Web Site Maintenance: 10-Querry Guide to Replacing Your E-Commerce Platform
As e-commerce sales continue to climb, many catalog/multichannel marketers find themselves evaluating their current platforms to determine if it’s time to consider upgrading their Web sites. No doubt, it’s a large task. So proper planning is a crucial first step toward handling the project the right way.
Ask yourself and your Web team these 10 questions before committing to any platform changes:
Q1: Is it time to replace your Web site? How urgent is your need to do so? Are there concrete business reasons you want to replace it, or is it just because the site’s old? Are you frustrated with the current vendor/Web team? If so, are your expectations of either realistic?
Q2: Who owns the code to your site? Some companies own the codes that run their sites; others lease them. If you own your codes, it may make sense to make changes using the same programming language/platform you currently have rather than restarting from scratch. But if the site is old and your list of changes is large, it still may make sense to start fresh, even if you stick with your current team/platform/vendor.
Q3: Which programming language is best for you? While everyone has opinions on this topic, there’s no one “right” programming code building an e-commerce site. There are plenty of success stories of sites built in PHP, ASP, ColdFusion and other popular programming languages. Find the right team to build the platform, and expand upon its code in the future. Finding good programmers is like finding good auto mechanics — hang on to them.
Q4: Do you need a new front end, back end or both? Cataloger fulfillment/back-end systems operate either independently or in tandem with their sites. With this in mind, do you need to replace your site, your back-end operating system or both?
Most vendors specialize in one or the other. If you need to replace both, start with the back end. It’s easier to develop a site that can feed into a back-end system than to modify a back-end system to interact with an existing site.
Q5: Do you keep it in-house? Do you have enough work to keep a Web site programmer and designer busy full time? Probably not.
Unless you’re a very large company, it’s best to have an outside company develop your site. What’s more, plenty of big players outsource this task to specialists who keep in touch with latest trends, functionalities and best practices.
Q6: What’s your budget? The beauty of the Internet is that it’s just as easy for a small retailer to put up a Web site as it is for a large conglomerate. The downside of this is that there’s no way small retailers can afford to have all the bells and whistles of mass marketers.
If you’re a smaller player, you probably can’t have everything you see on Amazon or other heavy hitters. Be realistic with what you can afford, and pick functionality that has the biggest bang for your buck. Pick a vendor that can deliver the most for what you can afford.
Q7: How much customization does your site need? Some vendors offer templates that can be very cost-effective if you have a routine site. Others build customized sites, which are better for needs that aren’t so run-of-the-mill.
If you go with a template, don’t pay a fortune for any special tweak you need for your product line. If you go with a customized site developer, don’t pay extra to invent what already exists everywhere else.
Q8: Do you want full service or just a Web platform? Some vendors that specialize in developing Web sites are perfect for companies with internal teams that handle the e-mail marketing, search engine optimization and search engine marketing work — or that have established vendors for such.
Other vendors offer the whole spectrum of services in one package and are great for companies with limited staff and/or know-how. Determine which services you need. Arguments can be made for doing all the work with one vendor for convenience, or for using specialists for each task where you get the best of breed in each area.
Q9: When evaluating vendors, do you ask to see samples of sites they’ve built? Do they have live examples of all the critical functionalities you’d like to see on your site? Then be sure you like the design, drill-down, shopping cart and checkouts.
If a vendor can’t show you samples or give references of prior work, proceed with caution. Another key question to ask is whether they have clients of a similar size to you. You don’t want to be too small or too large for the vendor you choose.
Q10: Finally, are you ready to commit? Not only financially, but also the time and planning needed? While tedious, the work you put into planning your new Web site reduces headaches you might have in the future.
Also, the more you think through everything you’ll need for your site in advance, the better you’ll be able to find the right vendor to make the relaunch work.
Above all else, dedicate a champion for the project, someone internally who’ll take ownership of the whole thing and give it the time and attention required.
Relaunching your site is no small matter. But in today’s tough economy, it could be the best investment you’ll make for the future.
Look before you leap. Solid planning and brainstorming will not only help your redesign go smoothly, but also keep your costs down, saving those much-needed dollars for growing your business.
John Deneen is president of SiteForm, a Web site development and consulting firm. You can reach him at (773) 334-8030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.