Over the last five years we’ve seen a big shift in the quality, versatility and scalability of ecommerce solutions available to retailers. This has continued to lower the barrier to entry for prospective DTC brands, but also enabled established mid-market retailers to punch above their weight and win market share from incumbent competitors.
Whilst several solutions have gained traction in this period, Shopify Plus has matured from a SMB solution to become the clear mid-market leader. In what is starting to look more and more like a ‘winner takes all’ SaaS market, we can look to the likes of Figma, Spotify and AWS for a sense of what the direction of travel for Shopify could now be.
In this article we’ll consider:
- the ascendancy of Shopify Plus, Shopify’s ‘enterprise’ product typically favoured by brands with online GMV of £10m to £500m;
- the place of headless and composable commerce architectures for larger and more experiential brands looking to build with Shopify;
- the importance of connectivity, both within the Shopify Plus ecosystem but also with third-party solutions such as ERPs, PIMs and data solutions; and
- how leading ecommerce teams are creating scalable and winning tech stacks that enable fast growth and versatility.
The Growing Ascendancy of Shopify Plus
For those interested in digital commerce, it’s been hard to ignore the growth of Shopify Plus, which today contributes around 30% of Shopify’s subscription revenue. Whilst Shopify has traditionally been famous for serving entrepreneurs, Shopify Plus is predominantly used by larger, more established retailers.
Shopify’s relentless product-focus and breathless pace of execution has undoubtedly helped fuel this, with the company’s annual R&D budget exceeding the equivalent expenditure of all competitor solutions combined. In its most recent Editions release, for example, Shopify announced another 100+ product updates. Shopify Plus is also gaining increasing traction in the enterprise market, continuing to shake its traditional reputation for being a more SMB/entrepreneur-focused solution.
At Swanky we have first-hand experience of the trajectory of Shopify Plus, which has in turn helped to fuel the growth of our own business. We can look back at a number of key milestones in this journey, including the:
- introduction of Shopify Plus in 2014, at a time when Shopify was building significant traction with entrepreneurs and SMBs but did not previously have any kind of mid-market ready product (notably leading to Gymshark’s short-lived and infamously brief migration to Magento);
- acquisition of previous market leader Magento by Adobe in 2018, followed by the introduction of various costly upgrades and deceleration of product roadmap which has rendered Magento largely unsuitable for the mid-market; and
- Covid tailwinds from 2020 onwards, at a time when Shopify Plus was already rapidly gaining market share and innovating faster than the competition.
Today, if you want to build a market-leading consumer brand, there are very few use cases where Shopify Plus is not a very compelling option. The quality of the core product, the versatility and affordability of the third-party app ecosystem, the pace of R&D and the quality of the partner ecosystem are all contributing factors to this conclusion.
Or, as one of our contacts in a leading UK Private Equity firm put it, “if our consumer brand portfolio companies are scaling fast online, they need a very good reason not to be doing it with Shopify”.
Pushing the Needle: API-first and Headless Architecture
Where higher levels of scalability, performance and connectedness are required, there is also the option to consider building headless ecommerce solutions with Shopify Plus. Shopify’s deployment of APIs enables retailers to innovate further, building tailored solutions and integrating more effectively with existing infrastructure and third-party systems.
The adoption of a headless architecture empowers larger retailers to craft immersive customer experiences across various touchpoints, liberating them from some of the constraints of more traditional legacy platforms.
Swanky client Yoto Play, for example, sells to a global audience with multiple languages and currencies. It leverages the Shopify Storefront API to aggregate separate Shopify store instances with different regional inventories into a single headless frontend, enabling a unified customer experience.
Yoto is also able to handle complex content localisation and internationalisation requirements by leveraging a headless CMS to create content for multiple audiences and languages from a centralised platform, and rapidly deploy this across multiple channels.
Whilst a headless architecture requires careful scoping and should not be undertaken lightly, we advise larger enterprises with more experiential brand propositions, or which place a premium on performance, to consider this approach. Generally speaking this can enable a level of scalability, connectedness and international versatility which can accelerate revenue growth.
The Intricacies of Connectedness
Crucially, Shopify Plus is not just an independent platform. Whilst some critics label Shopify ‘monolithic’ – and by extension, inflexible – this is a short-signed and sometimes unhelpful conclusion.
The Shopify ecosystem is renowned for its range of third-party apps, solutions and integrations. Tools like Klaviyo, Yotpo and Gorgias have become market-leaders, having started out building specific solutions for brands using Shopify. Each can be considered ‘best of breed’ in their own right, and deployed together they enable an integrated and cohesive customer experience.
This connectedness also extends beyond Shopify’s direct ecosystem, facilitated by iPaaS (Integration-Platform-as-a-Solution) solutions like Patchworks, which empower seamless integration with third-party tools.
For brands with existing ERP, WMS or PIM solutions this is a key point of difference, allowing end-to-end projects to be completed more quickly and with reduced risk. You don’t need to switch out your whole stack to build with Shopify.
Bridging the Divide: Effective ERP Integration
For upper mid-market brands with ERP requirements, the synergy between Shopify Plus and ERP systems is compelling. Shopify Plus’ open APIs and connectivity with iPaaS solutions remove the barriers that once divided pure ecommerce and ERP systems.
Real-time data synchronisation, order management, inventory tracking, and customer insights must seamlessly flow between the two environments. Incorrect or lack of integration in any of these areas can result in operational inefficiencies, data discrepancies, customer dissatisfaction, and potential financial and regulatory issues. Connecting Shopify Plus with the right choice of ERP ultimately empowers brands to optimise their operations and deliver unparalleled customer experiences.
So what makes a specific ERP the right choice for your brand? We’ve referenced NetSuite throughout this article due to its position as the only leader that serves businesses of all sizes across all regions, according to Gartner. However, it is of paramount importance to select the right technology (and implementation partner) for your unique business needs.
It’s important to identify the specific challenges and pain points you aim to address prior to selecting an ERP. This could be inventory management, order processing or financial control. Scalability is crucial, especially if you are on a steep growth trajectory. If you’re planning on expanding globally, consider the ERP’s ability to handle international operations. Lastly, robust reporting and analytics tools are invaluable for informed decision-making, so prioritise an ERP that offers actionable insights to drive success across multiple sales channels.
Enabling Global Expansion: International Commerce with Shopify Plus and Netsuite ERP
For retailers operating internationally, Netsuite ERP and Shopify Plus can be integrated to provide a strong operational solution. This can help overcome key challenges such as order processing in multiple currencies, various international tax regulations and ensuring compliance with an array of diverse standards across regions.
Netsuite ERP can also be effectively coupled with Shopify’s native cross-border solutions, Markets and Markets Pro, or other approaches such as the use of Expansion Stores or merchant-of-record solutions like Reach or Global-E. This enables effective localisation and marketing whilst maintaining precision and visibility over your whole international operation.
If you are interested in how some of these solutions can be structured within Shopify, Swanky has analysed the use case for deploying Shopify Markets or Expansion Stores, and developed an innovative solution to allow efficient management of multiple Expansion Stores with a unified codebase.
Conclusion: A Glimpse into the Future
As the digital commerce landscape continues to evolve, Shopify Plus enables large brands with ERP requirements to build with speed and confidence. The future of commerce is not confined by geographical boundaries or technical limitations; it is an interconnected ecosystem where brands thrive and innovation flourishes.
In a complex marketplace where business success requires digital maturity, solutions like Shopify Plus and Netsuite ERP aren’t just platforms; deployed correctly, they can become growth flywheels and competitive advantages that enable retailers to succeed.