasionally we come across a requirement that is beyond its capabilities. Here's a list, that we keep regularly updated - complete with solutions we suggest to overcome the limitations.

No e-commerce platform is perfect - they each have their pros and cons.

When comparing platforms, a common trade-off is flexibility vs simplicity. The most flexible, customisable platforms are, by necessity, the most complex. And the more complex the platform, the more likely you'll hit both usability difficulties and technical problems.

We feel Shopify has the balance just about right, but there are occasions when it just doesn't cut the mustard.

1. Content Management

Shopify is first and foremost a tool for running an e-commerce store. And whilst Shopify is capable of in-depth product descriptions, product related content and a store blog, it doesn't compare to the major content management systems (CMSs) such as Wordpress.

If content is your primary concern (maybe you run a successful blog with multiple content streams) and e-commerce is secondary, you can use Shopify's Javascript Buy SDK, to integrate Shopify e-commerce into your site. With this, you get Shopify’s powerful cart and e-commerce system combined with the CMS of your choice.

If e-commerce is your main focus, your content will need to be served by Shopify. This can be achieved with a bespoke theme customisation, complete with sections and blocks, and utilising Shopify’s blogging platform, which we’ve seen repurposed and used for content such as recipe catalogues, press pages and lookbooks.

Solution: Decide if what is your main focus and adapt the Shopify platform to your needs.

2. Product search and filtering

Shopify has a robust search mechanism, but the basic, out-of-the-box version comes with some limitations.

Whilst you can add a sidebar to filter products, unfortunately, it's not linked with search. So when you search for "t-shirt", you get back a listing of "t-shirts", but you don't get the filter options you would on the collection page (e.g. the ability to narrow your search to only red t-shirts). Instead, you'd be filtering across all your products if you started pressing those filter buttons.

By default, Shopify provides a basic search functionality that does very little to assist the user. If you type the name of the product incorrectly, there are no results and no corrections, plus there are no suggestions whilst typing, which might otherwise avoid this scenario.

Solution: There are Shopify apps out there that can get you a long way to achieving this.We solve it by using tools such as SearchSpring and Klevu, which provide integrated suggestive search, faceted filtering and sophisticated merchandising.

3. International retail and localization

Shopify does support international retail, but with some limitations.

At present, Shopify provides the ability to show prices in multiple currencies using real-time exchange rate data. Once you progress to payment, however, you are only able to pay in the base currency of the site. For example, if you have a UK bank account, your US customers will see products displayed in dollars, however at checkout, the total will revert to pounds.

A common workaround for this is to create multiple localised storefronts. Many of our clients operate an EU store, UK store and a US store, each tied to a business banking account in the country or area of choice. Shopify Plus allows for 10 stores per account, but you will need to implement systems for syncing product data, inventory, blog posts etc between stores. We can do all of this for our clients and there are systems (e.g. content syncing apps, PIMs) that help us do so.

This method is also best practice for businesses wanting to run a wholesale variation, with apps or discount scripts to handle price tables for your different customers.

One of the great features of Shopify is that it supports any and all languages - so your storefront, emails and checkout can all be written in the language of your choice. Whilst this makes Shopify a viable option for building a site in most countries, it's when you need more than one language on your website that you need to be careful. Shopify doesn't provide anything out-of-the-box for this.

In the past, our go-to app for providing multi-language has been Langify. It did the trick but was always fairly clunky to use. In recent months, however, a new contender has arrived in the form of WeGlot. WeGlot makes multi-language setup much more straightforward and the app is lightning quick. It's easily the best solution until Shopify decide to roll this feature into the core product.

Solution: What most bigger retailers do is set up separate Shopify instances for each target region, then each shop will have the most suitable currency and language selected for that area. On Shopify Plus you can get at up to 10 accounts included. You could then sync inventory and content using a solution from the app store.

4. Shopify POS

Shopify has taken the leap and linked online and physical retail with the Shopify POS system. The Shopify POS system accepts any form of payment, from credit and debit cards to gift cards and recently integrated Apple Pay into their handheld card reader. You can even manage refunds and store credit.

Whilst this has been an essential piece of kit for smaller retailers (pop-ups and boutiques), when it comes to larger stores, with multiple inventory locations, it can be a bit of a logistical nightmare.

The POS system draws from one stock location, which doesn't make sense in the real world since a business will have separate stock on hand in each store and stock in a warehouse/multiple warehouses.

However, this is Shopify’s first step into the retail world, and the POS system is incredibly sturdy for store owners looking to launch their first physical shop and we have no doubt that in time Shopify will offer a multi-inventory solution.

Solution: If this is your first physical store then Shopify POS will work wonders for your businesses. However, larger businesses may work around the multi-location inventory problem by creating an account per POS system and a bespoke inventory syncing application that allows them to report on their online and offline activities. It's all doable, but a bit fiddly.

Conclusion

With all that said, Shopify is a brilliant platform and its limitations are a result of the solid and well engineered foundation, which necessarily omits flexibility at times.

We trust it so much, that we use it for all our projects, due to the benefits - but we thought it was worth sharing some common pitfalls.


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