Everyone debates and compares the different places where you can create online stores. Usually, they mention Etsy, Amazon, eBay and Shopify like the only ones that matter. Obviously there are pros and cons to all of those, but It seems to me people are being misled about what Shopify really is. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should NOT sell on Shopify.
1- A Shopify website isn't really YOUR website
I see it everywhere. People on forums, facebook groups, Reddit, wherever people go to discuss eCommerce, they talk about Shopify as the place you can go if you want your own website away from the weird and harsh rules of Marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon. A place where you are safe from being suspended or banned without cause, and where every dollar you invest in publicity actually goes only to you, and not the competitor on the "more products like this" tab.
Thing is, this isn't really true. A Shopify website isn't really yours, because not only the host and service your website needs, but they also mediate any issues with you and any complaining party.
If you own your home, if your neighbors have a complaint they talk to you. If you are renting a room or whatever they'll talk to the owner. That's how you know the website isn't yours because when people have a complaint they talk to Shopify, not you.
Anyone that has an issue with you will easily find out your website is hosted on Shopify, therefore they know they can go to Shopify's official website to submit a complaint against you, and eventually get you banned with a few of those in a row.
2- You can get banned for no good reason, just like any marketplace
Think this isn't true? find out for yourself. Google "my Shopify store got banned/suspended" or "I can't access my Shopify store" or "my Shopify account was disabled".
You will find countless horror stories from people whose entire business and livelihood was stripped away from them without notice or a real chance to appeal the decision and fight it. This is EXACTLY what happens to you on marketplaces, especially Etsy.
Mark my words, if I wanted to, I could get ANY Etsy store banned within a few days, some within a few hours. It's easy and anyone can do it.
I'm not going to tell you how because this will severely increase the number of stores that unfairly get banned, but just to give you some insight so that you can understand what I'm talking about, it's essentially when your competitor's spam reports your store in a very specific way. Don't just go reporting people randomly now to see if it works, if you don't know what you are doing you might get yourself banned instead.
If anyone does the actual thing to you, you'll get banned, there will be nothing you can do about it, your business is gone, you can never open another Etsy store again. It's gone. The same thing happens on Shopify - it may not be as frequent, but do you really want to take the chance?
If you build a real proprietary website using WordPress for example, any complaints are submitted directly TO YOU to deal with. If they are baseless accusations you know you can ignore them, if it's a true copyright infringement notice that you then realize you were infringing on (or even if you are breaking the law somehow), you can remove the infringing products, apologize (the right thing to do) and move on with your store with no issues.
The same goes for other policies: there are no restricted items that you can't sell either - ever happened to you that a series of your products get removed from your Etsy or Amazon store because they don't comply with policies even though they totally do? then you email them and they just reply with an automated / copy&paste response that doesn't really say anything?
It happened to me a few times, I grew tired of arguing with robots. I sure as hell won't be going through the same on a Shopify store.
So what kinds of things will get you banned on Shopify? Here's a bunch of examples I pulled directly from Shopify's terms of service:
You can't sell:
Porn, gambling, alcohol, vape stuff, age-restricted goods or services, weapons, and munitions or anything that looks like those, flammable stuff, anything that depicts drugs on it (T-shirt with "legalize marijuana" on it? nope).
No fake hair, so goodbye to cosplay stores selling wigs and stuff. No hair extensions so goodbye beauty stores. No Travel reservation services, no airlines no flea markets.
No shipping services, no marketing services, yes you read that right NO MARKETING SERVICES so even I can't have this website there if I plan to sell marketing services in the future.
You get the point, just click the link and scroll down to "Products or services that are otherwise prohibited by our financial partners"
Remember the fact that, you might not want to sell guns. But what if you are selling a picture of a gun and get flagged by the automatic algorithm? What if you are selling something that is somehow similar or reminds you of a prohibited item, even though it really isn't? you might still get banned either way. It happens a lot actually.
I don't know about you but I like having the liberty to sell whatever I want in my own damn store. That's why Shopify isn't yours.
Important note: these rules exist because some payment providers (like PayPal) don't want any involvement with these high-risk industries. So even if you have your own website, you won't be able to sell those kinds of things using PayPal or similar. You can, however, do that using any other payment method of your choice. That's the difference, Shopify enforces those rules because they don't give you choice. They are also much more severe than the actual payment processors. I have sold fake guns for costumes (cosplay) for years using multiple popular payment processors with no issues ever (yes I was doing that within the confinements of the law). If there weren't ways to pay for stuff like porn, there wouldn't exist a multi-billion dollar industry surrounding it. You sure cant start a porn empire on Shopify though.
3- It has the same disadvantages as a marketplace like Etsy, but no real advantages.
Sure, Shopify has a series of advantages and services they provide that surely must be useful in many ways. And I'm also sure that, like everything I say all the time, there are exceptions and for some businesses their perfect place to be is Shopify.
However, given points 1 and 2, we're starting to notice that Shopify has some cons in common with marketplaces, but what pros are there?
Better off, what pros does Shopify have, that other services that provide you with a proprietary website for which only you are responsible for, do not?
Let's go through what I believe are the most important ones:
Pros of a Marketplace ( Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc):
- They have unbelievable amounts of people searching for stuff there, meaning that you only need to create a shop with good products, they will sell with no need to invest time and money in promoting them;
- They provide you with an easy way to set up a shop, you can create one in minutes and it's online for people to see;
Those pretty much sum up the entire reason for sellers to continue to create stores on marketplaces.
Cons of a Marketplace:
- A tremendous amount of competition, and often while customers browse your products, the marketplace will suggest products from other stores. Whatever money and time you invest to bring people to your store, you are actually bringing them to "Etsy" or to "Amazon", they might not choose your product and opt for a competitor;
- They control your store, any change they make will affect your business and you can't do anything about it but try and adapt;
- You can get banned and all sorts of similar things like previously mentioned;
- They take a commission, in some marketplaces it is bigger, others it's smaller.
Now let's combine these with Shopify!
What pros do Shopify and Marketplaces share? The only I can think of that kind of does is the fact that it's easy to create, but not as easy as WIX for example which also gives you the responsibility for your own store (to a certain extent, of course, it's also not ideal)
How about the cons?
Shopify shares all the cons of a marketplace except the first one regarding the competition.
Shopify controls your store, you can get banned and they take a commission. On top of that, they bill you a monthly fee too. Which leads to the next point:
4 - It is VERY expensive
Have you looked at Shopify's price table? look no further, here it is!
I took the liberty of adding in the fees and sales commission Shopify takes because they conveniently put them waaaaaaaaaaay down the tables.
Am I saying Shopify takes too much and they are stealing from you? No.
I'm saying when thinking about all the options of where to sell your stuff on, you have to take all these things into consideration and do the math to see what is best for you.
One of the main reasons why marketplaces sellers start to consider leaving them is because of the fees. If people continue to talk about Shopify has a "place where you can create an independent site" it can induce people in error that they don't take commissions. They do take commissions and also charge you a hefty monthly fee.
5 - You are investing the exact same amount you would on your proprietary website, but it's not really yours
Lastly with all previous points considered, for a Shopify store (unlike any marketplace) you have to bring in your own customers. You will have to make a serious marketing plan which will take huge chunks out of your workweek to bring customers in. You'll have to invest a lot of money in Facebook ads, Pinterest ads, Instagram ads, google ads, because you'll learn that all social networks don't really bring any organic traffic anymore, and since google combines the entire internet you'll have to pay to get ahead.
This is the normal life of a business outside of marketplaces, you'll have to do the work but once you master it you will have your own business, which you really own. Unless you are on Shopify, which you will not actually own anything and after doing so much work and investment you will still pay commissions, huge monthly fees, and can still get banned because one of your competitors isn't afraid to get dirty, and knows exactly what buttons to push to get you banned. Either that or you get flagged for selling guns even though you just sell pictures of guns, or anything similar to that which leads to an unfair situation where you can't get yourself out of.