Selecting the “right” eCommerce solution and development partner can be a very daunting process. The main problem lies in the definition of the task itself: Choosing a new eCommerce solution. The fact is there are likely to be a number of eCommerce systems that are more than capable of meeting your requirements.
So, how then do you choose a supplier? What’s the typical process you need to go through to make this understandably anxious decision?
I've highlighted 10 top tips to help you make the right choice when looking for an eCommerce partner:
1. Focus On the Partner + The Software
Selecting the right eCommerce development partner is as important as selecting the best technology capable of meeting your core requirements. The key decision is finding a partner with whom you feel you can develop a close working relationship over the many years to come. Getting this right will have an impact on whether your eCommerce site is a success or, indeed, a failure.
Getting the balance between the right eCommerce partner and platform for your company is a sure-fire combination that can bring not only a successful implementation, but a profitable on-going relationship for your business.
2. Bring Together a Strategic Team
Your eCommerce solution is an integral part of your business. No decision you make – should ever be taken lightly. Ensure you bring together a team of people that have sound knowledge of both the operational and management of your business. Be it store sales, marketing, warehouse, finance, customer service, and so on.
If you involve the right people from the start of the project, you will be in a better position to ask the right questions from the get-go. (As an example, your IT department may have a more technical outlook than your marketing department.) If you’re looking to change your back office / ERP / OMS system then this will also impact on eCommerce / mCommerce, stores, Kiosks and so forth.
It’s vital to get buy-in from each part of the business that’ll be affected by the new system/s. If at all possible, include the CEO, (as the choice you make will have a major impact on your company).
If you involve the key people needed for the project from the start, you will save yourself a lot of time and issues down the line. You’ll also encounter less resistance to change if people are involved in the decision-making process early-on.
3. The Devil’s in the Detail
Most eCommerce partners will have an impressive-looking portfolio of clients. It’s important to delve into the detail and ask yourself “…in what way were the vendors involved in the project?”
Some agencies showcase eCommerce sites when they only implemented the design. Consider the size of their clients? Are they international businesses? Are their websites strong, market-leading examples?
When you hold your first project planning meeting, get everyone in the same room to discuss: The system being replaced, the business benefits and the scope of the project.
It’s important at this stage to outline the project strategy and agree the functional and non-functional requirements:
- What are your absolute “must-haves” when it comes to the functionality?
- What is your desired cultural fit?
- What would be the ideal track record of the eCommerce partner?
- What are the absolute “must-haves” in terms of non-functional requirements, for example:
- The partner must have successfully implemented a project in a similar market.
- The partner must have at least 10 years’ experience in eCommerce, multichannel etc.
- The software must be used by at least X companies in the UK.
4. Examine Integration Experience
The most successful eCommerce solutions are integrated with back-office ERPs, OMSs, PIMs and or CRMs, as well as intelligent, search and merchandising solutions, 3PLs / courier systems and a myriad of payment gateways. Not to mention online marketplaces, reporting and digital marketing tools. It’s crucial to work with an eCommerce partner who has specific skills and experience integrating the different systems you work with.
Seamless integration should be a core consideration for any eCommerce project. If done well, integration can provide your business with the flexibility to adapt and change overtime – done badly, it will become a barrier to growth.
Evaluating your prospective vendor’s expertise should help to distinguish the ‘digital agency’ from the true, eCommerce systems implementers.
5. Assess their Project Processes & Credentials
For larger, enterprise level projects it’s critical your partner has a defined project methodology and defined processes in place to take a project from the initial discovery / scoping through to design, development, testing and go-live. It’s also important they have services to help you achieve your objectives with training, managed services and on-going support.
Within your initial meetings and RFI, it's worth asking what their development methodology is: Do they adopt an agile methodology, Prince2 or Waterfall approach? You should also ask for a breakdown of the project team’s credentials and responsibilities within your proposed project. *LinkedIn is a great resource, and you could also ask for a breakdown of their experience within your RFI.
Alarm bells should ring if there’s no dedicated project manager, eCommerce consultant, UX / creative designers and in-house development team throughout every step of the project. Make sure you ask if the development team is in-house or outsourced. If the majority of the development is outsourced, your project is likely to be at risk.
6. Omnichannel Experience
Omnichannel / Multichannel Capability one of the common drivers for a systems change in today’s connected world. Simply having a website and mobile app isn’t enough, today’s savvy consumers want and expect multichannel. They want to be able to research online, reserve for click-and-collect, and they expect to be able to track a delivery online, even when the purchase was made over the phone. They also expect to have visibility of their loyalty points across all channels. *Be sure to pick an eCommerce partner that has strong credentials and experience in multichannel - that is if you want to delight your customers with a friction-free and seamless, customer experience.
7. Assess Creative Design Skills
Any strong contender should have a team of specialist, graphic and eCommerce designers. Creatives who understand eCommerce will be able to create a site that not only looks great but is functional, easy-to-use and drives conversion.
They should have experience working across all devices, channels and have an approach to designing for mobile. If they talk about user-centric design, content-driven commerce and responsive design then that’s a clear tick in the box.
8. Support and Maintenance
Your eCommerce site is most likely the 'bread-and-butter' behind your business. It’s your lifeblood so make sure it’s always live, 365 days a year. If your website fails, the consequences could be irreparable – placing a strain on your call-centre, lost orders and customers that never return.
Your eCommerce partner should guarantee a dedicated support function and provide satisfactory service-level agreements within their commercial terms. Throughout the decision-making process you should make sure there is 24/7 monitoring and robust, hosting and infrastructure management.
9. Scalability & Growth
If you have ambitious growth plans, then it’s worth asking yourself: Does X have the expertise and experience to take our business to the next level? Are they thought leaders in the industry? What do their customers have to say?
An obvious place to start your research is their company website: Assess their reports, case studies and news/blog section to see who’s chosen them as a strategic technology partner and the results they have enjoyed from their partnership.
10. Cultural Fit
Whatever your approach, remember to put as much weight on the choice of supplier and as on the choice of software. It’s vital that you have a strong working relationship and that their work culture aligns with yours. Just make sure you have bought into them for the right reasons, and remember, you’re choosing a business partner you may well be working with for the next decade: How you feel about them is just as important as what their product can do.
There’s no doubt that your project team has many tough decisions ahead. To avoid the trap of placing your decision solely on relationships, be ruthless in your application of the “must-haves” (knock-out) requirements… This approach increases the chances of successful, long-term and profitable relationship.
Didn’t get all the advice you need?
Why not download one of our free guides or get in touch about an existing eCommerce project: