Highlights from Shopify Unite 2017

By Carson McComas | Apr 24, 2017

Well, another Shopify Unite Conference is in the books. Last week was the second year Shopify has held this conference for their Partners. (Partners in Shopify-land are agencies like us, but also app developers, theme developers, freelancers, and bigger companies who integrate their wares with Shopify.)

As promised, they upped their game this year. Attendance was up (from 400 partner attendees last year, to just over 1,000 this year). They also delivered an impressive combination of top-notch production value (did you see that big screen?), but managed to maintain a tight-knit community feel. It's an impressive accomplishment, honestly. The warmth and partner-focused good will coming out of this company is a master class in how to build a company by helping others succeed at theirs. Shopify has always had this vibe, and it was a big theme this year.

The focus at this conference was on partners, but of course ultimately on merchants. We're all in this together, trying to help merchants succeed, and that was the message and the feeling coming from the highest levels of the company.

Like Shopify's merchants, the success of our company is integrally tied to their success (probably even moreso), and I went to the conference, in part, to get a glimpse into where this crucial partner of ours was going. What does the future look like? Is partnering with Shopify still a good play for us and our clients?

I came away reassured, and excited about where Shopify is going. The company leadership (e.g. Tobi, the CEO) are deeply thoughtful in a way that puts their focus more on the core mission of providing value to merchants than on strict profitability. They seem to have retained the internal compass that got them to where they are today. As a public company, this must require some patient fortitude. Shopify seems to have it.

Watch Tobi's Keynote here and see if you agree:

Top five things that stood out to me

Aside from the intangible warm and fuzzies, here are the top five things that I personally thought were most interesting to merchants. There were a lot more than five things, so make sure you follow the Shopify blog (and the Plus blog) for all the scoops.

1. Mobile Store Builder. In short: approachable way to make a mobile app (Android or iOS) for your shop. No designer or developer needed.

This looks like it has promise. For merchants with a relatively high recurring purchase rate, creating a native mobile experience could be a nice way to build loyalty, and smooth out the purchasing experience on mobile. I'm guessing the initial release will be limited in functionality (i.e. a few templates: take them or leave them), so it will probably only work with fairly straightforward shops, but I like where this is going. Responsive design (the web discipline of making a website work well on mobile and desktop alike from a common code base) is ok, but not great. Shopping on your phone's browser is tolerable, but has a long way to go. Native apps are more responsive, faster, and can provide a smoother checkout experience.



2. Shopify Pay. Think Apple Pay, but focused on the Shopify network of stores. When you check out on any Shopify store, you'll have the option to have Shopify "remember" you such that when you go to check out on that, or any other Shopify store in the future, you'll be able to do so without entering your billing information. From 16 fields down to 2 to check out. I think this is pretty awesome, but I thought Apple Pay was pretty awesome, and it has not had as high an adoption rate as we'd hoped in our anecdotal observation among our clients. I can think of a few reasons this might be different, I'm hoping I'm right because I think it could have a nice impact on conversion rate, especially on mobile if adopted. I think the real story will take time to unfold, so we'll see. It also provides a pretty nice perk to Shopify customers to be part of this "network." I'm cautiously optimistic.



3. New Card Reader Shopify dubs this the "Chip and Swipe Reader" for Shopify's POS. More and more merchants are selling in person in addition to online, via either B&M locations, Popups, or other temporary venues. This reader really does seem nicely designed and polished, and a noticeable step up from most of the other hardware out there in this space. I think Shopify is trying to Apple-ify this hardware, and it's a solid showing in the vein. It's interesting to see Shopify move into hardware too - curious where that will lead from here.



4. Discount Codes/Coupon codes are getting a major (much needed!) upgrade. Right now these are adequate, but not great. Quite frustrating to use, and haven't evolved in years.

Coming soon to discount codes:

- Combine conditions
- Change on the fly
- Reporting
- An API
- Ability to generate bulk codes (you can do this with an app today btw)
- Offer cart discounts (like BOGO)
- Scheduling

These are all pretty sweet and will be welcome upgrades. It also looks like much of this will be put into the hands of Regular Shopify Plan store owners functionality that is currently only available to Plus store owners via Shopify Scripts.

Shopify Plus is evolving

5. Shopify Plus is evolving. Not really a feature announcement, but something worth noting.

First, some interesting metrics about Shopify Plus:

- 2500 merchants on Plus
- 300 employees at Shopify working on Plus
- 100+ of those are "Merchant Success Managers"
- 70 on R&D and dev (i.e. designers + developers working on new functionality)
- 80 on marketing

I got the sense that Shopify Plus is poised to really pull away from regular Shopify in a meaningful way this year. This is welcome (they've been a little hampered by the fact that regular Shopify is very strong), and timely given the recent price increase. They're (finally!) working on things like multi-store (a huge pain point for higher end Shopify merchants), building a better app eco-system for Plus merchants (many of the current apps can't be trusted at scale), better reporting and analytics, more automation and efforts like improved themes just for Plus.

We'll see how this all materializes of course, but I'm optimistic. I think they've got the horsepower and vision to do something great here if they can keep that compass pointed in the right direction.

Summary:

I like where Shopify is going. I like the leadership, I like where they are focused, I like the ethos of the company, and I like the product itself. I still feel very comfortable recommending it to our clients. As a partner, Shopify is an absolute joy to work with. I think this is an omen of good things ahead.



p.s. A couple fun things about attending the conference.

1. They held the afterparty at City Hall. I thought that might be the name of a bar or something, but no - we were in City freaking Hall. It was pretty nuts.

San Francisco City Hall - host location of the Shopify Unite after party

2. About 1500 people attended this conference (1000+ attendees, plus Shopify staff). On day two of the two day conference we all arrived at the venue that morning just as the power went out for the entire city of San Francisco. I wasn't envying the conference organizers at that point. It all turned out ok though, we stood out in the sun, us pasty-white folk got sunburned, and everyone socialized and networked. They threw together a couple of the planned panels running a mic off a generator, and fortunately held the AMA with Tobi (it was awesome, make sure you catch it when they publish it), but the power didn't come on until late in the afternoon after we'd all dispersed. It was interesting to see how everyone handled it (gracefully, is a good description).

As a final note, I loved this quote - a lot. I'm guessing we can all relate.