5 Things People Forget When Re-platforming Their Ecommerce Site

The other day a colleague asked: Why does every new project invariably begin with a change order? It’s a great question, and one that deserves serious thought. So a bunch of us got together to look at the things — for want of a better word — that lead to change orders and add time to the project.

Here are the top 5:

#1: Great design takes time.

It’s pretty quick and easy to build a site with a Shopify Plus Premium Theme but is that what you want for your brand? We love the Premium Themes, and they can deliver a beautiful site but it will be templated. You can begin with a design and add your brand, colors, images and copy into it, but it’s still a template. If that’s not what you want then you’ll need to build additional time and expense into your replatform or build.

Modern ecommerce has a long list of “isms,” one of which is the existence of a design language we must adhere to. We even reinforce these isms by calling them “best practices.” Many in the space have a notion that if your site isn’t predictable you’ll lose visitors, but that’s not really the case. Sometimes unpredictability can be really good. Take the site Entireworld.com. It has a completely unpredictable design, but visitors have no problem viewing products and adding things to their cart.

Design also encompasses your user interface and user experience. Once we build or replatform a site for a client we like to involve our Conversion Rate Optimization team. As my colleague, Megan Deleonardis discussed in her recent (and excellent) blog post, How to Build a Case for CRO within Your Company, the best practices and use cases we (as in the entire ecommerce community) rely on are essentially best guesses. The reality is that the same consumer will have different behaviors with different brands, so you need to test and optimize your customer experience based on tests.

Bottom line: Templates are a tried and true way to build a website, and they can be tailored to your brand and customer base. But if you want a more unique customer experience you’ll need to build extra time and expense into your re-platforming initiative.

#2: Data Migration is Always More Complicated than Anticipated

This is something that even we at Something Digital can forget. As people and consumers, all of our data lives in the cloud, and accessing it from one device or channel is straightforward. You just sign on and there it is.

But in the world of ecommerce, moving to a new platform requires a lot of data munging (ensuring that the data you want to migrate is structured correctly and consistently prior to moving it to your new platform). It’s not uncommon for data migration to turn into a long and difficult process of changing names, uploading it, realizing you made a mistake, reuploading it, and so on. Copy–>right click–> paste won’t cut it.

Your existing ecommerce platform may have some third-party apps, many of which store your data in the cloud, and when that’s the case migration is straightforward. But many don’t, and they’re the ones that tend to be problematic. Take for instance, your Store Locator. Chances are that data isn’t stored in the cloud, and when it’s time to replatform all of the stores will need to be set up all over again.

#3. An Information Architecture Audit is a Gift

Moving to a new ecommerce platform is a great time to look at your site with fresh eyes and ask what you could and should do better. It’s a terrific opportunity to rethink your approach rather than simply lift and shift an exact replica of your site to the new platform.

But many ecommerce brands resist doing an audit because they don’t want change. They don’t want customers to complain, “who moved my cheese?” Certainly a redesign will disrupt their rhythm, but there are two reasons why you shouldn’t let that stop you. First, consumers are pretty resilient. They can manage to navigate around and find what they need.

More importantly, a stagnant information architecture can really limit your potential growth. Customers who engage in the act of discovery more frequently will stumble onto new products and categories, and will ultimately have a higher lifetime value. If you keep everything exactly the same your customers have no reason to “explore” your site.

By the way, if you haven’t updated your information architecture in five years then you’re serving a customer paradigm that no longer exists.

#4: Weed Out What No Longer Makes Sense

My dad had a saying, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul, because you can’t take it with you.” In other words, don’t get attached to your stuff.

The same is true for a lot of bells and whistles brands implemented on their sites through the years. Maybe they served you well two or three ecommerce platforms ago, but they’re not likely relevant to today’s consumer. Remember five years ago when Groupon deals were all the rage? (Ask a Gen Zer what Groupon is.)

We speak to a lot of ecommerce managers who want to bring all of their functionality with them because, well, why not? But a lot of it may not be beneficial anymore. Take wish lists. This feature is only useful if people have a very long purchase cycle. If your customers are storing items in their wish list because they intend to buy them over and over again, it’s probably better to introduce a subscription program. Wish lists are a design language of older ecommerce platform vendors that included them by default.

More importantly, five years ago ecommerce was all about efficiency: How do we get a buyer on our website, place an item in a cart and then complete the checkout process. We weren’t thinking in terms of average order value or lifetime value, which requires brands to take a long-view of their customer relationships.

Today we’re focused on the customer experience. Does our site delight the customer? Does it entice them to discover new things? A top goal for many brands today is encouraging the visitor to return over and over again, because, as the saying goes, if you hang out in a barber shop you’ll get a haircut soon enough.

Not too long ago we did an informal data study of 40 of our B2C clients, and we found that customers who visited the About page during the course of making a purchase were 65% to 70% more likely to purchase again. How do we explain that phenomenon?

My theory is that someone who has made a purchase decision after learning about your brand values and what you stand for is someone who shares those values. From that point on he or she will look at your brand through that lens of a shared value system.

But here’s the thing: while brands want to talk about migrating their entire order history, no one is talking about how to imbue their brand values throughout the purchase journey. In an era where we want to create deeper engagements with the customer, and be viewed as meaningful brands, it makes no sense to sequester that value message in the About page.

This is why we ask our clients: Would you rather have a very high conversion rate or a very meaningful brand. Brands that are meaningful invariably have a very loyal set of customers with high LTVs because the brand means a lot to them.

Measuring exactly what makes it meaningful is tricky, but you can measure things like LTV and AOV (and if, by the way, those to metrics are equal, that’s a good indication your brand isn’t particularly meaningful to your customers, because they’re not coming back).

At present we’re in a tough economy, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t spending money. People will buy an Xbox One X, there will be people who’ll buy a PlayStation 5. Connecting to that consumer’s values will get them to spend their money with your brand.

#5: Don’t Take all Your Data to Your New Platform

There’s a notion in the wider digital ecosystem that no data should be thrown away because all data is valuable. But is it? Do you really need to bring order data that’s 15 years old onto your new platform? I may have begun shopping with your brand 15 years ago, but I was a very different person then than I am now. I’ve changed, so has ecommerce and the expectations I bring to my interactions with you.

You don’t need my 15-year order history. What you do need to know is my shopping patterns and behaviors, where I sit in terms of value to your brand, and what I’m likely to want next. This is the kind of data that will help you drive relevant online experiences and promotions for me.

Another way to think of it is like this: do the visitors who’ll come to your site today need to know every product you carried 15 years ago? Let’s say you’re an electronics brand. Fifteen years ago the Nokia 1100 was the most popular-selling cell phone and you probably sold it. Does today’s customer care?

That’s one part of it. The other part is that ecommerce platforms are more sophisticated now, and you just don’t want to bog them down with historical data. Of course your historical data needs to live somewhere, but there are purpose built solutions for it, like BI tools and inventory planning and management systems. Your ecommerce platform needs to do one thing and do it really well: deliver a beautiful customer experience. That’s the binary question you need to ask about which data you migrate: will it be useful in enhancing the customer relationship?

What’s interesting about these five “things” to me is that they’re a direct reflection of the way ecommerce constantly evolves. They may take time and effort to consider, but they’re well worth it.

Brittany Wheeler

Brittany is a huge foodie and you can find her searching for the best 'anything' in town. When she's not eating you can find her spending time with her family or traveling.