There will likely come a time while running your company that you’ll need to consider moving to a new e-commerce platform. Perhaps it’s the first time you’re entering the e-commerce space or it’s due to rapid growth within your organization. There are a number of things to consider when it comes to migrating from one e-commerce platform to another. This article focuses less on examining the benefits of specific platforms, such as Shopify Plus vs Magento and rather explores the fundamentals of successfully managing a platform migration project.
Reasons to Migrate
Before diving into the technical aspects of managing an e-commerce platform migration, it’s important to consider the fundamental motivation behind any such endeavor. There are a lot of reasons to consider moving but those that you’ll most commonly see driving brands to make a major change include the following:
One obvious consideration to make is whether an e-commerce platform migration could help in reducing your overall infrastructure costs. This is fundamentally true when comparing an open-source platform such as WooCommerce with a hosted platform such as Shopify. Although there is often little-to-no licensing fee associated with an open-source platform, you’ll likely see higher hosting and support costs. Companies using open-source software should expect to pay a maintenance fee (either internal salaries or via an external partner) to ensure their software is up-to-date and infrastructure secure. Hosted solutions often have a higher licensing fee but tends to be ‘all inclusive,’ including 24/7 support. In the case of a potential migration, you should be able to run a cost estimate of your average monthly fees (whether open-source or hosted) and compare them to the alternative. Just be sure to consider all costs, including third-party licensing fees, that come along with each platform.
Nowadays, almost every website management platform has some degree of e-commerce capability built into it, whether a DIY solution like SquareSpace or an enterprise platform built for e-commerce like Magento. One major consideration to make is the performance implications of a DIY solution vs something built for scale. As you move upstream to more advanced e-commerce platforms, you’ll see that they put a larger emphasis on the performance of your website including load speed, search engine optimization, conversion optimization and accessibility. One of the benefits of using an enterprise platform includes the sophistication of the underlying infrastructure of that platform. DIY solutions will not be able to handle large-scale traffic or transaction volumes whereas an enterprise solution is built specifically to tackle those challenges.
You’ll find that each major e-commerce platform has a different philosophy when it comes to the degree of built-in functionality that they offer. Shopify, for instance, relies heavily on a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model that uses third-party apps to extend the functionality of the platform. BigCommerce, often a direct alternative to Shopify, has worked towards including more of those features directly within their native platform. The hub-and-spoke model allows for a ‘use what you need’ approach that’s ideal for companies looking to cherry pick the best possible options in attaining certain functionality, but often with added cost. The all-in-one approach can help keep costs down and limit the complexity of your e-commerce build but might not result in as tailored of an experience as desired.
As you move up the chain of e-commerce platforms, you’ll find enterprise solutions provide more robust data tracking, storage and analysis capabilities over their lightweight competitors. This can provide a huge competitive advantage to brands looking to leverage that data to inform their product development, on-site optimization and marketing decisions. Another major consider as it pertains to data is the impact of using a hub-and-spoke model vs an all-in-one solution. Often a hub-and-spoke approach provides a richer set of data but requires more sophisticated data unification whereas an all-in-one solution can more easily provide key metrics out-of-the-box.
Migration Process and Considerations
Any website migration process, regardless of it involving e-commerce, can be a fairly involved endeavor. It’s important to spend as much time in the planning phase as possible to ensure a successful outcome. Once you’ve selected your new e-commerce platform, you’ll want to consider the following additional components during your planning efforts:
Assuming you already have an e-commerce website and migrating to a new platform, you’ll need to determine how you’d like to handle the design aspects of the project. In short, you have three primary options:
Replicate Existing Design
Assuming you’re happy with the conversion rates and brand representation of your current website, you could consider a pixel-by-pixel replication of your existing design. While this sounds like an attractive option due to the perceived simplicity (i.e. skipping a design phase and jumping right into frontend development) it can often amount to the same degree of effort as redesigning your website. Each e-commerce platform has its own capabilities and limitations when it comes to the ‘theme’ (i.e. customer-facing design) that you create. Some platforms allow for total flexibility in your code while others can be quite limiting. It’s often preferred to tackle the design within the constraints of the platform and adapt your design rather than forcing it to work in exact replication.
Pre-Built Theme-Based Redesign
A particularly popular option when cost/time are major considerations, many e-commerce platforms provide the option of using a ‘pre-built theme’ for the design and functionality of your website. These themes tend to allow for a certain degree of personalization such as key branding elements, content and layout, but do have certain limitations. This is an ideal option when you’re willing to work within the constraints of a pre-built theme but can often become more expensive if you choose to customize too much of that theme. Our general recommendation is to consider this approach when you can look at the pre-built theme’s demo and feel that it’s 90% of what you’d want your website to look like in the end.
The last major option, and often the one that leads to the best possible outcome, is doing a custom redesign of your website. Although there could be more cost/time involved, it provides you the greatest opportunity to get exactly what you want in the end. Going through a complete discovery, design and development process, brands are able to design an experience using the data and feedback from their current customers’ behavior. This approach also provides you the opportunity to take full advantage of your selected e-commerce platform’s capabilities.
As mentioned earlier, each e-commerce platform has their own set of built-in capabilities and extended network of third-party integrations. A critical exercise to perform during your planning efforts is to take a complete inventory of your current website’s functionality and third-party integrations to ensure they’re replicated appropriately. The easiest way to do this is simply by going through each major template and noting which features are available on the website. You’ll want to do the same thing with your support, admin and marketing staff to ensure any backend functionality is replicated as well. Many of the most popular third-party integrations support multiple platforms and can offer assistance in larger-scale migrations. The key is identifying these requirements early on and engaging with these partners on anything that might be required to make the migration process smooth.
Data Migration Considerations
One of the most challenging aspects of an e-commerce platform migration is handling the migration of data and content that exists within your current website. Everything including products, orders, customers, pages, reviews and more needs to be consider during this process. Similar to functionality considerations, you’ll want to take a complete inventory of the various content/data types that exist within your current platform. Once you’ve identified these items, it’s recommended that you put together an ‘Architecture’ for each that outlines the attributes that exist within your current platform and identifies how they’ll map to your new e-commerce platform. For example, one platform might refer to your product names as ‘names’ while another might refer to them as ‘titles’. Identifying these minor discrepancies is critical to ensuring you don’t produce errors in your data migration efforts. This is one area where you’ll often find working with an agency, such as Trellis, can be of great benefit. We have extensive experience in handling the required architecture and facilitating the actual data migration for e-commerce brands. Often the importing of data requires custom-built scripts and solutions that are not readily available across all e-commerce platforms.
The last major consideration to make is in regards to marketing. Putting aside any campaign-focused efforts your team might have on announcing a new website, you’ll need to pay particular attention to the search engine optimization impact of moving from one e-commerce platform to the next. There are two areas in particular:
Each e-commerce platform has their own structure for URLs. You’ll need to go through the process of mapping your existing URLs to the ‘destination’ URLs of your new e-commerce platform to ensure they ‘redirect’ properly. Although this process can be relatively straightforward, it grows in complexity based on the number of unique URLs that exist in your website. Once completed, you’ll need to upload this ‘Redirect Map’ to your e-commerce website and submit your website to Google for re-indexing.
As an extension to the above, there is the potential of seeing a major SEO impact as the volume of indexed pages changes between platforms. It’s possible that your current e-commerce platform is configured to ‘index’ various pages, such as search results and categories, that another e-commerce platform might not have in its configuration. Taking inventory of these indexing settings and any planned changes in content volume (i.e. not migrating your blog or reducing your product catalog) is critical to avoiding any negative SEO impact.
Taking a step back on the above, it’s clear that significant time and money is required to properly facilitate an e-commerce platform migration. Although some brands choose to handle all of these responsibilities internally, it’s advised to consider speaking with firms that specialize in handling the design, development, data and marketing components of a major website build. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many brands coming to us for ‘rescue projects’ where they’ve chosen to conduct a DIY migration but ran into major challenges in the ‘final stretch’ or even post-launch on the project. The sooner you bring in experts to assist in planning, the more likely you’ll avoid having issues with your project.
Migrating from one e-commerce platform to another can be an exciting but overwhelming process. If it hasn’t been stressed enough, the key to success lies in the work that’s done early on during the planning phase. Even if the design and development is handled internally, having an outside resource to assist with the early planning can be a game-changer with projects of these magnitudes.