The online service plans to open a retail space in the U.S. for existing merchants and other store owners this year, the Canadian company said Tuesday. The location aims to provide a resource center for small- to medium-size businesses looking for education, networking opportunities and tools.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about the death of physical retail in the last year. And we think that a lot of this has come because of large-scale brands that have been really been offering undifferentiated experiences — and closing locations — as a result of that,” Satish Kanwar, vice president of product at Shopify, told WWD. “We think this is a really important time to show the rest of the retail landscape — and small- and medium-sized retailers — that the opportunity and support for them is strong and that it’s real.”
Shopify “gurus” will be on site every day for one-on-one appointments, and the company will host daily workshops covering everything from how to get started online or do online marketing, to how to lay out their physical retail environment. “Not only will they be taught and worked with hands-on to solve these problems, they’ll do it with other entrepreneurs beside them,” Kanwar added. “There will be evening and weekend programming for community groups, meet-ups, panels and other networking events.”
Think of it as an Apple Store, but geared for mom-and-pop shops.
The physical world isn’t entirely foreign to the e-commerce company. It’s previously held pop-up events from the U.S. to Sydney to offer retail clinics for clients in need of advice, and the experience informs the new, more permanent “community hub,” as Kanwar calls it. The store, which will likely launch around the end of the summer, will be open to the public and feature workshop and seminar areas, as well as sections dedicated to showcasing Shopify retail gadgets, including its new “Tap-and-Chip” reader and point-of-sale technology. And, of course, there will be plenty of information available for anyone interested in learning about the platform.
The brainchild of coder Tobi Lütke, Shopify itself started out as a small business. But after 14 years, the publicly traded company has grown into a global platform that helps roughly 600,000 merchants in 175 countries do business online — including Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff. The operation has helped fuel more than $55 billion in transactions to date and given Lütke a net worth of $1.2 billion.
The increasingly multichannel nature of today’s retail world has blurred the line between the online and physical worlds. While giants such as Amazon dabble in different ways to bridge the divide — via experimenting with physical locations, seeding products or pick-up lockers with other retail partners and other efforts — Shopify’s focus is on making sure smaller e-tailers don’t get left out.
This corner of the retail universe has been heating up in recent years. Pop-up shops from New York to L.A. have become all the rage among e-commerce businesses, and giving web stores some physical shelf space — not just to sell, but also to observe shopper behavior and product interactions — has become its own business. Players like B8ta act as a sort of research lens for Kickstarter graduates looking for deeper insights into their customers.
Shopify’s goal is a bit more foundational. “Physical retail is not going away; it’s just changing substantially,” Kanwar explained. “[Smaller retailers] need access to better technology, better support and one another to be able to get through these turbulent times.
“This is the most critical time in the history of physical retail, where they need this type of support,” he added. “And having access to this in these neighborhoods and local markets is going to be fundamental in carrying them through the shifting tide.”