The pros and cons of high end e-commerce features — and how to know if your Shopify store is ready for them
by Michael P. Hill
Shopify, combined with premium Shopify themes such as Turbo, is a great e-commerce platform that allows new and experienced store owners the ability to build stores with both basic and advanced features. However, in the cutthroat world of e-commerce, it’s easy to get envious of some of the even more advanced features sites such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, Alibaba, and Overstock have.
It’s important to keep in mind that these stores, which typically generate millions of dollars in revenue a month, typically have entire teams of developers and engineers who are 100 percent devoted to maintaining their e-commerce platforms and developing new features.
It’s worth noting these e-commerce giants rely on proprietary, custom coded platforms combined with licensed enterprise level technology which, like a dedicated development team, is likely out of reach for many Shopify store owners.
Unfortunately, this puts smaller stores (in other words, the vast majority of Shopify businesses out there), at a type of disadvantage in that they don’t always have ready access to these types of advanced, interactive and dynamic features:
Shopper question and answers
User photos or Instagram photo integration
Product spec, details or feature boxes
“Favorites” or saving to lists
Fine-grained, faceted filtering
Per unit price display
Custom fields for products
Shopify’s large developer community has also created a large variety of apps that add features and functionality to Shopify stores and themes, though it’s always important to keep in mind the technical issues that apps can add and to avoid overloading your store and theme with too many apps.
While there are many great apps available that can add many of these features, always be sure to fully investigate each app and, if possible, demo it, before even testing it on your store:
Many apps are created to work for the broadest number of stores — so their feature set may seem great on the surface, but may not provide the level of refinement or specificity that you’re ultimately after.
Likewise, getting the “look and feel” of the various buttons, windows or other user interface elements to perfectly “match” your store exactly may require creating CSS code.
While trying out the app, keep an open mind even if it doesn’t do exactly what you want or exactly how you pictured it.
All that said, in general, if you’re at a point in your Shopify business’ growth where you can afford to invest in app that will add most — but not all — of the features, design and functionality you’re after, it can still be the most cost-effective way to go at this stage of your business.
The Shopify theme advantage
Having said that, starting with a well designed and coded premium Shopify theme already gives you a distinct advantage:
Quality Shopify themes follow many of the same best practices that many e-commerce stores use — meaning that users will likely feel “at home” and “comfortable” when reading your product descriptions, browsing photos and, ultimately, clicking that “add to cart” button.
The Product.details template, which is included in the latest version of all Out of the Sandbox Shopify themes, lets you create eye-catching layouts to showcase your products and services beyond the basic picture-description-button layout that most shoppers are familiar with. This template, which can be used to create different layouts for different products, is also a great way to increase engagement and improve “time on page” from shoppers as well as explain all of the ins and outs of your product.
Simpler can be better
While it’s easy to see all of the more advanced features, gadgets and layouts that big name e-commerce stores use, it’s also worth noting that it can be a fine line between features that engage users and ones that truly help generate sales.
As Shopify becomes a more and more popular choice for even larger e-commerce names, shoppers are becoming more and more familiar with the Shopify checkout process, making it a breeze to move shoppers down the funnel — and convert.
It’s also worth noting that, in general, every feature you add requires that a button, link, image or some other element be added to your product page and they can quickly add up and create clutter (and even “bury” your “add to cart” button). Since product pages are where most conversions take place, keeping things simple can sometimes be the best route.
Getting those ‘super advanced’ features
Of course, giant online stores often find great success with many advanced features — which is why they exist on these stores to begin with!
Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with adding any of these features to your store — and almost anything is possible. Just keep in mind these points:
As with any business decision, you should carefully prioritize and evaluate if the feature you’re considering is really necessary and if the investment will result in enough of a sales increase to justify the cost.
If you see a feature on another store, do some research on how long the feature has been around, if other stores have tried it and how it works. Even big name brands like Amazon, Walmart and Overstock take missteps and create new features that are heavily promoted — only to ultimately disappear in weeks, days or months.
If you can’t afford adding the feature through custom developer or an app, it’s likely that you’re not at the point in your business’ evolution that makes sense to add this feature. Keep it on the back burner until you have funds available.
Alternatively, you can also think creatively about an alternative way to add an approximation of the feature — either using an app or by reducing the scale of the project.
If you decide to start development of an advanced feature on a smaller scale, it’s always a good idea to let the developer know what your ultimate vision is, so they keep that in mind when building the feature.
You should be prepared to invest in your store to add new features. While there are ultimately many “inexpensive” ways to have development work done of your store, keep in mind you often “get what you pay for.”
That said, if you’re completely convinced a feature is a “must have” for your store then you should be willing to take a risk and invest money to make it possible. While I certainly don’t recommend draining your savings, retirement or investment accounts, there are some lower risk ways to obtain funding such as small business loans or grants, having friends or family invest (though they shouldn’t have to strain themselves financially to do so) or using a line of credit. Just be sure you’ve carefully considered all financial aspects of your decision and what will happen if you can’t pay it back.
Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.