Since Shopify came onto the scene in 2006, it has transformed the landscape of ecommerce. As a complete ecommerce solution for growing businesses, it allows customers to sell their products online with ease, offering unbeatable features like customized storefronts, the ability to track and respond to online orders, and to accept card payments from the shop.
The platform has been so successful that in 2014, Shopify launched Shopify Plus, a premium version for high-growth merchants. But the growth didn’t stop there. Seeking to offer their customers the best service possible to build and run their stores hassle-free, they started building relationships with developers, designers, agencies, marketers. Thus, Shopify Plus’s Partner Program was born.
“Our goal with everything at Shopify is to make it easier for entrepreneurs to run their businesses,” says Phil Vanstone, the Program Manager for Partner Enablement of the Shopify Plus Partner Program. As he explains, the goal of all their programs is to remove the barriers that often stop entrepreneurs who have a great idea but don’t want to get bogged down with the technical stuff.
We caught up with Phil to chat with him about the Partners Program, the benefits of Shopify Plus, and the direction he sees ecommerce taking in the coming years.
Building a Winning Team to Serve the Ecommerce Community
Shopify Plus Partners got started when Harvey Finkelstein, Shopify’s chief operating officer, and Dan Everly, leading up the partnership team, decided to invest in building personal relationships with developers, designers, solution providers, and marketers. The objective was to learn more about their businesses and to push the idea of collaboration and collective success. As they built up a team of technology, agency, and solutions partners, that collaborative spirit remained.
Shopify’s mission is, at its core, to make it as easy as possible for motivated ecommerce entrepreneurs to run their businesses. Phil’s team facilitates this goal on a macro level, working with those hired by larger merchants to build, market, and run their ecommerce platforms. He talks daily with new agencies on the platform, reaching out to merchants who could benefit from Shopify and introducing them to the functionalities of the platform.
“We work with a small number of designated Shopify Plus Partners and try to get to know them and what pushes their business. We look at how we can help them learn and be successful on the platform, find new clients, and deliver properly for those shared clients we have together.” - Phil Vanstone, Program Manager for Partner Enablement of the Shopify Plus Partner Program
As Phil sees it, programs like Shopify Plus have allowed entrepreneurs in ecommerce to grow without the constraint of eventually needing to hire an in-house tech team. “Even two years ago,” Phil recalls, “There was this idea that if you wanted to run an ecommerce site, you needed to do it on one of the traditional enterprise platforms or with a custom setup.”
The beauty of a service like Shopify Plus, he says, is that you’re buying into something that will always be running and constantly improving, particularly with the help of the partner program that adds all the customized technical and advertising help you might need to keep your business growing. That way, he explains, “You don’t have to think about that aspect of your business and you can focus on what it is you do best.”
What are the Benefits of Shopify Plus vs. Shopify?
You might be wondering what the benefits are of a program like Shopify Plus is in contrast to Shopify’s standard package.
“It’s the same product with additional features, additional customization opportunities, and additional support,” Phil tells us. “It’s for brands who want to make sure they have as much control as possible over the look and feel of their site all the way through.”
For example, you can customize the checkout and access enhanced discount functionalities. You can open stores in up to three geographic locations and work with a dedicated account manager who will be your contact point throughout the life of your store. And, when you’re interacting with the platform, there are special, Shopify-specific API’s for secure logins on other websites, which are particularly helpful for larger brands.
As a platform created by and for entrepreneurs, Shopify also encourages and helps facilitate experimentation, driving entrepreneurs to be more innovative. “Because we’re all succeeding together, we really are trying to make the platform as easy as possible to experiment on,” Phil says.
Testing out cool new functions with apps, for example, is part of the fun of having a Shopify store. Another is taking advantage of sales channels like Facebook, Amazon, and Ebay as a way to find your customers where they are, and hopefully gain new ones in the meantime.
Changes Afoot in the Ecommerce World
Phil sees an upward trend in intrapreneurship as one of the most exciting developments in ecommerce today, and is proud to work with agencies who are pushing boundaries and experimenting with fresh ideas, including ways to stay close to their customers:
“The larger companies are realizing that in order to compete and stay authentic, they really need to focus on their products and their core messaging. They need to put all their energy there and try to reduce the other activities the company is doing, reallocating those resources to their core.”
In the long term, Phil envisions companies will need to be offering a new approach to the online shopping experience, expanding websites to be more than just online catalogues and considering how customers want to interact with brands and make purchases.
“Just showing your products on a website and hoping people will buy them is not going to cut it in the coming years,” Phil stipulates. “You need to figure out how to reach your customers in the way they want to be reached, while also offering something that’s reflective of the values they’re coming to see.”
Companies experimenting with configurable space that businesses can use to test out physical selling is a trend he’s watching, and he sees a bright future for direct messaging, populating sites such as Facebook and Instagram with personalized shopping experiences.
Some Friendly Advice From a Shopify Expert
The proliferation of social media means we’re constantly sharing opinions and looking for validation, of ourselves and of what we’re selling or buying, so Phil asserts that, looking forward, a special effort will need to be put into offering something highly valuable that customers can celebrate. A successful ecommerce store, “starts with the product,” he insists.
He’s also a big believer in customer feedback, which he maintains is the best way to help your company learn and grow:
“Those times when people really shatter your world view by giving you a new perspective about yourself, about your product - those are huge learning opportunities. So finding ways to get that directly from the customers or using tools that help you track the path of people through your site are helpful in figuring out where customers are dropping off.”
While tools to help isolate where you’re losing customers are great, he says, it’s best if you can meet them physically and watch them interact with your brand. Nothing, he says, is better than watching customers engage with your product and taking note of what they enjoy and what roadblocks they encounter along the way.
Solving problems and learning are arguably the most important part of the ecommerce game, and if Phil’s career has taught him anything, it’s that the world is full of information ready to be soaked up: “The only prerequisite to learning anything is the desire to actually learn it,” he says. “The tools and resources are all available.”