Shopify Conference Recap and Outlook
Mark Sandeno and I went to San Francisco in April with flowers in our hair to take in the Shopify Unite conference, network with other Shopify agencies, and see the sun — that ball of fire at the center of our solar system we Seattleites had lost touch with for the previous 7 or 8 months. Overall, we found all three to be quite enjoyable!
The event was held at Fort Mason, an old Bayside Army post now converted into, well, a bunch of things, including event space. It was a lovely locale with quintessential views of the bay — the kind of views that almost make you think SF’s high housing costs are worth it. We were impressed with the overall production value of the event, with large video screens, concert lighting, and furniture I can’t afford. It didn’t feel like it was only the second time they’ve done this.
Kicking Off the Conference
Tobi Lütke, Shopify’s founder and CEO, kicked off the conference in a great way by talking about, among other things, their underlying purpose as a company. Most conferences focus on their ‘what’ — what their products do, how awesome they are, and so on. Quite honestly, they’re usually festival style infomercials.
Shopify definitely devoted a lot of time to product and feature announcements, but by starting with Shopify’s raison d’etre — to take the path that leads to more entrepreneurs — they immediately gave added purpose to the entire event. This was bolstered by Tobi’s story of how Shopify started when he built his own e-commerce store to sell snowboards in 2004. Yes, Shopify is a public company with shareholders to answer to and, therefore, a strong motivation to print money for them, but this story felt genuine and provided a more interesting lens through which to view the product announcements that followed.
The New Products We’re Most Stoked About
Speaking of product announcements, here are a few that stood out to us.
- Shopify Pay: Not unlike other platform payment products (such as Apple Pay), this allows users to save their payment and shipping details with Shopify for use across all Shopify merchant stores. Once enrolled, users will just have to enter their email and a verification code they receive via SMS, making future checkouts a breeze.
- New Chip & Swipe Reader: If you ask Tobi, the world of point of sale (POS) hardware is poorly designed and terrible to use. Their move into hardware is an attempt to solve that bad experience with an easy-to-use card reader that’s sleek and portable for use in-store or on the go. Oh — and it’s free to merchants new to Shopify POS.
- Storefront API: For many customers, Shopify is a great fit for their e-commerce needs, but less so for other aspects of their online presence. Perhaps their site requires more robust blogging, content, or other interactive experiences. The Storefront API allows merchants to build a customer-facing Shopify experience into their existing non-Shopify site. Furthermore, it’s leveraging the flexibility of GraphQL, a modern query language that allows you to ask for and receive exactly what you want from a database — nothing more, nothing less. The Storefront API is still in beta for now, but we’re excited to see what we can build with it and to share it with the businesses previously wary of moving their entire site to Shopify.
- Polaris: For applications embedded in the Shopify Admin, designers and developers previously bore all responsibility to build clean, inviting user experiences. But with the recently released Polaris design language (and a collection of pre-built React components), there’s now a robust toolkit app that developers can use to create seamless experiences. We consider this a huge leap for the market of 3rd party apps which will allow for both better experiences and easier development processes.
This is not at all a comprehensive list of what was announced at Unite. Rather, the above new products are just the ones we are most excited about because we can see a direct benefit to some of our existing and future clients. But we know some of their other announcements, including the Marketing Events API, the Draft Orders API, and even the Unity Buy SDK, are equally exciting for a lot of folks in the Shopify sphere.
Shopify has historically been an important part of our business. It’s the only e-commerce platform we recommend, and that channel has definitely grown over the past two years. But I admit that until Unite 2017, we hadn’t fully understood the potential Shopify has to help us grow our agency business.
We’ve worked across a variety of technologies and are often tasked to build completely greenfield applications front to back. In the past we have preferred custom work, as it allows us to make the kind of technical decisions we think make the most sense to solve any given problems. When you build on someone else’s platform, you lose that freedom and have to play by their rules, and build around their constraints.
Shopify is no exception. There are plenty of well-documented limitations to their platform. Yet, we learned how much opportunity is out there — not only for building custom themes and private apps — but also for public apps and addressing underserved markets that might benefit from Shopify’s offering.
Another thing that stood out to us was the sheer volume of new announcements they had. The various APIs, liquid updates, hardware, design and dev tools — it all adds up to an impressive velocity for their product teams and that excites us. Despite the aforementioned platform limitations, they’re clearly listening, forging ahead, and not afraid to innovate.
So, we’re not just excited about what’s new today, we’re also looking forward to future announcements and the overall growth of Shopify’s offering!