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What Is an Enterprise? Definition and Example (2023)

Enterprise is a term that has several definitions. Sometimes, the word “enterprise” is used to refer to any business, project, or initiative.

Most often, however, a business described as an enterprise will have specific characteristics. Enterprises are typically large, complex organizations with various divisions and departments managed by a board of directors or an executive team.

The term can also describe innovative entrepreneurial ventures. You might say that an entrepreneur is “enterprising.”

What is an enterprise?

An enterprise is a large-scale organization with a composite structure. Enterprise companies often have multiple divisions, each with its specialized function. For instance, a multinational corporation may have a marketing department, manufacturing infrastructure, legal team, and resources for launching new projects.

Enterprises tend to produce or sell several products and services, catering to multiple markets. They may sell directly to consumers, serve other businesses, or both.

“Enterprise” can also refer to starting a business or undertaking a venture.

💡 Want more resources for enterprise retailers? Check out Shopify’s Enterprise Blog.

What is an example of an enterprise business?

An example of an enterprise retailer is Staples, a Shopify Plus merchant. Staples is a large-scale business with many employees and an extensive product catalog, serving multiple markets worldwide.

While there are no specific criteria for what counts as an enterprise, here are five enterprise-worthy characteristics of Staples’ business:

1. A large workforce

As of 2021, Staples has approximately 90,000 employees across its operations, an example of the scale of many enterprise companies.

2. Multiple sales channels

Staples serves customers through business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sales channels. For instance, it sells school supplies and electronics to individual consumers and offers printing and tech maintenance services to businesses. A multichannel selling approach is a hallmark of many enterprise companies.

3. International sales

Staples operates in over 26 countries, with hundreds of stores across continents. A global presence is a common aspect of enterprises.

4. Significant resources

Staples has substantial investments in technology and brick-and-mortar storefronts (more than 1,000 stores in the US alone). It uses inventory management systems, ecommerce platforms, and customer relationship management tools to organize its complex infrastructure.

5. Diverse products and services

Staples offers a wide range of products, from office supplies and furniture to gadgets and services like printing and tech maintenance. Diversification is typical in enterprise business as a way to spread risk and enter new markets.

4 types of enterprise

There are many types of businesses in the US that qualify as enterprises. Here are the four most common formats:

1. Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is a business owned and operated by a single individual. The owner benefits from all profits but bears unlimited liability for any damages and debts resulting from business operations.

2. Partnership

A partnership is a business run by two or more individuals or entities who share ownership. The distribution of ownership does not necessarily have to be equal.

3. Corporation

A corporation is a for-profit entity designed to protect the owner(s) from liability in case of a lawsuit. The structure of a corporation can vary depending on the number of owners.

4. Limited liability company (LLC)

An LLC combines the legal protection of a corporation with the tax treatment of a partnership. LLCs and other limited liability business structures are common with licensed professional firms, such as accountants, architects, engineers, doctors, and lawyers, due to their protections for individuals.

What is enterprise software?

Shopify Plus logo as an example of an enterprise product.

Enterprise software, products, and services are designed to support the growth and success of enterprises. They may perform a single task associated with running a business or offer multiple back-office solutions within a single platform.

Most enterprise products are engineered to handle the high volume of traffic, orders, and information that an enterprise company receives.

Due to their size and complexity, enterprises often require bespoke software solutions that integrate with existing services. That’s why Shopify allows retail businesses to choose their commerce components.

Unify your sales channels with Shopify

Only Shopify unifies your sales channels and gives you all the tools you need to manage your business, market to customers, and sell everywhere in one place.

💡 No matter the combination of products, Shopify enterprise stores always get the world’s best-converting checkout.

Enter: Big business

While “enterprise” can refer to any business or entrepreneur, it’s most commonly used to describe large companies with multiple services and complex needs. Discover why the world’s biggest enterprise brands choose Shopify Plus to grow across marketplaces, mobile, social, and real life.

Enterprise FAQ

What is an enterprise in a business?

Enterprise in a business context refers to an organization, typically a corporation, involved in commercial, industrial, or professional activities. It comprises multiple entities, such as divisions, departments, and subsidiaries, and is managed by a board of directors or an executive leadership team.

What is the difference between an enterprise and a business?

The terms “enterprise” and “business” are often used interchangeably, but they do have distinct nuances. A business typically has a specified objective and focuses on producing or selling products and services.

On the other hand, an enterprise is a broader operation encompassing production, labor, sales, and a business’s organization, management, and growth. While all enterprises are forms of business, not all businesses are enterprises.

What is the difference between an enterprise and a small business?

The primary difference between an enterprise and a small business lies in their scale and complexity. An enterprise is a large-scale organization engaged in commercial activities, often involving a complex network of operations, departments, and divisions. In contrast, a small business is an individual or small team engaged in commerce, usually operating as a single unit.

Enterprises generally have more resources, capital, and personnel than a small business and tend to face higher risk factors due to their scale and complexity.

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