eCommerce re-platforming: 10 things you need to be prepared for

Monday, November 28th, 2016

By Will Lockie, Former Head of Multichannel, Evans Cycles.

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The ecommerce re-platform is something we all inevitably face at some point in our careers, and is often a favourite topic for those ‘swapping notes’ chats with other retailers. If you are considering a re-platform, then I think one of the best things you can do is to talk to as many of your peers as possible about their experiences and the things to watch out for.

The Hive would love to help that happen, so after reading this post please do spend a few minutes completing a short survey based on your eCommerce platform experience which will help build a bank of honest, open retailer-user reviews, which will of course be shared with you; rest assured your answers will be treated in the strictest confidence.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’ve pulled together a quick starter list of focus areas. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list as every implementation will be different, and there is much more detail to get into. These are just some of the high level areas that I believe are key to success:

1. Good planning and preparation

Firstly, if you are considering a replatform then I do not recommend diving in and getting platform providers and systems integrators in to pitch and trying to evaluate their merits on your own. You need help to navigate this world as it can be a bit of a minefield, so getting in some third parties who have done it before (i.e. agencies, consultants, project or programme managers etc.) to help you is crucial. There will be a lot of decisions / potential trade offs to make, proposals to review and costs to analyse so getting another set of eyes on it all will help make the right decisions for your business and help the project run as smoothly as possible.

2. Accurate estimation

Assuming you have made a platform and systems integrator selection, the next phase will be sizing the project. Getting the right people in the room to estimate this is important. Question any estimates very carefully – who did it and what is it based on essentially. Ask yourself – who ever over estimated a tech project? Answer = never! So really question what contingencies are built in, and what the collective level of confidence is around them.

3. The MVP and ‘must have’ requirements

Be very clear early on what is the minimum viable product is and what features are must have, nice to have etc for go live. You may be faced with de-scoping or some trade offs at some point in the build, so knowing what can wait for a post go live release is important. You will also have to make key decisions very early on around user experience – make sure these are customer / user centric led, and not led by current business constraints or technology limitations. Business led decisions rather than customer centric decisions are often root cause of issues or poor experience.

4. Get a ‘happy path’ prototype working as soon as possible

If time allows, I seriously recommend getting the core customer journey (PDP> basket > checkout) as a working HTML prototype or proof of concept, using a real sub set of data. This will soon flush out any underlying issues with UX or data issues and build confidence quickly.

5. Performance performance

I cannot emphasis enough the value of thorough performance testing to ensure the site can cope with forecasted peak demand (pages per minute, orders per minute etc). Carefully look at anything that is adding to page weight / load times and be very clear on measures of performance, how they will be measured and binding SLA terms.

6. Detailed specification

The onus may be on you the client to provide and sign off detailed functional specs, wireframes and intended page behaviour well upfront, so build into your plans time to provide this well before any development begins. Think of it this way – you the client always need to be at minimum a few sprints ahead of the developers in signing this stuff off, otherwise you risk things grinding to a halt…so plan resource here carefully and get BA’s in to help deliver it all.

7. Configuration settings

Focus carefully on core config settings of the platform – basket duration, session duration, cookie settings etc etc – be very clear about expected behaviour in these areas as they can dramatically affect the performance, user experience and shopability of your site.

8. 3rd party integration

You will be integrating a bunch of 3rd party (3PL) solutions – payments, address look up, user reviews etc etc For each 3PL ensure the design of the solution is well documented and sign off process is clear – you will need something to refer back to should things not work as expected.

9. Getting the rest of the business ready

Think and plan very carefully about how you prepare the rest of the business for this new platform, after all they will be the ones using it on a day to day basis. Getting business owners to own their particular area is key to a successful handover and go live period.

10. Plan for curveballs and setbacks

No matter how detailed the planning and experienced the team, no doubt you will get challenges, issues, delays or setbacks over the course of the project….so triaging and tracking problems quickly is key, and be prepared to take some tough decisions along the way if that happens.

And finally, good luck! What have I missed or anything to add? Let me know.

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