There are three broad approaches to building and maintaining an ecommerce store—depending very much on initial budget, ongoing investment, and ambition for growth.
- At the low end, brands with limited upfront or ongoing resources will aim to build a site that will last years—only tweaking or updating it if something breaks.
- In the middle, brands will build with the hope that their site will last them a few good years and that they’ll be able to add functionality, tweak, and optimize during those years until they can justify a rebuild.
- At the top, we have brands that build knowing that their codebase is not “forever code”. They intentionally keep things lean so that they can upgrade and rebase the theme with minimal effort frequently as technology improves or as marketing efforts demand.
It’s easy to quickly jump to the conclusion that the third option is the most expensive and that only big brands with big budgets can afford or justify this approach.
On the contrary, the middle option is actually often the most costly over time. If you take into account team resources, headspace, and the time it takes to achieve anything, constantly tweaking a site with the hope it will last for many years leads to rapidly-mounting technical debt and a tremendous headspace cost. Brands in this situation spend considerably more time maintaining their sites and agonizing over things that probably don’t matter than they do making impactful and meaningful changes. Further, marketing performance and CRO often suffers with this approach, too.
If you’re at the bottom, your simple site built several years ago is probably doing just fine supporting your modest marketing efforts and a rebase or any significant investment in your theme is likely not going to give you a healthy ROI.
If you’re at the top end, you’re hopefully already practicing a nimble, pragmatic approach and are hopefully able to move quickly and respond to changing needs without significant investment or added technical debt.
If, however, you find yourself in the middle, you are likely paralyzed by technical debt and you and your team are frustrated because you can’t make the changes you feel should be so easy, you need developers to do even the simplest things, and you’re spending far more time discussing minutiae than strategizing and implementing impactful initiatives.
Indications you should probably rebase your online store to a new, best-practice foundation
- Your content or marketing teams can’t do basic things themselves without a developer like add new products, update the homepage to reflect new campaigns or seasonal changes, or build and launch landing pages.
- You’re on Shopify and you’re still using a convoluted list of “namespaced” tags to structure content on PDPs and other areas of the site, comma-separated values in SKU or barcode fields, or other hacks and workarounds traditionally used in Shopify stores to overcome limitations instead of metafields and “sections everywhere”.
- You find yourself saying “we need this custom x” or “our customers love our custom y” and you haven’t measured engagement of x or y with tools like FullStory or Hotjar, you will likely find these custom features are not as impactful or widely used as you suspect and are probably stopping you from moving forward.
- Your Shopify theme is on a full point-version or more behind the latest version of the theme or your site was built prior to mid-2021, you almost certainly do not have the latest “Shopify Online Store 2.0” features such as “sections everywhere” or non-tag-based filters on collection landing pages—and you’re missing a lot of creative functionality to enable your team to do more in-house without a developer.
- Your communications with your dev team are based more around details such as the color of the buttons, how rounded the corners are, or your laundry list of features you would like added, you’re probably not focusing enough on goals and objectives and your dev team lacks the experience and expertise to lead you with firmness. Unless you have a strong, data-driven, marketing-led person on your team leading requests, you probably aren’t getting the best, most impactful results from a dev team who more or less does what you ask then to.
- Your site is slow to load, glitchy on different devices, or just looks and feels tired.
- You’re not on Shopify, many of the above are true for you, and you’re ready to replatform.
What do you do if you’re stuck in the middle? How can you determine if you have a site that’s paralyzed by technical debt? Are you in a position to rebase or is your site too custom to do so (for what it’s worth, it’s probably not and you’ll likely find you don’t need many of the customizations or there are simpler way to achieve them).
Does any of this resonate with you? If you find yourself stuck in the middle or aren’t sure what to focus on, I would love to help.