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6 Steps to Replatforming an Ecommerce Website

We discuss the six essential steps your business should take when replatforming an online store.

By Benjamin Arp | July 8, 2022 | 8 minute read
Illustration of people working together to build a stylized ecommerce website.

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There are many reasons you might consider replatforming your ecommerce website. Replatforming can help you boost performance, access new technologies and functionalities, capture more sales, and better serve the needs of your buyers. But a successful platform migration will require you to plan ahead. In this article, we discuss the six steps  your business will need to take to replatform your ecommerce store.

1. User Experience Design 

The first step in replatforming your ecommerce website is to design a great user experience (UX). Ecommerce website design is a unique challenge, but thinking about your customer’s preferred shopping journey is often the right place to start. Once you’ve articulated the ideal experiences that should be present in your store’s online shopping, you can dictate a web design that allows for those experiences. In some cases, you might be able to pick a template, follow best practices, and spend very little effort here. In other cases, you might have a very unique business, customer base, and buying journey that require a more customized experience.

If you are looking for a customized ecommerce website then your design process will likely include support from a User Experience (UX) Designer or Graphic Designer. They will create mockups or prototypes of your web design that implement the unique aspects you want to include in your online experience. Typically, the design will go through a few rounds of revision following feedback from other members of your team. After this, you’ll approve a finalized design, marking the end of this phase.CTA offering a free whitepaper, "Growing Your B2B and DTC Ecommerce Business in 2022."

2. Website Development 

After you’ve created your online store’s design, the next step in replatforming is to develop, or build, your website. The time it takes to develop an ecommerce website will vary based on your business’ needs. Most often, the determining factor in how long the development cycle takes is the level of customization required.

Some businesses might get by with an “off the shelf” website template that covers most of their functionality, filling in the remaining holes with apps. Unfortunately, templates and apps tend to be fairly rigid, meaning a web developer will often need to configure some (or all) of the functionality present in your designs.

A web developer is typically familiar with front-end coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This familiarity allows them to create unique experiences on top of the ecommerce platform. To keep developers focused and avoid rework they will build off the mockups or prototypes that were created during UX design. This development work is often done using a local development environment, a cloud-based versioning repository, and a command-line interface that pushes changes to the live development environment.

3. Data Migration

Once you have your new ecommerce website designed and developed, you’ll need to move your data over from your old site. The amount of time and effort needed to successfully migrate your data are often the biggest variables in an ecommerce replatforming project. Product information and categories are the key data sets needed to build an ecommerce website. However, when migrating away from an existing platform there are other considerations. Customer accounts, historical orders, wish lists, reviews, and other data may need to be migrated as well.

Ecommerce data migration is often accomplished using a three-step process called ETL, which stands for Extract, Transform, Load. We’ll break down each of these steps here:

  1. Extract: After conceptually mapping the data that needs to be migrated your team will need to figure out how to access that information. Do you have stored it in a local database? Can it be exported to spreadsheets? Is a database dump possible with your current system? Is there an API that could be used to extract the data?
  2. Transform: You’ll need to transform your data from its current format to the required format of your new platform. This might be as simple as changing column headings in a spreadsheet to new naming conventions (for example, Fname might become FirstName) or you might need to change all your data to a new format—for instance, from XML to CSV.
  3. Load: Loading data into a new system typically happens in two parts. The first part is a partial load done weeks (or months) before the launch of your new site and ensures that the structure and format of the data is working and displayed properly in the system. The second load is the full data load. This happens right before your new website goes live and ensures that the go-live data reflects the most recent changes, customer accounts, and orders included in your previous system.

4. Search Engine Optimization

The fourth step in replatforming your ecommerce website is to implement best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) into your new store. SEO is vital for the success of an ecommerce website. Search engines like Google and Bing update their algorithms regularly to serve the “best” content to a searcher. They use all sorts of data (search term, history, device type, etc.) to determine the “best” result.

If you’re migrating to a new ecommerce platform the theme or template you’re using should provide a strong foundation for SEO. Clean code, proper page structure, and optimized loading are all elements to look for.

Developers should also ensure that any new capabilities they develop or integrate are done with SEO in mind. Plug-and-play apps often rely on JavaScript that slows down page load time. Asynchronous or lazy loading can ensure the page loads more quickly without sacrificing the advanced functionality offered.

Your data migration team should ensure that all SEO data (Titles, Descriptions, Meta Fields, etc.) are successfully transferred from your previous platform. Additionally, if URL structures are changing or pages are going to be missing then setting up 301 redirects is critical for success. The last thing you want is to launch your new website and have thousands of errors in your Google account where pages suddenly disappeared.

Once your new site is configured, you’ll want to ensure you’ve developed an XML sitemap and submitted it to search engines. This will typically trigger them to “recrawl” your website and index the pages appropriately. This is a simple line item that should be included in your site launch process for a migration.The Online Seller’s SEO Survival Guide

5. Systems Integration

Once the first set of data has been loaded into your development site the process of integrating systems can begin. Some external systems have plug-and-play connectors for virtually every shopping cart platform. However, many business systems like ERP technology will require some level of customization to integrate properly.

During this phase of the project your team will want to create a map of each integration. What data flows where? When? Then, once you have the map, then you can figure out how to connect each system. You might:

  • Develop a custom API connection.
  • Use a connector, app, plugin, or cartridge.
  • Use a middleware or iPaaS solution.
  • Configure cron jobs and flat file imports.
  • Simply format files to be imported and exported manually.

To create the most effective integrations, it helps to start with proper systems architecture and standard operating procedures. Unfortunately, some businesses build their systems and processes so quickly that they have to create integration maps and standard operating procedures during this phase of the project in order to move forward. Consulting with ecommerce industry veterans can be very instructive during this period as they can often recommend easier paths or best practices that can save your business a lot of time and money.

 

6. User Acceptance Testing

The final aspect of an ecommerce replatforming project is User Acceptance Testing (UAT) or Quality Assurance (QA). This is where your new site is tested across different devices, browsers, and use cases to ensure a successful launch. Referencing Google Analytics to understand user behavior can be helpful here. Additionally, getting some customers to “beta test” your new site can yield valuable feedback.

Unfortunately, no amount of testing can ensure that 100% of use cases are covered. There will likely be a customer who uses your site in a way you hadn’t imagined who will provide constructive criticism immediately upon site launch. This is why it is important to ensure that your agency partner, systems integrator, ecommerce platform customer success representative, and technical assistance center are involved in your site launch process and can quickly identify and deal with errors.

Bonus: Project Management

Project management is an under-appreciated discipline in ecommerce. Great project managers keep projects on schedule, under budget, and within scope. They often use project management tools like Basecamp, Wrike, Monday.com, or even spreadsheets to manage all of your business’ tasks and deliverables. Sometimes this responsibility falls on an in-house team member but if you’re hiring an agency or solutions integrator then it is best if they’re providing project management.

Project management requires strong planning skills. You need to be able to articulate the goals or desired outcomes for each project in advance. It also requires great organizational skills to remove roadblocks while keeping everyone on task. Lastly, it requires persistent communication such as a standing weekly meeting with a recurring agenda, emails organized for easy reference, and 1:1 calls or texts for quick status updates throughout the week.

Replatform Your Site With Confidence

Migrating your ecommerce website to a new platform can be daunting. There is a large investment of time, money, and effort required to get on to the new system. You can mitigate risk by choosing a platform that partners with experienced web development agencies and solutions integrators.

To learn more about migrating your ecommerce website to a new platform, download our free guide to changing ecommerce platforms.CTA image with text reading, "Free Whitepaper: Changing Ecommerce Platforms"


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Author's Bio

Benjamin Arp

Benjamin Arp is a Miva Sales Engineer focused on driving ecommerce growth. He’s helped hundreds of ecommerce merchants develop their growth strategy, evaluate existing systems, and create plans to grow sales. In addition to working with merchants one-on-one, he is a regular contributor to the Miva blog and hosts webinars on a variety of ecommerce topics.

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