Mark Ballett is an ecommerce expert with more than 25 years’ experience helping retailers to grow and evolve. He was Supply Director of Cable & Wireless, and CEO of several telecoms companies at the beginning of the internet era, played a leading role in an £80M broadband start up, as well as leading Norweb Telecom's growth from £10M to £100m turnover.
For an online retailer, one of the most stressful things in life is upgrading your store or migrating it to another platform. In this short article we will set out what you can do to overcome the most common obstacles to a successful outcome:
1. Relying on the Helicopter View
Too often we make big decisions without paying much regard to the facts.
Much of the technology that keeps a business going is often outside owners’ area of expertise, and there are more unintended consequences than they realise for apparently simple decisions, like platform migrations. Although we don’t like to admit it, we often behave as if uninformed judgement is superior to analysis. We just want it done.
2. The Deal
The number one problem in most projects is that they are under-funded which results in them being insufficiently planned and resourced.
You want to get a good deal, right? And the contractor wants the work. So, you put pressure on the price so you can get what you asked for within the agreed budget. The problem is that development work is expensive and future costs are difficult to predict. The end result is not enough time is available to do a good job.
3. The Process
You need a clear plan in place of exactly how you are going to achieve the results you want, mitigate risk, and measure success.
Before you start work on any project, you need to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve in terms of: Generating website traffic; Increasing conversion rates and revenue; and Business efficiency.
Any request for tender should document and quantify the aspects of your business you want to improve and what aspects you want to preserve and protect. Without this it is difficult to determine the scope of the project, what resources you need and how much to invest.
Where this tends to fall short is in documentation of the features you want to retain. The devil really is in the detail. Ecommerce systems have many hundreds of features and to save time it is tempting to assume that they all work on the same way. Sadly, they don’t.
4. Style Over Substance
For better, but all-too-often for worse, the design of a website tends to dominate migration projects.
You need to maintain perspective. Yes, design is important, but the success of the project depends on a number of factors. We've seen people spend days discussing the position and colour of a button and a few minutes agreeing some vague plan to retain the search engine rankings the whole business depends on. Don't make that mistake!
5. Common Problem Areas
Some things are more important than others to get right.
Integrations: Integrations with third party systems are a feature of many online stores. They need to be checked at the beginning of the project, especially if you are migrating platform. Systems such as Feefo, Trust Pilot, PayPal and other payment processors are commonly used, but not always easy to integrate.
Features: Ecommerce systems do not use the same approach to creating products with different configuration, bundling and pricing options. For example, Sellerdeck makes it relatively easy to use quantity-break pricing, Shopify does not feature this at all.
Order processing: Sellerdeck has relatively sophisticated order processing features, other systems are very basic. We have seen a lot of projects where the overall benefits of the redevelopment have been undermined by order processing limitations. Also, where you export orders into third party systems, you will need to check that these integrations are supported.
Customisation: Not all systems allow you to customise the check-out screens and integrate important third-party services, such as postcode lookup.
Plugins: Website developers love plugins because they provide a cost-effective way of adding new functionality to their clients' sites. The problem is that plugins are more likely to be used to plug the embarrassing gaps in ecommerce platform functionality that usually emerge during the closing stages of the project (due to insufficient planning). The more plugins you use, the harder and more expensive it will become to maintain your ecommerce platform as time marches on.
If you have a busy online store, it could take some time before you know for sure that your redevelopment has been a success. It is important to prepare for the worst. The means making sure that you continue to monitor the performance of your website using Google Analytics, Google Search Console and, ideally, a third-party ranking tracker like Moz. That way, when you do hit problems, you can quickly identify exactly where they are.
Every project carries with it risk, but with good planning you can mitigate this risk substantially, simply by evaluating all the challenges you will need to overcome.
The good news is that all you have to do to keep ahead of your competitors is spend more time at the beginning of the project evaluating the total impact of the project on the business. The bad news is that this is costly, as it takes time, but it is a false economy not to do it.
Up-front analysis and planning will help you increase the likelihood of achieving you goals and reduce the risk of failure. Oh, and you end up with less headaches.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels