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The top 8 replatforming risks and how to avoid them

How to bypass the most common pitfalls that often come with enterprise-level ecommerce replatforming projects

 

When it comes to replatforming, you’ve probably heard terrible nightmare stories. Systems nobody knows how to use come launch day. Busted time plans. Shouty, unhappy board members. Exceeded budgets. Big launches being delayed. Data being lost in the ether of the universe. You know. The usual ghoulish horror. But at Aurora Commerce, we believe recent technology can really help support your migration in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. From custom integrations that plug straight into your existing systems to a much wider range of native features, today’s platforms are better equipped to support your complex tech stack, which means replatforming projects have the potential to be much smoother. Switching ecommerce platform in order to offer the kind of seamless omnichannel experience your clients have come to expect from online retailers is now easier to achieve than ever.

Notice we said easier. Not easy. There are obviously a few things to be mindful of before you get started. At Aurora, our experience with clients’ replatforming projects means we’ve learnt a thing or two about avoiding the most common replatforming pitfalls. And we’ve put that tried and tested knowledge down on paper. We hope this helps you feel more confident about jumping into the next stage of your business growth, and more prepared to avoid those mistakes everyone else is talking about.

 

Pitfall 1: Your data hasn’t followed

If we haven’t said it once, we haven’t said it at all: migrating your data will be much more complex than you think. If you find yourself starting your data tests the day before launch, you’re already in a nightmare scenario that’s not likely to end well.

Start planning this stage pretty much the moment your project is approved and always keep data migration on the horizon as something you need to keep an eye on. Map out your data sources and aim to finish migration four to five weeks before launch so you have time to check everything thoroughly. And once data has migrated over, start testing it straight away. Place orders, dispatch items, check stock levels, and find a way to put it all to the test in a production environment. In short, adopt a ‘belt and braces’ approach. Think of contingency plans and stay flexible so you can adapt to any surprise that may come your way.

 

Pitfall 2: Your launch date isn’t going to happen

Most ecommerce retailers start replatforming conversations with some sort of preset deadline in mind. Or worse, they select a supplier based on the shortest promised deadline. Initial expectations are not often realistic and don’t take into account the complexity of your tech stack.

Our advice here is simple: listen to your supplier’s advice, make sure you review your timings after your discovery phase has yielded more information and leave room for flexibility. If things are not going well, you need to be able to move your launch date. Being late is better than losing customers.

 

Pitfall 3: Your project has turned into a money pit

Remember that movie? Where everything that could go wrong did go wrong and poor Tom Hanks ended up sinking his whole lifesavings into what turned out to be a never-ending money pit? Bet he didn’t have a proper scope of work from the builders now did he? Running over budget is a very real risk when taking on a project of any kind, let alone one that entails as much complexity as switching ecommerce platform.

There are ways to ensure you stay on track and your best tool here is kind of an obvious one: the discovery phase. This stage will allow you and your supplier to agree on exactly what will be delivered and document it all in a final scope of work (SOW) document. Once this is nailed down, go one step further and get all your stakeholders in a room to present the scope of work in detail. Make it clear that if any additional work is needed after this point, it will incur extra costs, delays in the project or the removal of another feature. In short, if it ain’t in the SOW, it ain’t happening. Well actually it might, but you know, something else has got to give.

 

Pitfall 4: Everyone wants to get involved and nothing gets done

This is usually seen at design time, when lots of opinions suddenly materialise and reaching a decision becomes incredibly difficult. But this problem isn’t limited to the fun marketing colourful stage. It can also happen when stakeholders haven’t landed on what they need in terms of functionality and dillydally, whilst suppliers in charge of the time plan are nervously biting their nails awaiting key decisions that will allow the project to move forward.

The solution? Well ideally all key decisions, from which merchandising tool to use to the right payment partner to integrate, should be fixed and documented by the end of the discovery phase. But we know we don’t always live in an ideal world, and sometimes moving on despite some leftover unknowns is necessary. Highlight those in your SOW, and make sure you set firm deadlines for these decisions to be finalised.

 

Pitfall 5: Perfection

Ok, this one may not sound as scary as the previous nightmare scenarios. But it can have just as devastating an effect on your project as the other pitfalls. Wanting everything to be perfect can wreak havoc on your budget and time plan. But how do you draw the line? How do you know when something is good enough?

Because there lies the issue. Not everyone has the same definition of good enough. So step one: define your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Use your SOW to document what each individual feature will accomplish. What are your ‘pass’ criteria? Again, gather all stakeholders and make sure everyone has the same baseline understanding of this. Any change or additional request beyond this point will impact on either scope, budget, or timings.

 

Pitfall 6: Organic traffic has dropped off a cliff

Ecommerce retailers know that search rankings can account for a very large proportion of their site traffic. Around 40 to 60% in fact, according to our in-house expert SEO dude. So getting your SEO strategy wrong and being given the cold shoulder by Google could have devastating effects on sales.

As part of your supplier selection process, make sure you don’t forget to pick an SEO partner, and involve them from the very start of your project. Migrating your entire catalogue of product URLs is no small feat and will require some time. Map out all your redirects early on to mitigate risk. And put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Make sure the new website offers them a good experience and that shoppers don’t end up with a 404 page that leaves them nowhere to go but your competitor’s storefront.

 

Pitfall 7: On day of launch, nobody knows how to use the system

We know we talk about data migration a lot. But this issue goes all the way back to data migration. For effective training to take place, products, clients and payment information needs to be in the system so that key actions such as placing orders and returning stock can be tried and tested. Include edge cases, so that customers don’t experience disruptions in service from day of launch. And your call centre people don’t collapse in a heap after days of dealing with an angry mob.

So how do you ensure training is set up to truly support both your staff and customers? Account for this in advance. Make sure everything is in place weeks before going live. Give people the opportunity to train with real data and functionality by placing orders, dispatching, checking stock levels, doing returns. We all know that when it comes to using a new ecommerce platform, screen grabs don’t quite cut the mustard.

 

Pitfall 8: You can’t scale up

You’ve probably decided on a platform switch because you needed more functionality in order to be able to scale up. So realising you can’t because a key feature is missing after all, or growth would push you into a new cost band you just can’t afford, can be a bit… Well soul-destroying. So how can you ensure your newly selected platform will really help you reach your business goals?

In short, plan your growth and understand its impact. Are you hoping to increase sales by 20%? 30% If so, how many orders per day is that? Can you handle it in terms of manufacturing, shipping or resources? What would be the additional cost? Make sure you discuss banding costs from your platform supplier should they use those to calculate their license fees. And before signing on the dotted line, review all your must-haves. Double-check they are absolutely handled as part of your new chosen enterprise technology platform.

 

Conclusion

Whilst a replatforming project is no small feat, there are ways to do it well and come out unscathed. The above pitfalls can be avoided by preparing for your project and thoroughly documenting what good looks like for your business. After that, all that’s left to do is find a roster of partners that will look after your business just as well as you do yourself every day. And who you actually enjoy working with. Clients don’t put this enough on their selection grid, but having a trusting relationship with a bunch of people you actually rely on to know things are in hand should be at the top of your list of criteria.

In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss your replatforming project in more detail, or if you’d like to map out how your technical stack could help you move into the next stage of your business growth, give us a call. We’d love to chat.

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