Replatforming to Future Proof Your Website
:: By Cat Millar, Qubit ::
Why do companies, and more specifically retailers, replatform?
There are some very good reasons why many retailers are jumping on the replatforming “bandwagon.” Retailers today face an escalating functionality race as they attempt to keep up with shifts in consumer behavior and rapidly evolving technology. E-commerce continues to grow quickly, in the U.S. it accounts for almost 9 percent of the $3.2 trillion total retail market in 2013 and projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 10 percent through 2018 (Forrester, 2015).
In the UK, this growth rate has already been exceeded, with online sales in Feb. 2016 seeing an 18 percent annual growth the highest year-on-year growth since June 2015 (IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index, 2016). Compounding this is the sharp rise in m-commerce, which is expected to reach $31 billion in the U.S by 2017 (IMRG, 2016).
These numbers illustrate the profound impact that digital has had on consumer behavior. Customers now expect a seamless experience across devices, and one that is relevant and personalized. If this expectation is not met then that puts your business at risk. Poor experiences caused by site performance issues will only be compounded if traffic increases in line with predictions, with mobile traffic alone likely to see an eight-fold increase by 2020 (Cisco, 2016). Retailers are left stuck in the middle, at risk of being left behind, or entering into what may become a cycle of replatforming fraught with risk and cost, as technology advances ever faster.
Consumer behavior and expectations are also evolving rapidly, leaving retailers to consider how their replatforming project can invest in the future rather than the past. With the average time between replatforming now every two years, down from three to four years, retailers will likely fall into one of three categories:
● In progress
As wider consumer and technology trends drive retailers toward replatforming, there are also specific issues or goals tied to a replatforming initiative, and these may vary across the business. It’s important to identify these and understand fully what your options are to achieve these are at the outset. For example, a recent Forrester survey indicated that nearly 40 percent of respondents going through a replatforming exercise are doing so because they want to increase conversion rates or average order values (AOV). However, are these reasons enough to warrant the risks and investment associated with replatforming?
With these questions in mind, we’ll take a deep dive to examine the end-to-end replatforming journey to understand the key challenges at every stage and how companies can mitigate risk, reap the rewards and plan ahead to defy customer expectations, today and well into the future.
The grass isn’t always greener
If your goal is improving conversion rates, better customer experience and better sales, it may be wise to assess if you’ve really pushed the limits of your current platform. Adopting a modular approach, strategically deploying best of breed technology can have a number of advantages, rather than an isolated, expensive and often disappointing single investment focus. Enhancing your current platform allows flexibility, costs less, and the impact could be more immediate. CEO of AWA Digital, Dan Croxen-John, an expert in conversion rate optimization (CRO), suggests considering three numbers:
● A: Cost of new website
● B: Additional revenue from a new website, remember that additional revenue from a new website may even be near zero, or negative for the first few months.
● C: Additional revenue from optimizing the current site
● Is C higher than (B-A)? Then it might be time to invest in optimization rather than replatforming.
However, there are risks to replatforming, ranging from delays due to costs, complexities and a potential drop in conversion rates post-launch. Forrester has found the average replatform project to be delayed by 4.2 months which could pose significant issues. If the old adage “Time is money” holds true during a replatforming cycle, and your website is standing still or delayed, then it is definitely costing you even more than projected. The complexity of replatforming is often the cause of delays.
Today, more than 60 percent of UK companies use a customized e-commerce solution that includes more than 20 point solutions on average. Integration with current or legacy systems is one of the biggest challenge retailers face in growing their e-commerce business, according to research from Econsultancy. Companies should also be prepared for at least a temporary drop in conversion rates and traffic overall, at least for a few months after replatforming is complete.
Timelines for replatforming will vary based on your unique customer experience and performance goals, the size of the business and the complexity of the current platform. However, all retailers should be asking similar questions at the various stages, and be aware of how they can avoid risk throughout their planning and implementation phases. Let’s start at the decision stage:
1. Decision [Month 0-1]
Don’t go in blind: If you’re still in this initial stage then the time is right to start making data-driven decisions and put in place tactics to avoid or reduce risks. There are some steps you should take during this stage. First, evaluate your existing site to understand the real priorities. Look for what is lacking in your site from a user perspective – fast page loading times across devices, payment process, cart functionality, etc. Signs it might be time to replatform include slow response times, inability to keep up with competitor functionality and stalled omnichannel sales due to lack of integration. Having the data to understand your current performance will allow you to calculate the ROI of any changes you make.
Consolidate and validate: Getting a better understanding of your current site will naturally make it easier to identify what you need and want from a new ecommerce platform. We recommend platforms that offer the flexibility to plug in specialized, best in class technologies. Considering how a platform will work together with platforms and point-based solutions will also enable you to identify opportunities for consolidation, reducing complexity and overall technology costs.
Consolidation of these siloed data sources provides the opportunity to create more powerful customer experiences. Validation can also help in making these decisions, rather than relying on “gut feeling.”
2. Design [Months 1-3]
If you’ve carried out testing at the initial decision stage then you can continue to iterate on this, making evidence-based decisions that will save you time and money. This is also the best time to start user testing. Many retailers consider replatforming a technology challenge rather than what it really is -- a customer challenge.
3. Build [Months 6-12]
Typically during this stage all bets are off when it comes to marketing activities on your site. However you don’t need to stand still, and given the propensity of replatforming projects to last longer than expected, it’s important to keep your business growing through this, or risk your competitors getting ahead. Deploying third-party technologies during the build stage offers the advantage of being able to keep on top of growth during a phase that could overrun by 30-50 percent (Forrester, March 2014), as well as the ability to collect data, gaining insights that can lead to ongoing improvements.
4. Go live [Month 12]
Replatforming is a huge disruption and the challenges don’t end with going live:
Getting back on track: Business KPIs are known to be affected 90 percent of the time when replatforming, often in the wrong direction, and half of affected businesses claim it takes at least three to six months for recovery to previous levels (Ecommerce Partners, 2014). Major site changes will impact your SEO and PPC quality score, driving traffic down for at least a few months. Data loss can also present an issue, with analytics, buyer patterns and abandoned cart data all at risk. All of this comes on top of the inevitable bugs that will likely keep your development team busy throughout the launch period. So how do you get back in action sooner rather than later?
- Don’t stand still: working with agile third parties can increase the capabilities of your site without the need for developer time. For example, there are companies that help clients in times of low developer resource, enabling site changes that would otherwise have had to go into the developer queue. Continuing to serve innovative experiences during this time will accelerate conversions, putting your site in a good position to mitigate the potential negative impacts of the new site going live.
- Get your data in order: Starting optimizations from day one requires the right data. Make sure you’re collecting this in compliance with the W3C digital data standard. This will provide the flexibility to add and remove technologies as you see fit, and retain critical data during migration.
A customer centric approach: It’s no secret that people don’t like change and this could pose problems when they find your new site looks and behaves differently. One of the impacts of which is likely to be a drop in conversions. Here are three ways to ensure your customers enjoy the full experience of your new site:
- Give them the grand tour: Whether after a redesign or a full replatforming, navigational aids, like a simple tool tip, can be help your customers adjust to the new site. By this point you’ve spent a lot of time and money on your new site - so make sure your customers get the full experience by highlighting helpful new features.
- Understand their behavior: Knowing which features to highlight might seem obvious, but testing is essential to understand which parts of the site users are having issues with, or perhaps not visiting at all. If you haven’t already tested your new functionality then now is the time to begin. Anticipate a temporary drop in conversions by collecting customer data throughout the replatforming process, allowing them to create bespoke reports to understand the end-to-end user journey.
- Ask what they think – and listen: After customers have had some time to use the new site and any initial bugs have been fixed, it is a good time to implement an ongoing “voice of customer project.” Gathering feedback, both negative and positive, can help you identify specific problem areas and refine the user journey further while reducing errors and costly customer service calls.
5. Continuous Optimization [Month 12 and beyond]
As a starting point in moving toward a state of continuous optimization it’s helpful to consider the original scope of your project. A quarter of organizations end up limiting the scope of their replatforming project to comply with timelines and budget. If that’s the case then think back to your original wish list: were providing product recommendations or tackling basket abandonment key to your strategy? Or, maybe testing out your new site has indicated a serious problem with your checkout process. Understanding how your customer’s needs are evolving over time will reveal what your site needs to improve user experience and increase conversions.
Winning the functionality race
Cutting your functionality wish list doesn’t have to be the only option when faced with scope creep. If there is a key piece of functionality that you wanted to implement but couldn’t, then again consider consolidation - the significant savings this can generate may put your wishlist within reach. Not only that, but streamlining your overall technology stack and joining up otherwise siloed data sources will enrich your overall understanding of your visitors, increasing your ability to deliver rich experiences that drive customer satisfaction and conversions.
Measuring & Learning
Now that you’ve invested in a new platform it’s crucial to maintain the competitive advantage by measuring the impact each piece of functionality or solution has on your site. Any time you make a change, learn from it. Implementing a sophisticated, analytics-driven strategy that leverages customer insights is key to enhancing the overall customer experience and in the age of the customer, continuous optimization will be what keeps you ahead of your competitors, and allow you to maximize the return you can get from the technology investments you make.
About the Author
Cat Millar is retail product marketing manager at Qubit. She has worked with some of the world’s leading retail and lifestyle brands, at digital marketing agencies and now Qubit. She writes about consumer behavior and retail trends.