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How To Choose An Enterprise Ecommerce Platform For Your Scaling Store

how-to-choose-an-enterprise-ecommerce-platform-for-your-scaling-store

Global ecommerce sales recently hit $5 trillion for the first time ever. It’s still on an overall upward trajectory and is projected to hit more than $7 trillion by 2025. These stats provide a look into how quickly and robustly the global ecommerce industry is growing.

If you want to stay ahead of the competition and snag a healthy portion of that multitrillion-dollar pie, you have to invest in a reliable and scalable enterprise ecommerce tool—one with minimal downtime and the ability to engage customers wherever they shop.

But not all ecommerce platforms have the necessary tools to support scaling brands through seasons of high growth. This article will cover everything you need to know about enterprise ecommerce tools and help you select one for your ecommerce enterprise.

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What is an enterprise ecommerce platform?

An enterprise ecommerce platform is a comprehensive software that helps large businesses operate online and grow sales efficiently, with the goal of providing a single point of access to all aspects of the retailer’s business.

Also known as an enterprise ecommerce system, it includes an integrated suite of applications that helps merchants automate their business processes and streamline their workflow. This functionality helps merchants manage their entire business operations, including order management, inventory control, customer relationship management, and marketing automation.

Will Yang, head of growth at Instrumentl, says, “Enterprise-level ecommerce platforms offer a high degree of scalability. As businesses grow, they need an ecommerce platform that can handle increased traffic and transactions. Enterprise-level platforms are built on a robust infrastructure that can support a large number of users and transactions.”

As such, enterprise software typically has more features, is highly customizable, and integrates with other essential ecommerce tools and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Here are the features business owners should look for in an enterprise ecommerce system.

Tight security features

It’s estimated that global retailers will lose $48 million to ecommerce fraud in 2023. Any security vulnerability that is exploited quickly becomes a disastrous event.

Customers who experience fraud while shopping with your brand are likely to be put off from ever returning, sabotaging long-term retention and immediate profits. There are also legal risks associated with selling online using a platform with poor security.

Look for an enterprise solution that offers greater security features than out-of-the-box solutions. A composable commerce platform, for example, eliminates shared code convention, which increases security risks and auditing costs.

What happens if you notice a vulnerability in your enterprise ecommerce platform? A technical support team that’s quick to respond can plug security holes because they’re torn open by fraudsters. “This is essential for businesses that handle sensitive customer data or are subject to industry regulations,” Will says.

“With a platform like Shopify Plus, you don’t need to do regular software updates to prevent security risks,” says ecommerce consultant Elliott Davidson. “Shopify Plus takes care of this for you. To protect you against security risks from an open-source perspective, you’ll have to either hire an agency on retainer or take this in-house.”

Omnichannel content delivery

The modern customer journey is anything but linear. Before buying a product, customers require several interactions with the brand, crossing both online and offline channels. An omnichannel retail strategy reaches these customers wherever they are.

Choose an enterprise ecommerce software that supports and encourages these omnichannel experiences. Shopify Plus, for example, merges customer and inventory data across point-of-sale (POS), social commerce, and live commerce systems. Customers get the friction-free omnichannel shopping experiences they’re craving, without the logistical headache of maintaining accurate data cross-channel.

Merchants can also future-proof their enterprise platform with Liquid, a templating language that gives greater flexibility on how they engage customers. And with a fully featured GraphQL, merchants can develop world-class VR/AR experiences without the complex processes or expensive costs of self-managed solutions.

Unlimited bandwidth and web hosting

When you’re processing several thousands of dollars’ worth of sales each day, downtime can be costly. Just a few minutes outage is the equivalent of pouring money down the drain.

The best enterprise ecommerce platforms offer unlimited bandwidth and web hosting services. As Gabrielle Wooden, senior content marketing manager at Tapcart, says, “The main benefit of being an enterprise-level ecommerce platform is the bandwidth to cater to any ecommerce business, regardless of size, and help them scale.”

But not all platforms are built with support for rapid-fire growth. If you’re a quickly scaling business, look for a platform that innovates quickly, updates its software often, and provides the bandwidth you need to capture more customers. Ask your shortlisted vendors what their average uptime is and whether they offer global dual content delivery networks.

Robust integrations

Successful ecommerce is about more than having a good-looking store. You also need to manage your sales operations, inventory, customer data, marketing operations, and employees. Look for a platform that streamlines all of your operations.

Plus, while ecommerce platforms provide a lot of features and benefits to help you run your store, they don’t do everything. The best enterprise ecommerce platforms have apps or API functionality to help you easily connect with your other favorite tools.

High-converting cart and checkout

As a retailer, you want to offer your customers the best experience possible. That means having a great shopping cart software solution that allows them to easily add items to their carts and check out without hassle.

Shopify Checkout is the world's highest-converting checkout by up to 36% more conversions and offers a rich set of customization tools that allow merchants to build custom experiences on top of an already-proven checkout framework. Incorporate custom functions, web pixels, UI extensions, and branding API to deliver checkout experiences that capture 69% of shoppers who abandon their online shopping carts.

Engage shoppers with customized components like:

The best part? Shopify Checkout is fully managed and built to handle large influxes of international traffic. Whether you’re launching a flash sale or new product line, use intelligent queuing and advanced bot and fraud management features to keep your online shop open for business at all times.

Benefits of using an enterprise ecommerce platform

As soon as your business starts to grow, it’s essential to migrate from your legacy or small ecommerce platform to an enterprise platform that can adequately handle the volume of an enterprise ecommerce business.

The biggest advantages of using enterprise ecommerce software include:

  • Streamlined customer experience. Ecommerce platforms are designed to streamline the entire customer experience from start to finish. They provide rich features such as inventory management, order fulfillment, abandoned cart recovery, logistics, returns, and payment processing.
  • Enhanced security. If you’re not versed in what it takes to become PCI compliant or don’t want to do the hard work yourself with a self-hosted platform, opt for enterprise ecommerce software that takes care of PCI compliance for you.
  • Faster performance. If your ecommerce store goes offline, you’re at risk of losing out on thousands in potential sales. Enterprise-level solutions are built for high-growth stores, helping scaling brands manage traffic peaks without compromising on a speedy shopping experience.
  • Multi-channel selling. Today’s customers shop across several channels and touchpoints. As such, you need an ecommerce platform that helps you reach your customers—no matter where they are shopping. Pick a tool that supports multi-channel sales and marketing.
  • Prevent downtime. Keep your site always accessible to online shoppers whenever they want to buy with an enterprise ecommerce platform that has high uptime.
  • Better reporting and analytics. Incorporate business intelligence software, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool, in your ecommerce tech stack when migrating to a new enterprise solution. Get the bigger picture on everything from supply chain to inventory management and make smarter decisions based on data—not a hunch.
  • Excellent integrations. An enterprise solution offers excellent integrations, apps, and API options to customize your store and access the features you require.

Additionally, if an ecommerce enterprise wants to do more with its store in terms of adding cool features, upgrading to an enterprise platform is the way to go. Enterprise ecommerce will allow for vivid imagery, background video, and cool CSS effects. These features usually take up a lot of server space.

If you want your site to continue to load instantaneously and meet your business needs, it's essential to sign up for an enterprise plan with more speed, better user experience, UX features, and improved performance.

Types of ecommerce platforms

To understand the different types of ecommerce solution options (and pick the right one), it’s first essential to understand the technical, behind-the-scenes aspects of what is required to run an online store effectively.

All ecommerce stores need:

  • Hosting. Since online stores are ecommerce websites, they need to acquire server space on the web. Think of it in terms of housing. The server is the house—space to live. Hosting is how you go about securing that space. For example, you can build a house, buy a house, rent a house, or share a house. It’s the same with hosting. Additionally, hosting (like houses) provides accessibility, security, and reliability.
  • Front-end features. The front end of your site is your digital storefront. It includes everything customers see and interact with when they land on your hosted ecommerce store, such as design, product description pages, shopping carts, and search bars.
  • Back-end functionality. “Back end” simply means the server side of your site. The back-end processes, stores, and transmits all relevant data, like product information, order history, and customer data. It also uses those ones and zeroes to communicate messages between the server and the front end, so customers can see when there’s a stockout and your employees know when to make a new order.

The different types of enterprise ecommerce software solutions simply refer to how many of these tasks you want to build, maintain, and manage yourself. Let’s take a look at the main types of enterprise ecommerce solutions.

On-site enterprise solution

Most legacy ecommerce solutions are off-site. With this type of ecommerce platform, all website data was stored in a server, at a data center, at a physical location.

Often referred to as an off-premise or self-hosted solution, this type of enterprise solution is typically open source. Your development team has complete control over the source code, giving you greater flexibility in the functionality of your solution.

The biggest downside of an on-site solution is the sheer level of resources it takes to maintain. Ecommerce merchants need an IT department on hand to maintain the platform, fix security holes, and build upon the existing platform, making the cost of ownership skyrocket. Studies show the average cost to maintain an on-premise solution can exceed $200,000 per year.

Plus, with the world veering toward remote work and flexibility, an outdated on-site enterprise platform makes it hard to keep up.

Cloud-based ecommerce platform

A cloud-based ecommerce platform works similarly to an on-site solution. The main difference is that data is stored in the cloud, rather than at a physical data center your team is responsible for maintaining.

The benefit of a cloud-hosted platform is that you can lease expensive infrastructure from a proven provider. Easily scale your store’s bandwidth during peak sales periods and modify the platform’s source code for greater flexibility.

That said, it’s expensive to lean on a cloud-based enterprise ecommerce platform. Studies put the average cost of maintaining this type of platform at $170,000 per year, since a technical team is required to develop and maintain the infrastructure long-term.

SaaS enterprise ecommerce solution

With a software-as-a-service (SaaS) enterprise ecommerce solution, you rent your server space and the SaaS solution manages everything. This means you don’t have to go outside of the SaaS platform to get hosting, secure your website, comply with PCI standards, maintain your platform, or manage the uptime of your site.

A SaaS enterprise ecommerce solution also provides quick and easy front-end functionality. You can design your store, set up your shopping cart, add your products, and flesh out your product pages from within the platform.

In essence, a SaaS solution takes the technical DIY out of the equation and does it for you. The one tradeoff is you have less back-end and code-level control.

Open-source enterprise ecommerce solution

Open-source ecommerce enterprise solutions are open to anyone and sometimes free to download and use. The caveat is you have to do a lot of the coding yourself to create and customize your store.

Elliott Davidson says, “There are some great advantages to leveraging an open-source ecommerce platform like Adobe Commerce, formerly Magento. Ultimately, open source gives you complete control. Although, this control comes at a cost financially and it’s resource-intensive.”

Using an open source platform may be a good option for highly skilled coders, but it’s crucial to remember you don’t get the same all-in-one functionality that you get with a SaaS solution. You’ll have to purchase and manage any third-party apps, add-ons, or extensions you use to run your store. You also have to pay for licensing, design, hosting, maintenance, and PCI compliance.

“The TCO [total cost of ownership] from an open-source platform can be very costly and tends to be more expensive than the SaaS counterpart,” says Davidson. “You really have to ask yourself if you even need this extra control. In most cases the answer is no.”

Headless enterprise ecommerce solution

With a headless ecommerce solution, you get similar hosting and back-end functionality to a traditional enterprise ecomm SaaS tool. The difference is that it decouples the front-end and back-end architectures and offers more flexibility to customize the front-end experience, or “the head.”

A headless SaaS ecommerce solution is smart choice for enterprises that:

  • Need more flexibility with design and UX
  • Want to customize the customer journey
  • Operate in a quickly evolving industry
  • Plan to scale rapidly
  • Want to make changes to the front end of the site without affecting back-end operations

Simply opting for a headless platform, however, doesn’t mean your enterprise ecommerce software is completely customizable. The hype around “headless” is a redundant concept that often results in teams losing focus, patch-working multiple solutions in a mission to provide seamless multi-experiences.

Headless and API-oriented site architecture doesn’t magically solve performance or scalability problems. The more components you have at play, the greater the risk of failure cascades.

Composable commerce platforms

Composable commerce is an ecommerce architecture formed of modular building blocks. Merchants can lean on best-in-class vendors to build completely customized ecommerce platforms, rather than a standard out-of-the-box solution.

It enables scaling merchants to plug-and-play necessary business capabilities from building blocks, referred to as packaged business capabilities (PBCs), provided by multiple vendors.

Composable is the natural evolution of headless commerce, which only eliminates the “head” from your store. Use PBCs for every element of the commerce experience, both front- and back-end, including:

  • Storefront
  • Cart
  • Checkout
  • Payments
  • Search
  • Promotions
  • Catalog

Each vendor tool is left to do the one thing it excels at: leaving the not-so-great elements to another PBC. This provides unrivaled flexibility and agility for scaling ecommerce brands since you’re not tied to a monolithic solution.

“We didn’t want to be in the technology business,” says Jeff Silverman, president of global retail at Steve Madden. “We wanted to worry about selling shoes and be great at what we’re great at. That’s what Shopify Plus empowers us to do.”

How to choose the right enterprise ecommerce platform

Businesses eventually run into issues with standard ecommerce platforms when they start growing more rapidly or when they reach a gross merchandise value (GMV) of more than $5 million. If businesses that are rapidly scaling start seeing poor site speed or can’t handle the amount of traffic they are getting, it’s time to switch from a traditional platform to an enterprise platform.

The platform you choose for your business will depend on how big your company is, how experienced you are with coding, what your needs are, and how fast your store will grow.

More concretely, here are some specific things to look at when choosing an ecommerce software.

Evaluate your current platform

Before upheaving your existing setup in favor of a new enterprise solution, take stock of your current ecommerce tech stack. Instrumentl’s Will Yang says, “To choose the right enterprise ecommerce software, start by evaluating your needs and objectives. Once you clearly understand what you need, you can begin researching different platforms.”

Consider your main goals and what you want your ecommerce platform to do for you on the front end and on the back end. How much expertise do you have with development? What skills, budget, and team do you have to support the technical aspects of your store? Considering this will help you decide between a traditional SaaS tool, a headless commerce tool, and an open-source tool.

A SWOT analysis—which breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your current tech stack—can help fine-tune the checklist for your new platform. Break down need-to-have and nice-to-have features, marking new solutions against the first list.

Estimate costs

Your store might generate millions in revenue each year. But if your next enterprise platform eats into monthly expenses, profitability can become a pipe dream—no matter how seamless the experience you’re providing to customers is.

Prices vary significantly from tool to tool and plan to plan within specific enterprise platforms. Determine what functionality you need to grow and how much revenue you’re bringing in, and find the tool that matches your goals and budget.

Platform costs aside, pay close attention to the following extra costs:

  • Development costs. Assembling the new website on your next ecommerce platform takes time and money. If you choose headless, for example, project fees could total more than $500,000. Consider hiring a Shopify Plus Partner agency, which already knows the ins and outs of Shopify’s enterprise platform, to speed things up.
  • Website design. The design of your ecommerce website plays a large role in a consumers’ decision to buy. Shopify Themes is home to more than 100 professionally designed templates you can build on. Or, for something completely custom, hire a Shopify Plus Partner agency that specializes in web design.
  • Migration. Some platforms charge you to migrate your existing website data to its new software. (Shopify Plus doesn’t fall into this category.) However, there are still costs associated with replatforming—like enlisting the help of a trusted launch engineer who can take sensitive website data and build a scalable ecommerce solution that prevents future migration.
  • Maintenance. Regardless of whether you’re using an out-of-the-box software or custom enterprise ecommerce solution, you’ll need to maintain your setup. Allocate budget for continual website design and development work to patch security issues.
  • Total cost of ownership (TOC). This is the dollar amount you expect to spend on your enterprise ecommerce platform over the next three to five years, including any maintenance, operational, and platform fees.

Confirm critical integrations and APIs

Which features do you need to operate your business from its new enterprise ecommerce platform? When choosing your next platform, ensure these connections are available through secure integrations or APIs.

If you go with Shopify Plus, many key and critical applications are built by the same capabilities that businesses and developers use to build their own custom apps, extensions, and integrations. Merchants gain access to over 8,000 third-party apps in the Shopify App Store plus several native apps built by Shopify, such as:

  • The Shopify Admin, a single dashboard to manage every ecommerce function
  • Markets, to sell globally with ease
  • Email, to market to customers through their inbox
  • POS, to sell to customers in-person
  • Flow, which automates complex processes and eliminates human error

Flow chart that shows how a row is added to a spreadsheet when a new pre-order is created.

Taking pre-orders through your enterprise ecommerce platform? Use this Shopify Flow example to automatically track pre-orders and initiate marketing campaigns.

Produce an RFP

A request for proposal (RFP) is a formal document that outlines the requirements for your next enterprise ecommerce software. Share this document with internal and external vendors, including your team and the solutions on your shortlist, to solidify your replatforming intentions and requirements.

This free ecommerce RFP template outlines the essential requirements for your RFP, though the key elements include:

  • Business goals
  • Operating costs
  • Functionality requirements
  • Sales channels
  • Replatforming goals

Define your replatforming strategy

Once you’ve found the enterprise platform that best suits your organizational goals, iron out how you’ll make the move. An ecommerce migration strategy details the minute details of how you’ll move from your old platform to your new enterprise solution.

Arguably the most important part of any migration is highlighting the risks associated with moving from a monolithic stack to a microservices architecture. Downtime is expensive; a little window opportunity for things to go wrong can make your ecommerce site inaccessible for a longer period than anticipated.

Identify the key stakeholders involved in the process. Bring these decision makers together and gather insights on what each department needs before, during, and after the migration. Or, if you’re using a technology expert to make the move, detail the level of access required for each partner. Migration involves transferring sensitive website information, including customer data, so make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Map out an ideal timeline for the migration and plan shorter sprints for each stage of the process, such as:

  • Establishing a new website hierarchy
  • Migrating your website data
  • Developing the back end
  • Customizing the front end of your store
  • Migrating SEO
  • Testing the final setup

Enterprise ecommerce platforms in 2023

Shopify Plus

Shopify Plus is a headless enterprise ecommerce SaaS platform used by more than 10,000 enterprises across 175 countries, including Heinz, Allbirds, Magnolia, and Steve Madden.

Commerce Components is a perfect fit for enterprise companies looking for a composable stack that gives them flexibility and integrations to existing services. Plus, since it’s a headless platform, use Functions, Flows, Checkout Extensions, Pre-integrated Apps, and API to custom build an enterprise platform that works for your business.

Jas Banwait, head of marketing at Snack Magic, says, “For companies, like ours, with a multi-brand strategy, Shopify Plus enables us to create and manage all our stores under one umbrella.

“One centralized dashboard provides real-time performance data for each store and key metrics that we can compare across multiple periods. This way, we can leverage that data to strategize new ways to enhance the checkout process across our current brands. Or we can use those insights to create a new store that incorporates each brand’s best UX practices.”

BigCommerce Enterprise

BigCommerce is an open SaaS ecommerce solution that combines SaaS and API-enabled openness.

BigCommerce is another platform designed to help you scale and reach an international market. See how BigCommerce compares to Shopify Plus.

Adobe Commerce

Adobe Commerce, formerly known as Magento, is a multichannel enterprise ecommerce solution that helps its customers optimize across the digital shelf. See how Adobe Commerce compares to Shopify Plus.

Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Salesforce Commerce Cloud is an enterprise ecommerce solution that helps its clients with omnichannel order management. The platform provides a view into inventory from a single platform. See how Salesforce Commerce Cloud compares to Shopify Plus.

Oracle Commerce Cloud

Oracle Commerce is a cloud-based ecommerce platform designed for businesses of all sizes.

Next steps in choosing an enterprise ecommerce solution

Enterprise ecommerce systems differ from smaller ecommerce platforms because they’re built for high-volume and high-growth companies. But choosing a platform to power your growing business shouldn’t be a rushed decision.

Explore options and get clarification on your decision by:

  • Scheduling a demo. “One of the best ways to choose an enterprise ecommerce software is to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the available options,” says Tapcart’s Gabrielle Wooden. “Scheduling software demos is an excellent way for brands to understand each software better and get a better feeling for the customer support available to brands that are new to the software.”
  • Consulting with agencies. Technology, design, and development agencies have first-hand experience with setting up and migrating brands to a host of stores. If Shopify Plus is on your shortlist to evaluate, contact Shopify Plus Service Partners that specialize in ecommerce strategy.
  • Attending industry events. From speakers to attendees, folks who attend industry events are knowledgeable about the world of commerce. Speak with the sales representatives of each enterprise platform and the companies using it to get the bigger picture on whether that solution would suit your organization.

“Find out what the best in the industry are doing and build on that,” advises Marcus Hutsen, business development manager at Patriot Coolers. “The essence of being a successful business isn’t necessarily breaking the mold. It’s taking what has been successful for other companies and adding your own value and style to it.

“Which ecommerce platform is being used by the most companies in your industry? If there are two or three, find out which platform excels in whatever category. Choose accordingly.”

Enterprise ecommerce software FAQ

What is the best enterprise ecommerce platform?

While there are hundreds of ecommerce platforms available, the right one for you depends on your needs, budget, whether or not you have a multi-store model, and growth goals. We suggest Shopify Plus.

What is an example of enterprise commerce?

Shopify Plus is an example of an enterprise commerce solution. Designed for high-growth brands, merchants can use its Commerce Components functionality to custom build the front and back ends of their ecommerce platform.

What are the 3 types of ecommerce?

  • Business-to-consumer (B2C): A business that sells products to the general public.
  • Direct-to-consumer (DTC): A business that exclusively sells products to the public through owned channels, such as its ecommerce store.
  • Business-to-business (B2B): A business that sells products to another business.

How do I choose an enterprise ecommerce platform?

  • Evaluate hosting options.
  • Perform a SWOT analysis on your current platform.
  • Explore enterprise ecommerce solutions. Identify key stakeholders.
  • Explore costs.
  • Produce an RFP.
  • Determine your replatforming strategy.

Illustration by Melanie Peters

 

This originally appeared on Shopify Plus and is available here for wider discovery.
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