Platform migration Part 1: The challenges of sustaining user experience. 

Date: 23rd March 2015
Author: Deri Jones

Is the grass always greener?

The level of customer service expected by online consumers is set high and growing fast driven by rapid changes in technology;  multichannel retailers need to deliver much better personalisation of their websites for better engagement,  better integration of social media and better interaction across different types of mobile devices.

These are all laudable aims but very often, for many retailers the existing web platform may have some shortcomings or in the worst case is just too old from a technology standpoint to be able to handle this degree of sophistication. However, moving to a new system is no straightforward undertaking – it is one of the largest, most complex and stressful undertakings for any online organisation and the risks are huge.

It is not just the cost of another system – nor the time to integrate it (although those cannot be underestimated) – there are other aspects too. There are risks relating to data transfer, integration of email systems, staff will have to be trained in the new platform and there will have to be a deep SEO analysis so that commercial advantage isn’t thrown away.

A key challenge is making the change without impacting daily operations. Furthermore migration has to be executed well and on time or the business risks reduced conversion rates and even lost sales.

Customer needs

Perhaps the scariest factor of all is the effect on the customers: how can you be sure that the new platform will meet their needs too? To see the negative impact of poorly managed platform migration, look at the headlines that greeted M&S when they moved away from Amazon’s platform last year. A migration may well be implemented to improve the customer experience but how can you be sure that that all aspects of the site such as usability, mobile integration and performance will be improved.

For one thing, if you move to a new platform, you can be sure that while it offers improvements in many areas, there will be some compromise in others – it is rare to find that a new platform offers an improvement in every aspect.

For example, if you’ve selected a new platform with a range of new features, one that offers greater flexibility and the capability to add plug-ins; the downside can be that the additional flexibility means degradation in performance. Or you might introduce a higher degree of personalisation: it means more interaction with customers but this means an accompanying rise in user-unique content, and that results in more work for the servers. Trying to address performance issues might, in turn, mean limiting functionality that can impact the customer journey.

Ecommerce site performance can be tricky to assess, when they’re live, they’re dependent on a variety of factors both internally and externally – for example, slow connection to third party solution providers or the time of day. Something that works perfectly at 4:00PM could be causing alerts at 7:00PM.

To make it clear, there is nothing wrong in migrating to a new platform as long as you are aware that it could affect performance. And it’s no good blaming your developers who are implementing the new platform if you haven’t looked into all aspects of that risk.

Find out how to minimise the risk of platform migration in part 2 of this blog.

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