If you’ve been in the ecommerce game for awhile now, you may have already replatformed once or twice. With the growing pains of more products, more customers and more employees — not to mention ever-changing industry trends — ecommerce migration is often an unavoidable part of the business.
And with global ecommerce sales expected to hit $6.5 trillion by 2023, a high-performing platform is key if you want to stay up to speed with the industry. In a 2020 survey by advisory firm BDO, 51% of retail CFOs said they had invested more in ecommerce technology in the past six months, and 64% planned to spend more in the next six months — which means there’s a lot of competition when it comes to building the ideal online store.
As the backbone of your online business, your ecommerce platform should be reliable, flexible and scalable, supporting your business as it grows and changes. But if your current platform is running slow, lacks necessary features or simply isn’t keeping up with your business’s growth, it may be time to replatform.
Of course, migrating all of your data from one platform to another may sound like a daunting, costly task, but we’re here to break down everything you need to know before you make the switch.
Let’s get started.
What allows these companies to focus on marketing is their choice of technology stack from the onset.
Or, if not from the onset, these companies are quick to replatform to a better solution so that website maintenance and bug patches are not taking priority over marketing activities.
That is why you must pick the right ecommerce platform — because you need to focus on marketing and growth.
After all, marketing is expensive, competitive and requires a lot of time. It is pay-to-play in so many channels:
In the ones where it isn’t (say, SEO), you’re competing against a gamut of competitors and bigger brands, often with a much bigger head start.
And each of these channels are getting more and more saturated everyday. So why are you spending your time and money on a “good enough” ecommerce solution?
Modern ecommerce platforms are the equivalent of a marketing technology, development and IT staff, all in one.
Likely when you first launched your brand, ecommerce platforms were cumbersome, expensive and required hours of extra work you ended up taking on internally or that you’ve outsourced to platform experts.
Today, there are ecommerce platforms out there that take all the technical heavy-lifting off your hands –– giving your team the time and financial resources to capitalize on the market with strategic, engaging campaigns.
In a perfect world, a website migration project would be a year in planning with an allotted budget and clearly defined goals.
But in reality, replatforming isn’t something companies proactively plan. Most often, there’s a driving issue (or a number of them) forcing a company to migrate.
Here we’ve compiled a list of the most common issues driving online retailers to replatform. Take a look for yourself and check off the ones that apply to your business — check off more than one, and it’s time to replatform.
High total cost of ownership (TCO). By placing the burden on a third-party solution or higher performing platform provider, ecommerce migration can help mitigate site infrastructure or design costs.
Before we begin to outline the process for a replatform, it’s important that you understand your ecommerce platform options:
Below is an outline of each, including pros and cons based on your unique business needs. This is the basic background information you’ll need for issuing a complete and structured ecommerce RFP to a technology provider, the details of which we’ll get into in a moment.
With on-premise, also called self-hosted technology, the ecommerce platform is licensed from and then hosted on the client’s internal network, which means the user can modify all aspects of the code and maintain server and software control.
The business owner is then responsible for managing various ecommerce aspects:
Some well-known examples of self-hosted solutions are WooCommerce — a free, open-source shopping cart plugin that can be added to an existing WordPress website — and Magento Commerce Pro, which offers Magento Open Source, Adobe Commerce and Magento Commerce Cloud.
There’s currently a lot of confusion in the market about the difference between cloud ecommerce and SaaS ecommerce. But let’s put that confusion to rest right now.
SaaS and cloud ecommerce are not the same.
With cloud ecommerce, you still pay extra in licensing fees, as well as fees to patch vulnerabilities and to complete upgrades. This aspect of cloud ecommerce is similar to on-premise. In fact, many on-premise ecommerce technologies are those that are launching cloud solutions.
The difference, however, is that the server is hosted and maintained by a third-party, similar to how it is done in the SaaS model.
Here we’ll break down the differences between SaaS and cloud:
While open source software gives the user full control over the source code, servers and software, SaaS (Software as a Service) offers an alternative.
Removing the complexity of managing every aspect of your site, SaaS solutions essentially allow users to “rent” a platform — meaning both the software and hosting are included in one monthly fee and handled by the platform provider.
According to data from Statista, the SaaS market is currently estimated to be worth $145 billion, which is expected to increase to almost $172 billion by 2022.
But why are SaaS platforms so popular?
Since the host is responsible for managing the platform, your SaaS provider will automatically make product updates for you, maintain security and hosting, ensure PCI compliance and any other task involved in managing your own software — and it’s all included in the monthly service fee. BigCommerce, for example, is an Open SaaS platform, which means that merchants receive all of the advantages of a SaaS platform — such as being hosted on behalf of the provider, a lower total cost of ownership and ease of use — with the open-source ability to quickly create custom integrations and functionality.
Once you’ve identified the need to migrate and the type of platform you want, it’s time to start replatforming. To help you begin the process, we’ve outlined several steps that will give you an idea of how much time and work the migration process will take.
Before committing the rest of the organization to an ecommerce replatforming project, you should conduct an initial ROI modeling session and internally map out the RFP process.
Issuing an RFP will allow you to switch from one ecommerce platform to another — all without losing your SEO rankings, customized design or legally required security protocol.
This is the first step to writing a RFP:
Sit down with finance and do an honest review of the ecommerce business. Before you can begin developing a detailed set of requirements and an RFP, you will need to have the numbers for your business locked down.
These include the usual:
If you decide to go down the SaaS platform route, you will be sharing this information with the vendor so they can calculate anticipated usage and pricing.
Next, create a three-year forecasted improvement on the above metrics if you were to deploy a new solution.
Allow six months post-launch for site optimization, and don’t forecast any lift during those six months.
Here’s a sample walkthrough of how you might achieve this for your own business. The numbers below are based on a last 90-day calculation and 57% overall ecommerce growth by 2019. Conservative numbers are used here.
Once you figure out your business forecast, look into how much each ecommerce technology solution will cost.
The chart below is an example of a business making at least $2,500,000 in annual revenue.
Then, calculate your savings, and figure out the average cost for services like SEO, social media and more.
Finally, add in the revenue lift generally seen by these services and the upside associated with it for your business’s revenue.
See the chart below for reference.
Through this analysis, you will have determined the amount of investment you can reasonably afford for your ecommerce website replatforming project. This will save you time later on and help you to avoid looking too far into platforms that you simply cannot afford.
A technical replatforming project is an opportunity to change and improve your efficiencies in other areas of the business. To make sure you get the most out of the RFP process, take a look at all existing systems and determine if there are better ways to achieve the same results.
We also suggest taking a look at the various third-party apps that you have undoubtedly accumulated through the years, including:
Many of these can be replaced with features that now come standard on modern ecommerce platforms. Add the savings from these projected changes into your budget.
Try to use a fact-based measurement criteria during this discovery process. I prefer projected savings, revenue or ROI.
This phase of the process can be contentious since you’re talking about eliminating tools, processes and potentially people. The measurement criteria helps to keep the emotion out of the process.
This is the stage of the replatforming process where you should spend a good chunk of time mapping out every touchpoint between the ecommerce platform and all other systems at your company. Create a list of each integration point and determine what will happen to that integration during replatforming.
It’s at this crucial stage that you determine what’s in scope for the project and what is not.
Prior to launching your site, perform an SEO audit and develop a content migration plan to avoid losing search engine rankings and retain domain authority.
Here are a few SEO settings to consider when migrating to a new platform:
Additionally, review any necessary catalog transfers and make sure to include them in the RFP, including customer data files, product catalogs and assets or content such as product images.
Creating an outline for where each page is located on your website will help you keep track of content as you transfer it to your new platform. Proper due diligence at this stage of the process will save time and money later on.
Starting early in the migration process, make sure that all stakeholders have ample opportunity to share their requirements and any business processes that interface with the ecommerce platform.
Key stakeholders are typically from the following departments/disciplines:
While replatforming may significantly benefit one department, it may pose bigger challenges for another, so it’s important as a business owner to understand and balance the needs of all teams. Keep all teams informed and involved throughout the process, and even after launching, put your platform to the test and make sure that all stakeholders are satisfied.
Luckily, BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (no credit card required) so that you and your team can test drive the platform before making a commitment. Plus, you and your team can browse dozens of case studies to learn how other online merchants have successfully migrated to BigCommerce and scaled their businesses exponentially.
There are numerous ecommerce platforms available today, everything from simple carts to enterprise grade platforms that include strong search, personalization and CMS capabilities.
For our purposes, let’s say that there are about 30 different platforms to choose from — that’s far too many to engage in an RFP.
You should be able to narrow down your RFP list to 5-8 vendors based on the following:
Our RFPs contain over 150 questions to confirm vendor capabilities and for use in vendor comparison charts.
This may seem like a lot, but let’s put it into context: a SaaS platform can contain over hundreds of features, including third-party integrations, catalog transfer services, systems architecture and security compliance issues — all of which will need to be addressed in the RFP process.
Based on the responses to your RFP, you should now have a short list of 3-5 potential vendors.
The next step is to create a detailed set of use cases to be performed by the vendor via Webex for smaller opportunities and onsite for larger deployments.
There are a couple reasons for this:
The list of use cases that you develop will depend on the size of deployment, but for the larger ones, it is advisable to schedule about four hours. Some scenarios take 10 minutes to run through, and others can take 30 minutes.
It’s important that each vendor is given the same list and allotted time to complete their scenarios. This creates a level playing field upon which comparisons can be more easily made, especially for the stakeholders who are new to the process.
You can use this checklist and agenda for your teams and the platform you are testing. This covers the majority of common needs during a replatform.
Download a printable version here.
You can also allow half an hour at the beginning of the meeting for a general company sales pitch presentation and about 20 minutes at the end for closing remarks and a final pitch.
Here is what a top-level agenda looks like, simplified.
Transferring your product, category and customer data is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of ecommerce replatforming.
A poor transfer could result in:
Accurate data is essential to running your business, so unless you have technical expertise and can manually migrate data yourself, it’s best to choose a platform that offers data migration services.
So, once you’ve decided on a platform or have narrowed it down to two or three, you need to ask immediately about migration and transfer services — and don’t let an unclear answer pass.
If an ecommerce platform passes you off to a partner for catalog transfer services, this can add more money onto your initial launch fee and more months on your go-to-market timing, which can significantly affect your total cost of ownership.
Get a solid understanding of how the catalog transfer or data migration will be done and similar stores they have already transferred, ideally from the same platform you are on. If you can, reach out to that brand, too, and ask about the service.
Better yet, choose an ecommerce platform that provides migration services in-house. BigCommerce provides enterprise launch packages and data migration services to assist you with integrating your systems into ours and getting to market faster. Because our team has worked with so many brands, we’ve learned that every online store is unique, and as they’ve scaled, so has their service.
Although ecommerce migration may be an inevitable move for some online retailers, others hesitate to make the leap due to misconceptions around security, cost, scale and more.
Here we’ll debunk the top five myths to help give you peace of mind before starting your data migration.
Your store won’t go offline during the transfer process.
We do all the work on your new BigCommerce store backend, then give you as much time as you need to customize your settings, test your site and train your team.
When you’re ready, and only when you’re ready, you can launch your new ecommerce store — complete with updated data already uploaded into your backend. This allows you to continue business as usual from day one.
While all of this is happening, your original store stays live on your current platform. We don’t require that it come down, and BigCommerce and our global network of partners actually advise against it.
We understand that uptime is one of the most crucial factors to gaining and maintaining consumer trust, so all our work can happen with no downtime required.
Of course, if you’re replatforming, you may want to invest in a redesign, but this can be costly and time-consuming. It isn’t just a matter of transferring URLs and content — it’s essentially a complete rebuild of your website.
So if you're worried about losing your beautiful, custom web design, this is a valid fear, especially if you’ve spent years perfecting the look and feel of your online store. Redesigning can often require significant time, budget and planning. Luckily, BigCommerce’s open template files allow you to bring custom design elements to your new store, and our design partners ensure that it happens seamlessly. Check out how BigCommerce merchants are optimizing their online stores and using site design to increase conversions.
It is true that moving to a new server, even when using the same domain name, can impact search engine optimization rankings if done improperly — however, this is often only a temporary roadblock. In fact, the very reason you’re migrating might even be that your new platform offers more SEO features.
For example, BigCommerce provides several SEO tools right out of the box:
Luckily, online retailers move servers all the time, and migration can often enhance your search ranking. However, you may have to give Google a week or so to recognize the migration and re-grant your ranking, but in time, you’ll reap the benefits.
Here are some best practices to help you migrate without jeopardizing your SEO:
No, you cannot clone your store exactly. You can, however, transfer a majority of your existing data from your current ecommerce platform to your new backend.
As for your store’s look and feel, you’re probably thinking about leaving your current platform because it’s lacking in some way, so why would you want to recreate those same shortfalls?
The quicker you embrace the idea that it requires some change to improve your online business, the quicker you can benefit from transferring to a fully featured enterprise solution like BigCommerce.
We offer a wealth of next-level features that will ensure a smooth transition that is as painless — and profitable — as possible.
For instance, with dozens of integrated payment gateways, you’ll rarely need a payment option we don’t offer. Chances are that we have an integration with the payment gateway you are using right now, and you may even find new options like Square and PayPal that you like more.
BigCommerce offers one-click integrations with leading software providers like Survey Monkey, HubSpot, Alibaba and Salesforce. This makes it easy to integrate with the tools you already use.
Plus, with over 90% of the BigCommerce platform exposed via APIs, merchants can build flexible technical solutions and shop our extensive app marketplace to integrate new features and functionalities that help scale their businesses.
Even if you’re a great developer, our experience has taught us that the first time you undertake an unfamiliar task like this, it rarely goes according to plan.
Wouldn’t your time be better spent growing your business and serving your customers, while delegating your transfer to veteran engineers who can get it done quickly and correctly?
When you’re talking about securing and improving your financial future, you can’t afford to let your ego get in the way. Instead, trust your migration to an industry-leading team that’s equipped to help you overcome complexities, design confidently and build out your website completely.
For more information on BigCommerce’s transfer services, read our support documentation on how to move your store to BigCommerce.
And note that this is only documentation. You’ll have an account manager and onboarding consultant by your side, handling all the heavy-lifting every step of the way.
If you’ve reached your tipping point after yet another site outage, undetected bug or maintenance fee, it may be time to pull the plug and migrate to a new platform.
Yes, replatforming can be a time-consuming endeavor, but the benefits well outweigh the costs — so don’t let the fear hinder you from doing what’s best for your business. With the help of this guide, you’ll be equipped to launch a successful migration and start building out your new and improved ecommerce site, leading you to better performance, scalability and innovation.
If you’re currently operating under a different platform and want to take BigCommerce on a test drive, check out the following resources to help you get started.