You could be an established brand expanding into the burgeoning business of eCommerce or a new startup working from the ground up, or even a headless commerce venture, putting your inventory online can be a big task. Regardless of whether you’re an established brand looking to expand into the burgeoning business of eCommerce or a new startup working from the ground up, putting your inventory online can be an undertaking. Software development, frameworks, platforms, website management and hosting—the tasks and terms related to this endeavor are endless. Most people looking to make the jump to eCommerce end up choosing a partner to help handle the project. But the number of partners offering such services can make choosing one overwhelming.
If you’ve just started your search for an eCommerce web development partner to work with, you’ve likely been inundated by the myriad of options. There are thousands of businesses and agencies offering eCommerce solutions, each promising big results. Figuring out how to separate the good from the not-so-good is a chore on its own.
But with something as critical as bringing your business online, choosing the right agency to partner with makes all the difference. After all, eCommerce is complicated. Done well, it provides your business with a new, flexible revenue stream and a bright future. Done poorly, it becomes a barrier to growth.
Let’s take a look at how you can determine whether an agency is a good fit for your new endeavor.
Dig into the Agency’s Track Record
The agencies you’re considering should have proven track records of successful partnerships. It’s fairly standard for businesses to show a portfolio of past work on their website, along with case studies and results. Take your time looking these over and think about the kind of work they did and how it might apply to your business. When possible, you’ll want an agency with experience in your vertical.
Also, be sure to ask for referrals. Any agency worth its salt will happily provide you with an extensive list of past portfolio work as well as referrals to the satisfied brands they worked with. If an agency hesitates in providing this information, it’s a red flag that you should look for a different working partner.
Take a Closer Look at Their Processes
Once you’ve found an agency with an impressive portfolio and strong referrals, don’t pull the trigger just yet. There are an enormous amount of variables and work to be done in bringing a business’s products online. Partnering with an agency means you’ll be working closely with this business for weeks, months or even years. You want to make sure you’ve vetted their processes, both to make sure they know what they’re doing and to see if their way of doing things is going to jive with your preferences and your company’s processes.
The first thing you’ll want to put under scrutiny is how they intend to manage your project. A good agency provides you with a clear and concise picture of how the entire implementation will go. That’s not to say there won’t be unexpected things that pop up, but you should know the types of systems they use and the approach they take to manage projects. Ask questions such as:
- What kind of project and development methodology are you using?
- How is each part of the project scoped and organized, such as design, development and testing?
- How will each phase progress into the next?
If you’re in the initial stages of consultation with an agency and you haven’t met a project manager, lead designer and lead developer yet, it’s another red flag. Be sure you ask about whether they outsource their design or development. While outsourcing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can create hiccups in the process that could trickle down to affect your project.
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Agile methods often deliver better software faster. Ask if the agency has qualified and trained scrum masters. These professionals are adept at quickly developing products, and since eCommerce websites are increasingly being built as products — that need to hit the market as fast as possible while supporting future updates and expansion options — agile methods may be a good fit.
Design is a hot topic right now in the online world. Good design or, more specifically, good user experience, makes or breaks a website. And with an online shop, the stakes are even higher.
A good design agency will have dedicated, in-house UX and UI designers with experience in making engaging and results-driven eCommerce sites. A great agency will know how to converse fluently about topics such as user-centric design and content-driven eCommerce.
And of course, make sure the agency you’re considering has experience creating eCommerce products across all channels and on all devices. Nothing will break a user experience quicker than being a non-starter on mobile devices.
Development and Integration
Design without an excellent backend isn’t going to get your new venture very far. Be sure you quiz your potentials on their development experience, methods and technologies. You’ll want to understand what they’re using for the content management side of things as well as the kind of frameworks they’re implementing for your core website.
It’s not enough to simply get a bunch of tech buzzwords from them, however. If you start hearing terms like headless CMS and React, be sure to ask them the what, why and how. A great eCommerce development partner will tell you exactly which technologies they’re using and why.
Most importantly, especially if your business is already well-established outside of eCommerce, you should be answering as many questions as you ask. Their development team will be responsible for making sure your current systems — such as POS or inventory management — seamlessly integrate with your new eCommerce platform. And they’ll be able to tell you exactly how they can accomplish that.
Maintenance and Support
Oftentimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of launching a new endeavor and what happens afterward is lost in that hustle and bustle. But managing and maintaining an eCommerce platform is just as important as launching it. And it’s one factor you should take careful consideration of when discussing moving forward with any potential partner.
Look for agencies that offer a level of support post-launch that you’re comfortable with. Keep in mind that eCommerce platforms are complicated pieces of software and often require periods of training to be used efficiently. A great agency will offer some level of support and training once your eCommerce site launches so you aren’t left holding the reins wondering what to do.
Another consideration is potential maintenance. Is the company going to handle the hosting and maintenance of your new store? And if so, what kind of uptime guarantees do they have, and what kind of infrastructure monitoring and management are they using? When an online store goes down, it essentially stops existing. It should go without saying that it’s bad for business.
Last, but certainly not least, is whether or not your business fits culturally with the partner you choose. As stated in the beginning of this post, this partnership is an extensive one that requires many hours of collaboration. It’s important to find an agency that fits with your values and way of thinking about business. Put them under no less scrutiny than you use when hiring your own employees. You aren’t just paying for a one-off job here — you’re building a partnership that could last for years.
Choosing the Right Partner
There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for an eCommerce development company to partner with to bring your eCommerce platform to life. It’s certainly not the least daunting of tasks. But armed with the appropriate amount of knowledge and preparation, you can separate the wheat from the chaff and pick an agency that can breathe life and zeal into your new eCommerce endeavor.
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