Unless you’ve gone through a few e-Commerce projects, it’s often really hard to tell the awesome agencies from the awful agencies. Whilst, it’s true that most digital/interactive agencies could build an e-Commerce site, not all will be able to do so in a way that:
- is cost-effective,
- meets your deadlines,
- meets your ever changing business needs, and
- makes the process enjoyable (arguably the most important, if you think about ‘work’ the way we do)
Since every seasoned agency has a cheat sheet for identifying a potentially challenging client (don’t believe them if they tell you they don’t), we think it’s only fair that you have a cheat sheet to identify a potentially ill-equipped agency.
We believe there are five key operating pillars for agencies that engage in e-commerce services and in order to be successful they should be performing well in all of them.
- Integrity and commitment.
- Proactive communication style.
- Highly reactive to changes – able to “roll with the punches and changes.”
- Strategic mindset.
- Technological excellence with your selected platform, required integrations and ability to manage through change.
Integrity and Commitment
E-commerce is very complex and requires a very broad understanding of a number of different technologies and interfaces. It therefore requires staffing by individuals who have integrity and commitment to the trade. Integrity is important because the team members need to be committed to understanding the required technologies, committed to the requisite certifications associated with them, and honest about what they are experts in. Great e-Commerce agencies have teams that are committed to certifications in technologies that they are committed to. There is a temptation for some agencies to take on e-commerce work using platforms and technologies that they might have staff that are “somewhat” familiar with or tangentially exposed to. While everyone has to learn platforms at some point it’s a bad idea to select an agency that is not a certified partner of the platform selected and it’s more dubious to work with staff members that are not certified in those technologies. If you are using or evaluating an agency that says they can handle a complex e-commerce project but they don’t have experience or certifications in the technologies you are interested in using, this might be an indication of challenges down the line in your project.
Proactive Communication Style
Your agency should have a very proactive communication style if it works in e-commerce. Given the complexities of e-commerce, it’s important to have a team that communicates well and often. E-commerce merchants should never be asking “what is happening and what is my team doing?” Whether it’s a complex migration project or ongoing maintenance and support, the ongoing communication style of an agency that is in control is one where:
- Regular check-ins are set
- Constant updating and monitoring of project management tools happens, and
- The agency is aware of problems first – preferably before the merchant and its customers.
The agency that is experienced at e-commerce has already been through site outages, hacks, major bug fixes, quick and sudden platform patch scenarios so it knows how important it is to be discovering and communicating issues first. So, if you are discovering or hearing about problems from your customers prior to your agency then they probably don’t know e-Commerce as well as you need them to. In fact, it’s better to hear from your agency to the point where you may get the feeling that you’re hearing from them a little bit too much.
Reactive to Changes
In e-commerce it’s important to have a team and / or agency that can be very reactive to changes. If you’ve worked as or for an e-commerce merchant you know enough to expect the unexpected; a customer calls with a strange order issue, a hosting company calls with a complaint about your site, site gets slow unexpectedly, or your platform releases a new feature that you desperately need and you want it up and working on your site ASAP. Your agency should have an operating model that allows for changes to the schedule of a sprint in a project or a planned month of maintenance tasks and hopefully they are making you aware of the “change” first. If you contact your agency with a sudden change, an idea, or a concern that requires changing a schedule and you continuously hear from your account manager “that’s not what we planned” or “we need to talk change order”, you should consider finding a different agency to partner with.
In e-commerce it’s going to be very helpful if your agency team has a strategic mindset. They need to care about your business, your margins, and your growth. E-commerce is now highly competitive and your agency should be providing you with ideas and proposals that are fresh, new, strategic and realistic.
Your agency should be proposing a review of the business once per year in addition to a monthly check-in.
Even if your agency has only been hired to manage e-commerce technology, chances are they are helping to manage a platform that is deeply integrated with the efforts of your marketing team or agency and therefore they should be making sure that the platform evolution is consistent with the overall business strategy.
If you don’t hear ideas from your agency and you don’t get the feeling that they are at all strategic about their recommendations or ideas, then, chances are e-Commerce might not be their ‘first language’.
Technological Competence with the Platform and Complex Integrations
E-Commerce is only getting more complex. It’s not just about the primary e-commerce platform you select to showcase products and take payments – it’s about the interconnectedness with other systems, integrations, and modularity. Not only does your agency need to have deep experience in the e-commerce platform you select but they also need to have an understanding of, and experience with integrations to:
- Marketing Automation Tools
- Analytics packages and likely another large set of systems used to help measurement and performance.
Because these systems all need to work together efficiently and securely it’s imperative that your agency is staffed with engineers that are certified and experienced in the platform that you work with. More than ever, letting your agency work in e-commerce technology and move up the learning curve on your dime is very risky. If your agency is not able to describe the deep experience they have with the e-commerce platform of your choice and the types of integrations that you need it’s likely that, when it’s all said and done, your project will not be on-time and on-budget.
A focused, expert e-commerce agency will excel at each of these five key pillars. A part-time e-commerce agency or a digital agency that only dabbles in it will struggle to score well across all of them. You don’t need to work with an agency that sucks at e-commerce.
We don’t suck at e-commerce. In fact, it’s what we do and we’re pretty great at it.
Get in touch to talk about your next project or getting the level of maintenance and support you need with an existing e-commerce site.