Seven Immutable Laws of Ecommerce Replatforming

May 15, 2024
8 min read
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TL;42 *

We’d love to say that migrations, like diamonds, are forever. That platforms are future-proof. But eCommerce evolves, and so do your needs, positioning, budget and expectations. Here are some principles to consider the next time you have to face an eCommerce replatforming.

Let’s start with why

If you’ve been down the ecommerce platform migration process road before, you already know you’d rather Gnaw Off Your Arm Than Replatform. Most CEOs do. And the apprehension is quite understandable.

Ever heard the saying “A man is only as good as his tools”? Well, it sort of applies here too. It could be that, for a number of reasons we can discuss at a later time, you don’t pick the most suitable ecommerce platform for your specific needs. But even with the right platform, a poor implementation can spoil the whole thing. And there are many things that can lead to a sub-optimal implementation.

First, we could argue that a tool is only as good as the people using it, and therefore, not having a team or agency with the right experience to handle the project can be a major issue, whichever the platform. Without the right people in place, adequately resourced and well aligned, the migration might not go as planned, especially if the requirements are unclear or incomplete.

And the challenges don’t end there. Failing to properly transfer data could lead to an overly rough transition, integrations can be botched, SEO can be mishandled, and a steep learning curve or training issues can disrupt the whole process.

“There is nothing as useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”

Peter Drucker

All things considered

With so many ways for things to go wrong, it's no wonder eCommerce replatforming feels like a nightmare. The many drawbacks or potential headaches associated to replatforming make many companies stick to whatever solution they once decided would be a good idea to adopt. 

The same happens with the fears and uncertainties about what would be good reasons to migrate.

In other words, even though inaction is dangerous, it feels safer than a big overhaul project.

Before embarking on the journey, you need to be clear about why you are doing it. Which closely relates to what you expect to achieve with the change.

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If you must bite the bullet:

If you have a solid understanding of your reasons to take the plunge, and consider the benefits outweigh the potential dangers, there are a few things to do to make sure the effort is worth your while. Whatever the reasons, whatever the platform.

 1. Top down leadership alignment, or it will fail.

Before you even consider this, make sure you have full stakeholder alignment. Migrations (or migrainetions, as we call them) often include the secondary effects of missing deadlines, budget issues, dealing with multiple vendors, research, learning, adopting new tech and going through the learning curve, and a whole load of other challenges that will be specific to you, your brand and your team.

If you don’t have everyone aligned you won’t be able to face the downturns with conviction and purpose. If your team has your back you'll be able to make the tough calls, as well as the brave ones.

2. Measure twice, cut once

The process is simple, at least on paper:

Really understand the reasons why you’ll replatform. Identifying the real problems to solve is key to finding the right technology. 

Next, look for the proper technology that matches your needs, budget and company workflows. Gain trust in the platform, not their marketing.

Then ask everyone you can about that technology. Dating is not getting married. Get real input from real people in real trenches.

Question everything again. Just in case. Big decisions are actually easy when you're really convinced by facts as much as by guts.

Then make a decision that’s as informed as possible. And go beat the competition.

It’s unrealistic to run a truly objective scorecard-like assessment on why you should choose one platform over another. There are multiple factors in the equation that will affect your decision, including purely subjective and even emotional ones – you like an interface better than another, the sales guy is more convincing, the founders have a particular fixation with a platform or approach, and many more. 

There’s no magic rule of thumb for it. We advise you to write down your evaluation thought process in detail, share it with people inside and outside your organization, and reach a good, solid decision that you can get back to if something goes wrong and you need a bit of reassurance.

3. Get a control group

If you have sub-brands, secondary brands, or multiple markets, it's wise to start small. Launch on a single website so you can:Make sure you really like it and it really worksSpot bugs, problems, integration or customization needsGet familiar with the platform and take the learning curve with less pressureMake mistakes where they don't cost you money or clients.

4. Never redesign and replatform at the same time

The best trick to a healthy replatform process that’s painless and smooth, one where you can have a solid and satisfactory outcome in time and budget, is to remove from the table everything that’s not a priority.

This is counterintuitive because, when facing this kind of project, we all tend to think that since we’re in this mess, we might as well do it right and have the website of our dreams. This is a trap. Design, in particular, requires an act of juggling:

  • Purely subjective perception. You like it, or you don’t. And it has little to do with whether it's good or not for your business.
  • A lot of objective research. Your customers like it, or they don’t. And it has everything to do with whether it's good or not for your business.  
  • And some cold numbers. Perhaps you like it, but does it perform and convert? Does this improve the sales of your current website? Are positive opinions turning into KPI growth?

So fast-track the journey to the new platform focusing on the right stuff: Tech adoption, performance, data migration, smooth release, and minimizing the impact on your customer. 

Once you landed safely on the new tool you can either redesign, or start a process of iterative step by step improvements.

On average 6.8 people are stakeholders in any B2B decision (Dixon, McKeena 2022). Alignment is good. Support and trust are great. Designing by committee is sabotage.

5. Realign instead of redesigning

Which leads us to our next tip, which is kind of the same tip: Don’t redesign. 

Instead of making a big, dramatic change to adopt the latest trends and styles, consider a growth-driven design approach. Essentially, this means:

Understanding where we want to go. Working with your design and branding team or your trusted partners, to write down a very ambitious list of everything you’d like to see on your Ecommerce store. This includes design styles, inspiration, competitor features, purely tech features, advanced Ecommerce technology, new integrations, you name it. 

Ignoring constraints for a while. Ask yourself "what would I do if I had an endless budget and unlimited time for this?", and brainstorm that wishlist.Sorting it out. Next, refine, prioritize, and evaluate the effort required.

Getting it done. Finally, begin to tackle changes, one thing at a time.
You’ll be amazed at how much faster you see results that you can actually measure and contrast with performance metrics, and how satisfied you are with new features unfolding month after month. 

This requires a paradigm shift: Your website is not a masterpiece you can start, end and hang on a wall. It’s a living organism that needs constant nurturing to grow and evolve.

 6. Have a budget. Stick to it.

This should be self-explanatory, but we have all gone through projects that look good and then derail quickly. Make sure you’re okay with sunk costs, make smart choices, don’t get stuck on things. Having a budget that’s written in stone helps you, as well as any implementation partners, team members or partner agencies to really understand what’s possible and what’s not, what’s essential and what’s accessory.

7. Stress test early 

We cannot stress this enough. Work with your technology partners to:Make sure you start with data migration. Yes, you’ll have to do it again at the very end, but giving the process a test run early can help you surface your blind spots.Make sure testing is done properly from day one.Make sure the technology is proven on complex scenarios.Make sure you’re covering as many blind spots as possible.When the time is right to show your new website to the world, you can run soft releases to test your platform’s endurance with real traffic spikes and demand, real purchases, and very real integrations with your fulfillment process. 

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It doesn’t have to be (that) painful

As long as you have a clear goal, a pragmatic approach from day one, a good technology partner that’s right for you, alignment and support from team and stakeholders, proper and realistic ambitions, and a budget that’s clear and sufficient, you’ll be on your way to a great eCommerce replatforming. Or at least, one that goes as smoothly as possible.

Rick Watson said it as hilariously and dramatic as it gets:

A major eCommerce replatform effort is like walking a tightrope, over a pit stocked with alligators, while 3,000 feet above the pit. While juggling chainsaws.

But juggling chainsaws is also FUN.

Remember that once you finish fighting alligators you can shift your focus to making more money and having happier customers than ever before on a platform that's no longer the enemy.

*We like our TL;DRs in forty two words.


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