Like most business matters, the stay-or-go dilemma centers around time and money. Is it worth the investment to replatform entirely? Here is a 7-point audit that can help you decide if it’s time for a new e-commerce platform.

Ed Kennedy-Episerver

Ed Kennedy, senior director of commerce, Episerver

“Should I stay or should I go?”

Something tells us The Clash didn’t have retailers in mind when penning those iconic lyrics, but merchants are plagued by the decision just the same. Whether it is matters of the heart or the bottom line, dissatisfaction is a catalyst for change—and retailers and brands alike are quite dissatisfied with their current e-commerce platforms. In fact, 17 percent of them are in the midst of replatforming, while more than 72 percent say they plan to switch within the next two years.

Like most business matters, the stay-or-go dilemma centers around time and money. Is it worth the investment to replatform entirely? Could small design optimizations and new features do the trick? Or will a redesign on the same platform be the best choice? All three are valid options, and the following seven-point audit can help provide some much-needed answers.

Stay

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Use the following areas to justify staying on an e-commerce platform:

1. Design & User Experience – Consumers and B2B customers expect great shopping experiences. They’ve been spoiled by well-designed and intuitive online experiences from leading companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. Every time one of these companies, or anyone else, improves the visual design and the usability of their sites, those consumers begin to hold those expectations against others. This is where companies can first take stock if they need to redesign or replatform. It is entirely possible that improving the visual aesthetics and brand communication of the site (design) as well as the navigation, site structure, and page layouts of the site (user experience) can have a dramatic increase in conversion rates and average order value (AOV).

retail website complaint Twitter2. Mobile ExperienceA critical subset, and often a project on its own, is mobile experience. Holiday seasons make or break a retailer’s livelihood. So much so, in fact, that Toys R Us blames disappointing 2017 holiday sales in part for why it’s closing its stores. Retailers need to understand that 46 percent of all online orders on Thanksgiving Day 2017 came from mobile devices, yet desktops had higher conversion rates. Why? Because most shopping journey’s start on one device and end in another.
Most companies have spent a lot of time and money optimizing mobile websites to cater to these experiences. Responsive web design (RWD) is a popular choice among online store owners, however it forces them to prioritize one channel over the other. When mobile suffers, desktop users bounce. When desktop suffers, mobile users bounce. They may find that a redesign may be possible if they want to switch mobile frameworks, but a replatform may be needed if they want to take advantage of more modern approaches to cross-channel experiences such as adaptive design and progressive web apps where experiences are truly catered toward every user and their device of choice in a specific moment.

Smart e-commerce platforms take a person’s entire history with that person into account to personalize their experience.

3. Feature SetYesterday’s innovation is today’s table stake. Features that were once innovative are now basic expectations including:

  • Mobile wallets (e.g., PayPal)
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Product recommendations
  • Multiple product images on product detail pages
  • Relevant on-site search
  • Faceting and navigation

 No e-commerce website launches with 100 percent of the features consumers want. The more companies grow and mature, the more they will recognize their e-commerce platform is not flexible enough to give them the control they need when adding new features. The best platforms allow companies to add the features they need and to do so fast. This includes features like personalized site search, ratings and reviews, product comparisons or suggestions, alternative payment options or integrating to third-party systems like user-generated content (UGC) from social media. There are hundreds of features built into most e-commerce platforms, however, each customer experience and business is unique, making it more important that platforms are flexible rather than turn-key.
If an e-commerce platform is flexible enough, a company’s code base is clean and its growth goals can be achieved via redesign, mobile experience improvement and several new features, brands can probably avoid replatforming entirely.

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Go
Unlike the above list, there are other cases when a new e-commerce platform should be considered.

4. Business Forecast: When all is said and done, replatforming decisions come down to who wants a new platform and why that desire exists. There are many reasons why a new platform is needed as the business evolves and responds to outside pressures:

  • Launching into new markets and languages
  • Establishing new brands or product lines
  • Selling in new ways such as direct to consumer
  • Existing relationship with a vendor
  • Outgrowing current platform
  • Key new hires
  • Omnichannel functionality
  • Highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO)
  1. Marketing and Merchandizing Agility: Regardless of whether a seller changes inventory two times a year or once a week, the ability to quickly adjust campaigns and merchandizing is a must in an age where sales are made on price, selection and relevancy. These adjustments can, of course, take many forms. For example, when it comes to price, merchants need to be able to launch a campaign (e.g., flash sales, dynamic pricing) that includes featured products, supporting images and banners and targeted promotions while optimizing this for mobile and desktop experiences. Most importantly, marketers need the ability to do all of this on their own without involving IT to make changes to the website. Likewise, if a new product is ready for purchase, merchants need the ability to quickly drag and drop it—skipping any IT bottleneck or pushback.

    When all is said and done, companies should question how much control marketers and merchandizers have over the site experience and content. What they will find, in many cases, is that it is not possible to speed up this process with a redesign alone and a new platform investment is required due to many platforms being implemented with ridged templates or requiring new code for each change to merchandizing.

6. Scalability, Speed and Security: It happens to even the most recognizable brands—their website crashes at peak times like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, customers get upset and the organization panics vowing it will never happen again (until it does because the core issues were not addressed). Similarly, sites can take “forever” to load and customers leave. Or, worse, security threats appear, giving search engine users a warning sign before they try to visit a site from Google or Bing or their identifiable data like passwords and credit card numbers are being stolen as they try to check out.
A redesign will not fix these core issues, but fixing scalability, speed and security issues can take many forms. A best practice is to use an e-commerce platform with deep integration to a scalable, enterprise cloud infrastructure like Microsoft Azure. An e-commerce platform architected for the cloud can give companies assurances that their site will not crash and that any security vulnerabilities are constantly being monitored and mitigated without disrupting the business or end user.

website not available error message retail7. Automation / Personalization: Every marketer and merchandizer has a list of tasks that are menial yet required to do their jobs, but their time could often be spent on more lucrative efforts only they can do. Retailers should look at their platform and evaluate it based on new capabilities to use including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For example, the classic example of “this pair of jeans goes with this jacket” can be done without the need to manually associate items. Modern, cloud-based e-commerce platforms can do these product recommendations at scale, since they are done through machine learning based on inventory, customer information, a shopping session’s context and the person’s journey with that online store.
Many third-party analytics platforms will give a retailer session information, but smart e-commerce platforms take a person’s entire history with that person into account to personalize their experience and provide them recommendations, including comparing their sessions to other shopper’s sessions—targeting high-value consumers to save marketing budget on those who are most likely to buy and buy frequently. If an e-commerce platform does not have those capabilities, it is time to move on like from a date who is always late.

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Drop, Don’t Drag a Clunky Platform

Ultimately, the answer to “Should I stay or should I go?” comes down to three areas: How will this improve the customer experience, how easy will it be for business users (not developers) to work in, and how flexible the underlying technology/infrastructure is to adapt to a company’s needs. Unfortunately, answers to these questions are never really “out of the box” as vendors claim, so organizations shouldn’t be afraid to make their site their own with features that fit their customers’ needs, ask for product roadmaps, interview similar customers on the platform and evaluate new features to gauge if the relationship is adding value or not.

Episerver is a global software company offering Web content management, digital commerce, and digital marketing, through the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud platform.

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