If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you’ll know by now how much Lakeshore Branding loves Magento eCommerce. We’ve been gushing about how awesome it is, but at the end of the day, of course, it’s just our recommendation. There are literally hundreds of e-Commerce platforms and shopping cart solutions to choose from – aimed at retailers of varying sizes across a number of industries – and we thought that on this post, we’ll look at one of the notable non-Magento ones. Hey, we’re all for fairness.

Established in 2006, Shopify is a hosted e-Commerce solution designed expressly for small online retailers. It’s been generating plenty of buzz recently for its ability to get startups and home-based merchants up and selling – quickly, easily, in a matter of minutes, even.

Shopify boasts of a rich feature set that’s accessible via its elegant, easy-to-use interface. Almost everything is drag-and-drop, making store management a breeze. To get started, you choose a theme for your Shopify site. There are a handful of these Shopify themes, each of which can be customized, even if you’re someone with only the most basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

After that, you fill your newly built Shopify site with your products and descriptions – a process made so much easier by an excellent product import and upload feature. You can then assign categories – or “collections” – to these products, which you yourself can define. Shopify also has a neat “smart collection” feature that can automatically group products according to say, tags or price range, and from this feature alone, a number of marketing possibilities can already come to mind.

Previously, users couldn’t sell digital downloads and electronic products on Shopify, but now there are a number of plug-ins that have been introduced to address various kinds of merchant-related needs. There’s even a Shopify app store that allows you to add features and apps for data management, inventory, marketing, analytics and reporting, and shipping, among many others. You’re also free to develop your own Shopify app using the Shopify API.

Inventory management on Shopify is also a breeze, and it comes with a useful order tracking system that efficiently highlights customer information like E-mail address, phone number, and shipping and billing addresses for easier processing. Shopify stores are also compatible with over 50 payment gateways – such as PayPal, Authorize.Net, Google Checkout, and Amazon – and there would be no need to worry about SSL certificates and security enhancements; as a hosted e-Commerce solution, Shopify comes with its own fraud detection system.

We think it’s also pretty smart that Shopify comes with a built-in blog to support your online store. Other neat marketing features include easy integration with Google Analytics; the ability to promote your products using coupon codes; built-in Google Website Optimizer support; and an automatically generated XML sitemap.

Shopify serves excellently as the foundation of any small or beginner e-Commerce retailer. Plans start at $24 monthly, but you can start with a free trial period of 30 days. Sign up for Shopify and make the creation of your online store a pleasant, stress-free experience.