E-Commerce Re-platforming with Confidence: An Interview with Paul Montwill by FACT Finder

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Prior to Covid 19, do we still remember those days ?, our CEO Paul Montwill was approached by our Intelligent Search partner FACT Finder to find out everything a retailer would need to know when considering a re platforming project.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise and any chance to catch up with our friends at FACT Finder is always a good day !

Escalating costs, out-of-date functionality, lackluster customer experience… does this nightmare sound all too painfully familiar? Unfortunately, most e-commerce businesses experience these struggles at one point or another, and it’s a sign that it might be time to consider re-platforming. In fact, if these challenges aren’t anything new to you, you probably should’ve begun the process already. Whatever your motivation for e-commerce re platforming may be, it is a significant decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It will impact your business in a big way and it is highly recommended that you are well-prepared to achieve the best outcome possible.

To help you approach e-commerce replatforming with confidence, FACT-Finder reached out to an expert on the topic. Paul Montwill, CEO of abcommerce and Magico, has over 20 years of experience in e-commerce and has assisted countless businesses, from start-ups to leaders in Irish retail, in the tricky process of re-platforming. The following interview with Paul will answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding e-commerce re platforming and help you understand what obstacles to expect – and even more importantly, how to avoid them.

So without further ado, let’s dive deeper into the topic of replatforming an e-commerce business.

  1. What are the main reasons businesses decide to re-platform their e-commerce site?

Paul: Well, there’s a number of reasons, but they all tend to fall in 4 main categories: financial, technical, functional and support.

From a financial perspective, your existing e-commerce platform might have high maintenance and development costs. This is a particular issue with custom-built solutions like Magento, where every time you want or need new functionality you have to pay for it. E-commerce is constantly evolving, and by the time you have finished getting the functionality built and paid for, it could already be out-of-date. Then the vicious cycle continues and you already need to begin looking for an upgraded version, which is far from ideal.

There are many technical reasons as well. A lot of websites suffer from a lack of ERP/ePos integration, and this is very important for scaling an e-commerce website as you want to ensure stock levels and pricing are fully kept up-to-date and that orders automatically download into the ePos/ERP. When done well, you can have the confidence to sell high volumes meanwhile also reducing the manual labour load.

Another technical reason relates to the instability some e-commerce businesses face during peak traffic periods. This is quite a common scenario, where a website normally does just fine but then slows down significantly during Black Friday and other peak traffic days. Of course, this is when the website is actually meant to be making the majority of its money so it can be quite problematic for an e-commerce business.

From a functional perspective, there might be a lack of 3rd party integrations to help you optimise the customer experience in your online shop. A common issue with some e-commerce platforms is that whenever you need to add something to your website, you have to spend 2 to 3 months doing custom development and testing, when you should just be able to turn it on and see sales increase. For example, 3rd party services such as intelligent search and navigation, like what FACT-Finder does, can be easily switched on or off with the right e-commerce platforms.

Another function-based reason businesses decide to replatform their e-commerce site is due to a poor mobile experience. Mobile has now surpassed desktop and tablet as the most frequently used device for making purchases – it is absolutely crucial that your mobile experience is kept up-to-date.

Last but not least, customer service concerns are definitely a factor – perhaps your current e-commerce platform provider isn’t innovative enough to keep with the times. There’s also currently a movement away from custom-developed solutions to off-the-shelf e-commerce platforms, because partnering with an agency can keep you more focused on driving online sales as opposed to going through the motions of a custom development. Retailers now expect that their web agencies are going to come to them with recommendations on functionality – not the other way around.

  1. Okay, so there’s definitely a lot involved with making such a big decision. Let’s say a retailer has made the leap and has decided to re platform their e-commerce site. What are the different options or routes available to them?

Paul: In general, your options would be to go with custom built, off-the-shelf or just upgrading your current e-commerce platform. Of course, there’s a lot to consider before choosing which way to go – there’s no right way for every e-commerce business.

With a custom-built solution, the end result tends to be more expensive. You are responsible for the functionality which means you have total control. Unfortunately, changes can take time, are costly and may not always be in line with current e-commerce trends.

With an off-the-shelf solution, like abcommerce, you will have less flexibility and control than with custom-built, but you will have access to functionality that is current with e-commerce trends. The costs will also be significantly less and functionality will be implemented quicker, including with 3rd-party integrations like FACT-Finder that the agency has a relationship with.

There may also be an option to upgrade your current platform, but you should only do so if you are confident that your current provider can solve the issues that made you consider e-commerce replatforming in the first place. Additionally, you should be sure that they can provide you with the scalability you need for the future. If this is the case for you, then staying with your current provider may be the best option. Bottom line – is your current provider contributing to the growth of your online sales, or stunting it?

  1. Let’s say a business isn’t completely confident with their current provider and they decide to go with an off-the-shelf solution. What are some important points to consider when choosing an e-commerce replatforming partner?

Paul: Great question, and it’s definitely a big decision for an e-commerce business which they shouldn’t take lightly. You should really cover all of your bases and ask all of the right questions before making your final decision.

Strategic Considerations
From a strategic perspective, you need to look at the model they are suggesting. Are they talking cloud, or custom development? You need to find out what their roadmap is for the future and also make sure that you can have a good working relationship with this partner for the next 5 years or so.

Integration Considerations
It’s also important here to check which 3rd-party integrations an e-commerce replatforming partner is involved with already, because that makes it easier to switch on important functionality like optimised search and navigation.

Functionality Considerations
From a functional perspective, you need to make sure that all the essential functionality you currently have is included in their platform and, if there’s new functionality, that it could easily be added to your platform as well. You shouldn’t just turn on new functionality straight away and maybe unnecessarily clutter your website. You must make sure that each added piece will have an improvement on your traffic, conversion rate, site speed, site stability or even your mobile experience.

Support Considerations
And lastly, you would need to look at the data migration services offered to make sure that there’s enough assistance and support there to help you migrate to the new e-commerce platform seamlessly.

  1. Many businesses have e-commerce tools integrated into their shop to improve the customer journey. Is it difficult to transfer their existing tools to the new platform?

Paul: It can be, it depends. If you’re going custom-built it can be quite difficult to bring them across and you would have to custom build each integration.

For an off-the-shelf platform, you might be able to switch on an integration. For example, abcommerce is an off-the-shelf platform and it has a very good integration with FACT-Finder. Because of this, you can just switch that on and there’s no extra integration required. If the e-commerce platform you’re looking at doesn’t have an existing relationship with the tool you’d prefer, it is still possible to integrate and the agency can generally help you with that, but you’d still have to go through an integration process.

  1. What are some of the biggest obstacles or fears that businesses face when they undergo e-commerce re-platforming, and how can they be addressed?

Project Blowout
Well, one major fear is project blowout – along with the cost and time that goes with it. We have all heard the nightmare stories of e-commerce replatforming projects taking years to complete. Our advice would be to go with an off-the-shelf platform whenever possible as this will dramatically reduce the risk of project blowout. With this route, the project shouldn’t take longer than 2 to 4 months to complete when done correctly.

A second fear is that the project may not be seen as a success post-implementation because e-commerce replatforming projects can use a lot of resources, both financially and by taking employees away from their usual responsibilities. To avoid this, you need to be very clear what the goals of the project are from the beginning and make sure that these goals are communicated to all stakeholders. It may not always be about immediately increasing sales but rather improving internal processes or reducing costs.

We would also advise you to be careful about timing when you conduct a migration of your e-commerce platform – you don’t want to migrate during your peak selling time, so plan ahead so that the migration happens at the best time for you and your business.

Finally, ensure you have a robust go-live plan that allows for proper testing and that all the required support is in place. For example, ensure you have the correct person lined up to update the DNS settings and don’t leave it to the last minute.

Dip in SEO
There is always a fear that your SEO will suffer as a result of e-commerce replatforming. This does not need to be the case if you manage it correctly, however, and the replatforming could actually end up having a positive impact on your SEO. One helpful bit of advice – make sure that you are using 301 redirects properly.

Limited Resources
Many businesses also fear the impact e-commerce replatforming will have on their web team. A migration can “pause” your web team for a few months and take them away from online sales. To minimize this, carefully plan your project and bring in temporary resources to do the migration.

Catalogue Migration
A big obstacle in e-commerce replatforming is migrating your catalogue. When choosing your new platform, make sure that you can either export your catalogue or better still that you are integrated with your ePOS/ERP.

Wrapping it up

E-commerce replatforming can be daunting – but it’s certainly do-able if you go into it prepared and with agreed-upon goals. It’s important that you recognize the warning signs early on about whether you’ll need to replatform in the near future so that you have plenty of time to do it right and find the best e-commerce partner for you.

If you’d like to learn more about e-commerce replatforming, contact abcommerce

If you’re interested in improving the customer journey in your online shop, reach out to our e-commerce experts at FACT-Finder

More about FACT-Finder

FACT-Finder is the expert-voted #1 Best Site Search Solution. Our leading e-commerce technology combines all online shop functions that lead customers to the right products in record time. With our 19 years of experience and over 1,600 shop projects, retailers experience more sales across digital retail channels – up to 33% on desktop and 125% on mobile.

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