Has Shopify Plus earned its place at the enterprise table?

Shopify Plus

With over 20 years in digital retail solutions, Astound have seen a fair share of ecommerce platforms come and go, but one success story followed with interest is that of all-in-one selling solution Shopify. With their now well-established Shopify Plus platform, this cornerstone of millions of small ecommerce businesses has risen through the ranks and now frequently goes head-to-head with the heavy hitting platforms of enterprise ecommerce.

Head of Astound’s Shopify Practice, Mike Warwick, looks at how the platform performs in a channel launch implementation and asks, can it cut the mustard for an established global luxury brand?

Long established as one of the best platforms for taking small businesses online – or launching a ground-up digital retail presence – Shopify has a reputation for providing a one-stop-shop for new and expanding smaller retailers to launch, run and manage an ecommerce presence. With the launch of Shopify Plus in 2014 the platform extended its reach with a product set developed to meet the specific needs of large or rapidly growing businesses.  For many years Astound have been developing enterprise level solutions for our clients with long-time solution partners, including Magento, Salesforce and Hybris. With Shopify Plus now proven across more than 10,000 brands we believe the platform takes the agility and simplicity of the core offering and applies it to an enterprise context, making it a highly credible choice for a lean team with aspirations for growth. And nowhere is that truer that in the luxury sector.  So, when Astound was approached earlier this year by ELIE SAAB, a highly successful luxury middle eastern fashion brand looking to move into online commerce for the first time, we knew that Shopify Plus was the natural fit for the organisation.

Like so many of Shopify’s base, the client was an established retailer with aspirations for customer and sales growth through digital. However – unlike the millions of small businesses that take the fast track to online selling with the Shopify platform – this worldwide brand already had an established customer base, huge social media following, a small number of bricks-and-mortar boutiques, and a highly successful indirect sales channel – online and offline – via international multi-brand resellers. Any new digital channel was going to attract high traffic from the outset, and the platform needed to be able to provide capacity for launch and growth volumes, as well as capabilities for high-end merchandising, international sales, and all the key features of an enterprise level retailer.

Without an established ecommerce team to service this burgeoning customer base, there wasn’t the bandwidth to accommodate high overheads that often come with the implementation and management of a complex enterprise platform. Yet, for a luxury retailer, the goal of conveying the brand throughout the journey – one of pleasing interactions, opulent imagery, rich media merchandising, and a personalised ‘concierge-level’ experience – still had to be achieved.

Creating the online experience

Because Shopify Plus is both specifically designed for high-volume enterprise brands and offers a customized product offering with less complexity (for that, read less time and cost) retailers such as our luxury fashion house can tailor an experience for a discerning customer base. The fully hosted, SaaS nature of the platform keeps the risk low and reliability high from the outset, and the end-to-end nature of the hosting services mean that, for a lean business who aren’t willing or ready to build IT capabilities in house, the need to manage the website back-end day to day is removed. Efforts therefore can be focused on building the appropriate commerce expertise within the business, with the emphasis on non-technical teams such as marketing, commercial and merchandising, to create and maintain an online experience matching the aspirational brand values established offline and in brand comms. Being able to invest energies into the customer-facing activities is paramount, so Shopify Plus features such as automatic task management, flash-sale management, and customisable discount mechanics are a real bonus. Yes, Shopify Plus comes with a rigidity around the core platform, which could make it a less attractive option for a more mature ecommerce business, but with reduced technical overheads, and administration functions built specifically to create efficiencies, the ‘managed’ aspect of the solution is ideal for a new or lean digital retailer.

For our luxe fashion house – with Shopify Plus bringing all the pre-defined functionality for merchandising – we were able to concentrate on empowering and educating the growing digital team around the nuances of ecommerce trading, targeting content, and using storytelling to cross sell and drive ATV, all in the context of their Shopify Plus platform.

International

From the outset, our client came to us with an established market across multiple geographies so serving content in multiple languages and tackling international selling constraints were both a high priority. It is a common misconception that Shopify is not internationally friendly but in fact they’ve added many new features to the platform over the last 18-24 months. All Shopify plans now give the option to sell in multiple languages, provide international domains and offer compatible third-party apps to translate and localise simple copy. In fact in July 2021, over 27% of all traffic to Shopify stores came from international buyers. Shopify Plus made the creation of an international store simple. The platform offers multi-currency (up to 133) in a single store, or the option of running up to 9 free expansion stores within the standard licence. It also gives users the option of allowing local customers to pay with local payment methods (such as iDeal, Sorfort, Klarna) as well as PayPal, credit, debit and pre-auth cards, and have recently announced Shopify Markets which will give platform customers  – like our luxe retailer – a centralised hub with all the tools they need to manage their digital commerce on a global scale.

Fulfilment and integration

As would be expected for any retailer that had to date been focused on wholesale and B2B, our global fashion brand client had significant capability gaps across fulfilment, customer care, and returns.

Using its extensive partner network, the Shopify Plus platform is simple at its core, designed to offer an ‘app approach’ to integration. Although this may not suit retailers looking to integrate with legacy systems (where a middleware layer will likely be required), or looking to bespoke integration with proprietary apps, this app ecosystem offers significant benefits.  For the smaller, simpler retailer, it keeps integrations standard – reducing risk and providing more agility as the business evolves – and implementation and maintenance of the platform is faster and more efficient.

With our experience with Shopify and having successfully delivered our most recent end-to-end implementation for a luxe international brand taking a strategic step towards digital ecommerce, we can safely say that Shopify Plus more than holds its own against established enterprise digital selling platforms. With its hosted solutions, speed to market, flexibility from the outset and ongoing, and a wide range of pre-defined features, the platform delivers on function, usability, confidence and stability giving enterprise level ecomm retailers a credible, affordable choice.

Mike Warwick - Shopify Plus