Shopify is a subscription-based software that allows anyone to set up an online store and sell their products. Shopify store owners can also sell in physical locations using Shopify POS, our point-of-sale app and accompanying hardware. If you’re a Shopify merchant with both an online and physical presence, your inventory and stock get synced so you can manage your store(s) from one account, on any device.
But this is only scratching the surface.
To properly answer the question “what is Shopify?” it’s helpful to first understand that Shopify is not a singular product—it’s not just a store builder or a tool to sell your products. Shopify is a commerce platform that offers a way to quickly launch your dream business and start selling to your customers, wherever they are. And if you want to customize your store or even build it from the ground up, the Shopify App Store and our APIs make that easy to do. You can also buy a Shopify store through Exchange if you don't want to start from scratch.
Whether you need to get a simple store up-and-running today or you want to go under the hood yourself and build a unique shopping experience, Shopify is built to be versatile and to grow with you.
If you’re still wondering what you actually get when you sign up for Shopify, keep reading.
A guided tour of Shopify
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a complete commerce platform that lets you start, grow, and manage a business. The subscription-based software allows anyone to set up an online store and sell their products. Shopify store owners can also sell in physical locations using Shopify POS, our point-of-sale app and accompanying hardware.
How does Shopify work?
Shopify works by unifying all of your commerce into a single central command center. If you’re a Shopify merchant with both an online and physical presence, your inventory and stock get synced so you can manage your store(s) from one account, on any device.
With Shopify, merchants can build and customize an online store and sell in multiple places, including web, mobile, social media, online marketplaces, brick-and-mortar locations, and pop-up shops. Shopify also has features to manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping.
Shopify is completely cloud-based and hosted, which means you can access it from any connected compatible device and we’ll handle software and server upgrades and maintenance for you. This gives you the flexibility to access and run your business from anywhere with an internet connection.
On any given day, a business owner needs to showcase products, engage with customers, get paid, ship a product, and manage their day-to-day finances and operations. Some businesses use different tools to manage each of those activities—and spend a lot of time and money stitching the disparate systems and data together.
Alternatively, a commerce platform groups those technologies together and becomes the base upon which other applications, processes, or technologies are developed. In other words, Shopify’s commerce platform offers all of the business tools you’ll need in one, familiar place. And then we ensure that you can easily access and integrate any other business tools you want or need to make Shopify work for your business.
Think of Shopify’s product as layers you can choose from to build the right stack for your business:
Layer 1: Shopify’s core product
This is what you get as soon as you buy any Shopify plan. It includes everything you need to turn your idea into a business and start selling: templates for the look and feel of your store, tools to sell in multiple places online and in-person, integrated payment processing, the best-converting checkout on the internet, SEO and marketing tools—these are all part of Shopify’s core product. This is the foundation upon which our other products and applications are built.
And for those who want to fine-tune their store and experience, you get access to Shopify APIs and development tools to customize your store’s capabilities even further.
Layer 2: Shopify’s additional products and services
Every independent business is unique. And as businesses grow, their needs evolve accordingly. That’s why we offer our customers powerful upgrades to help them grow their business on our platform. From easier access to capital to accelerated payments options, these products and services are exclusive to Shopify customers and are designed to help independent business owners have a leg up in the market.
Layer 3: Apps built by trusted partners
Shopify’s App Store has thousands of apps and features built by third-party developers to customize your store without ever once touching the code. Anything you can dream up, there’s an app that can help make it a reality. You’ll find the most cutting-edge tools to grow your business in the App Store, whether it’s the latest SMS app or the hottest new social media network’s ad tools.
There’s also a marketplace of Shopify Experts that you can hire to build custom solutions for your business. And if you want to dabble with the code yourself, you can do that, too!
Out of the box: what you get with Shopify’s core product
Think about the last time you bought a smartphone. Right out of the box, your smartphone can take photos and videos, connect to and browse the internet, offer navigation services, tell you the weather, and so on. In other words, out of the box, your smartphone allows you to do everything you need your handheld device to do.
Shopify’s core product—what you get on every Shopify plan—works the same way. Out of the box, Shopify is your one-stop-shop to run your business: you get a storefront, a payment processor, a shipping partner, a back office, and marketing headquarters, all in one. These are the core functions of running a business.
More precisely, this is what you get when you sign up for Shopify:
Hosted online store. You instantly have a hosted online store where you can create web pages, upload blog posts, and of course, sell products. You can customize the look and feel of your store by changing the website template, or theme.You can find the right theme for your business in the Shopify Theme Store. (Note: Shopify offers free web hosting with all plans. A hosted platform means our servers work hard around the clock to get—and keep—your website up and running. We handle everything from your site’s security to software updates, so that you don’t have to.)
- POS Lite. Shopify POS is a point-of-sale app that you can use to sell your products in person, including brick-and-mortar stores, markets, and pop-up shops. Every Shopify plan comes with a free POS Lite plan. All you have to do is register a store in your admin and order your accompanying hardware.
- Payment processing. You can choose from over 100 payment gateways, or opt for Shopify Payments, which eliminates the hassle of setting up a third-party provider and saves you transaction fees. Whatever you choose, you’re set up to accept all major payment methods and sell in 133 currencies.
- Shopify Checkout. Whether you’re selling on your own store or through sales channels like Instagram, you’ll be able to use Shopify Checkout. With over 2.5 billion orders processed, Shopify Checkout is constantly optimized for speed, conversion, and customer experience–giving you the most powerful checkout in the world.
- Shipping. You can create the shipping setup that works for you, from fulfilling orders in bulk, to creating USPS SCAN Forms, to arranging pickups with UPS and DHL. If you’re in Canada, the United States, or Australia, you can offer live order tracking, quick shipping, and discounted, pre-negotiated carrier rates with Shopify Shipping. You can also offer curbside pickup and local delivery options.
- Mobile app. Download and use the free Shopify app to manage your business from your mobile device. You can do everything you’d do at your computer from your phone, so you can keep up with your business from wherever it takes you.
Analytics and reports. See store activity in real-time, gain insight into your visitors, and analyze your business performance. You also get detailed insights and reports about your business, so you can optimize your store’s activities.
- The Shopify App Store. The Shopify App Store is a collection of free and premium apps that extend the functionality of your online store. It’s a great way to add more specialized features and functionalities to your store, whether that’s a full-featured marketing app stack or connecting with local shipping suppliers.
- Support. Get the help you need with 24/7 customer support, comprehensive documentation, and educational resources on our blog.
Marketing platform. Shopify’s marketing platform lets you reach more customers through the built-in blog and SEO tools, as well as create Facebook and Google Shopping campaigns. You can track your campaign performance across all channels in one dashboard, and you retain full control over your customer data.
Unlock access to exclusive Shopify products and services
We’re always looking for ways to give independent business owners a fighting chance in the market. That means giving you access to the same tools that big brands use—at prices you can afford. So when you sign up for a Shopify plan, you also unlock access to powerful upgrades built by Shopify exclusively for Shopify stores.
These additional products and services are optional, but they’re designed to augment any (or all) of your core business functions: selling, shipping, marketing, and operating. And most of them can be activated with a click of a button and managed from the same place that you run your online store.
You can add and subtract features as you see fit and as your business changes, or tap into services on a one-and-done basis. Our ethos is simple: business owners should be able to level-up their business whenever and however they want, and it should be easy to do.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the functionalities you can choose from when you become a Shopify merchant, and we’ve indicated where there may be restrictions (🔐) or costs (💰) associated:
Shop Pay 🆓
Shop Pay is an accelerated checkout that lets customers save their email address, credit card, and shipping and billing information so that they can complete their transaction faster the next time they’re buying something from your store. A Shopify study showed that checkouts going through Shop Pay have an average checkout-to-order rate of 1.72x times higher than those going through regular checkouts.
Social media and marketplace selling 🆓
You can use Shopify to promote and sell your products on other channels as well. Connect your Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and TikTok to promote and sell your products on social. You can also sell where your buyers frequently shop, like Etsy, Amazon, and Walmart.
Shopify Fulfillment Network 🔐
With a dedicated network of fulfillment networks across the United States, qualifying merchants can use Shopify’s Fulfillment Network. Once you’ve been approved, all you have to do is select the orders that need to be fulfilled, and we pick, pack, and ship them from the nearest warehouse to improve your delivery time.
Shopify Capital 🔐
Shopify Capital is a funding option for merchants who are looking to scale their business. Shopify Capital offers cash advances and loans to eligible businesses based on their store sales. It’s currently available in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Email marketing 🆓
Shopify Email is our very own email marketing tool that allows you to create professional-looking emails to communicate with your customers, and campaigns to help you sell more products. You can track their performance from the same place you manage your products, customers, and other digital marketing campaigns—and you’ll see the exact dollar amount of sales each email delivered for your business.
Conversational commerce 🆓
Shopify Inbox is a free messaging app to connect with customers and sell more over chat. Use it to manage customer conversations, create automated messages, and get insights to focus on chats that convert—all from Shopify. We found that customers were 70% more likely to convert when using Shopify Inbox to chat with brands.
POS Pro 💰
If you have a permanent brick-and-mortar location, you’ll want to upgrade from POS Lite to POS Pro. Shopify POS Pro gives you access to advanced inventory management, unlimited store staff accounts, and analytics.
Wait, there’s more: the Shopify App Store
Remember our smartphone analogy? Out of the box, your smartphone has all the necessary features. But that's not all it can do. Your smartphone also allows you to download apps—like social media, music streaming, email, and fitness apps—that make it more enjoyable and effective to use on a regular basis. And those choices are deeply personal.
Shopify's commerce platform works the same way. Commerce is so diverse. What a business owner needs depends on what products they’re selling, who they’re selling to, the size of their business, where they are in the world, and so on.
With over a million independent businesses selling every type of product in markets all around the world, solving for every single business need is a tall order. And trying to include every possible feature a business might need on Shopify’s platform only makes the product harder to use for the majority of new business owners.
Instead, we prioritized making our platform flexible—first and foremost—with the ability to be modified easily to address the ever-evolving complexities of running a business. Then we enlist the help of every single developer around the world to join us in our mission, empowering them to build apps, themes, and other integrations specifically for Shopify’s platform.
That’s how the Shopify App Store came to be. With more than 6,000 apps to choose from, Shopify store owners have even more options when it comes to tailoring their store to meet their business needs. Whether you want to add customer reviews, manage your accounting, or add virtual try-ons to your store, there’s definitely an app for that.
We’ve built a powerful search and classification system that organizes apps by what they do and what merchant problems they solve, so that even the most niche of apps will be discoverable by the merchants who need them.
Merchants can find exactly what they need for their store, and new developers can build their business supporting those entrepreneurs. It's a win-win.
Choose your own adventure: custom code and beyond
Shopify’s mission is to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone. That means we designed our platform to be easy to use so that folks with no design or development expertise can build their business.
But this doesn’t mean you’re limited to the templates or features we offer out of the box. Or even the applications on our App Store. If you want to dabble with the code (or hire someone from our Partner ecosystem to), Shopify makes it possible to customize every aspect of your business and shopping experience. You can fine-tune just one aspect of your business, or create a one-of-a-kind store from the ground up. The choice is entirely yours.
For those who want more control over their business, here are some of the ways you can customize your store:
- Customize your theme or build a theme from scratch
- Build custom apps for your store using developer tools and Shopify’s APIs
- Use APIs to power custom experiences, like selling products in a video game
The bottom line is: you don't have to trade ease-of-use for customization and control. With Shopify, you can get your store and campaigns up-and-running quickly, while also creating rich, unique experiences that you see from big brands.
Get started with Shopify today
Shopify isn’t just a piece of software or a singular product—it’s an all-in-one commerce platform. More than that, it’s a rich ecosystem that creates value for business owners by bringing together developers, business experts, and shoppers in the shared pursuit of making commerce better for everyone.
By doing so, Shopify also makes entrepreneurship more accessible to anyone seeking independence. Whether you're a scrappy trailblazer finding your footing or a heritage brand reaching customers around the world, Shopify is built for you.
And getting started has never been easier! Start your free trial, follow this Shopify store launch checklist, and start selling online today. 👀
Additional contributions by Desirae Odjick
Illustrations by Núria Madrid