I originally wrote this article in early 2018, as we started seeing more brands looking at both Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud and also more SFCC users reviewing Shopify Plus as a potential migration option. Since I originally wrote the article, lots has changed with both platforms and we’ve done a lot more with both platforms, so I decided to update it now (May 22).
We’ve also recently worked with a number of brands that have moved from SFCC to Shopify Plus and have provided guidance on migrating between the two.
It’s actually very hard to compare Shopify Plus and Salesforce Commerce Cloud in detail, as they represent very different approaches. With Salesforce Commerce Cloud, you’re buying into a platform that has a wide range of native features and the typical approach of building on these features is via fairly heavy customisation work (limited eco-system). With Shopify Plus, you’re buying into a fairly basic core and then a vast eco-system of third parties that allow for best-in-class features to be added quickly and easily via apps, alongside more simple customisation work (primarily via the theme). They’re essentially two very different platforms and a standard RFP / RFI approach doesn’t really work.
Assessing the costs of the platforms is equally as hard, as SFCC represents the majority of the licensing cost (via their GMV model), whereas Shopify’s license cost is quite a small proportion of the total platform cost, with lots of third parties making up the overall tech stack. The payments setup with Shopify is also quite hard to compare to other providers – we’ll cover all of these areas in more detail later on.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud has been hugely popular with mid-market and enterprise brands for a number of years, offering what was previously a fairly unique managed SaaS proposition in comparison to competitors (previously SAP, Magento etc). Nowadays, the platform has a huge amount of competition at every end of their market and I’ve personally seen demand for the platform decline quite a lot, as a result of far higher costs vs others, less improvements to the core platform, their limited eco-system etc.
The TCO for Salesforce Commerce Cloud is almost always significantly higher than platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify Plus and the licensing costs, lack of available integrations / apps and the high development costs mean it’s very hard for SFCC users to improve / optimise their site at the same rate.
At the higher end of the market, some of the newer best-of-breed platforms like CommerceTools, Fabric and then still BigCommerce and Shopify Plus are winning a lot of business from and against SFCC also. More on of all these areas later on.
The other big change that’s impacted Salesforce Commerce Cloud customers and has caused some brands to move away has been their SFRA (Store Front Reference Architecture) upgrade, which requires a lot of work for those using their previous SiteGenesis framework. Although SFRA has a lot of benefits (more on this later), it usually comes at a cost similar and sometimes even higher than replatforming, causing many to review their options.
This said, Salesforce Commerce Cloud does still have a lot of strengths over Shopify Plus (such as some aspects of merchandising, their multi-store setup etc), but brands are increasingly willing to compromise in order to benefit from Shopify’s agility.
Shopify Plus has grown significantly over the last few years and is winning brands of all sizes and competing against platforms of all levels.
Shopify’s partner eco-system is unrivalled and, although usually with some level of compromise, mid-market brands are able to accelerate their roadmap and focus far more on trading their site, retaining customers, building a best-in-class CX and acquiring new customers etc. In addition to tech partners, Shopify’s development partner eco-system has grown considerably, with more and more enterprise partners moving into space and even some of the biggest consultancies building Shopify practices.
Shopify still has a long way to go in some areas, with international being the biggest, but they’re taking more and more market share in the brand space every day.
The Shopify core platform has been around for a long time, launching way back in 2006. It was only in 2014, however, that Shopify Plus was introduced, attracting a huge range of household name businesses and hyper growth brands since then.
Over the last couple of years, the level of demand around Shopify Plus amongst mid-level retailers has increased dramatically, with notable brands joining including Staples Canada, JB Hifi, APC, Steve Madden, WWE (formerly SFCC), Boll & Branch, Fenty Beauty (formerly SFCC), Stussy, Toteme, Peloton and lots of others – adding to the likes of Chubbies, AllBirds, Kylie Cosmetics and Gymshark who were already trading on the platform.
There are then countless high growth brands that have also launched on the platform, such as ColourPop, Pangaia, Stussy, The Frankie Shop, Good American, Huel, Skims, Fashion Nova and lots of others.
For me, the key selling points of Shopify Plus, comparing to Salesforce Commerce Cloud are:
Significantly lower cost of ownership (detailed below)
Lower technical and maintenance overheads
Unrivalled agility (in terms of introducing new features, optimising the front-end etc)
Huge 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 unrivalled agility and, based on my experiences, 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, native social integrations, Shopify Flow (automation engine), Launchpad (scheduled actions), super easy to use basic international features (e.g. multi-currency and local payment methods), configurable payment options, well-optimised / industry-standard checkout, subscription APIs and lots more.
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 highest volume retailers (with Kylie Cosmetics, Jeffree Star 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 brands going from $0 to over $500m, without issues in scaling (demand).
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:
Multi-store management – Shopify still doesn’t have a multi-store architecture and most large brands / retailers will end up having multiple instances. Shopify has introduced Markets now, which help with basic internationalisation, however this still doesn’t allow for proper local catalog management, assigning of multiple warehouses (per market), local bank accounts / base currencies / payouts etc. This said, price books are now native and used by lots of brands and things like multi-language can be achieved. The hope here is that markets will improve rapidly, with various features already being added since it was introduced last year.
Payments – Shopify Payments is great, but if for any reason you want to use a third party, things can be challenging (depending on the third party). Also, the eligibility around Shopify Payments can be annoying and you can only do things like multi-currency when using Shopify Payments. This is often fine, but can be a very frustrating area for Shopify.
Catalog / merchandising – Shopify is getting better in this area all the time and metafields are now natively available in the admin, which is great. However, SFCC is very strong in this area and allow for multiple catalogs, advanced visual merchandising, customisation around how core data is managed etc.
Restrictions in general – although there are some very complex implementations of Plus and most areas have improved considerably from when I originally wrong this article, there are restrictions in some areas. Checkout is an example where a lot of people still struggle (e.g. complex multi-channel or mixed baskets or multi-shipment) and B2B / multi price lists is another major weakness still. There are often workarounds, but these are areas where Shopify still needs to improve.
The one thing I would say is when we’ve worked with large brands on Shopify Plus, the compromise is usually worth it when you consider some of the time savings, the additional agility and also how much of their time / budget can be focused on net new feature improvements.
It’s also worth noting that Shopify have introduced lots of new features and APIs to help support larger businesses using the Plus platform over the last few years.
Shopify Plus does lack some of the core functionality of other platforms and it doesn’t offer the same ability to customise the core / back-end as SFCC, but this is typically compensated for by the availability of third-party apps and the ease of use of their APIs. You can also then build private apps to achieve some things you may have wanted to do via back-end customisations.
Shopify’s app store contains thousands of apps and pre-built integrations which usually require minimal or even no development work to install and then launch. Shopify use apps more than the average platform (e.g. things like notify me when back in stock or wishlist), however they’re usually stronger than native features in other platforms (those two examples are perfect) and then also improve over time due to the third party specialist owning them. Although these come at a monthly cost, they’re always improving and often also integrate with other third parties in the eco-system to help enhance their capabilities.
This said, there are a lot of things that Shopify Plus physically can’t do and it’s nowhere near as flexible from a development perspective as Salesforce Commerce Cloud.
Shopify do have the Storefront API and are developing their own headless frameworks in order to allow for more complexity – there are plenty of examples of headless Shopify Plus builds, which we’ll go through later on. Shopify have also announced that they’re looking to build out further APIs and even open up the checkout.
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 feature development and customisations. Shopify’s APIs are extremely well documentation and the liquid theming allows for themes to be built out quickly and easily, compared to other platforms and the frameworks and tooling used.
Shopify 2.0 / Sections Everywhere has also improved this side of things considerably.
Key strengths of Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware – renamed in 2016) is generally associated with the enterprise end of the eCommerce market, but they do also have a lot of mid-market and even smaller brands, many of which migrated around the time Magento 2.0 was released. Salesforce definitely has more high street brands in its client list than Shopify Plus and they have a very strong hold in the enterprise fashion and lifestyle market. This comes as a result of the platform’s long-standing focus on this area, its mature feature-set and it’s previously fairly unique SaaS offering.
Although I’ve already talked quite a lot about this, the main difference really is that the SFCC model is based on companies using the platform for most things, whereas Shopify would usually rely on 10-20 third parties as part of an average tech stack. SFCC is also a bit of a closed eco-system, whereas this is arguably Shopify’s biggest focus.
SFCC has been the market leader in their core verticals for quite a long time, it’s only now where they’re seeing a lot of brands review other platforms and also competition from new and existing platforms.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud still powers some of the world’s best-known eCommerce sites, such as Adidas, New Balance, Kate Spade, Clarins, Lacoste, Puma and lots more. They then also have a host of high-growth brands (like Shopify), including Ganni, Sweaty Betty, Showpo, Boohoo etc.
The most robust eCommerce platform?
The Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform has always been known (even pre SFCC days) for its ability to scale (both functionally and around demand) and typically this has been the main draw to it for larger businesses. Salesforce’s offering is very much geared around assurance, with them providing a fully managed software-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.
Production & Merchandising
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 a lot of the brands I’ve spoken to / worked with haven’t like the black box approach and tend to look at third parties instead.
Salesforce also offers a comprehensive promotions engine and supports various types of products (e.g. native support for bundled products) etc – this is an area where SFCC is stronger than Shopify Plus.
Examples of Shopify Plus Retailers
Other brands using Shopify Plus include Emma Bridgewater, Pure Electric, Kylie Cosmetics, Rebecca Minkoff, Morphe, Good American, DVF, Radio Shack, KITH, 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, 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. It is possible to scale internationally with Shopify Plus – and there are lots of other examples of brands with a large number of stores trading globally – but, there will be compromise from an operational perspective.
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. Shopify Flow has also improved a lot since this article was first written and now includes a lot more triggers, time-based actions and lots of third party integrations.
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
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 international payment options, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Klarna
Native page builder via Shopify Sections / 2.0
Various features around social checkouts (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok)
Various features designed to support merchants from an ops perspective – e.g. fulfilment network, Dovetale, Shopify POS, native ERP integrations etc
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
Dedicated account management
Built in scheduling features (Launchpad)
Standardised, ease-to-understand APIs and SDKs
Huge number of pre-existing integrations with technology partners
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Native visual merchandising tools
Native support for gift cards and gift certificates
Native support for product bundling
Strong search 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
Multiple customer segmentation & personalisation features
Advanced native search
Real-time dashboards and reporting
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 (0.25% of GMV in months where revenue exceeds $800,000). Retailers typically need to factor in an additional $1k – $5k in monthly fees 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 $200,000 – $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 mid-market eCommerce market, with scalability, ease of use and flexibility all key factors in the platform selection process. Shopify Plus is arguably on a more positive trajectory, with constant new client wins and new features being introduced, whilst SFCC has slowed down a lot in both of these areas.
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 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.
You can also read this
comparison on Magento 2 vs Shopify Plus and also this piece on Magento Commerce vs Salesforce Commerce Cloud.