Shopify Plus International – Workarounds for Limitations with Multi-Store

Shopify Plus is a hugely popular eCommerce platform at the moment, having seen considerable growth in the SMB and mid-market platform space over the last couple of years – undoubtedly accelerated with the impending Magento 1.x end of life announcement.

Although Shopify Plus is unquestionably popular in the non-complex B2C space, there are a number of areas that tend to test the platform, with international still being the biggest of these. I’ve worked on a number of international Shopify Plus stores recently (at different stages) and I’ve been involved in lots of meetings focused on achieving requirements of various levels of complexity (I’ve had a lot of great input from Tim and Piers from WeMakeWebsites in particular over the last couple of years), so I thought I’d create this guide to outline the different options.

Although Shopify Plus recently released support for multi-currency (via pricing conversion on the front-end – still in Beta at the time of writing), there’s still a big gap when in comes to managing data across multiple stores (where other rival platforms have a multi-store offering).

Shopify are due to release Product Centre (which looks to essentially be a lightweight PIM solution), which will allow merchants to manage product data across different Shopify stores (as they’re set up independently of each other), however there’s no set timeline for this and there’s been very little information released around what it will actually be able to do. So, with this all in mind, I decided to write this piece (which will probably be obsolete soon) on the options that eCommerce businesses have for achieving a proper multi-store, international eCommerce setup with Shopify Plus.

Is Shopify Plus a good fit for international eCommerce businesses?

The short answer to this is “not currently”, however the long answer (and the thing I tend to hear the most) is that, for suitable retailers, the benefits surrounding the platform make it worth considering the various options and workarounds. The time-saving from other areas of the platform often lead people to look at managing certain parts of an international setup manually for example. That said, it really does depend on your store, where there’s complexity, the processes you follow internally, how you use other systems, how your product data is setup etc.

In my view, Shopify Plus (with the workarounds outlined below), is still a good fit for:

  • Retailers with a relatively small international presence (e.g. small turnover storefronts for secondary territories)
  • Non-complex businesses with small catalogs
  • Retailers with very similar offerings (and catalogs) across all international stores
  • Single territory retailers looking to introduce PoC stores

The reason for this, as I’ll go into now, is because the overhead with one of the following solutions will still be relatively low, however if you have a number of local language international stores with large, complex catalogs and a number of custom requirements, this may not be the case.

Really, the best thing to do is map out how you would need to work with some of your core eCommerce tasks and then work backwards – for example, running promotions or adding new products could be tasks that you need a solution for and you can then look at how this would work with CSV import / export processes across the stores. I’d also suggest looking at these processes and getting an idea of how they work for yourself (e.g. running imports via Excelify, which is a great app to make this process easier).

Getting the initial setup right

If you have a good starting point with product data and use of third party systems, the overhead is going to be lower. For example, I have a number of clients who house base product information in their ERP (e.g. title, SKU, MPN, core categories etc), which means that the actual products are created in the ERP and the assigning of those products to stores is handled outside of the platform. This can be really helpful, even though it far from solves all of the issues.

Beyond that, the enrichment process could then be done in one store and then replicated (which editing specific fields) via CSV imports / exports. This isn’t an ideal workflow, but it’s an example of how this could be handled whilst Shopify are figuring out their solution.

The overheads around managing a multi-store Shopify setup can be reduced considerably by getting the initial setup in a good place – here are some steps you can take to reduce the need for manual work / workarounds. You can use the SKU to create the relationship between the different products across the different stores, as the product IDs will be different across the stores.

Use a PIM (Product Information Manager / Management)

If you’re already using or considering using a PIM, this will make trading internationally on Shopify Plus a lot easier! Although it doesn’t solve all of the issues, it does solve most of them when it comes to product management (which is the biggest headache) – as you’ll be able to manage all of your product data at different levels within the PIM and then feed it into the relevant store(s).

We’ve got an international client who is looking to use Shopify Plus who is using a PIM (Akeneo) and they’re in a much better position as they’re just pushing data into the local stores via tags and meta fields, all of which is managed via Akeneo (so it supports more complex catalog management as well). If you’re using a PIM like Akeneo to support this, you can also benefit from the various workflows and automation options available, so once you’ve created the logic – you’ll be able to assign fall-back data points and workflows around populating the different fields etc, for example.

This is a really good, future-proof route (for the product side of things) and it’ll definitely make your life easier – however, a PIM isn’t a cheap solution so you want to ensure that you have a business case for adding this to your stack.

This only talks about one use case for a PIM – there are lots more, but this is just how it can be used to support these issues around managing independent international stores. Although Akeneo is a really strong solution, some other PIMs to look at include:

Shopify also published this piece on the benefits of using a PIM.

Use one of the various sync’ing solutions / apps

So there are a number of solutions on the market currently that are designed to help with this process – the two that I’ve heard the most (and best feedback on) are:

Rewind’s Replay sync’ing solution – I’ve worked with a few retailers and agencies that have used the Rewind solution, which allows for the syncing of data and the copying of individual stores. This app allows for configuration of rules / logic around the sync’ing of data and it also covers more areas than just product data, such as theme files and collections.

Syncio – I don’t know as much about Syncio, but I know that a lot of stores use it and a few people I’ve worked with have said it’s a good app. Similarly to Rewind’s solution it allows for data to be sync’d across different stores – including product data, collection data, images etc.

Use scripts to push data between stores

Another route some of the Shopify Plus agencies go down is to use scripts to roll changes applied to one store out to others. This can be great where there are fields that will always apply to a product across all stores (e.g. MPN, core categories etc). This could also be rolled out to replicate tags that are applied to products. I’ve worked on a number of projects with WeMakeWebsites and I know they’ve used this to reduce the overhead for clients at various points.

It may be that you’d want to use this alongside some of the other options mentioned in this guide.

Wait it out for Shopify’s new Product Center Solution

Another option is just to wait for Product Center, which should hopefully still be available in Q1 this year. The advantage of waiting (if you’re able to) is that you’ll be able to build your site around Product Center, as opposed to building it using one of the other solutions and then hoping there’s a migration path / solution from the start.

That said, if you go down the route of using a combination of your ERP to support product data, manual imports / exports and scripts to roll changes out across multiple stores, you are more than likely going to be able to connect the stores to Product Center when it’s available. If you have a a very strong brand, I’d probably suggest pushing Shopify on dates 🙂

Use imports / exports and adopt manual processes

Although this sounds like a horrible solution, it can be a good one depending on your requirements from a trading and merchandising perspective. I’ve worked with clients in the past who have had a relatively small catalog and been fine with making small manual changes across different stores and relying on something like Excelify to support importing and exporting of data.

Where are the biggest management overheads?

Although these solutions will help to reduce or eliminate the overhead in some areas, there are going to be some parts of store management that will need to be done manually across the different stores (although there may still be workarounds in some areas).

  • Third party apps (configuration and management) – although a lot of the bigger, better-known solutions and apps have workarounds (e.g. global dashboard, import / export or ability to replicate settings), a lot of apps will need to be managed at a local level. A lot of the more mainstream apps (like NOSTO, for example) have solutions for pushing changes across accounts, but this would require a common field (which is usually the product ID, but would need to be set to SKU).
  • Managing promotions and discounting – depending on the types of promotions you’re running and how you’re executing them, you may need to manage these at a local level for aspects that can’t be pushed via an API or imported.
  • Merchandising logic – unless you’re using one of the better third party solutions, chances are that any merchandising you do (e.g. visual merchandising of categories, management of filters, assigning of sorting parameters etc) will need to be managed locally. That said, if you’re using an app or something like Klevu to manage category merchandising, you’ll be able to look at running this outside of Shopify (which will likely have workarounds).
  • Reporting (within Shopify) – All of the reporting within Shopify will be done at a store level, however a lot of larger retailers will want to use an external BI platform or reporting solution anyway.
  • Management of other channels – if you’re using a wholesale channel or a Facebook store for example, these would be managed at a local level so you’d need to assign a single currency or price, for example.
  • Areas like shipping rules, store configuration etc

Shogun (a very strong CMS platform for Shopify and Shopify Plus) can support the management of content, template components and CMS pages across multiple stores – this is something I’d recommend looking at with Shopify Plus regardless, but it can help to further reduce the overheads.

Having worked with WeMakeWebsites on a few international projects, I asked Tim Richardson (their Head of Growth) to comment on the Solutions they’ve used for international Shopify Plus implementations:

We’ve found that the best way to overcome Shopify’s international set-up limitations is to work with clients to create custom multi-store solutions. These solutions overcome the common challenges of multi-store setup, language translation, and store management.

One of our optimal structures, from an SEO and store management perspective, is the implementation of a GBP master store, separate European stores for high traffic European markets, a USD store, and a ROW store. These separate stores are set to their own language (best for SEO), then we either use a language app on the ROW store or set it to USD (English). In order to simplify merchant workflows, we integrate an ERP, which houses and pushes core data, we develop efficient content enrichment options on a store by store basis, and we implement a syncing app on the master store to recreate as much of a ‘single store view’ as possible.

Of course, there is no one size fits all and there are the exciting new developments in Shopify to consider. However, from our experience, any potential hurdles when implementing Shopify’s international store set-up can be worked around and are absolutely outweighed by the net benefit of the platform in terms of its cost, reliability, flexibility and speed to market.

Examples of multi-site, international Shopify Plus stores

If you wanted to see how different Shopify Plus stores handle international considerations on the front-end, you can see a few multi-store examples below.

Ring


Gymshark


Victoria Beckham

If you have any questions about any of these points, feel free to email me on mail@paulnrogers.com or add a comment below.

Paul Rogers

Paul is an experienced eCommerce Solutions Consultant, specialising in all aspects of replatforming, requirements gathering and platform selection projects.

Paul has worked with most mainstream eCommerce platforms and has supported complex replatforming projects with retailers from all over the world. Paul also works on functional customer experience projects and solutions work with various platforms - primarily Magento and Shopify Plus.

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