I originally wrote this guide in 2015, but updated it in September 2018 as the platform options and capabilities have changed considerably. You can jump to the different sections via the links below.
- Requirements Gathering & Considerations
- Existing Platform & Setup
- Budgeting for the project
- Enterprise eCommerce Platform Options
The question of what eCommerce platform to use (or re-platform to) is always a really tough decision to make – particularly at the enterprise end of the market. These enterprise eCommerce solutions don’t come cheap and they require a huge amount of time (and a lot of people) to implement, run and maintain. This is why it’s fundamentally important that you remain highly organised and systematic in your research and decision-making process, as selecting the wrong platform can have a huge impact on your business.
The process of selecting a platform should also be a group effort – it’s important not to just leave this task to your tech and eCommerce trading teams; everyone, from marketing to customer service should weigh in as it’s a business-level decision. In a lot of cases, it’s necessary to bring in consultants from outside the organization so you can get objective feedback on what your company needs. I regularly run projects focused on gathering requirements and aligning them with eCommerce platform options, with the end goal of selecting the right platform to meet longer-term requirements. There are a huge amount of factors that should be considered in this process, way beyond just native capabilities of a platform, which I’ll go through in this guide.
Also, resist the urge to look at different enterprise solutions right away. Before considering what your options are, you must first do internal research and figure out your specific functional and non-functional requirements. Attempting to review different platforms without a clear understanding of what you need is a surefire way of throttling your requirements – which will have a big impact on the end product in the short-term and long-term future. It’s important to gather your requirements and then look at how each platform matches them – you can then look at third-party integrations and modules and the levels of customisations required etc and evaluate the impact that this has.
To assist with the process, below is a guide designed to help you in selecting an eCommerce solution.
eCommerce Platform Requirements Gathering
As above, understanding your requirements is fundamentally important and it’s key that this is done way in advance of the discovery process, before you start looking at individual platforms. Here are some of the key questions that need to be asked to each department:
- What are the main business objectives behind the re-platforming (e.g. reduce cost, improve scalability, become more agile, eliminate vendor lock-in)?
- What are the key restrictions / bottlenecks in the current eCommerce platform (e.g. time overheads, technical restrictions, inability to scale)?
- What are the critical existing features that your department needs (e.g. system integrations, catalog / product setup requirements, advanced bundling logic, native subscriptions, multi-store architecture, core merchandising features, page building functionality etc)?
- What are the nice to have existing features that your department needs (e.g. advanced native search, rule-based visual merchandising, built-in personalisation features, customer segmentation etc)?
- What are the key new features that your department needs and what is the impact (e.g. endless aisle, more advanced personalisation, more control over the front-end, ability to support headless approach etc)?
- What are the key systems integrations required for launch (e.g. ERP, WMS, OMS, CRM etc)?
- What are the future systems integrations required for phase two (e.g. point of sale, marketplace)?
- What are the key operational requirements (e.g. configurable products, bundled products with a specific logic applied, advanced subscriptions, advanced promotions engine etc)?
These are just a few examples – there’ll be a huge amount of others spanning across the following:
- Integrations – what these integrations look like, the frequency of data transfer and how this is managed (e.g. type of API connection, webhooks etc), the preferred method of integrating (e.g. middleware platform, API integration, flat files etc), fall-back strategies etc.
- Design & UX – requirements around the front-end of the website and how core user journeys, templates and components will be impacted by changes etc.
- Content management – integration with third party CMS (if required – we’ll come onto headless commerce implementations), scheduled publishing, ability to stage content, how content blocks should be managed, how CMS pages should be built, requirements around page building features etc.
- Catalog management & setup – details of current product catalog setup, requirements around things like product types, management of key data, management of catalog across different storefronts, complex pricing logic etc.
- Promotions – requirements around promotions and discounting and anything else loosely related to this (e.g. rewards points, loyalty programs etc).
- Payments – payment methods that need to be supported and any other requirements that come as a result (e.g. data imports of store credit).
- Marketing – any requirements around marketing initiatives, SEO, tracking / tagging, analytics / BI setup / integration, management of campaign content etc.
- Data imports – what needs to be imported and when.
I’d suggest working with a Business Analyst or a consultant to undertake this activity properly – they’ll help to assess and understand the business critical requirements and the non-essential ones. I usually recommend using something like MoScOw ratings to help define the importance of each line item – which splits all requirements into must have, should have, could have, won’t have. I run a lot of these projects and would generally look to use these groupings to define phases and also for splitting out quotations / costings when it comes to reviewing this side of things. You can find out more about how I approach the requirements gathering side of things here.
Cloud Platforms vs On-Premise
A lot of the more modern eCommerce platforms today are cloud-based, reducing the overhead for merchants around platform maintenance, security and server management. These solutions do vary, with some operating as a full platform-as-a-service, where the whole platform is provided to the merchant and fully managed by them and others just provide a cloud-based version where it’s hosted by the platform.
There are various benefits to using a SaaS eCommerce platform, such as:
- Clearer (and often lower) pricing – in most instances, costs for the platform would include platform maintenance, upgrades and patching, server maintenance and monitoring, a CDN, SSL certificates etc
- Reduced maintenance overhead – less platform bugs and management of technical issues at a platform level as all of this is managed as part of the delivery of the service.
- Less security concerns – the platform would generally manage things like patches and would take responsibility for all other on-going security tasks, which would be managed at a platform level. The codebase would generally be locked down too and customisation would be limited to, again, reduce risk in this area.
- Built to scale – most of these platforms have been built on top of an auto-scaling or at least highly scalable architectures designed to allow thousands of stores to scale through peaks.
The main disadvantage of cloud-based platforms is usually around rigidity and them either slowing things down or not allowing for heavy customisation. This is usually a benefit for conventional retailers and I’m a big of reducing customisation to keep a platform stable and scalable, however, if it was a really complex retailer this would definitely be something to look at. Cloud-based platforms that do allow for back-end customisations etc also have an approval layer usually, which can slow things down in terms of releases and increase costs.
This is really top-level but well worth looking into – I also wrote this piece specifically about SaaS eCommerce platforms.
Headless eCommerce / De-Coupling The Front-End
A headless approach to platform development has become a big trend in eCommerce over the last couple of years, with lots of retailers opting to use a commerce platform for back-end elements and then integrate a custom front-end or a separate CMS platform to provide a better front-end customer experience. You would essentially build the front-end through requesting different components / endpoints via API, which allows for a much cleaner and flexible experience.
The term headless is essentially referring to ‘de-coupling’ the front-end of the store from the eCommerce platform and using another solution to serve content. You’re essentially ending up with a presentation layer and a functional layer and retailers often use additional systems as part of these kinds of setups too, such as a PIM for managing product data.
The concept of a ‘micro-services’ approach is to basically de-couple different elements of a system / setup, rather than using a single interdependent application. This approach to commerce stacks has become extremely popular at the enterprise level as it allows for the different elements to be developed independently and it simplifies a lot of processes where not all elements are required. I personally think that this will become a big trend in the mid-market too, with retailers wanting to create an implementation comprising multiple specialist areas that are integrated together. eCommerce platforms like Moltin, Elastic Path, CommerceTools and Spryker are examples that are very focused on building out micro-services based setups, with their build projects often using separate services and reducing the need for areas of the platform when not needed. I’ve spoken to a number of enterprise-level retailers who have started a new project like this and the older platforms are starting to adapt too. Examples of setups I’ve seen recently include Sitecore (content) <> SAP Hybris (commerce), Magento (commerce) <> Adobe Experience Manager (DXP / content), Elastic Path (commerce) <> Contentful (content) front-end and Magento (commerce) <> Acquia (content). This article provides a really good introduction to headless eCommerce setups.
I think we’ll see a lot more of these kinds of setups now and I’ve definitely changed my view on headless over the last few months – having seen it more as a solution for specific cases and more enterprise previously. Oliver Bonas is a really nice example of a mid-market headless eCommerce site (Magento & react front-end) and, now they need to move to Magento 2 or another back-end platform (as a Magento 1.x merchant), they don’t need to re-build the front-end, they simply need to migrate and re-connect the API endpoints.
Customer-Focused Platform Requirements
Customer experience will represent a big part of selecting your platform – ensuring that you’re able to take control of the experience you’re providing and also make use of the required functionality. Things like content personalisation, machine learning across all product listings, customer segmentation, advanced search, advanced content management etc may be do-able, but you need to look at how much work (and the financial overhead) is required to achieve it. One of the key things to look out for in these kinds of exercises is the amount of customisation required, as this is usually the thing that impacts the long-term maintainability and scalability of a platform. This isn’t to say all customisation is bad, but it’s something that needs to be considered throughout.
As part of this process you’ll also need to research into third-party partners as well – for example, there are certain omnichannel features that Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware) offers out of the box, however, Magento Commerce (Enterprise) has a number of close partners that allow you to achieve the same features, but in a more scalable and flexible way. This is just one example, but the same principle applies to a lot of feature requirements and it’s well worth looking at how the native feature compares to the third party solutions available.
Spending time looking at the customer experience features in your backlog is usually a good thing to do as part of this project as well, as in doing so you’ll be able to identify features, capabilities and integrations that your team have asked for, that can be built into the spec for the new build.
Platform Technical Requirements
It’s important that you map out the technical requirements for the project, as this will contribute massively to the decision making process. This is where you’ll need to be vigilant with features and key requirements as it’ll impact the scope of the project and the cost dramatically. These feature requirements will need to be considered from a technical perspective and how they work with other requirements and the overhead they add to the team and the platform.
One of the most common issues I’ve seen in the past with retailers is choosing a platform that can essentially meet the requirements, but they’ve not done the due-diligence into the way things actually then work. For example something like bundling may be possible, however it may need a lot of customisation to work in the way you need for reporting / integrations – which then impacts other areas (maybe pricing needs to be calculated in a different way, which passed the wrong information to third-party systems) and results in more customisation. Things like this often start small and then end up causing problems as you scale so the more time that’s allocated to the technical due-diligence side, the better.
Another key consideration around re-platforming (and definitely one of the biggest) is about how the different technology fits with your existing team and your existing stack. For example, if you have a team of PHP developers and are considering a move to Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Shopify Plus or SAP Hybris (CX), it’s going to be far more disruptive and have a far bigger overhead than if you moved to a platform that’s more relevant to your team’s experience and vision (e.g. an open source commerce platform). This needs to be factored into the requirements (still using the MoScOw system).
The same applies with integrations – your team may favour a flat files <> SFTP route for key integrations, but the platforms you’re looking at recommend a middleware platform or an iPaaS (integration platform as a service) – this is unlikely to be a showstopper as most platforms are pretty flexible, but it’s worth considering upfront.
When you’re doing this, I’d suggest creating a spreadsheet with all of the technical requirements with details of why they’re needed and which members of staff need it. Once these are have been completed – they’ll help to populate the functional spec.
Platform Process Requirements
Another consideration is how well the different platforms will fit your existing processes – for example for of the more enterprise-level platforms, such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware), have approval layers, which can impact the speed at which your team can work. Some platforms are more agile than others and if you have planned development work for the year ahead, you may want to ensure that the platform can meet your timescale requirements.
Here are some other key questions that need to be asked.
How could customer acquisition activity be impacted by the new platform?
Discovery is a crucial part of the shopping journey. You need to know how shoppers are finding their way into your stores, so you can determine how you can retain your existing presence and build on it in the long-term.
A good example of a requirement that may be dictated by customer acquisition marketing could be CMS capabilities, as paid search performance is often dictated by a merchant’s ability to create strong landing pages quickly and easily. Most enterprise-level platforms are generally quite weak with content management, as they’re generally more focused on providing powerful eCommerce features, rather than content.
That said, it’s an area that all big platforms are working on and they’re all getting better. I’ll come onto the trend around headless commerce later on in this guide, but platforms are definitely getting better. At the time of writing the following changes have been made recently:
- Magento has introduced Page Builder, which provides a lot more freedom around managing content across all core templates and building landing pages etc. Magento also promotes a headless approach to content management and there are various sites on the platform that have developed integrations with Drupal, Adobe Experience Manager or have a custom react front-end for example.
- Shopify Plus use sections to make things a bit easier in this area and they also have a variety of apps that can add value in this area
- BigCommerce have opened up certain APIs to move towards a headless approach and also have a native integration with WordPress.
You may also have requirements around marketplace integration or feeds for PLA / Google Shopping or affiliate marketing which aren’t standard / OOTB. Email marketing is also likely to be a consideration, do they have an existing integration with your ESP and any automation platforms you use? Are you using any additional CRM systems that need to be factored into this? All of these considerations are important and this is another reason why you need to create a task force comprising more than just the core people using the platform every day.
SEO is obviously a very big consideration and not all of these platforms are as strong as each other in this area. Most of the enterprise platforms are quite poor out of the box, in terms of technical SEO – some platforms (e.g. Magento Commerce) have modules available to support this side of things, but platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud and SAP Hybris will require customisation and feature definition from your team. Things like dynamic pages being indexable / crawlable, international SEO setup, product catalog structure, URL structure etc are examples of things will be a responsibility of the retailer to request, so creating a spec around SEO feature requirements early on is also important. Here are some of the requirements you may have in this area:
- Canonical URLs across the site (implemented in an effective way)
- Control over XML sitemaps
- Representative version of products that have multiple variants (size, colour etc)
- Control over page-level meta data
- Robust user-generated content features (probably third party)
- Ability to manage redirects
- Pagination handling
- Options around indexing of dynamic pages (usually requires additional development work)
These are just some of the obvious considerations for the SEO side of re-platforming – there will be plenty more and they will differ depending on the platform.
What channels or devices do your customers use when browsing and buying your products?
You not only have to figure out what people are buying, but how they’re buying them. Are people looking at your website using their computers or their mobile devices? Do they swing by your brick-and-mortar store prior to completing a purchase?
Get the answers to these questions, then determine how you can deliver the best shopping experience on the new website. Say you’ve discovered that most of your customers are now using their mobile devices to browse your website – this insight tells you that your eCommerce platform needs to have robust mobile capabilities focused on providing a positive browsing experience. You might also want to improve the way that your website is integrated with your in-store experience, which would be achievable with all of the platforms (although not all of them have omni-channel capabilities out of the box).
Mobile optimisation and the PWA trend in eCommerce
A lot of enterprise retailers are now looking towards things like progressive web apps and more flexible front-end frameworks (often via headless implementations of platforms) to provide an optimal mobile experience. A progressive web app (or PWA) works in-line with how an app would, in terms of being able to function offline and provide push notifications etc, but still operates in the browser.
PWAs aren’t supported by all browsers at this point, however, they represent a big trend in the eCommerce trend and anyone building a new website should be looking at factoring this into considerations. There are a number of companies really pushing this side of things and platforms like Magento have invested heavily in building PWA frameworks and functions. VueStorefront from Divante is a good example of a PWA-focused initiative which is starting to get pretty mainstream, as well as Deity (similar) and solutions like Gatsby.js.
How do they want their orders to be fulfilled and managed?
This is a particularly important question if you’re running a multi-channel business and you do things like ship from stores, click & collection, endless aisle etc. Things like fulfillment options and connections will need to be considered.
You also need to think about integrating the new platform with all of the different systems you’re using around fulfillment, inventory and warehousing – which can add a significant amount of work if there’s not an existing integration.
Most large retail websites are likely to need to integrate with a combination of systems, such as an order management system (OMS), warehouse management system (WMS or systems from 3PLs), a PIM (product information management), an ERP etc – the approach to these needs to be considered at some point also. E.g. if your business has a specific mandate around the approach and needs to use an iPaaS or ESB, you need to think about the amount of work that’s going to be needed for this or whether the platform has some form of offering etc. This section is very top-level, but this all needs to be considered.
Do they want or need special shopping features?
Depending on your business, you may need special shopping features to enrich the experience of your customers. Example: for some retailers, holding flash sales or private shopping events is a big part of their business. For others, features like gift registries and advanced wishlists are must-haves.
It’s also important to consider where shoppers are coming from, as this could determine whether you’ll need special site capabilities. If you have lots of international visitors, allowing visitors to view products in local currencies would go a long way towards improving how they browse and buy on your site. Or it may be that you need the ability to have different storefronts for different regions – allowing for different shipping options, currencies, catalogs etc.
Some platforms have such features built-in, while others may require integrations or even bespoke solutions. In any case, be sure to list down any special requirements so you can bring them up with your eCommerce company or agency later on.
Personalisation in eCommerce
The biggest area that I see requested or discussed that falls into this bracket is personalisation – the ability to provide more tailored experiences for customers either in real-time or based on them meeting set criteria. Salesforce Commerce Cloud, for example, supports both tailoring content to groups of customers (defined based on areas such as purchase behaviour) and personalisation via Einstein (their AI-based recommendation engine). This has been a big selling point for them over the last ~12 months and I expect Einstein to get a lot better as they integrate it into the core of the platform more.
Magento, Shopify, SAP CX / Hybris etc all have features around grouping customers together and providing specific content to them, but they don’t support real 1:1 personalisation.
Generally, most retailers looking at personalisation in an advanced way would look to use a specialist third party anyway – for example:
- NOSTO (introductory personalisation suite generally focused on the mid-market)
- Monetate (personalisation suite)
- Rich Relevance (personalisation suite)
- Adobe Experience Manager / AEM (digital experience platform)
- Bloomreach (digital experience platform)
- Amplience (digital experience platform)
Generally only really enterprise retailers would look to use a DXP (digital experience platform) as these can be hugely expensive and you need a strong, focused team to be able to get the most out of them, but the other resources are more focused on just personalising product sets and content.
How do customers communicate with your brand?
Let’s not forget about customer relationship management. Being able to effectively touch base with shoppers is crucial to your store’s success.
Identify all the ways in which shoppers can communicate with your existing website and also the things that you’d like to build into an improved version. These could include email, phone, live chat, and in-person interactions. See to it that your provider supports all these methods, so you can keep communication open between your company and customers.
Assess your existing systems and solutions
Think about the solutions and systems that you’re already using. These could include your email marketing program, your point-of-sale system, payment gateway etc. Make a list of all the programs that you’re using that are related to eCommerce and then determine if and how they’ll work with your new eCommerce platform.
In some cases, you may be able to integrate the platform with your existing solutions, but sometimes, you’ll either need to switch to a program that works better with your eCommerce software, or work with your provider’s built-in solution.
For example, Magento and Shopify Plus (being the two most mainstream solutions I’m including in this piece) have existing third party integrations with various point-of-sale systems, making it easy for multichannel merchants to connect their offline POS with their eCommerce program. On the other hand, platforms such as Demandware (Salesforce Commerce Cloud) and SAP also have their own solutions.
Same goes for email (e.g. Salesforce Commerce Cloud <> Salesforce Marketing Cloud), CMS / DXP (Magento <> Adobe Experience Manager), PIM (CommerceTools and SAP) and payment processing (Shopify Payments). While some solutions integrate with a lot of existing providers or have native capabilities, other platforms aren’t as flexible, and you’ll need to either go with their preferred solution or create a custom integration that’ll work with what you already have.
At this point, you’ll need to determine if you’re willing and able to switch out your existing programs. If you’d rather stick to what you have now, then go for an eCommerce platform that lets you do just that. But if you don’t have any problems with changing providers and migrating to a new system, then you should be fine with a solution that has select integration partners of has such programs built-in.
Set a budget for the project
Many companies only look at the surface when budgeting for an eCommerce platform. They think of things such as licensing fees, set-up costs and development, but fail to consider costs for maintenance or the expenses that come with integrations, workarounds and development contingency.
When budgeting for your eCommerce solution it’s important that you also account for indirect costs and plan for a post-launch roadmap. You may also have expenses for applying fixes once the warranty from the systems integrator has expired and there’s also likely to be more budget required for a support retainer / SLA.
Here are a few things you should consider:
Costs of the platform itself – Pricing between different platforms vary greatly. Some solutions have set licensing fees, while others charge fees depending on your sales and traffic. Magento Commerce, for example, starts ~$23,000 licensing fee (goes up considerably based on GMV brackets – some of their biggest customers would be paying $xm per year), while for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, fees are based solely on the targets you set and commit against, based again on GMV. Whereas a solution like Spryker is based on developer seats, amongst other things.
There are also eCommerce platforms that offer various editions or deployment forms, so costs will depend on the specific solution that you choose. For example, Magento has both on-premise and Cloud versions of the platform and they also still provide the open source option. SAP CX (Hybris) also has on-premise and Cloud versions and Oracle still supports ATG but also now have Oracle Commerce Cloud.
Cost structures for different platforms vary massively, here are some of the core costs models:
- GMV licensing – based on the turnover or estimated turnover of the store (e.g. Salesforce Commerce Cloud)
- Up-front licensing – license paid up-front with no additional costs (e.g. Shopware)
- Combination of GMV / up-front agreement – an agreement based on where the retailer is at the start of the licensing agreement and can commit to a longer period (e.g. Magento or SAP)
- Based on users / seats – pricing based on number of developer seats (e.g. Spryker)
- Based on usage – licensing costs based on traffic levels (e.g. Workarea)
- Monthly fee – fee paid monthly as part of an on-going relationship (e.g. Shopify Plus or BigCommerce)
Design, development & integration costs – The design and development costs around re-platforming are likely to be one of the highest expenditures for the project – most enterprise-level eCommerce builds cost between £100,000 and £5,000,000 if you choose to use an external agency / systems integrator. Obviously, there are lots of edge cases as well, with some website builds coming closer to £20,000,000.
One of the most important things to consider is how you want your development to be resourced. Will you be outsourcing the job using your existing team or building a new in-house team? If the latter, will you be bringing in contractors or hiring a full development team. You’ll also need to think about the structure of the project team – you’ll more than likely want the following:
- Programme Manager / Lead Project Manager
- Project Manager(s)
- Solutions Architect(s)
- Business Analyst(s)
- Testing / QA team
- Development team (front-end and back-end)
- Design resource
I’ve worked on projects that have been fully outsourced to an agency, partially outsourced (agency development and in-house / contracted) and fully in-house. If you’re bringing in agencies you need to consider that you’re likely to pay a minimum of £700 per day and if you’re bringing in platform specialist consultants, it’ll be £500 – £1,000 per day. A lot of contracted project teams are 5-10 people, comprising testers / QA, PM’s, solution architects etc. These teams often move around together on large-scale re-platforming projects.
This is more of a business decision and it’ll come down to future business objectives and the level of skill you have currently and need in-house in the future, as well as budget.
Maintenance – You need to think about how much it’ll cost to keep your store running once you’ve launched. Maintenance fees can include everything from on-going development and dev ops work to things like platform support, SEO, analytics, data management etc. You need to understand rough costs around support contracts and SLAs before you decide on a platform and suppliers.
Integrations and/or bespoke solutions – Consider the integrations or bespoke solutions that you’ll require. Naturally, existing integrations or modules will cost less than developing tailored solutions, so you’ll need to factor in such costs when comparing different platforms. If you’re working on implementing new systems as part of the project, such as a new ERP or warehousing system, you may need an external contractor / consultant to help with this too.
Additional migration costs – Also take into consideration the amount of money and time it’ll take to switch to a new eCommerce system. Chances are you’re going to have additional costs around running two platforms in parallel, running more test servers etc, an extra resource for manual work, consultants around things like SEO etc.
Enterprise eCommerce Platform Comparison
Once you have a solid idea of what you need in an eCommerce platform and how you want your team to be structured, it’s time to do your research on the solutions available to you.
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is the go-to these days for enterprise eCommerce platform positioning and represents a great reference point. In this guide I’ll be focusing on a selection of platforms that I’ve worked with and that are capable of meeting the average retailer’s requirements. This guide is also mostly focused on B2C requirements, although when assessing the different platforms, I’ve also referenced some of the B2B features for some of the platforms (particularly Magento and SAP CX).
There are an increasingly high number of enterprise eCommerce platforms in the market – which has changed from when I first wrote this piece a few years ago, when there were just a few. I’m focusing on platforms that I’ve seen as relevant in the market that I cover (mid-market – mid-enterprise) and relevant to the average B2C enterprise retailer (I’ve also tried to include some emerging platforms), such as Magento, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, SAP CX (Hybris), Oracle Commerce Cloud, Shopify Plus, Spryker, Workarea and Intershop. This section will provide a brief overview of these solutions and offer insights into what they have to offer.
Magento Commerce (Cloud & On-Premise)
Magento is arguably one of the most agile platforms out there. It has a huge range of existing modules and integrations for mainstream solutions and key third parties, reducing the cost of extending your site, the need for customisation and the time-to-market for new features (which is definitely an issue with other enterprise platforms). Magento do also still have the Open Source / Community version, which is free to use and has a lot of the same core functionality. That said, enterprise-level merchants will want to use the Commerce Edition, as it comes with platform support (be it very basic) and a host of strong features that most would consider a ‘must’ or at least worth the initial license fee (depending on the size of the retailer). Some of the Commerce only features include:
- Magento Page Builder
- Customer Segmentation
- Customer Attributes
- Visual Merchandising
- Magento BI (included in the licensing cost)
The same goes for Magento’s community and eco-system, which is one of the key benefits of using the platform. Magento has a huge developer community and there are lots of great sytems integration partners all over the world too. Although Magento doesn’t have as many clients at the top end of eCommerce as some of the other platforms, it has more merchants than the others and there are some retailers doing huge amounts of trade on the platform.
Another big pro that Magento’s community brings is the ease of building an in-house team / capability. This is never an easy task, but Magento has a lot more developers and there are various ways that a retailer could build a dedicated development team – which doesn’t exist with some of the other platforms I’ll look at.
In terms of built-in features, Magento Commerce offers powerful capabilities when it comes to marketing, customer loyalty, customer experience, and business productivity. Popular features include the range of native product types (e.g. bundled products, grouped products, downloadable products etc), customer loyalty and personalisation options (customer segmentation, rewards, private sales) and lots more. Magento’s market has become increasingly associated with B2B also, where it’s becoming the leader for B2B retailers looking to transform their business but remain agile. Some of the features released as part of the B2B module include:
- Custom product catalogs and pricing
- Quote management
- Ability to assign purchasing roles
- Ability to assign purchasing budgets
- Advanced customer management
Magento 2 was heavily criticised when it was first released and it took a long time for it to become stable. As of 2.2, Magento is in a much better place and most of the merchants that I work with are happy using the platform and with where the platform is. Magento also released a Cloud version of the platform ~18 months ago, which was also heavily criticised. I recently did some due-diligence on the cloud version for a client and it’s also in a much stronger place. Although Cloud still has some work to be done, it’s looking stable and represents a good option for merchants, reducing the time needed to manage servers / hosting suppliers and also overall costs.
At a glance
Strengths – Magento has lots of powerful built-in features and is also highly versatile – even with Cloud. This allows merchants to be more nimble when they want to scale or add new features and functionalities. Magento also has a huge developer community (across agencies and freelance / contract developers), making it easy to get support. Magento’s multi-store features are also very strong in comparison to some of its competitors.
Magento’s quickly becoming a market-leader in the B2B space, which is definitely more in-line with where I’d say the platform sits. Overall, I’d say that Magento has moved up the food chain and is ideally suited to complex B2C retailers and B2B retailers looking to remain agile in the enterprise.
Weaknesses – Magento’s biggest weakness often comes from it’s biggest strength, which is how customisable it is. If you work with the wrong development partner, you can often find yourself with a very customised Magento implementation which becomes harder to maintain and scale. The other weaknesses (compared to the likes of Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud), come from the maintenance overhead – with retailers needing to allow for platform upgrades, security patches etc.
Integrations, partners, and experts – Magento has a wide ecosystem of developers, experts and agencies. Magento has existing integrations with most commonly used third-party solutions and merchants definitely benefit from this.
Additionally, Magento Commerce merchants benefit from excellent community support and some merchants find that they can fix issues themselves just by tapping into the platform’s ecosystem.
There are also plenty of experts and agencies ready to assist Magento merchants in various capacities, so if your business has any special requirements, or if you simply need help setting up, running, or maintaining your store, you can easily find an individual or company that can handle such tasks for you.
Examples of Magento Commerce Stores: Paul Smith (Magento 2 on-premise), Missguided (Magento 2 on-premise), Helly Hanse (Magento 2 Cloud), Paperchase (Magento 2 on-premise), Made.com (Magento 1 on-premise), END Clothing (Magento 2 on-premise).
Magento Commerce Licensing Cost – Starts from $23,000 per year for on-premise. Cloud Starter available from £2,000 per month and Cloud normally starts from around $36,000 per year.
Enterprise Magento Partners – Born Group, Vaimo, Redbox Digital, Corra, Lyons CG, Blue Acorn, Inviqa.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware)
One notable characteristic of Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) is its truly enterprise platform-as-a-service offering. The Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform solution has always been designed to enable merchants to seamlessly trade across digital and physical channels, without worrying about maintenance, servers, security etc. There are a number of other platforms moving towards this type of offering today, but Salesforce Commerce Cloud remains the leader and was arguably the original.
Out of the box, Salesforce Commerce Cloud offers an integrated platform which has the capabilities to unify eCommerce, order management, POS and offline store operations in one hosted solution. As part of the order management and omni-channel offering, users can easily offer services such as click-and-collect and ship from store. Salesforce Commerce Cloud also provides tools that in-store associates can use to provide an endless aisle experience, via the POS.
At a glance
Strengths – Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s strong focus on omnichannel makes it an attractive solution for modern B2C retailers who are looking for a smooth, end-to-end commerce solution. The SaaS-based nature of the solution also means merchants won’t have to worry about server maintenance or any other associated aspects – which has generally been the biggest appeal for merchants, as well as the proven scalability. Demandware was built specifically for enterprise-level retail and they are very good on the assurance side, as a result of their approval layer for technical releases and various other inputs from them. Since the Salesforce acquisition, the platform has continued to develop, with the introduction of Einstein being a big one for retailers wanting to build machine learning and personalisation into their platform. The recent acquisition of Cloudcraze is the other thing that is intriguing, which is likely to take Salesforce’s commerce offering into the B2B space.
Weaknesses – as with most of the enterprise-only platforms, Salesforce Commerce Cloud doesn’t have a huge expert community, so getting support or development work done quickly can be a challenge – taking a team of developers in-house would be a lot harder with a platform like Salesforce Commerce Cloud. The integration partners and consultants around SCC are also generally very expensive compared to some of the other platforms.
And Salesforce Commerce Cloud being a SaaS solution can be a disadvantage, because it may limit your freedom and speed when it comes to site customisation and development. Since the technology is controlled by Salesforce, there are some limitations on the features you can implement and there’s an approval layer, which can add a time overhead to site changes and releases.
Integrations, partners, and experts – Salesforce Commerce Cloud has the LINK Marketplace, which showcases its technology and service partners. Once again though, it’s not as large or comprehensive as with Magento. In addition, even some very mainstream solutions will require a custom integration, as Salesforce Commerce Cloud isn’t designed for the masses.
Enterprise Salesforce Commerce Cloud integration Partners – Born Group, Astound Commerce, Greenlight Commerce, Accenture, PWC, Javelin Group.
Examples of Salesforce Commerce Cloud stores: New Balance, TATE Modern, Adidas, Callaway, Jack Wills, Brooks Brothers, Clarins, Converse.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud Licensing Cost – The cost of the platform varies, as Demandware charges fees based on the merchant’s forecasted sales. Based on my limited experience with the platform, a Salesforce Commerce Cloud customer that has annual sales between $20 million and $500 million (very much SCC’s target client) can expect licensing fees starting from around $200,000 and then progress well into the millions per year, with additional costs for other services and expansion. The Salesforce Commerce Cloud fees are based on the retailer’s commits, which can also result in penalty fees if the GMV commits aren’t reached.
SAP Hybris (CX)
When I originally wrote this piece, it was focused on the on-premise version of SAP Hybris, now we’re looking broadly at the SAP eCommerce platforms, including the newer cloud-based platform, SAP Commerce Cloud. SAP’s commerce platforms all come with multi-site, multi-language, and multi-currency features out of the box, making it an ideal solution for retailers who have a strong international presence or are looking to expand overseas. In addition to this, the platforms are designed to allow for complex data management between multiple sites and catalogs, which is why they’re often selected for B2B projects.
At a glance
SAP’s eCommerce platforms have always been designed for large, complex businesses – Hybris has often been referred to as a commerce framework, given that most implementations are heavily customised to support business logic and bespoke functionality.
SAP Commerce Cloud sits well in the enterprise bracket, with costs usually considerably higher than most of the other platforms looked at here. The platform comes with a host of powerful features as part of the core and optional modules, such as a new drag and drop CMS, built-in personalisation features, advanced rule-based merchandising functionality and a range of product management features. Other notable features include advanced fulfilment capabilities (for implementing things like click-and-collect, partial delivery, multi-warehouse etc), support for complex product types, centralised product and content management for running stores across multiple channels and more.
Strengths – SAP’s built-in multi-site capabilities make it a great solution for retailers with multiple brands or international stores. The same applies to B2B due to native support for key requirements such as customer-specific catalogs and pricing, quotations, customer roles etc. Its centralised content and product management features are also a big plus for merchants who want to unify their digital and physical retail operations. SAP’s various commerce platform options power some of ecommerce’s global leaders, largely as a result of their ability to handle key peaks and scalability in general. Most retailers who move to Hybris do so with an objective around scalability.
Weaknesses – Cost of ownership is generally very high with the SAP platforms, with on-going development, platform upgrades and the licensing costs being very high compared to platforms like Magento, for example. The integration partners also generally come with high day rates also. My experience of working with Hybris retailers has also been that remaining agile can be tough – with the overhead required to make customisations or integrate third parties being a lot higher than other platforms.
Integration partners – With a very limited community around the platform, there are fewer developers around and fewer agencies to assist you with implementation and maintenance (again, compared to platforms like Magento or Salesforce). Most of the SAP partners that I’ve been exposed to are large IT companies or very enterprise-focused systems integrators – examples of SAP Hybris development partners include TCS, Greenlight, BORN, Accenture etc.
Examples of SAP Hybris merchants / stores: Benefit, EE, GHD, Mulberry, Aldo, LK Bennett, Dr Martens, Rapha, Barbour, Sainsburys, JD Williams.
Costs with SAP Commerce platforms – realistically, license fees with the SAP platforms are going to start in the $x00,000 bracket and can very easily range into the millions. SAP have various models for pricing (often different for the different platforms), including pay-per-use, long-term. fixed licensing, and revenue share.
ATG is a powerful platform built for large retailers. Its flexible architecture allows merchants to implement integrations and minimise costs, while its multi-site functionality allows businesses to manage products, categories and assets between different ecommerce stores.
In addition to standard features such as customer segmentation, and search and guided navigation, ATG also has built-in big data capabilities that enable merchants to deeply analyze shopper behavior and gain valuable insights and metrics.
At a glance
Strengths – ATG’s flexible and unified architecture enables merchants to scale efficiently. Its solid set of features, along with advanced segmentation and big data capabilities allow retailers to provide compelling, personalised, and data-driven shopping experiences.
Weaknesses – According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for E-Commerce report, many clients who considered ATG had concerns about its total cost of ownership, indicating that merchants may end up spending more by choosing the platform.
Integrations, partners, and experts – While Oracle does have its PartnerNetwork, navigating it is difficult, and even requires its own FAQ page. Needless to say, it may take time and a some effort to find the right ATG partner. As for integrations, Oracle provides an ATG Web Services and Integration Framework Guide for creating custom applications. They do also provide support.
Examples of ATG merchants / stores: John Lewis, Games Workshop, CVS, Autozone, Littlewoods, Toms, Lacoste.
ATG Cost – Oracle’s price list indicates that the license price for Oracle Web Commerce is $500,000. More capabilities can be added at additional costs.
IBM Websphere is one of the go-to choices of large retailers. According to Gartner, over 60% of the platform’s clientbase consist of businesses that make north of $100 million in revenue.
IBM Websphere has four product editions: There’s Commerce on Cloud, an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to quickly go to market; WebSphere Commerce Express, for midsize companies who want an affordable way to establish a digital presence; there’s also WebSphere Commerce Enterprise, which is made for high-volume merchants running multiple sites; and finally, WebSphere Commerce Professional, a customer interaction platform that lets midsize companies implement personalised, cross-channel commerce.
At a glance
Strengths – IBM WebSphere is flexible. In addition to its four product editions, the software is offered in three deployment forms: on-premise, SaaS or cloud implementation. IBM WebSphere also comes with great built-in features that allow merchants to sell across multiple channels.
Weaknesses – IBM WebSphere offers limited storefronts, which means you’ll likely have to spend a significant amount on custom design and development. Reports indicate that integrating software assets and dealing with different IBM divisions can be complex, which adds a cost overhead.
Integrations, partners, and experts – You can find pre-built integrations on IBM’s Commerce Business Partner Solutions page. Although it’s worth noting that your choices are very limited, which once again could mean having to create custom-made applications that fit your needs. There aren’t loads of IBM WebSphere developers either, so you’ll have to take time searching or training someone up.
Examples of IBM Websphere merchants / stores: Topman, IKEA, Selfridges, Zara, GAME, Boots, Debenhams, Home Depot.
IBM Websphere Cost – Pricing varies greatly depending on deployment mode and product edition. It’s best to consult with an IBM representative to get an accurate idea of how much the platform would cost your business.
Intershop comes with all the modern features you’d expect from an enterprise solution, including omni-channel management, marketing and merchandising features, product information management, analytics and more. It also has strong organisational features, allowing for centralised management of subsidiaries, sales channels, and partner networks, as well as easy modeling for any organisational structure.
Intershop has three deployment models: Cloud, Managed, and Enterprise. Businesses can switch from one model to the next, depending on their needs. If necessary, Intershop merchants can also combine deployment models (ex: hosting your core business platform in your own data center while using Intershop’s cloud solution for new market segments).
Strengths – Intershop is quite flexible when it comes to deployment, allowing users to choose where and how to run the software. Its built-in omnichannel and organizational features make it a good platform for large merchants selling multiple channels.
Weaknesses – Reports indicate that Intershop hasn’t provided a clear roadmap on product releases to its customers. Another major drawback is the lack of available professional services.
Integrations, partners, and experts – While Intershop does have its own partner network, the number of experts and agencies specializing in the platform still pale in comparison compared to competitors like Magento. This poses the same problem for merchants who need consultants, integrations, and special solutions for their stores.
Examples of Intershop merchants / stores: Swarovski, Mercedes Benz, hp, T:Mobile, Jacobs, TomTom, Majestic, BMW, Staples.
Intershop Cost – Pricing information for Intershop isn’t readily available. It’s best to get in touch with a representative to get an idea of how much the platform will cost you.
Released in 2016, Spryker stands out from the crowd for a number of reasons, not least of which is its developer seat pricing model. Spryker is very much focused on the enterprise market and it’s biggest competitor is likely to be SAP Hybris, with it being seen as more of a platform for complex, bespoke development for retailers doing high volumes of orders with high levels of complexity.
At a glance
Spryker is largely seen as a commerce framework rather than an eCommerce platform or shopping cart, with developers building on top of the platform via existing modules or bespoke functionality. Spryker is also geared towards micro-services type setups, with open APIs allowing for headless implementations and integrations with other core parts of a broader platform setup.
I’ve spoken to a few people about Spryker in the past and the key things that have been referenced as being ‘outstanding’ are the underlying architecture (allowing for excellent performance) and the quality of the codebase (very modern codebase built for scaling without compromise).
Spryker costs: There is no revenue or usage element to pricing, and instead, clients pay per developer seat. Licensing costs €1,950 per developer per month, with discounts available for larger setups and different payment structures. SLA-based support pushes the cost up to €2,800 per developer per month. As far as I’ve heard and seen, Spryker builds start from around $500k and go well into the millions.
Examples of Spryker stores: Hilti, Certeo, Tom Tailor
Spryker Integration Partners: Inviqa, Flagbit, CGI, Netshops
Strengths: A lean, agile framework for rapid development of new channels and stores, with a strong focus on future trends such as micro-services architectures and IoT.
Weaknesses: Very focused on the high enterprise-end of the market and retailers with lots of complexity. Spryker currently has a good footprint in this space in Germany, but aren’t as well-known or well adopted in other markets yet.
Shopify Plus wasn’t previously included in this list and wasn’t a big player in the enterprise bracket, however, I decided to add it on following a number of larger retailers moving onto the platform. Known for it’s agility, low cost of ownership and ease-of-use, Shopify Plus has become a real contender in the B2C platforms space and they boast well-known brands such as Kylie Cosmetics, Gymshark, Rebecca Minkoff, Triangl, Emma Bridgewater, Dr Axe, Bulletproof, Victoria Beckham, MVMT Watches and lots more. These are just a few examples and there are some even bigger brands that are in the process of moving over.
The recent growth of the Shopify Plus platform has been very clear to see, with lots of big brands making the move from platforms like Magento 1 and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. The simplified SaaS nature of the platform results in a cleaner, more efficient way of working which is often what results in retailers starting to consider Shopify Plus.
Although Shopify Plus’s primary market is with simple B2C retailers, they’re moving up the food chain fast, as a result of improving the native capabilities around multi-store setup and building relationships with technology partners that can help them to support more complex store setups, such as Akeneo.
At a glance
Strengths – The main selling point of Shopify Plus is the unrivaled agility of the platform and the low cost of ownership, with pricing starting from just $2,000 per month and remaining in comparison to rival platforms. Shopify Flow is another big selling point – allowing for automation of lots of tasks and helping to reduce the costs around customisations etc. Shopify Flow now also allows for integrations with third-party technology partners, which again, helps to reduce the need for development in areas and keeps costs down. Shopify also have lots of other great features that come from their focus on commoditising innovation, such as Shopify AR, core integrations with other sales channels, such as Facebook, Amazon etc. They’ve also recently introduced a wholesale channel, which is quite effective and, again, very simple to work with. They also have various omni-channel features, with the POS being the most obvious one.
Weaknesses – Shopify supports lots of core eCommerce requirements out-of-the-box (merchandising, promotions, different product types etc) but does fall short in some areas (such as proper multi-store, complex product setups, bundling, filtering etc) – that said, Shopify’s network of technology partners does help to counter most of these limitations. Some examples of limitations include lack of native capabilities for managing multi-store setups (although this is going to get better soon), international in general (payments, managing data etc) the variants limit (limited to 100 variants for each product), multi-shipment (not currently natively supported) and API limits (in terms of volume limits and restrictions in places)
Shopify Plus Integration partners – like Magento, Shopify Plus have a strong network of integration partners, ranging from single-platform specialist agencies to large IT firms. Examples of integration partners that are in-line with the enterprise end of the market include We Make Websites, Ryan Foster, BVAccel, MediaSpa, One Rockwell, Corra and Inviqa. The first three of those agencies are long-standing Shopify-focused agencies, whereas the others are larger integrators who have worked more with other platforms and have developed an offering around Shopify Plus.
Examples of Shopify Plus stores – Kylie Cosmetics (rumoured to be turning over more than £500m through the Shopify platform), Dr Axe / Ancient Nutrition, Chubbies, Rebecca Minkoff, Victoria Beckham, Bulletproof.
Getting the information you need to make the best decision
Reading up on eCommerce platforms is just a small step when it comes to evaluating different solutions. In order to really get an idea of which platform to choose, conversations with internal stakeholders, solution providers, and outside experts must be conducted. If possible, try to get an actual demo of the product so you can see it in action.
Talking to internal stakeholders
When talking to relevant team members, be sure to cover:
- The specific things they liked or disliked about each solution
- The adjustments they’ll have to make to adapt to the new platform
- Training or resources they need to learn their way around the software
- Additional costs they incurred
Talking to solution providers
Here are some talking points to bring up with the solution providers you’re considering
- Standard and out of the box features
- Integrations available to you
- How much will their solution cost you (and additional costs)
- The amount of time and work is required to get their software up and running (for different teams and team members)
- The amount of time, money, and work required to maintain the software (for different teams and team members)
- Where you can find resources, developers, and expert support for their solution
- Number of systems integrators that they think are suitable for the project
- Their existing clients
- A demo of the platform
Talking to outside experts
It’s always recommended that you get input from an outside expert who can provide an objective opinion on the solutions that you’re considering. Points to bring up:
- How the solution compares to other platforms they’ve worked with
- The amount of time, money, and work required to get the software up and running (vs other platforms)
- The amount of time, money, and work required to maintain the software (vs other platforms)
- Where you can find resources, developers, and expert support for their solution
- Whether or not they recommend the solution for your business
Compare and evaluate (ideally with your team and a solutions expert)
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve gathered ample notes and insights into the solutions that you’re considering. It’s not always easy to get an “apples to apples” comparison, but try to get a side by side view of the different platforms when it comes to general categories such as out of the box features, integrations, customisation, costs, etc.
As previously mentioned, selecting an eCommerce solution should be a team effort. Make sure that all relevant team members are part of this step, and if possible, include a solutions expert in the process so you can get a complete and well-rounded idea of what platform would work best for you.
You need to also think about your longer-term plans. For example, brands like Missguided, Harvey Nichols and Made.com have very strong in-house development teams, which they’ve built over time whilst also using agency resource. These three brands are all using Magento Enterprise, which is a lot more mainstream than platforms like IBM WebSphere or Oracle ATG, because there are very few developers who specialise in such platforms, unlike Magento. That’s why if you’re going with a solution that doesn’t have a large developer or support community, you may have to invest in hiring and training in-house staff to handle the necessary jobs.
Need help finding an agency or selecting a platform?
If you’re looking for support in selecting a platform or doing due-diligence on certain ones, I’ve been working in this area for a number of years and am more than happy to either support the exercise or provide advice / guidance. I’ve worked extensively on platform evaluation and have hands-on experience with most of the platforms above. Feel free to email me on email@example.com should you want to discuss a project or just need advice.
Here are some other suggestions for validating the platform fit:
Talk to the platform provider – Consult with your solution provider and ask them how you can find experts who specialise in their platform. Do they have a partner network? Who would they recommend? Be aware that if they’re partner-lead, there may be bias in why they’re recommending certain partners.
Attend their events – Some eCommerce companies hold events to educate and engage their communities. Consider attending these functions so you can network with potential agencies and experts.
Speak to eCommerce consultants and consultancies – Like me, there are lots of eCommerce consultants around that really know the platforms inside and out. I’d just suggest validating their experience on projects like this though and the platforms themselves.
Ask an expert – I always get asked questions around platform suitability on Magento and there are lots of more knowledgeable people than me. Reaching out to people that know the platform well and asking them questions is another good option.
Referrals – Get in touch with other eCommerce merchants using the platforms you’re considering and ask if they could refer you to experts and partners who can assist you in choosing, setting up, or maintaining the software.
Good luck, and if you need more information on any of the solutions or pointers discussed above, feel free to comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.