Moving to a new web site shopping cart can be a scary proposition. Not only does it involve possibly re-entering in all of your information, resetting up all of your rules again, testing etc but in some cases there is unnecessary downtime. I will walk you through the steps necessary to ensure that your web site shopping cart has no downtime during the migration.
Most shopping cart providers are professional and nothing ill would happen if they knew you were leaving but its best to keep your plans under wraps until you are already gone just for your own security. This will also ensure that you continue to receive high quality support during the move.
Hosted ecommerce stores in particular normally give you a default starting url like http://yourstorename.shoppingcartname.com. You will want to continue using this temporary url the entire time during your testing so that you do not move your actual domain name and mess up your existing web site shopping cart. ie http://www.yourstorename.com needs to stay pointed at the working store for it to continue working.
A ttl, time to live, record tells the dns how often to check for dns changes. This value can be changed inside of your dns record. DNS is usually managed by your domain name registrar or hosting provider so ask them about how to do this. By lowering the ttl you are updating how often everyone should check what your address is. Since your address will be changing soon this is ensuring that the address information is not cached at your customers computers for to long. I would suggest doing this approximately 2 weeks before the final move.
If your email is hosted by your current web site shopping cart host you will need to create a new inbox separate from them so that email can be delivered once you cancel your existing service. If your email is already hosted at a third party site such as gmail etc, then this is unnecessary.
Use your shopping cart providers export data facility to download important data such as items, orders, customers, newsletter subscribers, emails and such. Ensure that you store this data locally as a backup.
Most times when changing to a new web site shopping cart, the urls of your pages will change. Ie the new ecommerce host may use a different url structure or extension. It's always best to keep the urls the same if you can however if you cannot you will need to setup 301 redirects from the old urls to the new urls. These redirects will ensure that your visitors and the search engines are not met with a page not found error after the move and that your page rank will move with you.
Example Old URL: http://www.yourstorename.com/items/itemname.aspx
Example New URL: http://www.yourstorename.com/itemname
In the above example the 301 redirect would tell your visitors and search engines the new location of the page. Check with your new ecommerce host about how this is done with their software.
**This step is very important, do not skip it or your traffic may suffer considerably. I know it takes a lot of time if you have many products but there is no point in having a store if visitors cannot find you.
A few days before the change I recommend emailing all of your current customers to tell them about the move. Tell them what will be changing and how the new site is better and ask them to contact you if they have any problems after the switch. It's good to include screenshots of how the new store will look so that customers are not as surprised by the changes and will still trust you. And if there are any glaring problems that you failed to find good customers will usually alert you, especially if you asked them to.
Pick a time when its normally slow for the final migration to take place. If you are unsure when its quiet look at your statistics page this will tell you the quietest hour of the day and day of the week. By picking a slow time you can be a bit more relaxed with the change and not interfere with your customers shopping.
Once everything is tested and ready to go with the new web site shopping cart then at the scheduled time update your dns record. The move usually just involves updating the ip address from the old ip to the new ip address. Once this is done then within a few minutes you should see your store working at the new provider. Hit F5 to refresh the page.
I recommend that you keep the old site running for a minimum of 2 weeks but preferably a month or more before cancelling it. This is helpful for a few reasons. First, some visitors will hit the old website for a while and may place orders there so this ensures that you do not miss these straggler purchases. Second, if you have forgotten to download any data from the old service you will still have access to it probably. Third, if by chance the move goes badly and you realize you need to switch back you can.
During this changeover time ensure that you are checking both systems for new orders and checking both email inboxes.
Good luck on your move and don't forget test, test, and test the new site some more before giving it to customers.