What Happens When I Replatform My Ecommerce Website?
What Migrating an Ecommerce Website Actually Looks Like
The platform you build your ecommerce website on, such as Adobe Commerce (Magento), should ideally serve your business for many years. However, technology moves fast and can change underneath your business. So expect that at least every 5-10 years, you’re going to need to completely replatform your ecommerce system.
It’s a big project, and depending on the path of your migration can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
When is it time to replatform a website?
Here are five of the most common reasons that businesses migrate their websites to new platforms:
- The legacy platform: The ecommerce platform your company built its website on is no longer actively being supported by the software provider who built it.
- Not keeping up with the Joneses: Some commerce systems (we see this especially with ERPs) are just afterthoughts. A large ERP company might have a commerce tie-in, but it is not their core business — so if they aren’t getting the right level of focus, features, and ongoing updates to keep current with the marketplace of ideas.
- The homegrown platform: Amazingly, even with all the full-featured commerce platforms available, we see some in-house built commerce solutions still. Even for businesses with entirely unique business models — unless you want to be in the ecommerce software business — adapting a platform is going to be a better solution.
- Hit the SaaS ceiling: Some business models are complex, to the point where a SaaS platform can't bend to your business needs. Some businesses require having access to the servers to do direct integrations (not via Apps), access to the database, or custom UX/extensions that require core code access.
- Total cost of ownership is too high: Your website is built on an ecommerce platform that’s putting too much of a strain on your business to maintain, has complex hosting requirements, and license agreements that are bigger than what your business can sustain.
What will the website migration process look like?
Plan a path for migration
We call this the scoping phase, and it is always the first phase. You wouldn’t remodel a house without a blueprint, similarly you shouldn’t migrate commerce platforms without a clear plan.
Before your development team writes a single line of code they spend hours with your existing website and look at it from different angles. Every ecommerce platform is different, and if you’re on an entirely custom website, this time is even more important.
During this review, your developers look at the system architecture, current extensions in place, the database structure, customizations, existing integrations, and front-end features so they can understand how to rebuild them on your new ecommerce platform.
Move your website’s data while keeping it intact
Migrating your ecommerce website entails moving all order history, products, categories, promotions (all those gift card codes), and customer account information to a new website platform. There are a few paths to get this done.
A migration API or extension is the easiest way to migrate your website data. This works best for major version moves in the same platform.
These require the shortest amount of time, and your data is automatically moved and reformatted like it was in your previous ecommerce platform, because they share the same system architecture.
Migrating between two different platforms—- for example moving from WordPress WooCommerce to the (much better) Shopify — will require a thoughtful approach. Because the data is organized differently in the two different systems, your website’s data has to be exported from your old platform, and then uploaded to your new website’s database.
Typically you can migrate product data, customers, orders, and order history. System configuration, and the site design (re-theme) will have to be an additional part of your project.
Or, don't migrate and instead start fresh
There are many times when just starting fresh in a new system is the best way to go. This is practical when customer order details are integrated with an accounting system or ERP system, and you aren't reliant on the order data in your ecommerce platform as the only record.
This is almost always the easiest option and gives you the most flexibility when choosing a new ecommerce platform.
Will I lose anything when I replatform my website?
The risk of losing data
Unfortunately, the platforms do not make data migration easy. Especially for SaaS platforms that don’t allow you or your developers' direct access to your website’s databases. This can mean user accounts, customer logins, or order history are impossible to migrate. They intentionally make switching costs high, and it's often easiest to start over.
Make sure your SaaS platform is integrated with an external accounting system. This provides order history and customer activity backups reducing reliance on your ecommerce platform.
Your customizations will have to be rebuilt
If your website is customized with extensions, those extensions will not work on a different platform (or even a newer version of the same platform). How you recreate them will depend on the type of extension they are.
- Community Extensions: Community extensions have been created by the development community and released to the public. Additionally, a lot of businesses sell them, which does mean that you have better support and a company that you can actually contact. The same extension may not be available on your new platform, but it’s likely that a similar extension has been created.
- Custom Extensions / Integrations: An extension that was once custom-built for your unique purpose will have to be ported to a new version. This doesn't always mean starting from scratch, however, expect significant rework. It's a great opportunity to improve these integrations.
Your web design will have to be put back in place
It’s likely that the theme structure between your old platform and your new platform will be completely different, which means that your developers will have to copy over a lot of the CSS. This is a great time to meet with web designers to create a new layout for your website, as the theme will have to be implemented again anyway.
Is it worth it to replatform?
Migrating your ecommerce website is often more work than the original development, mainly because of the years of customer data. Sometimes you're backed into a corner and have to upgrade, sometimes it just makes good business sense, but most often you replatform because technology has changed underneath you.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the minute your ecommerce platform launches, it's frozen in time. There are minor upgrades and security patches you can make, but major updates happen with major releases and will require you to upgrade if you want to take a big leap forward. An example of this would be how checkout experiences have changed just over the last few years. In 2015, a multi-step, multi-page, pipeline checkout was common. Today those types of checkouts became very cumbersome.
Upgrading or replatforming is a big project. It’s going to require:
- Time: At least a few weeks, if not a few months
- Engaging a Development Team: Migrating your ecommerce website is a complicated task, and will require a team of web developers that have a thorough knowledge of both your current website’s code, as well as a knowledge of the new platform you’re migrating your website to.
- Re-Training: Your team is going to have to become used to a new administrative experience.
- Expense: Because of the length and complexity of this project, migrating your website is a fairly expensive endeavor. Fortunately, it doesn’t usually come up more than once a decade.
Migrations ensure the enduring presence of your brand, but allow you to update for modern UX, security, and ecommerce marketing requirements.
Try before you buy
This goes without saying, but before you migrate your website, make sure you thoroughly demo your new platform to make sure it fits all of your business needs. A migration is an expansive project, and you don’t want to find out it's the wrong fit after going through a migration process.