It’s time to replatform.
There are hundreds of reasons for a retailer to replatform its website, yet for many merchants, the thought of uprooting from the familiar, legacy system—no matter how outdated—is a difficult and dreaded process.. Data loss, budget overruns and drops in traffic during the transition are just a handful of nightmare scenarios that keep retailers awake at night.
As a former online retailer and current e-commerce technology developer, I understand these concerns all too well. Over time, I have worked with dozens of merchants on replatforming projects. In doing so, I’ve seen patterns of what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve identified five key principles that make for a smoother transition. Here are some things to consider:
Key 1: Assign Someone to Lead the Change
Rule by committee is fine for the Olympics but not for reformulating your most essential infrastructure. To make the process nimble and effective, put one person in charge.
That one person probably already works for your company. Be it a trusted manager or an IT chief, look for a cross-functional thinker with a track record for weighing options and making strong decisions. Give your replatforming czar your full confidence and public support, as resistance will almost certainly come from colleagues who are invested in the old ways of business. For example, if your IT team built the legacy system, they may want to keep it around.
Putting one person in charge does not mean ignoring important feedback from other team members. I recommend that your replatforming czar assemble a small team of stakeholders to understand priorities across the organization and to build support. Keep the stakeholder team small, because if everyone has a say, you will end up with a 100-page RFP and excessive time delays.
As enticing as it might be to outsource your replatforming to an agency, I advise against that. Agencies tend to go with what they already recommend to other clients. And—while that viewpoint is useful—only you know your business and its unique needs. Also, be wary of “partner programs” that involve referral fees, revenue sharing and pay-to-play arrangements. Make sure that any agency that you work with is providing unbiased recommendations.
Key 2: Take Only What You Need
Just because the buffet table is full of delicious dishes, don’t pile up your plate with everything. You will surely regret it later. Replatforming goes much the same way. If you load up and send out an RFP seeking every piece of functionality that you have ever wanted, odds are that you will end up with a long sales cycle, a complex vetting process and extended implementation timeline. Plus your costs will have gone up tenfold.
Pare down your requirements to what you will need most of the time. It is so easy to get sidetracked by those unusual situations that could possibly happen but do not represent your standard scenarios and processes. Replatforming is an opportunity to simplify and embrace best practices while focusing on only what you need most.
As you go through the editing process, be ready to give up what you are used to or update how your system operates. Change often is uncomfortable, but if you focus your wish list on what you need, you may find the extraneous requirements were never that important.
Key 3: One Size May Not Fit All
Too many e-commerce retailers are searching for that mythical ERP system—that magical piece of software that does everything you ask. Forget about it. Most all-in-one systems are weak in certain areas and are sure to fall behind more specialized offerings.
Because apps today are designed to work well together, focus on building a federation of best-of-breed apps that talk to each other. Start by picking one system to be the hub, the system of truth, and add spokes or components that work well with your central system. Look for components that interact with each other and that you know you can switch out later.
An app-based system pays lasting dividends as it truly allows an e-commerce business to manage the platform with greater flexibility and ease. With a federation of apps, you are more nimble and can update a single component without disrupting the entire platform. You also are more resilient to the risks as one provider going out of business, getting acquired or dropping your product line.
Key 4: Prototype, Prototype, Prototype
As early as possible in your process, build out small-scale proofs of concept. For example, build a simple demo site with 10 products. Aim for the fluid express/test cycle where prototypes are built, tested and then cycled through the process again.
A prototype should take just a couple days, or a few weeks at the most. If you cannot prototype your platform quickly, that is a signal that actual implementation and long-term maintenance could be a problem later.
Similarly, the prototype process is a great way to vet solutions. If any of your service providers balk at putting together a small prototype quickly, ask yourself whether they will be agile enough long-term. You’ll also learn how agile your internal team is during the prototype process.
In my experience, the amount of time it takes a merchant to run their first test transaction directly correlates to the ultimate success of the replatforming. Ideally, companies start running trials almost immediately to see if they can get a simple end-to-end process working.
Key 5: Before You Launch, Prepare for Change
You started the replatforming process because your site was not keeping up with the times. Keep that mindset with you as you replatform and choose a system that can adapt to change. Best bet is to go with a platform with an open API, and a rich and prolific developer community that is proven to consistently add functionality, refine and improve.
Your new platform should incorporate all those essential, core features you identified. Also consider how much your new platform partners can help your business grow. This extended, external community of developers should also strive toward best practices and updates. Their drive to be the best helps your platform.
The platform that you choose should have a demonstrated track record of innovation and new feature releases. That said, a purchase decision can only be made on what exists, not what is promised in a PowerPoint. So buy based on what is available now.
Replatforming does not have to be difficult if you go in with a strong leader, a clear vision of what matters most to your business and vigorous prototyping. Consider incorporating these five keys into your process this spring and summer and by November you should be ready for a happy holiday sales season.
Duoplane provides drop-shipping and operations-automation software for online retailers.