How to Maximize Your Budget for an Ecommerce Build or Migration
Online retailers want to spend their money in the most efficient way possible. But how is this possible when every ecommerce project begins with so many unknowns?
In this episode of Recommerce, Sara and Tiffany discuss how Command C works with ecommerce leaders to maximize their budget for an ecommerce build or migration. You’ll learn:
- The first question Command C asks at the start of every ecommerce project (and why)
- Our first-time, MVP approach vs. strategy for an established ecommerce business
- How to think about backend optimization and streamlining efficiency
- Criteria to consider for ecommerce platform longevity
Full Episode Transcript
Welcome to Recommerce, a podcast for ecommerce wearable brands navigating technical complexity and change, brought to you by Command C.
Sara: Hey everyone, I’m Sara Bacon, the founder of Command C, and I’m here with Tiffany Kuchta, our Tech Lead. How’s it going, Tif?
Tiffany: Hey, it’s great. I’m really excited this week to talk about how to maximize your budget when you have an upcoming build or migration project. It sounds funny to say that I’m excited to talk about budgets, but I’m super excited to talk about budgets.
Sara: I love budgets.
Tiffany: Who doesn’t?
So I’m just jumping right in. We talk about this all the time. The starting point of any conversation about any build with a client, any project, really has to be where you’re at in your business.
Does it make more sense to start with an MVP (minimal viable product) approach – get something to market quickly that is going to get your product in front of people and that is going to allow you to start iteration?
Or do you already have an established ecommerce site? Do you already have established protocols and business operations that you need to comply with and that are probably, in a lot of cases, not changeable? You know the site needs all the bells and whistles because your customers already expect them from you. So you don’t really have the option of taking the MVP route. There’s nothing quick or simple about what you’re doing in this case. What you’re doing is very deliberate, intentional, and potentially complex.
Sara: Totally. We cannot underestimate the importance of being clear about that differentiator as the thing that informs the approach we’re going to take. So probably my favorite all-time website building metaphor is, that building a website is almost identical to the process of building a house. Think about, just to start off with budgets since that’s what we’re talking about, we can build you a $10 million house, or we can build you a $100,000 house. The difference between what you’re going to get is great.
Similarly, beyond just that simple example, you need a set of blueprints when you’re building a house. It would be a huge disaster if, when you were building your two-story house and you went to put the second … the bathroom in the second floor, you realized that you didn’t bake in any plumbing. That would be a real problem. We encounter very similar problems in building websites when our set of blueprints, or in our case, the technical discovery documents, haven’t been well-thought through.
With all projects, there needs to be a certain amount of investment put into the planning stages or the investment as a whole is in jeopardy.
I say all that because a mistake like that can really impact budget. So for starters, with all projects, and I think that this is essentially what we’re talking about, there needs to be a certain amount of investment put into the planning stages or the investment as a whole is in jeopardy. So regardless if you’re this client who needs to get to market quickly and is trying something for the first time, or if you’re this client who’s well established and has a clear picture of what you really need, both of those scenarios require a discovery process that maps out what you’re going to build.
Tiffany: Yes, absolutely. Those blueprints are really key. I think that if we go back to thinking about the two different approaches, or the two different types of clients that are approaching this rebuild process, the blueprint that you put together for your house that you’re building before you know anything about living in a house is going to very, very different than the blueprint that you’ve put together after you’ve owned a house for a few years. For example, 18-year-old me would have definitely put a television in every room, but older me knows that I’m not going to watch a television in every room.
So thinking about that, and if we just take that first approach, that MVP approach, where we’re looking to get it to market quickly. There’s not really a ton that we want to spend on the website itself because we want to focus on the operations, we want to focus on the product. We want to focus on the business itself. The question becomes, “How much do I invest in the website?”
The reality is that you invest as little as you can in order to be able to grow everything else. So when we are tackling one of those projects, we look at ways that we can gain efficiency in development. Using a hosted platform that has a proven track record for a quick development time is one good way to start there. Additionally, thinking about what the platform looks like from an administrative perspective and making sure that we’re not overcomplicating your task, that you’ve got something very intuitive to use. Then we can also gain additional efficiencies through using an existing thing that’s tailored slightly to fit your brand or using existing functionalities, maybe compromising slightly on some of the features that you want in order to release the project as quickly as possible.
Sara: Yeah, I think a couple of things jump out to me with that. It’s also important to acknowledge that the difference between an MVP and an established business is not actually the difference between a startup and an established company.
We see the MVP model working, often for established companies, who are just trying something new. So I think that’s the key differentiator. Are you trying something new that you’re not sure is going to work, or that you know needs to be able to pivot quickly? Or do you already have a sustainable profitable ecommerce site that you need to optimize? So I think that’s important, but the bulk of your budget should be put into figuring out what works and what doesn’t work.
So, it’s important to set the expectation that with this approach, this platform might not be the platform you’re on forever and always. It might be and it might mean that you just need a new theme on top of that platform, but we don’t want you spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this MVP when you don’t have the traffic yet, or you don’t totally know what your customers want. The budget, in that case, should be spent understanding what your customer wants and getting customers to the site in the first place.
Interlude: You’re listening to Recommerce, a podcast for ecommerce wearable brands navigating technical complexity and change, brought to you by Command C, a development team that saves ecommerce retailers from outdated tech and ecommerce operations, with a strong focus on Magento and Shopify Plus. You can learn more about how we help at commandc.com.
Sara: So let’s talk a little bit about the customer who already has an existing ecommerce business and knows that they need to migrate either to a new platform or a new version of the same platform. How do they prioritize their investment?
Tiffany: That’s a really good question. I think that much like the MVP client, the most important thing to invest in is planning. In this case, that planning needs to include a lot of discovery work, because an established ecommerce company with an established customer base that already has expectations, needs to be able to relay to the development team what those expectations are, so that we can build something that is going to meet your client expectations, that is going to satisfy all your business operation’s needs.
Sara: There’s also the administrative expectations to take into consideration.
Tiffany: Absolutely, and I think that’s something that we see very frequently, especially when people are replatforming from an older platform that they’ve had for a while. They just fall into – I don’t wanna say a rut, that sounds so negative. They fall into a pattern of how they work with the site as administrators. So yes, changing that pattern is often a little uncomfortable at first, but if we really focus on maximizing the efficiency for those administrators and for the customer support staff. We get an opportunity to maximize a portion of your business that you may not have even considered to be associated with your website.
Sara: Yeah, totally. That’s what I started thinking about…I think that administrators, all they have is their history. So they often times don’t even know what’s possible in terms of ways to automate things or make certain processes more efficient.
This is the crucial step. When we’re talking about where to allocate the budget, when you’re migrating to a new platform as an established business – it’s in the technical discovery. Again, it’s not only about finding out what your customers needs. But what are your administrative needs?
It’s not only about finding out what your customers needs. But what are your administrative needs?
So the way that we deal with that is we go into stakeholder interviews with each of the different departments in an organization and talk to them: what are their pain points with the way that they’re doing things currently? In an ideal world, how would things work? Really probe at exactly what their jobs entail and try to extract information that helps us understand and think about creative ways to make processes more efficient.
Tiffany: Just imagine what a 20% increase in that efficiency would do to your business as a whole. It starts to make the investment in the replatform make sense beyond just the very obvious pain points that we’re looking to solve.
The stakeholder interviews and talking to administrators and not just focusing on the customer experience, which to be clear is still incredibly crucial to this process, but talking to everybody allows us to do something that is, from a development standpoint, from a technical standpoint, I think the most important part of any discovery. It allows you to explain the problems, instead of just request the solutions. So we avoid self-prescription. Instead, we get to a world where, once we know what the problem really is, we can help you identify the solution. We can also determine whether that solution even fits in with the platform choice that you already may be leaning towards. Then we have a much more holistic approach to the project at that point.
The technical discovery process allows you to explain the problems, instead of just request the solutions.
Sara: I think with this kind of path, really spending that time and putting the right amount of budget towards discovery is key. But once you’ve completed that discovery and you know this is the platform that we’re going to be building on, then I think the second chunk of the budget really needs to be put towards building a foundation. With this path forward, longevity is key.
So, presumably, the budget that you’re putting forth is not going to be tiny. You have certain knowns and you vetted certain things. This is the case where you still want a platform that you’re gonna be able to pivot on, but you don’t wanna be rebuilding your platform in two to three years. You want something that’s gonna last you as long as it can possibly last, given the current technological landscape. Focus on putting that second portion of your budget towards building a really solid foundation and automating communications between your operations infrastructure and the website itself.
Also, figuring out how to build in connections between the website and all of the other arms of your operations becomes the priority here. Like Tiffany said, we don’t wanna overlook the importance of coming up with beautiful designs. That is also an area where budget should be maximized, but I guess from our standpoint, we’re always thinking about, “Well, if you don’t have a foundation to support those designs …”. Designs can change. Right, Tif?
Tiffany: They can and they absolutely should. When we talk about choosing a platform, we’re never talking about choosing the design, we’re never talking about choosing the presentation layer. The shelf life of any digital design is short and it’s only getting shorter. You should expect that design on your project will be iterative and will be ongoing. I think my favorite quote, and I honestly can’t even tell you who to attribute it to, is that, “A good website is never finished. There is no finish line. There’s release and then there’s iterate.”
A good website is never finished. There is no finish line. There’s release and then there’s iterate.
Sara: Especially in ecommerce.
Tiffany: Yes. Absolutely. Think of all the tools you didn’t even have five years ago. All of the express checkout options, all the one touch maximizing customer experience tools that simply didn’t exist five years ago. In five years, there will be thousands more of those.
Sara: Yeah, that’s a great point. So, we’re not talking about design. The expectation is that design should continuously be iterating and we’ve accepted that it’s not gonna last that long. I guess that begs the question of how much longevity should I expect to get out of my platform? Again, very specifically talking about this type of business who’s at this particular point, not the MVP customer or business. How much longevity do our clients get?
Tiffany: I think “your mileage may vary,” which is my second favorite quote. I think there are a few key things to look for when choosing a platform, and they’re part of what we look for in the discovery. One of them is not just the ability to connect the platform to the ERP and other operations tools that you already have, but does there exist robust, flexible, and accessible API that would essentially guarantee that we could connect to almost any other web-based application you would set up to use?
So you have a new third-party logistics provider (3PL). You get a new warehouse system. You open seven new retail platforms. How do we get the data back and forth? So knowing that we’ve chosen an ecommerce platform with a robust and open API is important. Knowing that we have access to all the required endpoints to actually drive your operations is important. Knowing that the platform is scalable also becomes critically important.
Sara: So right now, you might have 100 SKUs in your store. No big deal, syncing 100 data points back and forth, I can do that in my sleep. My phone can do that. Tomorrow you have 50,000 SKUs. Now we’re syncing 50,000 data points in real time constantly. Understanding how the platform will perform at scale is going to be enormously important in predicting your longevity with it.
Understanding how the platform will perform at scale is going to be enormously important in predicting your longevity with it.
Then ultimately what we’re really talking about here is the difference between the data layer, the information layer, and the presentation layer (the front end). So making sure you pick a platform for longevity means that you’re choosing a data layer that fits with your needs and it fits with your product type. If we need to store a bunch of extra custom product attributes in order to support your operations, maybe that platform isn’t the best fit. Conversely, maybe the fact that we can store those data points is what makes that platform a good fit. So those are all the things that come out in technical discovery that then directly inform how much longevity you could expect from any of the platforms we would be looking at during that phase.
Tiffany: Yes, absolutely. I think another important thing to consider in terms of longevity is looking at the history of the platform. Magento is an open-source platform and several years ago, they notified their clients that they were sunsetting Magento version one (M1). Now, granted there was ample notice, and that sunset has still not happened. It’s been a couple, maybe even three years at this point, but it’s an automatic end of life for that platform.
Whereas I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that out of Shopify. That’s because Shopify is responsible for keeping the platform up to date for the most part. So that’s another important thing to consider with longevity is, what does the track record of my ecommerce platform provider look like?
So, I know we can’t really wrap this up in a nice, pretty, tight bow and say, “You should expect X number of years from your platform.” But the goal with an established ecommerce business is to maximize longevity as much as it possibly can.
Sara: I think that wraps up today’s episode. It’s always great talking with you, Tif.
Tiffany: Thanks, Sara, you too.