Tobi Lütke, the Canadian who founded Shopify 15 years ago and still acts as CEO today, promised us a great deal yesterday during the introduction to the annual Unite event. Shopify strives, according to its three guiding principles to:
- make commerce creative, as they have been doing successfully for years with their apps and themes;
- make the important easy, because it should be incredibly simple for anyone to start their own shop and sell internationally;
- make everything else possible, because online sales platforms should not only be simple, they should also be flexible. And that is where Shopify shines with the possibility for developers to write their own code for the platform. In Liquid, with apps or (Shopify Plus) scripts.
And yes, that promise was kept. Read on, because the above principles deliver in this edition of Unite an abundance of new features our developers have been dreaming about for years.
Online store 2.0
That's how Shopify calls the latest version of their store editor and theme engine. Netflix got the honour of testing out the beta version on netflix.shop, and they loved it.
Themes and Online Store editor
Shopify themes are now fully modular. The simple, customizable sections we already know from homepages can now be used everywhere in a shop. From regular content pages, to collections and product pages. You can add, remove, rearrange and configure them without limitations.
With this, Shopify gives huge freedom to marketers and content editors working in the platform to build and customize pages themselves with the sections available. And not only those from the theme; it will even be possible for apps to make their own sections available on pages with Theme App Extensions. And all that without the need for developers to add code to the shop's theme first, as was always the case before.
Shopify app developers have known about the concept of metafields for some time now. You can store extra data with a product, collection or other piece of content in Shopify. Many apps use them, but for content editors they were not immediately visible or adaptable until now.
Shopify now allows you to add or remove metafield definitions in the admin interface, in the shop settings. You can assign different content types, from text, numbers and colours to files and even links to other products and pages.
You then simply fill in these metafields when editing products or pages.
In addition, it is possible to link these pieces of content directly to the renewed sections in order to display their content to your visitors. A call-to-action-section, for example, can automatically load an image uploaded in a metafield as background. Crazy, right?
But it doesn't stop here. Soon Shopify will also add an extra content tab in the menu under which it will place an extensive CMS. Here you can add your own content types for example blog posts, testimonials, recipes... you name it! Where Shopify used to focus on e-commerce, and only pages and blogposts were available to provide content on your website, we now see the platform evolving into a full-fletched content management system. And this evolution was, in our eyes, much needed to win the battle against Woocommerce and other open-source commerce platforms. More news about this will undoubtedly come in a few months.
Shopify Dawn: the first open-source theme
Do you also want to get started with the latest features? And that while following the best practices from Shopify itself? It's your lucky day! The above features are already available in developer stores. In the coming weeks, Shopify will also roll out everything in production stores.
With Unite 2021, Shopify also released their first open-source theme, Shopify Dawn, which you can download for free and use as a reference when building your own themes. Shopify Dawn focuses on performance and flexibility and is 100% compatible with the latest features introduced at Unite 2021.
New features and updates for developers
Shopify has not forgotten its developers in 2021. The Canadian multinational came out with extensive new features for developers, including a GitHub integration for quickly linking themes to git branches for CI/CD, a strong Shopify CLI update for scaffolding new apps or theme sections, automatic linting of your theme's code, easier, faster and context-related GraphQL APIs, clearer and up-to-date documentation, a dedicated Shopify app developer console, and more.
And then we almost forgot about the headless trend. More and more companies are using the Shopify Storefront API to build headless commerce experiences with React, NextJS, Gatsby or other front-end frameworks. Why? More flexibility in the front-end and more dynamic digital experiences. Despite the continued preference for Liquid, Shopify is also happy to respond with Hydrogen, a new front-end framework. It uses React (server) components and hooks and is designed with the goal of developing custom storefronts for the popular e-commerce platform. The toolkit, which is scheduled for release later this year, makes it very easy to connect to the Shopify GraphQL APIs and will include ready-to-use components for the shopping cart, variant pickers, media galleries and more.
Shopify is also teasing us with a Netlify-like hosting platform, which they are calling Oxygen, to host these storefronts in an efficient and high-performance way. The platform uses Docker and React server components, and is integrated with GitHub to provide developers with deploy previews.
Shopify is king in e-commerce land. The company does listen to its customers and partners. That became clear again today.
Where we used to prefer Woocommerce or Ecwid above Shopify for content websites with a limited number of products and no big focus on commerce, we believe that Shopify, thanks to its new powerful feature set, can now grow into a full-fledged and robust CMS that is flexible enough for both developers and marketers and offers the ideal solution for start-ups of all sizes.
Want to watch the full Unite 2021 stream again? You can do so below.