In a dynamic environment, change is the only constant. Anything that was state of the art today will be obsolete tomorrow. If your company isn’t adapting, evolving and adjusting to such changes, it would soon collapse and find itself chucked out of the eCommerce race.
Of course, recognizing the need for change is equally vital. When leadership starts to see that the current ecosystem is outdated and not adding value, the decision-makers will make a move to a new platform that offers the right competitive advantage.
With eCommerce picking up steam in the last decade, having a virtual storefront was no longer an afterthought. Businesses were gradually but surely setting up webshops. But, with a flawed eCommerce platform selection process, most companies ended up on the wrong platform.
They picked a platform that was cumbersome, expensive and required extra hours of work. Due to this they would switch to another platform – that takes all the technical heavy lifting off their hands. They could free their internal resources from the endless-exhausting recurring glitches on their website.
Brands soon realized the need for upward mobility. They can’t afford to drag and crawl. They can’t afford NOT to be agile. As such, it warranted the move to another platform - a platform that empowers their business.
What is Migration or Replatforming?
Migration is the process of selecting and then switching to a new eCommerce platform. A business based on one eCommerce platform will move all of its data from one online store to another. The data can come to include products, orders, customers and other transferable entities. The reason for this movement will vary from business to business.
Online merchants migrate to new platforms to improve the functionality, capabilities, usability, performance, and customer experience on their eCommerce site. It could be that you've changed priorities or service offerings. You are facing problems with your CMS. You wish to reduce expenses. You feel that the website's high bounce rates are rooted in the platform's flawed UI. Also, you are unable to find/create the requisite features on the platform.
That’s not it - business owners migrate for a variety of other reasons as well. So let's dig-in and learn in detail when and why businesses choose to re-platform.
Why Do You Need to Migrate?
If you're thinking about migration, it's essential to know why that migration occurs, so you don't do it superfluously.
The platform could be too complicated. There are platforms where simple tasks require a great deal of convoluted programming. It takes a great deal of effort and time to develop new features. The inherent capabilities of the platform are weak. The platform imposes too many limitations.
It takes a great deal of effort to pull-off manual tasks. When a complex architecture starts to deplete and create fatigue for the internal workforce and you can't find immediate solutions to resolve them, it's best to abandon and switch to a new platform.
The platform has grown unstable and as a result, the user experience has declined. The site no longer serves a seamless and friction-free experience to its visitors. The bounce rates are exploding every day. What's worse, the platform even fails to render a proper omnichannel experience.
The current platform is outdated. As technology and business models evolve, modern sellers must change with them. Much of the migration today is driven by new and improved technology. If a particular platform offers legacy solutions, it's not the best choice to future-proof your business. The platform captures only a limited number of attributes.
The platform is not scalable - it does not expand and grow according to your business requirements. Unlike open-source, Proprietary platforms don't allow for smooth customization of the in-built code. It doesn't offer the same level of flexibility.
The platform lacks a modular architecture and periodic customizations, or improvements are not as easy to perform. The lack of flexibility means it is near impossible to integrate required solutions swiftly and seamlessly. In that case, your business deserves another platform.
Your current platform does not offer a high ROI. You find that your revenue is restricted, and the expenses are high. The high maintenance costs make the platform a very impractical solution for your eCommerce needs. What you obtain from the platform – in profits, gets canceled out by the expenses incurred from running the platform.
Similarly, on the security side of things - if the site remains compromised and sees several breaches, then the owner might consider moving to another platform. The lack of safeguards from malicious threats exposes the sensitive data on the site.
In the end, businesses were no longer grabbing all the KPI's and hitting their best numbers. From unique visitors, gross revenue, average order value (AOV) to conversion rates - everything suffered on a dated platform.
How to Plan Your eCommerce Migration?
Due to the complicated nature of migration - you need to develop an elaborate roadmap before executing the process. The extensive planning ensures that the data is moved qualitatively, with all the entities and relations preserved.
Audit Your Business
Outline all the pain points around orders, inventory, and other aspects of your business. List your struggles with the current platform to get the best eCommerce platform advice for the target store. Every KPI must become a point of discussion to get the best platform solution for your business.
Dig deep and identify the challenges that your website is facing at the moment. Shortlist all the possible flaws that kept your eCommerce business from taking off. The migration process is not a trivial task and such re-platforming operations aren't taken frequently. Thus, it would help if you exercised absolute caution when selecting the new platform.
Holistic Discovery Process
The discovery phase is the stepping stone in your Replatforming process. Since migration is complicated, it's essential to allocate sufficient time and effort to define and document the high/low-level requirements for each of the eCommerce capabilities your business needs in the new platform. Establish the indispensable needs of your business and then list the corresponding features that will address those needs.
A holistic approach will do a detailed and comprehensive analysis of all the factors that influence your business. List the set of pain points, the immediate objective, and the set of future goals. Go to the nth degree of detail regarding the functional requirements you'd want from your new platform. You'd need to map out all the features you'd want to see on your new platform. This phase collects all the essential info that the developers will work with to realize the new platform.
Outside of this, the solution must also sync with all the other elements of your business, like partners, operators, stakeholders, customers, etc. It involves a series of in-depth sessions with pivotal business members to translate the project scope into a set of functional specifications. The Discovery phase uses a balanced approach by accounting all the above, before arriving at the best solution for your unique business needs.
Features and Functionality Roadmap
Before migrating, you need to establish that the new solution offers suitable features, functionalities, and support to suit your business needs. Research if your new platform integrates well with accounting processes, inventory, sales, shipping vendors, payment processors and other facets of your business. B2B businesses will not need the same set of features as a B2C.
Thus, the features of the new eCommerce platform will be an essential deciding factor. One of the reasons for migrating is to get enhanced functionality. Compare the features of the new platform to that of your existing eCommerce platform. Choose a solution that will give you all the fundamental elements for your business to grow, develop, and improve.
The need for additional/enhanced functionality is the most common reason for platform migration. As a B2B business, you may opt for multiple catalogs and price lists - not something found on B2C sites. Similarly, in B2B, you may need product management features, RFQ, user-defined roles (for every person involved in decision making), unique checkout workflows, quick re-order, one-page checkout and other different payment options.
If you are involved in Global commerce, then multiple language options and currencies would be a great benefit. International shipping may also need integration from 3PL. From there on, you may need to integrate with your customer's procurement systems. When evaluating solutions, also consider if the code is proprietary or open-source. On open source - you may find various ready-to-install customizations and APIs already available.
Document the Requirements
Now that you have evaluated the business, all that is left to do is document the specifications. All the capabilities and functionalities that are required in the end-product will get listed in this phase. User roles, 3rd party integrations, tax solutions, payment methods, scaling plans, marketing methods, etc. will be defined and laid out in this phase. By ironing out the specifics, you reduce the chances of anything going wrong during development.
Having this said document will help to reduce confusion, rework time, and development efforts. It'll cut down on the need to redesign, recode, and retest. It will also ensure that you have a reasonable timeline and budget expectation. It will define the project's success criteria. Further, it'll serve as a foundation for future enhancements and post-deployment support. More than anything, you'd use it as a guideline for implementing all the solutions on your new platform.
The platform selection process depends on the features you already have and the features you aim for. For instance, if you're after a solution that gives absolute control over everything through a dashboard, Magento is probably the best solution.
For those looking for speed, flexibility, SEO, CMS, and analytics, a solution like WooCommerce will be more suitable.
The platform you are currently on will also play a vital role in your decision, as all the data you need to migrate will have to sync with the new solution. The switch to another platform is quite complicated. Owners often end up indecisive over the perfect platform for their business. If you find yourself in the same dilemma, it's best to review the list of all the factors to consider before selecting a suitable platform. Plan well, so you don't have to replatform again shortly.
An outdated design, along with redundant features, will quickly repel customers and negatively affect your sales. Shifting your eCommerce base to another platform allows you to rework your identity. Either the current theme can be modified, or an entirely different theme can be incorporated to change your website's aesthetics.
The theme design you are using on the store right now may not be available on the next platform's predefined/pre-built theme store. The best way to overcome this issue is to get a customized design for your online store, which you can incorporate in your new store. But a custom storefront design may require extensive detailing, and hence more time and effort.
If you don't want to change the current store's look and feel, it's possible to retain the present-ongoing theme. For that, all you'd have to do is replicate their existing storefront. In this scenario, the eCommerce experts will jump straight to a development process and skip the design stage.
So, either use an available theme, build a custom theme from scratch, or replicate the current theme into the new store. Not only that, but the design change must also be responsive. In other words, the design must be mobile-friendly. So, perform a quality-analysis testing to see if the design works well across different devices and browsers. Google's search algorithm rewards mobile readiness and penalizes sites that don't offer mobile support.
Modules added to your eCommerce store will help the business grow. Even if a solution serves you well for years, re-platforming helps to analyze the best-of-breed other third party plugins you'd need, and consider what will save you a lot of development time and resources. Depending on your needs, list all the necessary premium/free plugins available to you on the target platform. A marketplace of endless extensions will prove helpful whenever you need to integrate additional functionalities into your store.
Not all extensions and themes from the previous platforms will be compatible with your new platform. Some platforms even support out of the box plugins, so you may want to look into that while evaluating the next platform. Also, some platforms offer fewer extensions. For, e.g., when it comes to extensions and plugins, BigCommerce offers only 60 extensions. The powerful Magento 2, on the other hand, provides more than 15,000 add-ons and extensions to enrich your online shop.
Carefully consider all the data that needs to be migrated to the target store. The data could include catalog (product and categories) data, customer data, images, order history, reviews, certain content pages, and other entities.
You may also choose several additional options to extend your migration possibilities and receive all the necessary customization and support you need on each step of the migration.
In case you are dealing with simple products, you can easily use a CSV export file and upload the SKUs into your new system. But in case you have complex products or have some customization, then the migration would need a little more effort and time.
Before you start migrating, backup your store data. Hopefully, the migration goes off without a hitch, but in case of an error, you want to save the data to revert to. Regardless of your confidence in the migration, backing up data will save you from any unforeseen circumstances.
When it comes to the CSV file, the data can be exported in a tab-delimited format - where the data items are separated using tabs as a delimiter. Also, the data can be exported in a comma-delimited format - where the data items are separated using commas. Once done, the data is imported into the new system.
Bringing data from the existing platform into the new platform is complex and prone to errors. The data import that is performed should contain the full data set. The purpose is to sync the data with remote data sources and to have it up to date. Chances of data loss or data corruption is quite high, hence the process warrants absolute care.
Integration is another element that goes haywire during a platform to platform migration. An incremental change on the theme can wreak havoc on the payment processing. But anyhow, integration would be vital to re-platforming success.
It would be best to investigate how the target platform will integrate with ERP, CRM, or IMS (Inventory Management Systems), accounting, PIM (Product INformation Management) solutions. Whether the inventory solutions are crucial and need to be retained or if there is a better alternative available on the new platform.
Before migrating to the new platform, you need to ensure that the new solution you will be switching to will support the integrations you already use, without witnessing any loss in performance.
Hence, it'd great if you would perform a complete technology audit of all the tools and extensions you are using and verify that they are compatible with the new platform. The plugins and other integrations from the legacy system may not glue to the new platform.
Another crucial aspect of the migration process is configuring your email correctly in the new system. If this isn't set correctly in the new platform, your customers won't be able to receive any emails. Once the new store goes live, test every address on the new site to ensure that the emails are working fine.
Domain and SSL
Domain related issues always emerge when the website faces a migration problem. Keep an eye on changes to the domain or the subdomains of your new eCommerce store. In the case of the domain changes, you'd either have to redirect the same to a new page or remove the indexed URL from the search engine.
Switching to another eCommerce may also require you to change your SSL certificate. You will have to move the SSL Certificate to a new server in case you have it with your current website. Remember that every certificate isn't compatible with all web server software. So, determine if the new provider offers a similar shared certificate or you'd have to buy a new one.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
While the migration takes effect, it is essential to manage the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) side of things. There could be a dip in rankings/traffic – which is why you need careful planning, mapping, and auditing. It is vital to hold onto all the rankings you currently have.
You need to ensure that all the redirects are correctly in place. Don't leave it till the last minute. 301 SEO URLs – which tell the search engine crawlers that a certain page is now located in a new location. Avoid duplication and if there is any instance of duplicate content – consolidate the URLs (to be crawled) with the use of canonical tags.
The landing page, together with all the products, categories, and CMS pages, must be 301 redirected to their new URLs. Such URLs have built up a ton of authority over time – so the last thing you want is to lose all the SEO juice.
Even make use of 1:1 redirects to ensure that all the URLs for the new website are the same as the URLs for the legacy site. Old URLs with their current SEO ranking will need to be appropriately saved in the Target Store. You don't want to lose the SEO value from the old site.
Also, you'd need to create a new XML sitemap to submit to the search engines. A sitemap tells the search engines about all the URLs of the pages on your site. It proves useful for pages that don't have an internal link pointing to them, so they aren't skipped from crawling. You can also use tools like Screaming Frog, Dynomapper, Mindup, Slickplan, etc.
Site hierarchy is another crucial process in your migration process. A site hierarchy consists of all the URLs and pages on the website's primary domain. You will need to generate two of these; one for the existing store and one for the new platform. This is essential because it gives the basic idea about the store's content inventory and how the same would reflect on the new platform.
The site hierarchy will decide the changes to the structure of the website. The new categories and subcategories are laid out in this process. Ensure that the authoritative pages are easily discovered (2-3 clicks) and aren't buried too deep into the website.
Map old pages on the existing site to new pages on the new site. Mapping redirects is an essential step of site migration. It ensures that the SEO rankings you've built for the old pages are passed on to the new URLs on the new site.
You'd have to review the metadata as well. Many owners do a complete audit and re-optimization of the metadata. They rewrite all the page titles and descriptions. Knowing how valuable the page title is for organic SEO, it'd be wise to optimize the same.
Also, do not forget backlinks - update the links to your pages from external sources. The eCommerce website is sure to end up with dead pages. Use a link explorer tool or Google Analytics to perform a link audit as part of the redirect process. Instead of displaying a standard 404 error page – you could customize the same to showcase another alternative product from your inventory.
Most eCommerce experts are capable of performing a migration in parallel with the original website functioning smoothly.
However, there have been instances of downtime, crashes, and dead ends. If customers were to access the site and find it unavailable, it'd lead to your brand's reputation getting dented.
During the migration process - the experience for your customers must remain consistent. Hence, make sure that your marketing and sales team have designed a communication plan to inform customers about the ongoing migration. At no point should the loyal buyers find the website in a dire state.
Replatforming can go wrong anywhere. Commission a program of realistic performance testing, stress testing and load testing – preferably during staging, and then when you go live, to ensure that the website is primed to run correctly. Monitor the performance of the site - both in staging and in production environments.
The objective is to ensure that the eCommerce website is quick enough for comfortable use and does not consume excessive memory and processing time on the server level. Blackfire is an effective tool for performance optimization. It is useful for uncovering bottlenecks and tracing optimization progress.
Outside of this - developers may introduce their checks, add other metrics, and inspect everything regularly. This way, they ensure proper performance during the whole development phase.
Test your eCommerce site across all popular browsers, both on PC and Mac. Even, test your website on mobile - the last thing you'd want to lose is mobile-friendliness in this day and age.
Load testing ensures that the eCommerce website works properly with the expected amount of data. The best practice is to go with an estimated amount of data and generate the same by two. An extra cushion can be used to give confidence in the expected behavior under heavy load.
Even go to the extent of setting up a sandbox test. This gives you a crystal-clear picture of how the transfer and changes made will act on the new platform.
Stress testing ensures that the website will perform when there is a massive stream of visitors to the site. This testing should be performed in the staging environment. Staging mimics a peak season/sales day activity when the footfall on the website is at its highest.
Before making the site live – iron out all the glitches, place some test orders and confirm that the new website is linked correctly with your payment processing system. Everything needs to be in order before making the site live.
The critical challenge in migration is to relocate all your data precisely, with complete integrity and security, without any disruption.
Ensure that all the data that is accurately moved is complete, and there are no oddities or quirks in your catalog product table. Such an evaluation saves you time renaming or reassigning attributes and attribute sets, consequently reducing the time to go live for the market.
Lossless migration is achievable, but corruption to any entity or it's relationship is equally plausible. Hence, after a successful migration, perform a soft launch. In a soft launch, a small group of people will access and test the site.
Once completed, you'd collect valuable insights in the form of feedback about the user experience. Soft launch serves as the best way to fix issues before the official release. Once you've addressed all the problems, you're ready to launch and take the site live.
Post-launch, track the production server load in the initial days to identify any bugs missed in the development and testing phases. If your former site required login credentials, let the customers know if their credentials are migrated to the new website or if they'd need new user IDs and passwords.