Whilst it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of competition in the mid-level and enterprise eCommerce markets, Shopify Plus, in particular, has seen a huge surge in popularity, with B2C retailers of all sizes migrating over to the platform to reduce costs and improve agility, amongst other reasons. At the higher end of the market, Salesforce Commerce Cloud continues to also grow and pick up household names and challenge the likes of SAP, IBM and Oracle in the enterprise bracket.
Magento arguably remains the leader in this mid-market space, however the shift towards SaaS-based platforms has seen both Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud surge. In this article, we look at the relative strengths and weaknesses of Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud, to provide insights into how merchants might choose between the two platforms.
Key strengths of Shopify Plus
In its core SME format, the Shopify platform has been around for quite a considerable time, launching way back in 2006. It was only in 2014, however, that Shopify Plus was announced, as a fully-hosted eCommerce solution for enterprise-level retailers – with the real growth coming over the last two years. Since launching, Shopify Plus has attracted plenty of big-brand names, who are attracted by the scalability, resilience and security that a hosted application brings, along with the easy to use and pragmatic functionality included in the platform.
Over the last couple of years, the level of demand around Shopify Plus amongst mid-level retailers has increased dramatically, with the platform signing a host of household names and high-volume retailers, such as Dr Axe, Bulletproof 360, Emma Bridgewater, Victoria Beckham, Rebecca Minkoff and lots more – adding to the likes of Chubbies, MVMT watches, Kylie Cosmetics and Gymshark who were already trading on the platform.
For me, the key selling points of Shopify Plus are:
- Reduced cost of ownership (detailed below)
- Reduced technical and maintenance overhead
- Unrivaled agility (in terms of introducing new features)
- Proven at scale (with the likes of Gymshark and Kylie Cosmetics on the platform)
- Strong eco-system (huge amount of pre-existing integrations and third-party extensions etc and a good network of integration partners)
Overall, I’d say that Shopify Plus is a great platform with unrivaled agility and, based on my experiences so far, customer happiness. That said, Shopify Plus does have some big limitations / blockers for certain types of retailers, which I’ll come onto later in this article.
In terms of more individual features, Shopify has a very a strong native feature-set, including marketplace integrations, built-in basic wholesale capabilities, broad use of tagging (against different types of properties), social channel integrations, address validation, native apple and android pay support etc.
Shopify’s long history as a fully-hosted SaaS platform means that its hosting infrastructure has been developed over time to provide an impressively scalable solution, for even the most demanding of enterprise retailers (with Kylie Cosmetics and Gymshark up there with the highest peak retailers on the planet). In terms of growth in traffic and order volume, Shopify Plus is a very scalable platform, with some retailers going from $0 to well over $100m in trade, without issues in scaling.
The main question mark around scalability with Shopify Plus is more focused on features and rigidity – with certain things just not being possible with the platform. Generally speaking, these limitations with Shopify Plus are:
- Complex multi-store (multiple storefronts with lots of differences around the catalog, theme, structure etc – there’s an overhead in managing this kind of setup currently with Shopify Plus). Shopify’’ new product center is due to be released at the end of 2018, which should improve the catalog management side of things considerably – a PIM would also help to solve this problem.
- International – same principle applies around managing international storefronts. If you’re happy taking payment in a single currency or setting up and managing individual stores Plus is still suitable, but if there’s more complexity it’s not quite as well suited as other platforms.
- Payments – if you’re looking to use third party payment providers, there are limitations around the integrations, particularly if you want to use 3d secure.
- Catalog – Shopify’s native capabilities around managing a catalog aren’t at the sam level of Salesforce Commerce Cloud or Magento for example. Things like group products and bundling require some level of customisation and managing lots of variants and complexity with products, in general, can be an issue.
- Restrictions in general – although there are some very complex implementations of Plus, there are restrictions around API usage and the open-ness of some areas of the platform, which can usually be worked around, but it’s worth exploring this when you’re scoping out complex customisations.
This said, for retailers that don’t have these requirements Shopify Plus is likely the perfect fit – as I said before, all of the brands I’ve worked with that have moved onto Shopify Plus have been very happy, so far.
As well as a robust technical foundation, Shopify’s Launchpad enables retailers to bulk-schedule store changes, in order to deliver promotional events like Black Friday sales or seasonal campaigns.
Shopify Plus may lack some of the expansive core functionality of other platforms, but this is compensated for by the availability of third-party apps, and the potential for custom app development – in most instances. Shopify’s app store contains thousands of apps and pre-built integrations which can deliver extended functionality, including things like search (e.g. Klevu or Algolia), payments (e.g. Sagepay or Klarna), loyalty (e.g. Loyalty Lion or Smile), reviews (e.g. Yotpo or Okendo) etc.
This is often an area where Shopify Plus is scrutinized by other platforms and rival integration partners, however, it’s pretty flexible in most areas – particularly when it comes to the front-end. The flexibility around introducing standard functionality is unrivaled – in terms of being able to utilise core features and apps to introduce complex features without the risk of impacting platform stability or maintainability and, in a lot of cases, without the need of external developers.
Time to market
Shopify is a real leader when it comes to time-to-market, in terms of launching a store and also on-going customisations. Shopify’s APIs are extremely well documentation and the liquid front-end template language allows for themes to be built out quickly and easily, compared to other platforms and the frameworks and tooling used.
Key strengths of Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Salesforce Commerce Cloud was renamed relatively recently (in 2016) and is often still better known as Demandware. Salesforce Commerce Cloud is generally associated with th enterprise eCommerce market and definitely has more established enterprise-brands brands in its client list than Shopify Plus or some of the other comparable platforms. This comes as a result of the platform’s long-standing focus on this bracket and its mature feature-set and SaaS offering.
One of the main differences between these two platforms is that Salesforce Commerce Cloud is designed for complex omni-channel retail, which isn’t the case with Shopify Plus just yet. If you’re looking for a solution that can support complex order management and inventory allocation etc (as well as in-store POS), Salesforcee Commerce Cloud is a far more suitable candidate.
Salesforce’s highly regarded eCommerce platform houses some of the world’s best-known eCommerce sites, such as Adidas, New Balance, Kate Spade, Clarins, Lacoste, Puma and lots more.
The most robust eCommerce platform?
It’s no surprise that a company such as Salesforce should be focused so firmly on delivering a reliable and efficient platform, with technical and management support to back this up. Salesforce’s offering is very much geared around assurance, with them providing a fully managed platform-as-a-service with platform-level QA around code that’s deployed to production and any integrations etc. This is a level above most other platforms and is a big selling point for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, particularly for complex businesses. Similarly to Shopify Plus, this level of assurance can come at a cost when it comes to customisation, but Salesforce Commerce Cloud are open to allowing for heavy customisation, it’s just a collaboration to ensure that Salesforce is happy with the quality and that changes don’t impact the core areas of the platform.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s architecture is designed and built to scale up and cater for significant peaks in demand. The underlying server architecture is built on AWS and they have their own set of tools around a CDN, server reporting etc.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud has a very strong offering around merchandising and are far more capable of handling large, complex catalogs from a merchandising perspective. Natively, Salesforce Commerce Cloud includes strong visual merchandising functionality and it also has Einstein to support machine learning and 1:1 personalisation.
Einstein, Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s AI engine (acquired a few years ago), provides richer merchandising and personalisation capabilities, however, it’s not as well integrated into the platform as it likely will be in a few years’ time. Einstein also integrates with Salesforce Marketing Cloud to support broader customer-level reporting and its key selling points are around 1:1 personalisation, seamless product recommendations, automated merchandising and in-line insights.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud has a good offering around in-store as well as online, and this is perhaps one of its biggest attractions for its major brand retail clients. The native Endless Aisle features allow in-store staff to offer online merchandising, promotions and inventory checking to customers in the physical store, merging the online experience and convenience into the high street presence. This is one area where Salesforce has a distinct advantage, as few of the other enterprise ecommerce platforms have the same features around in-store operations – they also provide an integrated point-of-sale solution.
Examples of Shopify Plus Retailers
Other brands using Shopify Plus include Emma Bridgewater, Pure Cycles, Kylie Cosmetics, MVMT, Rebecca Minkoff, Urban Planet, Morphe, Good American, Radio Shack, The Hundreds, Herschel and The New York Times.
Examples of Salesforce Commerce Cloud Retailers
Other brands using Salesforce Commerce Cloud include Adidas, American Golf, Charles Tyrwhitt, Acne Studios, Brooks Brothers, GoPro, Clarins, Boohoo, Converse, Kate Spade, Ugg, Lacoste, Godiva, LUSH, New Balance and L’Oreal etc.
Internationalisation with both platforms
As mentioned above, Shopify Plus isn’t currently designed for complex internationalisation and retailers with complex logic behind their international stores struggle with the manual work associated with the different storefronts. Salesforce Commerce Cloud has a multi-store architecture that allows for assigning specific products to specific stores, different manually set pricing, different merchandising, different themes etc. In Shopify, this can be achieved, but each instance would be independent in its current state.
This said, there are a number of successful brands that are using workarounds to trade internationally on Shopify – such as Gymshark, who have a number of localised stores.
Shopify Flow is one feature that I really like and that can make a big difference to merchandising and eCommerce teams. Flow is essentially an automation suite, allowing users to build workflows to automate specific tasks and actions. I’ve used this a lot over the last 6-12 months and it’s helped reduce the time specific tasks take a lot!
Examples of how I’ve used Flow include:
- Ring-fencing of stock at specific levels
- Template changes for specific products
- Tagging of customers (to then allow for different actions)
- Team alerts and notifications
- Logic to dictate availability of items to specific users
- Availability of information to specific customers in their account
- Shipping logic
Shopify Flow also now integrates with technology partners, which is really exciting and will likely lead to a lot more usage. A number of email marketing providers, loyalty programs. And UGC platforms have already built integrations with Flow and there are lots more coming out all the time.
Shopify Plus vs Salesforce Commerce Cloud Feature Comparison
- Shopify Payments allows for seamless integration with a wide range of payment options, including various Asian payment options, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Klarna (which has been announced very recently)
- Countless quality moderated third-party apps available through Shopify’s app store
- Level 1 PCI DSS compliant
- Native support for 20+ sales channels, including eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram
- Native support for gift cards
- Native support for store credit
- Built-in reporting
- 24/7 support
- Dedicated account management
- Built-in address validation
- Support for complex campaign management, through Launchpad
- Comprehensive and easy-to-use dashboards and reports
- Open APIs and ready-made SDKs
- Huge number of pre-existing integrations with technology partners
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
- Visual merchandising tools
- Native support for gift cards and gift certificates
- Native support for product bundling
- Strong search management features
- Staging and test environments
- Support for ‘attribute sets’
- Quick order and reorder templates
- Native support for store credit
- Strong promotions engine
- Advanced order management capabilities
- Advanced international capabilities
- Social integrations
- Customer segmentation
- Content scheduling
- Multiple customer segmentation & personalisation features
- Advanced native search
- A/B Testing
- Real-time dashboards and reporting
- REST API
- Flexible SEO module which can be extended
Customisation with the platform
Since both platforms are offered on a SaaS basis, full client control of the codebase is, of course, not possible. Functional extensions and amendments are achieved via third-party apps, or bespoke customisation, within the limits of what is permitted by each platform.
It’s worth noting that Salesforce Commerce Cloud is far more extensible than Shopify Plus in terms of heavy customisation – however, this does come at a monetary cost with Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Salesforce Commerce Cloud is also a lot stronger when it comes to product attribution and catalog management.
Shopify Plus apps are available via Shopify’s App Store, and the choice of apps and range of functionality offered is impressive. Monthly licensing costs for apps vary from just a few dollars to more standard apps, to well over $1,000 for more specialist services (e.g. search or merchandising).
Salesforce Commerce Cloud also has its LINK marketplace, which offers a much smaller range of modules and integrations with third parties. Bespoke customisation and integrations is likely to cost much more on Salesforce Commerce Cloud than on Shopify Plus as a result of the smaller eco-system and restrictions around integrations in places.
Pricing for Shopify Plus starts at $2,000 per month for retailers with revenues less than $800,000 per month and goes up from there based on GMV. Retailers typically need to factor in an additional $1,000 in monthly fees, on average, for third-party apps. With average design and development costs ranging from $80,000 to $300,000, and BAU costs adding another $60,000 – $180,000 per year, Shopify Plus is a very attractive proposition from a cost perspective
It’s not possible to source accurate pricing figures for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, as costs are calculated on a per-client basis. However, a retailer with sales of around $20 million could expect to pay around $350,000 – $600,000 in licensing fees per year, and at least as much again in fees for additional services. Larger clients with high turnover could go well into the millions in terms of annual licensing fees. There are also additional charges for launching new stores. In my experience, a Salesforce Commerce Cloud build would range from $500k to $1.5m on average.
Overall, Shopify Plus is going to be considerably lower cost – I’ve had two clients who have considered both platforms and have ended up going with Shopify Plus because it’s ~20% of the total cost over three years and they’ve been able to work with the restrictions that Shopify Plus has in places. Agility has been the other big consideration.
Both Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud offer a compelling product to the enterprise eCommerce market, with scalability, ease of use and flexibility all key factors in the platform selection process. For some retailers, Salesforce’s truly enterprise SaaS offering means they can trust that their operations are in safe hands and they are assured that they can achieve heavy customisation if they need to longer term. For others, the rapid launch timeframes of Shopify Plus, coupled with the unrivaled cost of ownership, makes Plus a stronger candidate.
On any eCommerce development project or replatforming exercise, the decision on which platform to choose has to be based on a comprehensive analysis of functional requirements and platform capabilities. Whilst stores with simple functional requirements may find that Shopify Plus is perfect for their needs, others, especially those with complex omni-channel and international operations, may find that Salesforce Commerce Cloud suits their requirements more closely. What is clear, though, is that both of these platforms are set to continue growing as demand around SaaS platforms continues to surge.