Shopify Plus is Shopify’s enterprise eCommerce platform that allows you to manage large, growing online shops and brands. It is a hosted platform that can be customized and staffed for large brands. My experience with Shopify Plus SEO consulting was based on the fact that I worked with marketing directors who used the platform.
My amazing audience consists mainly of DIYers and small business owners who are just starting out or trying to grow their sites. However, I also have many readers who manage marketing and platform development for large companies that are seeking to implement innovative marketing strategies for their brands.
Both readers asked the same question: What do you do with large-scale eCommerce? How can you maintain the same agile marketing infrastructure at an enterprise eCommerce level while maintaining the same marketing agility?
I have had the opportunity to consult with many enterprise-level eCommerce brands that use platforms such as Adobe Magento Commerce, proprietary platforms, and Shopify Plus.
Check out Shopify Plus’ current features page.
This Shopify Plus review will focus on my experiences with Shopify Plus and other hosted (SaaS) platforms. It will also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of enterprise eCommerce solutions, as well as how Shopify Plus compares with BigCommerce, Magento, and Shopify.
eCommerce Hosting (SaaS).
The hosted is what makes a hosted eCommerce platform different from a self-hosted one.
The majority of websites run on software that is installed on your server. Everything is built from scratch. In addition to maintaining the website’s functionality, you are also responsible for all customer-facing aspects.
A hosted (SaaS) platform is a service. The server and software are sold together. The server has been designed to integrate seamlessly with the platform’s software. Your website’s up-time is the responsibility of the platform provider. Your website’s design, marketing and customer relations are your responsibility.
The three major players in the hosted eCommerce space are Shopify Plus and BigCommerce Enterprise.
Aside – Demandware, Hybris and a host of other.NET providers are all part of the enterprise space. However, I view them as competing from an IT / operational perspective. They are competing for organizational IT commitments to SAP, Salesforce and Oracle, rather than scalable eCommerce solutions.
Shopify Plus Advantages
These are some of the benefits that Shopify Plus offers.
Development and Maintenance Costs
It can be costly to run an enterprise eCommerce store. If your core competency isn’t web development, your greatest expense is your opportunity costs taking away product development and marketing.
The greatest advantage of Shopify Plus I believe is the fact that it eliminates much of that potential cost.
All aspects of server, bug, feature implementation, order management and bandwidth, as well as file storage, are taken care of. It is part of a global platform which simply works.
When they hired me, one of my clients took advantage. They were one the largest seasonal brands in the world and had just switched to Shopify Plus. They were four weeks away from Black Friday and had poor organic visibility.
Instead of spending money on load-testing servers or fixing checkout bugs, they could focus on marketing resources (like me being hired for an SEO consultation). This meant they could increase traffic during the holiday surge and handle the traffic.
Many web development tools have become commoditized due to the recent trends. Shopify Plus or an alternative SaaS enterprise eCommerce platform shifts costs away from maintaining and developing those core features to focusing on product, experience, and marketing innovation.
Similar but not identical, SaaS platforms (and Shopify Plus in particular) offer predictable pricing.
Shopify Plus pricing plans begin at around $2000 per monthly but can go up depending on specific needs (e.g. expected traffic levels, customizations etc.). The pricing remains the same from the moment you sign up.
This is a large amount of money, but it makes financial sense for many enterprises. Hosting + fees + retainer for web developers is less expensive. It is also more predictable than hiring a developer to fix bugs, implement feature requests or implement change. It’s also easier to budget for bandwidth, servers, or cloud hosting fees if your store experiences large traffic fluctuations.
Technical Support & Account Management
Predictability is the next advantage, specifically the predictability for support. You get an account manager with Shopify Plus and other major SaaS eCommerce platforms such as BigCommerce.
This is a similar job to a project manager at most web development companies, except that they manage your entire account – development to features to technology to bug fixes to billing and not just the coordination of developers.
You also have access to a dedicated development team that works on one platform. This is in contrast to other web development companies that work on different platforms, languages, or clients. They are changing gears, they have a development queue and support tickets are usually not a priority.
This is a huge advantage if you need quick bug fixes, feature clarifications or account support.
Web infrastructure is faced with new challenges at the enterprise level. It is crucial to ensure that concurrent sessions of hundreds or thousands of users have a smooth, secure, and efficient experience.
Cloud hosting has brought many services and best practices to handle large amounts of traffic. It is not a good idea to spend too much time in the cloud hosting or server architecture areas for brands or stores.
Marketing and inventory are the key to scaling traffic. It is not about whether your servers are up or down. Are these visitors converting as expected? What type of conversion testing is being done? Are we able to access the inventory? What messaging is appropriate for the homepage? Is there a higher value question than “Can people access the site and look at it?”
Many enterprise clients find it a huge advantage to have a vendor who has the experience and infrastructure to deal with these issues.
Agile Marketing Implementation
Agile marketing refers to the ability to implement and gather feedback quickly and efficiently. This is how innovative digital companies are able to do marketing.
However, agile marketing demands the right toolset. This means that your eCommerce platform should be able to implement quickly without the need for developer assistance.
This is another advantage of SaaS eCommerce platforms such as Shopify Plus or good competitors like BigCommerce enterprise. These tools are all companies need to implement digital marketing effectively.
As an SEO consultant, one of the worst experiences is making recommendations only to have them die in the queue. However, they are still held responsible for organic traffic growth.
This happens on both open-source and proprietary software platforms (I’m thinking of you, Magento).
My Conversion Rate Optimization friends and Paid Media consultant will confirm my experience. It doesn’t matter if you need a product feed to Google Product Listing Ads, or a script for heatmap testing. It is difficult to get marketing tools on a platform that wasn’t built for marketers.
Other than – It’s not always fun for developers. They would rather work on interesting projects, than uploading thousands upon thousands of rows worth of metadata.
Shopify Plus, although it is a hosted platform. It was designed with marketers in mind. It comes with all the tools marketers need. My last Shopify Plus project was completed in less than an hour. I was able implement key recommendations as soon as they were approved.
And, unlike other hosted platforms, where all changes are globally available (hence not accessible), Shopify uses an internal development language called Liquid that is simple and allows front-end changes at store level. This meant that I was able, without the assistance of a developer, to create a set of rule-based canonicals.
APIs, Integration and Extensions
Shopify Plus API, Integrations and Extensions are all related to agile marketing tools.
A platform cannot have all the tools built-in. That wouldn’t be a good thing. A platform can still be extensible and allow for add-ons.
Shopify has an API that is robust and integrates well with many popular providers such as SAP, NetSuite, etc. Shopify not only has a robust API and many built-in integrations with popular providers (e.g. SAP), but also has an App Store ecosystem that offers a wide range of extensions.
The extensions are basically prepackaged snippets of Liquid Code that you can copy into your store to build integrations and other features.
The ease of international deployment was the last major advantage I found with using Shopify Plus.
Shopify Plus is a great tool for international brands that are growing or have large international brands. It allows you to quickly deploy international sites using all geo-targeting, currency, and language options.
When one of my clients needed to speed up their launch in Ireland, we were capable of doing so much faster than an international rollout using a custom-built website.
Shopify Plus Disadvantages
You would probably agree with the pros that Shopify Plus is the best eCommerce platform since Google Ad was launched.
It’s not. There is no “best” option. Only what’s best for your company is possible. Shopify Plus has its disadvantages.
CMS and Content Limitations
Shopify Plus offers a fully-featured eCommerce platform. If you are looking for a fully-featured content management system with rich content, you will be at a disadvantage.
Shopify Plus comes with blogging tools. You can manage your pages through the Page management system. It is possible to create a publishing website or one that contains information. This will allow you to compete in the content marketing world.
But publishing isn’t Shopify Plus’ forte. It was built for eCommerce and it is easy to tell if you’re coming from a publishing platform such as WordPress.
Many of the most popular Shopify stores are located on subdomains or have their blogs on subdomains. These are Wikipedia examples and Mozilla’s old store that uses a subdomain.
This setup can have some implications for SEO and Analytics. The ideal SEO setup, despite all the disagreements and historical context , is to host your entire website on one subdomain (i.e. www). The additional subdomains provide additional considerations for analytics, and advertising.
Shopify Plus’ CMS limitations can be a problem if you want your website or publishing to exist on the same subdomain that your eCommerce store.
API and Custom Backend Limitations
Shopify Plus’ inherent limitations in content are also apparent in its backend development. Shopify Plus offers a lot of flexibility at the front end. However, integrations on the backend must work with their API.
If the information of a fulfillment provider or inventory you use doesn’t connect via Shopify’s API then someone will have to do it.
Shopify Plus Account Managers may be able push for it to work, but Shopify is still limited because they are a hosted platform.
Hosted platforms don’t allow you to access FTP or databases. All communication must be done through the API or the front end. This can pose a risk for some IT departments and brands.
Platform lock-in is another disadvantage of using a hosted platform such as Shopify Plus.
You can easily backup and migrate servers that you lease or own to another company. If your developer leaves open-source software, you can hire another person who is familiar with the software.
Shopify may run into financial difficulties, and you will be responsible for the vendor risk. You can only access the Shopify data if you need to close your store or migrate to another platform.
Other than, they make all your data exportable but not at the same level as FTP or database access.
Vendor risk and vendor lock in are disadvantages that must be considered alongside the benefits of the vendor.
Using Shopify Plus requires that you have some Shopify expertise. Shopify’s API allows you to customize the front-end of Shopify Plus using Liquid. This is something you would normally not be able to do on a hosted platform.
These tools are not without their limitations. However, there is a learning curve. Once you have started customizing your shop and configuring it to meet your company’s needs you can quickly make dependencies for your team members who “know Shopify.”
This doesn’t mean you have to be a developer. However, it does indicate that Shopify isn’t drag and drop. If you want to hire an agency, it will require some familiarity.
A Shopify theme design requires templates that use Liquid to create features that call upon backend data. Understanding how default canonicals and collections are set is essential for SEO recommendations.
Shopify is the most popular and well-known hosted eCommerce platform. However, it’s not as well known as WordPress and Magento. This is especially true if you’re doing RFPs and also have a Shopify Plus license.
Shopify Plus offers a large network of trusted agencies that can refer you to once your license has been purchased.
SaaS eCommerce Competitors
Although there are many Hosted (SaaS eCommerce platforms), very few offer enterprise-level service. These are two competitors to Shopify Plus.
Although I am familiar with both BigCommerce Enterprise and Magento, I do not have any experience with the enterprise-level versions. Here is the information.
Shopify Plus vs. Magento Enterprise
Magento is one the most popular and well-known eCommerce platforms. The main product they offer is open-source software hosted on their servers. This is highly popular with developers and is used by a variety of eCommerce stores.
Magento Enterprise is also available. This basically combines the Magento software with a custom hosting solution and account support. Since Adobe bought them, it has seen many changes and likely will see more.
It is priced at $18,000 per year and higher, which is in line with Shopify Plus pricing.
You can visit Magento Enterprise and request a demo.
Shopify Plus vs. BigCommerce Enterprise
BigCommerce is Shopify’s main competitor in hosting online stores. They are small but they are growing quickly. I reviewed BigCommerce.
They are different from Shopify by focusing on online shops (vs. Shopify’s offline initiatives), and integrating many features directly into your dashboard (vs. using Apps).
BigCommerce offers enterprise pricing starting at $1000/mo. However, it can also go up depending on your needs. These are the best options for mid-sized eCommerce stores that want to grow without committing to Shopify.
You can visit BigCommerce Enterprise to request a demo .
Shopify Plus vs. Shopify
Ironically, Shopify Plus’ main plan structure is also available. Shopify’s plans are flexible and scale so many eCommerce stores are at the edge of being “enterprise”.
Here’s my response to an email from a reader: I have summarized the core differences between Shopify Plus and Shopify Plus.
- Shopify offers a fully customized checkout that you can place on your domain. Shopify’s regular checkout is located on your domain but it’s very structured.
- Support from a dedicated account manager. They will be able to access your account history and help you achieve your goals. They can help store owners make customizations to their stores that aren’t possible on the standard platform. This is the main “feature” of Shopify Plus – they can fix and customize things when there are high traffic levels.
- Integration with management and inventory platforms (SAP or NetSuite) customized
- Ability to launch “store clones”, which can be targeted at different countries.
You will be pitched if you have enterprise traffic and are on a Pro or Unlimited plan.
A hosted eCommerce platform could sound like a good fit. Visit Shopify Plus to get a free demo.
If you found this review helpful, please refer to me. Shopify will connect to you with a demo team by filling out your prospect name.
Take note of your team’s core competencies and resources, and ask questions about the advantages and disadvantages to moving to a hosted eCommerce platform.
Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or additional information about your experience.
Apart from that, I have also written reviews for Shopify, BigCommerce and Volusion, as well as Woocommerce, which is a marketplace that caters to startups and small/mid-sized companies.
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