Shopify Unite 2021: Top Updates for Merchants & App Developers

Shopify Unite 2021 commentary by Gameball

Shopify recently held its annual event Shopify Unite 2021, now fully virtual like its 2020 version.

Shopify Reunite 2020 provided tons of exciting new features for merchants.

The 2021 version came with a bit of a different flair, where Shopify focused more on coding and the tech side of things along with really cool and exciting announcements and updates.

Shopify Unite 2021 has created tons of opportunity and benefits for Shopify app developers. Shopify apps are apps e-commerce businesses integrate with their store to perform a variety of actions and services.

Gameball is one of those Shopify apps. With Gameball, e-commerce stores on Shopify can create customized loyalty and referral programs to engage their customers, build loyalty and retention, and grow their sales.

In addition, Shopify’s 1.7 million merchants are going to love the newly-announced features.

In this article, we’re going to highlight the top announcements and updates unveiled at Shopify Unite 2021 and offer some insight on each.

This article is a collaboration between myself and several members of the Gameball team. The sections in orange are our comments. 🙂

Shopify Unite 2021: What’s new for merchants

Merchants are the core of Shopify’s platform. Here’s what merchants can now do with the Shopify stores.

1.       Super customizable stores with no coding required

Considered “one of the biggest updates” to the Shopify platform, the Online Store 2.0 provides merchants with new features and improvements so they can customize their stores any way they want.

Shopify launched its sections and blocks, which are like customizable templates that merchants can use to change the layout of their store easily and without having to edit or write new code.

It also lets merchants add, rearrange, and remove content or ‘sections and blocks’ easily.

“With Online Store 2.0, it’s easier than ever to control the layout and aesthetic of your store, giving you increased flexibility and access to more data, so you can provide your customers with a standout experience,” Shopify revealed.

The Canada-based platform also said that merchants and entrepreneurs will enjoy many new themes in the Shopify Theme Store “all built with amazing speed and performance to enhance the customer experience.”

And to help merchants enhance their customer experience, Shopify unveiled its Dawn project, a “fast storefront built for conversions.” Dawn, which will be available later in the year, loads 35% faster than Shopify’s most popular theme.

“Dawn is a flexible design that can be used to express any brand while giving your customers a great shopping experience. It’s built with aesthetics in mind, with image-focused product pages, beautiful product grids, and smart color systems,” Shopify explained.

Shopify’s new flexible design features will give merchants more opportunity for customization, which is a much-needed feature and benefit in the world of e-commerce right now.

2.       New ways to increase conversions on Shopify

For online store owners, conversions are what indicate that customers are responding to their ads, visiting their store, and buying those products.

Therefore, it’s only natural that merchants are constantly looking for ways to increase their Shopify conversion rate.

–          Shopify Email

To support this, the mega e-commerce platform announced the launch of Shopify Email, an email marketing tool that helps merchants “acquire, engage, and reactivate customers.”

Merchants using Shopify Email can use ready-made templates to notify customers about restocked products and announce newly-launched products and sales.

Shopify Email announced during Shopify Unite
Sample of Shopify Email (Source: Shopify)

“The templates will automatically pull your logo, discounts, product images, descriptions, and prices directly from your store,” Shopify said, adding that this feature, which will improve email campaigns, will be launched in August 2021.

Merchants can integrate Shopify Email directly with their online store and be able to track email engagements, products added to carts, and conversions.

Shopify email analytics announced during Shopify Unite 2021
Sample of Shopify Email (Source: Shopify)

–          New Payments Platform

Payment options are a must-have in any online marketplace. But depending on the country where the merchant operates, the method of payment may differ.

In the US, credit cards are the most widely-used payment method. However, in Brazil, nearly 52% of online shoppers prefer a QR-code-like payment method to complete their purchases.

This means that the more payment options a merchant has, the more likely they are to see higher conversions. That’s why Shopify announced a new Payments Platform that will “unlock future opportunities for growth in new markets and industries.”

With the goal to help merchants increase their conversions, Shopify’s new Payments Platform will enable payment providers to build integrations into Shopify.

This will open up “a broader ecosystem of gateways offering niche functionality” bringing new business value to merchants and helping them sell more in more countries and places.

–          New buy now, pay later options

Online shoppers enjoy flexibility especially when it comes to their payment methods. One of those is the buy now, pay later option, which has been gaining headway across the world.

Buy now, pay later options have been known to get customers to increase their average order value and boost conversions by as much as 50%.

At Shopify Unite 2021, the platform unveiled Shop Pay Installments* which allows customers to buy now and pay later or “split their purchases into four interest-free payments, with 0% interest and no additional, hidden, or late fees.”

This option is currently available for orders starting $50 to $1,000, including taxes and shipping fees.

Flexible payment options are by far one of the most important benefits merchants can offer to customers. Shopify’s new updates will certainly help merchants grow their customer base and increase their conversions.

The buy now, pay later option is also a great opportunity for many banked and unbanked people across the globe.

Data by The Ascent, which surveyed 2,000 Americans about their buy now, pay later habits, found that between July 2020 and March 2021, the number of people using this method of payment jumped by almost 50%.

More people are using this payment method across various age groups. The survey found that people aged 18 to 24, who use buy now, pay later options surged by 62% between July 2020 and March 2021, while online shoppers above the age of 55 nearly doubled (98%).

Shopify Unite 2021

Shopify Unite 2021: Apps unleashed

Apps were among the many winners in Shopify Unite 2021. Here are the top announcements:

1.       Zero percent annual revenue share for first year on the Shopify App Store

This is probably the most important announcement made during Shopify Unite.

“As of August 1, 2021, we’re offering zero percent revenue share on the first million dollars you make annually on the Shopify App Store,” Shopify announced.

This means that if a Shopify app makes less than $1 million a year via the Shopify App Store, they can “register to no longer pay revenue share.” And more importantly, every year “those numbers reset.” 

The reason for this change to its revenue share model, Shopify says, “is our way of showing how serious we are about supporting developers, about the potential of building on Shopify, and about how much we want the best developers in the world making commerce better for everyone.”

The 0% revenue share change means more money for Shopify apps, which translates to more money that they can invest in their business and their app development so they can support Shopify merchants better.

As for apps earning over $1 million, they’ll pay a 15% revenue share, which is lower than Shopify’s previous revenue share of 20%.

Shopify also announced a one-time registration fee for developers who sign up after 1 August 2021. This will be paid when they submit their first app for review.

“Imagine being able to have a space for free in one of the best malls worldwide, and you earn all the revenues without having to share it with the landlord! That’s exactly what this 0% revenue share announcement from Shopify sounds like,” says Gameball’s partnerships and growth lead Moataz Morsi.

“The move is similar to those taken by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others who have reduced their app store fees for some developers amid heightened pressure from regulators,” Morsi notes, adding that Shopify’s “smart move will definitely attract more e-commerce solution providers and developers to its ecosystem.”

“I’m glad to see Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region notable startups such as Gameball already establishing solutions on Shopify. Gameball was featured twice by Shopify’s global team in the Staff Picks section.”

2.       Enhanced app development

Merchants across Shopify are in constant need of solutions to help them enhance and grow their stores, attract and retain customers, and provide unique experiences. That’s where Shopify apps come in.

–          Easier documentation

Shopify revamped its developer documentation to help developers focus on outcomes and find information faster.

“We’ve also improved readability, with changes to typography, layout, and multi-programming language blocks in tutorials to make them easier to understand. We’ve provided easy copy-and-paste snippets in our references, to help you move faster,” it said.

–          Developer Console for more efficient testing

Now developers can build and test their app extensions in a ‘real store environment’ using Shopify’s new Developer Console.

The current situation uses an App Bridge Admin that doesn’t allow developers to test extensions on actual stores with real data. Instead, they have to push the extension into Shopify’s CDN, which Shopify admits “isn’t an ideal solution.”

“The Developer Console provides a better, faster, and more realistic developer experience when building and testing App Bridge Admin extensions. With the Developer Console, any changes you make to your local environment will render immediately, so you no longer need to push or publish your app to view your modifications. You can also ensure that your extension will render properly in both desktop and mobile environments by instantly rendering the mobile version of your extension via QR code,” Shopify revealed.

–          Google Cloud Pub/Sub

Developers can now use Google Cloud Pub/Sub to manage webhook events. The Pub/Sub allows developers to “pull in events at a pace that [they] can control,” meaning “incoming events will be delivered more reliably and app errors and delays will be minimized, even during the busiest periods,” the platform announced.

Using Pub/Sub facilitates the process for developers to consume webhooks at scale as they’ll no longer have to “build and host an API and queue system to receive webhooks. Instead, Pub/Sub will take care of reliably receiving all webhook events with low latency, so you don’t need to worry about scaling web servers.” 

–          Better app discoverability 

Building the app is just the first step. For an app, and a developer, to be successful, the app needs to appear to merchants. That’s why Shopify is working on enhancing its Shopify App Store to increase app discoverability.

The new discoverability enhancements will rely on merchant data and insights, prompting Shopify to show merchants what apps they need at the different stages of creating and improving their online stores. Shopify has already begun rolling out its new app store experience to some merchants.

“These improvements aim to take care of organic discovery so developers can focus on what they do best: building awesome apps,” the e-commerce platform highlighted.

The new developer documentation revamp puts a new high standard for how SaaS products should document their guides and APIs. It’s very intuitive and easy to follow with an extensive set of examples and functional code blocks/projects. 

3.       New awareness ads on the Shopify App Store

Shopify App Store ads are getting a new feature, which is awareness ads, while search ads will be called “conversion ads.”

Conversion ads help Shopify app developers target merchants “with existing intent” and who are on lookout for certain app types or who have a certain need in mind. On the other hand, awareness ads can be used to point merchants in the direction of opportunities and options they may not have previously considered.

Awareness ads will also provide app developers with more creative format control, enabling them to choose the best color of their ad block to match their brand.

“This new advertising space will put your app on the homepage of the app store, and thanks to our new personalization engines, your app will be surfaced to merchants who would benefit from your app’s offering. This will help avoid wasted eyeballs and ad dollars, while also ensuring a trusted homepage experience that merchants can feel good about installing apps directly,” Shopify explained.

Shopify expects its new awareness ads options, which are currently being beta tested, to be available by the end of the year.

This change to Shopify’s app developer ads will certainly open up more opportunities for growth for hundreds if not thousands of apps.

Shopify app developers will be able to target different types of merchants.

4.       App billing and payout management

Shopify announced improvements to the way Shopify app developers manage their backend day-to-day app development business with its Partner Dashboard enhancements.

Shopify Unite 2021 quote

“The new Charge overview page in the Partner Dashboard makes it easier to view app subscription charges, so you can better manage your billing and payouts, and even resolve refund requests directly,” Shopify added. It further explained that this update would help apps understand “how merchants experience charges and see how much you can expect to be paid.”

–          More payment methods

Merchants aren’t the only ones getting better payment options this year.

Shopify revealed that it’s in the process of adding new payment methods for app developers. Shopify currently only uses PayPal as its payment method for apps. However, it will soon add more payment options such as local bank transfers, wire transfers, among others.

“We will support receiving payouts in more than 200 regions and countries around the world—and we’ll ensure you’re getting the best exchange rates possible,” Shopify revealed.

The opportunity for new payment methods will help many Shopify app developers – Gameball included.

With PayPal not operating in many countries, the process of transferring money from Shopify is made harder for many apps that are not based in the US. However, this update should help more apps come to the scene and facilitate payment for current apps.  

5.       New Shopify Checkout features

Checkout is an essential part of any e-commerce setting. It’s where shoppers complete the purchase and merchants see their hard work paying off.

In the current setting, merchants can only make minor changes to Shopify Checkout through the editor, whereas bigger changes can be done through checkout.liquid via Shopify Plus accounts.

“We’re excited to announce that soon, we’ll be making it possible to extend checkout through apps for everyone,” the platform revealed during Shopify Unite.

It explained that these “new capabilities” will allow app developers to “build whatever it is merchants need, from simple customizations, all the way to complex user interfaces (UI) and business logic. This update includes checkout extensions, changes to Shopify Scripts, and a new payments platform.”

–          Checkout extensions

To help developers build those custom checkout experiences, Shopify has introduced Checkout extensions, which are a set of extension points, APIs, and UI components used to build apps for checkout.

With these tools, app developers can create flexible checkout solutions without the risk of hacking checkout.liquid. As of July 2021, Shopify has begun beta-testing its first checkout extension and the post-purchase app extension. More checkout extensions are slated to be launched in a developer preview later this year.

With checkout extensions, app developers will have access to: Extension APIs, new extension points, a component library, and new APIs.

–          Post-purchase checkout extension

During Shopify Unite 2021, the e-commerce platform said it opened beta access to its first checkout extension: the post-purchase checkout extension.

A post-purchase experience is an interaction that takes place between the merchant and buyer after the latter completes the purchase but before the customer leaves the online store.

The post-purchase stage “falls between checkout and the thank-you page, a place where the buyer is highly captive and engaged, and the perfect page to offer product upsells, requests for donations or surveys, discount offers for future orders, and more,” explained Shopify. 

Giving developers the opportunity to build post-purchase experiences directly within Shopify Checkout, the post-purchase extension lets developers integrate with Shopify Checkout, have their apps compatible all the time with any API updates, features or improvements made to the Shopify platform, and support merchants’ business growth and experiences.

–          Shopify Scripts

Available to Plus merchants, Shopify Scripts helps developers “build backend custom logic unique to their brands.”

During Shopify Unite, the platform announced a complete revamp of the Scripts experience, using WebAssembly “to simplify the development process, improve reliability, and make your scripts run much faster.” 

App developers can now also build Scripts using their local development workflow, instead of having to use the online Script Editor. In addition, Scripts can now be deployed and installed via apps, which means they can be installed on multiple stores, and merchants can use them without ever having to touch code. 

6. Storefront API updates

Last but certainly not least in our roundup of Shopify’s top announcements at Shopify Unite 2021 is Storefront API updates and new features.

Store enhancements help customers buy more and merchants sell more, that’s why Shopify is working on bolstering its store performance.

We have a “goal of bringing our GraphQL engine to every major geographical region. [This means bringing] all the Shopify capabilities you need to within less than 50 [meters] of every buyer,” the mega platform revealed.

Shopify Unite 2021 quote by Shopify founder and CEO Tobias Lutke

Here are the top three Storefront API updates that will be rolled out this year and that will help developers enhance merchant experiences.

          New cart capabilities

Shopify said it was releasing new capabilities for online shopping carts as part of its Storefront API enhancements.

Set to boost performance, reliability, and scale, these capabilities are “designed to provide predictable low latency response, and the ability to grow without any store-wide rate limits,” it said.

“We’re releasing new cart capabilities in the Storefront API, with a focus on performance, reliability, and scale.”

The new cart capabilities will unlock features such as estimated totals with taxes, discounts, and/or duties, Shopify explained, describing the feature as “a critical piece of the purchasing experience for shoppers.” It added that this will provide a big opportunity for app developers to support shoppers’ experiences.

          Local pickup

Boosted by the rising trend of local pickup which grew in 2020, Shopify said it has added a feature that allows customers to ask for a list of nearby store locations – and inventory – via the Storefront API.  

“Once you have the ID of the preferred location, you can use the @inContext GraphQL directive to query for product availability at that location,” it said.

          Selling plans

Shopify’s new selling plans feature will help merchants create custom billing, pricing, and delivery policies.

“This means that merchants can enable subscriptions, preorders, and other ways to sell,” it explained, adding that app developers could “retrieve selling plans associated with each product via the Storefront API.”

Last words

Shopify is constantly working on enhancing its platform for all parties involved, that means merchants, app developers, and of course customers.

With the growth in global e-commerce, it’s no surprise that Shopify is enhancing the development and merchant experiences across its platform. Especially as other mega platforms like Amazon take similar steps.

The global e-commerce market is forecast to reach $4.89 trillion in 2021, according to eMarketer. But that’s not all. This figure is set to keep growing over the next five years, indicating more growth and selling opportunities for online retailers.

By 2024, global retail e-commerce sales are forecast to reach $6.39 trillion.

retail ecommerce sales worldwide data by eMarketer and design by Gameball
Retail e-commerce sales worldwide data by eMarketer. Designed by Gameball.

To say that we’re excited at Gameball about these new announcements is understatement. We’re looking forward to experimenting with Shopify’s ads when they’re completely rolled out and with other development features.

At Gameball, we’re constantly looking at ways to support merchants on Shopify. Part of that has been our drive towards SaaS Localization. Since our launch in late 2019 to-date, we’ve added nearly 15 languages to our dashboard.

We’re also constantly working on upgrading our available features and adding new ones.

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Gameball offers gamified loyalty programs that help e-commerce merchants build customer retention, make the most out of referrals, engage customers, and attract new ones.

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