Which eCommerce platforms do big retailers select?

Salesforce CC, Shopify, Magento: Which cloud-based eCommerce platform should be on your short list?

We’ve got data on over 200 US storefronts online.

Are you selecting a new eCommerce platform vendor for a big online retailer? Wonder who should be on your short list? Well, we did the research to find which eCommerce platforms lead the pack among enterprise clients. In May 2021, B2C Partners compiled data from a number of industry sources to see which platforms power the top US eCommerce sites.

Our analysis began with lists of top companies from NRF and RIS News. It then expanded into stores that are prevalent in mall locations. Our study considered companies with a US presence. We excluded companies that are unlikely to use an eCommerce platform. For example, we did not include:

  • Grocers and convenience stores (e.g., Kroger, Albertsons, Aldi, Publix, Speedway)
  • Media and telecommunications (e.g., QVC, HSN, AT&T, Verizon, Apple iTunes)
  • Dining establishments (e.g., Dunkin, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s)
  • Marketplaces (e.g., Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Wayfair, Etsy, Zulily)
  • Unique business models (e.g., 1-800-FLOWERS, Vistaprint, StubHub, Stitch Fix)
  • Big companies with no eCommerce at all (e.g., Burlington, Ross Stores — tsk tsk)

Over 250 notable online merchants made the initial cut. Over time, we plan to expand this list as we refresh the data. But we had to start somewhere.

20% of big eCommerce sites are headless — or (more likely) custom builds

Of the 250 properties we analyzed, 20% run a web storefront that is custom built or a platform that is unrecognized. It’s not clear if there is an eCommerce platform behind them. For example, sites like Mernards, Nordstrom, The Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Foot Locker could have a modern, headless architecture. It just looks like a custom build. Headless implementations sit in front of a commercial eCommerce platform; and connect through an API layer. But whether these backends are commercial or custom built, there’s no way to tell. The front end of these sites is separate from what’s behind it.

I would like to believe that most of these sites have a commercial eCommerce platform sitting in the backend. But in my experience, many still are custom builds. Some retail CIOs have a strong bias to extend their own core systems and develop new features in house. A word of caution if this is your CIO. The pace of innovation today is harder-than-ever to maintain. If you aren’t a software company, you’ll never keep up with the pace of innovation in the long run.

Remember — software vendors know what business they are in. They aren’t merchants, and they don’t try to be. Software vendors don’t source merchandise, carry inventory, or maintain storefronts. They are in a different type of business altogether. Software vendors have much higher margins and the means to compensate new hires. They aggressively recruit and retain the talent they need to compete. Because of this, software vendors are more attractive to better recruits than a merchant can ever be.

Once in awhile, a merchant might get lucky and hire a gifted developer at the start of their career. But it only lasts a season before the best ones leave for higher pay and career opportunity. For merchants with tight margins and traditional sales channels to support, that custom-built eCommerce feature might be tailored for the needs of this moment. But technology ages fast. Custom built eCommerce sites require patience, determination and deep pockets to support over time.

Examples of custom builds (or headless implementations?)

Here is a list we compiled of 53 big US merchants without a clear commercial eCommerce platform behind their current online storefront. Some of them may have previously disclosed which commercial eCommerce platform they use, if any. But looking at the tools and sources we could reference online, there is no easy way to tell if they are headless or custom built.

Back in the day, some of these sites did use a major platform like ATG or IBM. But there is no easy way to confirm if these sites still have old tech under the hood, or upgraded it to something new.

The predominance of cloud-based eCommerce platforms today

Among the balance of 200 top online merchants, most use hosted, cloud-based eCommerce platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, HCL Commerce, SAP Commerce, Oracle Commerce, Adobe Magento and Shopify. We’ll cover each in separate posts — plus a few more challengers that have promise.

Fifteen years ago, a tech startup named Demandware disrupted the industry. It developed a cloud-based eCommerce platform, and made it available by subscription. Rather than depending on licenses and installs; Demandware equipped clients with the tools to manage an online storefront with a pay-for-performance model. That same year, Shopify was founded to serve the eCommerce needs of small and mid-sized businesses. The following year, the first iPhone was released, along with its App Store.

Since then, “mobile” has become ubiquitous. The “cloud” is the predominant model for software delivery nowadays. With the shift from installations to services, the crowd of eCommerce platforms consolidated. Some platforms were acquired and re-purposed — all of them as “cloud first” offerings.

  • 2010: Oracle acquired ATG (Art Technology Group)
  • 2013: SAP acquired Hybris and iCongo
  • 2015: Shopify went public
  • 2016: Salesforce acquired Demandware
  • 2018: Adobe acquired Magento
  • 2019: HCL acquired IBM Websphere Commerce

More to follow…

We’ll break down each of these vendors, and the storefronts they power, in separate posts. So watch for our next case study. If you’d like access to all 200 big online merchants with their platforms and clickable links, just contact us with a request from your work email. Or schedule a consultation. We’re happy to share.

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