Joel Gross, Coalition’s founder and CEO, is fond of saying that light is the best disinfectant.
What he means is that by pulling back the curtains and displaying the things that tend to lurk in secret or without proper attention, we benefit.
In the interest of shedding light on something that we feel is important for ecommerce merchants to know, we’re writing this blog post.
Come June 2019, Shopify will launch a new Experts Marketplace. Originally, materials provided to us and other Experts online touted that this would be a big step forward in the hiring processes that are involved in operating an ecommerce store, and would help agencies better represent themselves.
Over the last few months, our agency and countless others have prepped for the move to the new platform, anticipating a chance to continue supporting Shopify merchants around the world.
Today, as we reviewed a reminder email from Shopify, one of our team members lighted upon a clause tucked into the new Experts Marketplace Terms of Service. You can read those terms of service in full here- https://help.shopify.com/en/partners/selling-services/terms. These terms are publicly accessible at the time of this writing, and as such are something we don’t view to be confidential or private in nature.
The clause that raised a lot of warning flags for us was this one:
“The following actions are prohibited: Soliciting merchants to leave Shopify and move their business to another platform.”
That might seem kind of obvious to many of you- it makes sense that Shopify would want to keep merchants on their platform and would want to avoid having agencies recommend alternatives.
But it smells terribly foul to us.
We’ve long been an agnostic agency, working with platforms that we choose, based on their merits and capabilities. We’ve abandoned platforms that have demonstrated an inability to compete. We’ve recommended against platforms that were vulnerable to cyber crime or lacked long term financial stability. We’re proud that our strategy team offers advice based on what they know of your business, rather than any kind of commission deal we have with a particular platform.
For the most part, ecommerce platforms have been accepting of that. Each of them has tried to incentivize our recommendations in some way, shape or form, but they’ve allowed us to continue to make recommendations of the right platform for our merchants.
We don’t like that Shopify is taking an aggressive stance against a competitive ecommerce marketplace, and is attempting to leverage the new Shopify Experts site as a way of forcing agencies to push Shopify, whether or not it’s right for Shopify’s customers. Paired with recent tussles in the Shopify apps ecosystem about who owns end consumer data, it marks a continuation of what is a disturbing trend and represents a seeming shift in the mindset of Shopify’s leadership.
Shopify rose to prominence through successful competition with other ecommerce platforms. It focused on building a robust community of qualified businesses and technologies that would support a better ecommerce product than that of others in the market. Now that Shopify is publicly traded and views itself as the biggest player in ecommerce, its trying to enforce anti-competitive practices to keep it that way, rather than remaining committed to the philosophy that made it the success it is today.
Many agencies large and small depend on Shopify and the leads Shopify provides them to stay in business. Some have been able to balance that dependency on Shopify with the interests of their merchants, while others have not (instead opting to recommend Shopify regardless of the project specific merits). Our concern is that more merchants will find themselves in an early Magento-esque scenario- trapped in an incorrectly recommended platform for their business because an agency pushed it.
Coalition will continue to recommend the Shopify platform when its best for our prospects and merchants. Its a great platform and we love many things about it. That being said, we’re grateful that we do not depend on the Shopify Experts Marketplace currently for any meaningful percent of our business. We will continue to advocate for our merchants’ best interests, regardless of pressures from any one platform.