Highly successful e-commerce merchants often outsource ongoing, regular maintenance and support (M & S) primarily because they can get the full range of services provided by an entire team or department without having to hire employees. At Accorin, we have over 20 clients that operate using this model having come to us from SIs that focus on design and development, or shifting from an internal team model. It’s not unusual for companies to go through cycles of change where for a few years they hire and a few years they outsource – which makes sense as the economy changes and as rates and availability of resources change.

More than ever in the current landscape, there are several key considerations that e-commerce merchants, large and small, are factoring into their decisions about handling ongoing Maintenance and Support.

Tolerance for Employee Turnover in a High Employment Economy?

E-commerce is still a hot industry so technical and admin resources with experience are in high demand. While the pandemic is ending and “the great resignation” is showing signs of abating, there is still considerable risk that you find people to join your team who may only be around for a year or even less. Investing the necessary time to onboard, only to have that knowledge walk out the door in the form of an employee resigning can be painful. Companies like Accorin that help merchants outsource the operations spread the risk over many people so the risk of turnover is low, the knowledge doesn’t disappear and (another benefit) we don’t go on vacation.

The risk is even more pronounced for smaller merchants who might be tempted to hire one or two employees with “jack-of-all-trades” skills that accomplish tech, design, and marketing-related tasks. Those people are rare but if you find one and hire them the risk is even higher if they leave. There’s no such thing as cloning.

Is Outsourcing Better for Larger or Smaller E-Commerce Merchants?

In other words, does size matter? In this case, not really.

It takes a very large operation for scaling an internal team to make sense. Yes, those operations are out there but we believe it’s really a better fit for merchant organizations that can scale and reduce the risk with a dedicated team of developers and support personnel of 10 or more individuals. Even then there is still risk because outsourcers like Accorin already have the scale – you don’t have to build it. Outsourcers like Accorin can also provide flexibility, so if you decide you prefer to hire a front-end developer onto your team they can still be integrated into the outsourcers team and operation.

On the other hand, as already discussed, smaller merchants likely don’t likely want to take on the overhead and risk of building a full internal team; not to mention the time it takes. It’s likely better to lean on an experienced partner to outsource your M & S needs to. Typically, these merchants would seek out smaller monthly retainers.

Both large and small merchants are a fit for outsourcing maintenance and support tasks. The larger the organization, the more flexible the contract should be so that changes and scaling of hours can be accommodated based on internal hiring activity.

Does the Technology Matter?

SaaS vs PaaS vs Custom? Is outsourcing M & S a better fit for custom e-commerce sites? Merchants that run SaaS? Both? The answer is yes. Most e-commerce merchants are running a core SaaS or PaaS platform now. There are always a number of integrations and ongoing support needs that make outsourcing more cost effective and more efficient. The average number of integrations with SaaS platforms that Accorin manages is 16. That’s 16 connections that can go wrong. Anytime. Often without any notice.

We use automated monitoring tools and around-the-clock operations. Of course merchants can also set up dev ops, monitoring and security assessment operations themselves, but doing it without scale has its risks. 20 years ago when e-commerce was in its infancy, most e-commerce sites were custom and the best scenario was to utilize the people that built a site to maintain it. As a long time colleague once said to me “if you knew where the pipes were buried they were easier to fix.” Now it’s more common to transition from the developer to a team of M & S specialists for longer term support whether a site is complex and highly customized or on a SaaS platform.

Is There a Hybrid Option?

At this point, perhaps you’re wondering: can I mix in-house teams with outsourcing? Yes – most reputable SIs that provide this service will work with a hybrid model, where the maintenance and support team for an e-commerce operation is mixed with full time employee members of the merchant’s team.

Every business is different and there might be some aspect of the day-to-day operation that is better suited to the W-2 / employee / insourcing mode. For example, consumer brand e-commerce sites typically have high volume of design requirements in support of ongoing consumer-targeted campaigns that require almost daily changes.

Smart outsourcing arrangements can leverage hybrid teams to integrate the inhouse designer/developers with the outsourced development team; this allows the merchant to match the skills (and costs) to meet budget and pace of change required by the business.

The Bottom Line

Once an e-commerce merchant is comfortable with the idea of a team being remote, they can realize significant financial and operational benefits by outsourcing maintenance and support services Vs. hiring an entire internal team.

Experienced e-commerce agencies / SIs will work with merchants to establish the right mix of resources and the service levels that are the best fit for the business and site(s) that it is supporting. Furthermore, flexibility is key to a successful relationship with an outsourcer; businesses change and sometimes the make up of an e-commerce team needs to change in response.

Contact us if your team is changing and you are looking for a solution to improve your e-commerce maintenance and support. Or you can learn more about our Maintenance, Support and Evolution (MSE) services, here.