Today in retail news, employee of the week award goes to Kit, Shopify’s virtual assistant for Shopify merchants, who handles digital marketing and advertising for merchants on the platform … for an upcharge of $10 to $25 a month.
Except now, all Shopify merchants can hire office assistant Kit at no additional cost. Yep, free office assistant labor: the holy grail of tight-margined businesses everywhere, and startups especially.
“We feel like this is a humongous step in our commitment to making commerce better for everybody and leading to a path that will create more successful entrepreneurs,” said Michael Perry, founder of the smart technology, Kit. “It’s a complete game-changer to give somebody a co-founder that’s coming to work every single day doing what’s best for your business at no cost.”
Kit, the fully-automated virtual assistant, communicates with Shopify merchants via text message or Facebook Messenger to create and run single- or multi-product ads, including videos, on Facebook and Instagram. Kit does all the virtual assistant work — writes the messaging, pulls the images, submits the copy.
For example, Kit may text a Shopify merchant, “I see some new products have been added to our store. Should we showcase five new products in a Facebook ad and generate some traffic?”
If the user says yes, Kit will suggest a price and length of time for the ad to run. Once the user agrees, Kit takes care of all that technical stuff, freeing up the merchant to focus on the business itself.
The Shopify merchant pays Facebook or Instagram for the ads; Shopify doesn’t take any profit for itself. It simply facilitates the transaction once the merchant has given permission.
Kit's smart technology also conducts email marketing campaigns and even sends thank you notes to show appreciation and build relationships with customers, hopefully driving repeat sales.
Perry said he’s always wanted to offer Kit's smart technology as a free service ever since he founded it in 2013. Perry grew up working in small family businesses and knows intimately how much those entrepreneurs need support as they try to carve their own path.
“It’s very hard for anyone to start,” said Perry. “So many people today are wanting to carve their own path … to sell their shirts or sell their bags or be an entrepreneur, and we believe that the success rate will be so much greater with Kit on their side to help them achieve that goal.”
So, when the news broke that Shopify acquired Kit last year (and when Kit became Shopify-exclusive), that was one of the first things Perry wanted to talk about.
And now the news is a reality: Any merchant with a Shopify merchant can reap all the benefits of having a co-founder without having to pay a second employee. Instead, Perry hopes that small business owners will invest that money elsewhere in their venture, like into additional advertising to grow their sales.
“Our mission statement has been to make commerce better for everyone, but we don’t want to just make more entrepreneurs; we want to make more successful entrepreneurs,” said Perry. “We want to give whatever we can to entrepreneurs to ensure that that goal becomes a reality. Everything we’ve been working on has been leading up to this moment.”
“For me, as a guy who grew up in small family businesses, it feels like a dream come true that we can contribute to the bigger picture,” Perry went on. “And that’s something that everyone at Shopify feels very proud about — that we’re in a position that we get to do this for people.”
Speaking of being in a position to give away services for free, how is Shopify able to offer Kit without making anything off it? Simple: “It’s just not a focus for us.”
While Shopify's retail eCommerce platform does charge a monthly fee for merchants to set up a shop, making money isn’t the company’s driving function right now, said Perry. It’s done well as a publicly traded company and generates revenue that way, freeing it up to be a mission-driven business instead.
“I think that there will be chances down the road for us to make revenue,” said Perry. “We wake up every day with the focus not on how to make Shopify more money, but on how to make our merchants more money.”
That’s part of what attracted Perry to Shopify in the first place. “I think it’s no revelation that I’m a very mission-driven entrepreneur,” he said.
Above and beyond the free, core version of Kit, there will still be some paid upgrades, like the ability for Kit to use other third-party apps on the merchant’s behalf (including apps for SEO, discounts, retargeting, B2B invoicing and logistics, which are provided through a partnership with Ship).
But Perry emphasized that all the “rich, core” marketing features are included with Kit for free for all Shopify users as of today, Wednesday, June 7.
Introducing Kit for free is just one of many steps along the path to what Perry hopes will be very, very long-term success for the Shopify platform. To keep Kit in the “employee of the month” slot, he has teams working to make Kit smarter, more able and more willing to help with various roles outside of marketing to have an even greater impact on business.
Kit is also working with third-party developers to learn skills its original developers don’t know, like retail logistics. Perry readily admits he’s no expert in the area, but he knows many developers are, and he plans to work with some of them to help merchants leverage that technology.
The guiding question Shopify must keep asking is, “How can we build the ultimate employee to help our merchants find success?”