Want to know what’s better than fixing a broken store? Preventing it from breaking in the first place.
At Rewind, we’re in the business of backing up data and helping Shopify store owners recover from disasters, so we’ve encountered thousands of merchants who wish they’d tested a change or a new app in a staging environment instead of their live store.
Making edits on a live site can be disastrous, especially for larger brands with plenty of products – and revenue – at stake.
Fortunately, staging sites offer a safe and simple alternative for testing your Shopify store updates before implementing them on your live store. Let’s explore how you can use Rewind Copy to set up a staging store in minutes so your team can work safer and innovate faster in Shopify.
What is a Shopify staging site?
Your Shopify production site is the live, public-facing website your customers browse and transact on. In contrast, a Shopify staging site – also known as a sandbox or development site – is an identical but completely separate version of your website that only you and your team can access.
Staging sites give you the freedom to experiment with new apps or test custom code and themes, safe in the knowledge that if things don’t work out the way you hoped, your production site won’t be impacted.
You can test and iterate to your heart’s content within your Shopify staging site until you’re 100 percent happy – and confident – that the updates and modifications you’re making work as intended before you take them live. It’s a safe environment where you can iron out any bugs and issues that might negatively impact your customer experience and harm your reputation, conversion rates, and revenue.
Why is having accurate staging stores so important?
While staging sites sound good on paper, be aware that they’re ultimately only as good as the data in them. Testing is only effective if testers precisely mirror the conditions found in the production environment. Importing “real” data into your staging environment is ideal because that’s the only way to discover bugs that are likely to occur in your live store.
Until recently, it’s been difficult and time-consuming to create an accurate staging environment in Shopify. Sure, you could “Preview” theme changes before setting them live, but what about changes to product pages, collections, testing apps, and more? Merchants were itching to find a solution that would give them the flexibility to test anything. That’s exactly why we built Rewind Copy. More on that later.
There are numerous examples of the pitfalls of testing with inaccurate test data. One example is the tragic Challenger explosion of 1986.
What happened was the catastrophic failure of a component due to cold weather. But the root cause was actually insufficient data coupled with a lack of thorough data analysis.
The team had no data about how that component would perform below 12°C. Sadly, that was the temperature on the day of the launch. Nobody knew what would happen in those conditions because they hadn’t been thoroughly simulated in a testing environment.
Not having enough testing data and bad interpretation of data leads to wrong decisions. As a Shopify store owner, it’s important to populate your Shopify sandbox store with accurate data from your live store. We’ve made this easy to do with our app, Rewind Copy. With Copy, you can easily copy over your theme, products, pages, files, and more directly from your live site into a development environment, and keep the two environments in sync thereafter.
How to set up a Shopify staging store
To create a staging store, you need to create a second store. There are a few ways – free and paid – to set up a second Shopify store for staging and/or development purposes. The best option for you will depend on your Shopify subscription and what you aim to accomplish in your staging environment.
Shopify Plus customers
If you’re a Shopify Plus merchant, your subscription includes nine expansion stores and a free sandbox store. You can use either as your Shopify staging store at no cost. Read the “How to Get Started” section to learn how to populate your sandbox store with data and start using it.
Shopify Basic, Shopify, or Advanced plan
If you’re on a Shopify Basic, Shopify, or Advanced Plan, you can set up a free development store using a Shopify Partner account. If you don’t have a Partner account, don’t worry. They only take a few minutes to set up and don’t cost a thing. Create one by clicking here.
Be aware that you won’t be able to test every app on a Shopify Partner development store, and you won’t be able to process real transactions. Nevertheless, this option is sufficient for 95% of merchants wanting to run tests. We recommend starting with this option to see how well it suits your needs.
If testing all apps in a staging environment is important to you, you can set up a second store by simply opening up a paid store on a Basic plan. This plan will cost you $29/month and will ensure you have the exact same functionality on your staging store as on your live store.
Getting started with your staging store using Rewind
Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide to getting started setting up your development store using Rewind:
- Install Rewind Copy in your live store and subscribe to the Unlimited plan. This plan gives you access to an infinite number of copies – or an ongoing sync – so you can keep your staging environment up to date at all times, always mirroring your live store. Your live store will be your “Source” store – the store you copy data from.
- Next, install Rewind Copy in your Expansion store. This will be your “Destination” store – the store that you copy data to. You don’t need to subscribe to the app on this store. Simply follow the in-app prompts to let Rewind know this will be your Destination store.
- Then, create an association between the two stores by following the in-app instructions. It’s quick and intuitive. If you need help, this video tutorial shows just how simple it is.
- Select the information you want to copy over for testing purposes. Rewind Copy offers full flexibility, so you can choose what you’d like to include and exclude from the copy. We recommend a full store copy so you can test in an environment that precisely mirrors your live store.
- This step is optional. If you want Rewind Copy to maintain an automated, ongoing sync between your live and staging stores, check the “Continuously copy changes” box.
- Click “Begin task” to initiate the copy.
- All done! Once the copy is complete (it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the volume of data being copied) your staging store should be a mirror image of your live store. Your team can test any changes you need without worrying about breaking your live store and detracting from your customers’ experience.
Testing themes: A workaround
Only looking to test changes to your store’s theme? There’s a way to do that!
Shopify uses theme previews to give website managers a simple way to make changes without impacting the live version of the website that customers see.
However, bear in mind that this workaround is quite limited and won’t work if you’re making changes outside of the theme and won’t help if you’re testing an app or making changes to products, pages, and collections. If you’re testing changes made to products, pages, and more, we recommend using Rewind Copy to set up a proper sandbox environment.
Here’s how to test changes to a theme before pushing them live:
- In the Shopify admin panel, navigate to Online Store → Themes.
- Click on the ellipses beside your current theme.
- Duplicate the theme to create a copy of the live theme. This will be your development theme.
- Edit this theme as you normally would. Do not publish the new theme yet.
- When you’re ready to test the new code changes, click the “Preview” button.
- If you’re happy with the preview, you can take your development theme live.
- We recommend renaming the older version of the theme to the date and time you made the changes (e.g., 01-12-2022 – 5:25 pm) as a failsafe in case you need to go back.
Rewind Copy – A safe pair of hands
Updating and improving your Shopify store shouldn’t involve the risk of downtime, costly rework, and poor customer experiences. With Rewind, your development, marketing, and content teams have the freedom to experiment and innovate faster, all without worrying about making costly mistakes and crashing your store.
With Rewind, you’re in a safe pair of hands. Install Rewind Copy in the Shopify app store at https://apps.shopify.com/store-copy.