With the holiday seasons looming, many brands might soon find out that they have to make the leap to replatform their e-commerce sites. Whether it’s the need for a better customer experience, an increase in traffic and demand for products, or a more strategic move to cross-platform, replatforming can help a brand keep up with today’s digitally connected customer.
And that’s crucial: Consumers demand faster, more engaging shopping experiences across multiple channels--online, via mobile, and in store. The impact of a negative experience is significant: One Google survey revealed that 52 percent of consumers are less likely to engage with a business after a single bad mobile experience. If a customer has to wait longer than a split second for a Web page to load, or if that site cannot deliver a rich, multichannel experience, that customer could be lost forever.
But it’s a daunting prospect. Many brands have never replatformed and have no idea what they are getting into. For a CMO, this can be a scary project to have your name tied to. The following questions provide insights into replatforming, including how to determine whether it’s time to make a move, what factors need to be considered to ensure success, and which common architectures meet the needs of most companies.
Do I Even Need To Replatform?
Most e-commerce stores replatform every two or three years, according to Forrester. However, the timeline for replatforming will vary based on the retailer’s unique customer experience and performance goals. So what are some signs that a site’s glory days are behind it?
• Unacceptable response times or frequent outages.
• Inability to keep up with competitors’ functionality.
• Stalled omnichannel sales strategies caused by inadequate integration between channels.
• Difficulty complying with industry and government compliance mandates.
• Cost-prohibitive improvements needed to fix gaps in the system.
Further considerations: Organizations may face new requirements that didn’t exist or that have changed from when the platform was built. As the product catalog grows, database requirements may change. An increase in concurrent users influences Web server size and configuration. Operating in a global environment may require the ability to localize content, display and handle transactions in the buyer’s local currency, and manage local compliance requirements. Just as important as billing methods are the requirements for dealing with renewals, expired cards, refunds, and such channel issues as affiliate marketing commissions. Obviously a lot is in the mix.
Where Do I Start?
Once the need to replatform is acknowledged, it’s critical to establish project goals. But before doing so, you and your team must first craft a strategy appropriate for the company’s unique business needs and consider the demands of multiple stakeholders. Business leaders may be focused on issues such as conversion rates and customer retention, while technologists may be more concerned with security, compliance, and performance. And, of course, you have the customer, who wants fast access to quality content and ease of completing a transaction.
Ultimately, the issue of replatforming an existing e-commerce system comes down to determining the investment required to meet the organization’s goals. A successful project balances those goals.
How Do I Select The Right Platform For My Needs?
Replatforming an e-commerce operation is a huge undertaking, encompassing the two main components of the e-commerce store: the platform of the store (the software used to manage the look and feel of the site, inventory, payment processes, etc.) and the underlying hosting of that platform. Both elements are equally important to an e-commerce store’s success. Putting a resource-heavy ecommerce platform on subpar infrastructure can be just as disastrous as a restrictive e-commerce platform on enterprise-level metal.
When evaluating e-commerce platform providers, at a base level make sure the following requirements are met:
• Product merchandising: Is it easy to control how products and information are displayed, and how discounts are presented to the customer and processed in the payment system?
• Data compatibility: Is there a seamless system for parsing multiple data points simultaneously for a split-second redirect to dynamic pages or to deliver custom content?
• Payment system: Is there support for trials with opt-in/opt-out capability, physical product purchasing, access management for SaaS products, support for global payments, and shopping cart compatibility?
• Channel management: Are there features to differentiate customer segments and serve dynamic content based on customer profiles? Is there price list management for offering alternative pricing to selected customers? How about global compliance management?
• Mobile functionality: This is big one. Can the platform create high-impact mobile interfaces across smartphones and tablets, with real-time processing and mobile shopping cart optimization?
• Marketing: Are there tools for customer contact testing, multivariate testing, acquisition/retention marketing (PPC campaigns, SEO, email list management), and support for affiliate programs?
When it comes to hosting the site, every company has unique business and IT requirements, and many solutions could be a good fit. Sometimes, the best configuration for a site includes more than one option, encompassing a combination of cloud, on-premise, or hybrid. When evaluating hosting options, it’s important to consider whether potential integration and deployment issues are aligned with the organization’s IT resources and experience.
Other factors to consider are having access to scalable, dedicated bare-metal components; implementing cloud expandability for bursting; meeting PCI compliance; building in redundancy for disaster recovery.
The New Platform Is Live--Now How Do I Maximize My Investment?
So the hard part is done and your site is up and running. You can sit back and chill, right? Wrong! It is important to periodically assess how effectively the e-commerce platform is working, nimbly tweaking here and there. Some ways to do this is by monitoring patterns of demand and high/low traffic, shopping cart abandonment, and page load times. This can help identify aspects of the software or infrastructure that may need to be recalibrated.
Overall cost effectiveness and return on investment are also important. For example, a brand may discover that its traffic is fairly predictable, not prone to large, seasonal spikes. If that’s the case, dedicated infrastructure, as opposed to cloud-based infrastructure, may be cheaper over a fixed-contract term. Ideally, you can move from one configuration to another as times change to ensure that your platform evolves with the brand’s presence in the digital world.