Anyone who runs a business understands the “weigh up” of committing to an international conference. The hours spent away from your team. Accommodating important client needs around a shifted time zone. The jet lag, the investment, the hellish aftermath of dealing with expense receipts…
With that in mind, it speaks volumes that our decision to attend Unite this year was almost instantaneous, with our applications flying down the tubes of the internet as soon as the process was declared open for business. Unite was brought to our attention earlier in the year, when blubolt announced that we would be partnering with Shopify Plus and starting to offer client builds within a multi-platform agency model. We knew we needed to be there, and not just for the beavertails.
For the uninitiated, Unite is an annual event which brings together the international Shopify Partner community for three days of packed activity in the heart of Toronto, Canada. Agencies and tech partners alike descend on the city from all corners of the world to attend hack days, workshops, keynotes, parties and satellite events. A huge draw are the sneak peeks at what’s coming down the line in terms of the platform, and the general direction that the “mothership” is taking for the year ahead.
The educational element of the event was crucial for us, but we also wanted to get closer to the community we are becoming a part of. Being in the same place, at the same time as our Shopify partner peers, as well as many tech partners that we’ve long been involved with as an agency, provided a fantastic opportunity to get to know them better, learning more about how we can work together. Ultimately, we were on a mission to learn about the opportunities that exist for our clients, both now and in the future.
Leigh Mardon (Chief Operating Office) and Chris Mattingly (Co-founder and Creative Director)
Learning at Unite is twofold; on one level, of course there’s the information taken away from the presentations themselves. Of huge importance to us however was the greater understanding of the ecosystem that we were able to develop from the myriad of conversations, chance encounters, social occasions and more throughout the week’s activities.
We currently occupy a somewhat paradoxical space in the community; while technically relative newcomers to the Shopify scene, we’ve been carving out a niche of eCommerce expertise in our own right for close to 14 years now. The first-hand experience of building an eCommerce platform from the ground up ourselves definitely added an extra layer of context to the announcements and roadmap information that was divulged throughout the event.
In terms of the practical, content related takeaways, Unite comes out of the gates with all guns blazing. The opening morning’s keynotes were the big ticket item, and everything, from the giant on-screen countdown to the crowd’s excited applause, screamed eager anticipation. Many of our team were glued to the livestream back in our UK office, and we were surrounded by fellow attendees feverishly live tweeting the biggest reveals of the day.
This post isn’t going to provide another round-up of the day’s big news: Shopify and many other agencies did a great job of that within minutes of the speakers leaving the stage. Instead, we’ll focus on a few of the topics that particularly pricked up our ears – starting with the fulfilment network revelations. Fulfilment will be a huge topic of consideration for our clients looking to internationalise in the future. UK retailers are potentially slightly complacent when it comes to the challenges of fulfilment in countries as large as the US. Shopify’s investment in a future fulfillment network is a massive signpost of commitment to this field, and something we’ll be following closely.
Augmented reality was also an interesting area of focus, Shopify has kept a sustained focus in this area for several years now so we can safely assume their confidence in it moving beyond the realms of novelty and into commonplace future use. The stats around 3D modelling were interesting, as an investment there does appear to show a significant impact upon conversion. With several of our clients specialising in homeware, a vertical closely tied to the technology, we’ll be keeping a close eye on opportunities within this space and ensuring they’re kept ahead of the curve.
Some of the announcements raised a smile from our team; Shopify were themselves very self-deprecating about the long overdue addition of order editing, and introduction of shipping categories – things that have been available on our own bluCommerce for years *cough* 😉
Ultimately, we travelled to Toronto for the benefit of our clients, and all of the information that we gained at Unite will all be channelled towards better serving them, now and in the future. Our overriding takeaway was that we’re becoming part of a very smart, switched on and ambitious community, with invaluable experience behind them and powerful technological capabilities up ahead. Our confidence in having made the right decision in picking a partner platform for blubolt was completely validated. We’re looking forward to returning next year with many migrations under our belts and some of our own tales to tell, and would like to send a huge thanks to everyone we met, who made us feel so welcome, connected and – yeah, we’re going there – United.
Attending Unite was a fantastic experience for us and getting a sneak preview of the upcoming Shopify product roadmap was tremendously useful. Even more-so was getting the opportunity to meet fellow agencies and technology partners who were all so open and welcoming to share advice! – Leigh Mardon, COO blubolt
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