The Complete Ecommerce Replatforming Survival Guide: From Migration to Launch

The Complete Ecommerce Replatforming Survival Guide: From Migration to Launch

Broken functionality, mounting tech debt, and the threat that growth itself will choke your success. Those are all good reasons to find a new ecommerce platform. 

Still, something may be holding you back. After all, replatforming can be costly, time-consuming work — work that might be better allocated to support or upgrade your current platform. There’s also the fear that, if your boss, board of directors, or executive team isn’t happy with the outcome, your job could be on the line.

To help you navigate the process, we’ve compiled a detailed guide on how to seamlessly replatform — no matter which provider you choose:

  1. Challenge Your Inner Fears
  2. Put All of Your Cards on the Table
  3. Make a Plan Before You Sign
  4. Trust Your Launch Experts & Partners
  5. Familiarize Yourself with Tools & Support
  6. Follow a Proven Pre-Launch Checklist
  7. Don’t Forget About Search Engines
  8. Monitor Functionality on Launch Day
  9. Know Who to Call Post-Launch

1. Challenge Your Inner Fears

You know it’s time to replatform when the pain of your current platform outweighs the fear of replatforming. If you’re in that headspace already, then you may wish to skip ahead to the next section. But if you’re like many ecommerce businesses, you’re probably facing a fear of change — on top of a few other fears that we’ll get into shortly.

Ask and answer these questions alongside stakeholders and your entire team:

  • Do traffic spikes affect uptime or speed of service?
  • Has your platform’s security failed at critical moments?
  • How often do you hear or say the words, “We can’t do that”?
  • Are DIY patches and workarounds (fix this, that breaks) common?
  • Does your team spend their time and energy maintaining or innovating?
  • Do you have the freedom to launch new products, projects, and experiments?
  • Are new features and apps regularly delayed due to in-house or agency constraints?
  • Is your help desk, social media, or email dominated by functionality questions and complaints?

If you’re a leader or executive, your engineers, designers, marketers, and support staff have the best insight into whether it’s time to replatform or not. When your people are hurting due to frustrations with software, so too will your customers and business.

Eliminate your fears, one by one

Nearly every company has replatformed at least once if they’ve been in ecommerce for more than a few years; it’s a necessary evil brought on by success. The growing pains of maturing.

Prior to selecting a new platform and going through the migration process, many businesses share the same fears, some of which include:

  • Wasting sunk costs
  • Unexpected new costs or no ROI
  • Or the fear that this decision may cost your job

Let’s take a look at each of these fears more closely.

The fear of wasting sunk costs

Abandoning a six-figure investment you made in another platform one or two years ago is generally not always a comfortable career move. But what if you’re also thinking about features on your site that aren’t enabled and prevent you from further business growth?

Does this scenario sound familiar?

“I’ve invested $150K into my site, and sure, it isn’t mobile responsive or doesn’t have Apple Pay, but it works and I don’t want to have to spend another $100K for another solution.”

Of course, some options appear more affordable on the surface. If you want to stay with your current solution, maybe adding Apple Pay will cost you a one-time lump sum fee. But, what happens when Apple Pay 2.0 comes out? What happens when the next Amazon Pay comes out, or a Google Pay update?

If your current platform isn't innovating for you, then every new upgrade will cost you more and more. So ask yourself which option is scarier: investing that money now, knowing that SaaS-based platforms have hundreds of developers who are building and rolling out this industry-leading technology on your behalf — keeping your ecommerce site current with the latest tech changes? Or spending more for endless upgrades with your current platform that isn’t focused on future proofing your business?

The fear of unexpected new costs or no return on investment (ROI)

The psychological barriers associated with replatforming can vary based on the size of your business. For those who are starting to see substantial growth, the actual cost of the process, and the fear of unexpected new costs (both of your time and financially) is a real concern. You may also be wondering what your return on investment is going to look like.

It’s important to take a step back and tell your prospective new platform provider what you need to see as a valuable option for you to consider moving forward.

Every sales transaction comes down to trust. Sharing exactly what you are afraid of with regards to return on investment or constant upgrades — maybe you’ve been burned by other platforms in the past — will help to address those concerns up front.

The fear that this decision could cost your job

It’s natural to feel like if you make another bad ecommerce platform investment, then your job is on the line. It’s about more than just a sunk cost; you are personally going to endorse a new platform and put yourself under professional scrutiny if this next move doesn’t go right.

This fear is a hard one to articulate, but that’s why it’s so important that you try to explain it both to your team first, and then share that sentiment externally — so your prospective new ecommerce platform provider can help you sell the new solution internally. If an alternative solution isn’t right for you, it’s better to learn that early on.

2. Put All of Your Cards on the Table

The more information you share about what you need to have a successful replatforming experience, the better. Here’s what you should bring to the table:

Explain your team size and key stakeholders

The larger your ecommerce team, the more the replatforming process may seem complicated.

There are at least five or more people, managing five or more separate teams, each with their own priorities that we need to understand.

It’s best to have every stakeholder on your team involved from the beginning of the process — helping to avoid any misunderstandings about the platform capabilities and giving your sales contact the opportunity to answer any and all questions up front.

Clarify all customizations and integrations required

To ensure that a SaaS-based ecommerce solution that you are evaluating is capable and reliable enough for you to accomplish everything you can do with your site right now, it’s helpful to provide a map of the technologies that you currently use. Doing so will also clarify whether or not your day to day processes will drastically change.

Let’s say you want to connect your new ecommerce store to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software you’ve been using for a few years. Everyone uses software solutions in a different way,s so it’s likely that you’ve built customizations into that tool that make it difficult to simply use a standardized app or connector to integrate it with a new ecommerce platform.

That’s why you should lean on your prospective solution provider to help you scope out the required integration work ahead of time to solidify the processes with which you might have issues connecting to your ERP during the migration.

For that same reason, it’s also a good time when you’re replatforming to look at and reevaluate your entire tech stack to see where customizations can be a challenge or be resolved with a new software solution.

Likewise, when you are scoping the technical work, ask for introductions to platform partners that have already built the integrations for the specific app you are using. Or, you can discuss how you might build it yourself. You need to have a complete picture of not just how it’s going to work, but also of any of the other parties involved or the costs involved before you move forward with signing an agreement.

Ensure everyone understands your timeline and scope of work

Just because you’re running a high-volume or even a Fortune 500 ecommerce company, doesn’t mean that your replatforming process has to take a long time.

It’s common to assume that you will need 18 months to launch a new site. When considering a SaaS-hosted solution, you need to rethink that timeline and understand that with the right support, you could be ready to launch in six months.

It’s also helpful to communicate the full scope of what you are trying to achieve early on. Ensure that your team or your agency partner can provide the following information:

  • Who will be migrating your data?
  • What can’t you do on your current platform?
  • What costs you the most time to currently execute?
  • What could be automated to save you time and resources?
  • How many products, customers, and orders need to be migrated?

“The move to Shopify Plus took four weeks,” says Cassie Smith, Ecommerce Manager at Jones Soda. “I knew some basic HTML and loved my in-house developer, but with the help of [launch experts], I could do most everything myself. Whenever I had a question or request, they were there. The barrier to entry was almost non-existent, which felt freeing.”

3. Make a Plan Before You Sign

Before making a commitment, the final step is to develop a realistic timeline to get your site live by mapping out key checkpoints along the way to achieving your goals.

Your new platform provider should help to guide and manage the process, and ensure that you understand everything upfront. You need to know what to expect ahead of time so you don’t see any gaps after the contract is signed.

If you need an introduction to a partner to help you with the build or with integrations, your platform provider should do that before the contract is signed. That way, you’ll know what your overall replatforming price will be.

The partner’s quote itself should include dates and milestones for:

  • Data migration
  • Front-end design
  • Back-end development
  • Quality assurance testing
  • Pre- and post-launch training

Generally, partners are a great resource because they’ve been vetted by the platform and have handled many new site launches. So when they say it’s going to take eight weeks, you should be able to trust that they are quoting you accurately.

4. Trust Your Launch Engineer & Partners

If your new platform has a team of launch engineers, they will set up an introductory call to discuss how they can help you throughout the entire replatforming process. All key stakeholders on your team and any of your technology or agency partners should be on that call to ensure a smooth end-to-end experience.

“We’ll chat with the merchant to get to know the merchant and their business, and then jump into strategy creation to keep them moving forward quickly,” says Josh Thomson, Launch Expert at Shopify Plus. “The strategy includes going over the data migration process, followed by the requirements for the front-end design of the store.”

Choosing to work with an agency partner, rather than taking on the laborious task of migrating everything over yourself, should depend on your internal resources and budget. Great Little Trading Company (GLTC) enlisted London based ecommerce experts Underwaterpistol (UWP) to help them manage the migration challenge of everything from user experience and design to SEO optimization, and the migration of data for 800 products and 1.1 million customer records.

In addition to the extensive ecommerce data, Underwaterpistol had to migrate additional customer relationship management (CRM) data, warehouse data, and data from multiple third-party systems over to the backend. Meanwhile, the process could not interrupt GLTC’s ability to take and fulfill orders.

Underwaterpistol created a middleware app — basically, a software solution that acts as a bridge between two systems — to automate multiple workflows, four of which are described below:

GLTC replatforming workflow automations

This approach enabled GLTC’s third-party providers to continue using their internal software systems while interfacing with the new store.

The value of choosing to invest in an expert agency partner relationship, rather than managing the migration internally, was extraordinary. The redesign and migration process took a total of 16 weeks from beginning to end, collectively creating a both functional and beautiful new ecommerce site.

“Despite the challenges, Underwaterpistol took care of everything, ensuring we didn’t lose any data while maintaining our current SEO,” says Jamie Reeve, CEO of GLTC.

What to Expect During the Migration Process

There are three major categories that you need to have completed or moved over prior to launch:

  • Products
  • Customers
  • Orders (optional)

Orders are optional to import if you want your previous systems’ historical records. For example, you may want to move over information that a specific customer bought size 10 boots six months ago. Include somebody on that first call who knows the legacy system that your site is coming from, as it will help move things along faster.

Want to learn more?

Our most-detailed guide to date walks through ecommerce migration and replatforming from start to finish. Instead of a surface-level sales pitch, it includes everything you need to know about large-to-enterprise migration.

Ecommerce migration guide: cover and sample pages

Access the guide today

Your launch engineer and external partners should be there to show you the best ways to approach a migration to a SaaS-hosted solution as some of the functionality may be different from your old platform.

5. Familiarize Yourself with Useful Migration Tools & Support

In addition to the people who will help you with the migration, there are some key tools that you can use to transfer all of your data from your old solution.

If you don’t have the resources in-house to manually move over all of that information — say you have 5,000 products, 50,000 customers, and 70,000 orders — then you can use something like Transporter.

What is Transporter?

Transporter is a data migration solution that accelerates and simplifies the migration process so you can launch faster.

Here are some key features of the app:

  • Imports customers and products, as well as order records and metafields, into your store

  • Accepts CSV files for each of these record types, processes them, and then imports them as objects into your platform

  • Accepts metafields to support complex data sets and allows for larger CSV file sizes (the current CSV file limit for products and customers in the admin is 15 MB and 5 MB, respectfully; Transporter allows up to 100 MB)

  • Supports shipping and transaction lines, ensuring you have the data you need to calculate key metrics across platforms

  • Allows you to export errors and download them in a CSV file to view each line in context, so you can fix them in the right way with the errors properly exposed

  • Delete data in bulk, providing a truly iterative migration solution

Keep in mind, the header text for the columns in your CSV file must exactly mirror the CSV headers in Transporter. If your data export has headers that are spelled differently, it won’t be a match. Make sure to look at the documentation for examples of the correct the headers to use for products, customers, and orders.

Customer data is the easiest to import, followed by products, and then orders — just something to consider if you’re going to do it yourself. If your business is large enough to have internal developers, you can use an API. Or if you want even further technical support or someone to take care of the whole process, you can seek out a partner like Cart2Cart.

6. Follow a Proven Pre-Launch Checklist

Your platform launch expert and/or your platform partner should walk you through a checklist of items to ensure you are ready for the data migration and replatforming.

Some of these tasks will include:

  1. Data migration: Is all your product data imported correctly?
  2. Data organization: Are all of your collections set up?
  3. Navigation: Do all of your menu items exist and connect properly?
  4. Pages: Are your pages all created?
  5. Design: Are there any out of place fonts/pictures/boxes?
  6. Responsive Design: Does the above work on Android / iPhone / Tablet?
  7. Apps: Are these all connected and tested?
  8. Other integrations: Enterprise Research Planning software (ERP), Point of Sale (POS)?
  9. Shipping: Are your shipping rules set up? How are labels being printed?

There are many more that would involve both a pre-launch test and also a test on the day of the replatforming launch.

7. Don’t Forget About SEO

There’s a lot of superstition around how replatforming will impact your SEO. And it’s a valid concern.

“If managed correctly, the changes you make to your SEO while replatforming may impact your business a little bit in the first couple of weeks but then obviously that will recover,” says Carla Wright, Merchant Engagement Lead at Shopify Plus.

She explains that many SaaS platform launch experts have helped over 100 stores launch and go through the SEO replatforming process to ensure that everything is done properly. Here’s what she recommends to prioritize while preparing for the migration:

  1. Technical SEO changes should be limited during migration, and you should have minimal to no content changes. If you revise too many things during migration, then it’s hard to pinpoint the direct cause of change for any data point.

  2. Spend a lot of time on your redirects. Focus on one-to-one redirects versus many-to-one. In other words, don’t redirect multiple product URLs to one collection of products (many-to-one). Instead, spend the time to map each product to the same new product URL (one-to-one).

  3. Your content has the biggest impact on SEO. While technical components can and do impact SEO, any platform should be able to handle the basics if you manage your redirects properly. If you have multiple shops or multiple domains, you’ll need to have your team, partner or launch expert work through how to transition your content and ensure that technical changes are well planned out.

  4. Benchmark everything you want to measure, then monitor it often and properly. For example, after the redirects are set up, review for 404 errors daily for the first few weeks to close any gaps.

8. Monitor Your Site Functionality on Launch Day

Your launch expert should also provide you with a QA (quality assurance) checklist to follow on launch day. Some of your site’s key functionality will need to be tested, including but not exclusive to:

  1. Checkout: Can you complete the checkout? Test with the demo gateway, and also real order.
  2. Notifications: Are your email notifications set up? Does newsletter sign up work?
  3. Marketing and reporting: Are your dashboards pulling in data from your sources?

Your platform provider should also walk you through the process to figuratively “flip the switch” to launch your new site via your Domain Name System (DNS).

It can be intimidating, but the process of changing your DNS is usually straightforward and simple, as long as everything can be easily accessed via your domain host. Thomson recommends logging into your domain registrar account and changing the Time to Live (TTL) to the lowest value that your host will allow (normally 300 seconds) to a week prior to the launch. This step will ensure that when you update the DNS settings on the day of the launch, it will propagate as fast as possible. To further increase the propagation speed, your launch expert can pre-provision your SSL certificate (see section above).

In addition, take the necessary measures to lock down your previous store when you are making the DNS changes. For example, you can build a landing page with a message for your customers. That way, you’ll make sure customers can’t keep placing orders on the old system. It’s completely up to you with regards to how you manage this process.

Your ecommerce platform provider should give you a checklist to follow when you are ready to launch and update your DNS settings.

Should you choose to launch late at night or early in the morning, make sure that your platform provides 24-hour support in case your launch expert is not available.

For a faster launch, provide access to all of your existing systems by providing logins and the right permissions to all key team members and partners. This step ensures that everyone on your launch team can access and make changes rapidly, rather than relying on a single person who may not always be available.

9. Know Who to Call Post-Launch

Work with your platform’s launch expert for the week after launch to ensure your ecommerce store is operating to your full satisfaction. They should also direct you to the resources and people who will be your ongoing partners in helping you manage and grow your business.

If you choose to replatform to Shopify Plus, you can find additional business growth resources via the Shopify Plus Academy, online communities, priority support, and in-admin chat.

When Is the Right Time to Replatform?

You need a reliable, secure and scalable platform to help you grow bigger, faster. From payment gateways to apps, customizable themes to multiple sales channels, native social selling to mobile-first checkouts, your ecommerce platform must support your business as it evolves and expands.

Whether it’s the start of the New Year, the summer leading up to the Back to School shopping season, or two months before the busy holiday rush, there’s never one ideal time to replatform.

Want to learn more?

Our most-detailed guide to date walks through ecommerce migration and replatforming from start to finish. Instead of a surface-level sales pitch, it includes everything you need to know about large-to-enterprise migration.

Ecommerce migration guide: cover and sample pages

Access the guide today

 

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About the Author

Andrea Wahbe is a freelance B2B marketing strategist and corporate storyteller who writes about Canadian SMEs, marketing, and digital media trends. Follow her on Twitter.

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