If you are not happy with your current eCommerce platform because it's either not scaling with your business or it doesn’t offer as much as Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce or one of the other top platforms on the market today — you might want to consider replatforming. Moving to a platform that meets your businesses’ needs can have massive benefits for day-to-day operations and growth. But make no mistake, depending on the size of your business, replatforming can be a challenging and costly endeavor.
To help you make an informed decision, I’ve pulled together 8 things you should consider when thinking about your platforming options:
1. Headless Commerce & The PWA Paradigm
You may have heard the buzzwords headless commerce or PWA (Progressive Web Application). For the purpose of simplicity, assume both are the same thing. A PWA or headless eCommerce website is an application in which the frontend is decoupled from the backend. The PWA is independent from the eCommerce platform and this is very new for most eCommerce merchants.
Although this may seem new, it's actually been evolving for about ten years now, and most major tech companies are doing this. This technology is pushing fast into eCommerce with new frameworks like Vue Storefront becoming massively successful.
PWA is the future and building a site that is not a progressive web application could honestly be considered a risky move in that you will become more and more obsolete with each passing year. I would strongly consider your new replatform project to be a PWA given that by the time you launch, you will probably be close to 2021 anyways. With each coming year, PWA will become more and more the norm. “Why,” you ask?
• PWA is platform agnostic (more flexibility to change backends)
• PWA is better for mobile
• PWA is better for site speed & scalability
• PWA is more modern template development (developers like this)
2. Platform Scalability
A lot of companies jump into a platform because they are so desperate to leave a bad situation behind. But many don’t stop to ask themselves the simple but powerful question, “Hey, will this new platform serve me in five years?” Failing to look ahead, they can easily end up in the same, unscalable situation again.
You want to make sure your next platform is scalable and flexible enough to handle your needs in the next five years or you could risk outgrowing it. Another reason to look toward your future needs is the fact that replatforming takes a long time to realize ROI — so you want to make sure you maximize your efforts (and investment) for as long as possible. So instead of thinking about what you need today, I would encourage you to think about your future needs and if the platform you’re considering can grow with you.
3. Audience & Industry Fit
If you are a B2B company using a B2C platform your platform is probably not aligned with your vision. Certain platforms are focused on certain industries, types of companies, small or big companies, etc. You want to make sure there is strong alignment with your growth and industry.
4. Platform & Talent Pool
I think this is one of the most overlooked issues of a platform. A platform could be amazing but if no one knows how to use it, you will have to spend a lot of time and money on training. Worse yet, picking a platform few know how to work with, may limit you to a small pool of agencies or people that can help you. Limiting yourself to a small talent pool can get very risky fast.
If you do decide to go with a platform with a limited talent pool, you might want to consider a pure custom platform route. With pure custom, you can build exactly what you need and the risk isn’t that different since you won’t have a large talent pool to hire from that knows the platform. Custom is definitely risky and requires incredible expertise to pull off. In most cases I would highly caution against going custom or with a small talent pool platform that has a low user base.
5. Affordability & Cost
Most companies vastly underestimate the total cost of ownership of a platform because they don’t realize how truly expensive it is to hire good eCommerce talent. This might include great marketing, design, development, operations, etc. Platforms might have inherent costs but it’s never actually free. Even open-source platforms require hosting and updates.
The appeal of Shopify is that it's very affordable and many services are bundled into monthly fees such as hosting and updating the software itself which is not the case for Magento or WooCommerce. But every pro comes with cons and limitations. Extra apps can add up and sometimes cause conflicts with each other; leading to scaling issues. So you have to ask yourself if the apps you're paying extra for are adding value to the eCommerce experience and benefiting your shoppers.
6. Strength Of Platform Roadmap
Some platforms are improving more than others. I have been particularly impressed with Adobe’s roadmap for Magento. I believe they are doing a great job pushing the platform forward much faster in 2020 than before Adobe bought them. The roadmap and future of the platform is arguably more important than where the platform stands today. Many platforms will post their roadmap or you can ask directly what they plan to release in the coming months and years.
7. User Base Of The Platform
This goes hand in hand with talent pool but it’s not always a 1x1 correlation. Platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud have a relatively small user base but since they have almost entirely massive customers, they have a pretty large talent pool working on the platform.
A good user base has a lot of good indicators. It usually means you are not the only one doing something and someone else has been there / done that. There might be prebuilt themes, apps, or people that know how to do what you need on the platform even if it’s very specific and custom.
I like to use Builtwith.com to monitor usage trends.
8. Availability Of Third-Party Add Ons
Third-party add ons like themes, apps / extensions, and other prebuilt tools are incredibly important. What I think most companies fail to truly grasp is that no one platform is going to do exactly what you need, especially as you scale and grow. Therefore you will need to customize your platform. The more you can use prebuilt add ons that are good, the more you can save costs on custom development. Custom development is almost always more expensive than using a (keyword quality) prebuilt add on except in some very specific use cases.
Choosing a new platform is not something to take lightly. I think a lot of companies jump into it without really evaluating all their options. It’s important to first look at the options you would consider viable for your business and future growth.
From there I would look at the 8 things mentioned to help you determine the fit with the platform and your business. These 8 things should help you minimize the risk of the platform choice, but also maximize the flexibility and alignment of the platform with your needs.
About the Author: Isaiah Bollinger
Isaiah is the CEO of Trellis — a one-of-a-kind eCommerce solutions agency that is able to offer an entire technology and marketing solutions from conception to healthy growth in online sales. Isaiah has extensive experience managing WordPress, Magento, and Shopify projects, custom web applications, third party integrations, and many different types of Internet marketing campaigns.
Please reach out to Isiah directly for free advice on platform selection or to learn more about platform analysis programs offered by Trellis.