Streamlining workflows is a common business need. Consolidating the suite of apps you use for your subscription service is no different. Whether you are a brand or a developer, there are increasingly more and more ways that you can take the dozen isolated apps you currently use and turn them into a handful of hardworking, integrated solutions. In this episode, we explore what caused apps to become so soiled in the first place, and emerging ways to integrate them.

Show Topics

  • The challenge of app consolidation
  • Shopify’s new central hub
  • The shortcomings of SMS and email marketing services
  • The advantages of a custom Shopify solution

Show Links

Show Notes

2:53 - The challenge of app consolidation

Ben said that as a brand scales, so does the desire to streamline the app integration workflow. The big question becomes when and how to consolidate.

“I think having a dozen apps make sense when you're just starting off, because you can find specific products that achieve specific parts of a workflow. But when you get to a certain point of scale, a) you’re brushing up against wanting to accomplish more complex flows, where it's not just a matter of integrating apps. You’re really trying to coordinate between apps. I think a perfect example would be if you're doing SMS as well as email marketing, which I mean, even like the most basic brands do that. But if you're not using the same product to do your SMS as you are email, then it becomes a bit of a nightmare. Especially when you're at scale, of sending emails that are not somehow coordinated with when you're sending text messages. So let's say Klaviyo for email, Attentive, Postscript, whatever for SMS. So like there's a bunch of different directions we can go and around just talking about like a) at what point does it make sense to invest in going from like six different apps into one app?”

6:12 - How to perfect your marketing stack

Joel said that in the modern world, a well dialed-in marketing stack is a coordinated marketing stack. In the early days of his career, he navigated this problem by pursuing custom solutions from the get-go.

“Brands that were new were just trying to figure out like, who's their customer? How do we best position our product? How do we target them? What messaging do we use? And as the app ecosystem in Shopify, for instance, became more rich, they could try different things out. And you're just trying to figure out what works, what doesn't. Since then, fast forward. There's clearly some best practices, and people now use very specific apps. They call it, a lot of us call it stack, right? Marketing stack, or whatever. But now we're at a point where it's so templatized that it doesn't make sense to have these individual apps that can't really talk to each other. In my experience, I sidestepped a lot of that by going custom much earlier. And you can coordinate the type of interactions between the different services you're using, like Klaviyo or analytics platforms, data platforms, email systems, whatever it is that you're using. But you still have some of the limits in those third-party platforms.”

10:48 - Why apps don’t play nicely

Ben said that most apps don’t communicate well because Shopify didn’t offer a way to directly integrate them. This necessitated special workarounds and limited solutions.

“So to answer your question around apps that don't play friendly, one thing I'll say is that - and a big part of this is a function of the fact that Bold and Recharge had to exist outside of Shopify. We had the same issue with CartHook. Because Shopify themselves didn't have a way to directly integrate those apps. In Recharge’s situation, any app that you wanted to have, we'll call it deeply integrated or even integrated at all with your subscription program, it had to be, like that company or that app had to have gone out of the way to integrate with Recharge. And not every app has done that, It's a relatively small app store within recharge. So just by virtue of that, you're limited by the number of solutions.”

12:14 - Shopify’s new central hub

Ben is optimistic that Shopify’s new approach will better allow for deep integration. In the past, brands were operating in Shopify as if they were building a cobbled together co-op on Shopify territory. Now, there’s a better master plan in the works.

“Part of the issue is that everyone's kind of blind. Like at one level you have Shopify, which is - I always think it’s like building a house in someone else's land...It's a co-op and everyone is building on this other person's land. Everyone's building their own. They’re responsible for building out their own co-op apartment. No one really has full visibility into what anyone else is doing. Unless of course you explicitly go out of your way to do a deep integration. I think part of what Shopify has done now, which at least in theory should simplify a lot of stuff, is in using Shopify as the central hub for deep integrations.”

13:58 - Consider going all-in on Shopify

Ben’s gut feeling is that brands should use Shopify for anything and everything they can, and take advantage of Shopify improvements as they arise. He gave the example of customer support company Gorgias, which now has an opportunity to directly integrate with Shopify.

“I think for all intents and purposes, it just makes a lot of sense to go through Shopify. I'll give you a perfect example though. Gorgias, which does customer support. One of the most important features of Gorgias is being able to deal with order information and subscriptions. And that's only possible through a direct integration with Recharge. Because Recharge did not have a way to natively integrate with Shopify. And so the only way that within Gorgias that Gorgias could manage refunds and subscriptions and stuff would be through a direct integration. My assumption is that with the native Shopify APIs is that now Gorgias can integrate with Shopify. And regardless of which subscription app you’re using, Gorgias doesn't need to do anything necessarily unique to enabling refunds or changing the subscriptions.”

17:10 - The disconnect between subscription needs and app functionality

Ben said that a successful subscription is one that can tailor communication to different stages of the subscription lifecycle. Right now, deep integrations for features like product quizzes are difficult.

“The biggest disconnect right now, at least around subscription, is that there's different events within the subscription life cycle that warrant different communication. And truthfully to accomplish a lot of that stuff would require you to build a custom app that integrates directly with Klaviyo and sends events or whatever, and information and properties, based off of when you want those events to go through. And actually, maybe the perfect example is quizzes, which is one of the early use cases that you brought up to me. Which is for a lot of products, there is an onboarding personalization quiz, whether it's for skincare or hair or whatever. And a lot of these are headless implementations, like where they will have a custom quiz where they basically spit out, Hey, here's our prescription, so to speak of the perfect product for you. Even if they have like three SKUs, they probably have three SKUs. So there's like a 33% chance you're going to get one of them. But they ask you like 25 questions, and they will give you the SKU formulated for you. And so that's a great example of even just, how do you do a deep integration with that?”

21:25 - The advantages of a custom Shopify solution

Ben said that building your store of Shopify has endless advantages. You get access to Shopify’s continual innovation, and as you grow you can hire a team of Shopify experts to engineer custom solutions.

“So what are your options? So I will tell you, from my perspective as a Shopify expert is one option is to build a custom app that integrates, basically simplifies six of those apps into one. And I hear this a lot around like the arguments around headless, where people are like, ‘oh, well, if you do headless, like you control everything.’ I'm like, well, you could still build your store on Shopify and then invest in hiring Shopify experts, who once you have some level of scale build you the solutions that you need through a single app that's tightly integrated, as opposed to relying on 12 different apps that have varying levels of talking. And what's great about that is you still, at the eCommerce level, you're still benefiting from all of the Shopify innovation. That would be my personal inclination. I would go deep into Shopify, and then hire a small team of full-stack developers who have a lot of experience with Shopify. And then as you get more sophisticated, have more complicated use cases, just accomplish it all through a custom app.”

24:02 - Why SMS products need merge tags

Ben said that SMS presents great possibilities for brands, but only if SMS marketing products figure out how to incorporate merge tags.

“As you get more sophisticated with your email marketing, you want to send specific events and specific properties about customers to your CRM, whether that's Klaviyo or something else. I think the thing that drives me crazy about the SMS products that are on the market today for marketing, whether that's Attentive, Postscript, whatever, is you can't incorporate merge tags. Like Klaviyo, I know there's a lot of people who, Klaviyo has limitations, especially around SMS. You can only use it for the US, blabbity blabbity blah. But most stores are typically communicating with US or North American customers, at least within Shopify. And so merge tags are super important. It's one of those things where like, I don't know what else to say. And I've even contacted these brands myself to try to integrate even our products with them. And it's basically like, no.”

30:20 - Determine which apps to consolidate

Joel said that opportunities to consolidate apps are out there. The next big question is, which ones?

“I think the takeaway is definitely that, there's opportunities, whether it's for app developers or brands, to consolidate functionality that currently exists in multiple apps into one. I think very technically, so I think about like creating a service that can funnel a lot of communication. Let's just take the example of three different text messages, get them funneled into one text message, phone number, or something. But there's gotta be technical solutions as well as more practical solutions that can be put out there. So I think for you and I, our homework is for next time to figure out: what are the apps that could be consolidated that make sense to be consolidated?”