How to choose an e-commerce agency?
Most companies selling on the Internet at some stage will have to choose an e-Commerce agency. Implementation of a new online store, support in sales-related activities, change of one company to another – it is a natural turn of the fate of e-sales. How not to make a mistake and what criteria should you be guided by?
I always say that effective online sale is a good product, a good strategy and a partner that will help you use this potential. If you trust these words, I will not have to convince you that choosing the right agency is one of the key factors that will determine your future success.
From the article you’ll find out:
- why you should not hurry up with choosing an IT company,
- how to prepare well for the process,
- what factors to pay attention to,
- what the company should expect from you when you take over the project.
Why is it so important?
If you are reading this article because you are in the process of changing your agency, I probably do not need to convince you that those wrong decisions cost a lot of health and money. With decency, I will not mention the time lost (well, I have mentioned).
Poor partner selection can result in:
- communication problems,
- vendor lock-in, or addiction to the supplier,
- growing technological debt,
- problems with the quality of work,
- exceeded deadlines for completing tasks.
It is difficult to afford these types of problems today because the competition is not sleeping. Are they isolated cases?
I know this not only because dissatisfied customers of our competitors report to us. The statistics are alarming (following the article: https://learn.g2.com/project-management-statistics):
- 27% of projects go beyond budget,
- 64% of projects meet their goals,
- 17% of the projects are such a catastrophe that it threatens the life of the company.
From the statistics it appears quite a nightmarish picture – there is no reason to hide it, even worse cooperation with the supplier.
Step one – define your needs
E-Commerce implementations are usually large and long-term investments. All the more so require proper preparations.
You have to reckon with the fact that the agency will work on the materials that will get from you. So it is in your hands whether the offer that you receive will fit your needs and business goals.
The basic technical and functional documentation is usually a dozen or so dozens of pages. In the middle should be:
- information about strategic goals set for the store,
- target group,
- business environment,
- key functions provided in the store,
- business needs in terms of customers, products, integration, logistics as well as order processing.
As I mentioned, the more, the better. The e-book “101 questions about your e-Commerce” might be helpful. You can find there the most important issues that you should think about before choosing an agency.
How precise should the brief be?
I say to my clients that the offer (including the valuation) is as good and precise as the brief it concerns. Of course, this does not mean that without a brief covering all possible aspects, each company will lock the door in your face. On the contrary. For us, it is also a comfortable situation that we can help at the conceptual stage because:
- includes our know-how in online sales,
- often by using similar solutions, you can reduce costs,
- too detailed descriptions at this stage can simply result in a waste of time – before we reach implementation, the market can change.
Brief at the stage of talks will still be deepened. The main point is that all companies should rate the same scope of work and feel that in the context of business objectives, you understand the project in the same way as the company you are talking to.
Step two – identify needs in relation to the Agency
In fact, choosing an e-commerce company for an online store is not just about technology. Let’s not fool ourselves – there are a lot of good companies.
I would be tempted to say that if the matter concerned only the competence of programmers, it would be cheaper just simply hire them in your company, give them tasks and – in some time – enjoy a new store.
This is not the case.
Competence in the e-Commerce team
Assistance in developing a strategy, graphic design, implementation of an online store, marketing support, maintenance of the platform – each of these areas requires different competencies from the company you are looking for.
The most mature agencies choose support throughout the entire life cycle of e-sales, but it does not necessarily have to be a standard. For example, some companies decide to specialize only in the implementation of a store. Then you cannot count on advanced consulting, and more on the “client-supplier” relationship.
A good team for the very implementation of e-Commerce provides the following roles:
product owner – the person most often is on the customer side (this is not a necessity, but definitely it builds commitment to the project), who is responsible for the product, it is business value and providing benefits for the company;
- business analyst – a role whose task in the project is to formulate business needs in a way that is understandable at the stage of implementation. The main tasks are to describe the work, architecture and active participation in the search for the best solutions for the project objectives;
- UX designer – the role of an experienced UX designer cannot be overestimated. It is at the stage of UX design that decisions are made that distinguish between a useful and converting shop and one that does not bring profit to its owners;
- graphic design – apart from usefulness, aesthetics plays an equally important role. Therefore, graphic design requires a separate function and a very large experience in the e-Commerce market;
- programmer – engineers with many years of experience and, what is important, practical experience, is a guarantee of maintaining the project on a high technical level. Especially large implementations will suffer when the technical part of the project is implemented by inappropriate people;
- tester – it is said that programmers are not able to test their solutions. That is why the QA team with their cross-cutting competencies (both manual and automatic testing) ensure that the project will work in all possible conditions;
- project manager – agencies that say that a project does not require a good PM, probably do not know what a good PM can bring to a project. With large teams and projects where it is necessary to combine business with technology and market expectations, without a good project manager, a project has very little chance of success.
Of course, nothing stands in the way of the team building partly at your own or even implementing a project with the support of more than one company. However, not every company will agree to implement a project in which, for example, will not be responsible for the creation.
Remember, that the more external companies in a project, the more difficult it is to communicate effectively. In practice, even if the companies do not compete with each other, the feeling of “belonging to a larger team” can be different.
Experience in e-Commerce implementations
Most agencies believe that they are ready to carry out any scale of a project, regardless of their experience. Similarly, with technologies (since it uses some effectively, it will deal with others). Unfortunately, most of them are wrong.
I know from experience that if your project is, for example, twice as big as the projects implemented by a given company, they will probably learn many interesting things (from their point of view) in your shop. Will this affect the quality of the project? There is a very high risk that it will.
Therefore, you should verify three things:
- How long does the company stay on the market?
- How big were the projects the company was implementing? How many hours did the company spend on the biggest project? What was the scale of the difficulties?
- What technologies does the company specialize in?
Please note that I am not necessarily talking about my experience here, for example, in the integration of a specific ERP system or the implementation of a specific mechanism. It is mainly about the scale of activity. Large players and large implementations require completely different possibilities than simple ones.
Portfolio and experience in your sector
As it was the case with the scale of the project, experience in the sector in which you sell is very important when choosing an implementation company.
It sells completely differently in B2B than in B2C. This is related to different expectations of customers on the purchasing path. This, in turn, affects the functions that the shop needs. In the same way, you will sell dresses differently from electronics devices.
The minimum for the company you are considering is to understand that these differences exist. The minimum is to use these differences in practice.
This, of course, does not mean that if you sell in the fashion industry, only a company with fashion projects will be suitable for your project (it’s too much limitation). How to verify whether your potential partner is “right” in this case?
- Check whether UX and graphic designs reflect and are justified by the industry they are relevant to;
- Interview to dispel any doubts on whether the company understands your industry;
- Verify the portfolio for related industries.
I’m sensitizing here to “piloting”, i.e. the implementation of visualization for your project at the stage of bidding. Good design is the result of many workshops and conversations with you, which simply will not be at this stage of time talks.
Understanding your needs
A bad e-Commerce agency will ask you “what do you want us to implement”.
You should avoid agencies like that.
A good agency at the stage of the offering will devote much more time to get to know your business goals. In X-Coding we have a rule that we decide when our talks are at a stage that allows for the valuation of the project. Otherwise, we simply do not offer.
Because we want to go to the level of detail in which:
- our client understands what we really value,
- we know that the valuation will apply to the solution that we believe will prove itself on the market, we have built the optimal scope of the project.
Unfortunately, these conversations are not always super pleasant, because there are difficult words like “no”, “it can be done better” and so on. And as you know, it’s not always easy to accept criticism of your ideas.
At this stage, however, it’s much safer than getting a blind quote.
Company size and team organization
We all expect priority treatment. In particular, we are spending a significant part of our income on modern solutions.
The problem arises when our significant part of income is only a fraction of what other customers leave behind for the company we are looking at. We risk that our project will never be as important to the company as it is to us.
Again, to make it not too easy, too small a company is not a solution either (see the point about the scale of the project). It is not easy. ?
How to assess, then, whether the company is optimal for our operations?
- Find out how the team is built for the project,
- Inquire about the availability of the team and the possibility of direct contact,
- Learn about the company’s procedures, standards and approach to projects,
- It is necessary to check whether the company cares about maintaining the know-how of the project (i.e. there will be no problem if one of the programmers makes a notice of termination).
Confirmation of knowledge
If the company boasts a very detailed project, it probably does so with the consent and approval of its client. Therefore, such case studies are often sufficient confirmation that the project was carried out in accordance with the expectations of customers.
When the company barely attaches a few screens, it is necessary to deepen the matter. They come with help:
- independent portals, such as Clutch (probably the most popular at the moment),
- references from clients,
- making contact with the person on the client’s side available.
How many companies to choose to talk to?
As many as you need ?
I recommend that in this first stage at least 3-5 companies should be looked at more closely. It is easier to level the market standard and make more informed decisions.
During the initial conversations, it is necessary to pay attention to whether the company conducts substantive or sales talks with you (see the point on understanding the business). The fact is that the offer will accept anything, and saying “yes” to your needs is easier than justifying why you can “do differently/better”.
This, however, does not necessarily have to translate into reality after signing the contract.
Is it over?
Of course not! I will even be tempted to say that this is just the beginning. Once you have chosen an agency, it is time to move on to formalities. Now you have to sign a contract with a selected implementation company. What to pay attention to at this stage? What form of the settlement will be the best for you? About this in the next article, which will be published soon.