Ottawa-based Shopify goes global with Unite product announcements

Tobi

Shopify unveiled a slew of upgrades and expansions to its platform and services at its Unite conference on Tuesday as the firm attempts to spread entrepreneurship – and its merchant base – globally.

The Ottawa-based e-commerce giant departed from Unite’s regular San Francisco locale in 2018, instead hosting its annual gathering for partners, employees and developers in Toronto for the first time.

CEO Tobi Lütke kicked off the the day’s keynote addresses and product announcements, reaffirming Shopify’s belief that entrepreneurship is for everyone – and celebrating a bit of the firm’s success in that regard over its first decade in business.

“Because Shopify exists, there is more entrepreneurship in the world."

“Because Shopify exists, there is more entrepreneurship in the world,” he told the crowd.

For Shopify to keep doing this, he continued, the firm has to reduce “friction” for entrepreneurs: the inconveniences and barriers to success in commerce.

Unite’s product announcements were largely geared around reducing this friction, especially for  Shopify’s growing international merchant base.

Lynsey Thornton, the firm’s vice-president of UX, told the conference that the number of merchants using the platform in Asia had grown by 80 per cent in the year’s first quarter alone – twice that in South America.

To improve service for these merchants and others around the world, Lütke announced Shopify would roll out its platform in multiple languages, with betas in German, French and Japanese already live.

The firm is also aiming to further reduce friction at checkout by providing customers with prices in their local currencies and support for payment processors that are popular in their area, such as Alipay and WeChat Pay in China.

“In order for our merchants to scale their businesses globally, they have to offer payment methods their customers expect locally,” said Mohammad Hashemi, Shopify’s general manager of financial solutions.

‘Future of commerce’

With the “future of commerce” in mind, Shopify also unveiled new developments in hardware, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Satish Kanwar, the firm’s vice-president of product, unveiled a new version of Shopify’s point-of-sale device that will accept card payments via tap as well as through a chip reader when it’s released this fall.

Though the chip reader model was available free to merchants, Kanwar said the new device will run around $50 each. He added that 70,000 retailers are currently using the POS device, first announced at last year’s Unite.

Kanwar then introduced Shopify’s head of virtual reality, Daniel Beauchamp, who demonstrated how one retailer is using augmented reality to let customers lay out 3D models of products on their tables at home.

In line with Shopify’s vision of blurring the lines between offline and online retail, Beauchamp prophesied that this technology will “fundamentally change the way we shop.”

The firm also previewed new features for Kit, Shopify’s chatbot assistant billed as new merchants’ “first employee.”

Michael Perry, who was CEO of Kit before Shopify acquired the San Francisco-based firm in 2016, took to the stage to show off Kit’s new skills. Beyond just planning marketing campaigns, Kit will soon be able to communicate more fluidly with merchants and offer proactive suggestions, such as putting last month’s best sellers on a featured promotion.

Shopify is taking conversational commerce even further with Ping, a new messaging app that will allow merchants to edit everything from ad design to store layout just by typing in a few commands. Tied into this app, which will be free for all users starting this summer, will be the ability to communicate with employees and customers.

The two-hour-long series of keynotes also included announcements about tracking inventory across multiple locations, automated marketing campaigns and a new marketplace for merchants to access partner services.

Shopify also announced it would open its first physical location for entrepreneurs to get support on growing their businesses. Merchants can walk in a meet with a “Shopify guru” in the same way a customer might go to Apple’s Genius Bar for support.

Though the location is slated to open this coming fall, Shopify made no announcement about where in the world it would be located.