Five things to consider before re-platforming your retail website

By Michael Wood, Principle Digital Consultant, Astound Commerce UK

Ecommerce re-platforming is a potentially revolutionary process for any retail business. Not least, because it offers a golden opportunity to take a fresh look at commercial priorities and breathe new life into the business.

Whether it’s a much-improved user interface, the ability to link online and in-store stock, or the adoption of a host of payment, ecommerce or delivery plug-ins that the previous platform didn’t have, the re-platforming process is literally brimming with opportunities.

Moving your entire digital assets from one platform to another is not without risk, however. Get it wrong and the impact doesn’t even bear thinking about. That’s why so many organisations enlist the help of agency experts and systems integrators to ensure the process is successful.

Here, Michael Wood, Principle Digital Consultant, Astound Commerce UK, shares five key lessons he’s learnt from being involved in scores of re-platforming projects.
Above all else, understand the user journey
‘We need a new platform,’ – I hear this phrase regularly when speaking to retailers, but there’s a danger the real point is being missed here. Sure, the platform is critical, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the platform is a tool. First and foremost, retailers need to understand the customer journey. If you don’t identify and understand customer pain points as a priority you can’t resolve them. Then there’s the danger a retailer will be locked into a continual re-platforming cycle where the site may look different and new functionality is added but the underlying problems are never resolved.
A great example of this is when websites suffer high bounce rates. The retailer’s social media and PPC campaigns may be particularly effective at directing traffic, but that may be wasted when visitors leave straight away. Often this is because the mobile user experience is particularly bad, or the site doesn’t continue the conversation seamlessly from social, with visitors dropped onto the home page, losing context.
The best way to reveal on-site customer behaviour is to interrogate site data using tools such as Google Analytics and then hold user-interaction sessions to see how customers navigate the site in real life. This approach can add greater insight to data analysis and it can also reveal new insight. 
New shiny tools are not always better

Lots of retailers focus on buying new features for e-commerce, and while it’s good to innovate it’s perhaps even more important to ensure new technology fulfils the basics and addresses a real customer need.

Making an assumption that software or technology covers off the basics isn’t good enough. Retailers and brands need to go through a structured discovery stage – listing in detail the precise functionality they need from new tech and ensuring their preferred solutions leave no gaps in coverage.

It also pays to be sceptical of claims made by tech firms about their shiny new products. The number of ecommerce solutions on the market has literally exploded during the last decade and now it’s sometimes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It’s also true that the retailer that simply opts for the ‘industry market leader’ is liable to fail. One size does not fit all. There is also no shame if retailers change their mind during the re-platforming process. It’s much worse to adopt the wrong tool and get stuck with it.

Ultimately retailers need to focus on detailed discovery, validate vendors’ performance claims with third parties and select solutions that fulfil their specific individual needs the best.

The best re-platforming projects stand out like a sore thumb

Too many retailers want to follow the herd when re-platforming their ecommerce solution. This means there is often no point of differentiation and their website looks exactly like their competitors’.

There is generally a real lack of imagination in web design and this leads to too many sites simply looking average. Why can’t e-commerce designs be as bold, inspiring and eye-catching as a retailer’s new flagship store?

It’s time for retailers to think outside the standard boxy website template and fly the flag for difference. I’ve found that when creative and marketing stakeholders are actively involved in the new website design and development – rather than just director-level stakeholders – the experience tends to be much richer and less rigid and much more creative leading to customer smiles, and as we know customer smiles often lead to increased sales.

What have I done wrong?

Retailers need to take a long, hard, self-critical look at their legacy ecommerce solution and ask themselves where they have let their customers down in the past. Then they need to work on improving each and every failing in their new e-commerce proposition. With any luck, micro-enhancements in many areas will make a big difference.

All enhancements should ultimately lead back to the fact that customers benefit from flawless, non-friction sites that provide confidence and check-out capability.

Ensure your platform is easy to manage

You may have the prettiest, smartest website in the world, but if day-to-day management is a nightmare all your hard work may be undone. The best re-platforming projects ensure everyday merchandising and sales tasks, for example, are pain free, liberating those teams to focus on adding commercial value rather than tying them up with routine admin.

What’s my take-home?

Second-rate websites don’t just spoil a retailer’s online proposition they are detrimental to brand value across the spectrum, and they don’t necessarily have to be bad, they can just be average to have a significant negative impact.

Websites need to live up to the aspirational lifestyle purveyed by the brands themselves.

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