Shopify Unite 2019: eCommerce giant announces most advanced platform features yet
Find out how the world’s most sophisticated eCommerce SaaS product is taking giant strides into 2019
Shopify’s annual conference, Unite, is always a feast of features, new announcements and insight into the future of eCommerce. As one of the world’s largest collective eCommerce providers (Shopify stores now collectively combine to comprise the 4th largest retail presence in North America) the business is super-focused on building a retail platform, merchant community and technology ecosystem that scales to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s biggest digital retail challenges.
This year’s Unite was no different. In fact, Shopify made some frankly staggering announcements in 2019 - and showed that they’ve been digging deep into their war chest to take the fight to the rest of the eCommerce landscape.
With announcements split across both their advanced development ecosystem and merchant-focused features, in this article we’ll be discussing some of the new merchant-focused announcements, and covering some of the more technology-specific headlines later.
So, where to start? The Online Store is the jewel in the crown of Shopify’s product suite and powers pretty much everything that follows. It’s split into ‘Core’ and ‘Plus’ and this year’s announcements split across both of the offerings.
Wrapped up into a brand new user interface (designed specifically to make navigating store content and creation more intuitive), some of our favourite Core announcements are as follows:
‘Sections’ are a way for merchants and site editors to easily add or move content around a specific Shopify page with very little effort. Until now, sections were reserved for homepages. The latest news from Shopify is that sections can be used site-wide, giving extra power to designers and merchants that want to provide better visual experiences across their website’s structure - not just using their homepage as the showcase piece.
This introduces a whole series of new potential uses for highly engaging sales pages - especially around high-value products that need to work harder to convert.
Master pages provide a simple and powerful way to store content into specific page types, and then cascade that content through all of the pages that share that common base. This is a real time saver and organisational aid - it helps keep content structured, consistent and living in one single place - meaning that any large, sweeping changes can be made from a single place.
Portable, non-theme content
For the first time, page content is no longer to be stored exclusively within themes. Merchants won’t need to duplicate themes to make store changes - and this plays to the more far-reaching ambition of being able to eventually theme switch incredibly simply - without the headache of transferring content manually.
Shopify has introduced a brand new drafts system that is designed to allow merchants to draft changes to their stores, prior to publishing them to their customers. This is a safe space for merchants to try new aesthetic tweaks and content on existing pages (as well as new ones) without risking anything unfinished finding its way through to the store’s production environment.
Video & 3D media enhancements
Shopify’s excellent AR capabilities will be coming to the wider store environment this year - in the form of bringing the Video and 3D update to the admin’s Product section to all merchants. What this means is huge - merchants will be able to manage video and 3D model assets for products in the same way that images are currently managed, as well as providing a sophisticated 3D experience that’s been proven to dramatically increase conversion when used in the right way.
Enhanced subscription support
Shopify has revisited the way that subscription purchases function through the checkout experience - creating a slicker, simpler experience when registering for a recurring purchase payment. This includes keeping subscription customers within the Shopify checkout environment rather than passing them out to a third-party app environment, which is designed to make that specific model of purchasing more user-friendly.
Advanced & technical news
Translations & translation APIs
eCommerce is a global marketplace, and Shopify’s mission to create a seamless cross-border sales experience is underpinned by accessibility - making it simple to translate in-store content for international reach.
New APIs for cross-border commerce include:
- Translations API: The Translations API enables the ability to read and write translations for buyer-facing content - items like products, blog posts and pages.
- Shop Locale API: The Shop Locale API manages which alternate locales are published or unpublished. Alternate locales can be language or serve language-region (ie. French, French Canada, English UK, etc.).
- Translations in GraphQL Admin API: Non-translation specific apps that only need to read translated content (for example, email marketing) will be able to access translation content via the Shopify GraphQL Admin API, providing speed and quality enhancements for developers.
In October 2018, Shopify made a pretty huge statement - they launched the ability to sell in multiple currencies using Shopify Payments for the platform’s Plus merchants. This is now being rolled out globally to Shopify merchants of all sizes - and provided that they’re using Shopify Payments (the platform’s proprietary payment gateway) it’ll be available natively.
Selling in multiple currencies offers prices that display in that customer’s local currency - an experience that then carries through to the checkout. This pricing automatically adjusts based on foreign-exchange rates and displays buyer-friendly prices, making use of simple rounding rules. This feature initially launches and supports 10 key currencies:
GBP, AUD, CAD, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, DKK, SGD, and USD.
eCommerce can be messy and complicated - particularly at high volume. Shopify has long been requested the ability for merchants to edit orders retrospectively - in the case that details or requirements change post order. This is actually dramatically more complicated than you might anticipate - and is an enhancement that touches every part of an eCommerce software stack to be successfully carried off.
Despite the complexity, Shopify has finally opened up order editing APIs - allowing the ability to add, remove or replace items before the specific item has been fulfilled - offering merchants much more post-order flexibility and helping streamline the process of handling changes to purchases after it’s already been submitted.
Shopify Plus is the platform’s enterprise-grade offering and is designed to support high-volume merchants grow quickly, globally. It’s a powerhouse of a platform and houses some of the world’s most ambitious digital retailers.
In 2019’s announcement, Shopify announced a re-imagined Shopify Plus - helping large, complex businesses manage multiple stores, users, permissions, automation and territories from a single point of entry. This is especially important for international merchants - the redesign and build effort brings together multiple territorial stores under one roof, collating data and insights from all of them to simplify the management of key, business-wide metrics.
The roll-out is planned sequentially throughout the world into Q3 and Q4 of 2019, and more details can be found here.
Shopify Point-of-Sale (POS)
Shopify’s POS system is the backbone of a large number of merchants with both physical and digital storefronts - and where inventory needs to be connected seamlessly between the two destinations. With speed, efficiency and human-to-human interaction powering the redesign, the platform is now:
- Quicker to use - With a faster checkout, better refunds and exchanges workflows, and a powerful global search.
- More friendly - Simpler to redesign for retail staff, large tap areas, and smart grids
- Ready for scale - Prepared for huge sales volume - including unlimited products, multiple location search, advanced staff permissions, and quick access to POS apps and their content.
- More cohesive - A united back office - designed to connect customers, inventory, and orders across all digital and physical locations.
The team also introduced a number of app extension enhancements (around speed and visibility) that give developers a better ability to deliver first-class user experiences for busy merchants.
Shopify Fulfillment Network
Arguably the largest announcement this year is the Shopify Fulfillment Network. Simply put, the Shopify Fulfillment Network is a geographically dispersed network of physical warehouses that exist to stock Shopify merchant inventory. These warehouses will then automatically honour your orders - all of which has been designed to dramatically speed up delivery times and operational efficiency for growing merchants. It puts Shopify merchants at a distinct advantage - being able to continue to maintain your entrepreneurial independence, while offering the shipping speed and delivery benefits of a much larger, more sophisticated eCommerce organisation.
Starting in the US, Shopify’s new fulfillment network is designed to warehouse and manage stock intelligently - distributing orders across the United States at lightning speed and across multiple channels, including eBay, Amazon, Instagram and more - and comprehensively manage returns and exchanges for merchants shipping anywhere between 10 and 10,000 products a day.
More than that - it’s a branded experience for your customers. Rather than a generic experience as provided through standard fulfilment firms, Shopify provides a branded, end-to-end sales experience through its new network - and participating merchants also have dedicated, logistics-focused account managers to help them get it off the ground.
Consumers are quickly getting used to being taken care of - and those expectations, largely built on the back of the service of giant retailers is now demanded of smaller merchants in a highly competitive eCommerce landscape. And that’s really what many of these announcements are about - bringing the power of a much larger software business into the hands of smaller, ambitious entrepreneurial teams.
We’ll be looking forward to helping bring a number of these new features into our client businesses as they’re rolled out throughout Shopify’s product suite throughout the rest of the year. At By Association Only, we work on eCommerce projects for merchants across the world. We’re specialists in platform migration in the luxury, fashion and cosmetics sectors. To find out more about how we work with Shopify, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.