Your eCommerce site is due for a revamp.
Integrations are breaking, the site is slow, the UI is outdated, and back-end processes are so manual they’re taking valuable time away from other strategic projects.
How do you know which eCommerce agency to hire?
How can you ensure the project goes smoothly?
How can you be the best client?
With so much riding on this project, you can’t afford to make the wrong choices.
To answer these tough questions, we turned to 3 eCommerce agency professionals for advice. Below, you’ll learn how to:
Every company is different, which means not every agency will be right for your business.
Putting in more time upfront to find the right partner can help you avoid conflict, missed deadlines, and miscommunications in the future.
To start your evaluation, look at an agency’s:
Has the agency worked for clients of a similar size? Have they worked with clients in a similar industry? Review the case studies on their site and ask them how those projects went in your consultation call to verify the information.
If an agency hasn’t worked for exactly the same kind of company you have, it’s still worth giving them a chance.
Isaiah says, “Having industry experience matters a lot. But I will say that some people want to work with an agency that’s worked with companies in their exact industry, on their exact use case. That’s not always necessary. Look for agencies that have hundreds of implementations under their belt.”
Watch the full interview with Isaiah here:
The best agencies employ best practices and technologies, including code repositories, verified coding practices, automated code quality testing, and a structured release process for development to test to staging and finally to production.
You need to work with agencies that have the talent required to do an excellent job. Their developers should be certified in the eCommerce platform you choose and whatever else you’re seeking to improve, such as:
Learning how an agency approaches a project can give you a good sense of whether they align with your working style.
Beth emphasized, “Discovery is especially important. Make sure they spend time reviewing your requirements on a detailed level, they create a solid roadmap, and set mutual goals.”
Watch the full interview with Beth here:
You should also look for signs that agencies that really want to partner with you; they’ll actively listen and have ideas for ways to save money or boost revenue based on what you said.
Finally, think hard about your company’s core values. Make sure the people seem pleasant and easy to work with and that they prioritize the same things you do.
As Beth says, “The agency should be somewhat likable. You don't want to have to partner with an agency that drives you crazy — that would just create a lot more friction. I know it sounds simple, but people forget that you actually have to work through challenges with this agency. You have to have open and transparent communication to get through it and be stronger as a partner together.”
Just like any service, agencies charge commensurate fees for their time and experience.
The best agencies aren’t cheap. They hire exceptional talent with the expertise required to pull off a successful project. They don’t flake. They don’t cut corners. They own and direct the whole project, with client input, of course, and don’t need to be micromanaged.
Freelancers or more inexpensive development agencies don’t come with that guarantee. In fact, they can present a huge risk and can even create more work for you.
As Isaiah said, “When you’re paying $55 per hour for offshore development, it’s a huge risk. And you don’t have the luxury to act as a client anymore. You become the master builder and overseer.”
Beth agreed: “You can pay less, but it ends up costing you more in the long run. You won’t be set up for growth, and because you’re managing developers along with your everyday work, there can be significant scope creep and the project ultimately takes longer to finish.”
On top of that, the work cheaper developers do may not be done to the best standards, causing technical debt that may force you to start over from scratch.
Beth likened this concept to buying a used car. You can buy a reasonably priced used car from a reputable dealer, or you can buy the most inexpensive used car, not knowing whether the owner completed the necessary mile checks and oil changes they were supposed to. The latter may completely break down the week after you buy it.
You’re paying a higher price for a good agency because you know what you’re getting into.
It’s important to remember that eCommerce projects are a two-way street. The eCommerce agency will do a majority of the heavy lifting, but clients need to be fully engaged, present, and willing to participate in discovery, weekly discussions, and quarterly recap meetings.
Without client input, it’s impossible to deliver exactly what clients want. To make the requirements gathering and client engagement process easier, all three experts advised choosing a knowledgeable, highly-engaged point of contact (POC) who can serve as a liaison between client and agency project teams.
Jared says, “Where projects tend to go south is when siloed lines of communication never overlap. But those lines do need to overlap, at least sometimes, to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Watch the full interview with Jared here:
At IronPlane, we make our processes transparent. Everyone has access to the same ticketing systems and to our Slack channels. All stakeholders are invited to meetings. Structuring our projects this way not only increases the chances we’ll get it right, it also shows the POC and others on the client team how we work. And that understanding can further inform how they engage with the project.
For example, most clients tend to think ahead and design their own solutions. Learning how an eCommerce agency works (typically in an agile motion these days) can push clients to focus on use cases rather than solutions, which lets the dev team find the best solution to the problem clients are trying to solve.
For instance, a recent IronPlane prospect once said he needed two separate shopping carts — one for free samples and one for paid products. Two shopping carts on the Shopify platform would be a particular challenge, but with some digging, the use case revealed it was less about a separate cart and more about a simple way to order free samples (with free shipping). This deeper understanding allowed for a more affordable, faster-to-market solution that achieved the core goal of this use case.
Web development is complex. There are a lot of moving parts, which makes keeping everyone aligned and informed a challenge.
If your agency hasn’t already, be sure to set up regular touchpoints that decision-makers are able to attend (even after your website goes live). And make sure that people actually participate.
When key stakeholders don’t weigh in, you risk half-assessing a problem or enhancement. The agency will start work, the stakeholder will be confused and frustrated that the result isn’t meeting their expectations, and the whole project may need to pivot.
Balling things up is also a recipe for disaster. If there’s a problem, you should be able to share and discuss it with the agency right away.
Ask how an agency handles communication during your vendor evaluation. Using a common instant messaging platform, sharing regular status updates, and scheduling recurring meetings are signs they are good communicators.
Whether it’s a new site build, a replatform, or the development of custom functionality, the reality is that things will go wrong at some point in your project.
As Beth says, “In software development, you’re always going to have a bug. It’s the nature of the beast. Even Apple has bugs sometimes.”
Even with the most robust discovery processes and best project management, misestimated delivery dates, unexpected bugs, edge cases, and miscommunications happen. And it’s natural to get upset. But don’t let your behavior become unprofessional — firing an agency on the spot can be a costly decision that will just set your project back further.
Chances are, you’ll be working with this eCommerce agency for a while (most projects take at least six months), and you don’t want to burn any bridges. Instead, do your best to remember that they are trying to help.
Jared says, “We’re here to help you, regardless of your tone. But you have to understand that emotionally charged reactions don’t end in that moment. Your reactions have repercussions throughout the relationship. There’s no agency that doesn’t make any mistakes. The best ones own them, fix them, and move on.”
Staying calm and focusing on how to fix the situation can lead to a speedier resolution and help you build a stronger relationship with the agency team.
So gather as much specific information as possible. Let them know what device and operating system you’re using and the type of browser that may be causing the issue. Take screenshots or videos to show, not just tell, your agency PM what’s going on. Be available to answer any questions, and try to keep your cool.
Here’s what to avoid:
By the same token, you need to feel comfortable holding an agency accountable, knowing they will listen. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you likely need to reevaluate your agency choice and possibly plan for a developer transition.
Clients have a responsibility to foster alignment, keep the project moving forward, and maintain a calm, professional demeanor throughout an eCommerce project. But much of the success of a project comes down to picking the right agency with the experience and skills.
IronPlane checks all the boxes. IronPlane's team of certified developers and innovative eCommerce solution specialists have both a deep knowledge of Adobe's Magento platform and a passion for bringing our client's success online. We have the expertise and resources to manage eCommerce migrations, upgrades, new site builds, custom integrations, managed hosting, and ongoing support.
Our developers, designers, researchers, and creatives love to be challenged, and it shows. Our work delivers tangible results for our clients by creating unique and seamless online shopping experiences with native mobile apps, AR, UX design, and strategic consulting. Our custom solutions are made with the a11y Project (accessibility) in mind and are compliant with WCAG 2.1 standards.
Set up a consultation call today, or learn more about how we handle our clients with care: