Are You Re-platforming for the Wrong Reasons?
The decision to re-platform, from one e-commerce platform to another, is never easy, fast, or cheap. In this blog, we’ll share our experiences from re-platforming hundreds of global brands and, hopefully, assist those of you in the process of making this tough decision.
Digital commerce merchants consider re-platforming their online storefronts (primarily web applications) for a number of reasons. In most cases, it involves an upgrade of features, functionality, or even infrastructure. However, it’s important to look at these changes and assess their impact on user experience, developer experience, costs, and the business itself.
Cliched as this may sound, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. In most cases, re-platforming may be the right choice, but in a lot of cases, merchants can find themselves rushing into a bad situation.
Let’s examine the nine reasons merchants re-platform, and take a look at some critical points to keep in mind before you take the plunge. (If you have additional reasons for embarking on this journey, we would love to hear them.)
Re-platforming for brand experience: Some platforms allow you to customize every component of your site and deliver a highly differentiated brand experience. On the other hand, some platforms are extremely restrictive.
If you are re-platforming to create an exceptional brand experience that stands out among your peers and competitors, make sure that you’re picking a platform that gives you the freedom to customize.
You get that freedom with some of the larger platforms, but it takes a huge development and deployment budget to get there. For example, if you opt for the higher end of self-hosted platforms like Oracle Commerce, IBM WebSphere, SAP Hybris, and others, you can customize every part of your site, from the front-end to the back-end, and get the specific look and feel you have in mind. Alternatively, with a fully hosted platform like Shopify, your site will look much the same as hundreds of other sites out there with limitations on most back-end components. You get what you get…
There are versatile platforms like Magento, where you can get the look and feel that you want at potentially zero platform cost and mid-range development costs, if you are using the Community version. Most of our Magento-based customers have online stores that look very different from any other site in their respective markets and that can truly be a differentiator, especially in the fashion and beauty industry.
If your brand experience falls into second place behind getting your product to market, or maybe because your product’s going to sell itself, you may want to invest in a fully hosted platform that’s easy to manage. BigCommerce, Volusion, and Shopify are good bets with very low upfront costs in most cases, but those same costs will start to add up as your business grows.
Re-platforming for growth: If your current platform cannot handle your growth needs, such as the number of storefronts or SKUs you may have, the catalog size, connections to the backend, your ERP system, other corporate systems, additional B2B requirements, or simply capacity needs, it is time to move on. You need a platform that can manage the scale and growth of your operations, throughput, scalability, performance, and security needs.
If you are growing incredibly fast and have a lot of different products and SKUs, there are very few choices out there. Again, the very high-end enterprise platforms will get you there, while the low-end fully hosted platforms will struggle with most of these needs. More importantly, these fully hosted platforms will get more pricey as you grow.
If you have multiple stores, or have a SKU count or catalog size that is larger than usual, you just cannot go to BigCommerce or Shopify – they will not be able to handle your requirements. If you are doing business internationally, there are certain cross-border restrictions that will hold you back. In these cases, you need to go to an extremely customizable enterprise platforms, or mid-market solutions like Magento.
The beauty of Magento Community edition is that the community has built a lot of powerful features and functionalities that would otherwise cost you in license costs from the most expensive platforms.
Re-platforming for cost savings: It’s always imperative to evaluate the total cost of ownership with any platform. There are hidden costs that come with using certain platforms. These are well beyond just the license or subscription fees and border on a revenue share model.
If you procure an open-source platform like Drupal or WordPress/WooCommerce, the platform itself is free, but the actual cost to develop your site and the backend may far outweigh the initial concept.
On the other hand, there are platforms that may offer a lot of promotions upfront, like free migration, development dollars, or even full financing. The costs that you incur for actually using these platforms – for gaining access to good developers (that are sometimes in short supply), the infrastructure you may need to use on the back-end, the merchant fees, shipping fees, shared revenue, and other fees as you start to add advanced functionality – can end up being a significant problem.
It is important to understand and plan for your total costs of ownership, and make sure you are factoring in any that are hidden. If you’re not sure, feel free to reach out to us and we can help break things down for you.
Re-platforming for consolidation: There are some realities in life we should certainly discuss here as well, because they may be the difference between the survival of your business and death. If your business is not doing well due to changes in market conditions, consumer tastes, or global challenges, and you have invested in a very high-end platform that requires expensive licensing fees every two or three years, it is definitely time to rethink your platform.
For instance, if you are using Magento Enterprise and your business is just not growing at your projected rate, re-platforming down to the Community version would be a great move. In Community you are, at least, not paying for the platform, even though you will continue to incur other associated costs. You can retain the same developer you trust, and find plugins that replace some of the enterprise features you do not need to pay for.
If you have decided to focus your business on a subset of your product portfolio that sells better than the rest, a fully hosted solution like Shopify is not a bad option. It is also the closest to DIY that you can get.
If you have a small business with limited products that aren’t gaining much traction and losing revenue, or are looking to close down some brands for governance or compliance reasons, then make accommodations for negative growth. A community platform or a fully hosted platform might help reduce or manage your risk significantly in such cases and prepare you for when things get better.
Re-platforming for new business: The inverse of the situation above is tremendous growth. If you’re expanding to other countries, make sure your platform is catering to the various governance, currency, and compliance requirements. If you have been using Shopify or BigCommerce, you are most likely going to have to re-platform at this time to make way for localization, shipping options, pricing management, and more. You may continue to like the fully hosted experience and go towards Salesforce Commerce Cloud, despite it being a very expensive choice. You are on your way to the big leagues and will likely consider Magento (Community or Enterprise), SAP Hybris, IBM Websphere, or Oracle Commerce. There is no wrong answer but a lot of research is needed for making the right decision.
Re-platforming for integrations or functionality: If you are new to the e-commerce world, moving online from a brick and mortar setup, or have just been asked by your C-suite to work with a specific CRM or ERP system for business reasons beyond your control, your out-of-the-box, fully hosted platform (even if you don’t have too many products) might not make sense anymore, if it can’t be integrated into the broader business.
This is common in the case of an acquisition where you may be forced to re-platform to the same platform everybody else in your organization is using, because it allows for integration across the business. And it certainly is the right thing to do to allow for continuity and reporting, where it matters.
You may also need to re-platform for an additional piece of functionality that just became mission-critical or a competitive differentiator for your business as it grows.
You love your site and it still does its job, but if it doesn’t help your organization achieve the broader business goals, you’d just have to let it go. We have seen it happen more than once and the big picture almost always wins in the end.
Re-platforming for control: As merchants experience rapid growth, they want to be able to control their platform and its outcomes (and therefore, future). This can be next to impossible with a fully hosted platform, which has all the pieces integrated on the back-end and leaves very little scope for customization.
You may want to change a piece of it – like maybe, integrate that “shiny” new deferred payment option or add that new promo tool. Replacing a fully hosted platform like Salesforce Commerce, Shopify or BigCommerce becomes a necessity in such cases because they are all-or-nothing solutions. You may re-platform in order to get control over all the different pieces, instead of having a fully baked platform (and rightly so).
In addition, as you grow and understand the value of your customers’ data or buying habits, you may want to re-platform as you don’t want your user data exposed to a fully hosted platform and perhaps made available to other companies. We all know that risk now, with what we have learned on the use of confidential data by social media businesses.
Magento Community is a really good option in this case, as it gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing different pieces of your infrastructure and integration, while keeping your platform costs at zero and keeping you in control of the outcomes. Just make sure you have a great developer on your side and a tremendous hosting infrastructure partner. We can help make introductions to our own curated partner (developer) network in this case.
Forced re-platform: Don’t even get me started on this one! First, we heard Magento 1 is going away; and now Magento 2.2.x is due for end-of-life (EOL) on Dec 31, 2019. As a merchant, you probably started out with the greatest platform ever, and all of a sudden, you have the rug pulled from under you. You are not alone and there are thousands that have re-platformed, others that have given in to the tactics, and a majority that are maintaining a wait-and-see approach.
This is what we call a forced re-platform. But there’s no need to worry. You will find a ton of re-platforming best practices to help you navigate this.
With change comes opportunity, and all merchants should certainly look at re-platforming as a significant opportunity to redefine themselves. It’s important to understand that this is not a mere upgrade, but a comprehensive re-platform, and an opportunity to rethink your brand experience, infrastructure, and all the bells and whistles that come with it. Make sure you are evaluating all your options, and working with the right developers and a hosting infrastructure partner that has done this several times.
Re-platforming recommended by a trusted advisor: Understandably, many merchants approach the idea of re-platforming with a lot of apprehension. If you’re relying on consultants, make sure they don’t have a bias toward a specific platform, or are being paid off by certain vendors to bring them into deals.
Audit your requirements, both current and future, and make a clear business case with well-defined goals and metrics to determine success. Above all, be sure that you really need to re-platform, because the effort, costs, and time that go into it, will otherwise be hard to justify.
Talk to multiple development and hosting partners, and other merchants in your space. Read advice online as well, because there has always been someone there before you. If you know other merchants that have recently re-platformed (or better still, shifted to a platform you are considering), ask them about their experience and share yours. Make sure the financial impact of the process is not lost on you and the huge opportunity this experience presents is leveraged. At Webscale, we have a lot of customers using many different platforms and can certainly point out examples or even make introductions to other merchants or developers, if you’re interested.
Look, we all know re-platforming is a big deal and we see hundreds of merchants re-platforming regularly. Before you dive into it, make sure you’ve done your research. Take the time and effort to find the perfect match for your business needs. And if you need help or platform-agnostic advice from the “Any Platform” Commerce Cloud Company, please don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this form.