As a rule, we rarely attend conferences by platform software providers. Over the years, we have gone to several “shows” put on my Magento and BigCommerce. This year, we decided to attend the Shopify dog-and-pony in Toronto, Ontario. We’ve done a lot of work with Shopify over the past few years, and with our first Shopify app launching soon, we though it might be worthwhile to visit our Canadian friends who live nearby and see just what Shopify was going to announce.

Like most of the platform shows we’ve attended in the past, Unite was flashy, expensively produced, energetic and inspiring. But, now that we’ve de-compressed from all the excitement, we are once again left feeling only moderately more inspired and all the more committed to making sure our clients’ needs are met not by any one, preferred platform, but by identifying the best for their particular, unique business case.

In other words, we didn’t find as much value from attending Unite as we might have hoped. Nevertheless, Shopify did announce several new features and programs that should inspire its legion of shop builders and merchants — especially those within the SMB, small store arena.

A Decidedly SMB Focus

Recently, I have been hired to provide insights to investment bankers on eCommerce technologies, with most eager to get my take on Shopify (Shopify is a publicly traded company). Most investors are keen on what Shopify is doing to capture a greater share of the larger store clients — the “Enterprise” clients — who subscribe to Shopify Plus. As we’ve seen more and more Magento-based stores begin to seek platform alternatives (instead of facing an upgrade to Magento 2), and the overall interest in Shopify’s ability to gain larger store clients, we certainly expected more announcements from Shopify as to its Plus offering.

I was struck by how infrequently “Plus” was mentioned during the presentations, the workshops, and the main events. It was almost as if Shopify was suppressing Plus during this conference. Except in one or two minor cases, all the announcements revealed new features that would apply to all Shopify merchants, both on their SMB plans and the enterprise Plus plans.

For the great majority of the 600,000+ merchants on the Shopify platform, this is great news! The delta between Shopify Basic and Plus is growing smaller, in terms of available features.

What has not narrowed — at least from any of the information we heard — was the price differential. Shopify Advanced — the most expensive SMB plan — is still priced at $299/month, while Plus starts at $2,000/month. I truly think this price differential is what is retarding Plus’ growth when compared to BigCommerce or some other solutions. Price aside, though, Shopify is delivering on some new, exciting features aimed at helping more merchants “do it themselves.”

Now, to be sure, Shopify is not a “stupid” company. Their amazing growth, focus on the merchant, and support for their “eco-system” is the stuff of legends. I’m sure they’ve seen the same market saturation numbers we’re seeing. Despite performance pressure from Wall Street, I also feel that Shopify will find a means of capturing more of the “mid-market” merchants — those that need more than Shopify Advanced, but not ready to commit to $24,000/year without proof of performance and ROI. Don’t be surprised if we soon see a release of another pricing level around $599/month that provides faster API rates and wholesale features that are so important for mid-range merchants. I know that as we work with clients to re-platform or improve their stores, there are several who fall right into this existing gap. In those cases, we really have no alternative but to consider BigCommerce, Magento Community, et al.

The Big Reveals

We’re not going to go into a lot of detail on all the various feature announcements Shopify made at Unite. There’s plenty to read on the Shopify website. Here, let’s simply profile the overall gist of the news and how it may or may not impact small and mid-range merchants.

Internationalization

More and more of our merchants are selling cross-border. And not just to Canada. Previously, accommodating merchants who want to sell internationally was not easy on Shopify. At Unite, Shopify showed it is finally addressing this very challenging issue by:

  • Incorporating real-time currency conversions with rounding rules. Let’s say you are a US-based merchant wanting to sell your goods in US Dollars and Euros. While previous Javascript hacks would provide accurate conversions of a $20 item into, say, €13.10, you can specify a rule that says to round any conversion to the nearest dollar, or $13.00 in this example.
  • Local payment methods. Based on the shopper’s location, the store will show the relevant currency and payment methods.
  • Admin interface in native languages. Initially in only 6 languages, Shopify is translating their back-end admin panels to accommodate merchants around the globe.

Marketing

This was probably the broadest category of new features revealed, and I may not hit on all of them. But, here goes:

  • Marketing section. Coming soon will be another major menu on the left side called “Marketing.” (Magento and BigCommerce users are now yawning.) In this new panel, Shopify is expecting merchants to have access to more reports and tools, as well as opening avenues for app producers to provide robust marketing integrations. It means that all marketing efforts will now be more centralized.
  • More marketing intelligence. As an off-shoot of the AI efforts of Kit, merchants should see more personalized marketing recommendations, as well as efforts to automate personalized marketing for customers (e.g., “since you bought a blouse in May, we think you might find these matching pants to your liking.”).
  • BOGO discounts. The announcement that merchants would now be able to create Buy One, Get One free discount offers was long in coming. The discount “engine” of Shopify has, in our opinion, been one of its weakest features. And yet, it is the feature most used and fretted by merchants using any platform. Unfortunately, little else has improved in the discounting engine, including the absence of applied discounts without coupon codes and the ability to offer a discount and free shipping in the same code.

Artificial Intelligence

Underlying many of the new features — including a new communication hub called “Ping” — is the idea that Shopify has been investing heavily in AI as it applies to eCommerce. I have to admit that this is much more important as a measure of Shopify’s future prospects than any of the incremental improvements they have made to the base feature set.

We’ve experimented with “Kit,” the AI-based marketing assistant that helps merchants manage Facebook ads and emails. It really is quite cool to use, and it helps remind merchants to pay attention to marketing.

I don’t think many at Unite fully grasped what is about to come with Shopify — Shopify didn’t do much to make it clear —  but it’s evident that some day merchants and customers will be able to create an almost “human-like” relationship. Just as earlier generations could shop locally, knowing that the shopkeeper knew what a person liked and would even call them when a new product came in, Shopify stores — by using AI — will be able to create and nurture these very types of merchant-customer relationships.

Now, THAT’S what I am excited about.

Shopify UNITE 2018

Parting Shots

There were other features announced at Unite. Some, like multiple inventory locations, sound exciting (in truth, it’s providing a bit more data depth — they need more), while others were more “d’oh” moments. All-in-all, though, I do think Shopify is here for the long haul. I’m not yet convinced of their ability to capture a fair share of the B2B or complex retailing segments, but they might not be as far off as many might think (are you listening, Magento).

Bret Williams

Bret is the a co-founder and the Managing Partner of novusweb®. He is also author of several books on Magento and e-commerce and is sought as a speaker and trainer. Bret has been crafting internet innovations since 1995.