Why I don’t recommend Shopify as a South African e-commerce solution.


Firstly don’t get me wrong, Shopify is a great platform. It’s easy to work with, has a fantastic API along with its liquid templating language. Shops built on the platform are rock solid, for the most part.

Shopify though is built primarily for stores operating in the USA / Canada. Yes, South African based shops can and do use it. For many local shops, it is a great solution.

However many store owners quickly encounter the platform’s limitations, especially as they grow, with unfortunately very little chance of being able to overcome these limitations.

1) Stores outside of the USA and Canada can only support weight as a product “dimension”. There is no option for a products physical dimensions (height, width and the length). I don’t get why this would be the case, the box packing algorithms used to calculate how to pack an order need the physical width, height and length of a product along with the weight to see how to best pack an order programmatically. This allows a store owner to automaticaly calculate the most effective way to pack an order and calculate the lowest possible shipping cost. Sometime weight is all you need, especially with smaller items, and yes it possible to work around this, but why I fail to see a logical reason why local shops can’t access this feature.

2) Unless you pay annually, or have an advanced plan or higher, your store can’t access the CarrierService resource, that is needed to calculate the real-time shipping costs, such as through your courier’s app. You do get access to the flat rates, and while flat rates may work for some shops, for many it is an inaccurate alternative that will most likely lead to higher cart abandonment or loss of profit.

3) Problably the most irritating problem, outside of the plus account which starts at an amazing $2000 per month, you have no way to validate addresses before passing them on to your courier app to calculate the shipping cost. While this may not seem important upfront, the reality is that too many addresses get entered incorrectly and the store owner pays the price, work loads get increased, and orders get delayed in reaching their new home.

Let’s not even mention the costs of using Shopify or the percentage of sales they actually take. There are a few other things I don’t like, but for me, the inability to accurately validate addresses and for many shops, calculate the actual cost of shipping, it’s a deal-breaker.

Why does this matter?

E-commerce is growing quickly and for many niches, becoming more competitive. Being able to accurately calculate the lowest cost of shipping an order is one of the most important but often overlooked ways a shop can win over a customer. Consumers are quickly coming aware of what it costs to deliver a package along with what different couriers charge and are quick to abandon their purchase if they believe the shop is overcharging them for delivery.

Flat rate shipping is a low-tech entry-level solution used to calculate the cost of shipping. Flat rates typically let you set a fixed shipping price based on the user’s destination, e.g. set via their suburb and/or their postal code, but it’s far from accurate.

The simplest solution is to interface directly with your courier and using the rates they return. A good courier will return accurate rates regardless of the size of the order or the destination.

Why do so many recommend it

That I can’t say. Yes for some shops, Shopify is a great solution, if you can work within the limitations. Shopify does have some fantastic features.

For many shops though, especially where products vary in size, or as your sales volume increases, Shopify can become a frustrating and time-consuming experience.

My personal feeling is that these lack of features makes it a poor choice for most South African E-commerce vendors.

Why do so many recommend, perhaps the on average $58 commission they make when you sign up via their referal links has something to do with it. (https://www.shopify.com/affiliates)