Shopify Unite 2019: A big change (with more to come?)

Just like with multichannel commerce, the conferences that serve ecommerce have been evolving. VL OMNI is fairly well-versed in these shows, attending, exhibiting, and speaking at several internationally each year.

…At the start of this year, we noticed something.

Two things have been slowly changing, culminating in a different feel for the 2019 tradeshow and conference season.

First, the number of ecommerce and retail-focused shows happening globally has contracted. There have been a number of quiet consolidations and sales of shows that those of us on the planning side of things have noted. These consolidations have been happening with increasing frequency, resulting in a number of banner names in conferences for ecommerce and retail technology to be colocated into single mega-shows.

Second, the timing of these shows over the course of the year have gone from spaced out to compressed into a few key months. This is true for both Merchants and exhibitors like VL OMNI since most of both sides of the table attend the same events. Major industry conferences and  commerce tradeshows have gone from being more-or-less evenly spaced out over the course of any year to being lumped together. So far for 2019, the heaviest month for conferences and exhibitions was most definitely June with both Shopify Unite and IRCE happening in a rare back-to-back occurrence. 

But to simply observe this change in conferences and trade shows isn’t enough: VL OMNI is always looking for the ‘whys’ that drive market changes like these. Clearly, audience and exhibitor behaviour has changed. So, we spent some of our time at the conferences we attended asking attendees what they have seen in the market, and where they think the future of commerce is heading. Keep reading!

Shopify Unite 2019

The clouds parted, the sun (finally) came out: Shopify Unite was upon us once again! 2019’s edition saw hundreds descending on gorgeous Toronto for a packed 2+ day conference this past June 18-20.

2019’s show was different. This in and of itself isn’t surprising; ‘different’ is expected by Unite attendees, both in the announcements and the structure of the show. What wasn’t expected was a fairly relaxed Day 1. In previous years, this first day of Unite has been called everything from “Shopify/Plus Partner Day” to “Day Zero”, and it’s had several different formats over the years. This year, many of the sessions for this first day filled up fast, attesting to the hunger and excitement of attendees but leaving many with an unexpected free day. But oh, did we all make the most of it! Before the official Unite Happy Hour bars opened that first evening, the VL OMNI team had an incredibly packed and productive day, full of impromptu and coveted face-to-face meetings—and we weren’t the only ones capitalizing on everyone being in the same place at once!

Networking continued from Day 1 throughout Unite and was the unofficial theme of 2019’s show: tons of planned and chance meetings supplemented with announcements from the Unite stages.

One of the nice surprises of Unite 2019 were the Merchants in attendance at the historically Partner-exclusive event. Because the announcements from Unite have been more than well covered at this point, it’s this slight pivot in Unite’s structure that’s worth further dissection. Merchants at Unite 2019 indicate, to me, a change is in the air for Shopify Unite: it wouldn’t be surprising to see 2020’s audience more or less equally split between Partners and Merchants.

Signs point to a changing Shopify Unite conference model. Like many other conferences, Unite is changing to meet constantly evolving attendee expectations, not unlike consumer expectations. It may be that Unite is simply falling in line with other brand-owned conference structures, well-known to be network-centric and with key emphasis on the brand’s community connecting with itself more deeply. But it also may point to a larger change amongst Shopify, Shopify Plus, and the other big players who hold regular conferences under their own banners: brands are building out their own events because the usual conference circuit isn’t meeting their audiences’ needs.

We for one at VL OMNI are very excited for what looks like a bigger, better (always is!), and even more community-based Unite 2020. An audience composed of more of a mix of all the types of people who love Shopify and Shopify Plus—Agencies, Technologies, and even more Merchants—would be one incredible event!

But only time will tell what Shopify Unite 2020 will be. We can’t wait!

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