The Ecommerce Executive’s Buyers Guide to Website Platforms for High Volume Stores
What is the best platform for ecommerce growth? As a high volume ecommerce business, doing several million to hundreds of millions in revenue per year, it can be a hard decision.
As the decision-maker, no doubt you will be getting differing opinions from your heads of IT, marketing, fulfillment or any other team lead. But how do you pick the one that will meet your business goals?
Here’s our guide for founders, owners, CEOs, and executives when faced with the decision of which ecommerce platform to choose or migrate to for your ecommerce business.
Enterprise Ecommerce of the Past
First, let’s briefly mention the change in landscape when it comes to ecommerce platforms.
It used to be that high-volume and large brands needed to build their own store or choose a platform that allowed for extreme customization (which equals extreme cost, overhead, and timeline). This is no longer the case.
Magento or other “enterprise ecommerce platforms” used to be the go-to solution for high volume ecommerce businesses. But a lot has changed in the last 10 years. You no longer need a fully-custom, self-hosted ecommerce solution or a large internal IT team to manage your store.
You may still think the newer ecommerce platforms, like Shopify Plus or BigCommerce Enterprise, can’t handle your needs. But you’d be mistaken.
Small businesses and global giants alike are migrating (or planning to migrate) to new cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify Plus or BigCommerce Enterprise. These are now the go-to platforms. And for good reason.
These modern platforms provide scalability and security at a fraction of the cost of your own in-house ecommerce store. At the same time, they offer a high level of customizability to meet both your front end and back end store requirements.
Who Should Make the Platform Decision?
Many big brands leave the ecommerce platform decision up to their IT teams when considering a platform migration because the stakeholders may not understand the importance of the platform decision or the differences that each can make in their business. You may assume all platforms are more or less created equal, and so leave the decision up to the technical team. That is a mistake.
The IT team will choose the platform that is best from their perspective. Same as the marketing team, the fulfillment team, etc. In some cases, their opinion may even be influenced by their job security.
But not all platforms are created equally from a business perspective. These modern cloud-hosted platforms are agile and easily integrate with the latest and greatest marketing tools. That is absolutely critical from a growth perspective. The ease of use of a platform so that all teams can do their job quickly and safely is important too as it will be the difference between you being slow and cumbersome or incredibly quick and agile.
The point here is, it’s critical that the key business stakeholders are the ones making the commerce platform decision. Your ecommerce platform is your vehicle for growth. Choosing the wrong platform will limit success and can come with a ton of overhead costs.
This guide will help you as the CEO, executive, owner, founder, or brand manager decide on the best platform for your business based on the platform capabilities and more importantly, your business goals.
Common Misconceptions about Choosing Ecommerce Platforms
Misconception 1: I can’t use a store off-the-shelf.
“I’m a big brand so I need a fully custom experience from the ground up for my customers. These cloud-hosted plug-and-play platforms are great for smaller brands, but they won’t work for my enterprise brand.”
In reality, these off-the-shelf stores provide a best-practice user experience for shopping online. Following the traditional buying experience typically leads to a higher conversion rate since buyers are used to buying a certain way. There are places to innovate in your online store, but in the checkout flow is not one of them.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying you should have a cookie cutter store. But at the same time, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel in your shopping experience. Use the flows and experiences that your customers are used to seeing. Keep it simple.
Misconception 2: I need a large IT team
“Without an IT team, I won’t be able to make changes on the platform to accomplish future initiatives. I need a large, full-time IT team supporting and managing the platform.“
Actually, it’s the other way around. In typical enterprise businesses, IT teams are backed up for months (if not years), with all of the tasks and projects they have going on. The idea that an internal IT team is necessary in order to keep your ecommerce store development moving forward quickly is backwards. The modern platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, empower your ecommerce teams (whether that be marketing, product or fulfillment) to quickly and safely make changes and be agile, without compromising the integrity of your ecommerce store.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need an IT team or that you should fire your team, but it does mean they can focus on projects that they are uniquely suited for rather than updating product descriptions.
Misconception 3: I can build a better ecommerce store in-house
“If we don’t build the platform in-house, there are security concerns and we won’t be able to keep it up to date.”
You are not a software company. You are a product company. Let’s just be honest, if you are a great product company you are most likely a horrible software company.
So, if you decide to build your own ecommerce store from scratch and manage your own platform on an ongoing basis, you would have to be a software company (and a really great software company). This is a bad idea. Not only is building your own platform expensive and a lot of hard work, but in the end it will be likely be mediocre at best. If you own the platform, you have to keep up with security, privacy, and scalability. All of that becomes your responsibility. On the other hand, with a 3rd party platform, that’s their responsibility. And it’s what they are really good at doing.
Leave software to the true software companies. They are better at software than you. Focus instead on what you do best. In the end, your business will be better for it.
Misconception 4: I need an SLA
(Or other form of contractual obligation that the platform guarantees uptime.)
“My brand is an ecommerce giant, and if my site goes down, I need insurance. An SLA provides the security that I need. This is simply a must-have.”
SLA’s are a thing of the past. Even many of the legacy, enterprise-focused ecommerce platforms are limiting SLAs.
Here’s the truth. The modern platforms are so good at what they do in terms of stability. They are the best. Your site uptime will be better than if you were self-hosting it. Just check the historical stats for downtimes. With cloud-hosted platforms, you’ll be spending less to keep your site up and your site will be up more. Sounds like a win-win. In the rare case that these modern ecommerce platforms do experience downtime, they have hundreds of people working on it immediately to fix the issue.
Platform Review for High Volume Stores
Shopify Plus is the leader in cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms. They are the pioneer in the SaaS ecommerce platform space. They handle all of the ugly stuff (stability, scalability, security) and allow you to build on top of their platform. Shopify is a large publicly-traded company with plenty of capital. They have built a platform that just works.
They take care of the infrastructure as well as provide an easy-to-use admin and flexible themes from which to develop your store. Because they handle the infrastructure, however, there are some limitations. They control the entire ecosystem, so you have to work within their bounds. For the vast majority of companies (large and small), it is no problem to stay within these bounds. However, for those that have business rules that don’t align with the bounds of Shopify Plus, there is no getting around them at any scale.
Shopify Plus is a good fit for businesses:
- of any scale or need to scale quickly
- with a typical ecommerce buying experience
- that want a robust platform for marketing
- focused on innovation
- that want to be agile
- that want to minimize technical distractions
BigCommerce Enterprise is similar to Shopify in it’s offering. It is a cloud-hosted platform that handles the stability, scalability, and security of your store. However, they are a smaller company than Shopify.
The area where BigCommerce Enterprise beats out Shopify Plus is in terms of customizations. There are less limits on BigCommerce’s platform, so companies that do not fall within Shopify’s bounds should really consider it.
BigCommerce is a good fit for businesses:
- that need more customization than is possible on Shopify
- that want to customize the checkout experience
The Achilles heel of WordPress (and Woocommerce) is stability, scalability, and security. And those 3 are a must for ecommerce. WPEngine solves these issues. It handles the stability, scalability, and security for ecommerce through WordPress, making it a good choice for ecommerce for certain businesses. WordPress excels in content publishing. If content is your primary business with ecommerce as an extension, you should consider WPEngine (especially if you’re already on WordPress).
WPEngine is a good fit for businesses:
- doing under $15M in revenue per year
that are a publishing first business
A decade ago, Magento was the clear choice for ecommerce. It was the go-to platform, providing the infrastructure and framework you needed to build an ecommerce store. Magento is an ecommerce platform that you own and manage, making it the ultimate choice for customization. Lots of enterprise stores chose this, but be wary of the extremely high overhead costs.
Today, there are a lot of challenges with the Magento platform. They have forced many longtime customers off Magento by ending support for Magento 1, and it’s Magento 2 platform so far has been plagued with issues.
Magento is not a great fit for most businesses. If you need customizations, there are better solutions available today.
Magento is a good fit for businesses:
- that need unlimited customization for every area of the ecommerce experience
- have a large budget & timeline
- that have an internal team dedicated to managing, maintaining, and updating the platform
- that are not growth-marketing focused
Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Hybris, Oracle Commerce Cloud
These enterprise solutions have transitioned to a new model, following the lead of Shopify in offering a cloud-hosted SaaS experience. These come at a much greater cost, but offer a lot of customization. For these platforms, you’d need an internal team to manage the development and ongoing roadmap for your ecommerce store, as there is no plug-and-play element.
These platforms are a good fit for businesses:
- that need a heavily customized buying experience
- that are willing to spend hundreds of thousands to millions on their ecommerce store implementation over 6-18 months
- that are willing to continue large spending on overhead costs to maintain the platform
For your business regardless of size, take time to really look at modern platforms like Shopify Plus and BigCommerce Enterprise first. Try not to be turned away by one thing that you “think won’t work”. The agility and growth benefits of these platforms are truly significant. Only after vetting these platforms and ruling them out would we recommend looking at Magento or another enterprise solution.
Here’s cheat sheet with some more details on these platforms and more.
We’ve worked with pretty much every platform over the last 10 years, and have a good handle on the various benefits.