Why your Shopify store might go down — and what to do when it happens

by Michael P. Hill

Why your Shopify store might go down — and what to do when it happens

As an ecommerce business owner who relies on the Shopify platform, it’s incredibly frustrating when Shopify is down — but it’s also important to understand why Shopify has downtime and how to respond effectively.

Like any website or web based service, Shopify runs on web servers — which are basically fancy computers. And just like any computer, all servers can go down from time to time for any number of reasons.

Servers also aren’t the only “link” in the chain that powers a particular website or web service.

Web servers are typically housed in data centers, which, in turn, rely on electricity, data lines and other utilities and services to stay up and running and connected to the web.

Shopify, like most tech companies, has engineered a highly robust server setup with built-in fail safes and redundancies — but as with anything complex, there’s always the chance for glitches that lead to downtime.

Determining there is a problem

The first sign that something might be amiss is that you can’t see your Shopify store, log in to the Shopify admin or you find that either one is working slowly or erratically.

The ultimate sign that there is something wrong is the “We’ll be back soon” error page.

All of these signals are likely indications that there’s a problem — but the “official” word that something is amiss is typically found on the Shopify status page.

Like most status pages for services such as Shopify, the page “lives” on a separate server, so it typically won’t be down if Shopify is down as well.

You can even subscribe to get updates, so you'll know as soon as something is logged.

However, there are some points to be aware of when checking the status page:

  • You may have come across an issue that has just started, so Shopify may not be aware of it — meaning everything is listed as A-OK, but there still could be a problem.
  • There’s also the possibility that Shopify has been alerted of the problem but is still working to get the word out.
  • Shopify generally tries to acknowledge there is an issue as quickly as possible, so while they might post an alert to the status page, it may not contain much detail.
  • It’s also important to note that the Shopify status page provides a breakdown of various features and functionality. Because of the large scale of Shopify’s servers, it’s possible that only certain features might go down — for example, sometimes the admins might be down, but storefronts are up or vice versa.
  • Finally, it’s important to note that, in a twist of irony, the status page itself also lives on a server and therefore could potentially go down. 

If you’re not seeing any updates on the status page (or can’t reach it), you can check Shopify’s official social media accounts or, as a last resort, reach out to Shopify support.

Keep in mind that if Shopify is experiencing an outage, there will likely be a longer than normal wait for assistance.

It’s worth noting that if you’re having trouble viewing the status page and social media pages, try checking a few random sites to see if you can view them. If not, there might be an issue with your computer or internet provider at the local level.

One thing that’s not effective: Sitting in front of your computer hitting the refresh button over and over.

Think of it this way: There are probably thousands of other store owners around the world doing the same thing — which not only amounts to a massive collective amount of frustration and wasted time — but could also actually hinder efforts that might be under way to resolve the issue.

When ‘down’ isn’t actually ‘down’

There are also other reasons that Shopify can go “down.”

The air quotes in that sentence are there for a reason — because these issues aren’t technically “downtime” in the traditional sense of the word.

In regard to web servers and hosting technology, “downtime” typically refers to issues with the server itself.

However, because Shopify also contains a layer of both themes and apps that add or enhance online stores, these two components can also cause issues.

So, it’s possible for your store to start having major issues and essentially stop functioning completely or partially — even if Shopify isn’t down. Some common examples:

  • Pages start showing up blank, unformatted or with odd layouts.
  • Your store pages are no longer clickable.
  • Clicking certain features causes unexpected results — or no results at all.
  • Customers can’t add items to the cart or complete checkouts. 

Unfortunately, these types of issues are most commonly caused by Shopify theme customizations or apps.

Often fixing them requires restoring a backup, uninstalling apps, hiring someone for advanced troubleshooting, or using our other Shopify “emergency” tips.

Shopify’s down … now what?

First, take a deep breath and relax.

While it’s true that online stores can lose sales due to Shopify outages, thankfully most outages are resolved fairly quickly, so hopefully you’ll be back up and taking orders soon.

It might be worth using the downtime as a “hint” to take a quick break. Take a walk, grab a bite to eat or grab some more coffee.

Then, come back after 10 or 15 minutes and see what’s what. You’ll likely either find that your store is back up and running or at least have more information about the issue so you can plan ahead.

Many users take to social media to vent frustration when a service is down — which is a natural reaction.

It’s also easy to “blame” Shopify for outages and its effects on your business.

However, keep in mind that outages are most definitely not something Shopify wants to happen — and they work very hard to avoid them.

Think about it: Downtime doesn’t benefit Shopify in any way. In fact, it actually creates challenges for Shopify just like it does for your business.

However, Shopify has wisely realized that issues are inevitable and while they have invested time and money into preventing them, they also have plans in place to solve them as quickly as possible.

Also keep in mind that, while it’s easy to get upset over downtime, there are numerous advantages to having Shopify handle the technical side of your business.

Tech companies like Shopify have experts working around the clock who actually proactively prevent a number of potential issues every day — most of which never result in any noticeable issues.

What to do, what to do?

Assuming that Shopify isn’t working for you for any number of reasons, here’s a quick list of things you can do without Shopify (we’re also excluding anything that requires access to other web based services since outages often affect more than one tech company):

  • Brainstorm: This truly doesn’t take any power other than mind power — but some of the best business decisions or ideas can come from taking a few deep breaths and allowing yourself to get lost in your thoughts. Talk out loud to yourself if you need to (we won’t judge). Sometimes not having the distraction of a computer or mobile device can be a great way to clear your head.
  • If you’re concerned about the lost revenue due to downtime, use this time to focus on how to improve your business model so that you can afford to lose a few orders here and there when there’s a technical glitch. In short, your goal should be to build a business that won’t take a huge hit if your store goes offline from time to time.
  • Tackle a task that doesn’t require access to Shopify such as organizing or cleaning your desk, warehouse, storage, or other work areas.
  • Use the time to plan ahead. Take out a calendar (even a printed one will do!) and look ahead at what holidays and events are coming up and make lists of ideas, strategies and to-dos.
  • If you have multiple employees whose work requires access to Shopify, consider keeping them on the clock and having a brainstorming or “town hall” meeting to discuss how things are going in the business and come up with new ideas.
  • Last, but not least, downtime is also a great chance to spend some time away from your business and with family, friends, pets or even just taking some time for yourself. 

Unfortunately, you’ll likely never know who tried to place orders on your site during the downtime or how many sales you lost.

While this is certainly disappointing and can be a blow to your bottom line, keep these points in mind:

  • There is always a chance the customer may come back and try again later, particularly if your products or services are unique and your sales pitch solid.
  • All businesses are subject to “downtime” that naturally cause them to lose sales — whether it’s an electricity or power outage, credit card terminal or POS going down or even something more devastating such as a fire.
  • When operating a business, it’s important to plan ahead for unexpected dips in revenue for any number of reasons. Keep some money aside so you can still meet your expenses even if orders fall short. 
Michael P. Hill
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.