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Shopify Limitations (and Workarounds)

by Zoe Rooney

July 4, 2013
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shopify-limitations-workarounds

This post was edited to be up to date as of May 13, 2016

I feel kind of weird writing this post, because truly I love Shopify and I recommend it all the time. However, there are some features that are missing that may be dealbreakers for some e-commerce businesses and I would never want to sell a system or CMS to someone if it wouldn’t actually meet all their needs.


Gift Certificates

2016 update: Shopify did not offer gift certificates at the time the original article was written, but they now offer online gift cards which you can learn more about here: Selling online gift cards

Wholesale

Now that shoppers can create an account before making their first purchase, Shopify seems to be on the way to allowing for better wholesale options. Combined with the ability to group customers by tag, you can now have wholesalers create an account and then you can mark them as a wholesaler and do something with that information in your template code. That’s about all they currently offer to that end, though – everything else you’d need as far as minimum order amount or quantity discounting requires at least one app at additional cost.

Wholesale workarounds for Shopify

2016 update: This article previously linked to some apps, but we have refined our recommendation for selling to wholesale customers using Shopify. We’ve written a separate post about this, and these are our current best recommendations for selling wholesale on Shopify.

Complex Product Options, Variations, or Customizations

In Shopify-speak, a variant is one variation within an option. For example, “color” is an option, and “red, blue,” and “purple” are variants. There are limits to how many options and variants you can have on any one product (3 options, with a total of 100 variants as of this writing).

Each combination (e.g. a specific shirt size small, in blue) counts as one SKU or one individual product – this is the same as the way you’d count your total inventory – and depending on your plan there may also be a limit to the number of SKUs you can have.

Finally, it can also be tricky to display fields to collect the necessary information for customizable products, particularly if the customizations vary a lot by product and/or you have a lot of different customizable products.

Product customization workarounds for Shopify

If you have fairly simple customization needs, all you’ll probably require is a custom product template with a flexible input field. As things get more complex with customizations, it may be worthwhile to invest in either the Product Options app ($9.99/month) or Product Customizer app ($4/ month), both of which allow you to easily add fields to your customizable products.

For variants, you’re pretty much stuck with what Shopify allows, although you can always separate variants into separate products which may help in certain situations.

Downloadable Products

Downloadable products aren’t included by default, but Shopify supports their official Digital Downloads app. If that one doesn’t float your boat, there are some solid apps to handle the workload, but once again expect to pay extra for the convenience.

Downloadable product workarounds for Shopify

There are a number of apps that handle downloads, all with slightly different price points and features. I don’t have much in the way of experience with most of these, but last time I looked into it, the first one was the one the client ended up going with.

Shipping Modules

I actually think Shopify’s shipping options are decent, but they seem to be difficult for people coming off of Etsy who are used to the way they’ve been doing it over there. You can set up shipping by location using table rates by either total order price or total order weight. On higher plans, you can also opt to use carrier-calculated shipping.

2016 update: Ask Shopify support about adding the carrier calculated shipping option to your lower level Shopify plan for a monthly fee.

Wishlists

This is another feature that I think will fall off the “not supported” list sooner rather than later now that Shopify supports account creation before ordering (it used to be that you could only create an account as a customer after placing an order). For now, though, it’s not possible without some customization.

Wishlist workaround for Shopify

2016 update: We used to link to a wish list plugin for developers to use, but that’s not practical for most shop owners. We would suggest the Gift Reggie app for Shopify.


Shopify is continuously improving and adding features, so hopefully some of these features will be released in the not-too-distant future, but for now these are the main potential dealbreakers to be aware of if you’re considering opening up shop on the platform. While it looks like a daunting list, I find that these things really aren’t that important to many sellers, and those that are can be handled with a combination of smart development and the available apps.

If you have any questions about Shopify limitations, please get in touch – we would be happy to offer you some advice about your particular situation.

Want to figure out how to choose a cost-effective Shopify plan?

If you’re thinking about making the leap into setting up your own ecommerce website, you should do the math! Would you like to try out our Etsy vs. Shopify Fee Calculator? It compares the different Shopify plans (and Etsy). You can download this simple tool, and find other free resources by subscribing below:

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