Why the likes of Shopify are bringing web designers to an end

The Shopify logo on a smartphone in front of the background of the Shopify website
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Running a small business isn’t easy – I know, I have two of them. The testing lab is fortunate to have a close set of clients of many years, so advertising isn’t something we need to do. It’s all word of mouth and recommendations.

The food company that I run with my husband Andre is different. This is public-facing, and it’s a lot of work to do marketing, trade and public shows, and operate an e-shop for direct sales to customers. 

This latter part has been a topic of considerable discussion recently. We have two brands with two websites: Manfood and Janda. We set up Janda to showcase a vegan-focused product range, with the name Janda stemming from “Jon And Andre”. 

The initial branding was devised many years ago, and so, it was time to refresh the Janda look, labels and boxes, as well as its e-shop. Now, I’ve been following the rise of e-shopping since its first tentative steps in the mid-1990s. Back in the day, setting up an e-shop was difficult and required a lot of code munging. Better still if you’d host your own server, with a database and a payment gateway. It was a lot of work and a lot of hassle. 

Then, in the early 2000s, along came WordPress, and a huge market emerged for that platform. Being an extensible technology, it allowed companies to build all sorts of bolt-on capabilities. We have used WordPress for the Manfood site, including its e-shopping capabilities, and to do this we retained the services of a web design and hosting consultancy. I could’ve worked it all out myself, but this would have taken time, and the results wouldn’t have been anywhere near as professional. So I swallowed the cost of getting the site built – a few thousand pounds – and hosting costs of about £500 per year.


Image of a camera floating above a block of wood covered with a rock, covered in green silk, being cut by scissors, and an orange leaf, plus chisel tool

(Image credit: Adobe)

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As a solution, it works out reasonably well, but WordPress is not without its issues. Keeping on top of security and updates can be a particular pain. For the Janda refresh, I was conscious that e-shop design and hosting had moved on, with one of the biggest new players being Shopify. It was a name that kept popping up in my timeline, especially in the small business sector. It seemed like a good choice to explore.

So the obvious thing to do was to reach out to various web design companies that worked with the Shopify platform. The first came back saying that if we worked with tweaked standard designs, then the cost would be £4,000. If we wanted more customisation, add another £2,000 to the bill.

The second company’s quote was even more eye-watering than our horseradish: “In order to do this we would need to build the core store – £20,000 + VAT – and then build two clone stores which we can swap out the language for £5,000 each. This would take you to £30,000.” Being able to have a multilingual store, which adapts the display language based on geolocation, seemed like a good idea. The price, however, did not.

I took a quick look at the Shopify site and wondered: “How hard can it be?” Usually, this mindset results in a smoking crater. But over the Christmas shutdown, Andre sat down with his laptop and created an account in Shopify. Andre is very talented, but a computer geek he is not. He was armed with his M2 MacBook Air, a web browser, a Shopify login and all the background information we had – product details and photography had already been sorted.

Four hours later, he showed me the workings of an excellent site. It had everything we needed: product selector, basket, credit card handling and so forth. I fired up my phone and logged into the test site, and found it rendered just fine on the smaller screen. Andre spent another few hours pouring in the product information and, barring a few tweaks and adjustments, it was ready to go live.

Multilingual support is provided within the Shopify platform itself, and you can use third-party translation companies to tweak your words. We paid a company £562 to translate our site’s text into Spanish, French and Chinese. We’ll load this into the Shopify site and make that go live over the next few weeks. So it’s now up and running, and has been built for the main part by someone who doesn’t understand computers at all well, certainly not at a nerdy level. 

I needed to step in for 15 minutes to help with the DNS, but this could have been handled by a Shopify-provided DNS name if required. What about security and updates? It’s Shopify’s responsibility to keep everything up to date. As for the £30,000 bill to build a Shopify e-shop for us? Let’s just say that we politely declined.