Spoiler alert: you’re probably not going to like the key takeaway of this post because it could shift the timeline for your new eCommerce site – but what we have to say could save you a lot of stress and budget in the end. Less stress and more money are always good, right? So gather yourself and read on.
Here’s the scenario: You’re planning to launch a new Shopify Plus eCommerce site. You’ve got some exciting ideas you want to implement to enhance customer experience, from “get the look” recommendations and rich product information to advanced search and delivery time notifications. All the bells and whistles.
It’s warranted, too. Today’s consumer expects a lot from eCommerce sites. eCommerce (and retail in general) is getting more complicated, with multiple channels, faster and faster shipping, buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) options, pop-up stores and more. In addition, customers have high expectations when it comes to customer experience (CX) – from seamless delivery/returns to real-time updates and personalization. While things have been headed in this direction for some time, increased online and mobile shopping during the pandemic have accelerated the trend.
Here’s the rub. All that cool CX and UX stuff? It hinges on your data and where and how you’ve got it stored. Cleaning up and normalizing your data – getting it ready to be understood and used by Shopify – is more time-consuming than you might realize. But it’s essential to the success of your site and ultimately your business. You can’t have a great eCommerce customer experience without it.
As we’ve seen and as our friends at integration platform VL OMNI (whom we talked to for this post) always emphasize: If you don’t think about your data up front you’re setting yourself up for major problems (such as requiring changes to the ERP data) and cost and timeline overruns.
Where’s the data?
Your eCommerce business produces a lot of data. Accounting information like revenue and returns, inventory, customer information, pricing, order information, shipping information, and product content, to name a few types. Much of this information will directly or indirectly affect the front end functionality of your eCommerce site – what the customer sees and experiences.
For many brands, this data is stored in an ERP – enterprise resource planning software – and fed to an eCommerce platform like Shopify. It’s the source of truth where all data is centrally kept. In other situations, brands may store this data in the eCommerce platform. Some brands with huge product catalogues may add a PIM – product information management – platform to help manage product information and assets. No matter where you store your data (although VL OMNI recommends storing data in the ERP as a best practice), the key is that it’s centralized and available for use.
Why the state of your data matters
Again, CX and UX depend on data. There’s no magic. While Shopify Plus and its ecosystem of apps can do lots of extremely cool things, they can’t autonomously decide which of your products should be bundled together or what data should be filterable on collections. You have to tell them what to do.
You know the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out?” So much of what we do from a CX standpoint on the front end is a direct correlation to the data we’re fed. We can give you whatever “output” you want (e.g., a really cool site!), but it’s dependent on how you format and structure your data in the ERP – the “inputs.” If the data isn’t centrally stored, normalized, clean, and structured in a way that works with Shopify Plus and also supports customers’ needs, then we’re limited in how we can use and display information on your site.
This is because we, as developers, have to tell your data where to “go” on your Shopify Plus site. Often, this means creating specific Shopify metafields or tag structures to receive and store each piece of ERP data. This can get tricky because the field might be called something different in your ERP versus in Shopify, requiring some translation. Therefore, for our clients and projects we create a detailed document that provides a roadmap of how data needs to be mapped and what the fields do to support the information architecture and features of the site.
(Not) a surprise: Getting your data ready takes work
We agree with our friends at VL OMNI that product data is foundational to the success of your eCommerce business. However, know that it takes time and effort to get your data normalized and cleaned and ready for use by your Shopify Plus site. It might seem like it should be fast but think about it. Say you’re using Shopify’s native functionality for editing product data. If it takes 5 minutes to add or edit a list of features for each of your products in Shopify – and you have 5,000 products – that’s going to take one person more than 400 hours or 10 weeks of full-time work!
For example, one of our clients realized that each of their product’s details was entered into Magento as a paragraph in a single field. To allow product details to be displayed differently in the new Shopify site after data migration, the information needed to be liberated from the paragraph and populated into separate fields in their ERP so that we could map it to the right fields in Shopify.
If your data is already in the ERP, for the Shopify build, developers will need to spend up-front time to map and capture this data in a Shopify-friendly format. Once that's established, the ERP data should flow to Shopify without much maintenance, which saves the client/brand from having to make numerous manual edits in Shopify or learn the specific ins and outs of the Shopify data-editing experience. The key to this process? Starting with clean data. While you may have to make additional tweaks during the mapping process, clearing out your data “junk drawer” before migrating it streamlines the process immensely.
Best practices to avoid timeline and budget issues
In our experience, the following best practices can go a long way in avoiding time delays and cost overruns for new eCommerce site projects.
1. Stagger Shopify and ERP implementation
Know that implementing a new ERP at the same time you’re launching a new site will significantly impact the timeline. Because the developer needs to know what data you have in order to design the site (e.g., what information can go on the product detail page), if the ERP also is in flux, you have no source of truth. In other words, you can’t know what data you have and in what shape. There will be a lot of back and forth as you figure it out and encounter different scenarios during development. Ideally you would not implement these at the same time and instead get a head start with your ERP. (However, your ERP project doesn’t have to be complete before starting site development.) Then, as you work with the UX/UI designer and Shopify developer, you can make changes to the data automated from the ERP or PIM early in the process to support building an awesome shopping experience.
2. Know your ERP and ERP bridge capabilities
A critical part of eHouse Studio’s site development process involves creating that detailed roadmap document that outlines what type of information/data will be needed to power the features and use cases a client wants on their new site. You need to know – or pull in the person that knows – if you have that data, how that data is structured in your ERP and if, in the way the data and your systems are set up, it can be used by Shopify. If not, a Plan B will be required to figure out another way to support the feature or use case. Or, it may not be possible.
Here’s a prime example of why it's important to know what data you have to work with, as opposed to what data is not yet available and will need to be created in the ERP. One of our clients commissioned a new design for their product detail page with lots of product-specific information, images and text copy elaborating on the benefits of each product. However, much of this content wasn't available in their ERP – in fact, it didn't exist anywhere yet! Although we were able to build the product detail page using our own test data, ultimately it resulted in issues. Because the client didn't have time to create all of the new content in the ERP before the launch, the page had to be launched in an incomplete form.
In addition, because data is structured and labeled differently in different systems, you need bridge software that helps your ERP “talk” to Shopify Plus, or correctly interpret and feed data to your Shopify site. There likely will be limitations in your systems, software, and bridge that dictate how you can use your data for your new Shopify Plus site. The key is to discover what they are up front before you go all-in developing a site feature that you can’t support or need a backup plan for.
3. Ensure you can supply test product data
Before starting design and development, your agency will need a set of test product data, or a handful of products that represent a sampling of your catalogue, that can be used to inform the design process. For example, we need to know if you have products with multiple variants (e.g., colors, sizes, widths), or products with complex descriptions or long lists of features. At this early stage, this product information doesn’t have to be in the ERP yet, but it does need to be complete, cleaned up, and available to enter into Shopify. Having this set of products is also critical for testing the functionality of things like collection pages, checkout process, on-site search, and more. Without these test products, delays are inevitable.
4. Assign a dedicated POC
Launching a new Shopify Plus site is an intense process – you want to get up and running as quickly as possible – and also has a lot of moving parts. Therefore, don’t make your website project a team member’s side gig. You really need a dedicated person who can focus on the project, be a responsive point of contact (POC) for all the third parties involved, and ensure you hit your milestones. A tangible future benefit to this approach is that this person will know the ins and outs of the site and the data and be able to maintain the site (or instruct others how to maintain it) going forward. They also will have an understanding if additional features and use cases could realistically be added to the site in the future, based on your systems and data capabilities.
Key questions to ask your team
A good first step is to do a self-audit to better understand if your data is ready to support design and development of your new Shopify Plus site. Here are some key questions to think about:
- What features and functionality do we want on the new site? What data would be needed to power it? Do we have this data?
- Why do we want these features/functionality? Do they support a business goal?
- Where is our data (e.g., product, financial, operations, customer, order history, inventory, etc.) stored?
- What is the state of our product data? Is it clean and accurate? How is the product data currently structured?
- Why is the product data structured/organized this way? For business reasons? Or does it reflect limitations in our current platform(s)?
- If we store our product data in our current eCommerce platform (e.g., Magento), are we planning on doing the same on Shopify? Or will we be implementing an ERP?
- If we have an ERP, how will we bridge it to Shopify? Will we need new integration software?
- Do we need a PIM to manage our product data or is managing the data in the ERP best?
- Do we plan to manage pricing in the ERP or the eCommerce platform?
- Does our ERP support virtual bundles, meaning a bundle that is only displayed on the eCommerce site for promotional benefits but ultimately is just a group of products that are shipped together once the order comes into the ERP?
Think data first, site design second
So, that key takeaway mentioned at the start of this post is this: if you don’t have your data in order, you won’t get the Shopify Plus site you want. And unfortunately, getting your data in order can require significant time and effort. However, it’s well worth it. Need help thinking through your strategy? We’re here to help. Contact us to learn how to harness the power of Shopify Plus with your ERP to take your top brand to the next level of success.