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Commerce+ 2021: A Recap Of What’s Next In Commerce


This year’s Commerce+ brought founders, business leaders, and brand builders together to discuss what’s driving ecommerce today, and what’s next for brands that want to reach new customers, strengthen their existing consumer relationships, and heighten their shopping experiences across channels.

For Shopify Partners and Developers, it was also an opportunity to hear how some of the biggest global brands are thinking about the future of their businesses, and how Shopify is building products to support their growth—all to better prepare their own businesses to exceed merchant expectations. Here’s an overview of the event’s biggest takeaways, and the products we highlighted.

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Build your brand, build your business

A prevailing theme across Commerce+ was how brands are investing in their brand story to truly resonate and build relationships with their consumers.

If you’re working with merchants who want more control over how to customize their store’s theme so their store design and content embody their unique brand, Online Store 2.0 and Dawn are powerful tools to help showcase a brand to the world, share its story, and bring its vision of commerce to life.

Online Store 2.0 and Dawn

We announced Online Store 2.0 at Shopify Unite 2021—new features and improvements to our online store platform that expand its creative customization capabilities, and one of the biggest updates we’ve made to the platform to date.

Learn more about Online Store 2.0

Read our standalone article introducing Online Store 2.0 and its impact on developers.

Read more

Online Store 2.0 features make it easier for brands to customize and edit the look and feel of their themes, meaning more flexible customization for merchants.

With the new editor, merchants have the freedom of multiple layouts, and sections and blocks on every page to drag, drop, and edit content without editing code or needing technical resources to create and maintain it. Merchants can also now integrate apps seamlessly into their themes through app blocks and app embeds.

We’ve also made big updates to make it possible for brands to show specialized product information that’s meaningful to them with flexible store content through metafields, which they can define, display, and edit directly in the admin.

Dawn is our first free Online Store 2.0 theme, and is now available to all merchants to install from the Shopify Theme Store. It also includes rich media, site-wide cross-selling sections, and media-optimized product pages designed for conversion. Dawn’s adaptable layout and simplified color systems make it easy to set up and get started. There are over 40 Online Store 2.0 themes to choose from the Shopify Theme Store.

You might also like: What it Takes to Build for Success on the Shopify Theme Store.

Custom Storefronts

From brands looking for a headless architecture to better facilitate their tech requirements to those looking to deliver a truly unique buyer experience, Shopify’s Custom Storefronts can deliver that. 

Some real-life examples of Shopify merchants we mentioned during Commerce+:

  • Allbirds’ mobile app lets customers try shoes on virtually with the magic of augmented reality (AR) 
  • OffLimits created animated characters to guide the buyer journey right to a gamified checkout to make buying cereal fun
  • Yolélé created a one-of-a-kind visual product explorer for their delicious products
  • ZSA created advanced customization to personalize its ergonomic Moonlander keyboard

Shopify recently announced two new developer products: Hydrogen (a front-end web development framework and SDK for building Shopify custom storefronts) and Oxygen (which hosts Hydrogen storefronts directly on Shopify). 

Our investments in Hydrogen and Oxygen mean that developers can quickly get started building the most expressive, creative storefront experiences, while leveraging the expertise and infrastructure that powers Shopify’s millions of merchants. 

You might also like: All of the Announcements From Shopify Unite 2021.

Connect to next-gen consumers by meeting them where they are

Consumers want brands to connect with them, on their own terms. That authenticity, and feeling engaged with a brand and its story, matters to consumers when they’re making purchasing decisions.

But as digital commerce continues to accelerate and tactile brand experiences aren’t always possible or available, it’s more important than ever for brands to figure out how to connect with audiences that are used to having the world at their fingertips. And that means leading with a deep understanding of humans and their emotions and desires.

As digital commerce continues to accelerate and tactile brand experiences aren’t always possible or available, it’s more important than ever for brands to figure out how to connect with audiences that are used to having the world at their fingertips.

Humanrace founder and music industry icon Pharrell Williams shares his perspective on why he launched his skincare brand as a direct-to-consumer model – and the reason was rooted in building connections with people.

“We just always want a direct connection. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) just means a personal connection,” Williams says. “We think that skin health is one of those things that should be considered important. Having a connection with people who feel the same way and want that same kind of advice, we want to be there for them. It’s not just about the products. It’s also about people and experiences.”

Having a connection with people who feel the same way and want that same kind of advice, we want to be there for them. It’s not just about the products. It’s also about people and experiences.

As customer acquisition costs are skyrocketing, it’s critical for brands to get creative with how they’re building relationships with their customers and meeting them where they are in order to stand out from the noise. That includes focusing on social commerce and using social media as a strategic channel for growth and discovery.

Shopify merchant Mented Cosmetics shared how it made a big splash in a crowded industry. The company started connecting with influencers on Instagram and YouTube to get connected with the perfect audience for its products. The company chose the DTC model to tell their story, says cofounder and CEO KJ Miller.

“What made the most sense was: how do we talk directly to our consumer?” Miller says. “At the end of the day, the only reason they’re going to choose our brand over another is if they understand who we are, the products, that we’re vegan, we’re clean, we’re everyday beauty, we’re fully pigmented—and we are made specifically for you.”

The only reason customers are going to choose our brand over another is if they understand who we are.

The speakers also discussed the ever-growing opportunity existing and emerging social channels present for growing DTC brands.

“There’s a lot of innovation happening [in social media],” says Gym+Coffee cofounder Diarmuid McSweeney. “It’s not just brand and community interaction. We all know that live shopping and things like that are coming down the line; social media will become even more important for brands like ours, where you just have to have a really strong platform and really strong strategy to stay relevant all the time.” 

In tandem with the rise of social commerce, we’ve also seen the rise of the creator economy—the social media-savvy creators and curators building businesses and brands through their online audiences. 

TikTok, with its one billion monthly average users around the world, is one of the platforms where you can see this in action (and maybe some great dance moves, too). In fact, 25 percent of TikTok users say they purchase or research a product after watching a TikTok, and the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 4.6 billion views.

TikTok Shopping

Shopify x Tiktok for business – ads on Tiktok for clothing and accessories layered over a background with geometric shapes.

Last year, Shopify launched ad integration with TikTok, which lets merchants sync their catalogues and create shoppable video ads within Shopify.

Now, our new TikTok Shopping allows brands to create a mini-storefront on TikTok by adding a shopping tab to their profile and integrating their Shopify product catalogue. They can then tag and link to products in their organic TikTok, seamlessly bringing commerce to the For You Page. 

Another benefit for brands or creators is that reaching people with this content isn’t dependent on the size of their followers list. In TikTok, content is shared with audiences that are most interested in it so brands and creators can leverage their already highly engaged followers and reach new audiences to make the most of a product discovery opportunity in an authentic way. In short, it’s an opportunity for merchants and creators to build and deepen relationships with their audiences through organic product discovery and native shopping.

Grow boldly by building community

Jon Wexler, VP of Shopify’s Creator Program, emphasizes the power of storytelling, and the shift “from people plus brands equal cool to people are brands.” 

Wexler adds that we’re seeing cultural figures and commerce intersect to reimagine customer experiences and product innovation. And there’s probably no better example than Miami Heat superstar basketball player Jimmy Butler.

Butler’s newfound love for coffee combined with his entrepreneurial spirit and hustle have coalesced into the launch of BIGFACE, not only as a brand, but as an experience and a community seeking to bring love to and tell the story of the people behind the beans. 

We also talked to Butler before the launch of BIGFACE Coffee for our Commerce in the World series about how he hopes community forms around the brand, why it mattered to him to understand every facet of the coffee process, along with the people behind it, and the one bubble café he didn’t know about.

“I feel as though the community is everything to us. As much as we’re going to be selling this merch and the coffee, BIGFACE will be doing so much in the community for the people that are helping bring us our coffee, make our coffee package our coffee, because we’re nothing without them,” he says.

Butler’s perspective was a great reminder for both merchants and partners that building a brand, telling a story, and making an impact is a collective effort of many people behind the scenes, working towards big goals.

Reach customers across borders through international commerce

Ecommerce is a global industry with global opportunity. And we know firsthand that merchants around the world are looking for an experience that connects them with their customers across borders and into different international markets. In 2020 alone, Shopify’s largest merchants generated $20 billion in cross-border sales using our existing tools like international domains and multicurrency. 

But one of the most challenging things for merchants when going global is the complexity, such as currency conversion, language localization, providing local payment methods, and duty and import taxes—all of which can be barriers to selling internationally. 

It’s also challenging to glean the insights needed to answer big questions like: 

  • Where to launch next?
  • Which products resonate in particular markets?
  • Which demographics are best to target?
  • What do local payments look like from one region to the next?

Expanding internationally shouldn’t be difficult or dependent on a merchant’s size or sophistication.

Expanding internationally shouldn’t be difficult or dependent on a merchant’s size or sophistication. Requirements around currency, conversion, language localization, or duties and taxes shouldn’t be barriers to going global. So we launched Shopify Markets to remove the complexity of international commerce and create value for both merchants and buyers.

Shopify Markets

Shopify Markets logo with three illustrations of a head wrap for sale in Germany, Japan, and the United States with different currencies and images for each ad.

With Shopify Markets, brands will have a centralized hub with all the tools needed to manage global commerce. They will be equipped to go global by default and build a data-driven international strategy. Shopify Markets will help your merchant clients:

  • Enter new markets easily from a centralized place in the admin, including launching, optimizing, and measuring performance across markets, with the nuances of international selling automatically managed
  • Create market-specific buying experiences from a single Shopify store by displaying the right domains, currencies, and languages on their storefront, and displaying the right duties, fees, and payment methods at checkout
  • Optimize back office operations from a single place in the Shopify admin, with complete control over what merchants sell, how they price, and how they fulfill orders in each market they sell to

Learn more about Shopify Markets

Get to know more about Shopify Markets, so you can help your merchant clients grow. Merchants can apply for early access now.

Learn more

Explore channel and expansion strategies

There’s no one-size-fits all strategy for growth. And as merchants look ahead to 2022, expansion strategies are top of mind—from omnichannel to international markets to wholesale to audience growth—particularly as consumers continue to embrace digital commerce and seemingly borderless shopping.

Kate Huyett, Chief Marketing Officer of Bombas, Marc Day, Lead Digital Creative at Dose & Co, and Natalie Halloway, Cofounder of Bala, offered their tips on how they’re approaching expansion.

Become more accessible through additional distribution channels

Dose & Co started as a smaller-scale ecommerce store in New Zealand. Once the company started gaining traction, the business decided to partner with larger retailers to not only increase its distribution, but also reach older customers that may not be online as often and in as many places as their younger counterparts, Day says.

The brand has since launched in four international markets, and Day adds that it’s also taking advantage of foot traffic from the traditional brick and mortar model.

“We want Dose & Co to be as accessible as possible,” Day says. “Our channel strategy consists of providing a best-in-class online experience with customers via a website, face-to-face, marketing, our customer care team, or our social presence, and pairing this with established legacy retailers each year.”

Connect with new consumers through your mission and values

Bombas found its mission resonated even more so during a pandemic year. 

“Mission has been integral to our founding story. It’s always been core to us and something we knew resonated with our customers,” Huyett says. 

During the first global wave of COVID-19, Bombas saw its customers engaging at a much higher level with its giving-related emails, and that the brand’s mission was resonating in different ways, whether related to the pandemic or social movement activities.

Huyett also explains how Bombas balances its brand mission authentically with marketing and channel strategy.

We really think about our mission on a channel-by-channel basis, and we ideally are trying to get product and mission in everything we do.

“The product and mission are deeply intertwined, and from pretty early on, we were clear that we didn’t want the mission to become an afterthought,” she says. We didn’t want it to be something that people had to really dig for to find out what we were doing. So we really think about it on a channel-by-channel basis, and we ideally are trying to get product and mission in everything we do.”

Explore new sales models

Business to business (B2B) ecommerce is amongst one of the fastest-growing sales models. Innovation and technology from B2B ecommerce platforms have helped drive the movement.

In fact, we’re seeing more direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands expand into B2B. For some, it’s a response to growth and satisfying retailer demand for their products; for others, it’s a proactive recognition of a huge untapped opportunity to seize new distribution channels and enter new markets.

B2B for Shopify Plus

Shopify is making big investments in B2B, addressing the challenges merchants have experienced in selling to their business customers, and opening a huge growth opportunity for more and more merchants to sell both DTC and B2B.

Our new B2B features will launch starting in the first half of 2022. We’re building these features directly into our platform, so Shopify Plus merchants will be able to manage both their B2B and DTC business. This includes offering personalized pricing and payment terms to each buyer and providing a seamless B2B checkout flow, controlled from their centralized admin.

Work smarter with data and automation

Commerce+ wrapped with exploring the tools and tech that help power the art and science of smarter commerce.

Commerce is smarter when brands have access to data that can inform strategic decisions, and when they can use custom solutions that help them both save time and solve their unique business challenges.

ShopifyQL Notebooks

Business questions that start in one domain can often lead elsewhere. As you work with your merchant clients, you’ve likely found yourself digging through multiple parts of your merchant client’s business when trying to understand and answer questions like:

Why are sales up? One of the products is selling better than usual. Why? Is it the marketing campaign? No. What about returning customers? Ah, the volume is coming from new customers; what channel are they coming from?

A new feature called ShopifyQL Notebooks is launching in 2022 to help merchants—and the Shopify Partners who support them—unlock data stories. With Notebooks, merchants will have more flexibility to explore and visualize datasets from multiple sources in a single interface. 

With ShopifyQL Notebooks, merchants will be able to sequentially explore a business challenge and build a wide understanding of a problem as they write a data story. They will be able to query data directly from their shops, see the results, capture hypotheses, and keep investigating with multi-format visualizations—text, imagery and mark-up—without having to port data into a separate warehouse, or toggle between disparate sources. 

Data stories written with ShopifyQL Notebooks will be powered by an exclusive data query language built for commerce: ShopifyQL. Built with commerce usage in mind, ShopifyQL includes commerce-specific syntax, and is filled with commerce metrics (such as conversion rate and lifetime value) to help merchants get to insights faster and with minimal lift.

The new Shopify Flow

Custom automations are also critical to smarter commerce—they’re purpose-built workflows that help solve a brand’s unique commerce problems and help them scale. 

Shopify Plus merchants can use the Shopify Flow app to build ecommerce workflows that automate tasks, campaigns, and processes within their store. Shopify Flow can even act as the glue between a brand’s existing apps and business tools to unlock even more automation possibilities, giving merchants more time to focus on growing their businesses.

We recently made some important improvements to Shopify Flow, including:

  • The ability to access almost any data point in the Admin API: This capability lets merchants dive deeper into Shopify data than ever before and dramatically increases the number of use cases that can be powered by Shopify Flow. For example, brands can now build workflows off of specific product data within an order.
  • More complex workflows made possible: Brands can leverage Shopify Flow’s advanced condition logic to create more flexible workflow rules and ultimately build more complex automations. The new Shopify Flow also lets merchants determine the specific order of operations within an automation to provide greater accuracy. 
  • Simpler navigation, UX, and ecosystem connection: It’s now easier and faster to search for triggers, conditions, and actions in Shopify Flow. It’s simpler to delete or modify workflows; and easier to view all the third-party apps that connect with Shopify Flow. 

And coming soon, we’re putting the power of Flow into more Shopify merchants’ hands, beyond Plus. If this is something your clients may be interested in, stay tuned for updates over the coming months.

Learning how merchants approach their businesses at Commerce+

From brand storytelling and next-gen connections to expansion and international growth, this year’s Commerce+ was a masterclass in how merchants are thinking about growing and optimizing their businesses, and how they’re using commerce tools to do it.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Whether you offer web design and development services or want to build apps for the Shopify App Store, the Shopify Partner Program will set you up for success. Join for free and access revenue share opportunities, developer preview environments, and educational resources.

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This article originally appeared on the Shopify Web Design and Development blog and is made available here to educate and cast a wider net of discovery.
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