by Tom Shackleton
With Magento 1 end-of-life fast approaching, and the rapidly increasing popularity of Shopify and Shopify Plus, more and more brands are embarking on replatforming projects. But an eCommerce replatform brings with it challenges from data migration to SEO, so how can you avoid common replatforming mistakes and ensure that your project is a success?
With Magento 1 end-of-life fast approaching, and the rapidly increasing popularity of Shopify and Shopify Plus, more and more brands are embarking on replatforming projects.
But an eCommerce replatform brings with it challenges from data migration to SEO, so how can you avoid common replatforming mistakes and ensure that your project is a success?
We spoke to eCommerce Replatforming Consultant Paul Rogers and put some common replatforming questions to him.
Paul Rogers is the Managing Director of Vervaunt, a London-based eCommerce and paid media consultancy. Paul has been working in eCommerce for over 10 years in various in-house, agency and consultancy roles and now focuses almost exclusively on replatforming projects.
Could you tell us a little about what you do as an eCommerce Consultant, and how you can help brands replatform to Shopify Plus?
Over the last few years, I’ve moved from working solely with Magento to working with multiple platforms, primarily focusing on gathering and defining requirements going into a replatforming project and supporting the selection of an eCommerce platform.
More recently, I’ve done a lot of work with Shopify Plus, both as part of these exercises and also acting as a solutions consultant on projects, which has been a really positive experience as merchants are far more enabled to make improvements and introduce new features either without a developer or with far less support - which is great.
One of my recent projects was for a very large, relatively complex business in the US who made the decision to move over to Shopify Plus to reduce the amount of time and money they were allocating to platform maintenance. This was a really good experience as I was involved from the start and acted as a product owner on various different elements of the build. I was really hands-on with Shopify Plus throughout this project and this is definitely a remit I want to do more often.
What are some of they key signs that it’s time to undertake a replatforming project, and how can an eCommerce Consultant help to identify these?
In a lot of cases I’ve been involved in recently, retailers have been forced to look at other platforms, as a result of end of life announcements for platforms like Magento 1 and Venda - with retailers either looking to start the process early or wanting to move now to prevent wasted costs in maintaining the existing platform.
Aside from this, the biggest reasons generally come from one of the following in my experience:
- Frustration around agility and significant overheads around introducing new features / improvements.
- Concerns and issues around stability and security.
- Issues with scalability (unable to cope with orders or changes in business requirements etc).
- High costs of ownership.
- Bad fit for business and new initiatives (e.g. wholesale or internationalisation).
There will be other, business-specific reasons, but most of the scenarios I’ve worked with broadly fit into the above. In most cases, the retailers I work with are already looking to replatform before they work with me and they’re more looking for guidance around selecting a new platform or in building a specification. I wrote this piece comparing Magento and Shopify Plus, which provides a bit more insight in this area.
What are some of the most common mistakes made when scoping out a replatforming project, and how can these be prevented to avoid problems further down the line?
I’d say that the biggest ones generally come from not involving enough people when building out a specification - which is where key areas generally get missed out of the scope. A lot of these items can be addressed as part of the discovery (which takes place when the integration partner has been selected), but it generally results in changing the scope considerably, which then changes the cost brackets that are being discussed.
Examples of some of these areas include things like any custom page templates, custom logic and features required within the platform, payment options / workflows, detail around integrations etc.
Another one of these is assumed roles of third parties – often there’s assumptions that a third party solution will deliver a solution for a problem and when it then doesn’t, this causes the same kind of uplifts in costs or other issues. I’d personally say the resolutions for these kinds of issues come from going through a more comprehensive phase of gathering requirements and then due-diligence around platforms and all third party services included within that spec (including integration partners, payment providers, order management solutions, merchandising solutions etc).
The other thing to look at is the integration with the platform you’re working with, as there are often a lot of unknowns and assumptions here.
The only other thing is not thinking about longer term requirements - e.g. internationalisation or wholesale, which may not be a good fit with a platform for example. I wrote this piece a few years ago to try and help guide people on what needs to be considered here.
How does replatforming to Shopify Plus compare to other common platform choices in terms of speed and complexity of the process?
I’ve worked on a number of Shopify Plus builds now and have been really impressed with how straightforward the process has been compared to other platforms I’ve worked with – largely as a result of the boundaries in place to prevent heavy platform customisation etc and also with things like documentation and the speed and ease of integrating with different solutions.
The other thing I love about Shopify Plus is that, as more of a Solutions Specialist, I’m a lot more enabled to make changes and fix things in Shopify than I would be in most other mid-market / enterprise platforms.
I worked on a really big Shopify Plus migration project earlier this year and there were plenty of examples of situations where I was able to resolve problems using Shopify Plus or integrating a solution like ShipperHQ or LittleData (without a developer) to solve what were perceived as blockers.
The same principle applies with things like redirects – which I was able to handle from the admin panel using Transportr, which also provides logging and reporting, which is really helpful. These kind of processes just aren’t as clean and simple in most platforms.
With support for Magento 1 ending in June 2020, what kind of timeline should Magento 1 merchants be considering for replatforming to Shopify Plus and avoiding any disruption?
Realistically, these merchants should be looking to start the process early next year, depending on other business considerations, projects and the timing of seasonal peaks etc.
In most instances, the end-to-end process of replatforming will take 6-12 months and it's just a case of ensuring that you leave a buffer when planning in timescales.
The other consideration that I also mention a lot is the investment in the current Magento 1.x implementation. Any retailer trading on Magento 1 will be allocating budget to supporting the platform and, in most cases, adding additional functionality or optimisation etc.
This development budget is, again in most instances, wasted - this, along with the prevention of starting new projects, is usually the biggest reason to start the process earlier in my view, regardless of which platform you’re moving to.
If a merchant is considering implementing new back-office systems such as an ERP system, what’s the best way of managing this alongside a replatforming project?
I guess, in an ideal world, these projects wouldn’t take place concurrently - however I do understand the reasons why a lot of retailers do tend to run them in parallel (largely to reduce the time and cost overhead around integrations). I’d say the key thing is trying to separate the project ownership - with the only cross over being around the integration (planning, implementation and QA).
In my experience, this has been the cleanest route and, although there may well be other unknowns and issues as they’re both big projects, it’s helped to prevent issues with the allocation of time internally.
My only other recommendation is to plan for failure - an ERP migration and a replatforming project are both massive changes within a business - planning for changes in timescales on both sides and having contingency plans around an initial light integration or integrating with the existing platform short-term for example will help to allow for delays.
While undertaking a replatforming project is complex, and always carries risk, the potential benefits of switching to a cloud-hosted platform like Shopify Plus can be huge.
As long as you scope out your project carefully, cater for any integrations and 3rd parties and bare your long-term requirements in mind, replatforming can be a transformative moment for your eCommerce business.
Using both an eCommerce agency and replatforming consultant for your project can help to mitigate risks and goes a long way to helping your replatform run smoothly.