What is ecommerce replatforming?

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An ecommerce replatforming guide

Welcome to your guide to understanding the basics of ecommerce replatforming. Our starting point is to ensure you understand the language used by ecommerce professionals.

There are different phrases used to describe the same thing:

  • Ecommerce replatforming.
  • Ecommerce platform migration.
  • Website migration.

Some confuse this with the phrase ‘ecommerce rfp’. They’re related but not the same thing. A ‘RFP’ is a ‘Request for Proposal’, the process of asking external suppliers to submit a proposal and pitch for your business.

In the context of ecommerce, a RFP can be used for any service or technology selection. For replatforming, it’s an integral part of the process and happens once the business has a clear definition of project scope and budget, business requirements and technical principles. The RFP is a component part of the overall replatforming process, not the process itself.

Let’s define the key terminology:

TerminologyExplanation
Ecommerce platform
An application that provides core ecommerce functionality e.g. online shopping basket and checkout.
CMSContent Management System; technology that enables ecommerce teams to create, edit, manage & publish content to a website e.g. landing page banners.
ERPEnterprise Resource Planning; enterprise application that enables the business to handle complex data and process flows to automate back-office functions related to like product planning, reporting & financial reconciliation.
OMSOrder Management System; application that enables the business to control the logic for how different order types are handled and the flow of information to and from the ecommerce application into other enterprise systems like the ERP.
WMSWarehouse Management System; enterprise application that handles shipping and distribution logic to control how orders placed online get fulfilled to the end customer, passing order updates back to systems like the OMS e.g. order tracking.
COTSCommercial Off The Shelf ecommerce package; a solution that is made available for other organisations to use when they pay a license fee.
VendorThe owner of a COTS package e.g. SAP Hybris, Salesforce and Magento.
PaaSPlatform As A Service; a cloud computing model in which a third-party provider delivers hardware and software tools to users over the internet. The PaaS provider hosts the hardware and software on its own infrastructure e.g. Shopify.
SISystems Integrator; a technology services company that is qualified to build a website using a COTS ecommerce package and, if required, provide ongoing support & maintenance.
Fully managedAn ecommerce package where the application, application support and hosting are provided by a 3rd party e.g. Episerver.
On-premiseAn ecommerce package where the implementation is done within your own organisation and not in the cloud. In this scenario typically your team will be responsible for managing hardware, application support, upgrades, patches etc.
HostedAn ecommerce package where the implementation is done within a secure 3rd party hosting environment e.g. Rackspace. In this scenario you retain ownership of the hardware but typically outsource application support, upgrades, patches etc. to the hosting provider.
Cloud solutionThe vendor hosts the database in their own data centre. and is responsible for managing the hardware, the database and the application updates. You have no access to the physical database or raw data.
Single tenantThis is a cloud solution where each customer is installed on a single database. This means you don’t share any databases with other customers.
Multi tenantMany cloud solutions manage multiple customers on a single database, referred to as a ‘multi-tenant’ solution. They use partitioning to ensure data privacy and security. The benefit of this approach for the vendor is scalability since upgrades to the database only have to be performed once and not to multiple instances for each customer.

Multi-tenant is typically lower cost than single tenant as it’s shared infrastructure, so set-up and maintenance is cheaper for the vendor.
APIApplication Progamming Interface; a set of clearly defined methods of communication among various components of a system, providing building blocks to enable you to access ecommerce application functions without requiring a hard coded integration e.g. adding an ‘add to basket’ button into blog pages hosted on a 3rd party CMS like Wordpress.
Micro servicesA software development technique that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. This provides modularity, enabling other systems to ‘consume’ all or only part of a service as required e.g. in-store digital kiosk uses the Ratings & Reviews micro service to access only product star ratings to display in store, but doesn't access the review content.
Headless Headless ecommerce is where ecommerce services are provided by the ecommerce application but the presentation layer is delivered by a separate system e.g. CMS. Ecommerce platforms that expose application functionality via APIs and services can be used in a headless set-up. Headless enables front-end developers to present content using any framework they like.

Now that’s sorted, let’s move on…

Ecommerce replatforming definition

Ecommerce replatforming is the process of selecting new technology to deliver the ecommerce functionality for your organisation. For some this requires the implementation of a 3rd party COTS package to replace an existing one, for others it means migrating from an in-house bespoke solution to a 3rd party vendor and changing the operational model.

The extent of a replatforming project depends on your existing systems architecture and future growth plans.

  • Enterprises with ERP/OMS/WMS solutions in place will seek an ecommerce vendor that can integrate easily with them e.g. Client X uses Maginus ERP and knows that Episerver has a proven integration with Maginus.
  • SMEs with limited back office systems may look for an ecommerce platform that provides essential OMS capabilities as well e.g. Magento 2 and Magento Order Management, or a Magento OMS extension.
  • Some organisations looking to simplify their systems landscape may look to an ‘end-to-end’ solution that comprises ecommerce and other enterprise applications like ERP and OMS e.g. Netsuite.

The principles of replatforming are the same for every organisation but the scope and complexity of the project can vary significantly.

For example, a simple ecommerce project where an organization wants to use a fully managed cloud SaaS solution like Shopify and use an existing theme, doesn’t customise or integrate multiple 3rd party apps and has very simple back office integration, can take anywhere between 8 to 12 weeks.

However, for a larger enterprise with complex integrations and bespoke business processes that require a platform to be extend and/or customised, implementation will take at least 6 months (some take longer than 1 year).

What ecommerce platform solutions are available?

This can often be the most confusing part of replatforming. There are lots of different vendor models out there. I’ve focused on the most used models to help simplify the landscape.

I highly recommend following Gartner’s quarterly Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce report. If you’re an SME and your budget precludes a Gartner subscription, search online for one of the free reprints from a vendor like Episerver or Elastic Path. It won’t give you the full report but you’ll get a good enough summary to help point the way.

I cover how to select an ecommerce platform vendor in the guide, “How to select the best ecommerce platform vendor” (coming soon).

Use the tabs to learn what each of the principle ecommerce platform models are:

Proprietary
Open Source
Digital Experience Platform
Unified
API/Micro Services
Flexbile SaaS
Bespoke/Custom

Proprietary

Source code is owned by the vendor and there is no access to the application; you pay a license to use the application.

Example vendors:

  • Blubolt.
  • Visualsoft.

Open Source

Software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

Example vendors:

  • Magento Open Source.

Digital Experience Platform

A platform that is built upon content and experience driven commerce through enterprise CMS and personalisation tools, all native to the platform.

Example vendors:

  • Episerver.
  • Bloomreach.

Unified

Ecommerce that can provide a single customer view by aligning multiple stores and providing other enterprise services like OMS and ERP. This is all native to the platform ecosystem..

Example vendors:

  • Netsuite.
  • Salesforce.

API/Micro Services

Modern architecture, all commerce capabilities are exposed through micro services or APIs, giving ecommerce teams full flexibility to use and adapt as they require. Please note many platforms listed under other categories expose ecommerce functions via APIs e.g. Episerver, Salesforce, Shopify, but they’re weren’t built as an API/service-first platform.

Example vendors:

  • Skava.
  • Elastic Path.
  • CommerceTools.

Flexbile SaaS

A highly extensible fully managed SaaS solution that has a component based approach, enabling you to ‘plug & play’ multiple extensions to achieve the functionality you need. Many of the ecommerce services are achieved via integration of 3rd party apps.

Example vendors:

  • Shopify.
  • Big Commerce.

Bespoke/Custom

Build your own platform using 3rd party technology for key capabilities (e.g. CMS, postcode validation) and in-house development teams.

This is extremely costly and resource hungry, and increasingly rare. For most organisations it doesn’t make sense to replicate what is already available through existing vendors.

Example retailer:

  • Amazon.

When do you need to replatform?

There are multiple scenarios in which it may be practical and necessary to invest in a new ecommerce platform. Below are the most common reasons.

Your current platform…

  1. Has a total cost of ownership (TCO*) that is cost-prohibitive and unsustainable.
  2. Is slow to develop, so time to market for site updates and new features is too slow, creating a competitive disadvantage.
  3. Needs constant maintenance, patches & upgrades, which take up more time than proactive changes and enhancements.
  4. Isn’t fit for purpose based on the latest ecommerce good practice standards, so you can’t keep up with consumer demand and/or competitors.
  5. Doesn’t perform well consistently, so you have technical and user experience issues that adversely impact conversion rate.
  6. Is becoming obsolete! This does happen e.g. Magento sunsetting Magento 1 following the release of Magento 2, which doesn’t have an upgrade path.

* I cover what a TCO is in the article “How to build a realistic replatforming TCO cost model”.

When don’t you need it!

There are scenarios where the current platform is a good fit for the business, provides all the functionality stakeholders needs, but isn’t performing well or justifying your investment.

It is complex and costly to migrate between platforms, so you have to be certain the platform is the issue, not the implementation or how your business makes use of it.

I’ve worked on projects where the platform didn’t need changing; it just needed better implementation and configuration. Others where the SI partner, even if they’re well intentioned and working hard, doesn’t have the technical skills or resource to service the client adequately. Migrating to an alternative platform is the wrong decision (see below for a few reasons why), but switching to a more capable SI partner is the better solution.

Reasons why replatforming is the wrong decision if the platform is fit-for-purpose:

  1. Cost – you’re throwing away your previous investment and starting from scratch in many ways, which is cost duplication.
  2. Data migration – migrating customer and business data between different systems brings risk and can be complex e.g. require customers to create a new password.
  3. Change management – your teams need to forget what they knew about their old admin systems and processes and learn how to achieve everything with a new toolkit; full adoption takes time.

Summary

You should now have a clear understanding of what ecommerce replatforming is, and your options for selecting an ecommerce platform.

Your key take-aways.

  • Replatforming is the process of migrating to a new ecommerce platform.
  • It’s often complex, time consuming and requires significant £££ investment.
  • Be clear on the goals & objectives for replatforming.
  • If you’re on an existing platform, be sure it’s not fit for purpose for your future strategy before switching.
  • Don’t consider building your own platform unless there is a clear competitive and cost advantage to doing so.

Learn more about enterprise ecommerce replatforming by reading my other guides:

If you have any questions, please contact me using the online form, by LinkedIn or Twitter.