Centra vs Shopify Plus: Exploring the pros and cons of Centra

Written by Emma Forward
Weekday homepage, a Centra merchant

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There’s a new eCommerce platform in town that everyone is talking about: Centra. It’s not uncommon for new platforms to crop up every now and then, challenging the big platforms everyone uses and loves.

Centra is the latest challenger platform in the eCommerce space. The likes of Paul Smith, Cos and Weekday have all moved over. With that said, they’ve been building their fashion eCommerce platform in Sweden since 2015. So, while they may be only just breaking into the UK market, they’ve been building a strong portfolio in Sweden.

To help you understand what Centra is all about and whether it’s the right platform for you, we donned our best detective hats. While analysing Centra, we have pitched it against its closest competitor, Shopify Plus, to see how it stacks up against one of the current leading eCommerce platforms for fashion retailers.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of Centra, comparing it to Shopify Plus as our platform benchmark as we go along.

Here’s what we found while reviewing Centra…

A brief overview of Centra

Before we dive into the Centra review, let’s take time to refresh on what Centra actually is.

Centra is a headless eCommerce platform that is specifically geared towards high-end fashion and lifestyle brands. As eCommerce consultants that work with these types of clients, Centra certainly piqued our interest. We wanted to know whether it could become a leading platform for our eCommerce clients, helping them reach even higher heights with their brands — which very nicely brings us to where we are right now, reviewing Centra to see if it can deliver the goods.

Shopify Plus is one of our go-to eCommerce platforms of choice for premium and luxury retailers. So, how does Centra compare?

Centra vs Shopify Plus: First impressions

The reason we chose Shopify Plus as our benchmark is because they are one of the leading enterprise eCommerce platforms for high-growth brands making £1–500 million annual revenue. A lot of high-end fashion and lifestyle brands use Shopify Plus as their chosen eCommerce platform thanks to its level of support, customisation, and internationalisation. This makes Shopify Plus a good comparison for Centra.

On the surface, Centra looks promising. The fact they primarily work with lifestyle and fashion brands gives them a unique edge. While their global and local approach suggests the platform can effectively handle international sales – maybe even better than some of the existing eCommerce platforms out there! 

One thing we want to investigate about Centra is whether their headless approach could drive up the total cost of ownership. Headless eCommerce is extremely flexible, meaning it can be a great choice for retailers. But it raises questions regarding related costs… something that we’ll dig into more in the pricing section of this article.

Overall, Centra is definitely the coolest platform right now. It’s safe to say they’ve come to shake up the eCommerce space.

Centra benefits and drawbacks overview

BenefitsDrawbacks
  • Specialists in fashion and lifestyle
  • Robust internationalisation capabilities
  • Advanced order management system
  • Centralised solution
  • Full control over product catalogues and data
  • Improved integrations
  • Specialists in fashion and lifestyle
  • Robust internationalisation capabilities
  • Advanced order management system
  • Centralised solution
  • Full control over product catalogues and data
  • Improved integrations

Potential benefits of Centra vs Shopify Plus

From looking at Centra’s features and functionality, it is clear that there could be some strong benefits to using Centra’s eCommerce platform. While Shopify Plus will be the best choice for a lot of brands and retailers, there are certain scenarios where Centra comes out on top.

Specialists in fashion and lifestyle

Centra’s specialised focus on fashion and lifestyle retailers means any brand in those niches should certainly keep Centra in mind when looking to replatform or expand their eCommerce site. 

While Shopify Plus has served hundreds of leading brands in the fashion and lifestyle sectors, this isn’t their only focus. By specialising in these sectors, Centra can ensure their platform is well developed to meet the specific needs of fashion and lifestyle brands.

Robust internationalisation capabilities

Centra’s internationalisation capabilities are a standout feature for brands looking to expand their global presence. With the ability to create new storefronts for each market and offer localised pricing, languages, content, and size charts for each market, Centra makes it easy for brands to enter and excel in new markets.

In contrast, you’ll need to use Shopify Markets if you want to offer multiple currencies for each store or dictate which products appear in which regions on Shopify. This is limited to 3 if on a Shopify plan other than the Plus plan, but 50 for Plus, which is ample for the majority of brands. There is also a limit on the number of expansion stores you can create on Shopify Plus (none on non-Plus plans), with this set to a minimum of one main store and nine expansion stores before having to pay for any extra stores.

While you can still create an internationalised eCommerce strategy with Shopify Plus, the experience isn’t as seamless as it appears to be with Centra.

  • To manage multiple markets with Shopify plus comes with trade-off. You either use Shopify Markets which means limited localization options and paying additional fees e.g. transaction and conversion fees.
  • Or, you’ll use separate stores, which limits your reporting and requires manual work for managing orders and inventory.”
Source: Centra

Advanced order management system

Centra’s order management system is a key advantage of the platform. Centra unifies order processing, inventory management, and order fulfilment to give brand managers greater control over the entire order lifecycle across all storefronts and markets.

The native order management system can integrate with any third party tool so you can scale your order management in line with your current or future needs.

Shopify Plus’s order management system has been designed with single stores in mind. So, if you have multiple stores, the orders, inventory, and sales won’t be synced (without installing a third party app like Syncio). One advantage of Shopify Plus is that it gives merchants access to the Shopify Fulfilment Network (SFN). This 3PL logistic solution allows brands to manage their inventory and fulfil orders by connecting them with trusted logistics and fulfilment partners.

While Shopify Plus’s order management system is advanced and feature-rich, it does rely on third party integrations to be used to its full potential. If, for example, you want advanced order features such as multi-location inventory management or advanced distributed order management, this will need to be done through third party integrations.

Centralised solution

One of the things we liked most about Centra was how it offers merchants a single platform to manage all aspects of their brand. With Centra, brands can create and manage multiple storefronts for the various regions, markets or channels they sell through. This allows them to build an omnichannel presence for all their sales channels and markets, and easily manage it in one dashboard.

In comparison, brands using Shopify Plus will need to use third party integrations if they want the platform to handle omnichannel capabilities outside of marketplaces or native Shopify storefronts. Shopify POS will let brands collect and manage customer data across multiple channels but it only works if you are using Shopify Payments. Shopify Plus can scale up to offer multiple sales channels like social media or in-store sales, but only if you pay for Shopify POS Pro.

Although Shopify Plus does handle omnichannel sales channels well, the experience isn’t as smooth as it could be with Centra.

Full control over product catalogues and data

Another element of Centra we were impressed with was the ability to customise product catalogues and data. Brands using Centra can benefit from fully customisable product fields, variants, and attributes. This lets them specify exactly what features should be displayed for each product — something that will surely improve the user experience on product display pages (PDPs). 

Centra also makes it easy to import product catalogues and control which storefronts these catalogues appear in. With that said, this isn’t anything groundbreaking. If you’re familiar with Shopify Plus, you’ll know you can easily do this using expansion stores.

Improved integrations

Centra’s headless architecture makes it easier for brands to integrate their storefront with third party apps for greater flexibility and scalability. Brands can connect their preferred apps for marketing, payments, logistics, and more through API integrations, making it easier to keep integrations updated.

Centra has also developed a lot of native features that would otherwise be fulfilled through third-party integrations. This helps reduce the total cost of ownership and streamline the number of tools you need to manage your eCommerce store.

Shopify Plus, on the other hand, has an extensive partner network allowing brands to add new features through apps or APIs. This may require greater maintenance than Centra’s combination of API integrations and native features. However, we believe Shopify Plus’s partner network offers Shopify Plus a unique advantage by giving you instant access to thousands of reputable solutions. Shopify has an app store where you can sort by top reviewed, whereas Centra doesn’t. However, the more Shopify apps you rely on, the slower the front-end of your store becomes. 

In this scenario, we think both Shopify Plus and Centra’s integration options can be advantageous in their own right.

Potential drawbacks of Centra vs Shopify Plus

While Centra presents many positives, it is crucial to remember that it is still a relatively new platform in the UK market. Centra is not as established as Shopify Plus here, meaning the platform advantages and possibilities need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Some of the potential drawbacks of Centra that came to light during our research include the potential developer learning curve, and considerations around cost. Choosing the right eCommerce platform is a nuanced activity, dependent on a multitude of factors. So, be sure to do your own research while keeping these considerations in mind.

Developer learning curve and cost

Centra is built upon a headless architecture. As such, implementing and customising your Centra eCommerce store may need significant investment in development work and training.

In contrast, Shopify Plus is a well-known platform meaning most developers understand how to set up and manage Shopify Plus stores, and it’s likely your internal eCommerce team will have prior experience of it. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Shopify Plus-specific developers, be it agencies or freelancers, and there’s an abundance of resources out there to help you use Shopify Plus to its full potential.

With that said, there are a number of Centra-approved developers, such as Limesharp, who offer a Centra accelerator programme. These programmes are bound to bring down the build cost while ensuring you work with developers who are familiar with the nuances of Centra and how to ensure your brand gets the most from the platform.

We have been building headless eCommerce stores for over 5 years so understand a lot of the pitfalls that are common when using developers without this experience. We decided to build a Centra accelerator for fashion & lifestyle brands that reduces budget and timeline. The product reduces complexity with pre-built functionality and connectors into best-in-class vendors.”

– Ed Bull, Limesharp

The newness of headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce can still be seen as a relatively new concept for many retailers and developers. If you decide to replatform to a headless solution like Centra, you will need to take the potential learning curve into account. Internal team members may need to be trained on how to use Centra, as well as the decoupled CMS compared to familiar eCommerce platforms like Shopify Plus.

Introducing team members to a new platform also brings a potential adoption challenge. As teams transition to using a headless eCommerce platform, there may be delays or resistance to adoption. 

Total cost of ownership consideration

While Centra’s headless architecture offers flexible and customizable options, it may also introduce additional costs associated with set up, maintenance, and ongoing developer support. Remember, you’ll be paying for the Centra platform licence as well as the CMS’s, such as Storyblok.

Centra does not charge a transaction rate to each order and allows for native Adyen, Stripe & Klarna methods. When looking at £50m + brands the cost saving can be significant compared to Shopify Plus.

If you are thinking of replatforming to Centra, be sure to calculate and compare the forecasted total cost of ownership against Shopify Plus. This will help you make an informed decision about which option is financially right for your brand based on your current and future needs. 

Category depth limitations

Centra offers a maximum depth of six categories. If you manage a brand with complex product hierarchies or extensive catalogues, this could cause challenges. 

However, it is unlikely this limitation will impact many brands. So, only those with deep category structures will need to keep this consideration in mind. Overcoming this limitation may look like reevaluating your information architecture or trying to find an alternative workaround solution.

Lack of personalisation for product display titles

When exploring Centra, we noticed that it wasn’t possible to have a different product title on the PDP to the product feed. This is something that is possible through Shopify Plus feed apps, making it easy for merchants to display different product names on their shopping feed for Google Shopping Ads.

Luxury brands will often use a stylised product name on their PDP then opt for a more descriptive, keyword-centric name for their product Shopping Ads. The lack of personalisation for product display titles in Centra may make it challenging for brands to optimise their product titles for their paid marketing channels, though you can enhance product names using rules in Google Merchant Centre. If your brand relies heavily on Shopping ads, this is a consideration worth keeping in mind.

Centra pricing

From what we know, Centra uses a tiered pricing model to determine subscription costs. While it is price on application can likely expect to pay a monthly rate that is comparable to Shopify Plus’s pricing structure. 

Centra prides itself on ensuring everything is included at each level. Regardless of tier, all Centra retailers will get access to free support, and a dedicated Customer Success Manager, plus Slack support. If you want multiple team members to have access to Centra’s support team, you can purchase extra support licences.

Centra retailers can also sell to unlimited multiple markets with no additional charge. Something that is well worth keeping in mind if you have a global store covering multiple markets.

While Centra’s pricing model aligns with the price you’d expect to pay for Shopify Plus, it’s worth noting that building a Centra eCommerce store may be more expensive. 

You could expect to pay £100,000 to £350,000 based on the average build cost of a Centra eCommerce store, whereas a Shopify Plus build is in the region of £100,000 to £150,000. However, Centra partners may be able to do this at a cheaper rate. Before choosing Centra or Shopify Plus, be sure to weigh up the build cost for both options.

Final thoughts on Centra

In short, Centra looks like a promising platform with lots of robust eCommerce features. We’re impressed by Centra’s internationalisation and order management capabilities and can see how it can be a powerful platform for fashion and retail brands with annual revenues of £10 million and over.

Comparing Centra to Shopify Plus isn’t easy. Both platforms offer strong advantages and are powerful in their own right. Where Shopify Plus has the benefit of being a reputable, leading eCommerce platform, Centra stands out as a challenger platform built on innovation and customisation.

Pricewise, Centra and Shopify Plus appear to be well-matched, allowing retailers to choose the platform that best suits their needs rather than focusing solely on budget.

It is clear that Centra has thought of how to make sure their platform streamlines the eCommerce experience for brands. With its focus on innovation and scalability, we will be sure to keep Centra in mind for any fashion or lifestyle brands that want to expand into global markets or prioritise omnichannel selling.

Trying to decide which eCommerce platform is best for your brand? Get in touch to see how we can help you find the best platform with hands-on replatforming consultancy and management.

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