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How does an eCommerce merchant know when it’s time to re-platform?

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Are you dreaming of adding the new revenue driving eCommerce features to your website that your competitors have?  If so I would suggest that you should first examine the process and the time that it takes for a new idea to get defined, built or configured, and ultimately launched on your website.

The idea life-cycle of bringing an idea or a website request to life looks very different for all of us, and optimizing this process is absolutely critical for eCommerce success.

The bottom line is that merchants re-platform when they find they have fallen behind.  Online merchants find themselves here most often due to the website missing key features, poor site performance, or the cost to execute the change is unaffordable.  Not to mention that the length of time it takes to get new changes live takes too long.  It might also be true that the staff required to manage your product catalog is growing faster than your catalog, or your site seems brittle—fixing one thing breaks another.  If you find yourself struggling with more than a couple of these, then it may indeed be time to re-platform.  Before you make that determination, let’s first examine your change processes.

In eCommerce, it is critical to be able to embrace continuous change and avoid the risk of falling behind.  Our industry is still young, and web technologies and shopping functionality is changing at the speed of light.

Let’s examine the 2 key categories of change that each merchant must always juggle.  First, Technology changes are inevitable.  These come in many forms and include things like new devices for shopping like mobile and tablet devices, apps vs. websites, browser support and versions, or responsive design.  These all are disruptive technology innovations that you must address if you don’t want to fall behind. 

Next, there are continuous changes in how shoppers shop online from things like new website features and user experiences to new payment methods like Apple Pay being offered or even new integrations that become expected like tax calculations. 

All of these changes are required to remain current and to provide the shopping experiences your customers expect. 

If all of that isn’t enough, each merchant must continuously test to ensure that they are maximizing conversions, minimizing bounce rates, and maximizing average order values.  This too requires speed and ease of use.  If it takes too long to setup a test, then your testing strategy is rendered inefficient, and prevents you from really testing and trying things to figure out what wins with your customers.  In this case, you will find yourself either just implementing what you think will be an improvement or not making the changes.  In either case, it’s probably hurting the ultimate success of the brand.

Now that you’ve concluded that you are falling behind, you will need to examine why you are falling behind and how to address the problem.  Re-platforming is very risky, so it is important to be very confident that changing eCommerce platforms will indeed help you catch back up and hopefully leap ahead.

Next we’ll explain some of the questions that you need to think about to determine if your eCommerce platform is the problem.

Let’s examine several questions to determine where the challenges are.

  1. How much of what you would like to do is data driven or configurable, and doesn’t require any programming changes? The more change that can be done by more people, the faster changes will get done, and typically these types of changes are routine.
  2. What limits exist in your platform? Are there features that you want that you can’t implement?  How much independence and flexibility do you have?  Working with a platform provider that allows you to implement your unique functionality without the need for expensive customizations is ideal.  If you are getting to many “No’s” in response to your questions, then that is a red flag that it might be a time to re-platform.
  3. Who makes the changes? For example, can a member of the eCommerce team run your split tests?  If every change has to be on a development list, then by definition it will be slower than a configurable or data driven platform that allows you to make the changes yourself.  Can you make small style-sheet or layout changes, or does this require the support of the platform provider?
  4. How many times does a change to your site cause something else to break? This is a sure symptom of a website that is difficult to maintain.
  5. As a marketer, are you responsible for documenting requirements and user experiences, or do you have a technical partner that is educated on standard eCommerce shopping functionality? Ensure that your platform provider is also continuously developing the platform so that the development of new standard functionality is not the sole burden of the merchant.

If several of these concerns resonate, then you are likely a candidate for a new platform.

So now what?  Stay tuned for “How to get started with the re-platforming process”, our next post in our “Re-Platforming” series coming soon.

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