At Acro Media, about 30 percent of the deals we end up signing were online businesses that originally didn’t select us as their service provider. Yes, they chose someone else for website building services first—and then came back to speak to us when that relationship didn’t work out.
Why? Because they valued our honesty, authenticity and expertise. And the reason they chose someone else often became their biggest pain point.
They were usually concerned that our hourly rate was a little higher than other quotes, or that we refused to provide a fixed-price quote. They were concerned at the value we put on planning and architecting, because they already had a clear idea of what they wanted. But these are often the factors that bit them in the butt after their project got started.
5 tips for evaluating ecommerce website building service providers
So, if you want to avoid the cost and time of having to redo an ecommerce project, be sure to evaluate these things in any potential agency:
1. Ecommerce experience is important!
Experience is KEY. With product variations, taxes, shipping rules, different currencies, etc., things can get a little out-of-hand quickly. And when you combine that with integrations to customer relationship management systems, enterprise resource planning systems, point of sale systems, accounting systems and any other legacy systems you are using, things can get WAY out-of-hand.
Your agency should be able to explain how they have helped companies with these struggles. Do they have to have integrated your exact CRM before? No. But should they be able to demonstrate that they have integrated CRMs into ecommerce and have the process and understand how to do it? Yes.
2. Hourly rate
What seems “expensive” at first may actually save your money. A task that takes one experienced agency five hours may take another agency 10. That makes the cheaper rate more expensive overall. We see it all the time.
Larger agencies and agencies that have certain areas of specialty will naturally employ a greater pool of expertise to draw from. This experience will only benefit your project.
3. How they quote: fixed price vs time and materials
Fixed-price quotes have three inherent problems:
- You have zero flexibility in the project, as it has been priced to spec. This means you do not benefit from the expertise of your vendor, because if they recommend changes, improvements, opportunities, those items are not within the scope. So you’d better hope that YOU are the expert, because they are just implementers at this point.
- You can get overages and a soured relationship with your vendor. Software development isn't an exact science. Sometimes things can take longer (especially if the agency is not experienced in ecommerce). These overages cost and that cost is passed to you.
- To give you a fixed price, the project is padded like crazy.
To give you the best outcome, quoting on time and materials is best. That’s assuming that the agency can quote accurately (Acro Media has a <5% variance from quoting on 50,000 development hours annually) and that they have a clear transparent process for you (see next point).
4. Their process
Really inspect who and how the agency runs projects. Ask questions like:
- How collaborative is the process?
- Who is on the team?
- Are there specialists in all areas or generalists?
- Is there a dependency on a single person or resource that could mess up your project if they are sick or busy?
- Do you have visibility into tasks and timing?
- Is there a process to deal with overruns?
An agency must have transparent processes in place. You don’t want to get halfway through the project to find the budget has already been hit and more is needed to continue. Or get to the end of a project and find that the features and outcome don't match what you thought you had bought.
These are common occurrences. It's why we win so many projects after not being the first selection: We are completely transparent in the process, and put the power in your hands the whole way through.
5. Hidden costs
Not all agencies charge the same way. Some vary their rate on who is doing the work. Some charge for all resources and meeting time. Everyone bills differently, so understand what is billable and nonbillable in your project.
We charge a flat rate for all resources, whether creative director, UX consultant, software lead, or general developer. But account managers and project managers are non billable. We believe that getting service, suggestions and support shouldn’t be on the clock.
Agencies operate differently, and the costs for just chatting to your project manager about options and ideas can add up fast!
You’re ready to select your service provider
So there are a few things for you to research when selecting your next ecommerce vendor. Heck, research them with your current one.
I hope that if you talk to us about your next project, you’ll allow us to show you how our honest and transparent process can save you in the end. And if you don’t talk to us, that’s OK too. I mean, I’ll still take you back if you go somewhere else and then come back. But I can’t promise it won’t be with a slightly smug grin.