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Shopify's Next Move

Shopify's annual developer conference Shopify Unite kicks off tomorrow and it's typically a showcase of what's next for the now monster company; a collection of new products now available or a glimpse into the investments Shopify is making for the future. I've been deep in the eCommerce game for a long (long) time, working with brands and building solutions. Reading the tea leaves, here's what I think Shopify has in store.

It's no secret that eCommerce is hotter than ever and, from humble beginnings as a solution built for a snowboarding shop, to the most recognized platform for launching your own online store, Shopify is at the forefront of how we buy and sell (yes, Amazon but we're talking your own store).

But it's been 15 years since Shopify first launched and commerce continues to evolve, kicking into overdrive during the COVID-19 era. There are more use cases and channels than ever, there's social selling, B2B online, order ahead, BOPIS, voice shopping and there will be many more challenges and opportunities as consumer habits and technologies change.

While retailers and brands big and small try to figure out where to place their bets, Shopify is working to stay true to Tobi Lutke's vision of enabling everyone to be an entrepreneur, while also serving it's Shopify Plus customers, now doing millions (or $100M+) on the platform and have very different needs then my cousin selling socks from his basement. It's quite the challenge to serve both sides of the market especially with headless commerce capturing more mindshare in 2021.

Shopify Unite - What's the Future Hold?

Shopify's annual developer conference Shopify Unite kicks off tomorrow and it's typically a showcase of what's next for the now monster company; a collection of new products now available or a glimpse into the investments Shopify is making for the future (see 2020 announcements here). I've been deep in the eCommerce game for a long (long) time, working with brands and building solutions. Reading the tea leaves, here's what I think Shopify has in store.

1) Headless Commerce: Something for the Big Brands

So far Shopify looked at the move to headless commerce as something that only makes sense for the largest brands; it's expensive, time consuming, and means brands need to rely heavily on an agency or build their own internal dev shop when they'd much rather invest in growing their business. It's true and it's a problem that reminds me of having to build/host your online store in the '90s. It's the reason we built Shopistry to take away that pain, making headless comemrce as easy as Shopify made eCommerce.

I expect we'll hear a change in Shopify's tune from discounting headless to full support. As brands grow they start moving to best-of-breed backend CMS, ERP, CRM and other systems (doing less in Shopify Admin) and get frustrated with the restrictions of store themes, wanting to create customer experiences to support the various ways we all shop (better experiences).

When it comes to headless, I think we'll hear "we have awesome APIs/SDKs, build what you need!"

Shopify's suite of APIs and SDKs has been expanding and I expect that we'll get some news on improved/new capabilities and features enabling building solutions on top of Shopify technology.

Shopify's website landing page on headless is an interesting, albeit confusing read. The beefed up API messaging is clear, the testimonials less so given this isn't an easy lift (unless you're using...ok sorry, last shameless plug of my company).

What to focus on: Of course, I'll be paying attention to new APIs or new data/capabilities being enabled through APIs but also any change in Shopify's API quotas. I expect that you'll still need to build your own queuing mechanism to handle requests to Shopify as you scale (not much a platform can really do about that). What would be exciting is a content API because using Shopify as a headless CMS is horrible (in fairness not what it's intended for).

2) More Design Customizations: Something for the Small Brands

Small or first time entrepreneurs just want to have an online store that looks great and where people can easily buy their products. At the moment that means pick a theme, add your products, and launch....but it's much more than that. Almost every store on Shopify needs plugins and customizing themes, just like with Wordpress and others. Usually this means hiring a freelance developer, my smart cousin (yes, I have lots of cousins), or someone techie. Rarely is that stock theme good enough.

I think we'll hear more capabilities to customize the look and feel of your store. Have fun!

Shopify announced Sections as a new capability to customize your store long ago and I'm looking to hear more on that and other capabilities that remove some of the restrictive nature of themes. It might mean less work for small agencies as the entrepreneur is more empowered to do it themselves. It might not mean we're any better off it terms of lock-in.

What to focus on: Just like on Wordpress, once you start customizing themes you're dug in; it's hard to switch, new platform updates might break your theme/store, more bloat, etc. Will new design capabilities go far enough to satisfy the problems? How will these tools impact the business agencies (the majority of the Unite audience)? Is it the death of all those page builder apps?

3) And what it's really all about...Shopify, the distributed payments company

Shopify doesn't really care if you use their themes or if you'd like to build your own front end and integrate with Shopify APIs. The don't care if you want to manage your orders and customers in Shopify Admin or use NetSuite or HubSpot. In fact, recent comments from Shopify President Harley Finkelstein suggest Shopify's goal is to empower brands and retailers to use what they need from Shopify. That's true, as long as you're using Shopify Checkout.

Shopify cares about checkout and Shop Pay is the future. Everything else is gravy. Oh, and congrats Stripe!

Do whatever you want, but if you're using anything from Shopify you must use Shopify Checkout and recent changes to Shopify's API Terms of Service make it very clear. Checkout is where the money is made but it's also the lifeblood of tracking, understanding and reporting on transactions and order details. If you don't use Shopify Checkout things break (reach out, I can walk you through it) plus Shopify loses lots of money and data.

Shop Pay is Apple Pay for the web.

I'm expecting announcements on how Shopify Checkout is now even better and includes subscriptions and instalment payments, but the killer use case here builds on recent deals Shopify made with Google and Facebook where, for the first time, sellers can use Shop Pay for checkout even if they don't use Shopify. It's effectively Apple Pay for the web, making it easy to buy online everywhere.

What to focus on: We'll here more about how subscription payments now all go through Shopify Checkout but I'm listening for any new capabilities to customize Shopify Checkout and announcements on how Shop Pay can now be used even if you're not a Shopify brand (mobile, B2B, social, etc.) and any new deals Shopify has in the pipeline.

4) What else?

Unite 2019 is when Shopify first announced their move into fulfillments, a new version of Shopify POS, and some comments on Shopify Admin, Shopify Capital and other parts of the business. The big news maker of the day and the really the rest of that year was Shopify's fulfillments strategy and I expect we'll here more on that. We'll here other follow ups and some new beta or coming soon announcements but the three areas mentioned is where I expect the most meat.

Tomorrow's Shopify Unite event will be a turning point for Shopify as the company looks to be part of the headless conversation and turns more into a distributed payments company. It's a big day for commerce in general as the way we all shop continues to evolve.

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