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AI will help small businesses compete with retail giants, says Shopify President

President of Shopify, Harley Finkelstein on The Big Question
President of Shopify, Harley Finkelstein on The Big Question Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Hannah Brown
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“If you want to be a relevant, modern brand, you have to be able to sell across every surface area where consumers are spending their time,” says Shopify President.

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Commerce platform Shopify has transacted over $1 trillion (€921.4 billion) of gross merchandise volume (GMV) since its founding in 2006. 

What started out as a company to support small businesses has grown into a retail giant, with brands like Mattel, Glossier and most recently, Ami Paris joining the platform. 

High fashion brands that had traditionally declared “we're never going to sell online” are now exploring e-commerce too. Does this spell the end of high street shopping?

In this episode of The Big Question, Hannah Brown sits down with Harley Finkelstein, the president of Shopify, to discuss the future of retail and how AI could level the playing field for SMEs

How is the retail industry changing?

Before joining the company in 2009, Harley was actually one of the company’s first users, setting up a t-shirt business whilst he was studying law.

“I remember hitting that launch button, to go live and immediately I was selling to a global audience all over the world and it changed my life,” recalls Harley.  

“It showed me that the future of retail is default global, that it doesn't really matter how much capital you have, it matters how much passion, how good your brand is, how great your product is.”

When asked about the big difference between North American markets and Europe right now, he noted that Europeans are voting with their wallets to buy from brands they love. “There's really more intentionality, rather than buying ten products indiscriminately, they're choosing the three products that are really meaningful to them from brands they really love and direct to consumers.”

In Q1 this year, Shopify has seen $60 billion (€55 billion) go through its stores - a 23% year-on-year increase. 

As shopping trends develop, Shopify moves too. 

“If you want to be a relevant modern brand in the future, you have to be able to sell across every surface area where consumers are spending their time.”

Many high end brands whose traditional focus has been creating an in person shopping experience, like Donna Karen, The Row, Isabel Marant have begun exploring how that experience can be translated online. Whilst other online brands, like Glossier have built an enormous online following and then sought to create an in person experience afterwards. 

Shopify has now partnered with Google, Meta, Instagram, TikTok and Snap to facilitate commerce directly through those platforms now too. 

“Social media is this incredibly democratising marketing tactic where instead of traditional marketing or traditional advertising, where the company with the most amount of money always won, now the company with the most creativity wins,” Harley adds. 

Being everywhere all at once sounds like quite a big task for a small company starting out but Harley suggests starting with one, figuring out your consumer and then reverse engineering the rest of the retail experiences. 

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“It's not necessarily one versus the other. It's retail everywhere.”

What is the secret to a successful e-commerce business?

Whilst Harley didn’t necessarily have the answer for the key ingredient to success, he did stress that failure is totally normal and actually is often the path to success.

“A lot of people talk about stories like Gymshark (now a billion dollar brand), for example, what you may not know is that Gymshark was not Ben's first company. 

“He tried a few things before landing on Gymshark, which turned out to be this huge business and I think now Ben is the youngest billionaire ever in the UK.”

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One key tip Harley did share was resilience - keeping expenditure as low as possible so if you have one bad week, it’s not the end of your business. 

How can AI help e-commerce?

Whilst it may seem impossible for small businesses to compete with well-established big brands, Harley is confident AI could level the playing field. 

Using generative AI, Shopify’s own feature is called Shopify Magic, SMEs who may just have a handful of staff can generate text for product descriptions or produce product images to a level way beyond their normal limitations.

The Big Questionis a series from Euronews Business where we sit down with industry leaders and experts to discuss some of the most important topics on today’s agenda.

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Watch the video above for the full conversation with Shopify.

Journalist • Hannah Brown

Video editor • Joanna Adhem

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