As a digital products entrepreneur, choosing a platform to build your store is one of the most crucial decisions you will make. While there are many online store builders available, most are designed to sell physical goods. However, seeing how popular the digital products online business niche is, many of these eCommerce platforms expanded their offerings to support the sale of digital products.
Shopify is one such platform that many users consider to sell their digital assets.
But as digital product delivery isn’t the primary focus of this solution and others like it, it’s treated as an addon. As a result, users start feeling boxed in them quickly.
In this article, we’ll review how selling digital products on Shopify works. In addition to looking at its pros and cons, we’ll also understand how WordPress powered with a plugin like Download Monitor is a better Shopify alternative for setting up a digital downloads store.
Is selling digital products on Shopify possible?
As an online store builder, Shopify was initially designed to help small businesses sell physical products online. But to cater to digital product entrepreneurs, it launched its official Digital Downloads app which enables the sale of digital goods.
So, yes, you can sell digital products on Shopify.
Until recently, Shopify let its users on the Lite plan sell digital products using this app (for $9/month). But in May 2021, Shopify ended the app’s support for the Lite plan, which means that selling digital products on Shopify now needs you to be on one of its regular plans.
Here’s how selling digital products on Shopify works.
Step #1: Sign up for a Shopify plan; Shopify’s plans start at $29/mo.
Step #2: Add Shopify’s official (free) app from the app store for enabling digital product sales. If you don’t like the app’s reviews, you can use third-party apps as well. Most of these apps offer a limited free plan. If you want to sell digital downloads like PDFs or email templates or stock photos, you may need a certain kind of Shopify app. Alternatively, if you’re considering digital product ideas like online courses or e-learning tutorials, you might need a different digital product sales app for delivering them.
Step #3: Complete the configuration. Configure the platform’s settings (like disabling the shipping checkbox, customizing automated emails for digital product delivery, etc.). Also, complete the setup of the digital downloads app(s) you add.
Selling digital products on Shopify: Pros and cons
Though Shopify is an excellent online store builder, it’s not without its shortcomings when used to build a digital products store, something it wasn’t designed to do originally. Here are a few of its pros and cons, specifically as a digital products store builder.
Selling digital products on Shopify: The pros
- Easy setup: You can set up a Shopify store in under an hour. Shopify stores offer good checkout experiences.
- A complete solution: A Shopify subscription (except the Shopify Lite plan) gives you both an eCommerce store and a CMS (to run your blog and add landing pages and manage your content/collateral).
- You are unlikely to run into any performance or scalability issues with Shopify. Aside from good hosting, you’ll get a free SSL certificate. Shopify doubles up as a domain registrar too.
- User friendliness: Shopify is a slick platform, and so are its apps. Things like uploading digital products and managing the digital product inventory are straightforward.
- Extensions: The Shopify app store comes with hundreds of apps to extend your store’s functionalities.
Selling digital products on Shopify: The cons
- Transaction fees: In addition to the platform’s monthly fee, you must pay a 2% transaction fee on every sale. (This drawback applies to Shopify alternatives like BigCommerce and other digital product selling solutions as well.)
- Customization and design limitations: With Shopify, you only get limited customization and design options. Although it’s easy to create landing pages, product pages, and other resources, making them look a certain way is difficult. You’ll most certainly need to invest in a page builder solution to build a customer store experience. Note that Shopify’s page builders come with a monthly fee. And if you pick a premium theme, expect to pay about $150 or more, considering that most custom Shopify themes cost about that much.
- Costs add up fast: In addition to purchasing third-party apps (such as Sky Pilot) to facilitate digital product sales on your store, you might need to purchase a slew of more apps as well — an app for localization, for example. Also, the must-have features your digital goods store needs — advanced access control, for instance — are available only in the highest-tier plans of most of Shopify’s digital products sales apps. So be prepared to pay a premium monthly price.
Then there are problems, too:
You might also find a few things frustrating about selling digital products on Shopify (especially via Shopify’s free digital app).
For example, Shopify’s digital products sales app doesn’t allow users to add multiple files to a single product. So if you sell an eBook bundle with five books, you can’t upload five files. Instead, you’ll have to use an archive file.
It’s also difficult to customize your download page due to the very limited customization options available.
It also appears from the app’s reviews that users run into problems with email delivery delays (and broken download links), mobile accessibility (allowing downloads to take place on mobile devices), and compatibility with the Safari browser, among others.
While Shopify is the leading online store builder, it needs to do more to let users sell digital products. But there’s a better alternative.
Instead of selling digital products on Shopify, try WordPress + Download Monitor
If you’re looking for an alternative to selling digital products on Shopify, the answer is using WordPress and a plugin like Download Monitor.
WordPress powers 39.5% of all websites on the web. You can use it to set up a full-fledged eCommerce store and sell digital products (without touching any code through a plugin like Download Monitor). WordPress is highly customizable, allowing you to design a 100% custom store.
Additionally, you can purchase premium WordPress eCommerce themes at affordable prices to make a great-looking store.
On top of everything else, WordPress has several thousands of free plugins to extend your store’s functionalities. Membership plugins let you create customer accounts and manage access. Shopping cart, credit card, and other payment gateway plugins give you more control over your checkout experience.
There are free plugins for localizing your store and making it available in multiple languages.
Some plugins let you add custom forms to your store. Support for forms is a handy feature if you offer customization options for your digital products.
It’s also easy to find free plugins to add more subscribers to your list, do email marketing, run content marketing campaigns, boost your store’s SEO, among adding other functionalities.
About Download Monitor
Download Monitor is a free digital products store builder plugin for WordPress. It lets you add a store to your regular WordPress website in just three easy steps.
Download Monitor is an excellent Shopify alternative for opening a digital downloads store and powers over 100,000 WordPress websites that sell/distribute digital files.
Many digital product entrepreneurs default to WooCommerce to set up their stores on WordPress, only to realize that some of the crucial functionalities they need for selling digital products aren’t available and that they don’t need about 80% of the things WooCommerce does. Download Monitor, in contrast, is a lightweight WooCommerce alternative built exclusively for selling digital products.
Selling digital products on Shopify vs. Selling via a WordPress store powered by Download Monitor
If you do the math, you’ll realize that you can quickly outgrow your budget when running a Shopify store that sells digital goods (unless your business is hugely profitable). And it’s not just about the cost concerns. Shopify is a platform specifically for selling physical items, and you’ll soon experience its limitations in your use case.
The costs of using WordPress for the same are much lower.
Additionally, it offers unparalleled flexibility, extensibility, and scalability. Using Download Monitor, you can sell digital products on any WordPress website, and that too for free. Just install Download Monitor, and you’ll see a Shop gets added to your WordPress website. Download Monitor makes it effortless to create your digital product listings, upload your downloadables, and manage your digital product inventory. Download Monitor also offers powerful tracking capabilities.
Taking your store to the next level
While Download Monitor is all you need to set up a digital products store, the extension bundle can help you take your store to a whole new level. Download Monitor’s Core Extension bundle comes with 15+ extensions that offer a range of functionalities for growing digital product stores:
Functionalities to grow your digital products store
The Email Lock extension makes your users fill in their email addresses to unlock access. The Twitter Lock extension requires your users to tweet your pre-defined text before they can gain access, thus increasing your social media footprint with each sale. The Downloading Page addon lets you offer your downloads on a separate page of your choice. You can use this page to show banner ads to promote your other products or display marketing messages to upsell or cross-sell.
Functionalities to protect your work and fight usage abuse
You have extensions to 1) enforce your store’s terms and conditions, 2) add fully custom access and restriction rules to manage access, and 3) set up expiring links, so users lose access if their access period ends.
Functionalities to simplify logistics
You get extensions to deliver your files via Amazon S3 or even Google Drive if you prefer. You can easily duplicate an existing product’s listing and make a few tweaks to create a new one. Several form extensions let you collect your users’ specific requirements in case of customizable digital items.
In addition to these, you can set up a downloads page – a catalog of a sort for your digital products store:
Each extension costs $39/year. But the Core Extensions bundle makes all of them available for a single annual pricing plan ($125/year). You get a single license key to activate all the extensions at once with the extensions pack. Also included in the subscription are all the new extensions that are added to the bundle.
Wrapping it up…
When you consider selling digital products on Shopify, you have to understand that facilitating digital product sales has never been the platform’s primary focus area. In comparison, Download Monitor is built exclusively for building a digital products store.
Go ahead and do a side-by-side comparison of selling digital products on Shopify and an alternative like the WordPress-Download Monitor combination. You’ll find that the latter is a much better option.
Not only is it more flexible and customizable, but setting up the store, managing the selling and delivery processes, and maintaining the store are simplified.
It’s also the most cost-effective solution for selling digital goods. The base plugin is free and lets you run a fully functional digital products store. Moreover, the extension bundle is quite affordable and offers you more than a dozen functionalities to help you build your digital goods business.
So instead of selling digital products on Shopify, consider creating a WordPress store powered with a plugin like Download Monitor. Also, check out Download Monitor’s Extension Bundle.