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Replatforming: Finishing On Time & On Budget

Posted on 12.13.2012

As you read this, most e-commerce retailers are making their largest profits of the year.

Their e-commerce systems are also likely being taxed to their greatest capacity — making it glaringly clear if their platform isn’t up to the task. Once the holiday smoke clears, retailers will evaluate their seasonal hits and misses, looking for ways to increase sales and efficiency for 2013.

They may look to replatforming, as it is typically the most effective way to make the biggest impact on website sales. A new platform can mean better integration, more promotional capabilities and higher conversions. Retailers, however, are often hesitant to change platforms for fear of downtime. With a recent Forrester study, Getting the Most from Your Replatforming Project, showing that only 36 percent of e-commerce replatforming projects are completed on time and on budget, it’s no wonder why. Still, this is no reason to fear replatforming. Especially since there are a few simple steps that retailers can take to ensure a smoother transition and stay amongst the 36 percent of those finished on time and on budget.

1. Do your research.

Replatforming is a program, not a project. Semantics aside, any e-commerce website overhaul you make is going to take more preparation than next month’s newsletter campaign. Choose an e-commerce platform that gives your company the look you want and the management tools you need to run your site successfully, but do your homework beforehand. After all, you'll be stuck with your decision for years to come. To get started, draw up a rough idea of what you’re hoping to change by replatforming and think about the long-term goals you want to achieve. Price and the proposed timeline are important, but they shouldn’t be the only factors. You’ll need to figure out which e-commerce platform and vendor complements your predetermined objectives best, which will be most flexible and hands-on during and after the transition, and which has both your and your shopper’s best interests in mind.

2. Adhere to timelines.

Plenty of e-commerce software providers will tell you that they can take your new site live in 90 days. This is, after all, what they do for a living. Typically, it’s the retailers who won’t be ready in that fast of a turnaround. Forrester Research said that the average replatform is delayed up to four months. So instead of rushing to meet the three-month finish line, set a more realistic deadline. Count on a couple of weeks at the end for any unexpected troubleshooting or non-platform issues, which may take you away from the program for a few days. Also, be mindful of the holiday season. Choose a start date that provides enough legroom so the program doesn’t overlap with holiday crunch time. If you are anticipating a four-month ramp-up period, you’ll want to begin the training and implementation process at least six months before your busy season begins. This will give you and your staff time to get your system up and running before putting it to the holiday test.

3. Be clear on tools and resources.

The most common cause for delay is not allocating enough resources. Do not assume that you are the only company representative who needs to be involved in this process — budget for a few hands on deck to ensure that the right adjustments are being made, and that everyone is well-versed in the new system (in order to train others later on).

Once you’ve signed on to replatform, sit down with your vendor and make a list of everything you will need during and after the process is complete. An on time, on budget site is ineffective if you do not have the tools in place to maintain it in the future.

4. Take initiative.

Replatforming is as much about what your e-commerce vendor can do for you as it is what you can do for your vendor. Managing the minor details, like providing all of your Web data (SKUs, product descriptions, images, etc.) in the correct format, can save a tremendous amount of time. Also realize that you are an integral part of the process. You can generate a smoother transition once the replatforming is done by simply being responsive and available. Ask your vendor what types of platform training they offer, and attend as many sessions as possible. You can also ask your vendor for a “sandbox” site during the build to test different layout options and familiarize yourself with the new features.

Resource planning and timeline plotting aside, adopting a proactive attitude can be a retailer’s strongest defense against going over budget and over time on a replatforming project. Choosing an e-commerce platform that fits your company, as well as being available and responsive during the transition, will make replatforming both seamless and profitable.

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