Third & GroveThird & Grove
Dec 11, 2019 - Justin Emond

How to Choose Your Best Commerce Platform in 2020

big ocean wave

We’re in the midst of the “third wave” of commerce platforms.

  • In the first wave, the big players like IBM, HP, and Oracle dominated with extremely expensive commerce platforms.
  • In the second wave, Magento disrupted the big players by creating a solution that can do what SAP Hybris can do but at a quarter of the budget. You couldn’t do anything on Hybris for less than $1,000,000 but you could do the same thing on Magento for $300k.
  • In the third wave, we are witnessing history repeat itself. Cloud platforms, like Shopify Plus and BigCommerce, are mature enough for enterprise solutions and are disrupting Magento — just like Magento did to the original big commerce players.

This third wave is the disruption of traditional commerce as we know it. Magento and Hybris still have a place in the market but the focus of each platform is shifting with Cloud platforms making themselves more and more appealing.

Breaking Down the 3 Types of Commerce Platforms

Let’s make sure we understand the differences between each type of platform.




The Shifting Tides of Commerce Platform Dominance

As recently as 2017, deciding which platform to use was pretty simple. Particular platforms had a standard fit such as Hybris for B2B, Salesforce Commerce Cloud for fashion, and Magento for your mid-market and enterprise commerce build. All of these platforms were expensive, some dramatically more so than others, but they all required a major investment in engineering and budget. A more expensive platform must be the better one, right? 

Not anymore. The third wave of commerce is shifting the tide towards Cloud and Headless platforms. The Rubicon was most certainly crossed in 2018 as the leading cloud platforms for mid-market and enterprise, such as Shopify Plus, matured as agile platforms that can do what the big players can. In 2017 you asked, “Could we use Shopify for this?” Today in 2020, you have to ask, “Is there any reason we can’t use Shopify Plus for this?” It is a subtle, but dramatic shift in the commerce ecosystem.

Is there any reason we can’t use Shopify Plus for this?

Comparing the Main Commerce Platforms

Hybris has always been an expensive, slow option with a limited experience layer best fit for a client that already has invested heavily in SAP in the backend. We don’t expect that to change.

Magento was taken off the playing board by the Adobe acquisition. Why? In short, Adobe will need to demonstrate that the high price they paid for Magento was worth it by delivering revenue growth. To do that, they will have to focus the sales team and engineering team on growing the Magento integration within AEM. This means Magento is going to get better if you are an AEM user and value tight integration with closed systems. (This also means you should expect Magento’s product innovation to slow over the next three years).

Salesforce Commerce Cloud has an innovation problem. In the last year, Shopify has announced or released massive API expansions, greatly expanded support for multi-currency and multilingual, enhance tools for the back office fulfillment team, expanded 3D and augmented reality support, and, most startlingly, a nation-wide fulfillment network that will enable every merchant using Shopify, with the click of a button, to rival Amazon’s ability to get product into consumers hands incredibly fast. 

In that same time period, SFCC has announced a visual editor (something Shopify has had for years), integration with other Salesforce products (only useful if your organization is “all in” on Salesforce), and some personalization improvements.

The acquisition by Salesforce has had the predictable outcome: slower innovation and higher costs.

Shopify Plus continues to go from strength to strength. With the big announcement of the fulfillment network this year along with a bevy of terrific refinements to the core platform, it’s clear Shopify is executing its vision to make commerce easier for everyone. The primary risk right now is that when there is a conflict between Shopify and Shopify Plus — resources, product direction, etc — who will win out? Will Shopify best serve small merchants, or large ones?

Considerations for Choosing the Best Commerce Platform For Your Needs

There is no single platform that is right for all use cases and traditional platforms can still be the best fit for your use case. Here are the questions that we always ask our clients when leading this process.

Do you use a modern open source CMS like Wordpress or Drupal that is tightly coupled to your commerce experience?

  • +1 for Cloud only if using BigCommerce (they support API-driven commerce very well)
  • +1 for Headless if you are building your experience in a robust CMS you need a robust API-first ecomm platform to make the integration successful.

Are you starting a new brand?

  • +1 for Cloud unless there is a reason you can’t use it. Take the dollars saved on the backend and put them toward marketing.

Do you have uncommon security requirements?

  • +1 for Traditional as this is where platforms like Magento shine, as you control all the code, top to bottom.

Are your products highly configurable?

  • +1 for Traditional. With full control of the code you can likely break past the limitations of the configurable complexity they will support out-of-the-box most easily here.

Do you need to run stores in multiple languages in multiple markets?

  • +1 for Traditional as traditional platforms have long supported multilingual.
  • +1 for Cloud as cloud platforms have caught up to the international support offered in the traditional platforms.

Are you more content than commerce?

  • +1 for Headless. You probably will then use a CMS to power your digital commerce experience, and if so you need an API first commerce engine to make it all tightly integrated.

Are you more commerce than content?

  • +1 for Cloud. BigCommerce and Shopify Plus can be coupled with traditional CMS platforms like Drupal or WordPress

Is your budget limited in comparison to your peers?

  • +1 for Cloud. The reality is that both headless and traditional platforms will usually be more expensive to implement than cloud.

Do you have complex editorial workflow requirements for publishing content?

  • +1 for Headless. You need to use a CMS, you will never get these features out of a cloud or traditional ecomm platform.

Does your marketing team need the ability to rapidly create complex landing pages without talking to engineering?

  • +1 for Headless. If you can use an email marketing tool like Marketo or Mautic, go with that and use a cloud solution. If not, go headless and use a CMS like Drupal or WordPress.

Are you running Adobe Experience Manager?

  • +1 for Traditional. You should consider Magento as it is expected to be more tightly integrated with AEM in the years to come.
  • +1 for Cloud. You will get pushback but the reality is for many use cases you can still do it better, faster, and cheaper with cloud than a big-budget Magento build.

Do you need to embed commerce into an existing mobile application, custom hardware device, or brick and mortar flow?

  • +1 for Headless. You need an API first ecomm platform to make that work.

Are you building a typical digital commerce experience with or without integration needs?

  • +1 for Cloud as a cloud solution is often — though not always — better, faster, and cheaper. Just accept it.

Are you using SAP internally?

  • +1 for Traditional. You will feel institutional pressure to use Hybris. The integration work might be less, but is the measure of success of your digital commerce project saving money on the data integration or is it driving revenue growth through sales?
  • +1 for Cloud. Both Shopify Plus and BigCommerce integrate well with SAP. (Here's how to integrate SAP with Shopify Plus.)

Do you have varied, robust promotion requirements?

  • +1 for Cloud as cloud supports this well (headless may struggle.)

Are your promotion requirements simple?

  • +1 for Cloud. No reason to not use cloud.
  • +1 for Headless. No reason to not use headless.


Take your time, think through the considerations upfront and you'll have the best ecommerce setup for your specific needs in 2020 and beyond.