As an e-tailer operating in today’s modern environment, you have your work cut out for you — more so than ever before. Not only are you dealing with a more competitive market, but your customers have higher expectations. It’s no longer enough to stock up on the right products, you also need to delight customers and be able to fulfil orders in the fastest, most affordable way possible.
Then there’s the fact that shoppers are increasingly using multiple channels and devices throughout their buying journeys. They’re shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, online, and, more importantly, on mobile. Retailers who want to keep up must be able to provide great shopping experiences across various environments and devices.
It’s a tall order, but you need to be able to deliver if you want to stay competitive. And a big part of doing that lies in the technologies you use in your business. To thrive in today’s market, you need an ecommerce platform that will allow you to deliver on the expectations of modern consumers. You need the tools to sell the right products, provide amazing shopping experiences, and fulfil orders efficiently. And if your existing solution can’t meet those needs, you should find one that can.
That’s exactly what this guide is for. This resource will walk you through the process of finding and selecting the right enterprise ecommerce platform. Go through the steps below and incorporate them in your search for a new solution.
Table of Contents
- 1 Step 1 – Determine your ecommerce needs
- 2 Step 2 – Set a budget
- 3 Step 3 – Research ecommerce solutions
- 4 In-depth research
- 5 Step 4 – Compare, evaluate, and decide
- 6 Conclusion
Step 1 – Determine your ecommerce needs
Iron out your needs before you even start looking into ecommerce platforms. Determining your requirements early on will make the process of finding and selecting a solution much easier.
Begin your search with a roadmap. Outline where your business is now and where you want it to go. What are the features and experiences that your site is currently offering? Put them on paper and make sure the solution you select has comparable (or better) capabilities.
Next, think about your future plans for the business. Are you planning to expand to more stores or markets? Do you intend to introduce more fulfilment options? You want a solution that will allow your business to scale and improve.
Another great exercise is to map your customers’ path to purchase. How do they find you? What channels do they use? How do they want their orders to be fulfilled? The answers to these questions will enable you to determine the features and capabilities that you need.
When listing down your requirements, specify them in terms of:
- Front-end needs – You need your site to look and function well. What exactly do you want customers to see and do on your site? Consider navigation, search, as well as the information that you want customers to see and how they should be displayed. You should also think about the customisation options that you need in an ecommerce solution.
- Back office / integrations – Your ecommerce site needs to work smoothly with your back office operations. List the capabilities you need the platform to have to ensure that products are ordered, selected, packed, and shipped successfully.
Also, consider the programs you’re currently using (i.e. ERP, fulfilment, accounting, and the like) and see if the platforms you’re evaluating can integrate with them. If not, do they offer built-in features or alternative integrations that can work for your business?
- Customer management – Think about the capabilities you need to build and manage relationships with your customers. For example, if you communicate with shoppers via email, then you need a solution that either has built-in email marketing features or an integration with your email marketing platform. Do you have a loyalty program? Make sure it works with your new ecommerce program.
- Catalog management – Specify the catalogue management features you need. How many SKUs do you have? How many variants?
If you have special catalog requirements, write them down as well. For example, do you sell bundles? Can customers personalise their merchandise? Think about these things now and keep them in mind when you’re assessing different solutions.
- Architecture and security – List the security and reliability standards you need in your ecommerce platform. How should the platform be built? How flexible or scalable is it? What certifications and encryptions should it have?
- Performance/scalability – See to it that the platform can handle the traffic and data that you have. How does each platform handle heavy volumes of traffic?
- Mobile – Specify your requirements for mobile. Aside from being responsive (which should be a given) what other features should be available on your mobile site? For instance, some ecommerce merchants have “click-to-call” or “click-to-map” buttons on their sites.
You should also think about how want your mobile site to be structured in order to avoid issues such as code bloat and increased page load time.
Put them on paper
Doing the above exercises will enable you to create a list of required features. To make things more efficient later on, organise these needs in a spreadsheet that will allow you to compare solutions side by side.
Note: You also want to involve key people in the organisation in this initial phase of determining your needs. Have people from departments like IT, customer service, sales, marketing, fulfilment, and operations weigh in on your requirements in a new ecommerce solution. This will enable you to get a complete view of your needs.
Consider hiring an ecommerce consultant
At this stage, you should also think about bringing in outside experts. Hiring an ecommerce consultant can make the process of finding and selecting a system much easier. Consultants can provide insights and expertise that your internal teams may not have, allowing you to be more informed (and objective) when assessing different solutions.
If you’re keen on hiring a consultant for this project, here are a few pointers to help you select the best one:
- Pay attention to their past work and experience – Years of experience and a strong portfolio are great, but you want to make sure their credentials are relevant to your business. Look into consultants who have worked with companies whose size and business model are similar to yours.
- Be clear about expectations – See to it that both parties understand the project and scope of work. Be clear about what you expect the consultant to do. Specify the tasks they need to complete and results they have to meet, along with the costs of their services.
- Determine compatibility – Skill level and expertise aren’t enough. You should also ensure that the consultant has a great relationship with you and your staff. Take time to evaluate cultural fit and see if they’re compatible with your team. Look into their work ethic. How do they operate? How do they interact with others? The answers to these questions can help you determine if they’re a good fit.
Step 2 – Set a budget
The next step is to think about how much you’re willing to spend on your ecommerce platform. When setting your budget, be sure to consider the “non-obvious costs” that come with implementing a new solution. Go beyond the on the surface costs like licenses and development, and consider expenses for maintenance, consultation, set up and the like. Here are some of things you should factor into your budget
- Cost of the ecommerce platform – Ecommerce platform costs will vary depending on the business’ size, sales volume, and of course, the solution itself. Some solutions (such as Magento) charge yearly licensing fees while others (like Shopify) require monthly subscription fees. In some cases (such as Demandware) the provider takes a cut from the retailer’s sales.
These are just some of the things that would factor into your budget. Typically, though, enterprises should budget at least $20,000 a year for ecommerce platform costs.
- Design and development costs – Building your online store is another huge expense. Depending on your company, you can choose to design and develop your site in-house, outsource the job to an agency, or do a combination of both.
- Maintenance fees – Many merchants end up paying more than expected because they overlooked maintenance when budgeting for a solution. Don’t make the same mistake. You need to think about ongoing development, as well as other upkeep costs such as SEO, security management, analytics, and more.
- Transaction fees – Transaction fees may vary from one ecommerce solution to another. You may end up with lower fees by choosing the preferred payment provider of the vendor. Look into each platform’s integrated payments to see if they integrate with your payment gateway of choice or if you can use any of their payment partners.
- Hosting costs – How much can you expect to pay in hosting fees? Again, this depends on your solution.
You could go with a hosted solution and let your ecommerce provider handle server maintenance, updates, etc.
Alternatively, you could choose a self-hosted ecommerce platform in which you’ll need to handle the setup and management of your own servers or find a hosting partner. With this setup, the merchant pays server costs separately.
- Consultation fees (if applicable) – If you’re hiring a consultant, don’t forget to factor in their fees into your budget.
Step 3 – Research ecommerce solutions
Once you have a clear idea of what you need and how much you’re willing to spend, you can start looking into different solutions to determine the best fit. To make this step a little easier, below is a list of the most common ecommerce solutions for enterprises, along with details about their strengths, limitations, and cost.
A. Magento Enterprise Edition
Magento Enterprise is an ecommerce solution with powerful built-in features and a large marketplace for add-ons, partners, and integrations. Many consider it to be the most flexible and agile platform in the market.
Particularly if you’re running Magento on your own servers, you could have complete freedom over the look, feel, and functionality of your store and you don’t have to rely on your solution provider to make changes to the site. That said, it also means that you’re in charge of maintaining and updating your servers and store, which requires an in-house team or agency. If you’re not up for all that, you may want to consider the Cloud Edition that Magento launched earlier this year.
A big strength of Magento lies in its large community of experts, developers, and agencies. Support is widely available, and because of this, some merchants have found that they’re able to resolve issues themselves using resources that are readily available.
That said, merchants who need further assistance can turn to Magento experts, agencies, or developers. Magento’s ecosystem is quite large so whether you’re looking for someone to help with coding, design, or maintenance, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding what you need.
There’s also Magento Connect, the platform’s marketplace of add-ons, modules, and integrations. Magento’s marketplace is huge, so if you’re looking to extend the capabilities of the platform, you’ll likely find what you need in Magento Connect.
Notable built-in capabilities:
- Ability to display dynamic content, pricing, and promotions depending on attributes like demographic, purchase history, and more.
- Content staging and preview so merchants can create and see updates without seeking help from IT
- Flexibility to choose the environment in which to deploy the software (i.e. cloud, 3rd party hosting, on premises)
- Varnish page caching, which can decrease response time and reduce the load on servers.
Magento Enterprise Edition Advantages:
- Flexible and agile
- Strong community support
- Large ecosystem of developers, experts, designers, etc.
- Highly customisable and expandable through extensions and modules
Magento Enterprise Editiion Disadvantages:
- No built-in omnichannel features
- Requires optimisation out of the box
Starting at $18,000 annual licensing fee
Notable clients: Rebecca Minkoff, RosettaStone, Christian Louboutin, Nike, Zumiez, Mikimoto
Demandware is a fully-hosted, cloud-based ecommerce platform with built-in omnichannel and predictive analytics capabilities. Demandware’s Commerce Cloud has a native data model which leverages a shared view of customer data, order history, inventory, and promotional information across all channels to give its retail clients valuable shopper insights that can be used for benchmarking and analysis.
Demandware’s data and predictive analytics technology can also be used to personalise customer interactions via email and on your website.
In terms of omnichannel, Demandware offers digital commerce, point-of-sale, order management, and store operation tools in one platform, making it an attractive choice for merchants who want a seamless solution for managing stores across different channels.
For merchants looking for expert and support services, Demandware has the LINK Marketplace, a network of agencies, integrators, and technology providers who specialise in the platform. Do note that Demandware’s ecosystem is not as large as other ecommerce marketplaces, so it may not be as easy to find the experts you need.
Notable built-in capabilities:
- Predictive intelligence that lets merchants leverage rich consumer data for benchmarking and analysis
- Personalised shopping experiences and email marketing
- Commerce capabilities across digital channels (i.e. ecommerce, mobile, social) and brick-and-mortar
- Unified view of product, customer, order, and pricing data across all channels
- Seamless integration across channels
- Being fully hosted means merchants don’t have to worry about maintaining their server and other technologies
- Predictive intelligence that allows merchants to gather tremendous insights into consumer behaviour and trends
- Since the platform is hosted by Demandware, merchants may not have full control over customisation and development
- There’s also an approval layer which means it can take time to implement updates and releases
- Relatively limited number of partners and integrations
Cost: Demandware takes a cut out of merchants’ sales. According to the folks at Williams Commerce, their percentage commission ranges between 0.75% up to 1.25%, possibly higher. Demandware’s ideal clientele would have annual sales of around $20 to $500 million.
Notable clients: Adidas, Godiva, Party City, Puma, Lacoste
hybris’ commerce solution is “omnichannel at its core,” allowing merchants to integrate digital and physical consumer touch points into one solution. With both B2C and B2B offerings, merchants can use hybris to run ecommerce, mobile, POS, call center, social media, and print on a single platform.
hybris has a robust product content management capabilities that allow companies to collaboratively build and manage product data across multiple touchpoints. It also provides centralised order management so merchants have a single view of order information across all channels. This makes back office management easier and merchants are able to offer a better shopping experience by implementing flexible pickup and fulfilment options to customers.
It’s also easy to cater to international markets with hybris. The solution has multi-site, multi-region, and multi-currency features out of the box, making it a great platform for retailers who have customers all over the world.
- Omnichannel capabilities out of the box
- Strong product content management features that make it easy for product managers, marketers, and pricers to manage merchandise information and bring products to market quickly
- Robust localisation features, including the ability to determine the right language and currency for a site
- Strong customer experience features that allow merchants to dynamically deliver 1-to-1 experiences
- Built-in omnichannel features
- International-friendly options that automatically detect the best currency and language for a site
- Option to deploy software on premises, on demand, or as a managed service
- Pre-configured solutions to enable merchants to go live quickly
- Limited resources when it comes to integration and customisation
- Limited community support
- Reportedly poor documentation
- Reporting capabilities leaves much to be desired
Cost: Licenses start at $54,000 a year, according to CPG Strategy, and can increase depending on modules and services used.
Notable clients: Benefit Cosmetics, Brita, Aldo, Honeywell, HTC
D. Oracle ATG Web Commerce
Oracle ATG Web Commerce can be implemented on-premises or hosted by Oracle or a third party.
It’s a powerful platform with features to support personalised shopping experiences, efficient merchandising as well as the rapid launches of commerce sites for different brands, markets, or campaigns. Oracle ATG Web Commerce also has native features that allow merchants to sell more complex product lines and data-rich products, such as those that require shopper information.
Merchants using ATG Web Commerce can also tap into Oracle’s other enterprise products, including Oracle Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and more.
- Robust personalisation features including tailored content and merchandise, personalised search, tailored websites, and customised marketing programs
- Unified multisite architecture that enables merchants to share resources between different ecommerce sites
- Data anywhere architecture to efficiently manage integrations
Oracle ATG Web Commerce Advantages:
- Has both B2B and B2C offerings
- Lets merchants manage and sell complex products
- Enables merchants to efficiently personalise the shopper experience through customisable content, sites, and campaigns
- Unified architecture that lets you manage multiple sites efficiently
Oracle ATG Web Commerce Disadvantages:
- Merchants who need to integrate with Oracle’s Order Management module will need to spend additional resources since ATG Webcommerce has no prebuilt integration for the solution
- Reportedly high cost of ownership
Cost: $500,000 according to Oracle’s Price List.
Notable clients: Barnes & Noble, Toys “R” Us, Macy’s, Express
E. IBM WebSphere Commerce
IBM WebSphere Commerce enables B2B and B2C merchants to deliver omnichannel shopping experiences. The platform supports ecommerce, mobile, social, and brick-and-mortar. Its B2B ecommerce offering has the capabilities to support complex products and makes digital and field selling more efficient. Its B2C solution on the other hand lets you engage customers with personalised content no matter what channel or device they’re using.
IBM WebSphere Commerce has four product editions: there’s Commerce on Cloud for those who want to quickly go to market; there’s WebSphere Commerce – Express, which was made for quickly implementing an online presence; there’s WebSphere Commerce Enterprise, which was designed for high-volume companies and multiple sites; and there’s WebSphere Commerce Professional, an option for midsize businesses.
- Storefronts, which come with features, models, and best practices that enable businesses to quickly launch their online stores.
- Customer experience management, which enables you to create and edit content without the help of IT
- Microsites and subsites, for companies looking to create sites for various regions, brands, or campaigns
- Order fulfilment and management features for implementing “order from anywhere, fulfil from anywhere, and return to anywhere.”
IBM WebSphere Commerce Advantages:
- It has capabilities to help you stay on top of multiple sites, complex products, and global, multi-brand requirements
- Option to deploy on-premises or cloud implementation
- Has a promising roadmap with includes improvements to in-store experiences and point-of-sale and the ability to provide deep insights through Watson Analytics.
IBM WebSphere Commerce Disadvantages:
- Integration with other IBM products may take time
- Reporting and analytics capabilities leaves plenty to be desired
- No multi tenant SaaS solution
Cost: Merchants who need pricing information for WebSphere Commerce would need to contact IBM directly.
Notable clients: Target, Costco, Staples, Coach, Disney
F. Shopify Plus
This platform is Shopify’s foray into the enterprise realm. Unlike the regular Shopify platform, which caters to small businesses, Shopify Plus is made for high volume merchants. It’s a fully hosted SaaS platform that offers unlimited bandwidth and can handle 500,000 hits per minute.
Merchants using the platform can access over a thousand apps to extend Shopify Plus’ capabilities. Additionally, the solution allows integrations with existing IT platforms so you can link Shopify Plus to your accounting system, ERP, and CRM.
Shopify Plus also offers white glove client services, complete with dedicated account management and 24/7 support.
- Unlimited bandwidth to support high volume sales and traffic
- Responsive designs so websites are optimised for any device
- Advanced reporting and analytics using Google’s Enhanced Ecommerce Analytics engine
Shopify Plus Advantages:
- Fully-hosted, so you won’t have to worry about server maintenance and costs
- Access to a wide variety of apps and integrations
- Relatively affordable compared to other enterprise solutions
- Multichannel capabilities thanks to Shopify’s POS and social selling features
Shopify Plus Disadvantages:
- May not be able to handle the needs of a very large, global enterprise
- Limited promotion capabilities
- Product variants are limited to 100 attributes
- No B2B capabilities out of the box
Costs: According to Merchant Maverick, Shopify Plus pricing depends on company size, sales volume, annual revenue, and other factors. That said, the minimum cost for the platform is $1,200 per month.
Notable clients: World Vision, Los Angeles Lakers, Budweiser, Tesla
G. NetSuite SuiteCommerce
Like most of its ecommerce peers, NetSuite SuiteCommerce offers a platform that unifies digital and physical commerce in a single solution so merchants can provide customers with an omnichannel shopping experience.
Additionally, SuiteCommerce has features for global companies, including the support for multiple brands, languages, and currencies. The platform can also run B2B and B2C ecommerce from one solution, enabling merchants to efficiently run business and consumer verticals without the trouble of maintaining separate platforms.
- Built-in omnichannel capabilities
- Wide range of ecommerce features including ratings, reviews, quick views, dynamic imaging and zooms, multiple image views, and more
- Responsive designs that look good across devices
- Support for multiple languages, currencies, taxes, shipping prices, and customs
- Plenty of great native features that enables omnichannel selling and powerful ecommerce experiences
- Features to support global brands
- B2B and B2C commerce can be managed on one system
- Smooth integration with other NetSuite solutions
- Dependent on NetSuite ERP
- Limited external support
- WCM isn’t as competitive as other solutions
Cost: Pricing depends on the features and modules you need. Please contact NetSuite for more information.
Notable clients: Tesco, TK Maxx, Philz Coffee, Magellan
So, you’ve done your research and have seen what different platforms can offer. Now it’s time to dig deeper to figure out which solution is best for you. Here are a few steps to help you do this:
a. Solicit RFPs
One option is to submit formal request for proposals (RFPs) to potential vendors. Be sure to spend some time on this step. A great RFP will enable vendors to fully understand your needs and will help them come up with more accurate proposals.
Here’s more information on what to include in your RFP, along with best practices for ensuring you get great proposals from suppliers. Do note that these are just suggestions. Ultimately, how you format and structure your RFP will be up to you.
- Kick things off with a good introduction – Give an overview of what your company is about. You could talk about your history and provide high-level details about your business model.
From there, proceed to discuss the project. Why are you in the market for a new ecommerce platform? What are your objectives and what are you looking for in a solution?
- Specify the time frame – It may also be helpful to talk about your timeline. When do you need to go live? Decide on a date then work backwards. Key details to include would be:
- Proposal deadline
- Selection date
- Launch date
- Talk about your existing architecture, platform and technology – Potential vendors would need some background on your current system and technologies in order to estimate the project and provide a proposal. Here are some of the details you may want to include:
- Existing ecommerce solution
- Back office systems (i.e. ERP, accounting, fulfilment)
- Third party integrations
- Testing and development environments
- Talk about relevant metrics – Details around metrics like site traffic and sales will be extremely helpful to vendors when crafting their proposals. Be sure to talk about:
- Concurrent visitors
- Page views per week
- Number of transactions per week
- Sales volume
- Talk about your needs – At this point, you could start going into more detail about what you need in a new ecommerce system. Go back to that list of requirements that you created in step one and lay them out for the vendor.
- Outline proposal requirements – Once you’ve provided sufficient information about your business and needs, you can proceed to talk about what you want to see in the submitted proposals.
At this stage, you can discuss the format that you want the proposal to be in, along with the questions you want to be answered. This will vary from one retailer to the next, but here’s a list of things you may want to ask for:
- Company overview
- Contact information
- Financial information (i.e. sales, profit, receivables, funding etc.)
- Relevant experience
- Merchants they’ve worked with
- Approach to implementing their solution
- Approach to account management
- List of security services
- Compliance standards
- Solution details
- Size and nature of project team
- Deployment plan
- Pricing details (i.e. cost of the solution itself, along with other relevant expenses such as hardware, maintenance, development, training, and more.)
- Client references
The above is just a partial list of requirements, so consult with other stakeholders to come up with a strong RFP. Have key people in your organization go over it, and once everything is in order, go ahead and submit.
b. Get in touch with sales and discuss your needs
Another option is to start a conversation directly with vendors. Get in touch with their sales team and discuss your project, requirements, and the solution they can offer. Go to the list of requirements in the section about RFPs and use them as talking points when you speak to the vendor.
c. Talk to ecommerce consultants and other merchants
It’s also a good idea to speak to ecommerce consultants and merchants who have experience using the platforms that you’re considering. Ask how each solution compares with other ecommerce platforms. What are their advantages and disadvantages? How much time, money, and work are required to set up and maintain the system? These are just some of the things you should bring up.
d. Book a demo
If possible, schedule a demonstration of the software so you can get a closer look at how it works. Be sure to include other company stakeholders in the demonstration so they can assess the platforms themselves.
Do note that it’s best to conduct demos when you’ve already shortlisted a few vendors (think 5 or fewer). This will allow you to dig deep into the platforms and properly evaluate them.
Be sure to have a list of requirements, then ask vendors to demonstrate those capabilities. You want to be in control, and if you go into a demo without clear needs or objectives, you might end up just watching the vendor’s sales team demonstrate the cool things their software can do.
Step 4 – Compare, evaluate, and decide
At this point, you should already have ample information about what each solution has to offer. The next step is to compare each platform to see which is the best fit for your business. Refer to the notes you took in the previous steps and use the information to make a decision.
To make things easier, compare vendors using the spreadsheet you created earlier. Create a table listing all the things you need in your ecommerce platform, then put the vendors you’re considering in different columns. This will allow you to easily tick off the features that each vendor can deliver. If a platform doesn’t have a feature you need, write down if and how you can work around it (i.e. use a third party integration, develop a custom solution).
Once again, this is a task that should involve other key people in the company. Get someone from IT, customer service, sales, marketing, fulfilment, and operations to evaluate solutions and weigh in on the decision.
Finding (then subsequently deploying) a new ecommerce solution is a massive undertaking. Make no mistake, you will spend a lot of time and money on this project. But here’s the good news: picking the right solution can enable you to scale your business, improve operations, and increase sales, so while the process of selecting an enterprise ecommerce platform can be challenging, it’s completely worth it.
And if you ever need help finding the right ecommerce platform for your business, feel free to get in touch.