This article will help you with both the strategic implications of an eCommerce migration, as well as with the tactical steps necessary to accomplish it.
The decision to migrate your existing eCommerce operation to a newer, faster, better platform is not something to be taken lightly. There are many decisions to be made and many potential pitfalls to be avoided. Once the strategic decision to migrate your eCommerce platform has been made, you want to be sure that it happens smoothly. Here is a 12-step checklist to help ensure that everything goes according to plan.
1. Plan the deployment timetable
An eCommerce platform migration is a complex undertaking that has a potentially significant impact on both employees and customers alike. Although it is rarely possible to accurately plan out every single individual step and then tie it to a calendar window, the more granular the transition plan is, the better.
It is critical to understand that planning an eCommerce migration is a cross-functional process that requires the input of multiple stakeholders across different business departments. Executive leadership along with IT, marketing, sales, accounting/finance, operations, fulfillment, and customer service must all be part of the undertaking.
An eCommerce migration project should be viewed as a reengineering of a mission-critical business system. Once the cross-functional implementation team has been convened, the first step is to work backwards from the desired deployment date.
Using the headings in this checklist as milestones, the individual tasks can be filled in, along with an estimated timeframe for completion. Tasks and timetables can then be adjusted as necessary. Using project management software such as Microsoft Project or the open source Open Project can significantly reduce the challenges of planning and executing such a complex project.
2. Revise business processes as required
An eCommerce migration will inevitably alter key business processes. In order to minimize the operational impact of this, detailed planning is critical.
The entire eCommerce platform migration team should flowchart every process that happens in the old system and then map it to the new platform. The time and effort invested in making the diagram granular, detailed, and systematic will pay significant dividends when the new system goes live.
Before proposals are requested, every business process that interacts with the eCommerce back end should be examined and evaluated. The goal is to determine what processes are critical and cannot be altered, as well as to identify those that can be either improved or eliminated completely. This analysis should then evolve into a set of concrete requirements that must be met as part of any proposal.
3. Validate and Test Business Process Migration
Once business processes have been mapped to the new platform, the staff who actually work with the processes should test them extensively. The best, most efficient way to do this is to start working on the processes as early in the development project as possible, even before the design phase.
Set up the framework and functionality of the new ecommerce platform first, integrate all of the desired plugins and do any necessary custom coding. You can then begin validating and testing the processes while the rest of the project unfolds.
With this approach, the inevitable tweaks, adjustments and modifications to the business process can be made in parallel with the rest of the platform migration project. Impact on the design and aesthetic work is therefore minimized.
4. Plan for enhanced SEO performance
In addition to the URL structure of the new site, there are many other aspects of an eCommerce migration that can potentially impact search engine optimization. It is not uncommon for recently migrated sites to experience a significant degradation of SEO performance as a result of the migration.
With proper planning early on in the migration deployment process, however, SEO results can actually be improved shortly after the site launches, resulting in greater traffic to the new site and increased revenue, usually within a month or so.
The best way to accomplish this is to include an SEO expert on the migration planning team which goes a long way to minimizing performance degradation. Many companies wait until after the eCommerce platform has been migrated to begin their SEO overhaul. This is a mistake that can have a significant cost impact. By involving an SEO expert at the beginning of the project, the new site will already be optimized at launch.
Also, if you are changing URLs, make sure to use 301 redirects. This will retain a significant amount of link popularity attributed to the site and enable its transfer to the new URLs. The 301 redirect indicates that the indexed URL has moved. The search engine will then de-index the old URL and index the new one.
5. Identify impact on process e-mails
Confirmation emails are a necessary step whenever a major action occurs within any eCommerce system. These emails are sent whenever a customer signs up, places an order, schedules shipments, receives a gift card, changes an order, requests a credit, processes a return—the list goes on.
Because these emails are integral elements of any eCommerce system, they must be redesigned and tested within the new system.
It’s also important to recognize that this is not just a matter of functionality. It’s important that all of the functional emails generated by the eCommerce system reflect consistent branding. Resources assigned to site design should be extended to refining and polishing all of the process email templates. This is particularly true if the email templates in the original system were branded with a consistent look and feel.
6. Set up metrics and define success
The ability to gauge success—or failure—of an eCommerce migration depends to a large degree on how well expectations are defined. It depends also on how objectively migration goals can be measured.
For this reason, it’s important for the stakeholder team to decide, up front, what the most important metrics are for gauging the success of the project and in what time frame. Consensus between departments is important here because there will are many different perspectives that should be taken into account.
It’s also important for the technical team to make sure that the new site is completely set up for the complete recording of analytics as soon as the new platform launches. This is critical because this analytical data will help to monitor and determine program success from day one, right out of the gate.
7. Organize and migrate catalog and product data
An eCommerce platform migration project is an excellent time to reevaluate how the organization manages its catalog and product data. Key stakeholders from the development and product teams should examine and chart existing data management processes to identify potential areas of improvement.
The primary objective is to define how product information is presented at the point of sale and then tracked through the inventory and fulfillment systems when transactions are processed. This examination will identify bottlenecks and facilitate changes to the workflow in order to improve speed and efficiency.
A critical relationship is how catalog information is managed by the eCommerce platform and how it interfaces with inventory data. If a separate inventory management system is in place, it can be simply integrated into the new platform instead of requiring the reorganization and movement of large volumes of data.
On the other hand, if catalog data is presently managed in the backend of the eCommerce platform, the migration project becomes somewhat more complex. First, the product and catalog data must be organized and decisions made about how it will be managed in the new platform.
The actual migration process must also be defined. If an integrated inventory management system has not been deployed, it is often useful to develop a spreadsheet that can be used to import, export and change data in lieu of the eCommerce backend itself.
8. Organize and migrate user data
Decisions must also be made about the organization and migration of user data. Depending on what type of user data is gathered and stored, an eCommerce migration can have a significant impact on the user experience for existing customers particularly when they are using the new system for the first time.
The volume and type of user data migrated will also depend on the design requirements established during the planning stage of the project. For example, order history data is often not migrated over unless it has been specifically highlighted as a functional requirement.
There are many other customer-related data elements to consider as well. For security purposes, customers should probably be required to change or at least reenter their passwords for the new system. Operational details such as account balances, store credits, existing gift cards and digital product ownership should all be considered. Customer loyalty programs as well as individual engagement history with social media are other important examples of critical customer data that should be considered.
9. Train your employees
Organizations tend to resist change. A good way to break through the resistance and negativity that often accompanies an eCommerce platform migration is through an engaging and comprehensive training program on the new platform.
The training should be conducted early and often. Since it will inevitably take some time until the data migration and operational systems are ready, the first component of the training should cover the new platform itself. Generic platform training provided by the vendor is adequate for giving employees a basic familiarity with the new system.
Although solid training is essential for a smooth eCommerce platform migration project, that should not be the main focus. Instead, the primary objective during training should be to identify workflow issues that need to be addressed immediately or at least considered by the development team. Spotting problems early makes them much easier to resolve while reducing the overall impact on the project itself.
Once the data migration has been completed and prior to going live, employees in all departments should receive job-specific training on the new eCommerce platform, particularly in terms of how it impacts them. This training will prepare the internal team for when the system goes live.
10. Alert your customers
One of the things that keeps customers coming back to your business is the familiarity they enjoy from working with you. Even if they are not huge fans of your existing eCommerce platform, they know how it works and where to find what they are looking for.
One of the worst things you can do is to suddenly change everything without giving your customers a heads up that it’s about to happen. People who come to your platform can be quickly alienated and even lost if the customer experience that they are comfortable with—again, even if they don’t really enjoy it—suddenly changes.
Start early on in the eCommerce migration process by promoting the change and explaining the reasons for it. The marketing department should be heavily involved in this effort by identifying the customer-facing benefits that the new platform will deliver and then getting the messages out there.
The migration should be promoted as an improvement to the customer experience. By creating excitement and enthusiasm for the change before it happens, you are far less likely to lose customers when it does.
It is also critical to ensure that customers understand how to actually use the new system, particularly if it is materially different from what is already in place. Communicating this information often falls to the marketing department working closely with technical resources to create “user friendly” instructions.
11. Test thoroughly on a staging server
As with any new IT system, once the new eCommerce platform is fully configured and ready to go, all data is migrated and employees are trained, it must be thoroughly tested offline. The testing should be as rigorous as possible. It is also important to build time into this phase to allow time to fix bugs and resolve issues identified during testing. This step should start with thorough testing by each organizational department that was a part of the migration planning process. IT, accounting/finance, marketing, sales, and any other department that has a role in eCommerce should thoroughly vet the system as it applies to the specific department.
Identified deficiencies should be corrected as soon as they are found. Once each department signs off on their aspect of the new eCommerce platform, general operational testing should be conducted by employees who test the system as users.
During this phase, even though the new system is fully functional, it is not yet operational. The existing system remains active and in place, and although it takes additional effort, data should continue to be populated into both platforms.
12. Go live with the new system still in parallel
To minimize customer impact and confusion, the final step of going live should be carefully considered and planned out in detail. Timing the transition is one of the most important considerations and should be based on business considerations as well as typical customer activity schedules. Seasonal business flow, day of the week and even time of day should all figure into the plan.
For example, it probably would not be wise to schedule an eCommerce migration during the holiday buying season. It would also not be prudent to begin the process during daily periods when customer activity it typically the highest.
Customers should also be in loop regarding what is happening and when, as well as what they can expect to experience. This is particularly important when a site takes several hours to propagate and customers doing business during that time might see either the old site or the new one. In this situation, the business might also be receiving orders from both sites as well.
Clearly there are a lot of moving parts to an eCommerce migration. It is a strategic initiative that requires the seamless cooperation and involvement of many different departments across the enterprise, working in close conjunction with the development team. By integrating these departments into the planning and actual execution of the migration, the success of the new eCommerce platform becomes far more likely.