Platform obsolescence is top-of-mind for online retailers. With digital channels driving sales growth, rapid mobile adoption and an impetus on customer experience, new consumer touch points create a wealth of opportunities but also present serious challenges.
Replatforming, the migration of content, data and digital assets from one website platform to another, is a seemingly insurmountable task but is a necessary process for ecommerce organizations to keep pace with current technologies. Replatforming alone can reduce product launch times, ensure product data quality across channels, simplify and standardize customer experience and preserve brand reputation through improved catalog operations.
A replatforming lifecycle is a constant agenda item for CMOs, CTOs and their digital teams in order to keep from falling behind the technology curve. If you're like most retailers today, you fall into one of three categories: just completed, in process or considering a replatforming.
What Drives Replatforming?
According to a 2013 survey conducted by Forrester, 66 percent of e-businesses planned to increase technology investments in 2014, and more than half of respondents identified their ecommerce platform as a top investment priority. Clearly, organizations understand the need to make faster decisions in this global environment, but also need the underlying platforms to support the same urgency.
The technology drivers for website replatforming are threefold. Mobile has become a priority, and for many, the "mobile first" channel drives all other ecommerce channels. Personalization and dynamic content are also "must haves" in the next-generation digital purchase experience for brands that seek to provide personalized and relevant experiences that customers expect.
Finally, social channels are also driving website replatforming. It's a requirement today to integrate customers' various social interactions with a site's products, services, support and community engagement.
Forgotten Science and Art
The question becomes: What's the best approach to replatforming? First, recognize that most client-side digital marketers and IT organizations embark on this journey only a few times in their career.
Replatforming is immensely rewarding, but it is a taxing effort to launch a new website so missed timelines and unmet expectations are common with inexperienced, non-integrated teams. Historically, marketers embraced the art (e.g. design and content) of websites while IT teams delivered the science (e.g. the technology). It's the common left-brain/right-brain chasm that frequently leads to replatforming failures.
Too often, current customer-facing systems (e.g. retail stores, customer service centers, etc.) require Web and data integration, which often bring replatforming programs to a much larger scale, budget and delivery schedule. Staying focused on the balance of marketing and IT for the core digital purchase experience is a key tenant to keep a program on-task.
Old-school approaches to replatforming and inexperienced staff lead to suboptimal planning for modern replatforming programs. To ensure your replatforming project is air-tight, utilize a team of technology, design and operations specialists who grasp the needs and constraints of digital marketers and work closely with the client-side digital team to ensure that any chasm is bridged.
Recently replatformed ecommerce sites often see a dip in key metrics as users familiarize themselves with the new layout and purchase path. However, a replatforming-gone-bad triggers even greater negative consequences. Search rankings dive, bounce and exit rates increase, revenue and conversion numbers slide, average order size drops, orders are lost and customers look to the competition for a better buying experience.
For many, organic search is likely among their key traffic drivers and indirectly affects conversion rate. A misstep with replatforming could result in a website becoming invisible to Google, Bing, et al. SEO-unfriendly content and URL restructuring would do two-fold harm - content would appear irrelevant to Google and Bing, and users directed from search listings would have a greater exit rate. Similarly, exit and bounce rates directly impact the overall conversion numbers. It is important to ensure a new website's product content is migrated and maximized for search, without losing relevant, natural traffic.
Conversion and revenue might take a hit because of poor on-site search performance as well. Suboptimal business rules for on-site search functionality reduce click-through rates and increase bounce rates. Poor content indexing and high "null" search results lead to customers not finding relevant products, which will reduce conversion and revenue.
To avoid these pitfalls, define the strategy to sustain the KPIs during replatforming and use the replatforming effort as an opportunity to improve SEO and on-site search experience for better search rankings, conversion and revenue.
Lessons Not Learned
Working with replatforming specialists who have established best practices can help identify potential pitfalls and mitigate problems that arise, and typically only represent a small percentage of the replatforming budget.
These specialists help assess the existing website, compare it to the needs of the new website and help determine a content strategy. It is likely an enterprise's entire content archive won't move to the new website due to information architecture changes, underlying data schema changes or simple brand redesign elements. Some content will be rewritten, some retained as-is and some simply retired. This triage process is referred to as the 3R Strategy (rewritten, retained and retired). In action, it differentiates the content specialist from the systems integrator.
Best Practices for Successful Replatforming
Here are several tips to assist in a relaunch:
- Remember that the critical task of content migration can easily become a disaster. Make sure the marketing team understands the difference between platform execution and site optimization.
- Consider using a vendor that specializes in content migration, possesses a strong track record of replatforming and has experience working with systems integrators.
- Prepare a replatforming game plan or use a replatforming specialist who helps determine priorities.
- Recognize that a replatforming generally takes 12 months to plan and 12-18 months to implement.
- Understand that replatforming also presents an opportunity to look at the bigger picture and identify areas aligned to business KPIs that need improvement.
Before you "go it alone" to replatform an ecommerce website, remember that it's a long process and partners with expertise and a track record in the various aspects of replatforming should be the people site owners are talking with during this on-going replatforming lifecycle.