Greta Rose Agency

UPDATE: It’s been a while since this article was initially written, and I’ve been incredibly impressed by Shopify’s added features. Maybe they read this article! Ultimately, I can now say that Shopify is my very favorite eCommerce solution. I’ve updated my reason below.

Of all of the self-managed custom eCommerce platforms, I’ve whittled my list down to Highwire and Shopify…. So, those are the only two I’m mentioning here, but I’d love to hear thoughts on other online store solutions. Feel free to comment below.

I’ve just spent about 480 hours comparing the two custom eCommerce platforms side-by-side. Ironically, I began this exercise to prove that Highwire was the right direction for one of my clients. I’m here to tell you, folks, that Shopify is DANG IMPRESSIVE.

Cost Comparison

…(Highwire Leads Out of the Gate)

Bottom line, Highwire is a really strong platform that costs about one half as much as Shopify. So…. a strong argument for test driving them first.

Highwire offers a GREAT deal. The monthly fee is substantially less ($29.95 for their most popular plan) for unlimited bandwidth and storage, up to 10,000 products and NO transaction fees. Included in the monthly fee are all sorts of built in features, a killer Facebook App, a gift certificate feature, and a deep and impressive admin dashboard for managing products and customers. The equivalent plan at Shopify is $59 per month, only offers up to 2,500 products a month, unlimited bandwidth but only 5GB of File Storage, and taxes you 1% per transaction.

There are a lot of key features built into Highwire that you have to create separately in Shopify using their 3rd party developer App store (which range from free to several hundreds of dollars in additional monthly fees). The Facebook Fan Page on Highwire is a home run. With a simple set up, the store creates a tab on your fan page where a complete transaction can occur…. I call this your Golden Egg. Shopify offers a Facebook Fan Page in the App Store, and it is free, but you can’t sell all of your products on it.

UPDATE: While Highwire still remains slightly less expensive, Shopify has since created a starter account for just $14/month! They also made their next level account ($29/month) a lot more enticing.

Feature Comparison

…(Shopify Quickly Catches Up)

From what I can tell, Highwire nails all the important features for the user-friendly experience. Processing transactions is an intuitive, seamless process. It offers an effective gift certificate option (which Shopify does NOT offer). The checkout is clear and the sharing tools obvious. There isn’t any customization possible for the secured checkout pages, other than to add a logo, but this didn’t bother me terribly.

So… Shopify has this App Store where 3rd party developers (much like Apple) can provide single features to their hearts’ content. Just like WordPress plugins, there are great options (sometimes too many), and you have to be careful to read small print on pricing, that the style can be incorporated seamlessly into your website, and that customer support is possible should you need it (Shopify does not offer support for Apps).

The App store at Shopify lets you customize the style of the checkout slightly more, which could strongly influence the user experience for your specific eCommerce needs, and then would be worth the hassle of installing Apps to and fro.

Customer Support Comparison

…(Neck and Neck)

Highwire isn’t easy to reach by phone, but their iChat system is phenomenal. I’ve always reached someone immediately, and they give me great answers and links to offer additional support. I’ve also found their developer team very accessible and genuinely open to customer feedback.

Shopify is hard to reach via iChat (always offline when I check), but excellent on the phone. I had to wait quite a long time (I was notified I was number 13 in the que), but once first in line, a really cool chick named Shannon cheerfully helped answer my LONG list of questions. She followed up with an email that I could respond to directly anytime I need. I was impressed.

UPDATE: Shopify’s customer service has proven to be better and better over time. It’s now phenomenal, and I would say this puts Highwire a few steps behind. Shopify is 24/7 live human contact via phone or chat. Can’t beat that.

Product Management Comparison

…(Looks Like a Tie)

These seem to be fairly comparable… Highwire might have the edge here, and for the price, they really do kick butt with a stellar admin panel. But, Shopify’s Apps once again come into the equation to offer exceptional customer and product management tools.

UPDATE: I’d have to say now that Shopify’s integration with payment, shipping and fulfillment companies makes it easier to run your store products. Highwire isn’t bad, but fulfillment integration remains an issue.

Social Sharing and SEO Comparison

…(Highwire Has Great SEO, But Shopify Pulls Ahead in the Category)

Highwire’s social sharing tools are fairly moderate- just the simple sharing buttons placed on the Product Description pages. Their SEO is great, allowing each and every product page to be uniquely optimized. But, if social interaction is the priority, I think they could offer MUCH better sharing tools.

This is where Shopify shines, and may just take the edge. I’m happy to spend a few extra bucks a month that will create my social universe, and they provide the Apps I would want. Great sharing tools, great user monitoring, excellent analytics that dig deep…

Appearance: Customization Comparison

…(Shopify Crosses the Finish Line and Takes the Victory Lap)

Highwire’s theme store is not terrible, but not very exciting. Shopify, on the other hand, had me drooling immediately with their theme templates (ranging from FREE to almost $200) and these offer more features (like including a blog and being fully responsive) and feel more “current”. As a designer, I’m drawn to the Shopify themes more, and they are friendlier to edit and customize than Highwire.

Highwire isn’t really very user friendly if you don’t know CSS, HTML and JavaScript. Even if you do, it can be a bit clunky to navigate their snippet shortcode. For the price it’s not bad, if you are willing to hire a designer to help. There are new themes being added regularly, and better features on the way. I’ve found Highwire development team super accessible to discuss ideas with, and appreciate their position on 3rd party developers, wanting to build and support their features in-house. Highwire’s parent company is InkFrog, a strong company created in the late 90’s and known for their eBay selling tools.

For me, Shopify really has the edge here. Because the themes are better, less customization is required. As a designer, it is easy to provide custom design and the code is very accessible. Both platforms are do-able, Shopify just seems a bit easier to work with. That means I can play and produce more in less time, which translates to better value for the client.

Custom eCommerce Conclusion: Can’t Lose

…(Shopify Wins, But Highwire Gets a Strong Second)

If budget is your priority, Highwire is an EXCELLENT custom eCommerce solution to consider. If you are able to afford a higher monthly expense, Shopify provides a higher quality product (and charges you for it).

To figure out which custom eCommerce solution would be best for you, you’d want to select the platform that would best fit your projected monthly sales volume… but you also want to build the store that will promote growth (“Build it and they will come!”). Like I mentioned, as I prepare to design a really cool custom eCommerce self-managed site for an amazing client, I am surprisingly leaning towards Shopify. I’ll be sure to report any challenges I face. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: I can report now that I am extremely happy with Shopify’s growth and progress. They continue to improve, and truly listen to the needs of their customers…. US. Take a look at my own Shopify store, featuring my video and book!



  1. Highwire will no longer be providing support or hosting services for stores effective February 28, 2018. I originally chose Highwire for the easy and direct import of all my 5,000+ eBay items. So, now I am wondering what other business people in my situation are doing for a self-managed custom eCommerce platform. It looks like from above that it is Shopify, but other ideas?

    1. Hi, Al! Gosh, it has been a while since I wrote this article. Thanks for the update on Highwire. It’s always unfortunate when a change like this happens. Good news, however… I really think you will LOVE Shopify. The prices are very comparable, and the company is not going anywhere anytime soon. The support is stellar and the features are excellent. Take the time to find a theme that is seamless – this is the only area where a 3rd party developer could come in and interfere. I strongly recommend buying a theme that is a little more expensive b/c the support for the theme will be very helpful (and doesn’t come with the Shopify basic service.) Good luck!

  2. Found your article very clear and helpful. Having Highwire as a multichannel since more than 2 years now. I am “exploring” Shopify, since Highwire seems not renewing… and loosing a lot of ground…

    Does anyone know if there is a consignment app which could work with Highwire? I see there are a few choices which integrate with Shopify quite well…


    1. Hmmmm… great question! I don’t know offhand, but I have been incredibly impressed by Highwire’s customer service. I will say they have their job cut out for them keeping everything in-house… Shopify’s advantage when it comes to apps is their ability to offer so many more options/resources.

      I’ve just finished building a HUUUUGGGEEE Shopify store for a fun cookie company. Definitely couldn’t have done this with Highwire! (we’re just wrapping up beta mode, so will be updating the url to remove the ‘.myshopify.’ when site is approved!)

      Good luck! Let me know if I can help answer any tech questions for ya!

  3. I found this article to be excellent.

    My only regret is that I had found it now instead of18 months ago (before) I invested in setting up a cart elsewhere. I have literally spent hundreds of hours researching the various shopping carts. I happen to enjoy research which made it difficult for me (hard for me to resist not looking at the details on EVERY cart out there). If I could have read this report, it would have saved me so much time. After all my research, these two carts are frontrunners as I now look to move my current cart.

    Shopify’s pricing structure seems to skip from “tiny” volume to “moderately high” volume pretty quick as they define it by number of products (100 to 2500 products at a $50 premium). Sure wish they had an intermediate price point for those of us with 100-500 products.

    My only question at this point is, it looks like new sites might be best served to start out with Highwire. By the time you pay the monthly fee and then pay 1% commission and then a few apps, you are looking at a pretty heavy bill as you try to grow volume. That doesn’t leave much cash for investing in marketing etc.
    So it leads one to the conclusion of starting out small and growing into Shopify. How difficult/costly is that move.

    Thanks so much for a great in-dept article that is helping me decide which way to go next.


    1. Hi, Jeff!

      I’m glad you like the article. I have not yet had the fun of moving one cart from Highwire OVER to Shopify, but I agree with you this is ideal. And, my research shows that many promises are made of “how easy it is” to port over…. Time will tell, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has actually tried this.

      Good luck to you!

      1. First THANK YOU for your article. It’s tiresome and annoying to search through marketing articles on every subject, so when I find the information that is actually helpful – I feel blessed 🙂
        Just wanted to write a few words about switching from Highwire to Shopify for anyone who is interested. There are at least three ways to do it easily:
        First is through CSV files. Both Highwire and Shopify (as well as most major shopping carts) support CSV import / export. “Add new product’ fields are very similar in those two, and it won’t require a lot of edits.
        Second and third is for eBay sellers. But since you are migrating from Highwire it’s (almost) safe to assume that you are an eBay seller. You can either upload your eBay inventory directly to Shopify (using their free eBay importing tool – best for one time use only).
        Or (and that makes much more sense if you wish to continue selling on eBay in addition to your main website, and want your inventory to be synchronized automatically) you can upload your eBay inventory to Stitch (available in Shopify Apps, starting $25 / month), and then synchronize to Shopify. Stitch then will sync all your inventory to as many channels as you like (website to eBay to Amazon etc.), but keep in mind, that every additional channel will increase your monthly rate.

        1. Thank you, Max, for the additional information. I continue to enjoy the recent updates provided by both Highwire and Shopify. I still find these both to be great products, but definitely depends on the individual needs. I tend to recommend one over the other depending on the client.

          Good luck to you, and Happy New Year!

  4. I’m considering switching from Big Cartel to Highwire… I tested Shopify, and find for adding products, Highwire is simpler, easier and quicker. But yes restricted on there base design themes.

    If they could introduce a full responsive theme, than they would nail it further. I’m going to use a theme called Benchmark. Great to have categories listed straight away without the generic ‘Shop’ nav on most themes. Great article… cheers

    1. Hi, Greg!

      Benchmark is my favorite theme of Highwire’s. If you have access to anyone who knows CSS, you can have a lot of fun. Check out a site I just finished: as an example of how far Benchmark can take you. Have fun, and let me know if you have any style questions!

  5. Excellent review. I think you have mentioned the right path. People who are planning to start the online business should look for Highwire to make the monthly cost as minimal as possible. Biggest advantage I’m seeing with Highwire is marketing in eBay, Facebook, etc which will give you excellent results. We have to buy apps to do that in Shopify. Highwire is marketed more of a shopping cart for eBay sellers, as they come from the background of inkfrog.

    1. I also love the Highwire Facebook app, although I wish they would let us have access to the style sheet to make it look prettier! I do recall finding a Shopify Facebook app that didn’t cost anything, by the way…. You might want to look into that if you are at Shopify. There are some free apps if you dig through their App Store!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.