Replatforming. Do you see it as a necessary evil, or as an opportunity to improve your storefront and get an edge over the competition? Are you contemplating switching platforms? Are you concerned about navigating the variables, risks, and challenges a replatforming project presents?
If that’s you, you’re not alone, and your concerns are not unfounded or irrational. Few undertakings can impact your eCommerce business as powerfully as replatforming. But how do you get started?
Step 1: Understand why you need to replatform, and why you need to do it now.
The very first step is to make sure you understand why you need to replatform, and why now is the time to do it. There are many reasons a retailer may decide to change platforms, but the most important reason to replatform is (and should always be) your customers.
Modern online shoppers are demanding. Technology grows rapidly and constantly, and users are quick to adopt new platforms and social channels. And they expect you to have an already-established presence there by the time they arrive.
In the past, stores existed in one physical location and consumers gathered there to shop. With the emergence of social media and the ubiquity of smartphones, the very nature of shopping has changed. Now customers are a fluid, moving community constantly on the go. The savvy retailer will realize that and ditch the one-location, permanent-store model which requires bringing customers to you (whether that location is a brick-and-mortar location or an online storefront), in favor of an ever-shifting, caravanesque model focused on mobility and flexibility, which allows you to bring your business to your customers, wherever they are.
Platforms can age quickly; older versions often can’t keep up with the pace of new innovations and new technology. To maintain the agility and functionality your eCommerce presence needs, you must constantly keep an eye on how well your current platform stacks up against newer versions and newer options. If your current solution isn’t on the cutting edge now, the gap between the features your users expect and what you can provide to meet those expectations will only grow wider with time.
Step 2: Get buy-in from all key stakeholders and decision makers.
So now you can articulate the answers to “Why should we invest time and money into replatforming?” and “Why replatform now?” Time to put that articulation to work and build internal buy-in for your replatforming project. Many companies we talk to put their Marketing departments in charge of their replatforming projects. This is a big red flag for us, as it always results in challenges arising late in the project.
Why? The answer is simple. Your eCommerce storefront is the hub your entire business revolves around. Replatforming will typically impact every part of a business. Our replatforming projects involve the following areas and more:
- Site design
- CRM & customer service
- Pick, pack and shipping processes
- Order management
- Payment processing
- Site search
- Ratings & reviews
- Catalog & customer data
- ERP and other Third party systems integrations
Often the Marketing Director just doesn’t have enough authority or inside knowledge to make decisions that will have such a powerful effect on areas that aren’t marketing-specific. That’s why it’s critical to get buy-in from key decision makers in your organization, and then involve them in the process along the way.
If you’re not there yet, do some more planning and make a strong case for getting there. Once you’ve got the support and cooperation of every department a new platform will affect, you’ll be able to strategically assemble an internal team for your project and then move on to the next step.
Step 3: Create a SWOT analysis.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is where your internal team begins to get down and dirty with your data. Determine what frustrates your customers about your store, research new technologies and social media channels, crunch your numbers, and analyze your current metrics. Share your findings with your team, and then collaborate to list and prioritize your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Later on, you can share your SWOT report with your agency partner. If you come to us at Gauge with a SWOT analysis already in hand, we’ll be thrilled, and you’ll be way ahead of your competition. Both your team and your agency will reference this report throughout your entire project, so take the time to do it right.
Step 4: Create a detailed written timeline
You likely already have a rough idea of when you want to start and finish your project. Share this with your replatforming team, and if you don’t own the company yourself, share it with your higher-ups as well. Schedule discussions with key people in each department and make sure the timeline works well for them. Remember, this is not just a marketing project; it will affect every aspect of your business. Check important dates and heavy traffic seasons to make sure you’re not set to start or finish your project during a busy time of year. Obviously we will have some input on whether the timeline you create is feasible or not, so you should expect your initial plan to change once we start our discussions. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the prep work and create your timeline. The act of going through the process forces you to wrestle with current realities and that struggle will prepare you for the project ahead.
Step 5: Choose your agency partner.
This is one of the most critical parts of the project. Keep in mind that you are not looking for a vendor, but for a partner—an agency that will take the time to get to know you and your business, with a team that cares about the work they do and how they do it. You need a long-term whole-business partner, not a short-term code supplier. At Gauge we strive to operate this way, and based on our client feedback, we do it successfully.
Valuable Tips From Someone Who Has Walked In Your Shoes
At this year’s IRCE conference, I heard a great presentation (clip found here) by Cherri Newbury, President and Co-Founder of www.DiscountCoffee.com (twitter: @DiscountCoffee1). Cherri’s company has replatformed 6 different times over the last 18 years, and she shared some excellent hard-won, first-hand wisdom for retailers looking for a replatforming partner. She’s graciously allowed me to share some of her tips here. (Thanks, Cherri!)
Tip 1: Don’t just talk to the Sales rep.
“Ask to speak to the Project Manager or the actual developer who will be on your project. Remember, once you sign your contract the salesman will be gone, so it’s important to talk with these people beforehand to make sure they are a fit with you and your company.”
Our Project Managers and Developers are highly involved in the sales process, and we often include them on calls with prospective clients. We are happy to make this time investment early in the process to lay a strong foundation for long-term success—as all solid agencies should be.
Tip 2: Get references to evaluate client experiences—good ones and bad.
“Ask to speak with a live customer and to see their sites. If the agency will not let you talk with a customer that they’ve had a bad experience with, they may not be the vendor for you. You want someone who has learned from their experiences, their mistakes. They’re really good at giving you all their great references, but you need to ask to talk to one that wasn’t as good.”
Getting references is crucial. As a business owner or team leader, you may have had the experience of hiringcourting a job candidate whosewho’s references are all solid, but once you start working with them you realize things aren’t as advertised. seems perfect for your team… until you check their references. When you partner with an agency, you are risking much more than you would by hiring the wrong employee, so you need to do at least as much background investigation as you would for an employee. The right agency can push your eCommerce store to the next level, or can tank your sales and waste exorbitant amounts of time and money.
At Gauge we’ve never had a potential client ask us for a negative reference, but we would be happy to provide a few of those. Sure, it’s a little uncomfortable, but being vulnerable and humble about our mistakes and having a strong drive to improve on our weaknesses is a very important part of our culture, one that we intentionally foster. Confronting past failures and explaining them and their context to potential clients presents a great opportunity to show how we’ve learned from those mistakes and what measures we’ve taken to prevent them.
Tip 3: Visit your agency finalists in person.
“Do an on-site visit. You’re going to have to spend some money and buy a flight, but it is really nice to see them eye-to-eye and shake their hands. It’s nice to make sure they’re not working out of their mom’s basement.”
Face-to-face contact is another one of those big culture pieces we nurture at Gauge. We schedule on-site visits with our clients often, and we’d love to have a potential client take the initiative to come visit us as well. We’ll gladly host you at our office so you can meet our team and check out where we do business. (FYI: Savannah is not basement country, so it’s physically impossible for us to be working from our mother’s basement!)
All these things add up to start the relationship off on an excellent foot. Make the time investment. It will pay off with huge dividends throughout the project.
No Place for Fear
Yes, replatforming projects can be detailed, complex, long, and risky, but remember, there is no place for fear in your business decisions. If you were easily intimidated by challenges, you wouldn’t have gotten into business in the first place—and you certainly wouldn’t have chosen eCommerce! Use the practical steps we’ve outlined here to get your replatforming project started on the right track. If you have any questions about our suggestions or if you’d like a little more detail about any step in particular, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a note in the comments and we’ll respond as soon as we can.
Ready to Replatform?
With over 10 years of experience in platform migrations, we have replatforming down to a science. Let us help you make your next project a success.