OK, so we now know what we’re going to sell and to whom. We also know what price points we are going to go with and how much money we’re going to make per item. We know how we’re going to take payment, we know how we’re going to get the goods or services to the customer and we know how we will handle any issues. So in this installment we will look at how you go about choosing your tech and your tech partner.
You’ve done all your research and you know what you need from your online presence, but how do you go about converting that in to a web platform which will entice your customers? After all there are plenty of great products that haven’t performed online as they really should have, due to a poor technical deployment and little or no inbound strategy, so your choice of platform and tech partner should not be left to the vagaries of a “friend of a friend” or worse still a rudimentary Google search – the digital equivalent of sticking a pin in a yellow (or white) pages!
Scope your Requirements
It sounds pretty obvious, but it is crucial to have an idea of what you want to achieve. To do that, write down who you are, what you want to do, how much you want to spend and what outcomes you are looking for (“RoI” or Return on Investment).
- Required technologies – there are plenty of Web development agencies out there, all claiming that they are eCommerce experts and that their solution is the right one for your requirements. However, if you’ve scoped your requirements and the functionality you are looking for, you then have a check list against which to measure both the agency and the platform. Research the platform first based on your requirements and then find the agency that is able to deploy – not the other way around. To help you map requirements it is also important to understand the art of the possible when it comes to eCommerce. There may be very useful functionality that you hadn’t thought of or didn’t know was possible. A great way to start is by exploring the masters of ecommerce like Amazon and start to really thinking about their user experience, the level of personalisation they offer, how they seem to know so much about you. Examine their mobile user options and experiences and review their entire purchase process. Taking notes of the functionality and features that you like can give you ideas about what to look for in an eCommerce platform. It is so useful to do this exercise not only on the big players but any existing sites within your business area or niche who have strength and position in the market. Really examine the user experience they provide and pick out what you really like as an end user then look for the functionality to support these things when it comes to platform investigation.
- Build standards – you need to ensure that the site is visible for the intended audience, so specify the browsers the site needs to be visible on, the level of accessibility required and of course any site these days needs to be responsive at the very least, with the site optimised on the platform of your core customer (some developers build from the smallest device up and others for the largest device down. I would advise choosing the optimum device you expect your customers to view the site on and then scale it up and down from there).
- Key Performance Indicators or “KPIs” are worth including in any scoping document and whilst an agency may not be able to sign up to them all, they should at least agree that communally you and they should be working towards these. Typically these may include traffic to the site (if they are responsible for inbound marketing); conversion to: sale/ enquiry/ newsletter sign-up or other call to action. You should also include a maximum attrition rate within the checkout process; average basket size; spend per head; percentage of repeat purchase – the list goes on, but you do need some way of measuring the efficacy of your activity. Otherwise, how do you know what success looks like?
- Budget – Believe me, I’ve come across a number of businesses who have provided a budget to an agency, but haven’t factored in marketing and then wondered why they have no customers. If you are able to provide a total budget to an agency for the first year, together with your key KPIs, then they should be able to determine pretty accurately whether the budget is sufficient and where the bulk of it should be spent. Certainly for the business to consumer brands I’ve worked on, a rule of thumb is that out of your total annual budget (assuming a realistic budget!), then at least 50% and maybe as high as 60% should be spent on the marketing of the site. After all, what’s the point in having a site that looks great, converts well, but has no customers?
- Check list – When scoping requirements I would always advocate a tick-box check list against which you can assess how each solution/ agency fares. This is something that you can use when researching the solutions available in the market or indeed use it to ascertain the relative skills of each agency. Use something simple: Key functional requirements down the left hand side and then across the top – does the solution provide this as standard? (yes/ no); Can it provide it (yes/no); if so, at what additional cost (££££). This then allows you to quickly assess the relative merits of technologies and of agencies.
Explore the Market
There are plenty of businesses who go through the planning stage and then throw all of that out of the window when they engage with an agency – it’s YOUR business, you know what you want to do and whilst a good technical partner will advise, if you feel that the advice is taking you too far away from what you want to achieve, then you need to reconsider or take further advice. Particularly smaller agencies may “recommend” you to build using the tech platform they are most comfortable with, not necessarily the right solution for you.
The most important decision is getting the right tech platform – don’t let your chosen developer choose for you (unless you trust them implicitly to keep you right). I would always advocate looking at the various solutions available in the market and then approaching agencies once you have a clear idea of which solution is most appropriate for your needs. Settle on the technology and then find a partner – not the other way around!
There are plenty of eCommerce solutions out there, from WooCommerce (the WordPress eCommerce plug-in) or one of the many Software as a Service (SAAS) platforms (e.g. Shopify) , through Magento Community and Enterprise (and remember that Magento 2 is coming out towards the end of this year, so you may be better to go straight for the newest version or else it’s going to cost you to migrate across), right up to the full Enterprise solutions such as Demandware / Oracle’s ATG web commerce / Hybris or even NetSuite, now that it has obtained Venda (Cloud based eCommerce platform) and just purchased Bronto (eCommerce marketing platform).
Test the Market
Of course, all the talk up until now has been about finding an agency to deliver your vision, however you may have the skills to develop the solution yourself, or you want to test market using one of the WYSYWIG SAAS eCommerce platforms or probably even better for proving your concept using Market Places. Having attended IRX2015 (Internet Retailing conference) in Birmingham, UK, this year, the talk was very much about Market Places and market place solutions, particularly when looking at overseas markets – cost of entry is reasonably low and the marketplace platform, whether that is Amazon, eBay or TMall Global will bring you traffic. It’s certainly worth giving a low-cost route a go, particularly if you are testing to see if there’s a market for your products or services?
We’ll explore Market Places in more detail in a future post.
We’ll also explore International ecommerce as a series of blog posts in their own right, however for now, live by the mantra of “get it right in your home market first”.
Finding Appropriate Solution Providers
This can be a problematic task. My best advice is to look at other sites that you rate and see who developed them. You can also ask other businesses who have deployed solutions and of course, if you approach a particular agency, you should always talk to a few of their clients.
Issuing your Requirements
When you’ve decided you are ready to issue your scoping document and have found suitable developers, a few handy pointers:
- How many agencies should I approach? – I would suggest sending the full scoping document to around 6 (if you’ve targeted well you shouldn’t need to send to more than this number and of course, the more you send out to, the more quotations/ responses you’re going to have to respond to)
- Call/ Email the agency – to introduce yourself, find out who you should talk to and to mention a little about the project
- Expression of interest (EOI) – always issue an EOI to ensure that the agency is interested and to make sure you don’t give too much away until you’ve established this and to ensure that they have no conflict of interest (with other clients)
- Non disclosure – dependent on the sensitivity of the business you may want to issue a simple non-disclosure document
- Time – set a timescale for a response to the EOI and a timescale for a response to the fuller scoping document.
- Scoring sheet – develop a scoring sheet to allow you to assess the responses impartially against the things that are most important to you (other work in the same area? attention to detail of the response? innovative ideas? etc). This will also allow you to ascertain the areas that you think the response is good or weak
- Meet – I would suggest that you whittle down the quotations to 2 or 3 and get them to present (depends on the value of the Contract and the size of the agency as to how responsive to this they will be). It gives you the opportunity to get them to present how they will approach the project and allow you to ask the questions that you felt from your scoring sheets that they were less adept at answering. When you’ve whittled down to 2 I would then visit them “insitu” to get a feel for the business (remember that they may well get their Business Development guys to present and so you may get a different feel for the business when you meet the rest of the staff!). Ensure you meet the team who will work on the project, including the project manager
- Due diligence – make sure you speak to previous customers; pull credit reports and/ or accounts and always ensure that there’s a Contract in place so that everyone is aware of the scope of the project, the timescales and the deliverables.