We see these words often in articles, and hear them time and time again from businesses we speak to. But is it actually true? 

Pocket Square have worked with Shopify for over 7 years, so we thought we should weigh in on this much-stated argument. 

Firstly, every platform has limitations. There is no platform (or agency for that matter) that can be all things to all people. Magento, BigCommerce, or Custom/Proprietary platforms all have things that they either can't do, don't do, or don't do well.

Secondly, every platform is going to try to highlight the things it can do better over another platform but is very rarely going to highlight what it does worse. We see articles comparing BigCommerce's enterprise-level plan to Shopify's $29/month starter plan as if it is a fair comparison.

It's important for merchants to drill down into what platform is right for the business, the team and the current stage of their digital lifecycle. It's equally important to find a partner that understands these requirements and can help get the most out of whatever platform they go with.

Where did the idea that "Shopify can't do X" come from?

There was a time where this statement was true. But that was a long long time ago, and people have failed to update their research or understanding of the platform. When Pocket Square first started in 2012, Shopify did exist, but we opted to develop solely on Magento. At that point, Magento was one of the most flexible platforms on the market and allowed our clients to do whatever they could dream up. On the flip side, Shopify was very much in its infancy, and as such had plenty of limitations, both to how much customers could customise the front-end and manage their processes in the backend.

We had businesses approach us running Shopify and we swiftly migrated them to Magento to give them that added flexibility and customisation capability. We kept an eye on Shopify, but for the first few years of Pocket Square, we could see it wouldn't meet more than 60% of our client’s requirements.

As time went by, we kept looking at what the platform was doing, and we started to notice, very quickly, it could fulfil 65%, then 75% then 85%, then 95% of our client’s requirements. We decided it was time to seriously investigate what could be done. It's important to remember that at that time, Magento 1 was already at 1.9. With each update, our clients were having more and more problems, with limited new features or functionality being introduced.

What astounded us, and drove us to look more seriously at Shopify was the speed in which it went from a platform that couldn't bring our client's ideas to life, to a platform that could.

Can Shopify do everything? Of course not, no platform can. It can however do a lot more than some people think, especially if you partner with an agency who really understands the platform.

Why do people still say it?

1. Using Shopify's history of being a 'simple platform for startups that isn't that customisable' is an easy way for an agency to convince an unknowing merchant that another platform is better.

This is one of the more common ones that we see, and this is the one that gets us the most riled up!

We are a Shopify Plus agency, and as such our knowledge makes us an expert on what the platform is capable of. We're also a former Magento agency and do a lot of Magento 2 migration work, so have unique insight into that platform too (enough to write only a slightly biased Shopify vs Magento comparison article). 

So when a potential client asks us the differences between Shopify and BigCommerce (or any other platform), we tell them the truth. We don't actively develop on that platform and therefore can't comment on what it can and can't do, or how it's different from Shopify. We are happy to highlight some core facts including team size, R&D budgets, market cap (which is important when relying on their R&D) and other publicly available information but we don't get into the details because we simply don't know enough to make those statements.

While it's easy to take this argument at face value, I implore you to do your research. Have a chat with the team at Shopify Plus, BigCommerce and Magento as well as agencies like ourselves to get a holistic and true picture of the platform in order to understand how it will fit your business.

2. The agency or development team you're speaking to doesn't have enough relevant experience to get the most out of the platform.

Shopify has a very specific way to develop and scale the platform, and for the most part it can help you achieve your wildest dreams, as long as you work within their framework. It's like that to preserve the stability, scalability and security. Shopify wont allow a developer to take shortcuts by modifying core code because that would undermine one of Shopify's key advantages; it almost never has downtime (99.99%), can handle any amount of traffic and transactions and is automatically updated to the latest version.

It is very rare that we will think of an idea, or receive a brief that can't be done on Shopify. We may need to think a bit harder to come up with the solution, but we tend to find a solution pretty quickly. That comes from our experience working with the platform.

If you're hearing "that can't be done" from your partner or developer, ask them a few key questions to help determine if they have the experience you require to get what you need:

  • How many people in your team specialise in Shopify?
  • How many years of experience have you had with Shopify?
  • How are you developing on the platform? (if they answer 'straight in the theme editor in the backend', it's time to explore other options)
  • Have you explored a custom app to achieve that?
  • How many other platforms do you offer? Is Shopify your only focus?

    How do you find out if something you want really can't be done?

    Talk to someone who really knows the platform.

    If you're hearing "that can't be done" just a bit too often for your liking, or you have a very specific requirement that's being met with blank faces, perhaps it's time to talk to someone who might be able to give you a different answer.

    I'm not saying Pocket Square are the only option (although you definitely should give us a call) as there are lots of fantastic agencies around the world that have the experience and team to get the most out of Shopify. We Make Websites in the UK, Createur in Sydney & CyberWorkshop in Auckland are a few great examples of agencies with the experience to back up their Shopify partnership credentials.

    Look around at other Shopify sites

    If you see a feature that you've been told can't be done on another Shopify site, it's a fairly good sign it actually can. Look through the portfolios on agency websites, or use a tool like BuiltWith when you find a site you like to see what merchants can achieve with the platform when they're in good hands.

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