A Reflection on Shopify Unite 2018.

Last week, Shopify held its annual Unite partner conference; and for the first time, holding the event in its home country of Canada. Over two and a half jam packed days, we sat in sessions detailing the new features and improvements coming to the platform, mingled with Shopify’s senior management team, as well as agency, development and technology partners. We met some old friends and made some new ones. We received so much new information it will take weeks to absorb and digest it all.

There's plenty in the new announcements to entice online merchants, that's a given. And you can read the announcements here.

In this article I want to focus on the implications these announcements will have on integrating with back-end systems. Why is this important? We work mainly with Plus merchants that typically have a Gross Merchant Volume of at least $500,000 per month and they nearly always have sophisticated needs for fully integrated backend accounting, finance, inventory and logistics (Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP systems).

First, here’s a quick summary of the announcement headlines:

  • Location, location, location. Shopify stores will be location aware, to help manage and control inventory and fulfillments.
  • Flow, the workflow tool built in to Shopify Admin, is being extended to support Connectors to external applications and services.
  • Support for multi-region; including local language, currency and payment means (because 57% of online shoppers bought from overseas merchants) all within a single store.
  • Shopify Admin will also be multi-language and offers support for localized apps.
  • Customized Point of Sale experience (via new POS Software Development Kit).
  • New Tap-and-Chip reader for POS.
  • Ability to embed 3D model images in the store catalog.
  • Enhanced discounting and pricing rules, accessible through Shopify Admin and the API.
  • Run marketing campaigns with promos right inside Admin and view and measure the results.
  • Goal to achieve “checkout-less” checkout, by embedding a one-click buy button on the catalog page, embedded in social postings, or in Ping interactions (see below).
  • Fraud Protect for Shopify Payments to eliminate the need for merchants to manually review orders
  • “Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, and Shopify has Kit", a virtual marketing assistant. Kit is evolving to allow interaction via natural language and the spoken voice.
  • Introducing Shopify Ping. Ping lets merchants interact directly with customers to handle service and support question. Kit is being built in to Ping.
  • A new Admin API based on GraphQL will offer a modern alternative to the more traditional Admin REST API. The number of API calls can be significantly reduced helping merchants and integrators scale. (Applications rely on Application Program Interfaces, or APIs, to communicate and exchange data with each other).
  • A new Service Marketplace and enhanced App Store will give developers new ways to build apps and bring them to market.
  • Finally, Shopify is going brick and mortar, offering merchants a place to go and seek advice and incubate their online businesses.

Let’s dive into some of these a little deeper and consider why these new features and enhancements have a real positive impact on back-end system integration.

Locations

Larger merchants have to manage inventory in multiple locations, whether they fulfill orders from central warehouses or sell via point of sale, either in store, at a pop-up or a trade show. Each of these is a location. So, to support these, the inventory management, refund and fulfillment API end-points are being enhanced to require setting a location.

But Note, to support these changes in core Shopify, any existing references to these API calls must be changed by July 1st.

New functionality will allow inventory transfers between locations and the best location to be chosen based on shipping service levels. Transfers can be made through Admin and coming later in the year, via the API.

While discussing inventory, one aspect that has been sought, but did not get a specific mention is anything to do with batch or lot controls. However, we believe that this can be handled just fine by the back-end system.

Why it matters

Many back-end ERP systems manage inventory in multiple “warehouses”, which in reality can be real or virtual. Stock needs to be booked in, issued or transferred from designated warehouses. So now, this can be accurately reflected on the store, helping reduce or even eliminate over selling and to better manage back-ordering.

GraphQL API

According to graphql.org, “GraphQL is a query language for APIs and a runtime for fulfilling those queries with your existing data. GraphQL provides a complete and understandable description of the data in your API, gives clients the power to ask for exactly what they need and nothing more, makes it easier to evolve APIs over time, and enables powerful developer tools.” It was developed by Facebook in 2012 and was released to the open source developer community in 2015 (according to Wikipedia) and the Schema Definition Language is on Github.

In essence, it works by sending a query request to return the data you want, a little bit like a database query. Rather than having to request whole sets of properties from an object via a RESTful API, (being a query) data can be requested across objects that reference each other, meaning that API requests and responses can be significantly smaller.

Why it matters

The impact of this is huge. Data being exchanged through an integration can scale exponentially and handle vastly higher throughputs. It blows traditional throttling limits out of the water.

GraphQL is not an upgrade for REST. It augments REST in significant ways. But while Shopify rolls out the GraphQL API, it will coexist just fine with the REST API. And the two can be used interchangeably to take the advantage of both worlds.

Flow Connectors

Flow (For Shopify Plus) is an automation platform that was introduced last year. It works by using a trigger to initiate a process, a set of conditions to control it, and the action(s) to be performed. Flow has since become an invaluable tool that helps merchants automate everyday activities while working in Admin. But it is limited by only being work with objects in Shopify, such as customers, products, orders, fulfillments or refunds.

With Connectors, Flow can now reach outside Shopify. These Connectors are a feature of an enhanced development platform inside Shopify called App Extensions. For example; if a customer submits a bad review (with an embedded Reviews App) for a product, a customer service rep would be sent a notification to follow-up and work to regain that customers trust. The review is the trigger, a test on that review – good or bad – is the condition, and the email notification is the action taken. In this example, the trigger and actions are effectively external apps.

Why it matters

Connectors for flow offers huge potential, not only to app developers, but to integrators too. Since these connectors are API consumers themselves, the APIs they work with can be any online service that exposes data via a standardize API.

Discounts and Pricing

According to quoted stats, 1/3 of orders submitted last Black Friday/Cyber Monday had some kind of discount. Buyers are 25% more likely to convert with a discount.

Promotions can now be created natively inside Admin, allowing BOGO and quantity discounts, for example. The discounts created can now be used across channels, including POS. Enhanced reporting shows how effective these promos have been. This is managed by pricing rules.

The pricing API will also handle multi-currency.

Why it matters

Pricing and Discounts can be managed via the API letting integrators drive these from the ERP system. This is significant in the B2B world where customers often receive special pricing or discounts based on order volume or value. Special pricing has been a feature of mid-sized ERP systems for some time and now these can be synchronized through to the online stores, giving customers a consistent pricing whether they shop online or call in an order.

In addition, discounts methods will show through the orders API, allowing integrators to pull this data all the way through to the ERP system.

Marketing

Marketing campaigns can now be set up from inside Shopify. This lets merchants offer very targeted promotions with discounts to highly segmented sets of customers, embedding discounts codes and links which let customers click to buy instantly. New App Extensions let developers and integrators create dynamic campaigns, and of course, there’s Kit Skills and Ping APIs to add to the fun.

Why it matters

Integrators can really go to town with this capability and drive campaigns and promos from CRM or marketing systems. Again, the potential here is simply huge.

And Finally,

A final thought on internationalization. A comment made in Tobi Lütke the opening keynote was that Shopify now sees merchants as a business made of many parts, and in many cases with larger Plus merchants, a global business. But in the past, this has meant having multiple stores and the overhead of having to manage these individually.

Multiple stores add enormous complexity to ERP Integrations. The ability to eliminate multiple stores so that only one handles business in all a merchant’s key markets, fully localized for language, currency and payment marks a paradigm shift.

And Shopify continues to help make ERP integrations so much easier.

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