Shopify is a hosted e-commerce solution responsible for delivering just short of 2 million shops on the internet. It’s known for being pretty user-friendly and its premium version, Shopify Plus, powers around 5,000 websites from established brands like Penguin Books and Budweiser to modern, Instagram-friendly brands like Bootea and Leesa mattresses.
Obviously, huge parts of the B2B retail sector are dominated by wholesalers like AliExpress but there are many thriving businesses in the $7.7Tn B2B e-commerce space.
There are several key considerations when building a website in the B2B space.
Firstly, are you going to be B2B exclusively or offer a hybrid of B2B and B2C where trade suppliers can sign up for wholesale discounts?
Secondly, is the only goal of your website to have businesses purchase through your e-commerce or is lead generation and inquiry generation a part of your strategy?
Is Shopify fit for B2B retailers? What benefits are there from using Shopify? What constraints does Shopify have that could negatively affect your B2B model?
As we’ll explore in the rest of this blog, Shopify is a strong solution for building a shop but may strain at the additional requirements of a B2B retailer.
The Benefits of Shopify for B2B
First, Shopify is a hosted solution which comes with the benefits of a) not having to manage your hosting and b) not having to manage updates of your e-commerce software. This is the primary reason why Shopify is so popular among retailers who are starting up: it requires no internal developer resources.
Shopify pricing begins at $29 pcm + 2.2% per transaction + an additional 20p transaction fee. Retailers who are looking to maximise margin through the minimisation of transaction fees should look elsewhere in this respect. For example, Stripe charges 1.4% + 20p for transactions from within the EU.
Again, many early retailers will see the $29 price as a bargain as it minimises developer requirements. Shopify Plus, which is aimed at companies making over $1m a year through e-commerce, ranges between $2,000 and $40,000 pcm depending on the needs of your business. The Plus package does see lower transaction fees being charged, as a benefit of the scale that Plus users have achieved.
Shopify also has an app marketplace which allows for off-the-shelf integrations into popular apps like Mailchimp and Facebook Messenger, potentially saving more developer time.
The ability to integrate with product feeds and external retailers, such as Aliexpress, have made Shopify a popular choice among dropshippers. Some of the best-reviewed apps for dropshippers start at $30pcm.
B2B businesses looking to deal with a wholesale/consumer split do have access to wholesaling apps within the Shopify ecosystem, the best of which start at around $30pcm.
One of the biggest benefits of Shopify for retailers is that Shopify has its own EPOS system. If your shop has a physical presence, this is a good way of unifying online and offline sales.
The Constraints of Shopify
As a hosted solution, Shopify has many constraints.
The software that Shopify runs on is owned by Shopify. If Shopify were to shut tomorrow, then so would your business. Customisation is difficult and Shopify stores are largely dependent on themes, with limited customisation options.
As a B2B retailer – particularly a hybrid retailer who looks for leads and inquiries in addition to sales – you’ll find Shopify limited in several ways. For example, you might want to develop a landing page to appeal to the specific needs of a target demographic and to attract leads. However, pagebuilding on Shopify is severely limited and many Shopify users use Leadpages or Instapages to compensate. While these pagebuilding solutions do often result in attractive landing pages they are hosted on yet another server and incur yet another monthly cost (generally from $25-100pcm).
For many standard B2B practices like landing pages and lead magnet tactics, Shopify is in many regards unsuitable and the third party solutions err on the pricey side.
Blogging on Shopify
Many B2B businesses see blogging as an essential component of their marketing – it allows them to target specific keywords for SEO purposes and it allows them to display expertise and authority on the subject matter. For businesses looking to establish themselves as domain experts, blogging is pretty essential.
While Shopify offers a decent and easy-to-use blogging interface it lacks some of the strengths of something like WordPress. For example, Shopify’s blogging solution lacks categories, something often seen as essential in the blogging space. All Shopify blog posts are prefaced with /posts/ in the URL, lacking the clean URLs that can be achieved on other CMS.
Something like WordPress with a pagebuilder like Elementor allows you to create outstanding pieces of content that aren’t constrained by standard blog layouts. This sort of content can form the heart of B2B marketing campaigns and can be used for lead-magnet/lead-gen purposes. Not on Shopify.
Shopify’s ultimate limitation as a CMS is this lack of flexibility. If you need a shop and a shop alone then Shopify is a good solution. Few businesses, particularly not in the B2B space need a shop and a shop alone.
Shopify’s SEO limitations
Another important aspect for many B2B retailers is SEO: the ability to rank well on high-intent keywords in their desired market. If SEO is a key consideration of yours then you need to be aware of Shopify’s SEO limitations out of the box.
Duplicate content, duplicate page titles and 404 errors are some pretty devastating SEO issues that come out of the box with Shopify. They can largely be addressed but do require some SEO and technical know-how. This guide from Leanmetrics is a good place to start.
Other issues include needing to manually add schema.org schema to the theme, no control over the robots.txt file, no video sitemap and no image sitemap.
For those looking to maximise their SEO potential through good technical SEO will be left wanting by many aspects of Shopify.
The E-commerce market
If we look at the overall e-commerce market, thanks to BuiltWith, we can see that Shopify is a close second behind WooCommerce in the e-commerce technologies field.
Woocommerce is the free and open source solution that integrates with WordPress and brings all the power and flexibility of the WordPress ecosystem.
It should be noted that Shopify Plus represents just 56 of the top 10,000 websites in the world. This shows that scale can be achieved without the need of such a premium solution. Meanwhile, many of the mega brands using Shopify Plus such as Budweiser and Pepsico are using the platform for small volume transactions and rely on their giant and integrated wholesaling business for their primary revenue.
Shopify is a robust e-commerce platform that shifts billions in annual sales. It does not, however, offer many of the lead generation and landing page requirements that a B2B retailer would require. Shopify can also be costly both in transaction fees through regular Shopify and software fees on Shopify Plus. The SEO control required by a B2B retailer trying to aggressively target high-intent keywords in their niche is also lacking.
At Contact, we specialise in WordPress and Woocommerce and all the flexibility that brings, so we are in that respect biased. However, for B2B retailers, particularly hybrid B2B retailers that want leads as well as sales we would gladly recommend Magento and Woocommerce over Shopify and Shopify Plus.