Platform Review: Is Shopify Plus Right for Enterprise Businesses?

One particularly pernicious rumor has attached itself to Shopify’s name for a long time. The myth that it’s a platform only for small and medium sized businesses. One-person operations, and Etsy stores with big ideas. I believed it myself once, but it’s not true. Shopify Plus is a hosted enterprise eCommerce platform aimed at businesses doing 1 million dollars or more per year. It hosts some of the world’s largest and most recognizable brands, like Tesla, Budweiser, and GE.

If you represent a midmarket to large eCommerce business, and are looking for a new home, you probably have a few options on your plate. Maybe you’ve heard the aforementioned myth, and you may be under the impression that Shopify isn’t in the running. I’d like to explain why that shouldn’t be the case, and what kind of online store might be a great fit for Shopify Plus.

 

Your Specialization Does not Lie In IT:

Every business has a comparative advantage. Something your team does best, whether that be marketing, product development, customer relations, etc. Every minute your team members are working on tasks which are not their specialty, you’re paying that opportunity cost, in addition to whatever other resources you’re using.

A SaaS, or hosted, platform like Shopify can help you save on that opportunity cost by making sure your team doesn’t spend too much time focusing on things that are not their strength. SaaS platforms take care of your hosting, security, PCI compliance and other elements of the day to day messiness of running a website. Shopify has a 99.99% uptime rate, and you’ll have a dedicated Shopify Plus account manager, should the system give you any trouble. This is the main advantage of a hosted system. They don’t give you as much freedom to customize as self-hosted solutions, but they allow your team to focus on their strengths rather than load-testing servers and fixing checkout bugs.

Shopify Plus Review

You Need a Robust API Integration

Regular Shopify accounts do have the ability for API integration, but on Shopify Plus you’ll have the power to make more API calls faster. Shopify Plus clients are given access to 5x greater throughput of APIs, as compared to customers on regular Shopify plans. Shopify Plus stores also get access to exclusive API calls including the Gift Card API, and Single Sign On & Multipass API for login and migration.

Shopify also has built in plugins for plenty of third party providers that would otherwise require a custom integration, like Netsuite and SAP. In fact, of all the hosted providers, Shopify may have the most thriving ecosystem of more than 1,300 third party plugins and apps to choose from.

 

You are Growing an International Brand

This is where Shopify Plus truly shines, in comparison to it’s hosted brethren. In addition to your original, Shopify Plus will give you 9 clone stores for alternate languages and currencies. This allows you to deploy sites for international markets quickly and easily. Shopify Plus is the only hosted platform to offer this.

If price is no object, Magento is still a more powerful option for an international brand. It allows you to customize one site to switch back and forth between language options dynamically. However, this customization is not cheap to develop. Shopify includes your clone stores with its monthly rate. Keep in mind though, this means you have to manage multiple stores. So if you update the main domain, don’t forget to change the clones too.

 

You Like Predictable Pricing:

Pricing for Shopify Plus starts at $2,000 per month. That’s not peanuts, but it is pretty much the going rate when compared with other enterprise level options. Take Magento for example, where you have to buy a yearly license. For Magento 2, that license starts at $22K, which works out to $1,833.33 per month. BigCommerce keeps their enterprise pricing a little more close to the vest, but they’re usually in the same neighborhood.

The Shopify Plus rate can go up depending on your volume, but once you sign on, pricing stays constant month in and month out. When you compare that to hosting fees, and keeping a web developer on the payroll, $2,000 per month starts to look pretty sweet.

 

You Want a Little More Freedom on the Checkout Page:

Anybody who’s worked with a SaaS eCommerce platform in the past will tell you that, when it comes to customization, the cart page and checkout pages are kept under the tightest lock and key. Hosted platforms, because they have more skin in the game than open source systems, have a vested interest in making sure you don’t do anything too crazy, or shady, to your checkout page.

Simply look at Shopify store on a standard account to get an idea. Merchants are limited to adding a logo, custom colors, some conversion tracking script, and that’s about it. But Shopify Plus merchants have a lot more freedom. Shopify Plus stores have a checkout which is fully customizable when it comes to aesthetics, and even elements of the checkout process itself. However, Shopify will always recommend that you use the checkout process that they’ve tested and optimized for conversion.

Shopify Plus Review

You Are Established Brand Looking to Test Something New:

Shopify Plus is a great fit for a ton of enterprise businesses, but not all. Stores with massive numbers of SKUs, or complex product bundles with a lot of product options, are probably better off somewhere else. However, that doesn’t mean that big brands with their main store on Demandware or Mangeto, don’t still have use for a hosted solution like Shopify Plus.

Often when a larger company wants to launch a proof of concept for a new brand or product, they need a site for it that can go up more quickly easily and cheaply. After all, this is just a test, no need to sink a bunch of resources into this project before you know it will work. That’s where SaaS comes in.

A hosted platform like Shopify Plus already has most for the development work taken care of for you. That means you don’t have to commit as many development resources to the new site. The site can also get up a lot quicker. A Shopify Plus site can be up in as little as a few weeks, where it make take a few months or more to develop out an on-premise site. Brands like Budweiser have used Shopify Plus in this way to test out the market for their branded Red Lights.

 

If you’ve recognized your own business in any of the sections above, Shopify may be a better fit for you than you might think. Hosted platforms are quicker, more agile and cheaper than open source solutions, while still packing a powerful functionality punch. Of course, I recommend you contact an eCommerce professional before you make any big decisions regarding the eCommerce arm of your business. If you were to call me with any of the above requirements, you can bet Shopify Plus would be part of our conversation.

A Beginner’s Venture into the World of eCommerce

So you want to build an online store? With the overflowing number of options nowadays, I know it can seem like a daunting task to figure out where to begin. Lucky for you, I decided to get my feet wet with BigCommerce, Shopify, and Volusion – the three biggest eCommerce platforms. By building my own online store on each of their platforms, I’ve experienced what you’re about to go through – and here’s what I’ve learned.  

 

BigCommerce:

The second you create your store (filling in basic information like your name, the store name, what you’re selling, etc.), BigCommerce is there for you with a tutorial going over different functionalities of the site. They also list out a set of steps to help you get started, so that’s nice. First item on the list – adding products!

 

The ‘Add a Product’ page is pretty self-explanatory, you just enter in the product name, price, and description. Beyond that, there are many other optional fields to specify your product. BigCommerce has a feature called Categories, which helps users find products they’re looking for and group similar products together. There are preset categories when you start, but you can always delete those if they don’t align with what you’re selling and create your own. They also offer an option for pre-orders, if you want certain products to have orders placed on them before they’re available. You can easily add photos and videos of the product, as well as whether you want it to be visible on Google Shopping. The bar towards the top of the page lists out many other ways to customize your product. Once you click on a specific item (let’s say Bulk Pricing, for example), BigCommerce walks you through the process of setting it up!

Different options under Add A Product

 

Next up, ‘Customizing your Online Store’ allows you to select from a variety of themes, which essentially determines how your store will look to the people that visit your site. As an avid iPhone user, I appreciate the fact that all their themes are mobile responsive, meaning they’ll fit to the screen of any device you’re using (phones, tablets, etc.). I’ll be honest, however, BigCommerce’s selection of free themes is quite limited. The few options there were not bad, just your average website templates. There are more themes that you could pay for and they range from $100 – $250. Overall, the themes are relatively modern and easily customizable for any store, so I had no trouble finding one that fit the sleek, simple look I was going for.

This was the theme I ended up choosing for my store

The themes in BigCommerce give you the option of customizing certain aspects such as the background color, border colors, text colors, hover colors, and much more. These adjustments require no coding knowledge, they’re simply adjusted in the Theme Editor.

 

After creating products, choosing a theme, and customizing it, BigCommerce then gets you ready to ship your products. In the Shipping Manager, you can add a shipping address and manage shipping zones. Shipping zones allow you to edit the rates depending on how far your customer is. You’re also exposed to the different add-ons that BigCommerce is compatible with, such as ShipperHQ and ShipStation. These add-ons offer additional functionality beyond the scope of the BigCommerce platform. BigCommerce offers many more as well, but we can get into that later.

This is what the Shipping page looks like – notice the Advanced Shipping Rules that you can install

 

Now, onto setting up payments. BigCommerce makes this super easy for you because they automatically accept any major credit card or debit card and PayPal – all you have to do is complete the setup. Clicking the button takes you to the PayPal powered by Braintree site, which allows you to create your account and start accepting payments.

Now that you’ve gotten the logistics of your store set up, it’s time to review and launch! BigCommerce always gives you the option to update and add new products as well as change the theme of your store, so you have the flexibility to go back and change things at any time. The final step before officially launching your store is to change the domain name. By default, BigCommerce will assign your store a something.mybigcommerce.com domain, however, you should change this by going to Account Settings → Account Summary → [Your Store Name] → Change Domain Name. Having a simple, unique domain name will help draw visitors to your site.

 

And there you have it! After launch, your store is up and running. Now, your dashboard probably looks a bit different than it did before – rather than the Getting Started list, you should see your store performance, statistics, and orders. BigCommerce keeps track of these for you. You can also explore the sidebar on the left and see what other functionalities BigCommerce offers.

BigCommerce automates a lot of the logistical processes for you – such as keeping track of your orders, registered customers, and inventory. This allows you to focus on making your store what you want it to be, without worrying about the cumbersome technical side. It gives you the tools that you need for different marketing campaigns, from banners for promoting discounts, to abandoned cart notifications. It also provides analyses of how your store is doing by recording orders, revenue, customers, visits, and top products. Not only is BigCommerce a way to build your store, but it also helps you grow your business. Its insights will allow you to optimize your products to generate the most revenue.

 

As your store grows, your business’s needs may change. This is why BigCommerce offers many different add-ons to support tasks that would facilitate changes in your business. ShipperHQ and ShipStation, the two that I mentioned before, were both add-ons that provided more flexibility to control shipping rates. There are add-ons for inventory management (particularly when your sales are coming from multiple channels), customer relationship management, marketing, and more. These features allow for endless growth and feasible management of your store, so your needs are always accounted for.

 

Overall, BigCommerce made setting up an online store easy and painless. The steps were straightforward and they made it clear what to do. The categories option for products is really useful, because it helps you sort through the products you’re selling and makes it clearer for customers when they’re browsing your site. I personally liked the themes BigCommerce offered, although the selection was very small. They allowed you to preview the theme right away, because by default it includes many sample products and text. This is great for seeing what the store would look like, but annoying when it comes to customizing your site because you have to delete all of the excess information. The shipping and payment steps were simple – it’s convenient because BigCommerce calculates and handles everything for you. The biggest issue with BigCommerce, in my opinion, is the default text, images, and categories. Not only is it a pain to go through and delete these, but it also makes it difficult to find the pages and add content for your own store. Despite this, I would say BigCommerce is an easy-to-use store-builder that comes with a plethora of features and resources to help your store succeed, all it takes is a little bit of patience.

 

Platform 1 down, 2 more to go.

 

Shopify:

Another easy initial setup – your name, store name, and address, and voilà you’re in! Shopify, much like BigCommerce, welcomes you with a list of things to do. First things first, add a product!

 

The page to add a product is straightforward; add a title, description, image, price, dimensions, and you’re good to go. There are other options to add details to your item such as inventory SKU, barcodes, and variants (if the product comes in different sizes or colors). You can also preview the search engine listing which is extremely helpful in boosting your website’s SEO and attracting more customers. Shopify’s version of categories is called Collections, and you can sort your products into different ones in order to find them with more ease.  

The next step is the same as building with BigCommerce; it’s time to choose the design of your website. Shopify has its own Theme Shop, where you can browse through many themes, preview them, read reviews about them, and click on real shops that implement them. This comprehensive system ensures that you’ll find the right theme for your store. One downside is that Shopify has just about the same amount of free themes as BigCommerce does – not very many. That being said, all of Shopify’s free themes could be implemented and function as well as the paid themes; they’re all quite modern and visually pleasing. Shopify also gives you the option to edit the themes using code, with one catch: they use their own programming language called Liquid. This makes it annoying if you just want to change one small thing in a theme, because you would have to seek out someone who knows Liquid, which is definitely fewer than those versed in HTML & CSS.

 

After choosing a theme, the next item on Shopify’s Getting Started list is to add a domain name to strengthen your brand. By default, Shopify gives you a storename.myshopify.com domain, however, you should buy a different domain name for a more professional feel (nobody wants .myshopify in their domain!). Purchasing a domain name through Shopify starts at about $13 USD per year. It’s nice that Shopify makes changing the domain name a priority because it’s one of the most important parts of the business – it’s how customers will remember and reach the store.

 

Shopify’s next point is to “Find more ways to sell with Shopify sales channels”. These options include selling in person with Shopify’s POS, selling on Facebook, and adding products on an existing website. This is helpful for those who have a store already up and running – not so much for people who just started out. However, it’s good to know about the options for later on when the business grows. Shopify also links blog posts from their website in order to help you get started and expand your business. While BigCommerce was more concerned with the logistical setup, Shopify invests its time in giving you the support for your long term store needs. Nonetheless, it still offers you a straightforward initial setup.

 

Shipping options are very similar to those in BigCommerce’s platform. You enter in your address and the rates are calculated at checkout. You have the option to add shipping zones as well, and Shopify gives you discounted prices for paying for shipping labels from USPS.

 

Payment with Shopify is also relatively simple; they have their own payment system that accepts credit and debit cards, as well as PayPal. Again, all you have to do is complete the account setup and you’re ready to receive payments!

After the initial store setup, Shopify allows you to track your orders, products and customers (similar to BigCommerce). They also offer integration with third-party apps to support more in depth and comprehensive functions. These features include drop shipping with apps such as Oberlo and Printful, marketing insights from Privy and Smile.io, and boosting social media presence with InstaGalleries and SocialShopWave. There’s also an option for a Buy Button, which essentially turns any existing website  into a store by allowing users to purchase items from it. Within Shopify, however, you can view your reports of sales, customer behavior, finances and acquisition. This will offer insight on your customers and ultimately help your business grow.

 

All in all, Shopify is a comprehensive eCommerce platform that is perfect for those just starting out. Setting up the online shop was not difficult, and Shopify provides you with the resources to help you expand – from easily integrating with social media platforms, to sending you helpful blog posts about where to start. Shopify’s theme store is also quite impressive because it shows each and every one of the themes they offer in depth, and provide reviews and examples of it fully implemented. In addition, Shopify’s search bar is especially handy when you’re stuck or can’t find what you’re trying to do. It searches through all the settings and options so you can easily accomplish whatever your goal is. (BigCommerce’s one on the other hand only searches through your orders, customers and products). Shopify and BigCommerce are very similar, but I think with all the extra support and resources, I would have to pick Shopify over BigCommerce.

 

Now, adding a third platform to the mix.

 

Volusion:

After the first two, I thought I had this whole ‘building an online store’ thing down. Leave it to Volusion to catch me off guard. Immediately after signing up, I expected to see some sort of task list that would have me add a product first; instead, I’m greeted with “Welcome! Pick a theme to get started!”. Volusion offers you a selection of ten free themes or the option to ‘Get a Custom Design’, which starts a window to have a conversation with a Volusion representative. The themes are comparable to those of Shopify and BigCommerce, and seem to work well with almost any store. Next, Volusion asks you to upload a logo or enter in a text logo (which is nice for those just beginning on their eCommerce journey). The text logo then pops up at the top of the screen – where a logo would be.

 

After those two steps is when Volusion finally asks you to add some products. They only allow you to add 3 products at first, so you can focus on customizing the storefront and seeing what the display of products would look like. Later on, you’ll have the option to add more products or import them in bulk. Regarding site customization, Volusion definitely gives you the most flexibility about what you want to change in the theme, but it’s a little frustrating and unintuitive. The way the platform is set up allows you to enter what you want certain fields to be on the left side, and preview what it would look like on the site on the right side. Some of the fields I entered in, such as Banner Text, Sub Text and Button Text, don’t appear directly in the preview, which is annoying because then I can’t see what I’m changing. Regardless, I appreciate having that option, as well as the ability to change the navigation of the site. Volusion’s navigation largely depends on the different categories the products are in, so you then have the option to specify the categories you want (i.e. shoes, clothes, bags, etc.).

 

When these basic steps are over, you’re asked to choose a plan in order to get ready to sell. They assure you that your 14 day trial is still free (in case you still haven’t decided whether or not to commit to the platform). The plans start from $15.00 a month, which includes everything you would need to begin your eCommerce business. The most expensive and comprehensive one is $135.00 a month, and is tailored toward larger businesses with priority support and a dedicated account manager. Volusion lays out all of the options for you, so you know what you’re getting into before you make a commitment.


Choosing one of the plans will take you to a page that ties up a few loose ends – asking you about things like whether or not you have a domain name and whether you want to purchase an SSL certificate. Shopify and BigCommerce both include an SSL certificate in the subscription, however, Volusion does not. An SSL certificate is important because it makes sure that information submitted to the website is kept secure by encrypting it when it’s transferred. Volusion requires that you purchase one before you can start accepting credit card orders.

 

Setting up purchases is one of the more complex aspects of Volusion compared to Shopify and BigCommerce. Not only do you need an SSL certificate, but you also need to set up a Payment Gateway. This gateway ensures the secure transfer of payment between the merchant and the acquiring bank. Volusion helps you through the process of configuring one, so don’t worry.

 

Volusion offers a lot of behind the scenes support – from marketing to sales reports. It’s a robust platform that is suited for any of your business needs. There are options for you depending on what products your business sells. For example, if you’re selling downloadable products, Volusion gives you the option to create and manage products keys in order to keep them secure. In addition, Volusion helps you with return on investment tracking, social media marketing, SEO, and more. The options to utilize those programs are there, however, it’s up to you to figure them out and make them work. Volusion has a support staff that is there to help, but the website won’t explain everything or walk you through.

 

Overall, I would say Volusion is the least-beginner friendly of all 3 platforms. It offers the same basic setup as the other two – choosing a theme, customizing it, adding products. It gives you a wide range of options in order to help the success of your business, however, it requires a bit of digging and playing around with it on your part. Setting up the payment system also requires some patience, as not everything is included with the monthly subscription (like it is with Shopify and BigCommerce). This platform is definitely more suited for medium to larger sized companies, and it’s probably better to have prior experience with eCommerce before tackling it.

 

That’s it for the 3 platforms! Here’s a head to head (to head) comparison if I lost you in some of that

While you can’t go wrong with any of these options, I would recommend Shopify for those of you just starting out. It was easy to use, and includes all the features that you need to launch your store. In addition, the sheer number of businesses using Shopify means that you’ll have an extremely large community of users behind you to help. That being said, each of these platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the best fit for you will depend on your store. Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion all have free trials, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try them all out and see which one you like best. Coming from someone who had no prior experience with eCommerce, it wasn’t all that bad! In fact, it was actually quite fun. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and start your own online business!

 

Bitcoin in eCommerce

What is the Future of Bitcoin in eCommerce?

You may have heard of the term “Bitcoin” floating around in the past several years, but what exactly is it? Bitcoin is digital money that is transferred between users instead of using a third party (like a bank). Economists regularly argue over bitcoin being actual “money”; it operates more like stock in a company. With a fixed amount of Bitcoins, you buy into the marketplace and sell your bitcoins for cash or use them to purchase items.

 

Now that you have a relative understanding of what Bitcoin is, it’s important to understand how bitcoin has transitioned from an underground currency to the popularized purchasing power that it is today. In its humble beginnings, bitcoin was typically used in underground markets in order to have anonymous purchasing power. Over time, people found that Bitcoin provided a unique form of money that was used similarly to stock as well as a means to purchase. Today, there are actually ATMs available that will distribute and take bitcoin (these are more common in the United States). As well as Bitcoin becoming popularized with everyday transactions, it has become prominent in various industries.

Who Accepts Bitcoin?

As Bitcoin has arisen as the most popular cryptocurrency, it has successfully infiltrated many reputable businesses as a form of payment. Bitcoins can be used to purchase a plethora of products, as well as services. With the rising popularity of this currency, it would be lunacy to avoid involving it as a method of payment, so it makes sense that businesses are now opening their doors. But who is ahead of the curb?

 

Well, for one, it should be noted that even WordPress accepts Bitcoin. This is a site that allows a user to create free blog content. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the entire business is based online; why wouldn’t they accept online currency? This goes for Overstock.com as well as OkCupid. Online companies are obviously going to benefit from accepting cryptocurrency, and many of the faces of eCommerce, such as BigCommerce and Shopify, have jumped on the bandwagon.

 

It may not seem surprising that any business that is entirely centered around the internet is going to accept a currency that is run through the internet, but it should definitely surprise you that a business like Subway is also accepting Bitcoin. That’s right, Subway. You can buy a sandwich with Bitcoin. Places like Helen’s Pizza, in New Jersey, have started to accept Bitcoin as well. You can walk up to the register and purchase a slice through your phone. And by purchasing gift cards through Gyft, you can even shop at Whole Foods with bitcoins. Groceries through cryptocurrency? This should give you an idea of the vast popularity of the cryptocurrency, as well as the potential for future use.

 

What Can You Expect The Future of Bitcoin to Be Like?

It’s hard to say exactly where Bitcoin will go, only that so far it has been steadily rising in popularity and demand. There is a clear benefit to Bitcoin in that the currency can function as both stock and currency, and that it can easily be utilized through online transactions. In reality, Bitcoin is likely to grow exponentially within the eCommerce community. With a literal online currency, there is going to be a growing demand for the acceptance of Bitcoin, and that demand is already being met in many facets of the business world.

It is debatable as to whether Bitcoin will increase the potential for offline transactions. An argument could be made that the rising popularity in online purchases would lead to a preference towards cryptocurrency. If that were to take place, then any store would be foolish not to include Bitcoin in their payment options. People would likely purchase most of their products online and would prefer to use cryptocurrency in public instead of cash. No one wants to have too many forms of payment to juggle, so if cryptocurrency were truly popularized as the main means of purchasing online, it would be likely to bleed out into offline purchases as well.

 

Another factor that could bring about the downfall of bitcoin would be the rise of other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is not the lone cryptocurrency, and although it is the most popular, it is also the first of its kind. It may seem like the optimum cryptocurrency right now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that another currency won’t prove to be more efficient. It’s also possible that Bitcoin will simply be one of a few popularized cryptocurrencies and plateau once others become steadily utilized. The future of Bitcoin is hard to say, but the concept of cryptocurrency is definitely here to stay as a functioning part of eCommerce, and it’s a smart idea to provide it as a payment option for customers.