How to Build Your Online Business with Shopify

As part of the Back to Biz program, we’ve partnered with Shopify to bring you 4 courses centered around ecommerce. As the leading ecommerce platform designed for entrepreneurs all around the world, we were excited to showcase all the ways you can leverage their products and services to start, grow, and scale your business. Coming up on November 18th, we will also be joining them live to hear from experienced merchants already on their platform. Register here to catch the fireside chat and ask your questions real-time during the Q&A.

What is Shopify?

In short, 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, their 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 their 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. 

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 they’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 they 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 their 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 they offer customers powerful upgrades to help them grow their business on their 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 their servers work hard around the clock to get—and keep—your website up and running. They 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 processor 

  • 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 partner 

  • 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.

Back office 

  • 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 their blog

Marketing HQ 

  • 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.

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, kick the tires, and come have a look for yourself.
Ready to create your online store? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

Want to dive deeper into building your business online? Shopify has free classes to help you start your online storefront, grow your customers and start reaching new audiences. Access 400+ free business lessons in our Back to Biz program.

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