Say the word “replatform” in front of most ecommerce experts, and they’ll probably grimace.

There’s no way around it: From selling the project to maintaining a timeline to ensuring third-party vendors are on the same page, there’s a lot of pain in replatforming. And after investing months of time and boatloads of cash into a replatform, the result can still end up being a website that doesn’t live up to expectations.

So how can you ensure your replatforming project doesn’t fall short?

Brian Walker, VP & Principal Analyst, eBusiness & Channel Strategy at Forrester Research, revealed some critical steps to take before beginning a replatforming project.

6 Keys to Replatforming Success

1. Sell a program, not a project. Instead of describing replatforming as a “project,” use the word “program.” Research from Forrester indicates that key performance indicators (KPIs) take a hit after a replatform goes live. For example, 39% of companies surveyed by Forrester reported their conversion rates were negatively affected after a new platform was launched, while 44% saw a decrease in site load time. Walker says these numbers show that replatforming can’t be sold as a once-and-done project, because odds are you’ll have to continue to tweak and optimize the site post-launch. 

Best bet: Sell replatforming as a program that’s important to the long-term capability of the site, not an immediate ROI-generator. Being clear about that upfront means expectations will be aligned, and there won’t be an awkward conversation if KPIs take a dip.

2. Make sure the projected timeline and ROI are realistic. It’s not just KPIs that will take a hit. It’s also likely your replatforming timeline will, too. Forrester found the average replatform is delayed 4.2 months. Walker’s suggestion: Sell the replatform as a three-year ROI, not a three-month ROI. After a replatform, there are sure to be usability and functionality issues that will need to be worked out, so building a cushion into your replatforming timeline is critical. And for retailers, that 4.2 month delay means that scheduling a replatform to go live in September or October could be the holiday kiss of death. So it’s best to plan for a replatform to go live in Q1 or Q2 to make sure you’ll have all of the tweaks worked out before the big shopping season.

3. Create a team instead of going rogue. “As much as it might be great to go cowboy and reduce the number of dependencies across the organization [that are involved in the replatform], you’ll be much better off forming a strong cross-functional team,” Walker says. From a change management standpoint, it’s better to have more heads at the table so you can find out which changes will impact IT, sales, and other departments from the very beginning instead of trying to get everyone involved as the platform is about to go live.

4. Test your Customer Experience design before committing. Among the new research Forrester revealed: 63% of companies based their decisions to migrate existing and new features into a new platform on “perceived ROI,” while 54% were motivated by a company wish list. Walker’s take is that more companies have to test before a replatform. “There’s a lot of guesswork about providing the right customer experience,” Walker says. “Much of [replatforming and redesigning sites] is going on hunch, going untested, not being examined from a quantitative standpoint. What seems like a great idea in the conference room is only great if the customer deems it so.”

5. Be clear on the tools and resources you’ll need. It’s critical to be clear about what you’ll need to operate the site after a replatform. Here’s why: If you launch a great customer experience, but can’t manage the site afterwards, things can go belly up. So think about the specific resources and IT support you’ll need to keep the site running post-launch, and list those upfront so nobody is surprised.

6. Do not go for the “big bang.” One of the most common problems during a replatform is trying to do too much at once. Bundling a new site design with a new ecommerce platform and a mobile optimization project into the same replatform is just too much. Changing all of those features at once increases the chance something will go wrong. “Develop a rational replatforming program and operations plan,” Walker says. “Don’t try to do too much at once across all of these application types and customer experiences. If you add too much scope to a replatform, you’re just going to have to trim it down later anyway.”

Replatforming is a complex undertaking, but if done correctly, can bring your ecommerce site to the next level. Incorporating personalization into your customer experience is now essential. Read this whitepaper, The 3 Competencies of Personalization: How Leaders Are Succeeding in an Uncertain World, to discover key lessons from leading brands and a pathway forward for organizations at any stage of personalization implementation.