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Implementing a new ecommerce platform is one of the biggest technical decisions that a retailer can make.
A successful replatforming can be the key to effective multichannel growth and can future-proof a retailer against ever-changing consumer demand.
With so much at stake it’s important to make sure that a project starts in the right place. To this end, I've put together five key things to consider in ensuring a scalable ecommerce replatform.
And for an in-depth look at this topic, download the new Econsultancy Ecommerce Platforms Buyer's Guide 2014.
Ecommerce and IT teams need to work together in mapping out the current ecommerce processes, covering workflows and the types of data that each system needs.
A clear visualisation makes it possible to understand how the overall system works, and how individual technologies interact with one another. This map can then be used in the planning phase, as a talking point for what needs to be changed or updated.
To improve on an existing platform, it is necessary to understand its shortcomings. Seeking feedback from customers and running user tests is simple and cost effective, offering input to help mould the objectives, design and operations of a new site.
Don’t overlook employee insights; the people involved with day-to-day operation and management of the existing platform will, no doubt, have ideas of how it could be enhanced.
As part of replatforming, retailers must aim to eliminate channel silos for sales and returns, in order that the customer is not “owned” by one channel.
John Lewis and M&S are among retailers who have implemented this strategy, which enables seamless click-and-collect processes and customer-centric experiences.
How do all of the different retail systems communicate? Is this a time to change the current architecture to include more adaptable, future-proof solutions like an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB)?
Add to your research by looking at competitor activity - what are they doing that is new or different? Use this analysis to create a wishlist and compare it to the findings from process analysis.
A project team needs to comprise a balance of IT experts and business decision-makers. Give the project team the authority to make decisions independently.
While this key team should lead the project, senior decision makers should be heavily involved at the beginning of a project. Early stage, senior buy-in generally ensures fewer changes and issues surfacing later in the project.
Document, document, document! The specification for a replatforming will be the bible so keeping it accurate, up-to-date and relevant is vital.
People forget things. There is no such thing as “common sense.” Write it down, approve it, stick to it and agree a change management process.
Make sure all decisions are recorded. Decide what the key drivers for your project are; time, scope or quality? Pick two and use them as your guiding principles.
In order to establish whether an implementation has succeeded, it is important to identify key markers for success before starting the project.
Success criteria should take into account financial and non-financial metrics, should be put in order of importance and should be agreed across the project team.
These metrics will not only help refine project requirements, but will also set test plans for user acceptance testing (UAT) at the end of the process.
Legacy systems, data integration
Even with a complete replatforming it is likely that your systems will need to integrate with legacy technologies from around the organisation.
Understanding these systems and their data requirements will be vital to ensuring a seamless integration.
Single view of stock
Creating a single view of stock is a major project. However, during a replatforming is the right time to start thinking about it.
When specifications are being created for a new system, figure out how to integrate your stock management across online and offline channels.
Establish how your new platform can create a seamless data interchange between warehouse, website and store.
Single view of customer
Along with a single view of stock, a single view of the customer is a fundamental preprequisite of effective multichannel retailing.
In order to realise this, your replatforming process must be capable of uniting data about online and offline transactions, as well as customer relationships.
Even if the domestic market is the immediate target, it would be short-sighted to ignore the possibilities for future expansion when selecting a new platform.
The economies of the web denote that international expansion can be surprisingly cost effective, but practical considerations should be taken in to account prior to the implementation stage.
There is a range of innovative new delivery models coming to the fore and a new platform should be configured to enable these being introduced imminently, or in the future.
One model is focused around next-day, or even same-day, delivery. These can be facilitated through partners such as Shutl, internal resources (such as distributed warehousing infrastructures), or the use of stores as ‘pick and pack’ centres.
Another innovative model is click-and-collect, which is fast becoming a standard customer expectation, particularly in ‘bricks and clicks’ businesses.
Click-and-collect requires a single view of stock, along with a platform infrastructure that can handle the real-time data requirements.
Whilst it may not be possible to achieve everything immediately, a development roadmap should be created. This should be based on the assumption that implementing everything in the roadmap will be possible further down the line.
Try to uncover possible changes early in the process so that these can be considered in the design and architecture.
Roadmap the future
Create a roadmap of the technology and services that will be rolled out over the 24 months following the replatform launch, ensuring the project is future-proofed against planned developments.
Creating and sharing this roadmap will help guide the project to coincide with wider future plans, including marketing efforts and business goals.
There are many considerations that need to be taken into account before pushing the start button on a major implementation project.
Each project will have its own needs, but the criteria proposed here offer food for thought for planning and implementing a replatforming.