Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Shopify Unite 2021 – What went down

Shopify is one of the biggest names in ecommerce. It recently held its Shopify Unite event to announce new developments and trends that will drive our industry. We asked Luke Judge to let us know what happened

Every year, like all good Silicon Valley businesses, Shopify brings together the worlds most passionate ecommerce merchants and developers with its own Shopify people. The goal, to raise the virtual roof with a whole slew of new and exciting, and a few mundane, product updates and business announcements, all interspersed with knowledge sharing, live coding, new idea generation, and collaboration amongst the community.

That’s a lot of virtual action for one event, so I’ll try to distil down the main takeaways for you here.

Shopify’s mission is to “build a better internet” and it lets you leverage the benefits of the platform to create an online store, quickly and easily. Whether you want a simple ecommerce site, or something more complex, Shopify provides powerful solutions for entrepreneurs and creatives to be get up and running. With its Shopify Plus platform, the business also now serves some of the largest enterprise commerce companies in the world, of which one of the more surprising recent additions was Netflix – you can check this little number out at

A few interesting stats that were floated in a not-so-humble-yet-very-impressive way:

  • 1.7m merchants selling on Shopify in 2021, as adoption doubled in 2020
  • Shop.App now has 24m active users 
  • 60k active Apps available in the Shopify App Store 
  • The Shopify checkout now processes 1 million queries per minute 
Back to Unite 2021

This year’s Unite conference was held on the freshly polished computer screens of merchants and developers from all regions of the globe, with thousands of attendees joining the (almost) live-streamed event online. The most engaged in the community, some 1422 people, were frantically networking, giphy’ing, and commenting in real-time via the dedicated Discord servers (a techy way of say chat-room) specific to region, role-types (founders, devs, merchants, women-in-Shopify etc), and topics.

Enter the CEO stage left…Tobi Lütke

Shopify Unite 2021 kicked off with the CEO of Shopify, Tobi Lütke, sharing his vision for the future of Shopify.

But before we go there, who is Tobi?

In the last two decades, German-born Lutke has been named as one of Canada’s most influential business leaders by several publications including Financial Post, Macleans and Toronto Life Magazine. He was also listed as part of Forbes’ 2016 “30 Under 30” list for business. He is an ardent supporter of technology education programs such as Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code and regularly speaks about entrepreneurship at universities around the world.

So what’s the vision?

Based on the context of the rapid acceleration of ecommerce adoption over the last 18 months, Tobi headlined this year’s Shopify Unite with the bold claim that Shopify is introducing the age of the Online Store 2.0.

For him that means that Shopify must focus on three core objectives:

  1. Making commerce Creative,
  2. Making important things Easy 
  3. Making everything else Possible

Let’s dive and explore what Shopify has announced in Unite 2021 to deliver on these three objectives.

1) Making commerce creative.

Shopify wants to make online commerce beautiful, and not just functional. Enabling merchants to express themselves is the driver of the developments that they announced.

  • New theme editor 
  • New update to meta fields 
  • New developer tools

A new themes editor and online store editor with improved functionality and usability.

  • A new completely modular system where developers can piece sections together like Lego blocks. This is enabled by a change to the way themes are structured, where all the theme Liquid code is now contained within the different sections themselves.  

And, the big one that we’ve all been waiting for.

  • Sections are now available EVERYWHERE! Until now, merchants and developers have only been able to truly customise the Homepage using the no-code “Add Section” feature available in the Store Editor. With this hotly requested, I’d hazard a guess it was the most requested feature over the past 2 years by a large margin, merchants are now able to more easily create distinctive feeling and function across the whole store, including the Collection and Product pages, the customisation of which previously required the skills of developers to change or introduce new code into the Liquid files.

With a new update to meta-fields functionality, store content can now be greatly enriched:

  1. Merchants will be able to store whatever data the need within Shopify itself with this major new update to the meta-data fields within Shopify, allowing merchants to define and edit the meta-data within the editor itself. No more hardcoding metadata into themes, for those who were working around it. Metafield attributes can now be added to every product on Shopify, as well as being available as content across all of the website.

And new developer tools are helping to improve the way that Apps and Themes interoperate.

  • Much like the IOS and Android app stores, Shopify has a powerful App ecosystem that enables App developers to provide merchants with a lot of functionality for their online store, at a low cost and with just a few clicks to set up.
  • One the problems before now has been that Apps would inject code into the Theme’s Liquid files, and sometimes require manual copy and paste, and after the app is deprecated, the code may remain in the Liquid files unused, slowing the site load time.  
  • With the new update, Apps will contribute liquid code in the form of their own App Blocks as part of the Liquid sections. This is the future of how Apps will augment themes, as Shopify begin the process of deprecating script apps.

Shopify is building these Liquid improvements to focus on making sites as fast as possible, something that we know Google is prioritising with their forthcoming SEO updates that focus on site load times and usability.

And finally, for developers, there was a big announcement starting with G…

  • A new Github integration straight into the Shopify interface enables developers to use all of the Github tools for developing the themes. This certainly looked very smart as the presenters proceeded to share a demo of the new integration, enabling live team collaboration in a safe and secure local sandbox. 
2) Making important things easy 

The big focus here was all on the Storefront APIs, where Shopify boasted a significant increase in their investment into APIs, and notably with the bold ambition to bring servers to within 50ms of every customer across all regions (although the eagle-eyed would have spotted that they missed Africa off their map as a region).

New API functionality is coming to the areas of

  • Metafields 
  • International pricing
  • Local pickup
  • Selling plans (eg subscriptions) – this got a lot of positive ooohs and aaaahs in the Discord chat.
  • Storefront Cart

All-in-all it seemed unanimous in the Discord server that Shopify was taking great strides to make the API much easier for everyone to use.

What’s more important to an eCommerce site and customer experience than the Checkout? Nothing and this is where Shopify announced a raft of new updates to please the crowd.

With the focus and goal to be the best checkout on the planet, they also have the issue of needing to handle enormous and growing volumes of business across all 1.7 million merchant sites.

Enter the first announcement: they will be scaling their native checkout to handle 7x times more capacity than ever before. This means that they will be delivering 2x times faster page load times, solving the oft-heard gripe “this checkout is so slow!”.

The biggest Checkout related announcement, and one that will please ALL Shopify merchants, not only those on the more expensive Shopify Plus, is that every merchant will have the new ability to customise the checkout experience.

This includes being able to:

  • Extend checkout functionality with new Checkout Apps 
  • Make simple changes to the checkout flow 
  • Improve the visual appearance more than the very basics that are available today  
  • Enabling Checkout Promotions, so that merchants can add promotional features, such as buttons for adding complimentary products in the checkout based on the products that are already added to the cart.  

The success of Shopify’s App and Theme Stores has been a driving force for the organisation’s success, as well as generating some $12.5bn in revenue for App developers.

With the introduction of the new Checkout Apps as part of the apps ecosystem, we can expect the platform to go from strength to strength as existing and new development partners seize the opportunity to build apps to improve the checkout experience for ALL merchants, not only those on Shopify Plus.

For the App Developers (partners) there was some serious love in the air at the end of the Unite, as Tobi Lütke returned to the screen with one final announcement.

As well as making it easier than ever to build apps on Shopify, Tobi wants to make it more profitable than ever for the App development partners and announced that from August 1st 2021, Shopify will be removing all revenue-share, on the first $1m of revenue generated (per year, it resets each year!) on the Shopify apps ecosystem. That’s zero, zip, nada, not a cent, euro or penny of commission taken by Shopify on the first $1m!  

What’s more, after the first $1m of revenue, they will lower the commission fee to 15%, from the current 20% that they charge development partners.

If Shopify wants the best developers focused on developing for its platform, offering fees at half the price other App Stores charge is a really smart way to achieve that, and quickly.

3) Making everything else possible

Now, this is where Tobi himself took control and things got really technical from this point…

The words Ruby on Rails, Javascript, React, Hydrogen, and Oxygen were bandied about with childlike joy and described as putting the F into Fun in Tobi’s Shopify world.

It certainly looked impressive and Tobi demonstrated how to turn a static image of a snowboard into a rotating 3D interactive image, all in the space of a few lines of code.

In summary

Some might say that Shopify became a victim of its own rapid success over the last 18 months, with criticisms of slow site speed, lack of customisation ability, and rigid checkout functionality.

At Unite 2021 it is safe to say that Shopify addressed each of these concerns, and then some.

With the focus on enabling more creative freedom, injecting more content across the site, enhancing app integration, improving API usability, and super-charging the checkout experience, the future for merchants and developers using the Shopify platform looks to be an exciting and busy one.