Shopify’s New Horizons: Takeaways from Shopify Unite 2019
I noticed something interesting during Unite this year. Shopify has made a deliberate shift in how they’re positioning their platform. It could not have gone unnoticed that “Retail Operating System” is the new phrase they’d like to come to mind when you think of Shopify. It would be easy to brush that off as pure marketing speak and the latest way for them to differentiate from other platforms. If you were to look at the platform at this very moment, I might still agree with you. However, looking back a bit, we can see the signs that this evolution might have been the plan for some time.
What would look different between today’s Shopify and the “Retail Operating System” mentioned during Unite? Back in 2015, Shopify introduced ‘sales channels’ as a way to extend its technology from an advanced shopping cart to a true e-commerce platform. Building on the original version of their POS launched in late 2013, this laid the groundwork for something that could transform both online and offline retail. What’s been missing? An operating system requires a fair degree of operations – the unsexy aspect of running any business. Everyone wants to discuss the latest techniques in marketing to customers and crafting unique buying experiences, but who wants to discuss inventory, supply chain management and shipping? Apparently, Shopify does if you look at what they’ve been up to:
- Shopify acquires Oberlo in May 2017 to help merchants source products.
- Shopify launches Arrive in late 2017 to help customers track their orders.
- Shopify acquires Return Magic in June 2018 to help facilitate customer returns.
- Shopify acquires Handshake in May 2019 to manage B2B and wholesale commerce.
So why am I so bullish on Shopify actually making strides towards ‘fulfilling’ their statement of becoming a “Retail Operating System”? What do I consider the biggest announcement of Unite 2019? The Shopify Fulfillment Network. They’ve quietly been building up a network of US-based warehouses that will allow them to offer storage and fulfillment services to qualified merchants based on a transparent, affordable pricing structure. Although Shopify has released little official information on the new service, they’ve stated that they’ll be investing over $1B over the coming years into their infrastructure and technology powering this service. With the ability for merchants to have Shopify manage their fulfillment, source their products, power their marketing, run their store (online or offline), handle their shipping, manage returns, etc., Shopify is building a true end-to-end solution for merchants.
Although this is by far Shopify’s biggest announcement and a fundamental shift in how they’ll be able to help merchants, they had dozens of other exciting launches that each deserve their own recap. Luckily, they’ve done a fantastic job this year in recapping them across the following articles:
- Here’s Everything We Announced at Shopify Unite 2019
- Unite 2019: New Tools to Unlock Meaningful Customer Experiences
- Every API We Announced at Shopify Unite 2019
In an effort to help our clients sort through this myriad of releases, we wanted to provide the ‘quick and dirty’ of each major announcement that came up during Unite:
New Shopify Plus
A total revamp of the Shopify Plus Dashboard with support for multiple stores, enhanced automation, cross-store reporting, and granular staff management. With this launch, Shopify Plus will support large-scale, multi-store merchants with the tools and control they need. Additional Resources:
New Shopify POS
A brand new interface for Shopify POS that puts apps and shortcuts at the forefront of the merchant experience. Additional support of granular staff management, loyalty, and promotional-focused cart app extensions and improved overall performance. Shopify has hit over 100K merchants using POS and they’re making major investments on the heels of supporting multi-location inventory. Additional Resources:
The ability to (finally) edit orders within Shopify. Although currently only available to developers, support for order editing later this year will allow merchants to improve customer support, offer post-purchase upsells and offer more flexibility during purchase. Additional Resources:
- Editing Orders Using GraphQL Documentation
- Edit orders with our new Order Editing APIs Changelog Release
New Online Store Editor
A complete revamp of Shopify’s existing online store editor that now supports ‘sections everywhere’, draft versions of store updates, templates for new page layouts and the ability to change themes while retaining your content. Overall, this is a huge improvement to how merchants can expand their storytelling and content management going forward. Additional Resources:
Control over shipping has now been extended in the form of ‘profiles’ that allow you to specify shipping rules and shipping rates, manage inventory sources for specific products and collections. This provides a level of granularity in fulfillment that has been missing from Shopify for a while and allows merchants to optimize shipping costs across the board. Additional Resources:
Fulfillment will gain more flexibility as the Fulfillment API introduces the ability to handle multi-location fulfillment, decline fulfillments and better interact with fulfillment-related apps. Expect developers to take advantage of this API as a means of creating more granular control over the fulfillment process, particularly useful for merchants working with third-party fulfillment partners. Additional Resources:
- Fulfillment Orders API Changelog Release
- Managing Fulfillments with the FulfillmentOrder Resource Documentation
Expanded Internationalization Features
Shopify introduced a number of enhancements to how they’re addressing internationalization for their merchants. This includes support for selling in multiple currencies across all Shopify plans, a fully-translated App Store, new languages in the Shopify Admin and the ability to sell in multiple languages via a Translations API. Additional Resources:
- Translations API Changelog Release
- Selling in Multiple Currencies with Shopify Payments: What this Means for App Developers
- Migrating to Support Multiple Currencies Documentation
Video and 3D Media Objects
Building on the Shopify AR announcements of last year, a Media API has been introduced that will allow association of video and 3D assets with products. This means a richer customer buying experience as stores take advantage of native video, augmented reality and 3D objects directly within their product pages. Additional Resources:
Shopify Checkout Subscriptions
Shopify will now support the ability for subscription apps such as ReCharge to handle order processing without forcing the customer to leave Shopify’s checkout. This means a more seamless experience in buying subscription products and a big step towards improving subscription conversions.
Native support for product recommendations without having to use a third-party app. This provides merchants an easy way to extend their cross-selling strategies that can take direct advance of Shopify’s native reporting. Additional Resources:
Native support for predictive search, allowing customers to find products quicker and with less friction. This provides merchants the ability to tap into Shopify’s native reporting and analyze customer search trends. Additional Resources:
Shopify announced over 15 new APIs during Unite this year. Although these announcements were geared more towards developers, it’s worth reviewing these new APIs to get a sense for some of the features that could be made available in the coming months.
Paired with the variety of new APIs, Shopify has introduced a few new tools/standards that developers will likely employ in their themes and apps over the coming months. These include:
- Libraries for GraphQL: Expect improvements in speed and reliability across all apps/themes that use GraphQL, Shopify’s preferred query language moving forward.
- Shopify App Bridge: An enhancement of last year’s ‘embedded apps’ capability, expect to see apps integrated more ‘natively’ within Shopify’s admin, meaning more exciting features to take advantage of within the platform.
- Shopify App CLI: A command line tool that streamlines the app creation process, an enhancement that could lead to a wave of new public and private app development opportunities.
- API Versioning: Enhanced standards around releasing updates to the API meaning more stable upgrades and introduction of new features across all apps.
In past Unites, the terms “Democratizing Commerce” or “Make commerce better for everyone” have been at the center of Shopify’s messaging. Democratization requires that all players have access to the same resources and can employ their ‘voice’ with the same potential magnitude. Of course, the market dictates whether the content of that voice has meaning (aka whether people will buy the products you sell). However, Shopify’s vision for the future is clearly one of entrepreneurs having to spend less time on building technology so they can spend more time on building their businesses.