Want to succeed in e-commerce? What you need to know about replatforming

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Reconstructing your ecommerce site on a different web platform is a daunting task. It’s expensive, time consuming and downright risky. If today’s customers didn’t demand great ecommerce experiences, I’d say just skip this process altogether and that’d be one less article you’d have to read.

But customers demand excellent web experiences and you’re going to give it to them. A website is perhaps the most important component to your digital mission and if it hasn’t already done so, at some point, the topic of replatforming is bound to come up.

I’ve been project managing websites for about a decade. I think it’s fair to say that today’s ecommerce development landscape is still the Wild West, with little accountability and even less standards. If you’ve worked with an ecommerce development agency, you may be nodding your head about now. Here are some of the tips that I’ve learned along the way.

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TIPS FOR SELECTING THE PLATFORM

1: Know what’s out there

Most ecommerce platforms fall into one of three categories: proprietary closed source (also known as “home grown” platforms), propriety open source (Magento, Hybris, etc.), and cloud based solutions (Shopify, MIVA Commerce, etc). Each type of platform has its own set of pros and cons.

Proprietary “Home Grown” Systems

Replatforming onto a proprietary system means that the agency and the platform are one in the same. The agency that owns the platform will likely be the only service provider that can support your needs after the project is over. Home grown systems usually result in less overhead and typically have less customers meaning you get more attention. The biggest downside is that closed source platforms lack the ability to scale.

Proprietary open source platforms

Proprietary open source solutions rely on communities of developers to maintain and improve the codebase. You’ll need to obtain a license of the software before installing it onto your server of choice, whether it’s a cloud based server that you rent, your agency’s server (not recommended and will address later in this article) or in-house servers within your company.

Proprietary open source solutions allow you to access the surrounding development community for support so theoretically, it’s easier to switch agencies. With greater amounts of development support, they also come with larger licensing costs.

Cloud based

Cloud based solutions oftentimes restrict server access meaning you/your development agency will be limited in terms of custom functionality. However, because cloud based ecommerce solutions have more customers, much of the “custom” functionality has already been built. You’ll also enjoy better support with cloud based solutions since the platform itself hires developers to improve their code. In the case of Shopify, you can choose to be supported by the platform itself or partners.

2: Research the platform 

Compare platforms online as you would if you were in the market for a new DSLR camera. Google terms like “Shopify vs. Magento.” G2 Crowd is an excellent resource that compiles user reviews on ecommerce platforms.

3: Research the integration between the ecommerce platform and your ERP

One of the largest parts of ecommerce replatforming will be integrating your ERP system. While some ecommerce platforms have APIs with documentation for specific ERP integrations, some platforms like Magento, are notorious for having little documentation of any integration. This means that the integration portion of the project essentially becomes a new sub-project with its own budget.

Be sure that the platform you selected will integrate nicely with your ERP (read: the integration has been done many times and there is plenty of documentation on that specific integration). Even better is if you can create your Request for Proposal (RFP) around agencies that have led that specific integration (say that one of the requirements to join the RFP is prior experience with Sage 100 to Magento integration or Shopify to Netsuite integration).

You don’t want to get in a situation where the integration project and the replatforming project are split between two different agencies because the agency you’re working doesn’t have experience with your ERP and thus, over charges for recreating the wheel.

4: Decide which route to host your new files

There are three ways to host your files. Deciding which route to host will depend on your company’s goals in availability of development support. The three ways to host a site include a.) hosting directly on your own servers (these are machines in your office), b.) hosting on servers that you rent or c.) hosting on the agency’s servers. Each has their own set of pros and cons.

Hosting files on your own servers means that you’re responsible for any time the site goes down. Downtime means lost dollars so if you don’t have the technical capacity to manage a server, consider a managed host.

Cloud based managed hosts (there is a such thing as a cloud based unmanaged hosts, but in essence, that’s the same thing as hosting your own files, but on the cloud) give you an 800 number to call in case your site goes down. You’ll need to define a workflow for when the site goes down; if a code error is responsible for a server crash, you’ll need a developer’s support to get your site back up.

Hosting your files on the agency’s server means you will have little or no access to your own code. For some smaller brands with no in-house technical expertise, this is not a bad option. Keep in mind that agencies also block access to other third party agencies making them the only available development support at whatever rate they want to charge .

Once the site files are on a server, migrating to another server is risky and expensive. My recommendation is to avoid hosting your files on the agency’s servers. If in doubt, trust other users who have gone through the same process. G2 Crowd has a large database of reviews but sometimes, a call to a friend at another company is the best way to go.

Over the next few weeks, we'll publish articles from Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2016. Find this story on page 44 of the Day 1 issue

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