How to Choose the Right eCommerce Partner for Your Business

When you set out in any business, choosing the right vendor for any part of your business that isn’t cared for in house is incredibly difficult.  You have almost limitless possibilities in today’s globalized marketplace.  How do you know who to work with?  Do they need to be local? Can you even trust references?  How much does a design portfolio say (when looking at designers)?  These are just a few of the questions among the dozens you should be asking during the process of selecting any vendor.  However, since we are largely focused on eCommerce, let’s direct our attention at some important criteria that will help you choose the appropriate eCommerce Partner.

1. Communication, business values, time zones

Yes, this is #1.  We get this at least once a week with new leads/prospects that come knocking on our door with outsourcing nightmares.  The biggest issue we hear about with outsourcing these days is communication boundaries.  It’s not as cut and dry as English vs. Other Language.  It has more to do with outsourcing critical business functions to vendors that will inherently slow you down and cause you more work. 

To dissect things a little bit, here is what you can expect when outsourcing projects to vendors half way around the world from your location:

A) 6+ Hour time zone difference (most often it’s 9-12 hours).  When you are starting a new eCommerce business your sales channel is your site.  Do you really want to be waiting on one day turnarounds just for communication, let alone project hand offs?

B) Communication barriers.  Grasp of the english language is typically not the problem here.  It’s generally more to do with a strong understanding of your business, things like terminology and local market understanding (trends / holidays / demographics) are absolutely critical in choosing your vendors.

C) Similar business ethics and practices.  This one came as a surprise to me years ago, but it really shouldn’t have.  The way other countries do business, and value business, are very different than how we view things in the USA/Canada.  Most of my family is in Italy, and we discuss this topic quite often.  They have nearly 5-6 weeks off (on average) a year in Italy and most of the people I know barely work a full 8 hour day.  This is of course just one example, but shows that there are different approaches to business in different parts of the world.  Our advice, choose a vendor who puts the same value on your business as you do!

2. What does the “portfolio” really tell you?

If you are looking strictly for a website graphic designer, then the online portfolio tells you quite a bit about the designer.  You can see many things from an artists’ previous works (i.e. – general style and color preferences). 

Most companies that call us don’t know this, but they are typically not just looking for a designer.  For example, we quite often get questions along the lines of “We’re looking for a designer to design a Most Popular products widget for our site.”  The answer to this question is of course to point out that design is only one very small component to what they are looking for.  This should tell you where we’re going with regards to online portfolios.

Much of the work we do here at Demac Media takes place behind the visual layer of the website.  We do quite a bit of the design work as well, but the meat and potatoes of any eCommerce site is connecting all the parts to create a working engine behind the scenes.  What good is the body of a car if it can’t get you from A to B?  If your site is pretty, but not usable, your conversion rates will stink.

Things like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Integration and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Integration are more often than not absolutely critical in an eCommerce businesses continuing success.  For new stores, these two items won’t be as important but they will become huge issues as you begin to grow.  The double data entry alone (or manual data importing) alone will kill your available time/cycles.

The point here is, look at a vendors online portfolio and use it strictly for judging design aspects of what you are looking for in a vendor.  When it comes to non-design requirements, the portfolio generally means bugger all. 

3. Cost vs. Price (the big question of value)

There is a very good reason we like to distinguish ourselves from web design heavy agencies and freelancers.  Generally your design work is only part of the budget.  A huge mistake we see companies making is going out to RFP asking for a quote on a massive scope, then choosing a vendor strictly on design merit (see portfolio point above). 

Now, I’m sure that this doesn’t always work out badly and I know plenty of designers (and agencies) who have great development partners who do the backend work.  We have many relationships with marketing and advertising agencies who simply get the work from their clients, then pass it off to us for development.  Ultimately, I don’t care how the work comes to us, as long as we’re busy doing some great things we’re a happy crew.  What I care about is clients who go directly to one agency, pay X$ for the project, then that agency comes to us and pays us X$ – Y$ (our cost).  If the client would have bypassed the agency, they could have saved the difference, which in many cases is several thousands of dollars.  This happens in every industry no doubt, but it is especially prevalent  in ours.

Our advice here is to ask your vendors if they plan on doing the work in-house with their own staff, or if they plan outsourcing to someone else.  If they say they are doing the work in-house, get them to put it in writing so that you are protected.

Hopefully the above tips help you in your vendor selection for your next project.  They’ve helped me over the years!