How I Tried Selling With Stripe And Shopify, But Eventually Settled On Pay Pal!

That was unexpected - The best solution to selling online turned out to be good old PayPal.

Kirill Zubovsky / July 15th, 2020

I had a simple problem, I wanted to sell membership to The Clubhouse, and I did not want to spend a lot of time building the infrastructure to do it. Really, all I wanted was a "buy now" button, a single landing page that could accept payments effortlessly, so I could then focus all of the efforts on outreach, instead of writing more code. Normally, for anything that involves taking payments, I would use Stripe. They are a trusted solution that somehow does everything right, every time. Honestly, I love them, but just as matter of curiosity, since I have been using Stripe for almost 10 years, I decided to explore alternatives. Shopify stock was going through the roof, I figured to try it out. Before we go any further, I want to preface this by saying the purpose of this writeup is not to dunk on any of the payment providers. Each provider is there to accomplish a different objective,. This is just a quick view into what you can expect, if you decide to sell with either Shopify or PayPal.

Getting started with Shopify

Getting started with Shopify was insanely easy. In quite literally less than five minutes I had my store setup and ready to sell a product on the internet. Unbelievably, insanely good start. In fact, if you have not had the pleasure of setting up a store yet, I recommend you get a Shopify account and try to sell something, even if it is fake, just to go through the experience. Unfortunately, my experimented ended right there because almost immediately Shopify blocked my account. What?! The exact reasons for blocking were murky, but I did a few things that may have caused fraud prevention to get some funny tickles.

How to get banned by Shopify 101

First, there was no way to run a test transaction on Shopify, and to verify that my store was actually working, I had to buy my own product, so I did! Since signing up was so easy, I tested my own listing within minutes of signup. Great if you are testing, but suspicious if you are an algorithm. Second, Shopify was designed for physical goods. You have to actually list your "inventory," which does not make any sense for a digital product. 10k Patio chairs is a lot, but for a digital product, anyone over 1 is the same. When I listed 10,000 units, it probably made some alarms go off. Third, once I had my product set up, I switched to a "Shopify Button," a function advertised on their website, but very well hidden for anyone to actually use. It was exactly what I wanted - a simple "Buy Now" button that you can place anywhere, and even connect to social places like Facebook to sell direct. This option was perfect for me, but it required actually deleting my Shopify store, while maintaining my listed inventory. Honestly, I do not think their system actually expects this to happen. All in all, quickly launching a store, listing 10,000 unites of inventory, and then hiding the store and replacing it with a button was enough for some algorithm to get worried and I got blocked. I did not like it, but if I were a scammer, I could hypothetically setup a new Shopify store with a fake product, run ads against it on social, collect millions of dollars in payments in minutes, all before anyone realizes it was just a front. It probably happens more often than we know, and I understand that Shopify needs to block potential fraud. Getting locked out was not a big deal, really, but what really sucked was the way it was done. You lose access, to everything, without any notice and you cannot even contact support because being able to contact their support requires that you log into your account, the access to which you do not have! If it was not for a friend that I knew was working at Shopify, I do not know how I would unlocked my account again. Thanks to my friend, the account got unblocked, and I was asked to provide some details in order to reactivate it. Well, to be specific, I was asked to provide ALL the details: passport, drivers, proof of address, ... [get the list]. I was asked to upload all of this highly sensitive personal information on myself into an online form, and hope for the best. Huh?! If I was a merchant that really needed to setup a store specifically with Shopify, I would probably jump through the hoops. But, given that I always have Stripe (love you!!!), giving all of my private information to Shopify`s random drop form did not seem like a good idea. Honestly, I do not know why they could not simply check my Keybase, or at least use a verified identity vendor, like the one used by Airbnb or Coinbase. Anyway, that was the end of Shopify for me[1].

Moving to PayPal

At this point a few days have gone by and I really wanted to start connecting with people, but there was still one problem, I needed to take payments. Sure, I could have faked it with a button that did not work and just collect intent, but if setting Shopify was only a matter of minutes, there had to be way! Aha, the old forgotten friend PayPal! PayPal was built for this, to accept one-off payments for online transactions, from anyone in the world. I have a business account with them and I have used it before to both receive money and pay out too. Thinking that having a history on the account would help me avoid some obscure red flags, I dove into PayPal head first. Getting started was relatively easy. Just go to Get Paid > PayPal Button and choose the option applicable to you. I was looking into Smart Buttons vs Buy Now buttons, and the former seemed like a more modern solution, but turned out a fancy mess. Settings are in one place, test accounts in another, test numbers for the credit card are in yet another place, and when you put it all together, it still does not work. It felt like multiple startup acquisitions that have never finished integrating with each other. Ugh. I was pretty close to giving up, and going back to beloved Stripe, but as one last experiment, I looked into their most basic old school "Buy Now" button from PayPal. It worked! This is rather odd to admit, but the "Buy Now" button that was developed close to 20 years ago is still the easiest way to collect money online. It is ugly, it uses a basic Form to post values, and it is got an Image[2] as the main clickable element, but it works! This version of the button lets me do everything in one go - specify the product, specify the cost, put the code on the site and run it. All in just one step.


Alright, so what is the best solution to selling a one-off item online? Is it Stripe, Shopify, or is it actually PayPal? Honestly, if you just need to sell something, just use PayPal. It is not going to have fancy features or look pretty good, there his no inventory tracking, or integrations, there is nothing but a dumb button and a way to take money. I am still a little amused that a product that was create 20 years ago is the best option today. Of course, if you are selling a physical good, something that requires packaging, shipping, tracking and all the complexity that goes with it, I would say give Shopify a really deep try. They seem to have it all integrated, and even if you have to jump through the verification hoops, provided you have a real business, it would probably be all worth it. Lastly, if you are building an online sales funnel, want to integrate your app with your customers` data, and in general enjoy working with a company that does everything amazingly well, there is always Stripe! Happy hacking. ~Kirill [1] One interesting bit to note, it seems that Shopify is actually using Stripe to collect their payments on their end. I infer from getting a Stripe error message, that came through on the Shopify front-end. [2] Besides, if you want to make it less ugly, all it takes is to replace the Image with a Button and apply your own styles. It still works.

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