A while ago I contacted Shopify to see if someone would be interested in doing an interview to talk about their hosted e-commerce system. Fortunately, Daniel Weinand (VP of Design) was happy to participate and share some insight that should be helpful to any designers/developers who work on e-commerce sites for clients. Throughout the interview you will see some screenshots of sites that are powered by Shopify, click the images to visit the sites.
As a hosted e-commerce solution, Shopify comes with a price as opposed to some popular free open-source platforms. What should designers and potential clients know about Shopify when choosing from a wide variety of e-commerce options?
A common misconception when people opt for free open-source platforms is that they don’t consider that “free” can become quite expensive. Hosting, security, bandwidth and regular backups are obvious costs on top of your time that it takes to set up an open source system on your own server.
The great thing about a hosted e-commerce solution, and Shopify in particular is that we really take care of all of the above. You don’t need to install updates and patches and new features come to you automatically on a regular basis.
Can you tell our audience of designers a little bit about Vision?
Sure. Traditionally with designing themes for hosted applications, you would have to use that application’s proprietary editor (unless they offer ftp access). This works fine if you just need to change things here and there but we found it cumbersome to design a whole new theme this way from scratch.
That’s how we came up with Vision. It’s a Shopify-in-a-box that you install on your own machine. It starts up a server that simulates a real Shopify store. This way you can use your preferred editor for theme designing (I couldn’t live without Textmate anymore). You can also quickly switch between themes or directly navigate to critical pages (like “what does the cart page with products look like in your theme?”) via the Vision toolbar.
For designers/developers who want to learn more about creating Shopify themes, how would you recommend that they get started?
All you need to know when you want to create a Shopify theme is how Liquid works (I assume that you’re already familiar with HTML and
CSS). Liquid is a straight forward and simple script language that we have developed specifically for Shopify. Liquid is not very complex so you will learn the few essential instructions that you need in no time.
The fastest way to learn Liquid is to have a look at an existing theme and see if you can figure out what each instructions does. Then start to change things and see how those changes affect the store front. In most cases, the Liquid instructions are self-explanatory. And in case you do get stuck you can always refer to our wiki for variable references and code examples.
Unlike working with an open-source platform, designers who refer clients to Shopify can earn residual commissions. What response have you received from designers about this program, and how important has it been to Shopify’s growth?
Yes, we think it should be in the designer’s best interest to create the most beautiful design for his/her client. So when the client’s shop performs well it will reflect in higher future payouts for the designer. The payments (20% of what we make goes back to you, the designer) come directly from Shopify, so this is a way of encouraging high quality stores and saying thank you to the designer who have chosen Shopify.
This program has been really well perceived. Whenever we meet a Designer who is designing Shopify themes, they tell us how much they like it – so far no one has complained about it. I would not disclose concrete numbers but let me say that some of our designers in the partner program receive considerable cheques each month.
Are there any new features or additions planned for the future of Shopify that you are particularly excited about?
You bet. There are many upcoming features in the pipe but i am particularly excited about a new rich text editor for product descriptions, blog posts, etc. I was never too keen on older WYSIWYG editors but we’re confident that now is a good time to nail this for the Shopify admin. It’s going to be a huge time saver because you don’t have to teach your client how to use Textile, Markdown or write HTML for their content.
Shopify users can choose from a number of free themes if they don’t want to have a custom theme designed. Do you have any idea what percentage of your users are having custom designs as opposed to the free themes?
It is hard to put a definite number on this. Many stores start out with either one of the free themes or purchase one from the various
Shopify Theme selling sites like Theme Forest and then keep on modifying it to custom tailor it to their personal needs. There is a
high demand for designers that do those “touch ups”. On the other side we have many stores that have a unique custom design. Sometimes, a store already had some form of web presence and they would just take what they had and use their existing layout for the Shopify shop (one of the things that is super easy to do with Shopify).
Shopify has been pretty active as an advertiser on various design blogs. How has the growth of Shopify been impacted by this involvement in the design community?
We always got good feedback from designers in the early stages of Shopify. Maybe because they have seen the bad and the ugly of other e-commerce solutions they showed more appreciation for Shopify. We’re always keen to build upon this relationship with designers so we thought “that’s a really good group of people to reach out for”. Yeah, we want more of you guys.
Thanks to Daniel for taking the time to do this interview. If you’d like to get more information, please visit Shopify.
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