This week, e-commerce giant Shopify announced some new products the company hopes will help its customers grow faster, more efficiently, and more safely. At its annual Unite conference, the company announced the incoming release of "Ping," which it calls a "mobile workspace" for conversations and automatic marketing efforts. The company also announced an inventory management product called "Locations" as well as "Fraud Protect," which aims to ensure security for both merchants and their customers.
Locations: Simpler Inventory Management
One of the greatest things about modern e-commerce platforms is that it allows everyone from independent artists to major corporations to easily manage an online storefront. If you run an e-commerce shop and are successful enough to grow, however, then you've probably noticed that managing all of your inventory can feel like a full-time job in itself. Working out the logistics of storing and keeping track of inventory is a huge investment for businesses large and small. This year, Shopify will be launching a new product called Locations, which the company says is designed to make inventory management less overwhelming.
What's perhaps most interesting about Locations is that, according to Shopify, it will be included for free with all of its plans. While this new product may not sound like much, consider the fact that dedicated inventory management software can be expensive. Really expensive. Our Editors' choice winner Syspro costs $200 per user per month. Even if Locations lacks the full feature set of these platforms, this could be an attractive option for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that are overwhelmed and want to get a better handle on their inventory. Locations will be available sometime later in the summer.
Inventory management is important but security will always be the top concern to any company. On top of conventional cybersecurity threats, e-commerce merchants also have to worry about transaction fraud. In fact, a LexisNexis report from a few years ago estimated that fraud costs businesses $2.44 for every dollar in fraud. Shopify also announced its new Fraud Protect product for payments that the company says will save its merchants time and give them peace of mind. While the company has always had anti-fraud measures in place, it says that Fraud Protect will substantially bolster these efforts. Previously, merchants had to file a fraudulent transaction and wait for a period of time to receive a refund for that transaction. With Fraud Protect, Shopify will automatically issue the merchant a refund for the chargeback amount and fee, and handle the dispute for the merchant. From the platform, merchants can simply click a button to activate the feature on the Shop Settings page.
"What this means is that it will eliminate the need for merchants to go in and check every single order, which can become very time consuming ," said Lynsey Thornton, Vice President of User Experience at Shopify. "It's also quite emotionally charged to file a claim since there's a lot of anxiety associated with it, even though that's a small percentage of orders. What we're really hoping to get at with this is to just allow merchants to get on with their business in a more confident way so that they can move forward and be able to ship items, knowing that there is no risk to them and that we covered their back."
Fraud Protect is currently in beta. The company said that it will announce pricing sometime in the coming months.
Ping: Your Mobile One-Stop-Marketing-Shop
Marketing your shop through social media, email, and other channels is an important part of any business, but actually taking the time to post and communicate can be a time-consuming chore. After all, you're trying to make sales and get items to your customers. Hiring dedicated staff to take care of these things is the obvious option, but doing so is simply too expensive for most merchants. As its final and largest announcement, the company announced Ping, which is a free marketing automation and communication tool. Through the upcoming iPhone app (Shopify told us that an iPad version is in development, with Android and desktop versions coming at an unspecified date), you will be able to manage customer conversations as well as build marketing workflows from within the app. To accomplish all of these tasks, you'll have some intelligent assistance to help you along the way.
Shopify Ping will come with the company's Kit virtual assistant, which we saw in Shopify's main e-commerce platform last year. When we spoke with Michael Perry, Director of Product for Marketing Technology at Shopify, he said that they are hoping Kit will take a lot of the manual work out of dealing with customers and managing a shop's marketing channels.
"Traditionally when using the [Shopify] platform, our customers have had to send links manually. It's very fragmented and it requires them to jump across a bunch of different apps," said Perry. "Part of Ping's value is that Kit will be fully faced and built into Ping, so merchants will be able to talk to Kit in a very rich, unique experience to do their Facebook advertising, their Instagram advertising, email marketing, and sending thank you emails to customers, updating their Facebook page. If you're a merchant, and customers simultaneously message you through your store page, Facebook, and text message, it would be very daunting for anyone to manage. With Ping, you'll have all those communications coming into one centralized place."
When we asked Perry exactly how Kit's technology will benefit merchants, he told us that machine learning (ML) will be implemented toward spotting patterns in customer behavior. For example, Perry suggested that Kit could learn how to prioritize customer conversations by discerning urgent requests from less pressing ones.
In addition to the announcement of Ping, the company also announced the availability of the Kit Skills application programming interface (API), which opens up the assistant to developers free of charge. Kit is still a relatively new and unproven virtual assistant, so it remains to be seen just how effective Ping will be since it seems to rely so much on Kit's smarts. If other developers are working on and improving the assistant, however, then it could raise Kit's profile in the extraordinarily crowded field of artificial intelligence (AI) assistants.
Of course, intelligent features being leveraged to serve customer service is nothing new. There are countless customer support bots available on popular platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, Slack , and more. HelpShift is an example of one such company that provides chatbots to clients to assist in their customer service operations. It's still uncertain how effective these chatbots are when it comes to solving customer's problems. Some studies have shown that people are still skeptical of them but they may end up being a necessary part of modern business. Customers expect service immediately, and as it stands now, chatbots are one of the best ways of doing that.
It will be interesting to see how Ping fares in this increasingly crowded field. Shopify Ping will be launching at the end of June. It will be available for free to all of its customers.