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We Broke Up: Shopify and Mailchimp

Mailchimp and Shopify broke up. Breakups are messy stuff. It’s a hard and trying time, and users feel like the divorce children in the middle of this rift. It’s not a mutual, amicable break-up. They’re pointing fingers at each other, both claiming that they value the customers’ data privacy.

Mailchimp’s grievances

Both parties had official statements released last March 22 addressing this situation. Mailchimp seems to be the one who broke up with Shopify. According to Mailchimp:

As of March 21, we’ve asked Shopify to remove the Mailchimp for Shopify integration for new users from their marketplace. We made this decision because Shopify released updated terms that would negatively impact our business and put our customers at risk...”

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Furthermore, on Mailchimp’s official statement, they elaborated that they tried to talk it over for months and in the end, they didn’t agree with Shopify’s terms that “jeopardize our users’ privacy and require us to hand over customer data acquired outside of Shopify.

Mailchimp accuses Shopify of three things:

  1. Shopify is asking for retroactive data Mailchimp has collected.
  2. Shopify is asking for “data outside of and not connected Shopify’s platform.
  3. Shopify’s “new terms also make it clear that Shopify wants to control which providers their partners work with and how they conduct their business.

These were the deciding factors that pushed Mailchimp to break up with Shopify.

Though Mailchimp has made their reasons for leaving clear, they did not specify which part of Shopify’s updated terms of service would negatively affect their business, put users at risk and is not competitive for small business owners.

Shopify’s complaints

Shopify has never confirmed nor denied Mailchimp’s accusations. Instead, on their official statement, they also had accusations against Mailchimp:

  1. Mailchimp provides a “poor merchant experience.
  2. Mailchimp refuses to “respect our Partner Program Agreement.”

Shopify then specifies what Mailchimp did to violate their PPA on their official statement.

“...Mailchimp refuses to synchronize customer information captured on merchants’ online stores and email opt-out preferences. As a result, our merchants, other apps, and partner ecosystem can’t reliably serve their customers or comply with privacy legislation....”

Arguments about data

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Solely from their very different statements, there are only 2 things confirmed. First, their rocky relationship has been boiling internally for months. Second, Mailchimp really refused to give out information being asked by Shopify.

Shopify presents a stronger argument here since they justified what information is needed and why they needed the data that Mailchimp refused to give.

Mailchimp has strong claims against Shopify but they are vague at best.

The only thing that Mailchimp could prove is their statement that Shopify is asking for data that was gathered by Mailchimp before being integrated into Shopify’s platform. Joni Deus, Mailchimp’s Director of Partnerships, corroborated this statement. Deus argued that consent for the data gathered by Mailchimp before integration with Shopify cannot be asked retroactively. That’s why Mailchimp refuses to give that data to Shopify.

Clarification of needed data and Mailchimp as an e-commerce platform

Kurt Elster, Shopify Plus Expert and Host of the Unofficial Shopify Podcast, said on a series of tweets that Shopify only asks for the timestamp of the moment a customer opts-in/out of Mailchimp.

This is in compliance with the GDPR which is in accordance with Shopify’s statement.

Elster adds that Shopify may have caused some confusion by not stating what specific data they needed at first, but added it quickly on one of their community posts. Elster also hypothesized that Mailchimp just uses these as excuses to sever their ties quicker.

This is quite plausible as just before this kerfuffle happened, Mailchimp quietly acquired minor competitor LemonStand. TechCrunch reached out to Ross Paul, VP of Growth in LemonStand and confirmed the deal. Paul described that it was an acqui-hire, “with the team now working on light e-commerce functionality.” The acquisition was finalized at the end of February. Paul’s LinkedIn Profile now shows partnership with Mailchimp.

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The timing of this breakup and acquisition certainly makes the rumor slightly plausible. It doesn’t end there. Last November, Mailchimp also partnered with Square to offer shoppable landing pages which made the rumor mills turn faster.

These acquisitions and partnerships are making it seem that Mailchimp is going up against Shopify. We couldn’t blame this change in direction as Mailchimp said that 50% of their revenue comes from e-commerce. It’s a lucrative platform.

Mailchimp denies facing Shopify head-on

Mailchimp said that they are not directly competing against Shopify and that they don’t have plans to be an e-commerce platform.

Mailchimp also commented on their partnership with Square. They said that Shopify knew they are working on shoppable landing pages even before the acquisition with LemonStand happened.

They chose LemonStand because Shopify chose not to partner with them.

Although Mailchimp is vocal about their stance on not directly competing with Shopify, their actions say differently. From a business standpoint, it would make good sense to not continue with a partnership if it will be a hindrance for expansion.

“Merchants” and “Customers”

Jenny Miranda, a business marketing consultant and entrepreneur, noticed a particularly weird detail on the official statements of both parties. As she stated on her blog, Shopify addresses the people that will be affected as “merchants” and “customers” while Mailchimp only addresses their “customers”. This distinction is very important. Shopify and Mailchimp both have “merchants” as their true customers. The “customers” on their statements are the buyers and subscribers of their merchants.

Mailchimp only refers to the protection of these specific customers. This is a very bold move from Mailchimp as it is taking the moral high ground but from a business standpoint, it’s alienating its true customers, the merchants. This could result in its customers to choose other forms of EMS integration for Shopify.

Mailchimp is nice enough to give workarounds to this dilemma. But this is a really risky move. Shopify is one of the fastest growing SaaS companies and it has almost 800,000 merchants. Changing email marketing software can be a hassle but it is workable. However, changing e-commerce platforms requires huge work so it’s more likely that the customers of Mailchimp may just change their EMS instead of changing their e-commerce platform.

How this affects you and what do the other merchants say

This break up does not take effect until May 12. Merchants may still use Mailchimp’s services until the deadline. After that, you can choose to stay and use Mailchimp. If you decide to stay, you can use third party applications to still use Mailchimp with Shopify. You can also manually add customers to your mailing list which is definitely inconvenient, but still an option.

customer opinion

Or you can ditch Mailchimp and use other email marketing software. According to some forums, Reddit and some articles, the names that come up a lot are Klaviyo, ActiveCampaign, and Omnisend, among others. Yael Keon, a marketing strategist and consultant, created a handy table on her blog that illustrates the features of some EMS options for Shopify integrations.

Just a petty fight

There are multiple things to think about when migrating your services on other EMS’s or staying with Mailchimp. Thankfully, there are multiple easy options to choose from. Separation of business partnerships like these frankly don’t matter that much in the long run as it’s business as usual. In our current digital landscape, the slowest to adapt are the ones who suffer.

Claims of each party on this situation to protect data of its customers are very topical since the implementation of GDPR and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal which raise valid concerns of data privacy. If they truly uphold ideology, their customers would definitely trust them more in a world full of data breaches and leaks. They took jabs at each other to undermine that trust.

The Future of the Platforms

The choice of Mailchimp to break away from Shopify will not be the end of these digital business relationships. This will only be the beginning. The digital landscape is changing and evolving rapidly. Digital businesses are trying to expand exponentially on fields that are related to their current products or services but not is part of their core function. They are racing for the acquisition of platforms.

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Just like Google who is now dipping it’s huge toes on the gaming industry, not originally a part of their core business.

It will not be surprising if Mailchimp will eventually branch out and really be Shopify’s competitor even though they might not have current plans yet. It makes so much business sense.

Indirect Competition

Mailchimp said in a statement that they are not directly competing with Shopify but they will be continuing integration and support with the other e-commerce platforms.

This may not indicate direct competition with Shopify but still, it’s a competitive move. In a statement with TechCrunch, Mailchimp said:

We believe small businesses are best served when they can choose which technology they use to run their businesses, which is why we integrate with more than 150 different apps and platforms including e-commerce platforms”

This is a very good thing. Changes like these sustain the healthiness of the market. It ensures that platforms would be competitive in price, services, security, features, etc which would be beneficial for us. Think of these changes just like growing pains. Uncomfortable, but necessary for growth.