Replatforming: The Scariest Word in Ecommerce or the Most Hopeful?

Replatforming: The Scariest Word in Ecommerce or the Most Hopeful?

Let’s be honest, replatforming is uncomfortable work. 

Whether you’ve gone through your own nightmare, listened to a friend’s, or just read the horror stories online … few words are more stomach turning.

Unfortunately, fear is what hold many merchants back from ecommerce greatness.

Better the devil I know, than the devil I don’t.

If you’re reading this, no doubt your store is doing well. You’ve experienced the kind of high-volume growth that other entrepreneurs only dream of.

Growth, however, comes with costs. Some are obvious. Others, not so much.

In fact, success — not failure — is often the primary driver of replatforming.

“Ebusiness professionals,” writes Forrester researcher Lily Varon, “are taking stock of their legacy or incumbent ecommerce technology and finding that the solutions aren’t tactically functional, aren’t omnichannel-ready, and/or aren’t leveraging sophisticated enough data insights to deliver on the demands in the age of the customer.”

These projects are never easy, but as ecommerce technology — and the market that drives it — evolves, replatforming initiatives are inevitable.

Inevitable? Yes.

Scary? Well, that depends.

To help you think through the replatforming process and quell that churning in the pit of your stomach, let’s examine a few questions no merchant should leave unanswered.

Is It Time to Replatform?

For some, replatforming is non-negotiable. You’re not so much entertaining the thought as you are looking for the right solution.

Why? Because the pain of your current platform — “Crashed sites. Broken checkouts. Infrastructure costs in the six figures.” — far outweighs the fear of replatforming.

For others, you’re still wondering if replatforming is worth it.

How do you decide?

“Good is the enemy of great,” wrote Jim Collins in Good to Great:

“And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

In other words, the fundamental roadblock to building a great business … is running a good one.

Right behind the enemy called “good” is the foe called “fear.” As Collins puts it:

Fear doesn’t drive change — but it does perpetuate mediocrity.

On the topic of replatforming, that fear is easy to name: the fear of change.

All this means honestly asking yourself a number of questions:

  • Do traffic spikes affect uptime or speed of service?
  • Has your current platform’s security — most notably PCI Level 1 compliance — failed at critical moments?
  • Do “updates” require dev work that you could be investing in customer insights, acquisition, and retention?
  • Does your team spend their time and energy maintaining or innovating?
  • Are new features and apps regularly delayed due to in-house or agency constraints?
  • Does your team have the freedom to launch new growth projects and experiment?
  • How often do you hear or have to say the words, “We can’t do that.”
  • Are DIY patches and workarounds — “fix this, that breaks” — common?
  • Is your help desk, social media, or email dominated by functionality questions and complaints?

Each of these questions should factor into deciding if now is the time to change.

In fact, even if you answer “No” a question like, “Has your current platform’s security failed at critical moments?” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a factor. In addition to your personal history, it’s also vital to stay up to date on wider news stories like PCWorld’s article from Friday April 13th, “Unpatched vulnerability exposes Magento online shops to hacking.”

As far as good versus great goes, Google engineer Eric Lawrence’s take sums it up perfectly:

Of course, the issue isn’t, “Can my current platform’s limitations be fixed?” That’s exactly the problem with “good.” Instead, the issue is, “Am I needlessly opening myself up to vulnerability for fear of what change might require?”

Lastly, ask and answer those questions alongside stakeholders and your entire team. Often, the real replatforming needs are lying just below the surface in the hearts and minds of your engineers, designers, marketers, and support staff.

If your people are hurting, your business is hurting. Morale is one of the greatest costs of all.

What Will Replatforming Require?

Still, replatforming is no small task. Workload, timeline, and budget must be weighed carefully, especially because surprising speed bumps easily crop up.

In addition to the above questions, examine how replatforming will affect current operations, inventory management systems, your CRM, order fulfillment and shipping, on-site user experience, customer service, sales channels, and mobile-friendliness. This is vital not only to test if replatforming is the right choice but to ensure that during replatforming a plan is in place to maintain volume and efficiency.

Before approaching a new provider, establish left-and-right limits for the following areas:

  • What does your Proof of Concept entail?
  • How long should it take to migrate?
  • Will functionality be seamless?
  • How will this impact SEO ranking?
  • Will my existing customers experience any gaps in service?
  • How will the new platform integrate with existing apps and 3PLs?
  • What ingredients are non-negotiable in a Statement of Work? 

In all this, two top-line concerns should be addressed head-on.

(1) Migrating Your Data

Behind-the-scenes, data migration is at the heart of any replatforming effort. Onsite, smooth migration ensures that customer and B2B-facing elements continue to perform. For legacy platforms, this is where horror stories abound.

Thankfully, migration is also where a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution shines. The best argument on this front isn’t one we actually made.

Last year, wrote up a 7,000-plus-word on the why and how of their move from Magento to Shopify Plus.

Replatforming: The Scariest Word In Ecommerce Or The Most Hopeful

In the wake of its publication, the man behind the article — William Harris — ended up meeting directly with Magento’s Chief Product Officer, their Head of Strategy, the Vice President of Product Management, and two other executives. That’s how big of a bombshell the post was.

With roughly 10,000 SKUs and 3,000 transactions a month, the decision to replatform wasn’t one the company made lightly. Naturally, the move wasn’t without hiccups, which is why the problems and solutions Harris outlined in the article are so helpful.

Better, new merchants at Shopify Plus are given dedicated Launch Managers to help throughout migration and our partnership with nChannel provides free standard migration for up to 500k SKUs, 500k orders, and one million customers.

(2) Integrating with Your Apps & Tools

An ecommerce business isn’t just a site. It’s an ecosystem.

Your success is tied directly to a host of third-party tools, applications, and backends.

In the past, maintaining these integrations were the second leading source of disaster. One or two misalignments in a single module have a cascading effect, leading to a collapse of your ecosystem as a whole.

Shopify Plus’ ecosystem exists to address exactly these type of problems. Again, this is a major advantage of a SaaS backbone. For an overview, check out …

Perhaps most insightful, however, is one of our own most recent posts: An Inside Look at Pura Vida’s Ecommerce Tools: How Two Entrepreneurs Turned a Graduation Trip into a Multimillion-Dollar Ecommerce Empire With These Eight Apps. There you’ll get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the apps fueling one of ecommerce’s break-out stars.

What Do Shopify Plus Customers Have to Say about Replatforming?

It’s true … replatforming can be scary.

That’s why I want to end not with more words of my own, but words directly from merchants like you who’ve gone through the experience firsthand.

Replatforming: The Scariest Word In Ecommerce Or The Most Hopeful“None of us are engineers so it’s great to be able to rely on Shopify’s experts so we can focus on innovating. It’s just so easy it’s almost too good to be true, but it’s real. I can add a product instantly, and you don’t have to be an expert coder since Shopify has its own experts to help with the backend if needed.”

Mike Brown 
Founder & Owner of Death Wish Coffee

Replatforming: The Scariest Word In Ecommerce Or The Most Hopeful“You can really customize with Shopify because its API is like no other. To be able to create thousands of unique SKUs that easily, it was a really powerful value to unlock and a reinvention of how we sell that was worth celebrating.”

Lauren Fleischer
Director of Marketing at IT’SUGAR

Replatforming: The Scariest Word In Ecommerce Or The Most Hopeful“Shopify Plus is by far the best ecommerce platform out there. It has truly allowed us to sync our operations with vendors, apps, and tech partners, as well as provide amazing reporting.”

Paul Goodman & Griffin Thall
Co-Founder of Pura Vida Bracelets

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About the Author

Aaron Orendorff is the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.