The debut of the semiannual showcase was six months in the making, culminating in more than 100 new or updated tools. Despite the whip-fast development cycle, the changes represent a significant expansion of the Shopify platform, with business-to-business services, NFT support, more integrations with major tech platforms and access to custom back-end code for tailored commerce experiences.
Forget about direct-to-consumer — what’s next is connect-to-consumer, c-to-c, according to Shopify. It describes this new era of commerce as an evolution of direct-to-consumer, where merchants have full control to create personalized and meaningful experiences everywhere, whether online or in stores.
“At Shopify, we believe in the infinite game. That means we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for entrepreneurs,” said Tobi Lütke, founder and chief executive officer, in a statement. The announcement casts a spotlight on the speed at which Shopify can roll out changes — and not just incremental ones. Shopify Editions represent big swings for the company, as well as its merchants, “so that those ambitious enough to try their hand at entrepreneurship can start and scale faster than ever before.”
A crucial part of the effort is embedding b-to-b into the heart of the platform. The change allows merchants to sell wholesale to other businesses using the same system they use for retail sales, with no need to wrangle a distinct matrix of complex details across multiple spreadsheets or databases. The company partnered with ERP providers, including NetSuite, Brightpearl and Acumatica, to ensure merchant data automatically integrates with the platform.
Outwardly, the online store experience is similar to the consumer version, but optimized for buyers buying in bulk. Shopify pointed to payment flexibility at checkout as an example. Merchants can set customer-specific prices at fixed rates or as a universal discount on retail prices.
But Shopify’s c-to-c vision goes beyond traditional retail scenarios like wholesale. A new era apparently calls for new technologies as well, so the company is also launching support for NFTs in the form of so-called “Tokengated Commerce.”
The tech trend is capable of more than just distributing digital sneakers. One element of offering verifiable digital goods of this type lies in the blockchain’s capacity for including and executing smart contracts, opening up new levels in the customer experience.
Tokengated Commerce allows merchants to give NFT owners exclusive access to products, benefits and experiences. Once customers connect their crypto wallets to a Shopify e-commerce store, their NFTs become their access passes to the perks — whether online via computers and phones or in physical stores, if equipped with a supporting POS system.
Other changes bring new integrations with major technology platforms, including a Twitter sales channel, an iPhone tap-to-pay feature and local inventory integration with Google.
The Google and Apple features are decidedly rooted in physical retail. The former syncs local inventory data, so customers can know when products are in stock nearby, while the latter allows shoppers to bop their Apple smartphones against terminals to pay for goods.
Tapping to pay may be nothing new in retail, but the iPhone-maker’s latest introduction of Apple Pay Later installments brings an added dimension. Shopify confirmed that Pay Later, touted as “just works” technology by Apple, also applies here. In essence, that means any Shopify store with tap-to-pay suddenly has an immediate and fuss-free way to offer a buy now, pay later option. At least to iPhone owners.
The Twitter sales channel lets merchants connect with consumers right from their Twitter profiles. Shopify noted that it’s the first commerce platform to partner on the social messaging giant’s shopping initiative — which is no small matter, given that shopping-related tweets drove 40 billion impressions last year.
The partnership underscores a couple of things: Social commerce is a crucial priority for Shopify. According to company data, the first quarter of 2022 saw orders placed through partner integrations quadruple year-over-year. With the latest spate of integrations joining previous ones for Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok and more, Big Tech has become a sizable constellation in the Shopify universe.
Another important aspect lies in the commerce platform’s maturing approach to development. In announcing the Twitter channel, Shopify pointed out that others could integrate shopping into their experiences as well, thanks to the suite of tools in its Marketplace Kit.
That spirit of openness extends to other corners of the platform now as well, with the new “Shopify Functions.” According to the company, “For the first time, we’re allowing developers to extend or replace Shopify’s backend logic with custom code. With Functions, developers can now create out-of-the-box Shopify features to tailor commerce experiences.”
Last year, Shopify focused on the front end with the introduction of its Hydrogen tools, which let developers create custom storefronts. Now it’s focusing on the back end with Functions, so devs can build their own experiences.
The goal is to offer the flexibility of an open-source platform — a type of shared effort or codevelopment where anyone can troubleshoot or advance software development efforts — but without the hassle of hosting, security or tracking versions. The code runs on the company’s infrastructure, so matters of scale are built-in. Shopify promised that merchants could, say, handle a sudden rush from online flash sales, without compromising a fast checkout experience, even as little as under five milliseconds.
Shopify Functions gets under way with “Discounts,” which allows developers to build custom offers. Think volume promos or reductions, like $20 off sales of $100 or bonus gifts with purchase. However, if merchants don’t want to touch code, they can just use Discounts alongside Shopify features like free shipping.
Functions will cover more areas as time goes on. In the near term, that will be payment methods and shipping options, before eventually moving on to areas like customizable order routing, checkout and return validations and shipping rates.
Other changes span dozens of new or upgraded tools for marketing, cross-border commerce and more, including selling plans for features like try-before-you-buy and preorders.
WWD has also learned that a strategic partnership with e-commerce waitlist platform Purple Dot will usher in preorder shopping tech for the Shopify platform later this week.
According to Purple Dot, millions of brands will be able to offer preorders, in a move that designed not only help build hype and excitement, but also help mitigate supply chain issues. The basic concept is easy to grasp: Presales or product waitlists logically allow brands to gauge demand in advance, so they’re not stuck with unwanted inventory.
“We created Purple Dot to help brands across the world to simply sell earlier,” explained Madeline Parra, Purple Dot’s CEO and cofounder. “We see preorders as a key component for brands to thrive long-term and to create a more sustainable e-commerce industry.”
The experience on offer looks as straightforward as the premise. Customers merely select an item and provide payment details at checkout, which get charged when the product ships. Purple Dot claims its tech helps reduce merchandise returns by as much as 40 percent, and up to 70 percent of preorder customers end up preordering something else within three months.
This integration, as tech embedded in the native Shopify checkout, fits into Shopify’s broader tech proposition — to make the experience more robust for merchants, consumers and now wholesale customers across the board, without adding complexity.
That’s more ambitious than it sounds. Merchants have to contend with new forms of digital retail, in addition to the traditional challenges of the business. But if Shopify Editions and this c-to-c strategy must go into more complicated territory as a result…well, that’s prime territory for its annual Shopify Unite developer conference to explore.
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