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Feb 5, 2015 | 7 minute read

Did You Outgrow Your Commerce Platform? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

written by Linda Bustos

Introducing Partner Thursday: every month we will feature one guest post from one of Elastic Path's outstanding partners. To kick us off, we're pleased to have Mike Razzoog, VP of Commerce Solutions and Fred Faulkner, Director of Marketing at ICF Interactive, a full-service interactive marketing agency that guides brands through informed strategy, inspired design, and technical know-how. Mike and Fred have over 30 years of combined eCommerce, technology, and, digital marketing experience.

Perhaps you invested in a SaaS commerce solution that addressed each of your business needs, but you've grown as a business - your sales are up and business is booming. You're now paying more as a result of your increase in transactional fees.

Maybe your commerce solution wasn't designed with flexibility. Your competitors are engaging with your target audience in new and effective ways, and your sales have plateaued -- or worse.

It could be that your solution is so incredibly customized that not one of your developers can make sense of it anymore, or your teams can't make changes within the system and are forced to market reactively.

The truth is, investing in business technology for commerce becomes exponentially trickier when met with the ever-evolving demands of customers, clients, and internal stakeholders. Maintaining digital environments, configuring them to the needs of business users in an effort to solve challenges, and training teams on how to properly use the system typically requires a lot of time, a healthy budget, and flexibility. Reaching a working cadence and level of comfort with any commerce system demands a strategy-driven approach and continued enhancements. Commerce managers, solution architects, digital marketers, and designers understand that the cohesive, omnichannel brand experience that organizations strive to deliver is part science, part intuition.

questionBut what happens when either your metrics or your gut says "it might be time to consider a new commerce platform?" It can be easier to identify than you might think.

Here are things that you can look for, indicators that will clearly show how soon you'll need to plan for a migration initiative. The following questions can be used as a quick reference guide; if you can say yes to any one of these questions, you should consider a new solution sooner than later.

Has the Operational Model Become Inverted?

In addition to providing customers and clients with the ability to easily research and purchase products and services online, commerce platforms are a necessary component to the modern transactional operations model. The cost associated with implementing and licensing a solution should be realized in a relatively short time frame - you should see this via streamlined internal processes and rich marketing and digital campaign functionalities that may have formerly required outside resources and longer turnaround times.

However, in certain instances, you may find the total cost of ownership is eroding operational margin and profit. Why? Perhaps an increase in maintenance fees. Or in a SaaS model you discover that you're paying more per transaction, or your aggregate annual transaction costs make an owned solution more attractive. It could also be that your "out-of-the-box" ready solution can't be easily customized - forcing you to allocate more operational and development resources than you had in the past. It is recommended that your Total Cost of Ownership model and ROI models be evaluated regularly to ensure you are still realizing the same or better value of the originally approved the program.

Are Your Customers Demanding New Ways to Engage?

Considering concepts such as digital transformation, the Internet of Things, wearables, experience driven commerce, and anticipating the needs of consumers dubbed micro-moments by Forrester, a major shift in the ways in which brands are interacting with consumers is occurring. Not will, is.

We know consumers are constantly connected, that they're looking to learn more about your products and services in new channels - quickly, easily, and on their own terms. While organizations may have once grappled with which approach: mobile-first, or a responsive web design, the question now becomes is your current commerce platform flexible enough to account for what your customers will want next?

If mobile isn't an inherent component of your current solution, or if you have to customize either code or content management processes - ditch it. According to a recent study featured in Internet Retailer, "[i]n Q4 2014, 25.8% of global online transactions took place on a mobile device...37% higher than Q4 2013." As this number continues to grow, along with mobile researching and showrooming, you can expect to be left for a competitor whose site is mobile-enabled if yours isn't already.

Equally critical is social integration. Social as a commerce influencer, once limited to ratings and reviews post-purchase, has now permeated every facet of the customer funnel, from acquisition through engagement, to purchase and advocacy. Driving content from a central repository to each of your brand's digital properties, including social and other applications, will help to positively differentiate your experience from those of your competitors. Social media marketing has its clear advantages, but if you can provide your followers and fans with the same rich content, and even better, the ability to buy from directly within a social application, you're sure to drive higher conversion and return customer rates.

Is Performance Suffering?

img2Coded yourself into a corner? Many organizations found that their boxed solution required a few too many customizations. While tailoring a system to your brand's specific needs is highly advantageous, it can become detrimental to performance and flexibility if done too often, too poorly, or for far too long. Compounded by varying skill levels and styles of the many developers who have worked within your solution over the years, you can find yourself staring at a rat's nest of code - scary to look at and impossible to maintain (of course your documentation is current, right?). If it takes three months to simply change the font color on your site, you're ready for a new solution.

Perhaps the number of custom configurations is relatively low, but they take too much time to performance test and tune after each release. Or, maybe it's not you, but your platform, that can no longer manage a growing number of transactions during peak hours and seasons. Either way, a poor experience will force customers to defect online - regardless of how much they love your brand.

Have Your Teams Lost the Ability to do Their Jobs?

Having to rely on external or specialized teams to complete day-to-day tasks is costly, time-consuming, and truly rather antiquated. While it's essential for product managers to be able to quickly and easily make changes to the catalog, if your marketing and content teams are constantly in a holding pattern due to inflexible templates, the inability to make on-the-fly changes to campaigns, and poorly architected or non-existent workflow, it's time to think about a system migration.

In conjunction with the need for your teams to quickly and easily make changes to the user experience, can the teams who need analytic insights access information? Data-driven decision-making is the new reality, and if your solution cannot easily leverage those insights to drive customer experience, you will quickly suffer a competitive disadvantage. If it takes a week to act on information, that's nearly a week too long.

Did Someone Fail to Upgrade?

img3Upgrades may happen often to patch issues and improve functionality, or they may happen on a more infrequent basis - every vendor is different. Regardless of when they happen, if your internal tech team or solution provider hasn't upgraded your commerce solution version in some time, you might discover that it will require a significant investment to get you up to speed or worse - you might not have the option and your version might go unsupported.

Upgrades aren't typically difficult, but met with the nuances of everyday commerce management, they can be put on the back burner. They're essential to continued success because they'll ensure that your system remains PCI compliant, that it's protected from hackers and identity thieves, and that you're getting the most return for your investment.

Asking yourself these five questions to figure out whether or not it's time to replatform, rather than how lucky you feel, will ensure the satisfaction of your customers - as well as the health of your commerce solution and your bottom line.