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“Every Hero Needs a Sidekick”

PLUS: Connected TV Gets a Sidekick, Too
July 14, 2023
Pictured: a demo of “Shopify Sidekick” from the announcement video.

The Friday vibes are strong, futurists.

“Every hero needs a sidekick” is how Shopify founder Tobi Lütke announced their new GPT-integrated chatbot earlier this week. Speaking via a pre-recorded announcement video, the announcement promised a bevy of new features that allow a store operator to make changes without having to navigate the UI.

Among the features demonstrated were various natural-language commands: 

  • “Put my store on sale” — POOF, everything is 10% off.
  • “Add surf boards to my homepage.” — KAPOW, a new content block appears
  • “Why are my store sales down?” — BAM, it’s because of seasonality

“Sidekick helps you take things off your to-do list,” says Lütke. 

Ostensibly, yes. For the solo founder and small Shopify store, Sidekick will deliver a ton of value. For everyone else — in particular, the enterprise — this is a new era of risk management. 

As we covered in The Future is Non-Deterministic, the nature of LLM-based chatbots means that the outcomes are not able to be predicted and reliably tested. As a public company, Shopify will have to manage these risks for size and scale of a merchant that makes sense. While it makes sense to have a chatbot for explaining the trajectory of sales (Lütke claims that Sidekick is aware of “economic data”), it seems like an untenable level of risk for most organizations — especially the enterprise — to manage access control.

This is where I clued into the subtle messaging of the announcement. “Entrepreneurs are heroes,” was a deliberate choice. Not only is Shopify qualifying the intended audience for this announcement; but they are doing so by playing to their ego. A necessary approach due to the potentially disruptive nature of the innovation on the rest of the Shopify ecosystem.

Some industry insiders expressed concern to me privately. One individual, a developer, raised concerns about new levels of social engineering — but for the LLMs — to coax it to do things that are above access levels. Low-level employees may now be able to work around system limitations, gain access to insights and trends, or query account or customer history above their pay grade.

An app developer seemed excited, but concerned about the competition that Sidekick represents to the plugin ecosystem. Many marketing and promotion engines may be replaced with a mere pre-filled prompt in the chatbot, for instance. A quick response from Shopify’s President, Harley Finkelstein, seemed to address this concern as an afterthought: 

“FYI: We’re building Sidekick with our developer community in mind. Sidekick won’t replace the Shopify App Store or apps, or Shopify devs. It’ll help give them another boost.”

Doesn’t Shopify need its developer ecosystem? Maybe. Let’s not forget that Shopify no longer takes a cut of revenue for plugin developers, up to $1M.

In this way, it seems like this was the ultimate end goal. This is the nature of all platforms — they eventually gobble up their own ecosystem. Eventually, you won’t need a UI to perform the functions that the developer community currently has commercialized. 

And Shopify just made it free for everyone.

— Phillip

P.S. Concerned about heroes being replaced by sidekicks? Explore our Miro board on the topic of “human to machine dynamics” on this year’s VISIONS report. Sign up now and dive into our annual trends report.

Competition in Connected TV. Roku and Shopify are partnering up so users can make purchases from Shopify merchants via their TV’s using Roku Pay. This follows the multibrand success that NBCUniversal has had with their shoppable TV offering. No word yet on whether Shopify stores will be allowed on-demand access to ad placement and self-serve creative management.

It’s a Barbie World, Get Over It. Barbie is being collectively rammed down our throats, and we’re loving every second. Mattel has made a movie out of a product, and even more products out of the movie. Collabs include Pinkberry, Cold Stone Creamery, Airbnb, OPI, Forever21, CHI, Bloomingdale's, Homesick, and even Hot Topic and Xbox — just to start the list. A de-facto list of collaborations is being curated by the editors of Time.

The Path to IPO. Though the IPO window has been closed for some time, Liquid Death may be trying to prop it back open. The brand has retained Goldman Sachs in an effort to aim for an IPO in 2024 amid criticism about its valuation. The route to IPO is seen as a signal that other beverage brands couldn’t afford the heavy metal water brand’s current valuation, and critics wonder about its viability in the public markets.

Mom-Founded Formula on the Fast Track. Bobbie, America’s fastest growing infant formula company, has acquired Nature’s One. The acquisition comes just three years after Bobbie's launch and one year after a nationwide formula shortage. Bobbie is also closing a $70 million Series C funding round to support the acquisition. Formula shortages were a consistent theme of 2022 as parents struggled to feed their infants while legacy manufacturers in large CPG brands failed to manage supply chain disruptions.

Surfboarding Otter. A 5-year-old sea otter, along with a couple of friends, have been stealing surfboards near Santa Cruz, California. Organized retail crime has made its way to the animal kingdom.

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