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Shopify unveils new products aimed at entrepreneurs grappling with COVID-19


Entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep their businesses alive amid the demands of COVID-19 or feel underserved by the country's financial institutions are about to get a helping hand from Shopify Inc.

To help entrepreneurs “futureproof'' their companies, the Ottawa-based e-commerce giant said Wednesday that it is launching a handful of business management and sales tools, including giving its merchants the ability to let customers “buy now, pay later'' and tip.

Craig Miller, Shopify's chief product officer, said some of the new features and products were in the works long before the pandemic, but others were dreamed up or accelerated as entrepreneurs scrambled to pivot their businesses to online models while experiencing lost income, furloughs and layoffs.

“It almost became 2030 overnight,'' he told The Canadian Press. “Some of the things we were anticipating as being important over the next coming years became super important basically overnight, so we've been trying to equip our merchants as much as possible to deal with this kind of situation.''

Shopify's launches were shared at Reunite, a virtual event the company put on in lieu of its annual Unite conference, where the company's top executives usually unveil major product announcements. Unite, which was due to be held in Toronto in May, was cancelled in March because of COVID-19.

The pandemic has proved to be a boon for Shopify, which passed Royal Bank of Canada to become the most valuable, publicly-traded company in Canada in May.

Its stock now regularly reaches more than $1,000 in trading and the company boasts that more than one million businesses _ Shopify calls them merchants _ now use its offerings.

“It sounds a little weird at first glance, but we're seeing some grocery stores and restaurants use Shopify,'' said Miller.

He's also noticed the number of local orders Shopify merchants received each day on average spiked by 176 per in the six weeks leading up to April 24, just as physical distancing and work-from-home orders were put in place in several countries.

Shopify believes companies may see an additional boost from its Wednesday announcements, revealing merchants will be able to collect tips and set fees, minimum order prices and distance radiuses for deliveries.

The company began allowing merchants to sell gift cards in recent weeks and teamed up with Facebook Inc. on Tuesday to unveil a new and free tool helping companies create a customized online storefront for Facebook and Instagram.

Later in the year, those in the U.S. will be able to offer a “buy now, pay later'' and get access to Shopify Balance, a business account that promises a clear view of cash flow and an ability to pay bills and track expenses. It will come with a “balance card'' with cashback, discounts on shipping and marketing and no monthly fees or minimum balances. Merchants can use it to make purchases or withdraw from ATMs.

Shopify did not say when the service will be available to Canadian merchants.

Balance is targeted at the two in five merchants that Shopify has discovered are using their personal bank accounts and cards for business and others who find banking products aren't designed to meet the needs of or flexibility required by entrepreneurs.

“It becomes very tricky for them to separate their business from their own personal bank accounts and that causes all sorts of problems, for example, when they need to get financing... and in some cases, it affects their credit score,'' said Miller.

Despite Shopify partnering with Facebook, it's still positioning itself to take on other tech giants, including Inc.

Shopify's network of fulfilment centres, which launched last year to help U.S. merchants lower shipping costs and ensure timely deliveries, has been going head-to-head with the Seattle-based behemoth.

Shopify's network has just begun accepting merchant applications after completing an early access stage.

“The response was almost bigger than anticipated,'' Miller said. “We've just gotten bombarded with merchants that want to use it.''

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