It's a question that comes up time and again: "when is the best time to rebuild my online store?" This is a difficult question to answer, particularly when talking to prospects looking for a full site rebuild, but here goes:
Not 3 months before peak retail.
That is my professional opinion, for whatever influence the past 10+ years in this industry has bought me. And I promise - it’s not a whine, it’s advice.
Before continuing, let me address some of the inevitable “Yeah, but…” responses. Yes, I’ve seen sites completed within that time frame. And yes, some of them have even been good. And obviously I’m talking about something a few steps above a straight-forward theme build. I’m speaking to brands looking for a substantial upgrade on their current ecommerce site, probably bespoke, probably integrating with some of their enterprise management tools. If that describes you, then here is my 2 cents:
Three things to think about when planning a complete ecommerce rebuild:
1. Always Be Planning
This seems like an obvious one. Scrutiny of your website’s performance should be ongoing and far-reaching, whether it’s how deeper integrations can make you more efficient, scrutiny of your platform, or ongoing monitoring of conversion rate.
Your website is (likely) key to your business and should be evolving as your needs change. This conversation needs to be happening as often as possible so you can predict the moment that your current solution won’t meet your needs. Then plan strategically, to tackle it in a way that will cause minimal disruption to your operations.
Frankly, that is unlikely to be just as you’re going into your busiest time of year.
Rushing through a web build project in order to push things out the door just before peak retail is a good way to ensure a less than ideal solution, and a need to repeat the whole process sooner than you’d like. Ask your team or your agency partner what measurement is in place and how you’ll know the right moment to rebuild.
2. There Are More Steps To An Ecommerce Build Than You Think
It’s easy to think of web building as simply design and development. The problem is that skips out a lot of important questions: who are you building for? What motivates them? What barriers might exist? And so on and so forth.
I am talking about what seems to be broadly included under the banner of UX, but actually used to just be called ‘marketing’. This conversation is often circumnavigated with phrases like “we adhere to best practices!” The reality is what often qualifies as ‘best practice’ is a list of loose guidelines that vaguely describe zeitgeisty components that are between 6-12 months old. I’m not decrying ‘best practice’ as advice completely, but what I am saying is that there is no ‘best practice’ for you. There are only your users. Your users. Chances are they are pretty distinct, even from your competitors.
Any web project should start with your users. Spend time getting to know them, what motivates them, and what they expect from you. Take your time. Define a customer journey and build a website around that. It’ll take longer, sure, but the end product will be well worth it.
3. Keep Things Stable
Having an old unoptimised site during peak retail is not great. But do you know what else is not great? Having an untested site crap out on you during your busiest time of the year.
In my years as a marketer nothing has turned my blood to ice quicker than a site going down during peak retail. Months spent planning media spend, developing creative, wrestling with spreadsheets to figure out “how we’re going to hit >20% more revenue YoY” because an investor decided that “felt about right”... and the site has gone down. A weekend that typically represents 40% of my website revenue for the year. And I don’t have a website.
Turned out, an in-house dev had been making a couple of quick updates before go-time. We were live again within a couple of hours, but it probably took years off my life.
Needless to say, I have since preached a minimum two week code-freeze prior to Black Friday/Cyber Monday. And you want to be launched and well tested before that. It’s just not worth the gamble.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this, and I’m hardly the first person to say “take your time and do it well”, but what I’ve consistently found is that planning is rewarded. So if you’ve made it this far into the blog, maybe give some thought to how you’re measuring if your site is doing all it can. When will you know when it’s time to rebuild? And if the answer is “probably now...” give us a call and we will help you plan appropriately to make sure the project is scheduled and finished well ahead of your peak retail season.