When it comes to accommodating growth, eCommerce has a lot in common with a traditional brick-and-mortar business. As a physical boutique grows and sales volume increases, it’s often necessary to remodel or relocate to a bigger store. These steps require significant investment. If they’re done correctly, the investments pay off with more revenue and sustainable growth. But if they’re handled poorly, a relocation can quickly become monstrous, eating time and money. A disorganized move can cause stress that affects every aspect of the business—including the bottom line.
Digital retailers face similar challenges, but instead of outgrowing a physical location, a thriving eCommerce brand will eventually outgrow its eCommerce platform. There are many platforms to choose from, and each is suited to a different type of business. The best option for a booming small business won’t be the best option for a healthy mid-sized brand. Over time, migration to a new platform will become inevitable for any growing eCommerce business.
Platform Migration: Why Make the Switch?
There are many reasons internet retailers might consider a platform migration. Here are some common reasons, with practical examples for each.
1. High Administrative Overhead
A small boutique has had a custom-developed website for several years. The site isn’t compatible with their POS system, so all online orders must be manually entered into their accounting software and their shipping software.
At one point this system was fine. But their digital marketing has really paid off with higher traffic and more online orders. Now, manually entering orders just isn’t practical; the labor required is taking a big chunk out of profits.
2. Outdated Technology
A growing non-governmental organization (NGO) periodically runs fundraising campaigns. The email, onsite, and social media marketing is well-received, with high engagement from members and followers. But their site isn’t mobile-friendly, and the checkout process used for donations is slow and glitchy. When potential patrons try to donate, they get frustrated and exit the site within seconds.
3. Limited Customization
A fast-paced online boutique has a dedicated and engaged customer base. Customers have suggested many site improvements, so the boutique’s team created a focus group to better understand the user experience. The focus group pinpointed several new functionalities their customers would like to see: clearer navigation, a click-to-cart feature, express checkout, improved onsite search, and video content. The eCommerce team is excited about the possibilities, but their current platform can’t support these new features.
4. Going International
A custom manufacturer’s B2B eCommerce business has grown rapidly over the past year. Until now, their B2B business has been purely domestic, but the international market is clamoring for their products. To take advantage of this opportunity, the manufacturer needs an eCommerce platform that can support multiple store-views and languages. Each store needs to pull from one dedicated inventory. Their international growth plan includes eventually establishing several international fulfillment centers, so their new eCommerce platform will also need to be scalable enough to support their plan.
5. Too Much Traffic
A fantastic lifestyle content site has really taken off. Once their articles hit social media, they quickly go viral. The site owners want to capitalize on their success by offering their own designer line of swimwear. But the traffic spikes already slow their site to a crawl, and the advertising that currently supports their site doesn’t load. They need an eCommerce platform that can support both large traffic spikes and an aggressive eCommerce growth plan.
The Devil’s in the Details
Planning is the most critical part of an eCommerce platform migration. Just like a physical move, a platform migration is a complex project. It demands an investment of both time and resources. If not planned thoughtfully, both timeline and budget can rapidly bloat.
As with any complex project, the devil’s in the details. At Gauge, we have a lot of experience with platform migrations. Poor planning or a lax discovery process can quickly stall a migration, leaving the retailer with a half-finished, inoperable site. A recent study found that 44% of IT professionals have experienced a failed migration. But why? As the source explains: “Planning for migration is essential: Migration shouldn’t be a ‘ready, fire, aim’ effort. Poor preparation and the lack of early testing can result in IT headaches and cost overruns.”
We’re proud to say that Gauge has a 100% success rate. We’ve successfully completed every project we’ve started, including all platform migrations. And we’ve successfully rescued many projects that were stalled at other agencies too. Our experience has taught us a lot about what to do and what not to do. Here are some of the most important factors to consider for your migration.
Content & Digital Assets
When planning a platform migration, your first step should be a careful inventory of all your digital assets. If your site has been online for awhile, you probably have a good amount of content—think copy, photos, or video. These are valuable assets. Search engines like Google rely on the age, quantity, and quality of your content to rank your site. When you relaunch on a new platform, it’s very important that search engines can associate your new site with your old site. How do you make sure that happens? By carefully organizing and migrating your content. If your content isn’t migrated properly, you’ll see a costly negative impact on your search engine ranking and organic traffic.
This is a great time to audit your content by determining what’s high-impact and what isn’t. If you decide not to migrate your low-impact content, you’ll need to redirect any broken links to relevant pages. A site map or content map can be very helpful in this process.
Along with content and digital assets, you’ll need to migrate all your data. Your existing site holds tons of data. You have data connected to your products, customers, inventory, transactions, and onsite analytics. Unfortunately, just about every eCommerce platform treats data differently. Prepping your data for migration can be cumbersome at best and maddeningly complicated at worst.
Don’t underestimate the complexity of this step; it can make or break your project. Again, planning is key. Make sure you understand the export process for your current platform, and thoroughly research the import requirements for your new one.
This isn’t an exciting part of platform migration, so it can be tempting to take shortcuts. Don’t give in! Poor data migration can cause expensive, long-term problems that will frustrate your team and your customers. If you’re not a database expert, we recommend getting professional help for this part of your migration.
Another important consideration is functionality. This can be a good way to begin your search for a new platform. What can your current site do, and what functionality do you wish it had? What features might you need in the next few years? Map out your needs and wants in a wishlist, and then start researching your platform options. As you learn what’s possible with different platforms, refine your wish list. Soon you should be able to zoom in on appropriate platform options.
Of course, budget is another critical consideration. Make sure you understand the full cost of your replatforming project and the total cost of ownership for your new site. Site migration can become a very expensive proposition if it’s not managed well. Poor planning or lax research lead to the dreaded “scope-creep.” This is doubly true if you partner with an agency that uses an hourly billing model.
A platform migration is a long-term investment. We always ask our clients to dedicate one person on their team to the project on a full-time basis. Getting this right is a full-time job. That person needs to have authority to make decisions and a clear line of communication to all company stakeholders. Remember, a strong, well-organized migration leads to lower overhead and higher profits. Investing one person’s time can pay off for years.
When planning a platform migration, content, data, functionality, and budget are just a few of the important factors to consider. No matter how simple your project may seem ahead of time, once the hood is up, you should expect the unexpected. So it’s critical to dedicate plenty of time to the preliminary and planning phase. Think about your existing website, and then compare it to your growth goals. Assuming your growth goals are met, when will you need to make a change? We recommend starting your prep and planning phase six months before you’d like to begin your migration.
Careful planning and prep is the key to launching an awesome new site on a new platform, without losing tons of time and money. And of course, if you need help or if you’d like to talk to some experts, give us a shout! We’re happy to help you make your goals a reality.