Alok Ahuja, Head of the Plus Experts Program in Shopify, and Benjamin Crudo, CEO at Diff Agency, were invited at the #34 Conference of MTL + ECOMMERCE,  to talk about their expertise.  

Alok Ahuja and Benjamin Crudo talked about their work with Shopify Plus. They were accompanied by their client and merchant Yellow Shoes.




When people think about Shopify Plus, they wonder how that ecommerce platform works. Shopify is always thinking about the future, the long term. Being at its head means implies answering the questions that buyers didn’t even ask yet. It means being one step ahead of the game. It is a real challenge and you have to be very passionate about it to succeed.


Nowadays when you think about ecommerce, Shopify is one of the first things coming to mind. That’s speaks loudly of what Shopify has achieved in such a short time in the ecommerce industry.

Alok has been in the industry for over 16 years, witnessing its ups and downs. He spent a lot of time finding solutions for his retailer clients.


Back in 2008, things were really different. Alok would spend hours in the office talking to clients and trying to find out how he was going to fix the next problem. Clients would spend hundreds of dollars in license fees and administrators to maintain the hosting and the architecture of their websites. With his team, he could spend twelve to fourteen months working on a website, to the point of being sick of it.


That’s when he started to think that it was not the good or effective way to launch websites. It just didn’t make sense.

With the launch of Shopify and other platforms, the ecommerce industry is changing really fast. Nowadays, clients want to focus on the social aspect and have a fresh website as quickly as possible. The Shopify Plus team has started to show people how quick websites can go live.


Now, a website can be launched in 8 or 6 weeks. With this kind of effective team, people can focus on their social strategies and we realize the technical part of it. This is important when regarding e-commerce today.

When people think about Shopify Plus, they ask Alok what is different? There are a lot of key points that differentiate it and it is the most effective solution for an enterprise at the cost level. Shopify Plus allows you to focus on your purpose while getting a good customer experience.

With today’s mobiles applications, you are able to do so many things and so easily. That is the goal of Shopify Plus : to simplify the construction of a website and to allow the customization.  




Benjamin started his career as a retailer in his dad’s company.

He came to appreciate how technology had a huge impact on a retailer’s ability to administrate their business in an efficient manner and achieve their goals. Through fighting with point of sale systems and Yahoo stores back in the day, he became an enthusiast with the application of technology and how to make things even better.

He left his father’s company and went to Concordia University where he got a degree in software engineering. He learnt the skills that were necessary to understand the fundamentals of the technology, its limitations and ultimately to develop his own ability to innovate.

He took a part time job as a student in a local company of electricity that needed a new website. They had a previous experience but they were disappointed. So he had to prove to them that he could deliver. At that time it was 2011 and Shopify was a much lesser known player in the market place. The platform was less evolved than it is today. Nonetheless, it was still a really good platform to work with. Its ease of customization has always been one of the pillars that makes it so good.


Shopify Experts Program


A Shopify Experts Program was then launched and Benjamin got involved in the community and started contributing to it. Today, there are thirty staff members who work for over than 250 plans. Through that Experts Program, they were able to accumulate reviews and demonstrate to customers that they could do a good work.


Any kind of ecommerce project generally follows these general steps:


  1. Trying to understand your buyers better
  2. Focus on the design part
  3. Develop a launch (Shopify makes that a bit easier)
  4. Grow the content


As a retailer you basically have three different levels to control the success of your business:

  • The amount of traffic that the website gets
  • The conversion rate
  • The growth margin


Traffic is a commodity. You have to give money to Google to get traffic.

The growth margin is tougher. It is constricted by your suppliers and your own ability to produce a margin rise. The conversion rate is the secret asset. That’s where you have the ability to take the platform and craft an experience that really speaks to your customers. If you can take your conversion rate to a profitable spot, you can buy traffic and increase your cost of acquisition. Therefore you’ll be able to use more revenue to bring traffic into the site. Ultimately, profit is gonna go up. It’s really important to focus on the conversion rate aspect of a website.


The design process that developers follow is also really important. You have to settle who you want to benchmark yourselves against and what it is exactly about the competitors that the customers appreciate. Trying to identify the exact features that are well known and that you have seen is a great starting point. This will help you to uncover ideas of how you’d like your design to come out in the end.


Persona development is also important to take the time to consider who the target market is, and to understand their motivations and behaviours. A website has to speak to everybody that is coming to it. Therefore, keeping in mind these personas really allows you to separate your own opinion from what works for the site.   


A really good exercise is to consider all the different paths that people might take to come to the website and understand the utility of it. Very often we might wonder if they heard it on the radio, or if they googled “winter boots” and they were brought to our winter boots collection? We no longer live in a tiny place where you land on a homepage of whatever website. People are coming in and out from a multitude of websites and too many different places within the site. So we have to keep in mind that somebody might come into a random page of the website and may have missed a lot of information that you thought they received. There are many motivations and devices that could lead people to the site. You have to consider all of them in order to provide the best user experience.


The core of any well handed site is a very strong information architecture to offer a good browsability and searchability of the website. You have to think about the technical information that you present to the users, quantify it and then arrange it in a way it can be followed very easily. This is a simple concept but as the site grows, it becomes more complex.  


The last stage of the user experience process is the wireframing, which is a low fidelity version of the site. After you have figured out that you wanna talk to a specific individual, that you have staged a few features of competitors, that you have thought of a couple of scenarios… That informs our ability to create a really intuitive wireframe that shows the relative importance of the information on the page. If you are rushing into the design without doing all this, then you will find yourself kind of redoing this. The best way is to start coding from day one and just make your modifications through it.

A lot of customers often have this experience where they feel that the web developer doesn’t get their objective. Very often, it is not because they are not good software developers but because the customers did not take the time to truly place all their concerns on a map to achieve the best possible experience wanted.


As you continue to put content on the website, it’s really important that you consider a few different lenses. In order to be confident of our website you have to consider all the experience that you deliver through it. The marketing motivations: do you have the right content, are you listing all the right details, are you using the right ads, … You want to keep the message consistent, and of course the development has to be done well.

The cost associated with development has tremendously declined due to Shopify and other kind of platforms.

The next question is, which technology do you use to develop your website? There are a lot of defining characteristics proper to each kind of e-commerce. There are software services where you just pay for your website’s confection like Shopify Plus. You can also download a WordPress theme and they give packages for each type of e-commerce. There are advantages to each method.


So you wanna decide which platform to use. These are all the major concerns that you have when employing your particular technology: have you got the hosting cost associated to it? Have you got the support fees that you may encounter? Is there any upgrade that needs to be performed, maintenance, insurance?

We are going to explore each of these individually.


Let’s have a look at Shopify Plus. It has an initial cost but over time you’ll see that the cost remains the same. When you sign up for Shopify there is a particular monthly fee unrelated to the traffic on your site or the amount of products. It is a very simple cost basis to understand, which means that when your business grows and traffic increases, Shopify isn’t going to ask you for any more money. It is a great benefit for a growing business.

Platforms like Magento might seem cheaper at the outset but with Shopify, over time consideration for hosting comes in. With Black Friday coming up, Shopify triples the number of servers so you could deal with a higher traffic. This way, everyone could continue to sell. Magento has a cost associated to this. You have to pay more applications fees, more store space, license fees…

These are the criterias that you have to consider when you are hosting your own solution versus signing up for a simple service model like Shopify.


Whatever platform you choose, you are going to find that the design is basically the same. But there is a new difference in the developing costs. Shopify, in contrast to other hosting platforms, is less expensive for the development part. The reason for that is because on Shopify the way that you customize the platform is by focusing your developers attention only on the esthetic component of your website. We don’t need to worry about the engine in the middle. The developer’s responsibility is just to deliver the website without writing it.


A platform like Magento gives you the full responsibility of the software : the presentation area (where you deal with the esthetical aspect of the design), the middle area (where all the logistic is set), and the persistence area (the maintenance of the website).


Shopify only forces you to focus on one of those three aspects while a system as Magento forces all of them to you. Very often, you will find that accessing to all of that is not always necessary. With Shopify, you don’t have to worry because there is a team of professionals worrying about it for you, which is a huge benefit.




The manager at the Yellow Shoes said that since recently, while they were developing an ecommerce store, they became ecommerce Team Leader. They initiated the contact with the consulting company Diff Agency. Quickly, they became knowledgeable on ecommerce. Therefore, they gave the retailer point of view about Shopify.


This year, Yellow is celebrating its hundreds anniversary. The manager’s grandfather started the business. He turned that into one of Quebec’s largest and most popular shoes business. The reason it became so popular was the self service method of selling. You had the shoes on display with all the sizes under it. Customers could come much like in a grocery store, see the shoes and then pick the size by themselves. No need for a staff employer. This was a big change in retail.

Currently, Yellow has a hundred plus stores in Quebec. They are not necessarily located in Montreal. The biggest stores are in Gatineau, Sherbrooke,… They have a limited selection of quality products at a reasonable price that we are very proud of.


Now about our first experience online: as a traditional retailer, we had no experience online. But we knew that a huge demand came through online stores. Customers and store managers were demanding it. We knew that in order to be competitive, we had no choice but launching our online store.


We used the traditional Shopify Platform. We didn’t want to invest a lot of money and we wanted to launch our website quickly. Originally we just put our shoes online. We used the first generation Shopify Platform and we presented our shoes in a form of catalog. Immediately, in the first month we saw a huge increase in our sells. It was more than we had planned. We wanted to give a more optimal experience to our clients so we decided to really invest.

One of our first strategies was to find a technical partner, someone who was a Shopify expert. It’s when I met Benjamin Crudo. He and his team helped us build a really good foundation.

What was a key to us was that we wanted to build a site that really cared about our customers. We presented our goals and our targets and they helped us with the strategy and the realization of the entire project.  


One of our key things was targeting our clients. We built a client profile. We wanted to increase the conversion rate. With Shopify Plus we could start using promotions and boosting the shopping experience for our clients. Of course, we wouldn’t have to pay our transaction fees as the growth continued to go up.


We took a very mobile approach. Our goal was to limit the path to purchase, so our customers would be able to navigate through the website easily. With Shopify Plus, we were able to get a personalized site and were able to build our Yellow identity.

By using Shopify Plus, we were able to triple our conversion rate. This was a serious turning point for our business. We started this online project in May to be able to launch it in August, right on time for the “back to school” period. This was a huge sell period for us. We were able to complete all of this in three months. We are really proud of that achievement and we met our customers’ expectations.


In the future,Yellow is going to use our increased budget to invest more into the website. We want to expand our ecommerce influence. We are now able to merchandise our collections online, change words or columns on the homepage… Things we never thought we would be able to do. We can actually take control and do it ourselves. Therefore, I am very happy with our Shopify experience.