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6 Scalability Challenges Ecommerce Businesses Will Face—and How Shopify Plus Can Help

6-scalability-challenges-ecommerce-businesses-will-face—and-how-shopify-plus-can-help

After queries about customization, the most common question we get asked is whether Shopify Plus is a scalable ecommerce platform for enterprises.

The short answer? Yes. 

We understand that enterprise commerce requires robust infrastructure that’s capable of serving exponentially more customers, along with more complex operations, integrations, and support. That’s why Shopify Plus has been designed for high-growth businesses that are about to scale.

But we also know that expanding your business doesn’t come without its challenges. Here are six of the most common obstacles high-growth merchants face as they scale their businesses—and how Shopify Plus can help eliminate growing pains.

Top challenges faced by high-growth companies—and what to look for in a scalable ecommerce platform.

  1. Your site must be equipped to handle high traffic volume and sales spikes.
  2. Scaling up means increased inventory, order fulfillment, and customer management demands.
  3. Resources will be stretched further, including your team’s capacity and time.
  4. Managing inventory and sales across different channels manually can be complex and time consuming.
  5. An increased risk of losses due to cyberware attacks.
  6. Selling globally means more competition.

The challenge: Your site must be equipped to handle high traffic volume and sales spikes.

Few feelings are worse than drawing hundreds—or even thousands—of visitors to your site, only to have it crash. 

That’s exactly what happened to Bombas, before it made the switch to using Shopify Plus. After appearing on Shark Tank, visits to its site skyrocketed. But despite efforts to prepare for the influx of traffic—including costly retrofits and server maintenance fees—customers were met with broken images and shopping carts they couldn’t check out. So many carts were left abandoned that the company estimates it lost upward of $15,000 in sales the night of its television appearance.

While scaling doesn’t always mean you have an imminent TV appearance on the horizon, it does mean an exponential growth in visitors to your site. Your store will also need to be equipped to handle high-traffic sale events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM). Just take it from Gymshark, whose site crashed and was offline for eight hours during a Black Friday sales event. 

Billions of dollars in transactions move during these volatile events. On top of that, they can be the start of countless customer relationships, but only if those buyers actually become loyal customers.

That’s why no matter what your business is and whoever your customers are, you need your site to be able to handle visitors without crashing or slowing down. It’s not worth it to sacrifice performance and reliability, especially through these potentially lucrative events.

The solution: Shopify Plus’ cloud-based infrastructure is designed for resiliency.

For years, high-volume merchants allocated upward of $1 million to maintain and keep their websites functional. What makes Shopify Plus uniquely suited to deal with enterprise demands without the enterprise price tag? 

Shopify Plus’ cloud-based infrastructure—which powers over 600,000 merchants at 80,000 requests per second at its peak—works on a cluster of Shopify’s own servers running Docker with the Rails app, along with a few AWS feature-based augmentations.

It was built to be resilient, with systems for controlled latency and solutions to ensure no single point of failure. To maintain peak performance, Shopify’s in-house team manually performs extensive passive load testing and optimizations by combing through critical parts of the platform.

The result is 99.99% uptime, with servers capable of handling thousands of transactions per minute, all without slowing your store’s overall performance.

Shopify Plus is the only platform we trust to handle the massive spikes in traffic and transactions that come from Good Morning America, The View, and other nationally televised flash sales”

—Greg Merrell, co-founder of Simplistic, an ecommerce agency whose client list includes Black and Decker, Electrolux, and Fashion Nova.

A Shopify Plus Partner, Simplistic specializes in creating online stores that can withstand the enormous traffic and sales surges that—in Fashion Nova’s case—come from announcements like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s fashion lines. For its other powerhouse clients, the agency often builds one-off flash sale sites to accompany major media appearances on shows like Good Morning America, Shark Tank, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and more. 

“With over a thousand successful flash sales, we can unequivocally recommend Shopify Plus for all of your high-traffic needs,” says Merrel.

As for regular or annual sales events? Australian clothing brand LSKD moved to Shopify Plus and made ecommerce its sole focus in 2020. That same year on BFCM, it had 19,000 shoppers on its new site without any issues. 

If we had that on our previous platform, it couldn’t have handled it—that’s extremely eye-opening,” says Jason Daniel, LSKD’s founder and CEO. “Shopify Plus can handle growth, which is amazing.”

The challenge: Scaling up means increased inventory, order fulfillment, and customer management demands.

Front-end performance is one thing, but behind-the-scenes operations can make or break a multimillion-dollar business. Large-to-enterprise operations require a platform that integrates your store with a host of other critical systems. Done right, these integrations can result in labor drop costs, as well as increased accuracy and productivity.

Moreover, new technologies are launched rapidly. This type of adaptation requires flexibility that most platforms don’t offer.

The solution: Out-of-the-box CMS and OMS capabilities that make managing multiple stores, fulfillment centers, and relationships easy.

When a high-growth merchant starts out on Shopify Plus, the platform’s out-of-the-box CMS and OMS capabilities are a strong foundation to get started with. It makes managing multiple online stores, fulfillment centers, channels, and relationships easy.

When a merchant’s needs expand beyond that foundation, Shopify Plus finds the best developers and partners in the world, builds a community around them, and incentivizes them to scale and build their businesses on the Shopify platform.

Thanks to its open API and technology community, the expandability and flexibility that Shopify Plus offers can work with any high-growth merchant’s or Fortune 500 company’s backend technologies, including:

For the problems that can’t be addressed out of the box, Shopify Plus also has alliances with some of the world’s most forward-thinking technology companies.

 For example, organic beauty brand 100% Pure leverages the Shopify API to power its collection of custom connections that allows the company to easily sync inventory, product information, and digital marketing resources, including in its four international storefronts.

I just hit the Sync button and it’s done,” says Quan Nguyen, the company’s vice-president of technology. “We save so much time being able to sync everything across multiple stores.”

The challenge: Resources will be stretched further, including your team’s capacity and time.

Many ecommerce stores start small and learn to do things lean and efficiently. Scaling up means there will be more moving pieces at higher volumes, as well as more customer issues to deal with.

This latter point is particularly important. In 2020, a Salesforce study found that customer expectations are at an all-time high. Eighty percent of customers now consider the experience a company provides to be as important as its products and services, while 66% expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. But without hiring specialists for each department, it can be hard to deliver on this type of experience when your team is consumed with managing repetitive time-consuming tasks. 

The solution: Ecommerce automation that allows you to do more with less.

 Traffic, sales, and order management are important fundamentals of a robust ecommerce store, but what really sets Shopify Plus apart are its automation tools to give clients back their most valuable resource: time.

Merchants using Shopify Plus can leverage ecommerce automation, so their team is free to focus on actual growth and providing great customer experiences, as opposed to spending time performing low-level, repetitive, and tedious tasks.

There are three main ways Shopify helps teams do this: Shopify Flow, Launchpad, and Shopify Scripts.

Shopify Flow

There’s an endless range of low-level, repetitive tasks that require attention in order to keep operations going. Before, you’d have to assign an employee to this mind-numbing work—but now, Shopify Flow automates common tasks to: 

  • Track and reward top customers
  • Tag and segment customers from campaigns
  • Organize products for visual merchandising and search
  • Hide, pause, and republish products based on availability
  • Automate inventory management and reordering
  • Notify customer service of new draft orders
  • Expedite shipping notifications for your logistics team
  • Flag, halt, review, or cancel high-risk orders 

Amidst these use cases, it’s important to note that there’s no single use case for Flow. It’s flexible enough to adapt to every merchant’s store across a wide range of scenarios.

For example, apparel retailer Shelfies automates custom orders and fraud detection, while denim company GOOD AMERICAN automates inventory publishing and product information tagging with Flow.

On other platforms, every time you need to do something—like create custom workflows—you have to build them from scratch. So, to have a user-friendly app like Flow that allows us to start doing much of this ourselves is very encouraging.”

Mehmet Dokumcu, head of digital and ecommerce at GOOD AMERICAN.

Using Flow during 2020 BFCM events, Shopify Plus businesses offloaded 464 million decisions.

“The more you automate with tools like Flow, the more money a business can make,” explains Julio Giannotti, web manager at Interline, which owns home furnishing brands like SCANDIS and Dania Furniture and uses the tool to automate refunds, employee discounts, and out-of-stock levels.

If you’re a Shopify Plus merchant, you can get started with the 14 downloadable Flow templates in this article.

Launchpad

Major events—like flash sales, product drops, and holidays—are crucial to business, but they can also be incredibly stressful and taxing.

That’s why the Shopify Plus team created Launchpad, a tool that makes launches smooth, peaceful, and automatic. It schedules and coordinates sales and events and keeps track of your success with real-time analytics.

This frees up your team from frantically coordinating the chaotic launch to promoting it harder on social or with paid ads, knowing that Launchpad will take care of the operations.

For instance, when Frankies Bikinis launched a new product, employees used to have to manually change homepage images, videos, and make the new collection live. Now, using Launchpad, the company starts pre-planning and automating product launches ahead of time and during normal business hours. In addition to saving time, it’s helped generate sales—in one case, a new style sold out within two minutes. The company also used Launchpad for its Black Friday and Cyber Monday events to automatically roll out and roll back discounts, theme changes, and products. 

I [use] Launchpad for all of this so I don’t have to stay up so late,” says Brittney Bowles, director of marketing and ecommerce at Frankies Bikinis. “I trust Launchpad to handle everything.” 

During 2020’s BFCM alone, Shopify Plus’ featuresincluding automationhelped businesses generate over $1.8 billion in sales. 

Shopify Scripts 

Shopify Scripts enable you to create personalized experiences with ease. 

There are many different script types, ranging from line-item discounts to automatic shipping rates to customized payment methods. These are particularly important as customers hit the most critical moment in their shopping experience: check-out.   

Shopify Scripts produces real, direct, business results. For example, after Merchology redesigned its site—including dynamic and live pricing with Shopify Scripts—it increased its mobile revenue by 340%. Meanwhile, Brooklinen used it during Black Friday Cyber Monday to combine a free gift alongside three discount “thresholds,” thus increasing average order value.

If you’re a Shopify Plus merchant, you can get started with the 15 downloadable scripts in this article.

The challenge: Managing inventory and sales across different channels manually can be complex and time consuming.

 The vast majority of shoppers research and visit more than one channel. According to 2019 Criterio research, less than 10% of online shoppers purchase from the first website they visit.

That could be through traditional outlets like brick-and-mortar locations, mail order catalogs, and even direct-to-consumer telemarketing. It could also be through online outlets like ecommerce sites, social media, email marketing, and marketplaces. Now, more than ever, it’s essential to sell everywhere your customers are.

In one study, inventory management software company Stitch Labs found that retailers who sell on even just two separate online marketplaces see a 190% jump in revenue over those who sell in just one.

Of the companies surveyed, almost 75% said that using a multi-channel system has increased sales, 64% said it upped customer loyalty, and 62% said it gave them a competitive advantage.

But trying to run multiple channels manually—including marketing, inventory management, and analytics—is near impossible.

The solution: Sell across multiple channels using integrated apps and tools.

Shopify Plus’ multi-channel software enables you to optimize inventory control, leverage merchandising templates, expedite listing and updating products, streamline orders and fulfillment, and measure channel effectiveness.

Apps like Sellbrite and Stitch Labs make it easy for Shopify merchants to list and sell their inventory through a multiplicity of channels. If you’re on Shopify Plus, you can sell across over 20 online channels, all offered natively in the dashboard. It also integrates into offline channels, including Shopify’s award-winning Tap & Chip Card Reader and the Shopify POS system.

Shopify is really scalable. Especially as we started to transition to brick-and-mortar, the fact that Shopify has a POS system and everything links up—it gave us an impressively slick operation in the shop.”

Neil Waller, co-founder at Shore Projects. 

Supporting omni-channel operations is at the core of Shopify Plus. In the case of electronics retail JB Hi-Fi—which has 200 stores across Australia—it’s experienced an increase in efficiency and what it’s able to offer in terms of customer service since moving to Shopify Plus. In 2015, the average time a click-and-collect order took to be ready for pickup was 14 hours. Now, 95% of orders are ready within an hour.

“Every item of stock you see on the website is physically in a store,” says Simon Page, CIO of JB Hi-Fi. “It’s not an alternative online warehouse somewhere. It’s not just interconnected, it’s a reflection of what’s going on in bricks-and-mortar. We’re able to look up the stock availability in real time via API, specific to a store location.”

The challenge: An increased risk of losses due to cyberware attacks.

Seeing as how the average cost of a malware attack is $2.6 million, cybersecurity is a very big deal. It’s not just about the cost to your systems—a cyberware attack can also mean losing the trust of your customers.

According to TrustedSite.com’s 2020 research, 92% of consumers have concerns about purchasing from unfamiliar websites. Another survey of American shoppers, conducted by Sapio Research in the same year, found that 92% of people say security is important to them when they shop online—and more than half have abandoned shopping carts because they didn’t trust the site with their credit card info.

While on-premise solutions provide the ability to deploy PCI compliant storefronts, you as the vendor are responsible for ensuring that compliance, which can create headaches that distract you from your business. However, every security patch takes time and resources to deploy and test. This is time and resources taken away from what should be your core focus: growing your business.

The solution: Shopify Plus offers the gold standard in data and customer security.

With Shopify Plus, you can rely on the safety and support that undergirds the security of over 600,000 merchants. Consider it an economy of scale for peace of mind.

With Shopify Plus, your site will be hosted and protected in full compliance with Level 1 PCI DSS out of the box; this is the gold standard of verifying security standards for organizations that handle any online payments. Shopify Plus also takes care of various compliance assessments and risk management, making sure your site is secure, without the need for you to manage a regular assessment of your site.

Most ecommerce websites use SSL encryption technology and HTTPS protocols to protect a shopper’s personal information during the checkout process. In contrast, Shopify covers the entire shopping experience: from the storefront to the admin.

This means credit card, payment and other sensitive information in operational data stores is encrypted in transit and at rest, including user passwords being salted and hashed through the bcrypt hashing algorithm.

As an added level of trust and security, while Shopify sites redirect traffic through domain-validated SSL (DV SSL), Shopify Plus offers all customers a free extended validation SSL (EV SSL). 

Extended validation SSL Certificate—also known as EV SSL—as they appear in the URL window of major browsers. 

If you’re already a Shopify Plus merchant, here’s how you can activate your EV SSL certificate.

The challenge: Selling globally means more competition.

According to Shopify data, 35% of all Shopify traffic comes from international visitors, a number that’s expected only to rise. Fintech research specialists Kaleido Intelligence projects that ecommerce cross-border sales will grow by 14% annually over the next five years—outstripping domestic ecommerce growth.

But if your site isn’t customized to cater to international customers, you could be at a loss when you scale up and are competing in a global marketplace. Customers are most comfortable shopping in their own language and paying in their own currency. Site speed is another factor that means the difference between a conversion and an abandoned cart. 

The solution: Stores that render quickly anywhere in the world, with multiple languages, currencies, and payment options.

Shopify Plus is designed to operate in a global marketplace, with the ability to function in 20 languages and 133 local currencies. You can set international pricing, utilize international domains, offer local payment methods in local currencies, and fully customize the experience for local shoppers. It’s this customization and scalability that has allowed mattress brand Simba to expand to new global markets, resulting in $100 million in global sales.

Shopify Plus has also got speed behind it. Shopify provides merchants with a world-class content delivery network (CDN) powered by Fastly at no extra cost. It allows sites to render instantly anywhere in the world, particularly the US, UK, APAC region (Asia, Australia, and New Zealand), and both South America and southern Africa.

Rather than create thousands of small, scattered points of presence (POPs), as legacy CDNs did during the dial-up era, Fastly takes a fundamentally different approach. It focuses its efforts on placing more powerful POPs at strategic locations, which enables them to serve more from the cache, including static and event-driven content. What this means to merchants is an improved cache hit radio. For consumers, it means a better user experience. 

As a redundancy, Shopify also provides access to Akamai’s CDN, what the company calls its “Media Delivery Network.” 

“An annual license with Magento Enterprise starts around $50,000 and goes up. Hosting was costing us another $6,000 per month and the CDN was $2,000 per month. Getting our license, hosting, and CDN from Shopify Plus saved us about $100,000 per year right off the bat compared to Magento.”

—Red Dress Boutique owner Diana Harbour.

Final Thoughts on Finding a Scalable Ecommerce Platform

Shopify Plus serves as the foundation for high-growth ecommerce startups and Fortune 500 companies alike, from Audi and The New York Times to Unilever and GE. Despite these companies’ fundamental differences, each needs to provide a great customer experience with a reliable, robust, and innovative technology backend.

The Shopify Plus platform simplifies scalability, so instead of thinking about site architecture, servers, or hosting solutions, you’re able to focus on building your brand. Not only does Shopify Plus have the proven ability to scale, it also comes with a scarce resource that high-volume merchants would kill for: peace of mind.   

Special thanks to our friends at Shopify Plus for their insights on this topic.
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