What Happens When I Replatform My eCommerce Website?
What Migrating an eCommerce Website Actually Looks Like
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. It’s a big project, and depending on the path of your migration can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Why Do I Need to Replatform My Website?
Every website has to be migrated eventually. Here are 4 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 5 years old or older, isn't being supported, and hasn't been updated since it was initially built.
Hit the SaaS Ceiling: When your business initially started out, the best entry point was a hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) platform. Since then, your business has grown but your platform can't–advanced eCommerce features, ERP integrations, and Martech integrations are beyond your SaaS platform’s capability.
No Direct Management: Applying new eCommerce tactics, like affiliate marketing or custom content production, are challenging to configure on your website and constantly require the assistance of IT.
An Over-Large Platform: Your website is built on an eCommerce platform that’s too much of a strain on your business to maintain, and much more complex than what you need.
What Will Replatforming My Website Look Like?
Step 1: Plan a Path for Migration
The very first step of migrating your website is a review of your current eCommerce website.
Before your development team writes a single line of code they spend a few 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.
Step 2: How Your Website’s Data is Moved and Kept Intact
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–for example, if you’re updating your website from Magento 1.0 to Magento 2.0, rather than migrating your website from Sitecore to Magento.
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 2 different platforms (moving from Shopify to Magento, for example) will require a thoughtful approach. Because the data is organized differently in the 2 different systems, your website’s data has to be exported from your old platform, and then uploaded to your new website’s database.
Your data will not be formatted on your website automatically. Which means that product information, system configuration, and site design will have to be an additional part of your project.
Don't Migrate, 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, replatforming your website may come at the cost of your historical order data. Most often this occurs with businesses built on SaaS platforms that don’t allow you or your developers to access your website’s code. There’s typically no direct database access in a SaaS platform (by design), which means you usually can’t get user accounts, customer logins, or order history out. They intentionally make switching costs high, and it's often easiest to start over.
This is the worst case scenario for businesses that stay on SaaS platforms longer than they should, to the point where they’ve stored so much valuable client data that migration can mean a substantial loss of information.
Our advice? 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.
And don't delay upgrading from your SaaS platform.
Your Customizations Will Have To Be Rebuilt
If your website is customized with extensions, those extensions will not work in a different platform (or even 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.
Replatforming My Website–Is It Worth It?
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 platfom 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 2010, a multi-step, multi-page, pipeline checkout was common. Now in 2018, those types of checkouts seem 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 going to be an expensive endeavor.
Migrations ensure the enduring presence of your brand, but allow you to update for modern UX, security, and eCommerce marketing requirements. Rather than rebuilding a new website from scratch every few years, a website migration allows you to simply swap out the technology powering your eCommerce strategy, without causing a larger disturbance.
Is it worth the trouble? Yes.
Before You Start Your Migration: Try Before You Buy
Before you migrate your website, we highly recommend that you demo your new platform. A migration is an expansive project, and you don’t want to finish just to start again when your new platform turns out to be the wrong fit.
For a comparison of the current leading eCommerce systems, you can see our comparison spreadsheet.
For a demo of Magento, the open source eCommerce platform we mention above in this post, you can access your own custom, Magento website here.