A Complete Overview of Shopify Unite 2018
Since we are official Shopify Experts, a few weeks ago we had the opportunity to attend the big Shopify Unite 2018 event in their home-town of Toronto. This is an event for developers, so there were sessions and content specifically geared toward Shopify Theme creators, App Developers, System Integrators, Website Developers, and supporting developers like us at TaskHusky.
But there were a TON of announcements about coming products and services that can make a real difference to eCommerce businesses.
Well, there’s no reason to keep all that news a secret, so we are going to share with you what we believe to be the highlights that you care about (see bullet list below) and keep all the boring technical stuff to ourselves (API changes, development SDKs, app opportunities, etc.). There is no way to capture everything because we simply couldn’t see every presentation – but here’s our list of the top stuff and a few comments along the way:
- Review of Last Year’s Accomplishments
- Huge International Push Multi-language Interface
- International Currencies
- International Payments
- A few Missing Pieces
- Shopify POS Unified Views
- New Hardware – chip reader
- Here’s a Tip
- What Was the Price of that Again?
- Hello Dynamic Checkout Process!
- Marketing Admin Portal
- Advanced Discount Types
- More Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality = “Augmented Retail”
- Shopify Gets Real … as in a Physical “Shopify Store-Store”
Review of Shopify Last Year
Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke opened up the event with a keynote that reviewed some of the biggest accomplishments from last year. As Shopify developers that work with front-line Shopify entrepreneurs every day, we know what we think was important and what our customers think was important. But it’s interesting to see what the top brass at Shopify thinks was important.
On that score, we largely agree. Lütke talked about total number of stores, total sales across the Shopify platform, number of app sales, etc. All that was great and spoke to the audience of Shopify partners in attendance. But he also specifically mentioned the growth of multi-channel opportunities on the Shopify platform. He called-out the Amazon and eBay sales channel integrations for special mention. These are a big deal indeed. If you want to read more about those developments, read our article about the eBay and Amazon sales channels here.
Side note: Strangely missing – IMHO – was any mention of the Shopify Arrive App which I have used and really like. Maybe because they are still working on the understandable plethora of additional email integration issues. I still think that it was a top-tier development from 2017, and you can read about it here.
Huge Shopify International Push
Multi-Language Admin Interface for Shopify
We have a bunch of Shopify development customers who speak English as a second language. So when Shopify made the announcement that six international languages were coming to the Admin interface this year, we knew a bunch of people would take notice. No doubt, Shopify leadership is eyeing the huge overseas eCommerce entrepreneurship market for this platform as well.
First up are French, German, and Japanese which should arrive this summer. Then, likely in Q4, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian follow. There are a lot of analytics and strategy that went into choosing these six languages and which ones to work on first – including things like existing Shopify customer base, projected market, and competitive landscape for eCommerce platforms. I have seen numbers from other sources and think that their analysis is spot on here.
Shopify to Support International Currencies for All Merchants
This is pretty cool. Again – soon to be available on all Shopify plans – merchants can opt to let customers pay in their native currency format via Shopify Pay.
To be clear, the VAST number of Shopify stores do not (yet) sell internationally. It’s a huge headache for oh-so-many reasons. This feature addresses one of the headaches on the customer-side and the merchant-side. If you turn on this feature and use Shopify Pay, you can select currencies to support. Then the customer will automatically see the currency associated with their region and buying habits. The Shopify platform will do the currency conversion at the going rates and even round the resulting price so that the customer sees a nice – retail pretty – price in their native currency.
Again … this is super-cool.
If the customer buys, then you get your deposit on the same regular schedule with the rest of your Shopify Pay deposits. And the system will be fully integrated with accounting reconciliation. Boom!
Shopify Pay Accepts Overseas Payment Methods
This is another really valuable feature. The Shopify Pay team has just done a lot of hard work here.
In the US and Canada we are so used to seeing Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and ApplePay (etc.) that we sometimes forget that most of the world does not use those payment systems. There are simply dozens of bank transfer and chat-pay systems that we just have no clue. And if you are a smaller merchant, there is no way to get all those things set up at reasonable rates on your own.
Just like with currency conversions, you do not have to implement this. But if you use Shopify Pay and do, the customer will automatically see the payment gateway systems that they know and are comfortable with. This will lower the friction of the transaction. And these payments via overseas gateways will integrate with Shopify’s fulfillment and fraud management functions.
I don’t know about you, but I have logged in to a few Asian eCommerce sites. Sometimes the payment button is for “Alipay” (from Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba). I do not have an Alipay account and have no intention of getting one anytime soon. I imagine that a customer in Southeast Asia might feel the same when visiting a North American eCommerce site. So I get the value proposition. As eCommerce becomes even more global over the next few years, the value of this hard work will start to be recognized.
Both the currency conversion and international payment gateway features will start with the currencies and payment gateways of Western Europe and Southeast Asia.
A Few Missing Pieces
All this international stuff … really, really great. Seriously. But there are a few missing pieces that I have to believe Shopify is working on. Both are related to overseas shipping. Not only is it hard to get overseas shipments sent at anything close to a reasonable cost, but there are legal import/export/customs requirements and paperwork galore, and they are different everywhere. Shopify kind of side-stepped those issues for the moment, but I get the impression that they are working on it.
In my opinion, the first step is to get it going in the EU. That is the easiest problem to solve since the EU has a more unified set of related regulations. Once you get a package passed customs into any EU country, you’re kind of home-free since shipping between EU countries does not require much more paperwork. If I were to guess, I would say that Shopify needs to get a distribution warehouse in a friendly EU country and get blanket paperwork for that location. Then arrange for a logistics partner to streamline things in and out of that location.
Once that proof of concept is done, the next stops should be Japan and Brazil. But I will trust that the top folks at Shopify will take this suggestion and run with it … because I’m certain that they read all of my blog posts. :-)
Shopify Point of Sale (POS)
If you are new to Shopify POS, it’s the on-premise payment system offered to physical merchant locations. It’s basically a software-driven cash register linked to your inventory that you can run from your iPhone, iPad, or Android device.
At the conference, Shopify bragged – deservedly – that more than 70,000 stores were using the Shopify POS system last year. They announced three big things about the Shopify POS that you should be aware of.
Unified Orders View
The biggest change to Shopify POS is the new “Unified Views.” What this means is that the POS system is now linked across all your sales channels and – if you have more than one location – all of your physical stores too. You will be able to “see” the inventory everywhere it exists and manage sales and shipments from any sales channel.
Have a physical store selling T-shirts and the customer in front of you wants it is X-tra large? You can see if another store has that size. Get an online order for the gray leather handbag? You can print out the shipping label to the location where it’s in inventory and ship it directly from there.
This is the kind of technology solution usually reserved for enterprise organizations. Now, you can have it too.
New POS Hardware
Currently, the Shopify POS has a swipe-and-chip reader available. Coming soon is a chip-and-tap payment device that is completely wireless and Bluetooth compatible so that you can actually walk around the store with it if you want to or just plug it into a base station. It will accept all major tap-to-pay systems like ApplePay, GooglePay, etc.
Shopify Has Tip for You
This announcement sent a cheer through the crowd that I did not expect.
The Shopify POS system will now allow customers to tip store staff. The cheering in the crowd means that life for all the coffee shops, service businesses, and food vendors just got a little bit better.
Shopify POS Price … Say What?
Previously, the swipe-and-chip reader available to physical retail stores cost $49. Now it will be free with the Shopify POS system. The new chip-and-tap reader (which does look pretty cool) will be $49.
And here is the BIG news ….
Previously, adding the POS system to your Shopify store cost an $49 per month for the “retail package.” That retail package will now be no extra charge. If you have a paid Shopify account, you can add the “retail package” with the basic swipe-and-chip reader for no extra cost at all.
[Shopify product team drops the microphone and struts off stage.]
Shopify Dynamic Checkout
On day one, Director of User Experience (UX) – Cynthia Savard Saucier – demonstrated the new “Dynamic Checkout.” Fancy name aside, this is a new simplified purchase checkout option that – if the demo is to be believed – can cut the checkout time down to a mere 8 seconds.
Shopify must really be tired of everyone explaining Shopify developments by comparing them to competitors and such. But in this case, there is simply no escaping it. Because Shopify Dynamic Checkout works just like Amazon 1-Click. But that’s NOT a criticism … that’s a HUGE compliment.
It integrates with ApplePay and Shopify Pay and such and “remembers” where customers ship to most often and the payment type that they most often use and pre-enters all that info and authentication in the cart. Then it’s a simple matter of using the fingerprint of facial identification on the smartphone to complete the transaction. They are calling this effort a drive toward the “checkout-less checkout” – a completely frictionless system.
And yes, it works and it’s cool.
Marketing Admin Portal
Another part of Cynthia’s presentation was a new marketing administration portal. She didn’t call it that, but that’s kind of how it works. It is a way to manage ads and promotions from one central location in the Shopify admin interface. Importantly, it has an open API (Application Program Interface). That is an acronym that basically means app developers can write code in their apps that communicates with Shopify about marketing things. It also puts Shopify in the driver’s seat for ad-spend.
The presentation had screen-captures and text taking about getting help choosing advertising purchases, doing basic SEO, setting up retargeting campaigns, and setting up promos. She even said that the system can make recommendations about specific ad buys. But the system was not demoed, so we didn’t get to really see it in action. I get the feeling that it is not quite ready for prime time and that Shopify is going to rely on third-party app developers to build on top of it. And that’s fine. We’ll see what comes from it.
Advanced Discount Types
The one part of the marketing administration area that was immediately recognized as a significant value was the new advanced discount types. This TOTALLY makes sense. Merchants will now have the ability to quickly and easily set up Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) offers, quantity discounts, percentage discounts, free shipping promos, etc. And this is one of those things that merchants have been asking for a long time.
The best part was the promise that this new marketing portal and advanced discount types would be included in all Shopify plans.
Shopify Augmented Retail
It’s no secret that Shopify has been focused on bringing Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality to the platform. My first exposure to the possibilities here was in the Ikea app. That app recognized surfaces and allowed you to virtually “place” Ikea furniture in a room as viewed through your smartphone or tablet. It’s pretty cool.
Shopify envisions bringing this technology to the small merchant. They ran a recorded demo – actually rather well-done – to show the possibilities. And they had an actual demo studio set up at the event, so you know that they are putting a lot of effort into it.
First off … let me say that this is really neat and it’s a technology with an important place in the future of retail. But all that virtual reality takes a LOT of work to make happen. It starts with the 3D display platform – let’s call that done, because we saw the demo and it runs on modern smartphones and web browsers. But the next thing is that all those products have to be digitally scanned by specialized equipment and rendered into 3D models. At the event, Shopify was actively asking for partners to start doing just that for retailers.
I have to be honest … that’s going to be a tough sell. It means that a small online retailer would have to send their product to a 3D Imaging Partner, and then that partner would have to upload it into Shopify’s 3D image library and send the product back to the merchant. That is a lot of time and expense. You need volume and resources to make it happen. Bigger shops can do it right now.
If Shopify is reading this (and why wouldn’t they, it’s blogging GOLD) I suggest that they approach product folks first. In my experience, most online stores get at least some of their product images from the manufacturers. Sure … everyone wants to get a fancy digital camera and set up a studio in their garage and buy a white screen and green screen, and then get a lighting kit, and then edit all those images …. see what I mean? That’s why manufacturers provide images a lot of the time – especially for smaller merchants.
My guess is that Shopify’s vision of “Augmented Retail” will gain tipping-point adoption when enough product suppliers include the 3D Imaging Models with their promo kits … just like they do now with basic product images.
A Shopify “Store-Store”
Shopify also announced that they will be opening a real, actual “location” this year. They called it, “Shopify Going Multi-Channel.” They showed architectural renderings of a physical store where existing and prospective retail entrepreneurs could come in to get advice and purchase Shopify (subscriptions) and products (card readers, etc.).
They did not give a location or opening date. No one I spoke to seemed sure what need this would fill, how they would choose an optimal location, or how it would make things better or different. So, I will just leave this revelation here at the end of this article without further comment.
Shopify Unite 2018 Was Great
I need to make sure that I mention that the entire Shopify team did a really great job on Shopify Unite 2018. I have been to more than a hundred technology and platform events over the years – literally ... a lot of them. The event was well organized and thoughtful. Production values were good, branding was spot-on, the WiFi worked (you’d be surprised), catering was really good, people were friendly, and the location was fun and unique.
So as I write this article I raise my glass to them all and say, “well done!” I hope that I get the opportunity to go again next year. If you have any questions or need help setting up or tweaking your eCommerce store, just let us know. We are always glad to help and look forward to working with you.
Thanks for reading.