As thunder follows lightning, soon after a great idea is identified, a practical device or solution centered on that idea follows. These days the speed at which these incremental ideas are implemented is staggering. The iPhone 4, which famously introduced the super-sharp "Retina Display", only a few years ago, is now virtually obsolete getting replaced by bigger and better phones. This goes to show that a plethora of great ideas are on the pipeline and the industry, these days, is extremely efficient in bringing them to the market. Well, this does present a conundrum to the end user - should I upgrade now or wait for something better to come along? An e-commerce retailer goes through such a dilemma when planning to replatform. It ultimately boils down to whether the new technology implemented can help keep the online store relevant in the rapidly evolving e-commerce space.
"It is important to understand that e-commerce replatforming does not happen in isolation. Upgrading the back end support systems in part or as a whole along with the platform provides better integration and the foundation to a business ready system."
Without the help of hindsight, the lifespan and ROI of any particular replatforming venture is hard to determine even by the best of experts. Nature of industry, customer base, sales, revenue, financial prowess, expansion strategy and rise of disruptive technologies which offer ground breaking advantages, all factor in towards the success of replatforming. We discussed one such disruptive technology, the rise of mobile e-commerce, in our previous blog.
It is important to understand that e-commerce replatforming does not happen in isolation. Upgrading the back end support systems in part or as a whole along with the platform provides better integration and the foundation to a business ready system. Replatforming is to a certain degree domain specific and businesses that are in domains not evolving technologically as rapidly as e-commerce, like banking, insurance or other major financial services do not necessarily need additional integrations to flourish. These businesses use huge data churning monoliths like the Mainframes which are not typically integrated with other ancillary systems.
Zero down time and impressive security make up for the ponderous turnaround time of these machines. As for customer centricity in these sectors, they are not judged the same way as e-commerce retailers. Applicants for loans or credit cards are hardly going to have the same inputs on the status of their loan applications as they would on purchasing a pair of shoes online. The banks would follow up with them once their privy internal checks and processes are complete. They focus mainly on stringency rather than sales or lead conversion and have different standards to gauge their online effectiveness.
"..a smaller retailer typically implements a feature like Search Engine Optimization as an add-on and not dedicatedly and intrinsically. SEO is an industry best practice which must be refined continually by the retailer in order to stay relevant..." - See more at: http://www.listertechnologies.com/blog/prioritizing-replatforming-rapidly-evolving-domains#sthash.w1dmZBor.dpuf
In contrast, retailers do not deal with gargantuan amounts of sensitive data like core banking systems. It also makes for a bad use of precious customer information for them to maintain silos of data. Hence, they are extremely sensitive to the integration of back-end systems like Order and Inventory Management, ERP, and the CRM solutions, to the front-end e-commerce website. They need to monitor and analyze their customer behavior closely if they are desperate to identify remedies for their ailing sales or alarming cart abandonments and to improve their customer satisfaction. Retailers come in all sizes and those who specialize in selling niche products, like an online Origami seller or an exclusive medicine boutique, tend to be small and the onus to replatform is more on such sites when pitted against a retail giant like Amazon.
Compared to big retailers who maintain in-house e-commerce systems or implement costly, feature rich hosted systems like ATG-Commerce, a smaller retailer typically implements a feature like Search Engine Optimization as an add-on and not dedicatedly and intrinsically. SEO is an industry best practice which must be refined continually by the retailer in order to stay relevant as the bigger retailers can easily outmuscle the smaller ones in terms of ad spaces occupied on search results. Feature list of the potential solution also differs according to the products retailed in such cases.
Just to demonstrate the needs of different retailers in the same online space based on their specialty - here is a table listing out most sought after features in an e-commerce website based on domain specific demands. We arrived at the priority levels after analyzing several leading individual retailers' e-commerce websites, their design choices and features which were prominent and more evolved than a standard implementation in the specific verticals taken. A bright spot indicates that a strong emphasis was given to a particular feature while a lighter spot infers that the feature in question was not enhanced or customized to a greater extent even though it exists on the website.
It is interesting to note that certain features like mobile optimization or responsive design choices, opting for numerous payment options, up selling and cross selling have become industry standards irrespective of what is sold on the store. There are, however, improvements that must be made to certain domains – stores in the fashion apparel and electronics retailing can emphasize more on product reviews by users than is the case at present. We also closely inspected a few e-commerce retailers, some exclusively online and others using hybrid models to observe their sites' most prominent features. Summarized below are individual websites, evaluated for purely depicting the trends and priorities across domains in using e-commerce technology.
We can observe that different retailers make use of the same technology and customize it to varying degrees of success. These unique customizations depict the intention of these stores to bring out features which are considered as critical by them. This captures the essence of e-commerce replatforming perfectly by telling us that different features take precedence in different verticals. The three individual sites we saw as examples showcase different strengths and weaknesses. They harness the power of e-commerce technologies to suit their needs. Implementing every feature given by the platform does not guarantee increased sales. A one size fits all approach makes for a profligate use of time and resources while at the same time a lethargic implementation tries to shoehorn certain attributes to receive maximum benefits in vain. There is a fine balance between both of these extremities and replatforming when done in a sequential, outcome-centric and careful fashion will definitely yield a gradual yet guaranteed success which is miles better than no success at all.
In the final part of this series, we will take a deeper dive into replatforming and discuss, at an operational level, the objectives, methodologies, challenges faced and implementation end products with the help of a few real-world examples.
-by Mahesh and Ambarish