The Road to eCommerce Replatforming: Challenges and Best Practices
Ecommerce replatforming is the process of moving an existing ecommerce site to a new platform or technology stack. With ecommerce playing an increasingly vital role for retailers and brands, having the right technology foundation is crucial. However, replatforming an ecommerce site is a major undertaking that requires careful planning and execution. In this article, we will explore the key reasons companies replatform, the benefits it can provide, the challenges involved, and best practices for completing a successful ecommerce replatforming project.
Why Replatform an Ecommerce Site?
Several motivating factors drive companies to replatform their ecommerce sites:
- Improving performance and scalability – As an ecommerce business grows, its site needs to scale along with it. Older platforms can struggle with traffic spikes and deliver poor page load speeds, leading to lost conversions. A newer platform can provide improved performance and the ability to handle higher traffic volumes.
- Enhancing features and functionality – Ecommerce technology continually evolves with new features for merchandising, promotions, personalization, and more. Replatforming allows upgrading to a modern solution with more robust capabilities.
- Reducing costs – Some legacy ecommerce platforms require expensive licensing fees and vendor lock-in for add-ons and extensions. Migrating to a lower-cost or open-source solution can significantly reduce expenses.
- Boosting security – Older ecommerce platforms can have vulnerabilities that pose security risks if not updated regularly. A newer platform will be built on modern architecture with the latest security protections.
- Improving integrations – Tight integration between systems is key for ecommerce. A replatform can allow connecting to updated versions of complementary solutions for order management, ERP, CRM platforms, etc.
- Enhancing omnichannel capabilities – Companies want to provide a unified customer experience across web, mobile, in-store, etc. A replatform can make it easier to build omnichannel strategies under one commerce platform.
- Preparing for growth – Companies anticipating business growth may replatform to put the technical foundation in place for expanding internationally, adding new product lines, increasing sales volumes, etc.
With the pace of change in ecommerce, even newer platforms can start to show their age after a few years. When the limitations of an existing platform begin hindering business objectives, it’s time to consider replatforming.
The Benefits of Ecommerce Replatforming
When executed successfully, replatforming an ecommerce site can yield numerous benefits for the business:
- Increased revenue – A site that performs faster, provides better merchandising and promotions, and offers omnichannel consistency can help drive higher conversion rates and increase sales.
- Improved customer experience – Faster page loads, seamless functionality, and omnichannel integration lead to better customer experiences and satisfaction.
- Enhanced security – Modern security protections reduce vulnerability to cyber-attacks and breaches that can hamper customer success and trust.
- Greater agility and innovation – New commerce capabilities can be deployed faster on modern platforms, allowing greater innovation and responsiveness.
- Future-proofing – Replatforming to a modern solution provides a foundation able to support future business needs and future of ecommerce.
- Cost savings – Lower licensing, hosting, and developer costs can add up to substantial savings, and fewer vendor add-ons are needed.
- Improved efficiency – Tighter integration between systems and unified data improves operational efficiency for tasks like order processing.
- Increased scalability – Modern cloud-native platforms allow sites to handle traffic spikes and scale up seamlessly during peak selling periods.
The Challenges of Replatforming
However beneficial in the long run, replatforming an established ecommerce site brings considerable challenges. The most common issues faced include:
- Significant costs – Depending on the scale of the project, costs for licenses, development, data migration, testing, training, etc. can run from tens of thousands to millions.
- Lengthy timelines – Even for small ecommerce sites, replatforming usually takes 6-12 months. For large sites, projects can take 1-2 years.
- Complex integrations – Connecting the new commerce platform to surrounding IT systems for order management, fulfillment, accounting, marketing, etc. is highly complex.
- Data migration – Migrating years of product, customer, and order data from the old system requires meticulous data mapping and cleansing.
- Ongoing management – IT resources must manage running dual platforms during the transition, with extra development and support effort.
- Business disruption – Sites typically need to be offline during the transition period, with potential dips in traffic and sales.
- Training and change management – Employees will require training on new systems, processes, and tools, necessitating change management.
- Technical debt – Unless old code and site architecture are refactored, legacy issues can carry over into the new platform.
With so many potential pitfalls, companies must carefully weigh the costs and benefits before proceeding. Those who forge ahead need robust strategies to navigate the challenges.
Best Practices for Ecommerce Replatforming
These best practices can position ecommerce replatforming projects for success:
- Choose the right platform – Selecting the best ecommerce platform that best aligns with the company’s immediate and long-term business objectives and technical requirements is crucial. Perform thorough due diligence around platforms and vendors.
- Allocate sufficient resources – Replatforming strains IT resources. Allocating sufficient budget and staff will accelerate the project and minimize business disruption.
- Plan ahead – Develop detailed project plans, success metrics, and contingency arrangements. Planning for disruption mitigation is critical.
- Clean up legacy systems – “Tech debt” in old systems complicates migration. Addressing this via data archiving, code refactoring, etc. early on streamlines replatforming.
- Utilize professional services – Work with qualified vendors providing professional replatforming services to supplement internal teams.
- Migrate data methodically – Meticulously cleanse existing data and map it to the new platform. Migrate and test data incrementally during the transition.
- Coordinate teams – With many functional areas involved, tight collaboration between business, IT, development, and agency teams is vital.
- Provide training – Train staff on the new platform through sessions, demos, documentation, and staging environments to test on.
- Manage integrations carefully – Building, testing, and refining integrations between the new commerce platform and surrounding systems is imperative and challenging. Utilize integration middleware and services to assist.
- Control the rollout – Roll out the new site incrementally (e.g. starting with low-traffic pages) to monitor issues before the full launch. Maintain the legacy site as a backup during the transition.
- Optimize gradually – Post-launch, continuously optimizes site performance, usage analytics, personalization, and functionality over successive iterations.
- Maintain agility – Structure new site architecture and workflows to enable agile enhancement of capabilities and experiences.
Replatforming is risky, but with ample preparation, resources, and monitoring, retailers can transition to ecommerce technologies that drive growth both now and in the future.
Trends Driving Ecommerce Replatforming
Certain trends are making ecommerce replatforming increasingly prevalent and necessary:
- The rise of headless commerce – Decoupling front-end interfaces from back-end commerce platforms allows greater flexibility and omnichannel experiences.
- Increasing use of cloud, SaaS, and PaaS – Ecommerce is moving to the cloud, with lower-cost SaaS and PaaS commerce solutions gaining adoption.
- Focus on developer productivity – Platforms with APIs, SDKs, and dev-friendly architectures allow companies to build and iterate sites faster.
- Microservices adoption – Building ecommerce architectures on microservices improves flexibility, scalability, and resiliency.
- Shift to composable commerce – Composable commerce breaks platforms into modular services that can be combined as needed. This provides agility benefits.
- Mobile and app commerce growth – Optimizing ecommerce experiences for smartphones and apps requires modern mobile-first platforms.
- Advances in AI and ML – Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning is being infused into ecommerce for search, recommendations, chatbots, visual shopping, predictive analytics, and more. Modern platforms make this easier.
- Desire for continuous innovation – In e-commerce’s fast-changing landscape, brands seek the agility to continuously roll out innovations and experiences.
- Focus on site performance – With site speed vital for conversions, modern platforms provide capabilities like progressive rendering and caching to improve performance.
These trends make it essential for retailers to replatform every 4-6 years to stay competitive. Those on older legacy platforms will feel this urgency sooner.
Making a Case for Ecommerce Replatforming
For reluctant executives, a compelling business case is needed to justify an ecommerce replatforming initiative. That case can be built around:
- Quantifying platform limitations – Collect data on issues like site outages, load times, development bottlenecks, and limitations impeding growth. Quantify their revenue and productivity impacts.
- Linking to business goals – Connect replatforming directly to strategic goals like entering new markets, launching new channels, improving conversions, reducing IT costs, etc.
- Leveraging new capabilities – Research how new commerce features like personalization, promotions, mobile optimization, AI, etc. can directly impact KPIs.
- Highlighting innovations – Point to innovative customer experiences pioneered by competitors or other industries that the new platform can support.
- Benchmarking performance – Compare site performance metrics like uptime, page load speed, and mobile optimization to competitors to demonstrate gaps.
- Outlining cost savings – Factor in savings from reduced licensing, hosting, agency reliance, IT overhead, refunds/fraud, etc. that a replatform could enable.
- Accounting for technical debt – Analyze how accrued tech debt results in rising maintenance costs and impaired agility to add new features.
- Auditing integrations – Assess how many disparate systems are tightly or haphazardly integrated and the headaches this causes.
- Calculating ROI – Build a projected return on investment analyzing benefits like increased revenue and decreased costs vs. project expenditure.
A future-focused business case swayed by data is most likely to convince risk-averse executives. The case will be stronger for older sites with more engrained issues and limitations.
Selecting an Ecommerce Platform
With hundreds of ecommerce platforms available, selecting the right one is challenging. Key criteria to evaluate options include:
- Functionality – Look for breadth and depth of baked-in features for promotions, personalization, merchandising, social selling, globalization, B2B capabilities, etc. Assess available apps, extensions, and integrations.
- Flexibility – Consider capabilities for headless implementations, APIs, customizations, hosting options (on-premise, cloud, hybrid), etc.
- Performance – Evaluate implications for site speed, scalability, uptime, recovery time, and overall infrastructure management.
- Developer experience – Platforms allowing developers to build, launch, and iterate sites quickly and efficiently are ideal. Assess developer tools, documentation, community support, etc.
- Ease of use – Admin UIs, site management workflows, and flexibility of frontend templating systems all affect ease of use for business users and site builders.
- Total cost of ownership – Look at direct costs plus requirements around development, management, add-ons, agency reliance, and internal overhead over the lifespan.
- Vendor viability – Consider vendor reputation, experience, vision, stability, and commitment to ongoing platform R&D and innovation.
- Migration support – Factor in tools, documentation, partnerships, professional services, and expertise available to assist with legacy modernization and system migration.
Ideally, align platform evaluation with a clear-eyed assessment of current and future business and technical needs. This allows choosing a solution positioned to scale growth over a 5+ year timeframe.
Migrating Data and Content
For active ecommerce sites, historical data and content are vital assets that must be migrated to the new platform. This complex process involves:
- Exporting data from legacy systems – Product details, customer information, order histories, promotions, etc. need to be extracted for import into the new database.
- Data cleansing and optimization – Data should be cleansed of errors, formatted properly, and optimized for the new data model before import.
- Setting up staging environments – A separate staging site is needed to import and test migrated data before going live.
- Establishing a data governance framework – Consistent processes and controls for exporting, modifying, importing, and testing data are required.
- Mapping data schemas – Meticulously map how data fields from legacy systems correspond to the new database schema and make transformations.
- Validating migrated data – Test migrated data thoroughly to identify any issues with conversions, formatting, integrity, relationships, etc.
- Migrating images and other media – Product images, videos, and other media assets need to be ported over and referenced properly from the new database.
- Transitioning store content – Page content must be either ported to the new CMS or manually recreated. Redirects should maintain old URL structures.
- Syncing and cutting over – During go-live, data and content should be synced and tested until cutover is triggered.
For large databases, automating routines for data extraction, transformation, and migration is best. For smaller data sets, some steps can be managed manually if meticulously executed. Testing is paramount before launch.
Integrating Surrounding Systems
Ecommerce platforms must integrate with numerous surrounding systems for order management, fulfillment, inventory, accounting, CRM, marketing automation, ERP, logistics, and more. Replatforming requires reestablishing these connections in the new environment. Typical steps involve:
- Cataloging API touchpoints – Documenting all existing API integrations between the old commerce platform and external systems.
- Evaluating integration needs – Determining which integrations to rebuild, modify, or consolidate during or post-migration.
- Leveraging integration middleware – Solutions like MuleSoft and Microsoft Azure BizTalk facilitate building new integrations by translating data between API formats.
- Utilizing iPaaS solutions – Integration platform as a service offering like Jitterbit provides prebuilt connectors and integration management capabilities.
- Building custom integrations – Where needed, developers must build custom scripts, cron jobs, or applications for exchanging data between the new commerce platform and surrounding systems.
- Implementing event streaming – Event streaming solutions like Kafka can facilitate real-time messaging and movement of data between applications post-migration.
- Testing thoroughly – All integrations should be thoroughly load tested and monitored during rollout to check for issues.
It’s generally best to migrate surround systems individually over a period post-launch rather than all at once. Maintaining existing integrations via legacy APIs during this transition period helps minimize disruptions.
Selecting a Development Partner
Most replatforming initiatives require help from specialized ecommerce agencies and developers. Ideal partners exhibit:
- Expertise – Deep experience building, migrating, optimizing, and managing sites on the target platform. Look for substantial verified examples.
- Strategy – Skills not just in technical implementation but also in strategic consulting around platform evaluation, migration planning, launch, etc.
- Scale – Sufficient capacity to assign large, skilled teams able to deliver projects quickly and capably. Avoid resource constraints.
- Agility – Structures, methodologies, and cultures allow nimble, iterative development rather than rigid, linear approaches unsuitable for projects with many moving pieces.
- Communication – Habits of clear, consistent communication with stakeholders and leadership. Lack of updates risks mistrust.
- Quality – Strict quality assurance practices, security vigilance, performance optimization expertise, and pride in delivering excellent code.
- Cost-effectiveness – Competitive and appropriate pricing for the expertise and resources provided. Assess value, not just rates.
Ideally, find a partner already familiar with migrating from your legacy platform to your desired new platform. Check references thoroughly to confirm capabilities and cultural fit.
Executing a Successful Replatforming Project
With careful planning and management, ecommerce replatforms can be completed with minimal disruption to ongoing operations. Recommended execution steps include:
- Planning rigorously – Develop detailed project plans and flows accounting for all contingencies. Avoid planning deficiencies that lead to delays and complications later.
- Allocating resources – Staff the project adequately with a balanced mix of internal leaders and external experts. Under-resourcing risks delays or failure.
- Phased rollout – Launch site components, integrations, data, and traffic gradually in phases. Phasing limits variables if issues emerge. Maintain legacy site access during rollout.
- Establishing rollback contingencies – Prepare plans and trigger points for rolling back and restoring the legacy site and data if issues are necessitated.
- Testing exhaustively – Test all parts of the new site thoroughly before launch phases – UI flows, performance, security, data, integrations, etc. Fix issues aggressively.
- Monitoring closely – Closely monitor site performance, traffic, sales, integrations, server resources, errors, etc. post-launch. Have triage teams ready to address emerging issues.
- Optimizing iteratively – Have a roadmap for ongoing optimization of features, performance, designs, promotions, search, analytics, and personalization post-launch.
- Maintaining agility – Structure site architecture, workflows, teams, and processes for continued agility-enhancing experiences vs. stagnating under brittle legacy patterns. Smooth execution requires meticulous planning yet also flexibility when contingencies arise. Keep existing site operable until completely confident in new platform stability and capabilities.
Replatforming in Action – Case Examples
These real-world examples showcase successful replatforming and migration initiatives: Benefit Cosmetics – To fuel rapid ecommerce growth, Benefit modernized by consolidating multiple websites into a single SAP Commerce Cloud platform. This increased site performance over 5x and enabled closer integration between online and in-store sales channels.
- DeBragga – Specialty meat vendor DeBragga needed to expand sales beyond wholesale into multichannel DTC and ecommerce. They replatformed to commercetools improving site speed by 30% and growing online retail sales by 29%.
- Edgewell – Consumer goods conglomerate Edgewell transitioned its flagship Schick and Edge sites to commercetools and headless architecture. This resulted in conversion increases of up to 40% across devices.
- Johnston & Murphy – Luxury shoe retailer Johnston & Murphy moved to Salesforce Commerce Cloud to consolidate channels and better track customer journeys across touchpoints. This unified brand experience led to a 25% increase in mobile revenue.
- L’Occitane – Cosmetics brand L’Occitane replatformed from Hybris/SAP to commercetools to improve agility and customer experience. The transition enabled the creation of a unified customer profile and loyalty program as well as 10x faster deployments.
- La-Z-Boy – Furniture manufacturer and retailer La-Z-Boy aimed to improve performance and integrations with an Adobe Commerce replatform. The company achieved near-24/7 uptime and saw a 10% increase in conversions.
- Naadam – Digital-first cashmere brand Naadam replatformed its Shopify Plus site to BigCommerce. This delivered a 300% increase in mobile conversions and a 50% larger average order value.
- Timbuk2 – Bag and accessories brand Timbuk2 migrated to Elastic Path Commerce to achieve headless architecture benefits and significantly faster deployment cycles for new sites and features.
Key Takeaways and Recommendations
Ecommerce replatforming is a complex but frequently rewarding undertaking. Retailers considering taking this step can glean lessons from the experience of others:
- Replatform when your business objectives are hindered by current site limitations and capabilities.
- Build a solid business case grounded in data, trends, and future strategic needs.
- Allow 6-12 months for implementation; longer for large-scale projects.
- Carefully evaluate leading SaaS, open source, and cloud-native commerce platforms against your needs.
- Cleanse existing data and migrate to the new platform systematically.
- Gradually rebuild essential integrations while limiting immediate dependencies.
- Work with reputable dev partners skilled in your current and new platform plus data migration.
- Thoroughly test new sites, apps, integrations, and data flows before launch.
- Phase rollout traffic and features to monitor for any issues needing resolution.
- Continuously optimize experiences, performance, and capabilities post-launch.
With proper planning, resources, and execution, ecommerce replatforming can pay dividends for years to come through greater agility, innovation, and growth.
Ecommerce replatforming is a major endeavor, but one with the potential for enormous benefits if executed thoughtfully. For retailers feeling held back by the limitations of current technology, the time and effort of migrating to a modern platform can pay off for years via increased agility, innovation, and growth.
As an eCommerce solutions leader, Trantor can be an invaluable partner for planning and completing successful ecommerce development and replatforming projects. With deep expertise across leading commerce platforms, we provide full-lifecycle capabilities around:
- Ecommerce platform evaluation and selection
- Frontend design and development
- Custom backend development
- Data and content migration
- Integrations with surrounding systems
- Security and performance optimization
- Testing and quality assurance
- Launch and rollout management
- Post-launch maintenance and enhancement
Trantor has partnered with brands of all sizes to implement replatforming projects on platforms like:
Our specialized teams help clients extract maximum value from their investment in a new commerce platform.
If your brand is exploring an ecommerce replatforming initiative, leverage Trantor’s platform capabilities and certified expertise to make the transition smooth, successful, and worthwhile.