Practical Ecommerce

How to Reduce Risks of an Ecommerce Rebuild

Most every ecommerce storeowner, at some point, wants to completely rebuild her store.

It’s usually for a number of reasons.

  • Current store is too slow and is losing customers.
  • Current store looks and feels dated.
  • Competitors recently rebuilt their store.
  • Conversion rate has dropped.
  • Upgrading the current store takes more time and money.

Whatever the reasons, merchants often believe that an entirely new site would solve all of their problems. But, remember that the point of having an ecommerce store is to make it easier for you to sell products to consumers, and easier for them to buy.

To be sure, when a rebuild goes right it can improve an ecommerce business, producing satisfied customers, more sales, and easier operations. But a rebuild can be difficult, with many unforeseen costs and risks.

I’ve come into horror-show rebuilds where the checkout process completely breaks and sales plummet to zero for a few days while the team scrambles to fix the problem. In one case, most visitors to the site were unable to click anything because of bad JavaScript and a lack of proper testing.

Before you start a rebuild of your ecommerce site, have an answer for the following three questions.

How to Reduce Risks of an Ecommerce Rebuild

Can you afford an interruption in sales? One of the core risks of a rebuild is that the changes would wipeout sales. Can your business afford no sales for a day or two?

If an ecommerce store is only part of your business, you might be able to tolerate the drop while a fix is made. But if your business is 100 percent ecommerce, losing all sales for any time period might be catastrophic.

Plan how you will address and reverse the lack of sales. It could be a quick test of the site with a handful of active credit cards and debugging any checkout problems. Or it could be more dramatic, such as creating a way to roll back the site to the older version until the problem is fixed.

Whatever your plan, by thinking about it in advance you’ll have measures in place.

What if the rebuild took twice as long and cost three times as much? Just about every rebuild, seemingly, takes longer and costs more than what was originally planned. Even the most experienced developers and merchants will overlook, underestimate, or add tasks to the schedule.

Could your business afford the rebuild if it took twice as long and cost three times as much? Going into a store rebuild with extra time and money ill make the inevitable delays easier to handle.

Consider segregating one large rebuild into multiple smaller ones that are rolled out individually. Instead of one complete rebuild that takes six months, for example, consider a two-month rebuild of the backend, followed by a two-month rebuild of the storefront, with a final two-month cleanup at the end. This way, there are fewer changes at once, so the risk is lower. You’ll have more chances to step back or put things on hold.

What fundamental problems will a rebuild fix? One of the core questions to contemplate about the rebuild is what are the one, or two, or three fundamental problems with your current store that the rebuild will fix?

This question is important. Rebuilds are risky and expensive. What are the major problems in your store that a rebuild — not a patch-over or workaround — will address?

These shouldn’t be minor problems, such as rearranging your home page. They should be major, like switching to a one-page checkout, redesigning how your products are listed and showcased, or adding a backend A/B testing framework to every component on your store. These are changes that could significantly help a store.

In my experience, however, it’s best to address just one fundamental problem. A lot of time often is wasted during a rebuild process when every stakeholder thinks this is his chance to include a pet project. Having a single focus for the rebuild will help bypass many of these resource-wasting side items.

With one fundamental problem to fix, decisions become clearer. Does the rebuild fix that problem?

In short, ecommerce rebuilds can work. But be prepared for chaos. You’ll likely spend more than what you planned. It will likely take longer than what you planned. And the positive impact will likely be smaller, initially, than what you had hoped for.

Eric Davis

Eric Davis

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  1. Patrick Kuehn October 27, 2016 Reply

    Eric, thanks for the article, some great insights. Your last point on focusing on the main objectives of the rebuild is important. I would advise to think about it in the context of the customer experience – how am I improving engagement and enriching the experience which ultimately increases sales. In my experience at ObjectWave customers can focus too much on the technical side and the customer gets lost in the shuffle.

    • Eric Davis October 27, 2016 Reply

      Patrick,

      I agree. Even when I’m acting in the developer role for a client, sometimes I need to take on the customer advocate role too. Balancing what’s best for the store, what’s best for the customer, and the technical implications can be difficult but that’s what makes for long-term changes.