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10 steps to ecommerce replatforming

Posted on 31st March 2021 by Aurora Commerce

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How to sail through the key stages of your replatforming project without a hitch

 

The decision to replatform is not one you will have taken lightly. A bit like moving to a new house, it’s a sizeable undertaking that you wouldn’t be setting in motion unless you had to. And if you’ve decided that your current platform isn’t the right tool to take you where you want to go, you’ll probably have heard that the arduous road to replatforming is a necessary evil filled with hidden costs and unpleasant surprises. At Aurora, we think that’s rubbish. There are definitely ways to make replatforming projects smooth and enjoyable. One of those is preparation. And we’re more than happy to share the knowledge we’ve acquired through hundreds of build projects in order to make yours the success it needs to be. Below is a quick guide highlighting every step involved in switching from your current provider to your next ecommerce launchpad so that you can start your journey on the right foot. With a few pro tips along the way.

 

Step 1: Gather your requirements

Making a list of all your required features should be your first move. A good way to start is to remember why you are moving in the first place. What was missing? Where do you see yourself in a few years and what functionality will you need to get there? What are you using at the moment, and do you want to keep all of it? Don’t take for granted that your current platform’s features will be automatically available when you switch. Whatever you want to bring with you, add it to your list.

Most of the time, and particularly when it comes to set RFP documents, this list will become a ridiculously long wish list that no earthly platform can ever fulfil. That’s fine. You now need to go through all of your requirements and rank them in order of importance. We recommend using the MoSCoW model and allocating a Must have, Should have, Could have and Will not have value to each feature. This way, you’ll know what to drop should compromises become necessary.

 

Step 2: Choose your supplier(s)

This is the fun step. You’ll get to know a few platforms, meet suppliers, have introduction discussions, and overall enjoy finding out what’s available in the market. A bit like dating, without the awkwardness. But don’t forget you’ll potentially need to do this process twice as there are two decisions to make here. When it comes to your retail store, you get to pick your ecommerce platform, as well as the agency who will build your site. Actually, you could even have three decisions to make: platform, build agency and design agency, should one not offer the full-service option.

The ecommerce provider you select will determine the features available to you, how much potential there is for growth and the level of compatibility with the rest of your stack. Your main selection criteria here should capability. Your agency will then build a functioning retail site using your chosen platform and handle each key stage such as strategy, design, the migration of your data, development, as well as SEO. In any case, make sure you spend time with all the suppliers involved as they will be accompanying you throughout the entire process. And whilst ‘getting along’ isn’t always on the selection list, it does help a lot.

 

Step 3: Get an idea of costs and timings

Yes, the use of the term ‘idea’ is warranted here. Because no matter how great your RFP is, any costs and timings proposed before the discovery phase will only every serve as a loose guide. So it’s important to communicate your budget early on in the process, as it could determine your choice of supplier, platform or even functionality, and save you time sifting through proposals that are just beyond your budget for now. And whilst we’re talking about budgets, remember that depending on the provider you select, third-party plugins could quickly add up. That’s why at Aurora, we just don’t use them. We have built and developed out-of-the-box features and custom integrations for just about anything under the sun. So look out for this additional cost when planning as not all providers work in the same way.

It’s also important to note that whilst final build costs will be refined further down the line, your annual licence fee from your chosen platform should be firm from the start.

 

Step 4: Discovery phase

Yes, it’s needed. And yes, it should be paid for. Investing in a discovery phase is the best advice you can follow. It will save you from finding problems later on when you’re so invested that you’ve passed the point of no return. We’re not saying there won’t be any surprises along the way, but a discovery phase should get most of them out of the woodwork early on. So make sure you give your agency some time to poke under the hood a little, review your requirements and write detailed specs. Which will in turn become the basis for a more realistic timeline and cost estimate.

And once this is done, you can confidently sign on the dotted line. Well done, you’ve got yourself a new supplier and a shiny new replatforming project underway.

 

Step 5: To design or not to design?

That is the question. Will you be keeping your actual designs, or will you use this opportunity to get a cool new brand identity? If so, remember to add this to your plan. The conceptual phase, with all the approvals it requires, could inflate your timeline and budget considerably. And if you are going ahead with a brand refresh and a spanking new interface for your ecommerce site, don’t forget to consider testing. You’ll need to go through cross-browser testing, multi-device testing… All kinds of testing. Figure out what tools you’ll be using well in advance, as it could lead to ordering hardware, purchasing software that simulates various browsers and devices or even sourcing an agency that specialises in this kind of stuff.

 

Step 6: Get building

This stage is the core of your project. The main event. And there is only one piece of advice we can give you: expect surprises. Because no matter how well you prepare for your project, there will be something you haven’t seen coming. That’s why we always recommend starting with the most complex element first. Usually, that’s your data migration. So as soon as you hear the word ‘replatforming’, start mapping your data sources and their interactions, figure out what customer data you absolutely need to bring with you when you move to your new provider and determine what you could live without. This way, if you hit a snag, you’ll have a couple of plan Bs ready to roll.

 

Step 7: Don’t skip testing

Testing is the reject of replatforming. It’s the kid-who-never-gets -picked-in-a-team of replatforming. Nobody wants to do it, and it is usually the first thing to get dropped. However, we can’t state enough how important testing is. You should account for full end-to-end testing of your new platform, including making sure it works well within your complete ecosystem. So when it comes to testing, go nuts. Include every piece of functionality and every system you can think of; place orders, do returns, dispatch products, throw in edge case scenarios, promotions. And not just in a sandbox: find a way to test live transactions. Because only doing it in a test environment is all well and good, but it’s not the real McCoy, so best to be safe and plan a way to do it so that you interact with your live tech stack.

 

Step 8: The go-live bunker

Ok maybe you don’t need a launch bunker. But how fun would that be right? Regardless, there are still things that need to be carefully planned ahead of go-live day. Mostly, your transition plan. How are you shutting down the old site? Are you keeping your previous platform running in parallel? Are all your providers aware of the change? If not, someone may get a panicked phone call in the middle of the night advising them your site is down.

Once all is planned, everyone is aware of their roles and you’ve pushed the ‘Go’ button, start checking SEO immediately. Make sure your URLs are redirecting and start using the site by placing orders and trying out every piece of functionality your brand-new swanky ecommerce platform has to offer.

 

Step 9: Post-launch support

Whilst this step is likely to already be on your list, it does need to be split further into three sub-phases:

  • Go-live support (day of launch)
  • Immediate post-launch (the two weeks following go-live)
  • Long-term support

Each of those will need to have specific contact procedures and Service Level Agreements (SLAs). You’ll need to be clear on who to call depending on the time of day, how quickly they’ll fix it and what constitutes an emergency for all parties involved.

Again, don’t forget you’ll be dealing with two separate entities. Your platform provider should handle issues with hosting, upgrades and security whilst your build agency will deal with all other bugs or build-related items.

 

Step 10: Don’t forget…

Ok, we cheated. We wanted to make it a nice round number, so we created a step which includes a few additional bits of advice:

  • Don’t forget to plan training for your customer service team. They will be the ones handling the new system and will need to feel comfortable using it before they start handling real customer orders.
  • Define your work team for each stage of the project. Everyone’s involvement may vary depending on each stage, so when mapping your stakeholders, make sure you create a structure that takes this into account. For example, your agency may be leading the design phase, but they may not be involved at all for the data migration. 

There you go, that’s replatforming in a nutshell. There are actually a lot more tips and advice we’d love to share, so keep an eye out for our next blog on replatforming. And if you need to rethink the ecommerce platform for your retail store, come and see what Aurora Commerce can do for your business, or schedule a demo with us.

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