Salesforce Commerce Cloud: SiteGenesis Users Should Consider Replatforming Instead of a SFRA Upgrade

There are numerous issues facing retailers whose ecommerce platform is based upon SiteGenesis, Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s legacy architecture. Whilst Salesforce’s proposed approach is an upgrade to SFRA, a more modern reference architecture, this is an expensive and complex process. Could a migration to an alternative digital commerce solution be the better approach?

Written By
Dan Partridge

Salesforce Commerce Cloud (SFCC) is a leading digital commerce solution powering some of the largest enterprise retailers on the planet. However, not all SFCC stores are created equal.

In this article we’ll be considering SiteGenesis, the highly problematic legacy reference architecture on which early SFCC stores were built, and exploring the many issues that it is causing for retailers.

In particular, we’ll look at:

  • the history behind SiteGenesis, which has its origins in Salesforce’s acquisition of Demandware in 2016;
  • the numerous issues with SiteGenesis, and why retailers are needing to upgrade or replatform in order to compete in the modern digital commerce arena;
  • why an upgrade to SFCC’s more modern SFRA framework isn’t necessarily a silver bullet; and
  • a compelling alternative solution: replatforming to Shopify Plus, a more powerful solution with a significantly reduced total-cost-of-ownership (TCO).

The last point is an important one here; whilst this article will help inform those using SiteGenesis, we should be clear at the outset that we are advocating that retailers using SiteGenesis migrate away from SFCC, rather than upgrade to a more modern version of it.

First though, and in order to really understand the origins of SiteGenesis and why it’s such an outdated backend architecture, we need to go back as far as 2009. 

The origins of SFCC SiteGenesis

SiteGenesis was originally developed by Demandware back in 2009 to provide the necessary architecture for its ecommerce solution. This enabled developers to build bespoke ecommerce websites, much in the way that we continue to do today. However, as smartphone usage increased, developers began to find the SiteGenesis architecture extremely inflexible.

In 2014, Demandware released SiteGenesis 2.0, an updated architecture that helped to optimise the quality of digital experiences that could be built for Demandware clients. Notably, though, this version did not allow for native support of mobile-friendly store design. In other words, the architecture was not keeping pace with popular demand or consumer behaviour.

In 2016, Demandware was acquired by Salesforce. The imperative to improve mobile user experience led to the swift development of a mobile-first reference architecture (MFRA), and in 2018 this was further improved by the introduction of storefront reference architecture (SFRA). This architecture, which allows for native mobile-first development and responsive UX/UI, remains the core architecture on which SFCC websites are built to this day.

However, whilst new SFCC stores built from 2018 onwards are underpinned by SFRA, previous Salesforce/Demandware customers continue to be reliant upon SiteGenesis. Legacy SFCC customers have not been automatically upgraded to a more modern architecture, and this is where the problems begin.

SiteGenesis today: Legacy architecture, a myriad of problems

Whilst it is in many ways inherently unfair to compare SiteGenesis with modern digital commerce reference architectures, this is exactly what many legacy Demandware/SFCC customers continue to experience.

We are aware of the following issues with SiteGenesis, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

1. SiteGenesis is not mobile-native

In today’s mobile-first environment this is a huge issue. Salesforce’s rush to develop MFRA post-acquisition in 2016 demonstrates that even at that time, Demandware’s product was failing to address consumer demand. By 2022, 59% of website traffic globally came from mobile devices, having overtaken desktop traffic in 2015. It is anticipated that in 2024, 43% of all ecommerce transactions globally will be made on mobiles.

For SFCC users deploying SiteGenesis, creating meaningful mobile experiences is extremely challenging, if not impossible. Quite simply, this is unacceptable (particularly for an enterprise digital commerce solution) and will be having a detrimental impact upon all key metrics for ecommerce retailers using SiteGenesis.

2. SiteGenesis is a 2014 solution (and v1.0 is from 2009)

We’ve alluded to the fact that SiteGenesis is very outdated. It is not on Salesforce’s upgrade path, meaning that new solutions are not being implemented for its users. Retailers operating on SiteGenesis are inevitably building up huge technical debt as a result.

Much of the core functionality available out-of-the-box on a modern ecommerce platform is either unachievable in SiteGenesis, or disproportionately expensive to build out. Good examples of this would include modern approaches to personalisation, content management, product inventory management and search.

3. SiteGenesis and security vulnerabilities

Older technologies tend to be more vulnerable to cyber attacks and other security breaches, and SiteGenesis is no exception. Specific risks like cross-site scripting, SQL injection and cross-site request forgery are all more likely to occur on sites running SiteGenesis. When Demandware built the original SiteGenesis framework in 2009, compliance and security standards were very different from where they are today.

SiteGenesis stores may not be PCI DSS compliant, a key risk in certain sectors and jurisdictions (and a compliance breach in certain regulated environments), and an area where modern ecommerce solutions like Shopify and commercetools stand out.

4. Limited compatibility with the Salesforce Commerce Cloud Partner Marketplace

The SFCC marketplace contains various pre-built integrations and extensions which have been built by third parties for Salesforce customers to access. Unsurprisingly, SiteGenesis has not been supported in this environment for many years, and legacy users will struggle to implement solutions from the marketplace.

5. SiteGenesis’ TCO is much higher than SFRA

By TCO we mean total-cost-of-ownership, and simply put, SiteGenesis is very, very expensive to run.

Many of today’s SaaS digital commerce offerings provide an incredibly powerful, scalable product at a highly competitive price. SiteGenesis is the opposite; because it’s so outdated, building out requisite functionality is more time-consuming (both for  development and testing) and retailers have to create more bespoke functionality because there is a lack of native or ecosystem-ready solutions.

Incredibly, given how notoriously expensive SFCC can be, SiteGenesis’ TCO is actually much higher than SFRA. We’ll explore TCO in more detail later on in this article, when considering alternative digital commerce solutions.

6. SiteGenesis’ performance is below-market rate

Stores built on SiteGenesis will experience slower load times than competitors built on more modern digital commerce frameworks. Slow page speed is known to negatively impact user experience, conversion rates and SEO rankings. This is compounded by the lack of scalability and flexibility in the architecture; developers are having to create weighty new codebase additions which further slow things down and inhibit performance.

This is another very practical reason why SiteGenesis’ lack of mobile-first compatibility is so detrimental. Retailers migrating away from SiteGenesis are likely to see very significant performance improvements, with a direct uplift to conversion rate and ultimately revenue.

7. Inherent SEO limitations and weaknesses

SiteGenesis doesn’t readily enable many of the native SEO solutions that modern retailers require. It has limitations relating to URL structure, and does not allow native management and editing of tags, meta descriptions and alt text for images. Modern digital commerce solutions like Shopify also include auto-generation of canonical tags (preventing duplicate content) and automatic generation of your website’s sitemap.

Another damaging consequence of slow page-speed is the impact that this can have on SEO rankings; faster load times tend to result in better rankings in the SERPs.

8. Limited availability of SiteGenesis talent

A common issue with legacy technology is finding the right expertise to support it. Understandably, with less than 2,000 stores globally now running on SiteGenesis, most developers in the SFCC ecosystem are focused on supporting clients with SFRA (not to mention those who have chosen to specialise on more modern digital commerce solutions like commercetools, Shopify and BigCommerce). Unfortunately this means that SiteGenesis expertise is hard to source, and very expensive.

9. Lack of support and product development from Salesforce

Improvements and upgrades are an important factor when choosing an ecommerce platform or solution. Ideally, you want to see (i) regular performance and functionality improvements, which (ii) can be deployed on your store with minimal friction, cost and development support. Unfortunately, this is not the case with SiteGenesis. Any updates announced by Salesforce require significant testing and bespoke development to be successfully implemented on a legacy Demandware solution, and there are no guarantees that additional features can be successfully implemented.

A good example of this relates to payment gateways. Modern digital commerce platforms like Shopify offer a huge range of payment options ‘out of the box’. Implementing an additional payment gateway like Apple Pay is extremely difficult and expensive for a retailer using Salesforce / SiteGenesis – typically costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Innovating, experimenting or even attempting to maintain an updated SiteGenesis store is extremely difficult.

What are the options for SFCC SiteGenesis customers?

There are three primary options for retailers who are encumbered with a SiteGenesis-powered store.

The first is to do nothing. Notwithstanding the issues listed above, there is no hard deadline by which you must explore an alternative solution. Whilst Salesforce are not actively supporting SiteGenesis, neither are they killing it altogether.

If you can ride out the limitations of SiteGenesis, or you’re not currently in a position to entertain an upgrade or replatforming, you might want to defer this decision altogether.

For everybody else, there are effectively two options:

  1. Upgrade from SiteGenesis to SFRA.
  1. Replatform to another digital commerce solution.

For many retailers who wish to continue operating in the Salesforce ecosystem, the obvious solution is to upgrade from SiteGenesis to SFRA.

There are certainly advantages to this route; most of the performance issues identified above will be mitigated by the upgrade. When Puma upgraded from SiteGenesis to SFRA it experienced a 50% increase in mobile conversion rates and a 69% faster page load time. One of the key objectives of SFRA when it was introduced was to prevent customers from falling behind the upgrade path, meaning that it should be much easier (albeit not necessarily cheap) for retailers to avoid incurring further technical debt.

Strikingly, though, many leading SFCC partners do not recommend upgrading from SiteGenesis to SFRA. Instead, they advocate that best practice is to build a new, ‘future proofed’ SFRA architecture from the ground up. This is effectively an argument that retailers should migrate to SFCC with a brand new architecture and content experience.

This raises a number of obvious questions. If a SiteGenesis to SFRA ‘upgrade’ is not recommended, and the preferred approach is akin to a full replatform or site rebuild, is SFCC the right environment to be undertaking that rebuild? What other platforms might be worth considering? Might there be better, cheaper and more flexible platforms to consider? With SFRA upgrades alone typically costing in the region of $500k to $1m, does SFCC’s extremely high TCO mean that there is a compelling time-to-value proposition for replatforming into another digital commerce ecosystem?

The second option, then, and one that we’re seeing a lot more of, is retailers choosing to replatform from SiteGenesis to another digital commerce provider. For smaller retailers this might be something like BigCommerce, and for the small handful of large enterprise retailers running on SiteGenesis, it might be a leading composable provider like commercetools, Elastic Path or another MACH offering.

By far the most popular decision, though, for retailers of all sizes, is to migrate from Salesforce Commerce Cloud to Shopify Plus.

An alternative view: Replatform from SFCC / SiteGenesis to Shopify Plus

In broad-brush terms, we believe that all of the benefits associated with an SFRA upgrade are also true of a migration to Shopify Plus. That’s before we start considering the not-insignificant benefits of Shopify Plus over the SFCC platform (even when comparing the modern incarnation of SFCC).

Thanks to its flexibility, affordability and excellent time-to-value proposition, some of the biggest brands in the world have already made the move from SFCC to Shopify Plus, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Fenty Beauty and Revlon. We are seeing this trend accelerate quickly.

Built with agility and scalability at its core, Shopify Plus offers retailers of all sizes a robust platform that enables and expedites ecommerce growth. Amongst its flagship features and benefits are:

  • High performance checkout. Shopify’s one-click checkout solution Shop Pay is the fastest, best-converting checkout on the internet. It has been designed and optimised to vastly outperform other accelerated payment solutions and regular checkouts.
  • Enterprise-grade performance. Shopify can handle over 10,000 checkouts per minute thanks to unlimited bandwidth and transactions, along with 99.98% average uptime. Historic concerns around the scalability of Shopify (i.e. that it is not ‘built for enterprise’) have now been assuaged.
  • Ease of use. Shopify’s intuitive interface means that retailers can deploy new features quickly, without the need for costly and time-intensive technical support. This enables brands to remain responsive to changes in consumer behaviour and evolving business needs, whilst reserving budget for growth-focused activities and more complex bespoke requirements.
  • Rich ecosystem of apps. Shopify offers the largest ecosystem of apps and pre-built integrations in the industry. Retailers have access to more than 8,000 apps for store customisations, all of which undergo a thorough review process prior to release on the app store. This app and third-party ecosystem is a unique aspect of Shopify’s value proposition (and its defensive moat).
  • Product roadmap. Shopify is constantly releasing new functionality, thanks to a dedicated team of developers working exclusively on product innovation. In its most recent ‘Winter Editions’ alone, there were over 100 product updates released.
  • Commerce Components by Shopify. The introduction of Shopify’s enterprise-only offering cements the platform’s status as the most scalable on the market, capable of powering omnichannel commerce operations for challenger brands and established international leaders alike. For those looking to embed composability in their tech stack, this is an important part of Shopify’s offering.
  • TCO. Brands migrating from SFCC to Shopify Plus are likely to experience a significant reduction in TCO (before we even consider performance uplifts and conversion/revenue upside). For example, a retailer with $20m GMV could conservatively expect TCO to be as much as 50% less on Shopify Plus (representing as much as a 7-figure annual saving). This opens up a huge opportunity for brands to channel budget into revenue-driving activity by investing in strategic marketing campaigns, additional functionality and optimisation programs.

Talk to us about migrating to Shopify Plus

If you’d like to discuss any of the themes in this article, including the possibility of migrating your brand from Salesforce Commerce Cloud to Shopify Plus, then please reach out to our team today.

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