The Sudden Change
Traditionally, Shopify merchants rely heavily on analytics like UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) and session tracking to understand customer behavior and the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. However, the recent Shopify update has virtually eliminated this capability within Shopify, wiping out 80-100% of such analytics for European stores. This sudden shift, primarily due to Shopify's approach to GDPR compliance, has significant implications. We've run reports on our app install base and we see atleast 25% of stores affected by this already. This effectively renders Shopify analytics as a feature useless for the majority of stores in Europe. This change was published with 2 weeks notice within the change log with limited detail or useful information on what the impact will be or what merchants or app partners should do to prepare.
Questions we're seeing merchants and app partners ask
Browsing the Shopify community forums, we're hearing merchants ask a lot of questions in the wake of Shopify's policy update, such as: 'Why is my customer journey data missing in Shopify?' or "Customer journey and UTM data is returning null from the Shopify API" when they notice huge gaps or drops in their analytics reports. Others are perplexed about session tracking, wondering, 'Shopify analytics is showing no session data - what to do?' A common concern also emerges with queries like, 'Why is there a huge drop in traffic reported by Shopify analytics?' indicating confusion over sudden changes in traffic data. Additionally, many are seeking guidance on tracking efficiency with questions like, 'How to track UTMs in Shopify after the GDPR policy update?' These questions highlight the widespread impact of the recent changes on Shopify merchants' ability to understand and optimize their online stores.
Navigating the Fallout: Lessons from Shopify's Communication Breakdown
The recent policy update from Shopify sends a concerning message to its merchants and app partners, primarily through its handling of communication and the broader implications of the changes made.
Firstly, Shopify's decision to communicate such a significant update solely through a changelog, without direct notifications to merchants and app partners, demonstrates a lack of effective communication. This approach not only left many stakeholders uninformed but also highlighted a troubling lack of transparency from Shopify. The short two-week notice provided little to no time for merchants or app partners to develop solutions or adapt to the new policy.
The choice of channel for this announcement, buried in a changelog, further indicates a disconnect between Shopify and its user base. This method of communication was easily missed by many, leading to widespread confusion and unpreparedness. Customer support interactions have further revealed that this was not only an external communication issue but also an internal one, suggesting a significant oversight in Shopify's internal processes.
The absence of an impact assessment prior to rolling out this change suggests a lack of consideration for the needs and operations of merchants and marketing partners in Europe. The new settings, which lack nuance and offer an all-or-nothing approach, have severely impacted merchants and apps relying on Shopify analytics in Europe, leading to substantial revenue losses. The timing of this update, just before major shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, could not have been more inopportune.
From this scenario, Shopify should learn to communicate significant changes more effectively. They should have notified all European merchants via email and through the Shopify dashboard, and app developers via email and within the Shopify partner dashboard, particularly those with customer journey app permissions. Providing more than a mere two weeks' notice and explaining the rationale behind the changes, the potential impacts, and preparatory measures would have been crucial.
The key lesson for merchants and app partners is the importance of not overly relying on Shopify's systems for critical functionalities. Instead, building capabilities directly or using platforms like Google Analytics, which offer a more nuanced and balanced approach to GDPR, user privacy, and marketing campaigns, might be a more resilient strategy. This incident underscores the need for merchants to stay informed and prepared for such unforeseen changes, ensuring their businesses remain adaptable and resilient in the face of evolving digital commerce landscapes.
Ripple Effect on Businesses
For app developers and merchants, this change is more than just a technical hiccup. It directly impacts the ability to track UTMs and attribute orders to specific ad campaigns within Shopify. This tracking is crucial to provide merchants with insights into their campaign's effectiveness. Our own app relied heavily on customer journey data provided by Shopify so we can work out attribution, calculate commissions and charge for the services we provide. We've been forced to make the decision to pause our advertising campaigns for affected merchants, losing vital data feeds into our Google Ads accounts.
A Possible Solution?
Shopify suggests that merchants can circumvent this issue by modifying their tracking settings, specifically by enabling "track before consent" in their Shopify dashboard. While this may seem like a straightforward fix, it's not a universal solution. It also raises concerns about the balance between effective analytics and privacy compliance.
A Blunt Approach to GDPR
Shopify's approach to GDPR compliance appears unusually blunt, especially considering that UTM tracking is generally more about understanding user behavior than tracking individual users. The lack of nuance in this policy update raises questions about the broader implications for all e-commerce analytics, digital marketing strategies and apps going forward, even beyond the Shopify ecosystem. Extrapolating this out means that using UTM tracking will soon be completely dead in Europe.
The blunt approach adopted by Shopify and the binary options they offer to merchants appears to pass the buck to merchants themselves on becoming GDPR compliant. Enabling Shopify to hold their hands up, shirk responsibility and claim they tried, dodging any potential GDPR issues and claims made against them. This is disappointing and I would have expected Shopify to carefully consider solutions afforded and communicated better to help merchants navigate the complexities of user privacy, GDPR compliance and marketing activity.
In additional to what seems like a rushed roll out of this policy update, Shopify APIs continue to return customer IP addresses within the customer journey data which in this case could be deemed as personally identifiable information. Shopify should remove this data from the Shopify API responses to be consistent in their extreme application of GDPR compliance as it does not serve any purpose for external parties, at least not without external parties use of the data with express permission and adherence to GDPR compliance too. IP address collection is only useful to be collected by Shopify as a data controller for security purposes (e.g. fraud detection).
What's Next for Merchants and Partners?
This situation presents a significant challenge for Shopify merchants and app developers. It's a wake-up call to the importance of staying informed about policy updates and being agile in adapting to changes. As we work towards finding alternative solutions, it's crucial to engage in discussions with Shopify and seek clarity on how to navigate these new constraints while maintaining effective digital marketing strategies.
The Shopify Analytics Apocalypse is not just a dramatic shift in data tracking; it's a reminder of the ever-evolving landscape of e-commerce, where policy updates can have far-reaching consequences. As we adapt to these changes, our focus must remain on finding innovative ways to balance effective marketing strategies with compliance and privacy concerns. The journey ahead is challenging, but it also offers an opportunity for growth and adaptation, resulting in better solutions for merchants and shoppers.