23 April 2020

Replatforming from Magento to Shopify Plus: the Rosefield case

Replatforming: surely every online entrepreneur’s nightmare. Migrating your whole business to another platform? You obviously do not want that, whatever the size of your company. So why do many e-commerce businesses willingly choose to switch platforms anyway? Christiaan Bekker, founder of Rosefield Watches, has a thing or two to say about that.

“The simple answer is: re-platforming was the only viable option for Rosefield. With our previous platform, we had been experiencing problems since day one, and over the years they only got worse.” It already started with the launch, in April 2015. The influencers who posted pictures of his watches on Instagram immediately drove traffic to Christiaan’s brand new webshop – but also caused his site to crash within an hour.

A disaster for a starting entrepreneur who just wants to sell watches, and doesn’t know anything about hosting and bandwidth and server load. “It makes you very insecure, I can tell you.” Rosefield tried everything, got the site back up again, but the pattern was set: from then on the site regularly crashed. There was always some issue or another.

From crisis to crisis

Christiaan: “As founder of a brand you can control a lot, but stuff like this is out of your hands. So if it doesn’t function well it causes tremendous frustration, because you don’t want to have to think about basic things like this. Especially this kind of core processes should just work.”

But they didn’t, to his continuing frustration. Christiaan had no choice but to educate himself on technical matters, because the problems wouldn’t go away. He lost whole days on the phone with developers. If he wanted some new feature for the site it often couldn’t be done, ‘because that would take two more sprints’. All the time he spotted things on the website that didn’t work the way they were supposed to. But most nerve-racking was the continuous sense of apprehension: will the site stay up today, or is it going to be one big drama again?

Rosefield reached breaking point during Black Friday Cyber Monday 2018. Despite all the extra measures taken to ensure enough server capacity, the website went down early in the day for 1.5 hours. The result: a lot of potential revenue down the drain, on the most lucrative day of the year.

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Customized spaghetti

What went wrong? In hindsight, Christiaan has a hypothesis. Like many webshops, in its early days, Rosefield Watches ran on the open source platform Magento 1. Back then open source was still the standard in e-commerce platforms, at least in the Netherlands: Shopify already existed, but it was focused on Northern America.

Open source e-commerce platforms such as Magento and WooCommerce are known for their adaptability: the customization options are endless. However, this is also thé big disadvantage of this type of platform. Every functional addition to your website makes the whole more unstable. Hence, you need experienced developers to make sure this is done well.

“In principle, Magento is as good a platform as any,” says Christiaan; “but as a young brand, you often don’t have the means to have your website built by a Magento specialist - who will make sure to set up your store according to Magento best practices. So it happens that at a later point when you want to improve and scale your business, you inevitably run into structural errors that you need to work around all the time.”

Until you arrive at the point where you can hardly change anything anymore without breaking things because it’s all intertwined. In Christiaan’s words: “Too much customization is a flaw. It becomes spaghetti.”. When you’ve reached that point, your business is being held hostage by your platform. Christiaan: “To get the functionality you need, you start doing things with the platform that it was never designed for. Your life is completely dictated by it, you keep spending tons of energy on it, and the costs keep soaring.”

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Migrate: but where?

After Black Friday 2018 Christiaan went looking for another platform. He considered moving to Magento 2, the completely renewed successor to Magento 1. Because at that time Magento had already announced the end of life for Magento 1, he knew that a platform migration was inevitable for Rosefield anyway. But did he want to continue with open source, and with Magento?

Because of his bad experiences Christiaan decided to look for other options as well. What were other brands in his market using? The sites of Gymshark and MVMT Watches caught his attention, both on Shopify Plus. When he learned that 30% of US webshops ran on Shopify, both small and really big brands such as Tesla, Redbull en Sephora, he invited a few development agencies over to discuss his options.

“By then I had a strong preference for something that was simple, modular and scalable. A solution that took care of all the core processes in such a way that I didn’t have to check everything. I already have a million things to manage, those basic things should just run smoothly in the background. Stuff such as hosting – as an entrepreneur you shouldn’t even have to think about it.”

By then I had a strong preference for something that was simple, modular and scalable.

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The pros and cons of Shopify

With this wishlist a SaaS solution like Shopify became a viable option. During the tender phase CODE’s presentation immediately drew Christiaan’s attention: “Bob’s first slide was a list of reasons why we should NOT want Shopify: revenue sharing, the rather limited possibilities regarding multi-currency and multi-language functionality, and a checkout you cannot customize.”

Bob’s next few slides made clear why replatforming to Shopify would nonetheless be a sensible choice for Rosefield. With the end of life of Magento 1 drawing nearer, a platform change was coming anyway – and the stability, scalability and agile setup of Shopify matched very well with Christiaan’s wishes. What’s more, even with the mandatory revenue share Rosefield would be spending a lot less with Shopify: no hosting fees, no hassle with upgrades and security anymore, much less need for developers, and a considerably shorter setup phase.

The pricing model of SaaS software, which takes a percentage of a site’s revenue, was never a big obstacle for Christiaan. “You don’t have that with Magento, no, but with them setup is very expensive and it costs a lot of time and money to maintain.”

Shopify struck him as a much more modern solution. “It is abetter fit for current ways of thinking - your cost adapts to your revenue. The deal is: Shopify keeps a bit of your revenue, and in exchange you get a high-quality platform that doesn’t require much attention. And doesn’t force huge developers’ invoices on you.” Compromising a bit on flexibility was a conscious choice. “In the Shopify checkout there isn’t much room for customization, compared to Magento. And when you have multiple storefronts it feels quite inefficient that you can’t manage all your content in one place. But the really important stuff is very well taken care of.”

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Christiaan’s prognosis

As we speak Rosefield has been running on Shopify Plus for a while, to their great satisfaction. Which is not to say Christiaan doesn’t see room for improvement, but his prognosis is that Shopify is aware of it too - and very likely to make important moves in the near future. Especially now that they are focusing more and more on the European market. “When I look at what Shopify sets out to do the coming period and what’s in the development pipeline, I’m thinking: as a company, you can’t outrun them. They are the specialists and they move a lot faster than you. To me, it looks like a very future-proof platform.”

To me, it looks like a very future-proof platform.

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Bob and Christiaan delivered a talk about the Rosefield case at the Webwinkel Vakdagen 2020 (Holland’s biggest e-commerce tradeshow): read a Dutch summary of their talk here.

Are you considering replatforming to a future-proof platform? CODE loves to help you with that! Contact us, and we will help you make an informed decision.

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About the author

CODE easily writes 100 lines of code every day, but a blog is a different story! So we leave that to Linda Bleijenberg, our copywriter. She lives around the corner and wants to be an IT wizard when she grows up. Until then, she writes blogs about what we at CODE are up to.