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Oct 3, 2023 | 7 minute read

Unplatforming vs. Replatforming

Traditionally, commerce innovators who wanted to solve business problems and address shifting business needs and goals had to embark on a replatform.

That’s no longer the case. Replatforming, once the way to modernize and meet customers’ needs, has been supplanted by what we call The Unplatform™.

Replatform and Unplatform sound similar, but represent different approaches to solving business challenges. Learn the definitions of replatforming and Unplatforming, the differences between the two approaches, and the ways that an Unplatforming approach drives fast business growth instead of expensive, multi-year replatforming projects.

The Definitions

Replatforming: Broadly speaking, replatforming is the process of migrating to a new commerce platform. It means moving your commerce infrastructure from one piece of software to another, different piece of software. When you replatform, you typically undergo a comprehensive transformation of your entire commerce solution.

Unplatforming: Unplatforming is what happens – what has happened – as the commerce platform continues to decompose into smaller and smaller pieces. Per Elastic Path’s CEO, Jamus Driscoll, The Unplatform is a commerce architecture comprised of decoupled independent products, bound together to operate as a collective whole.

Instead of focusing on a comprehensive transformation of an entire commerce solution, as is the case with replatforming, Unplatforming is about modular, initiative-specific projects that achieve business objectives iteratively. More simply? The Unplatform is about unlocking commerce innovation piece-by-piece.

The Technical Approach

Replatforming: Replatforming is a technology project that leads to the replacement of a commerce platform. Throughout the evolution of digital technology, replatforming has been a commerce necessity. Early digital commerce adopters built their own custom eCommerce platforms. As online buying became more complex, businesses replatformed to monolithic commerce architectures structured around pre-built software. The next replatform was to all-in-one SaaS platforms, in which commerce software was delivered and accessed over the internet. Following that, some brands have made the decision to replatform to MACH-based platforms.

Every replatform requires having your entire technology ecosystem mapped out beforehand, as replatforming means having the majority components of your commerce solution embedded in a single, core commerce platform.

Unplatforming: Unplatforming is a business approach that leverages composable products to solve specific commerce challenges, piece-by-piece, as required by the business. Instead of a single complex, comprehensive, core commerce platform, Unplatforming uses independent products, bound together by connective framework, to create innovative commerce experiences.

The Unplatform requires a composable architecture but seeks to make it more accessible to all brands. The modularity of composable commerce allows brands to swap out independently deployed commerce services, including cart and checkout, catalog management, or a frontend. You can pinpoint specific business challenges and then identify the modular technology that helps solve those problems. Unplatforming means that your chosen technology works together seamlessly – no full replatform required.

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The Commerce Experiences

Replatforming: After a replatform, commerce experiences do often improve. In fact, in the past, companies often found replatforming to help improve the scalability and flexibility of their commerce solution – meaning that they could service more customers with varied experiences.

Still, the entire premise of a platform-based architecture means that commerce experiences can only be so distinctive and unique. Legacy commerce platforms are typically monolithic, and have a reputation for spitting out similar commerce sites. Like the same model car with a different coat of paint, these commerce experiences might look a little different, but they essentially offer the same functionalities from site-to-site and from one business to another.

Unplatforming: The Unplatform opens up the possibility of designing commerce experiences that are as unique as your brand. Because of being able to swap in and out different commerce services and components, businesses can design, test, iterate, and innovate to create a commerce experience that is brand-specific. For every piece of your commerce solution, you can select a component that works best for your customers. Traditional tradeoffs, like getting stuck with a mediocre, out-of-the-box frontend to get your preferred catalog, no longer exist. Unplatforming means getting the freedom to identify a specific commerce area to optimize and the flexibility to choose the exact component that fits your business requirements. In a short period of time, you provide new and elevated commerce experiences to your customers.

The timeline and cost

Replatforming: There’s no way around it. Replatforming is a long, expensive and often arduous process. Over months, and sometimes even years, replatforming projects involve scores of stakeholders and technical and business tradeoffs. A replatform also requires hefty up-front investment, meaning that costs are high even when success isn’t guaranteed. Replatforming is in fact seen by executives as such a lengthy, colossal, costly, risky undertaking that 70% of replatforming initiatives are abandoned.

Unplatforming: Unplatforming is less costly and lengthy than replatforming.

Remember, The Unplatform isn’t one single unveiling of a new commerce solution. It’s about making progress on your specific business needs and commerce challenges when they arise. That could mean spending a modest sum of money on a new set of no-code shoppable landing pages from CX Studio. In weeks and with little cost, you’ve addressed a business need with a best-for-you technology. You may eventually also replace the components that power your cart, payments, catalog, and other experiences. But you don’t have to right away. In this way, The Unplatform is both instant and limitless – and only as expensive as you want it to be.

The bottom-line business impact

Replatforming: To an extent, the bottom-line business impact of a replatforming initiative is murky and unknown. It’s true that replatforming can improve flexibility and scalability for organizations, but it’s also true that measuring the success of individual commerce components is challenging when they’re all interdependent on each other and often deployed at the same time. Plus, because replatforming takes so much time and money, organizations often delay it until their commerce solution is hopelessly out-of-date. The result of a replatform might be improvement, but that’s relative to a sub-par existing solution.

Unplatforming: The business impact of The Unplatform is that it drives growth and value, fast. With Unplatforming, you work backwards from specific pain points, commerce needs, and business challenges. After quickly deploying an individual component, you can track and measure its impact within months. You meet customer expectations faster, and rise to the moments that drive conversions and build loyalty.

Solve a problem or address a specific need? Great – now it’s time to optimize the next part of your commerce solution. Over time, and at the pace you choose, you make incremental changes that drive real conversions, real revenue, and real overall business value.

Ready to solve business problems and improve your commerce performance? Get in touch with Elastic Path to learn how our family of composable commerce products will enable an Unplatform that empowers your merchandisers, orchestrates and manages your solution, and drives customer engagement and revenue.

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