Shopify & Ecommerce Ramblings

A blog about building and extending awesome Shopify stores

Leaving money on the table

You ticked all the boxes when you set up your ecommerce website, you spent time and resources on good marketing channels, and you’re getting loads of targeted traffic, but you’re not seeing the sales numbers you’d expect.

Unsurprisingly, this is not uncommon for ecommerce sites. Every year dozens of studies and surveys are done to determine the dreaded cart abandonment rate; in 2017 the rate was 78.65% (slightly higher than in 2016 when it was 77.24%). This means that over 3/4 of shoppers choose to leave a site without completing a purchase.

So what is it that causes large amounts of online shoppers to go so far, but never convert to a sale? A fair portion of this is due to “window shopping”, where customers browse an online store only to do research or compare products and prices, but what about the rest?

Factors contributing to low sales conversions

There are a number factors at play that can drastically affect how a consumer feels about making a purchase from your online store; everything from first impressions, usability, to whether or not they feel safe inputting their credit card details. If a customer finds your website difficult to navigate or struggles to find what they are looking for, the sheer frustration will likely turn them to a competitor - after all, online shopping is supposed to be more convenient than going into a brick-and-mortar store!

Other factors such as the kind of information you supply, whether or not you include shipping, and other finer details will need to stand out against your competitors’ to snag that conversion. When it comes to making payment, even the most regular and blasé of online shoppers is far more vigilant on payment pages and gateways than on any other webpage. If your payment gateway or process is convoluted or takes them too far out of their comfort zone, your customer is sure to put their credit card back in their wallet.

There is a long list of other factors that impact your potential for sales conversions and a lot of ways to improve it, but unfortunately there is no single fix that will work for all. Ecommerce stores are all unique, and one is often blind to the issues on one’s own site. This is why it requires a fresh perspective and a trained eye to weed out the problems.

I’m leaving money on the table… How do I fix that?

If you’ve come to this realisation, we’d like you to know that there is plenty we can do for you. It is absolutely possible to convert your Shopify store into one that inspires, informs and makes your customers feel safe when buying from you.

Our ConversionBoost service works in a 3-step process; first we analyse your website using data analysis tools as well as conduct a manual evaluation. Secondly, we apply any recommended changes gathered from our data-driven insights. And finally, we test and refine your online store over time by adding new features and optimising existing journeys. You won’t be leaving anything on the table, but rather you will enjoy higher conversion rates, better revenue numbers, and increased average cart sizes.

Leaving money on the table

You ticked all the boxes when you set up your ecommerce website, you spent time and resources on good marketing channels, and you’re getting loads of targeted traffic, but you’re not seeing the sales numbers you’d expect.

read time.

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Shopify SEO Scrabble pieces (because we're arty and good with metaphors)

Sometimes while you're going about your normal daily business you'll come across some piece of information that you consider worthy of being committed to your arsenal of reference material. Today was one of those days.

In a closed Shopify agency owners Slack channel, our friend Eric Davis over at Little Stream Software shared something that should probably be read, digested and stored for later reference by every Shopify merchant, expert and partner.

What I'm referring to is this article about SEO for Shopify.

For us, the main takeaway from the article was a checklist we were able to put together from Eric's own recommendations which consists of:

  1. Page titles
  2. Meta descriptions
  3. Consistent URL structures
  4. Alt tags
  5. Content length
  6. Structured data

Without diving into the details (we're not online marketers), if you read the article, you should be in a pretty good position to ensure that your on-site SEO is up to scratch.

Note: Remember that online marketing is always full of ever moving goalposts. At the time of you reading this or Eric's article, there may be new factors at play, but at the time of writing, this is pretty solid advice.

Read the article on SEO for Shopify here.

Shopify SEO Scrabble pieces (because we're arty and good with metaphors)

Sometimes while you're going about your normal daily business you'll come across some piece of information that you consider worthy of being committed to your arsenal of reference material. Today was one of those days.

read time.

Read More

Shopify Dashboard showing impressive growth

This list is compiled as much as a resource for us to refer back to when looking to optimize a client store for conversions as it is a collection of information that we thought would be good to share with other Shopify partners, experts and merchants.

Below is the list available at a glance and further down the page I've elaborated on each.

  1. Enhance your Search
  2. Use Product Videos
  3. Improve your Navigation
  4. Add a Site-Wide Promo Bar
  5. Use and Promote Social Proof & Reviews
  6. Up-sell, Cross-Sell and Bundle
  7. Emphasize Call-to-Actions
  8. Add Guarantees, Trust Seals & Value Propositions
  9. Incentivise email subscription
  10. Localise
  11. Give a Stock level indication
  12. Add a Countdown timer
  13. Provide back-in-stock notification
  14. Recover your Abandoned Carts

There will undoubtedly be many other things you can do to increase conversions, but if you haven't implemented all or some of these, doing so will very likely have a marked impact on your store's performance.

Enhance Your Search

Enhanced search on Shopify

Google has changed the way we use the internet and depending on which way you look at it, it's either a pain or something really great. Focusing on the positive, the user experience enhancement that comes from a good quality search feature on your site is of great value to you as a merchant, especially if your product catalogue is not small.

Search is now an expected feature on a site; and not just the ability for you to type in a word or phrase, hit search and get some form of result, but to have good quality suggestions shown to you based on what you're typing, and even while you're typing too. Where we're at in technology these days the suggestions given while typing would look like mind reading wizardry in the past.

Thankfully there are options for you as a merchant when it comes to enhancing your search and subsequently improving the "findability" of your products. Usually this would come in the form of an app and there are a few to choose from.

Use Product Videos

Videos to promote conversion on Shopify ecommerce stores

People have researched the phenomenon and statistics are pretty clear that the use of video in your store is a good idea to promote conversion. Combine this with the fact that most if not all of you have a smartphone in your pocket capable of high definition video, there isn't much of an excuse to not be tapping into this means of promotion.

We've personally used animated "explainer" videos for our own stores and client stores which are -in our experience- best produced by Bread and Beyond. We also have a number of merchant clients that produce their own videos with either the founder or some other personality in the company explaining things in basic and succinct terms. These days you can even edit the videos into something presentable on your phone itself.

It's also important to note that these videos shouldn't only be on your home page or hidden away on a "videos" page but can and should go on your product page since this is likely your point of conversion. 

You can always embed videos in the description field of the product, and if you're smart enough to be using one of the Out of the Sandbox themes, you can even put videos into the main image carousel

Improve your Navigation

Enhanced navigation in Shopify

Most Shopify themes come with "sufficient" navigation options with the ability for dropdown and fly-out menus, but merely sufficient isn't going to earn you any extra points with your customers. Points being conversions.

I'd list out the following main points to consider when improving your navigation:

  1. Make use of a good mega nav type structure. This allows you to merchandise products from within your navigation and drastically improve findability and subsequently your customer's user experience.
  2. Keep your navigation laser focused by segmenting it into logical groupings. By this I mean keep your product related navigation together and your "other" information like customer service, returns, t's & c's and account related stuff in their own spaces. In the screenshot of MVMT watches you can clearly see that the left of the header is product related while the right is more user related.
  3. Don't fear redundancy. Sometimes putting a link in multiple places is good practice. For instance, mirroring your top level categories in your footer will drive internal traffic with customers that have finished reading your terms, or viewing a product that wasn't exactly what they were looking for. Give your customers multiple ways of getting to different places on your site. People have different habits on the web, so try to give them as many practical options to navigate around your site.

It's important to note that although your customers need access to the more meta things your site has to offer (login, refund policies, contact us, about us etc.) 99/100 times you want your product to be front and centre. People looking for those other things will find them in your footer or wherever is a good place to put the links that don't clutter your interface.

Add a Site-wide Promo Bar

Promotion bar in Shopify.

Like in the example above from GymShark, it's useful for you and your customer to have a bar on your site that can offer up promotions or at least communicate value propositions like free shipping or perhaps a link to a clearance collection.

Often these types of elements would only be added on the home page or in one specific area of the site. This restricts the reach of this message to only people that came in via your home page (often they don't) and is a lost opportunity to drive conversions. If the element is site-wide or "global", it will allow you to offer this information to anyone, anywhere on the site.

Use and Promote Social Proof & Reviews

Customer reviews on Shopify using YOTPO

People rely on others to tell them what to buy. What is good, what has worked for them and it will inspire confidence in those would be customers that are on the fence.

If you have a social presence where your customers are participating and ultimately giving you an unpaid endorsement, you should leverage this to the best of your ability. Real people saying good things about your brand should be shared.

There is a great app for social reviews called YOTPO that a lot of our merchant clients use with great success and comes highly recommended by most Shopify experts.

Even if you don't have a lot of reviews or strong social channels in place, you can manually take testimonials from customers (with their permission) and elegantly display them on your site for prospects to view. These can be incredibly powerful and can include industry influencers that are clients of yours or sometimes even more effectively the man on the street approach that gives your store a sense of humanness and relatability.

Instagram is a great way of allowing social endorsements and a client of ours Easy-Macro make exceptional use of this medium by curating photos taken by their customers with their product and then embedding this photo stream on their store.

Over-doing things can also result in a "Christmas tree" looking product page, but putting social proof and reviews on your store is definitely worth doing elegantly and in the right places.

Up-sell, Cross-sell and Bundle

Product Bundling

While technically not conversion optimisation, offering your customers superior alternatives, accessories and items that commonly go with the one they're buying is going to increase your average order value which is much the same thing in the long run.

There is a large number of apps to choose from when looking to provide up-selling and the like on your store but our usual go-to apps are the ones offered by Bold.

An interesting fact about Up-selling:

"According to Forrester research, product recommendations such as upsell and cross-sell offers are responsible for an average of 10-30% of ALL eCommerce side revenues! Amazon announced that 35% of all their revenues were a direct result of cross-sells and upsells."
–Bold Commerce

Emphasise Call-to-actions

Strong Call to Action

There is a saying I often use when consulting with our merchant clients and that is:

Emphasizing everything emphasizes nothing.
–Me, quite often

What I mean by that is that there is often a desire to draw large amounts of attention to everything on your site. New things especially seem to be given disproportionate amounts of focus by newer merchants.

Ask yourself what your primary objectives of the site are. Chances are #1 will be selling product (Add to Cart, Buy Now etc.). There will also quite likely be secondary "conversions" like a mailing list signup or an inquiry. Make sure that the elements on every relevant page (home page, product pages, collection pages) are set up to draw attention to the things that cause your virtual till make that virtual ka-ching sound. 

A great example of where this is often done wrong is putting your Add to Cart button low on the page (eg: under your description), having it a muted colour and a size that does not make it stand out and compounding this, having loads of distracting content around it. 

To make your call-to-actions stand out, you can use any or all of the following techniques:

  1. Placement - Fairly simply, make sure your call-to-action is placed in a location where your customers will expect it to be.
  2. Isolation - If you can separate the call-to-action from the rest of the content on the page with physical whitespace, it'll draw attention to itself and stand out more on the page.
  3. Contrast - The more different the call-to-action looks in relation to the rest of the content, the more it will stand out. You can use colour, size and shape to create contrast between your call-to-action and the rest of the page.
  4. Proportion - Related to the contrast technique above, having your call-to-action proportionately different in size to the rest of the content on the page allows it to stand out and draw the user's eye.

In short, the trick is to resist the urge to draw your customer's eyes to everything and be very selective and specific about the things you want people to be drawn to and then make sure those things stand out and make sense to them.

Add Guarantees, Trust Seals & Value Propositions

Guarantee

These elements are often underestimated in terms of quite how much benefit they provide in terms of inspiring a customer to convert. If you remove the perceived risk of the purchase, show confidence in your own product and communicate the measures you've taken to secure and protect their information the customer is far more likely to convert.

Of utmost importance is that these guarantees, trust seals and value propositions should be located close to the call-to-action element on the product page. They can also be placed throughout your site and in your footer, but the place where they matter most is where the customer is about to hit the big –hopefully emphasised– button that takes them towards payment.

Some great ideas for these elements could include the following:

  1. Speedy shipping - One of the biggest considerations for buyers is how long they'll need to wait for their product. Giving an indication of the speed of shipping may greatly increase their chances of buying.
  2. Free Shipping - If you offer it, making it known that shipping may be free can be a big factor in the customer's decision to purchase. Since shipping costs are often only shown quite far down the checkout process, this can help a lot to keep the customer moving towards buying.
  3. Product guarantees - If you're willing to guarantee your product your customer is far more likely to be inclined to purchase it knowing that you stand by it's quality.
  4. Country of manufacture / sourcing - If you can, stating that your product is manufactured locally can appeal to your more patriotic customer and they may even choose your product over a cheaper product that is of unknown origin or "Made in China". In cases where the product is manufactured in or sourced from a location desirable to the buyer (eg: Italian leather) this can appeal to the discerning buyer who can appreciate the quality that is synonymous with that location. 
  5. Secure transactions - These can be created pretty easily by a half decent designer, else you can grab from most stock image sites.
  6. PCI Compliant Hosting & Cart - The standards by which Shopify adheres to and is certified by is worth mentioning to inspire confidence due to the seriousness with which their data is handled.
  7. Payment method logos - This can can serve a dual purpose of the big name brands (Visa, MasterCard, Paypal) being recognized and therefore inspire confidence, as well as immediately show the customer what they'll be presented with in terms of payment methods.

Incentivise email subscription

Incentivize email subscription

Having your customers sign up for a mailing list is probably the next best thing after them buying from you. It gives you opted-in permission to promote your products directly to their inbox.

You can make your subscription form as focal as you like and give as many promises about how you won't spam them and how you'll let them know before anyone about specials and promotions... but there won't be anything as effective as giving them something in return for subscribing.

What you use to incentivise signups is something only you can determine, but often it's a free small gift with a first purchase or a single use discount code that they receive after signing up.

Whatever you do, give your customers a reason to subscribe rather than a vague insinuation that you'll occasionally send them some kind of regular email.

Localise

Location selection

Localising your store is more of a task to better serve a specific geographic region than conversion optimisation itself, but if you find that the wide-net approach of having one Shopify store serving too broad a region (if not global), consider having a separate instance of Shopify catering for each region.

We have a number of merchant clients that have Shopify instances catering to different locations. Usually it's a country difference like USA, UK etc. and while you may think it's just their own currency that people want to see, there are so many other factors about localisation that are beneficial to your customers... and subsequently to you in terms of conversion.

Localisation with a separate instance of Shopify for each logical region allows you provide the following:

  1. Checkout in the customer's own currency.
  2. Ability to market to that region's specific events and holidays.
  3. Ability to market to that region's potentially different seasons (if applicable).
  4. Use the predominant language (or even the flavo(u)r of English) of the region.
  5. Use familiar payment methods and shipping providers.

This isn't necessarily a quick fix solution to waning sales in other territories but is certainly a solid strategy to expanding into new regions and maximising the potential of these regions.

Give a Stock level indication

Stock remaining

To promote urgency, it's useful to show the customer how many items are still in stock. This sense of urgency can inspire the customer to purchase sooner for fear of losing out.

This can be done quite simply with an app like While Stocks Last or if you have a suitably skilled Shopify coder at hand, they should be able to implement a solution fairly quickly in liquid. 

Add a Countdown timer

Countdown timer

Similar to the stock level indication, the countdown timer promotes urgency by indicating to the customer that they only have a certain amount of time to act before losing out on a deal or same day delivery (or similar).

Also as above, you can actually use an app for this like Countdown Cart.

Provide back-in-stock notification

Back in Stock app modal

If your product is out of stock when your visitor arrives and you don't allow back ordering... unless you're capture their details right then and there, there is a very good chance that sale is lost forever.

Some themes come with a rudimentary form that simply sends you their email address, but it would be wise to take this issue a bit more seriously. Almost all of our merchant clients that need this functionality use the BackInStock app.

What it does is allow your customers to request a notification when the item is back in stock, and when it is, the system automatically emails them letting them know they can come back and place their order.

The number of otherwise lost sales recovered by this app more than makes up for its monthly license fee.

Recover your Abandoned Carts

Sometimes your customers will become distracted and lose your tab or start watching a video about cats. Sometimes they'll be close to the verge of completing their order and suddenly change their mind for whatever reason.

You can literally think of them as customers that came into your physical store, put some items they wanted into their shopping cart and somewhere between doing so and paying, they simply wandered out the door with their hands empty.

You won't be able to recover every abandoned order, but you can definitely make sure that those that are salvageable are given every opportunity to follow through.

If you're on Shopify's "Shopify" plan or higher, you already have abandoned checkouts available to you as a feature and I advise making full use of it. If you're on a lower plan or want to implement even more deliberate methods, there are still plenty of options in the form of apps to prevent order abandonment and also recover them.

Are you keen to implement some or all of this?

If you're interested in working with ShopCreatify to maximise conversions on your store, please take a look at our services page and choose the service that best suits your needs.

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Shopify Dashboard showing impressive growth

This list is compiled as much as a resource for us to refer back to when looking to optimize a client store for conversions as it is a collection of information that we thought would be good to share with other Shopify partners, experts and merchants.

read time.

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Turbo Theme

Premium Plus (or Premium+) is how we refer to the Turbo theme by Out of the Sandbox.

Not because of Shopify's Plus plan for merchants —although that is who the theme was originally created for— but because if a paid-for theme in the Shopify theme store is referred to as a 'premium' theme, then Turbo needs to have a classification that accurately portrays the tier in which it resides. Currently it is the only theme in this top tier category that we're aware of.

Things have become significantly easier for us these days in choosing a Shopify theme for a store build. Essentially it boils down to the following two options:

  1. Turbo by Out of the Sandbox — for most merchants
  2. Custom designed and built theme — for merchants with very specific requirements

Almost all of our store builds over the last year or so have been one of the two options above.

That's not to say that you can't have a successful store operating on another Shopify theme —even a free one— but when it comes down to it, if you're looking for a theme that is versatile, customizable out of the box and contains features that other themes rely on apps or significant customization for, then Turbo is... well... a no brainer.

Turbo Theme Seoul

By the same token, some merchants who think they need a custom designed theme can actually achieve what they need with Turbo too. Not all of them of course, but a lot of them can have a completely unique looking store with Turbo at the base and tap into all the benefits of this richly featured premium+ theme.

Those for whom Turbo is not a good match would include:

  1. Specific workflow(s) that require a unique layout that Turbo does not lend itself to well.
  2. Very specific branding requirements that Turbo does not cater well for.
  3. Very small budgets where a free theme would make more economic sense and still cater for the merchant's requirements.

Currently a vast majority of merchants opt for Turbo and to explain why and also illustrate why this is not a bad thing (you don't want your store to look like everyone else's) I thought to put together a list of primary reasons why you should consider it as the frontend system for your next Shopify store (re)build.

Speed

As the name suggests, Turbo is a theme built for performance. If serving your products to your customers quickly is important to you (it should be) then Turbo has you covered with it's exceptionally quick browser loading and effective caching.

Header Customization

Very few (if any) other Shopify themes give as many options to customize the header of your store. The placement of the logo, the ability to have navigation left, right, top and bottom and with all the extra bits and pieces it caters for, you won't need to go scouring the app store to add a simple promo bar to your shop.

Mega-Dropdown Navigation

With most themes you'll need to make use of an often buggy or restrictive 3rd party app for a mega-dropdown. With Turbo you get a bunch of versatile, robust and feature rich mega-dropdown options. This has been of massive benefit to us as experts and our merchant clients where we no longer need to diagnose bugs, waste time with slow support nor have to uncomfortably explain styling or functional limitations where an app runs outside of the theme.

Home Page

If you're familiar with Shopify's concept of "sections" you'll know that most themes come with a bunch of pre-sets that you can use on your home page. Turbo comes with almost 20 customizable options including recently viewed products and Google Maps. There are photo galleries, featured promos and logo lists. You'd be hard pressed to need something that the theme doesn't already have as an existing available section.

Product Pages

As the part of your site where the magic happens (purchases) you want to be able to give your customers what they need to make that buying decision. From full width banners to tabbed content and a myriad of other options not found in any other premium theme, the product page in Turbo is unmatched by it's competitors.

Collections

As with the rest of the theme, there are elements to Turbo that you simply won't find in other themes. It comes with fully functional sidebar filters which is normally achieved via an app or significant custom work, product sorting, and even color swatches below the product thumbnails. Full width banners on your collection pages are also a reality with Turbo.

General & Global Features

Areas like the footer which is significantly more versatile than what other themes offer, the ability to integrate your social channels effectively, Mailchimp, image galleries and more, there is really very little reason to purchase another theme.

Summary

As I've attempted to articulate in this article, at the time of writing, chances are very good that you'd be doing yourself and your ecommerce business a disservice if you go with another Shopify theme (other than a custom one if you need it).

I'd even go so far as to say that it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the themes in the Out of the Sandbox stable which are all exceptional themes and we know them all inside and out. In short the reason for this is that while they're (Retina, Parallax, Responsive & Mobilia) awesome themes, they follow Shopify's mandate of simplicity which is fine for beginner merchants except that when your needs become more demanding, redesigning your store will be a must.

Turbo allows any merchant from Basic to Plus to set up a performance oriented storefront with significant room to grow.

If you're interested in having us help you set up or customize your Shopify store whether on Turbo or something else, feel free to check out our services here.

If you're interested in purchasing Turbo, we can give you a 20% discount on the purchase price if you email hello@shopcreatify.com and request the discount code.

Turbo Theme

Premium Plus (or Premium+) is how we refer to the Turbo theme by Out of the Sandbox.

Not because of Shopify's Plus plan for merchants —although that is who the theme was originally created for— but because if a paid-for theme in the Shopify theme store is referred to as a 'premium' theme, then...

read time.

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Learn how to avoid the strong possibility of building a house of cards and instead lay a solid foundation for your store. 

Shopify house of cards

The ability to move rapidly on a platform like Shopify is one of its greatest strengths. Being able to literally (we've done it before) build and launch and get your first sale in a single day is an amazing state for the industry to be in for aspiring merchants. 

Shopify can get you started stupidly quickly. It will allow you to test ideas without hundreds of hours of design & dev time, nor wheelbarrows full of cash. But —and it's a big but— it can also set quite a skewed precedent and can create fairly unrealistic expectations going forward.

The store I mention in the first paragraph was in fact, without any deceit, built and launched in a single day. It included a single digital product and had a single payment method (Paypal). It got a single sale on the day of launch (not by the owner's proud mother) and thankfully following that string of singles, it has actually done fairly well. It allowed the merchant to test the idea and luckily for them the experiment worked and many, many more hours of design, development and marketing and refinement followed.

If they hadn't, it would have likely remained a string of singles.

Bootstrapped Ecommerce

Bootstrap (verb)
Start up (an Internet-based business or other enterprise) with minimal financial resources.

We're big advocates of bootstrapping in business (and we don't mean the framework that makes every site look like this). Especially so when the idea is in it's infancy or the brand is just dipping their toes into this exciting digital sales channel.

Market research can only take you so far. Getting your wares in front of your potential customers and allowing them to vote with their money is —I believe— the only true litmus test to prove your concept.

Unless you're an existing brand with a strong, unique visual identity or there are some very specific requirements around how things need to work or be presented on the store for the venture to be given a fair trial; making use of Shopify's best practice based pre-mades is likely the wisest choice. The way Shopify works in terms of products, collections, cart and checkout; they're tried and tested.

At the time of writing this, over 400,000 merchants are using the Shopify platform every day. Since Shopify's success is directly tied to their merchant's success, with that sort of data you can be fairly safe in the assumption that Shopify are doing things how they need to be done to promote conversion.

Is your business bootstrappable?

Is that even a word? Regardless, deciding whether or not your business concept is one you can go about without bringing in investors or pumping all your hard earned savings into is an extremely worthwhile thing to do.

If you do need to invest in a unique design or some special functionality to your store, then bootstrapping may not be the right approach. If you're selling —how you probably should be— in a manner that is recognizable to your buyers both in presentation and workflow then it is most certainly an option. 

With the assumption that you don't have an experienced internal designer/developer capable of manhandling Shopify to do your bidding, some considerations:

  1. Do you have an existing brand to which the look and feel of the store absolutely has to match? If yes, bootstrapping may not be for you as you'll need to either highly customize a ready made theme or create one from scratch. Argentum Apothecary are a perfect example of this.
    Argentum Apothecary
  2. Do you have very specific and non-standard ways in which your customers need to view and or buy your product? If yes, then bootstrapping may not be for you since you'll be embarking on a software design and development project that will require specialized skill, time and of course budget. This product page we created for CanvasIt is a perfect example of this.
    CanvasIt Custom Product Page
  3. Are you competing on aspects other than uniqueness? Something like superior customer service, better price, or similar? If so, you could consider bootstrapping as an approach and put together a lean mean transacting machine.
  4. Are you able to conduct a proof-of-concept storefront to begin with? One that you can expand upon or develop on top of it at a later stage once the revenue is there? Then yes, bootstrapping is very likely a viable approach for you.

So, to summarize, bootstrapping an ecommerce business with Shopify is certainly possible and may very well be the wisest approach for your store. On the flipside, should your needs dictate it, Shopify is still capable, but you may need to dig a little deeper into your pockets to achieve what you require. Possibly to the same degree or maybe a bit less so than with other ecommerce platforms, but should things need to be custom, there will very likely be unavoidable cost and time implications to consider and cater for.

So, what about these cards then?

Bringing this post back on-topic, I'll explain what I mean by the title of this article. Are you building a house of cards, or are you laying a solid foundation for your ecommerce business?

So often we see merchants that have built their stores based on either bad advice or misconceptions about what is important. I believe that going into something like an ecommerce business, you need to do so with your eyes wide open.

Whether you're selecting a theme or deciding on a theming approach for your store (free, premium or custom), deciding on certain apps or additional functionality or even at a more fine grained level; how the navigation and collections are built, it's good to have at least a high level understanding of what you're dealing with.

Theming your store the right way

Theming —for the uninitiated— is the process of applying the frontend (not just the look) to the store. This includes the entire UX (user experience) of the storefront which means that it covers both how it looks and the logic behind how each user interaction works and reacts to their input.

Some things to watch out for when choosing and building out your store from a theming perspective:

  1. What does your business' storefront need in terms of functionality? Does the default functionality of the theme(s) you're looking at cover your needs or will you have to bring a developer into the mix? Think things like workflows or any specific requirements perhaps relating to tax, how or how many items need to be added to the cart in a single click etc.
  2. What does your business' storefront need in terms of visual uniqueness? Are you able to choose the theme that best presents your product and roll with it or do you need to make some customizations to the theme to make it fit? Perhaps your requirements are so unique that you actually need a custom theme designed and developed.

Always remember that a custom built theme will —if built properly— almost always be leaner and faster than a premium bought one. This is simply due to the fact that fewer things need to be catered for since the theme is being built for a single use case requiring fewer settings and options than one catering for as many merchants as possible. One caveat being that often seasoned ecommerce merchants will opt for the premium theme approach since there simply are more options, settings and toggles in a premium theme and making use of them is far quicker and cheaper than having them designed and developed from scratch.

Premium theme developers are building their themes for the masses... a custom theme will be built only for your store so things like menus with 20+ fonts to choose from would be redundant and likely put you in negative ROI if you were to task your developer with going to this level of detail.

Whichever type of theming approach you decide on, make sure you follow best practice, specifically in the following three areas from lowest level to highest level:

  1. Theming best practice - Build it properly from the start. If it's a premium bought theme, follow the advice of the developers that made it. Consume their documentation and try not to customize it into oblivion. If it's a custom theme, plan it properly, make sure you have a competent (experienced) team designing and building the theme and realize that it is actually a custom software project in itself so treat it as such (version control, impeccable communication with the team etc.) and you should be ok. As much as some people seem to wish it into reality, I'm yet to see an inexperienced team or individual build a solid, futureproof, stable, reliable, responsive and ultimately performing custom solution. They don't need to be Shopify veterans, but without at least solid HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills, you're lining up a world of hurt and a house of cards that'll topple at a single gust of wind.
  2. Shopify best practice - As mentioned before, Shopify kinda know what they're doing. Their business model rests heavily on the success of their merchant clients and there is no reason for them to implement or change something that jeopardizes their bottom line. Being publicly traded now too, they are further pressed to perform and you can rest assured that things like optimization of the checkout process is paramount to their performance and therefore the way it is for very good reasons. Often in the web and especially in ecommerce it is very possible to give a man enough rope to hang himself. Sometimes restraints are good and we're all better off for it. Hacking the platform to make it do something it's not intended for is not in anyone's best interest. Do your homework and establish that what you need is condusive to the platform, the way it works, and proceed knowing that not only are you on the right platform, but the solution will be one you can grow with and into.
  3. Ecommerce best practice - Lastly and most importantly, if you want to succeed in this medium, make use of the knowledge that has been acquired and shared by your predecessors. Learn all you can about what makes online stores convert better, provide seamless, easy online shopping and ultimately succeed. A great book on the topic is Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think which should drive the point home if I haven't.

“Don't make me think” 
—Steve Krug

If you follow best practice in these areas, you'll be laying a solid foundation for your online business. You can focus on other things like driving traffic, making enhancements to improve conversion, increase average spend, and implementing other measures that drive the business forward.

Don't trip over them apps

As you probably already know, Shopify apps are an incredible thing. They extend the functionality of your store with almost limitless potential and ability. They're also —probably because of this— extremely tempting to just install without too much deliberation.  Therein lies the problem.

With the enormous range of things an app can do on your store and the sheer number of developers out there building these things, even with Shopify's careful curation of the apps submitted and available to you, they do come with some risk. The risks are not nearly as severe (in my experience to date) as an open source project where the developer's motives are not clear, but going into an app frenzy will quickly result in a messy codebase and potentially result in a costly cleanup, lost sales or credibility from buggy, inconsistent or outright broken user experiences.

Often we're faced with a storefront that needs to be cleaned up or a merchant's long shopping list of apps they want to install prior to launch. The former is about to pay for the cleanup, the latter —if we were to just blindly proceed— about to make the mess that will need fixing and cleanup down the line (a house of cards).

Presuming you're the latter merchant in the example above and about to embark on this exciting new adventure, to prevent this situation of code soup and shaky foundations, it's best to do the following:

  1. Identify the absolute essentials in terms of additional functionality for your store to go live with. 
  2. Figure out whether an app is actually the best solution for the requirement or if it can be done as efficiently or possibly even better via some other means.
  3. Should the app be a custom one built only for your store, ensure you're working with a team or individual experienced in this area. An ecommerce store is possibly the lifeblood of your business so it's not like hiring someone to wash your car. Be sure that they know what they're doing and that they have a clear understanding of your requirements before proceeding.

A good point to also remember is that even if two apps are made by the same vendor, they may not be able to both be installed on a single store as they may need to both leverage the same resources of the platform. Ask questions, reach out to the vendors. Most of them are more than happy to help you and a lot of them will even give you extended trials, discounts and even offer the service of installing the apps for you.

Even some apps made by the same development house may not be able to co-exist in one store.

This brings me to the final point and piece of advice on apps; vet them. To do this, follow these steps or similar:

  1. Make sure they're right for your needs.
  2. Make sure they're made by a reputable vendor and that all aspects that you need to proceed with them (support levels, reviews etc.) are to your liking. Remember, they are not Shopify. They're usually small to medium sized software design and development businesses anywhere in the world. Choose wisely.
  3. Make sure the app(s) are compatible with any others you're using or intend to use.
  4. Trial them outside of your live environment. Consider setting up a development store (we can assist with this as can any partner / expert) and run the app in a sandbox version of your store to ensure that it works without breaking things on the live storefront.

If you do your due diligence in this area, you should be able to approach apps without building an ever bloating store and your future prospects in terms of upgrading your theme, adding and improving things down the line with ease will be significantly better.

Should we really Customize this?

Ask "but why"? Do you really need to customize something or would it be just as efficient to make use of available options in your store? Often that answer will be no and you'll be just as successful using some form of tried and tested solution, but equally so, frequently there is a true need to customize.

"I can't believe that any individual merchant, developer, or even agency, would be able to out-CRO the Shopify team who are responsible for the global checkout UI/X. They have data from how many 000's of stores to aggregate and test against?"
—Rick Davies from Taylor Stitch

In the cases where viable options are available that do not require customization and achieve the same or similar results, it's usually wise to follow that approach. In the cases where customization is absolutely and unquestionably required, just make sure you do it properly.

Some things in Shopify shouldn't or even can't be customized in the way that you want... even on the highest tier of the platform, but a lot, in fact more than most people know can actually be changed quite considerably.

If you've established that you need to customize things, as mentioned a couple of times above, make sure you're working with a team or individual with experience in this skill. Even small customizations should strictly be done the right way and ideally tracked with some form of version control (we use Git on Bitbucket). If you don't you're likely going to paint yourself into a corner with a store that cannot be upgraded, gets into a state of no return or even worse, having a broken store that will require significant fixing or a complete do-over when it becomes too far gone.

To summarize, this should be the ideal sequence of considerations when a customization seems necessary:

  1. Establish conclusively that it is a real need and not simply a desire. Potentially ask around or do some research to be sure that it isn't something others have tried and seen little or no return on, or perhaps not enough of a return to justify doing it.
  2. Establish conclusively that the need is not achievable via some other means that is less intrusive on your store. Perhaps an app or something built into Shopify or the theme.
  3. If you've reached the conclusion that a customization is needed and not achievable via other means, you'll need to embrace the implications of customizing your store. There will be cost implications, timeline implications and the potential sacrifice of future enhancements made to your theme by creating a fork of it.

So, yes, you can customize your storefront. The potential and abilities inherent in the Shopify platform are vast and if you go in with your eyes open, are aware of the risks and implications and proceed with the right people with the relevant skills, you can do great things.

To summarize

Summing up this article, I've briefly covered themes, apps and customizations as three points of consideration when embarking on a new ecommerce venture or redesign. It should now be clearly apparent that while things on this platform can be achieved quickly, affordably and with a high level of quality, it also allows for more intricate, unique and brand / business specific things to be design and developed on top of it if you're that way inclined.

Just be sure that you're doing things that are necessary, do them the right way and your business should benefit from better profitability, less superfluous features and visuals and fewer issues and subsequent costs down the line.

As may be obvious by the content of this article, we're certified Shopify Experts and if you're in need of assistance we'd be more than happy to help. We have a solutions page that can guide you in choosing what you need from us or if that leaves you feeling bewildered, feel free to simply ping us using hello@shopcreatify.com.

Shopify house of cards

Learn how to avoid the strong possibility of building a house of cards and instead lay a solid foundation for your store. The ability to move rapidly on a platform like Shopify is one of its greatest strengths.

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A slightly belated notification, but here is our third appearance on The Unofficial Shopify Podcast where Kurt and Ross talk about how customizable Shopify really is. The misconceptions around the concept and some of the truths about how capable the platform truly is are discussed in this 41min chat.

Listen now

A slightly belated notification, but here is our third appearance on The Unofficial Shopify Podcast where Kurt and Ross talk about how customizable Shopify really is. The misconceptions around the concept and some of the truths about how capable the platform truly is are discussed in this 41min chat.

read time.

Read More

Customized Shopify

Can Shopify be customized?

When I say customized, I don't mean just enlarging the logo or aligning some text differently and changing the font. I mean significantly customized like where functionality that is completely foreign to the theme, or some type of workflow that is completely different to the way "most" people do it?

Interestingly enough and contrary to popular belief, the answer to that question is yes. Yes it can and no you're not necessarily restricted to how things work in the themes you've seen powering the many thousands of Shopify stores. Of course there are limitations... it is a SaaS platform after-all, but when there is a will, there is often a way.

At ShopCreatify we deal with a massive variety of inquiries. Some are so small that we may refer them on to the brilliant folk over at HeyCarson and some are better suited to either a bespoke solution or a different platform, but there is an enormous area in between where Shopify really shines.

A lot of our daily work is spent investigating, designing and building these customizations and it is currently the area we're most adept and experienced. We therefore put together a page that will undoubtedly grow over time giving some more detail around what these types of jobs often entail.

You can view this page (with case studies) on Shopify customization here.

Can Shopify be customized?

When I say customized, I don't mean enlarging the logo or aligning some text differently and changing the font. I mean significantly customized like where functionality that is completely foreign to the theme, or some type of workflow that is completely different to the way "most" people do it?

read time.

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A lot of what we do on a daily basis at ShopCreatify is spotting and fixing things on storefronts that are causing the merchant's business "pain".  A frequent pain experienced by them —especially once their traffic starts to increase— is the amount of time expended on responding to emails and sitting in phone calls.

Reduce the Ecommerce Noise

It will of course depend on the type of product you're selling and the nature of your business, but it's fairly safe to assume that the more automated things can be, the better for you and your team to grow the business.

An overabundance of customer support calls and support requests can result in an overwhelmed support or sales crew. It can also result in your customers not being attended to as quickly as they'd like and could even cost you sales.

Thankfully, having more requests than one can handle is something we consider "a good problem to have" and it's one you'd rather experience at some point in your store's growth than not. The reason it's good is that there is definite interest in your product and it's a direct opportunity for you to improve your storefront and increase sales.

    Step 1 — Ask Why

    As is best practice in this industry, it's always good to start by asking why. Why are you receiving so many support requests and questions?

    If there are a lot of questions before the customer has made a purchase, it's probably safe to assume that your store is not providing the customer with enough information to buy.

    If there are a lot coming in after purchase, then you'll need to take census of why this is. It's possible that the information presented to the customer after they've ordered is insufficient or just not clear.

    Take note of these points in the process where the customer is reaching out to you as they will dictate the content you need to produce and measures you can put in place to prevent this unwanted noise.

    Step 2 — Assess your Options

    There are usually a few ways of resolving the situation and the methods mentioned below are not just either/or options and perhaps your store could benefit from implementing them all.

    Product Information

    This one should be fairly obvious, but it's surprising how many merchants attempt to trade on extremely lean product information. Your product description is not only for SEO and often your customer will still be in the researching phase of buying. Make sure your product information is as detailed as it needs to be so that it leaves no questions unanswered.

    Depending on the amount of and type of content you have for your product, there are always ways and means of presenting it to your customers better. Some themes come with novel and simple methods of showing more information without creating cluttered looking product pages. A good example of this would be the Out of the Sandbox themes (Yes, that is unashamedly a referral link. Their themes rock!) where a simple HTML tag in your description's source code will split your content and allow you to add a wealth of additional information below the integral images and add-to-cart area. You can learn more about his here.

    Description Split in Shopify

    A lot of merchants also implement additional lifestyle imagery, tabs for additional product information, videos and really any other content that will help explain and sell the product to their customers. A great example of this is Fuego Living's product page where they've significantly expanded upon their product so that the customers know all they need to know before placing their order.

     Good Product Information

    This is an area where the theme you're using could offer you all you need to plump out your description, but if you need help, feel free get in touch with us.

    FAQ Page / Knowledge Base

    Putting together a good FAQ page and or knowledge base is worth the effort. You can and probably should even go the extra mile of implementing a solution that is better than just a simple list of questions & answers.

    Before diving in blind though, make sure that the content going into your knowledge base is a direct reflection of what your customers and prospects are actually asking. Prioritizing the most frequently asked questions and making them most prominent is wise and increases the chances of them being found.

    There are even apps like Help Center where you can offer a far greater customer experience, include a search function and it also makes it a lot easier for you to build and manage your FAQ. At the time of this writing, this app is also free.

    Here's a great example of how Watchers Store makes use of the Help Center app:

    Watchers Store Using Help Center

    Taking things to the next level you could also make use of the ZenDesk Guide offering that comes with their support package. The Zendesk family of products may actually solve a number of issues mentioned in this article.

    Contextual Guidance

    In the process of shopping, sometimes you need to ask the customer questions. Whether it's a measurement that allows you to send the right product and reduce the possibility of returns or just an aspect of your product that is not widely known, it's wise to implement measures that make the reasons completely clear to the customer.

    A good example of this and a relevant solution for this kind of issue is including an inline help feature. In the example below, you can see that the customer has immediate access to additional information around why certain things are being asked for prior to being able to add to cart.

    Below is an excellent example of inline help where the customer can quickly and easily click on "View our Size Guide" to ensure they order the right fit.
    In context help in Shopify

    Whether it's a tooltip, a modal popup that is launched or even a link to a page with more information (ill advised as it takes the customer away from the product page), this form of contextual guidance will prevent your prospect from picking up the phone to ask you why and in so doing, distracting you or your team from growing your business.

    Relevant Information Pages

    Depending on the product you're selling and the types of customers you're trying to attract, it would be wise to build pages that speak directly to them. An obvious example would be where your customers are likely to be in a demographic where tech savviness is possibly quite low. In these instances, a page documenting the process of adding a product to cart and checking out would go a long way to reduce telephonic walk-throughs or manual orders.

    There are obvious pages that you should be sure to include on your store like shipping information and returns policies but if there is something very specific about your product that justifies it's own page, be sure to include it and make it easy to find.

    Videos

    Being that customers seem to often not read the words you carefully crafted, often a video is a preferred medium for getting the message across. 

    Videos can be implemented at almost any point on a Shopify store using a Youtube embed code and producing them has never been easier. There are a number of tools for both Mac and Windows for you to use and there are plenty of articles online explaining how to do it well.

    Live Chat

    This feature has been left close to last specifically. Of course if you have not implemented as many measures currently within your means to prevent questions about your product or service, this feature is simply going to cause you more noise.

    Also, live chat is going to require someone to monitor it at least some of the time if it's to provide value. If you've done a good job of putting together a comprehensive knowledge base and your store's content has all of their questions already answered, your live chat interactions should be quite brief and the person handling the task can treat it more as a personal "visitor's guide" role than a sales role. Your virtual information desk.

    Hide Your Contact Number

    This is certainly a controversial piece of advice if I did not disclaim that you should probably not do this if you do drive sales through received calls. If however you —as a lot of ecommerce merchants do intend to reduce human contact and increase sales then having your telephone number made available only once all other means have been exhausted could be a wise approach.

    Removing your number entirely is almost certainly bad advice for your store since it can reduce the perceived credibility of the company if no number is available, but doesn't mean you need to make it easy to come across. A lot of sites not just ecommerce ones implement an "ask your question first" methodology where only if the knowledge base gives them no joy do they get a number to call, email address to send to or even a form to fill out.

    Only you can make the decision on whether or not this will cost you sales or allow you to focus on growing your business while having no negative impact on sales. For example, perhaps a lot of the calls you receive do not convert into sales making them a waste of time and cutting them out altogether is only a good thing.

    Conclusion

    As can be seen, there are a number of solutions to the client noise debacle. There are undoubtedly others, but with the measures above implemented you'll have laid a good foundation not only in noise reduction but possibly also see an increase in conversions.

    If you have any questions about what is mentioned in this article or need some help in setting up any of these measures, please feel free to reach out to us. We don't mind the noise.

      Reduce the Ecommerce Noise

      A lot of what we do on a daily basis at ShopCreatify is spotting and fixing things on storefronts that are causing the merchant's business "pain".  A frequent pain experienced by them especially once their traffic starts to increase is the amount of time expended on responding to emails and sitting in phone calls.

      read time.

      Read More

      Recently it came to our attention that some of our best work and by far the majority of our work over the past two years as Shopify experts has been done using themes developed by one particular theme house. 

      It's pretty obvious if you look around our site, but that theme house is Out of the Sandbox.

      Not only do their themes stand head and shoulders above the rest in pretty much every way, they're also really (really) popular among Shopify merchants... for some very legit reasons.

      Why Out of the Sandbox Themes?

      To start with, speaking as an "Ecommerce Specialist" turned "Shopify Expert" turned "Shopify Expert + Out of the Sandbox Specialist", I'd list the top 5 factors of declaring this combination ideal in the Shopify ecosystem as follows:

      1. Their themes are visually beautiful
      2. They provide excellent, prompt support
      3. The themes have a solid codebase and great documentation
      4. The themes have comprehensive and intuitive options (theme settings)
      5. They regularly update & improve their themes

      Those primary factors aside, there are also other reasons that lead up to them being in the position they are where their offerings are superior and ultimately why we're choosing to specialize in them.

      Maturity

      Out of the Sandbox are industry veterans with a pedigree in Shopify Theming spanning back to 2011. It's not only their longevity on the platform that matters though, but perhaps more their considerable success and the maturity of their products acquired in that time.

      They have earned the right to brag about having developed some of the most popular premium themes on a platform with close to 400,000 merchants at the time of this writing. A feat that undoubtedly came with countless complicated technical and creative considerations and more support tickets than most mortal beings would be able to handle in a lifetime.

      Having taken that feedback, refined their themes based on real world merchant successes & failures, frustrations & moments of jubilation, they're now honed selling tools that expertly leverage the Shopify platform for optimal ecommerce performance.

      Resonance with Store Owners & Buyers

      Since partnering with Out of the Sandbox in 2015, it's been quite apparent that a majority of store owners inquiring about our services had either already chosen one of the Out of the Sandbox themes, or it was on their shortlist. In the instances where the store owner went with another theme for whatever reason, it almost always ended up being a sub-optimal experience for both the merchant and us.

      Based on this fact alone, it would likely be a wise decision to only do store builds on their themes, but it actually goes deeper than that. 

      Given the past couple of years of exposure to many Shopify themes, including a few bespoke themes that we created, it's a lot clearer now what makes a theme OK, what makes it good, and what makes it great.

      We actually made a business call very early on in ShopCreatify to strictly not take any store build project with a theme that was not acquired through the official Shopify theme store. The risk is just too great that the quality of the theme and support thereof would be lacking. In ecommerce, your store is your business' lifeblood and saving a few dollars for a free / non-official theme is not worth the risk. Witnessing issues that others had (and still have) concreted this as a very wise decision and we still strongly advise store owners and other experts against doing this.

      Are there other good themes out there? Yes, I'm sure there are but in our experience, even the other big sellers don't offer nearly as much as what the Out of the Sandbox themes offer. This invariably ends up in a frustrated store owner and the developer being forced to fit square pegs into round holes for them. It's not a situation either party wants to be in.

      Real World Experience

      Given the number of stores we've setup using Parallax, Retina, Mobilia, Responsive and more recently Turbo, it's safe to say that we know our way around the themes by now.

      Out of the Sandbox Shopify Themes

      The components and elements that can go on the product page template, the collection page, home page, contact page, the abilities and limitations of each template and piece of functionality, the work-arounds and enhancements that we've already done and don't need to "figure out" are all quite clear to us now.

      Due to this "focused experience" on this fine selection of extremely versatile themes, we're confident that a store build using one of them can be done far more rapidly and effectively than we could with an unfamiliar and potentially inferior one. Most -if not all- trial and error (depending on use case) has already taken place in our many real-world client store builds... who are currently transaction millions of dollars through their ecommerce storefronts. 

      "ShopCreatify is our preferred partner when it comes to setting up a shop with our Shopify themes. They know our themes better than anyone and are an absolute pleasure to work with."
      Brad Miller — Founder of Out of the Sandbox
      Full disclosure: Yes, those links to Out of the Sandbox are all referrer links since we're partners of theirs. It has no bearing on cost to the store owner, but it allows them to track any sales we send to them. If you click through and buy, it does moderately benefit us, but we'd far prefer to help you build your store so take a look at our solutions page if that is something you need.

      Out of the Sandbox Shopify Themes

      Recently it came to our attention that some of our best work and by far the majority of our work over the past two years as Shopify experts has been done using themes developed by one particular theme house. 

      read time.

      Read More

      Although published over a year ago now, this is a great video that explains what Shopify is, who it's for, how it's ecosystem works and what the vision is. It provides some great insight into the what, the who and the why.

      Shopify Roadshow Video

      Although published over a year ago now, this is a great video that explains what Shopify is, who it's for, how it's ecosystem works and what the vision is. It provides some great insight into the what, the who and the why.

      read time.

      Read More