Ecommerce is hotter now than ever before – the number of customers going online to shop is growing and is set to continue growing year-on-year. The IMRG (a body that represents the UK’s online retailers), reported that:
…Britons spent in excess of £68 billion on the internet last year, an increase of £10 billion on 2010, being the equivalent of £2,180 for every adult in the country.
Selling online is a great move & there’s certainly money to be had, along with a lifestyle of freedom and being your own boss. Whether you’re looking to sell online for the first time or already have an established online shop but are looking for a revamp of your current site, here’s our ULTIMATE guide to hiring the best local web design company to help make your ecommerce venture a success.
Step 1 – Do your planning
Firstly, don’t rush into contacting web design companies. You’ll need to take some time and sit down with the rest of your team or partner(s) and decide on some essentials:
- What do you want to sell and how will you categorise your products?
- Who is your audience? Are they local, nationwide or worldwide?
- How do you envisage your business growing over the next 3-5 years
- How will you drive traffic to your website?
- What kind of content can you create and publish online to get in front of your audience and generate traffic?
- How will you be photographing your products?
Jot all this down and when you do make contact with ecommerce web designers, cover these points with them to get their thoughts too.
Step 2 – Research different ecommerce platforms
No ecommerce web design company will expect you to know the ins and outs of every platform out there, but doing some research upfront will be beneficial to you as you don’t want to be trapped with a solution that will hinder you as your business grows. How do you go about deciding which platform is best for your ecommerce business? This will depend on a number of factors like:
- The size of your business – are you already established, or just starting out?
- The extendability of the platform – can modifications and adjustments made as your business grows?
- How much control do you want over your store (there are hosted and self hosted options out there which I’ll cover in the next section)
- The number of products you want to sell, or plan to sell in the future
- What payment method(s) you want to accept? PayPal is usually a given, but then you’ve got merchant providers such as WorldPay, Stripe, CardSave all with different benefits.
- What features and functionality do you need your store to have? Is it all pretty standard, or perhaps you require something more custom, like a phone ordering system built into the admin area so your staff can take orders over the phone.
TIP: Some larger web companies will have developed their own platforms too to make things even more complicated. The danger here is that if you do want to move away from them in the future a) you will need to check with them that you can in fact do this, and b) there will be a bit of a learning curve for any new company that try and pick up the site as they understand how the site is structured and where the code for everything resides.
Step 3 – Is a hosted or self-hosted platform right for you?
Typically a ‘self-hosted’ ‘open source’ ecommerce platform is best as you have total control over it. You host the files on your own server (or your web design company’s server) and you have the ability to customise the store much more heavily. The benefit with using web designers who work with open source platforms is that if you do move away from them, they’ll be plenty of other companies who can work with your site. Hosted ecommerce platforms typically make sense if you are just starting out and plan to try and get your ecommerce website up quickly with you doing the majority of the work. There will be restrictions with hosted options, but it does work for some.
Step 4 – Domain names & website hosting
If this is your first venture into ecommerce, you’ll also need to consider if you want to own your company domain name (e.g. www.myecommercestore.com), or if you’re happy to give control of this to your chosen local web design agency. You’ll also need somewhere to host your ecommerce website if you aren’t going down the “hosted” route (explained earlier). It’s usually best to speak to the web design company about this and see what they recommend for your needs. Shared hosting is fine if you’re just starting, but if you’re more established and have lots of traffic already, you’ll likely benefit from a dedicated cloud solution which will be much faster as your site will be the only site on the server.
Step 5 – Know your own needs
Once you’ve got a shortlist of local web designers what next?
- Sitemap: Ask for a proposed sitemap so you can be sure all the pages you need are accounted for and the structure of your website will be right and logical for a user to navigate.
- Proposal: Don’t be afraid to ask for a written proposal for your project. Here the web design agency should propose solutions and explain how they plan to tackle your project and deliver the final website.
- Timescale: Find out how long your project is likely to take and, if you give the go ahead, when your project would be started and delivered
- Ongoing support: Find out what ongoing support they offer – can they provide maintenance, security and SEO support if you need it?
- Process: Do they demonstrate a clear, structured, tried and tested project process? Important parts of the process to look out for are: revisions and how they will be handled, design and whether what they create will be bespoke, and finally testing and delivery.
- Project liaison: Will you know who’s working on your project and will you be able to speak and liaise with them throughout your project when you need to? Often a smaller web design company is better here because you can talk directly to the designer / developer working on your project.
- Content: Who will be responsible for the creation of content on your new website? Will the web design company be making recommendations here?
- Taking payments: PayPal is usually a given, but then you’ve got merchant providers such as WorldPay, Stripe, CardSave all with different benefits. You’ll want to understand which is the best solution for you.
Step 6 – Be realistic about your budget
Always a tricky one to consider, but it needs to be broached as there are many ways to design and build an ecommerce website. Very broadly speaking, If you’re looking to invest anything less than £1500 you are likely to end up with a templated solution where the design isn’t unique to your business Perfectly fine if you are just starting out and are dipping your toes in the water with your venture, but make sure you know that a templated solution is what you’ll be getting, and ask your chosen web design company what limitations there will be. How are revisions handled and how do you end up at the final solution that everyone’s happy with? If you’re looking more at the £3000 and up range, then you’ll be looking at a ecommerce shop with a totally tailor-made look and feel and even some bespoke functionality too. A couple of top tips for you:
- Make sure you get a ‘fixed price’ quote, so there’s no nasty additional costs that crop up during your project
- If do have a lower budget, make sure you know that you’ll be getting a templated solution and find out what limitations there will be
- If you have a higher budget, double check that you’ll be getting a tailor-made solution. I have heard horror stories of templated solutions being delivered on projects with £6k budgets – in fact that happened to someone we know a week ago.
Typically you get what you pay for, however you don’t need to go overboard either. So if you are serious about your ecommerce business you will need to make a good investment. If you skimp and use a web design company who charge £499, £799, (we’ve all seen them!) be warned, they are probably churning out sites that are exactly the same as yours and you may suffer later on if you need to grow your ecommerce shop.
Step 7 – Start searching for local ecommerce web design companies
Now you’ve got this far, it’s time to think about who you’ll want to work with to design and build your fantastic new ecommerce store. Here’s what you should look for when perusing their websites.
- How far away from your location are they based?: This may not matter to you, but you may prefer to work with someone local so you can easily meet with them. From our experience it’s always nice to build a relationship with our clients.
- Previous experience: Does their portfolio demonstrate a selection of previous ecommerce projects that you like the look of?
- Check references: Can they supply you with at least 2-3 references you can make contact with? You should contact some of their past clients and see what they say about their experience working with this company for the design and build of their ecommerce website.
- Do they ask sufficient questions: Do they ask you lots of probing questions about your business, your competitors, your goals and objectives – if not, they’re probably not that interested in helping you long term and are going to churn out something quickly without much thought.
- Get a demonstration of the platform they intend to use: Always get the web designers to demo their platform of choice to you so that you know what the admin area will look like ahead of time. You don’t want to be seeing the admin area for the first time once your site is live and finding out it’s a nightmare to use.
- Design: Another huge one. Are the web designers going to be creating a design for your shop that’s totally unique and tailor-made? Or will they be using an off-the-shelf template? The design of your store carries a lot of credibility as you’ve typically got about half a second to make that first impression, so this is an important factor.
- Documentation: Will they supply documentation / instructions on the ecommerce platform so you know how to carry out adding products, fulfilling orders etc. Or will they spend time showing you in person?
Step 8 – Set up some meetings
It’s so important to meet with a few different ecommerce web designers before making your decision. You’re going to be working with these people for the foreseeable future, so you need to feel confident and comfortable with them. Set up some meetings and go check them out. Get introduced to their team and let them show you some of their past projects. TIP: You should be doing most of the talking in this meeting as the web designers try and find out as much as possible about your business as possible.
Step 9 – Commission the right web design company for you
After all this it’s finally time to make a decision. Trusting your gut would be my advice and remember to check with some of their past clients what their experience of working with this company was like. Once you’ve decided who to go with, you’ll need to be available and ready to get involved, feeding back frequently on the progress of the project. It won’t take up a lot of your time, but you should expect to dedicate 2 hours a week to your web design project, with that number increasingly slightly towards the completion of the project. TIPS: Make sure there’s a contract in place between you and your web designers. Thoroughly read it and make sure you’re happy with it. You’ll also want to get a ‘project schedule’ with milestones so both parties know what dates they’re working towards to get your ecommerce site up and running.
BONUS: Step 10 – Do they talk about marketing & beyond?
The hugely important (but often overlooked) final piece of the puzzle is actually consistently driving traffic to your website. You probably know what SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is, but there’s more to it than that. Your ecommerce web design company should be talking to you about developing your “content marketing strategy”. What’s content marketing? It’s the process of creating and distributing extremely high value content that your customers will love you for. It’s often published on your website (in your news or blog area) and then distributed on social networks to reach a larger audience. This process of regularly getting high value content out into the world means your site will also begin to rank very well on Google.
Here are some more resources for you:
- Ultimate Epic Guide to Create a Successful Online Business in 2015
- Which Ecommerce Platform is the Best Choice for your Online Store?
- Should I use a Hosted or Self-hosted Ecommerce Platform?
I hope you found our ULTIMATE Guide to Hiring an Ecommerce Web Design Company useful. Of course if you’d like to chat to us about your own ecommerce project, we’d love to start a conversation. Just call Will or Alli on 01747 852298 or pop in for a coffee.
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