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10 Things I Learned at Shopify Unite 2017


Attending this year’s Shopify Unite Conference was a no-brainer for us at Electric Eye. Here are some highlights...
Shopify Unite Main Stage

by Shawn Khemsurov

April 24, 2017

We are a fairly new agency, but the majority of our clients are on the Shopify platform and I see no slow-down in the future.  In fact, after hearing the upbeat keynotes by COO Harley Finkelstein and Founder Tobi Lutke, the future of Shopify looks bright and profitable.  So, we flew to San Francisco for a couple days of learning, networking, and a little bit of dive-bar hopping.  Here are my main takeaways:

Shopify Pay could be a mobile conversion booster.

Shopify Pay Shopify Unite 2017

When Shopify Pay was announced and walked through during Satish Kanwar’s Channel Product Updates talk, enthusiastic applause followed.  This new free feature remembers which payment method a return customer prefers, confirms identity by sending a pin code directly to their phone, and completes the checkout without having to enter in all of the usual customer information. Customers can also utilize Shopify Pay right from the product page without moving onto a cart page.  The main goal is to reduce the stress of checking out on mobile devices, and increase conversions by reducing the number of entry fields from 16 to 2. If a customer opts-in after their first purchase, they can quickly checkout on many Shopify-powered stores with any device or browser.

The only drawback I see is that if a merchant is not using Shopify Payments, they will not be able to take advantage of Shopify Pay. However, it might be worthwhile for merchants to switch over so they can take advantage of 40% faster checkouts and up to 18% higher conversion rates (as beta stores have seen).

Collaboration over Competition

Shopify Partner Community at Shopify Unite

 The overarching theme of the conference was to work together to create more success.  Being a new attendee, I wasn’t sure what the atmosphere would be like, but everyone was approachable and curious to see how projects could be tackled together.  Shopify preached that with a network of partners, developers, and merchants, they could effectively create more entrepreneurs.

More Sales Channels are coming

It’s now possible for Shopify Partners to develop their own sales channels.  Starting in 2015, you could sell to customers through Facebook stores and Pinterest buy buttons.  The announcement came during Unite 2017 that brand new channel APIs are coming for apps like Instagram, Kik, and Wish.  

The most highly anticipated channel for us is Instagram, which had previously been supported by lackluster third party apps.  I’ve seen many stores try the apps, only to go back to linking their website in the bio and hope viewers will click the link, navigate to the site and find the product they were looking for.  There had to be a better way, and I’m hoping the official channel will help followers view and purchase items much faster.

Shopify POS has been updated with new hardware

Shopify POS has been upgraded Shopify Unite 2017

In what seems to be a Square-killer, Shopify has announced a new chip & swipe card reader for physical reatil stores in the US. The reader was designed with store owners in mind, and to make it hard for customers to screw up how they insert credit cards. The reader has the most updated EMV chip technology and also can be removed from its base for portability, which would come in handy for flea market and popup situations.  The hardware is also free for merchants that are new to Shopify POS, or can be purchased for $29.  A few subtle jabs were thrown to other credit card processors that were ‘obsessed with designing something to be a geometric shape rather than working properly’.  Wonder who that missile was aimed towards?

While the news was exciting, I was unable to find out if any improvements had been made to Shopify POS software itself. I haven’t heard stellar feedback from our clients, since features like cost of goods, tipping, and exchanges are missing, but the hope is that with new hardware maybe some of the problems on the software side will be fixed next. I’d definitely like to see a one-stop solution for merchants that have physical stores in addition to the web, but it seems like Shopify POS isn’t their top priority and may never be.

Discounts are improving

Discounts have long been an area which required third party apps to supplement what Shopify was missing in their own platform. Slowly but surely, Shopify is improving their own system and eliminating the need for multiple costly apps for features that many think should be built-in.  

New features include the ability to edit discount codes, combine conditions, and most importantly evaluate the campaign success using new reports.  The goal is to offer more creative discounts that can combine multiple collections and products. Discount scheduling and BOGO will also be handled in the update, making this announcement a major win for merchants.

Marketing Insights tell you how you’re making money

Along with more robust discounting, reports are getting an update with Marketing Insights.  Now, directly on the orders page you’ll be able to see more information about which marketing campaign or app brought in the sale. This helps merchants decide which marketing efforts are successful and how to better allocate their marketing budget.  It will also help app makers and agencies prove their worth.  In addition to seeing the sales funnel information on the product page, it will also appear as a summary on the homepage.

The interface design is changing

Shopify has also retooled their backend design to better serve merchants.  They claimed that the design tweaks were function focused, making it easier to navigate and to unify the experience across mobile and desktop versions.  Until the full design is rolled out it remains to be seen if anything improves, but as a designer myself, I welcome the changes.

Tobi Lutke is a humble, inspiring, and funny guy

Through his keynote and closing Q + A session, Founder Tobi Lutke exuded a humble presence.  It was interesting to hear his story of starting the company in 2007 because he needed better software for his ecommerce store Snowdevil.  Solving a problem is of course how most great companies begin and Shopify was no different.  Tobi’s goal of creating more entrepreneurs through Shopify seems to be coming to fruition, even as he delivered news of declines in people starting businesses.  Surely, as more traditional retail crumbles, the need for consumers to shop will be satiated by an increase in online spending.

During the Q+A session, he took a couple hilarious shots at competitors (Magento we’re looking at you), calling them ‘incompetent peers’.  From our experience it’s an apt title. Also, when asked if he would write a book about the culture of the company, ala Google or Amazon, he claimed that there was still work to be done to make Shopify a great company. The thought likely comes from being a perfectionist, but I respect that he acknowledges things can always be better for customers and employees alike.  His focus was clear, and the soft spoken founder seems to have good intentions for the company by growing profits with their partners, not instead of them.

Wholesale is getting better for Plus merchants

As someone who has built a wholesale store for a client, I know first hand that it can be a painful experience. Issues include relying on third party code to avoid building a second store, messy inventory, and having another login and store to manage.  Now, with wholesale channels for Plus, merchants can manage their dedicated wholesale store, inventory, and orders in the same dashboard. My only complaint is that this hasn’t been opened up to all Shopifyaccounts, even in a paid form.

The SF (and maybe whole US) power grid is vulnerable

Shopify Unite 2017 San Francisco, California

Was it Russian or North Korean hackers who cause the power outages in San Francisco, LA, and NYC during the second day of Unite?  We may never know, but one thing we learned is what happens when we lose our precious power in America’s tech capital.  The second day of track sessions were almost entirely scrapped due to the outage at the Fort Mason Center venue, but spirits remained high and a giant networking session outside was fueled by free refreshments.  So, while getting to and from the event was slightly slowed down, nobody was injured, people remained calm, and new relationships were born.  Maybe it was coincidental timing, but Shopify capped the event by announcing on a generator-powered PA system that next year’s event will be taking place in Toronto.  Let’s hope that Unite 2018 will be safe from grid hacking in Shopify’s neutral home country of Canada.

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