Ask This Before You Pick Ecommerce Firm II
Let's face it, many ecommerce providers will tell you they have the best solution to meet your needs, however, once you start scratching beneath the surface, you might find that the said solution is not the best fit for your business.
Knowing the right questions to ask will help you to quickly identify the providers depth of knowledge, experience, competency, and overall effectiveness in developing ecommerce systems.
In part 2 of this 2 part series I will review; Design & Development, and Hosting & Post Live Support questions.
Click here to see Part 1, which covers; General Questions, Business Development, and Investment & Terms.
Design and Development
1) How many products, product categories, and pages do I get?
Many companies will charge you based upon the number of pages, products and categories your site will have, as many of these items need to be custom designed, and configured.
Ensure that the company knows how many pages your site has, and that they are able to reproduce these pages within their software. Be cautious with form pages, custom product configurations, deep content sections (with many pages of content and SEO/linking processes).
Each page, product and category from your current site will need to be migrated—how will this be done? Ask them how will links and URL’s be preserved, and who will be doing this; you or the company.
2) Is there an existing shopping cart system/content management system that you build my site on? Or, is everything custom coded?
Assuming it’s an existing system, what “out of the box” features are available with your system?
Does it support international shipping? For example, I may want to ship to Canada….how are the postal rates calculated for this and are they accurate (don’t want to overcharge or undercharge my customers)?
Be sure to define what is and what is not included within the proposal. Ask to see examples of these features, and understand how they will be developed for your site.
3) Is there a demo of your shopping cart system available where I can log into the backend and check things out?
If so, review the following:
Layout (should be easy to use and navigate)
Functionality (review some of the core feature to see how they work)
Speed (how long does the system take to load each page, how easy is it to manage the system?)
Documentation (are there help file within the system to provide illustrations of how to use the features)
Ask to see a live example of the core software system. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to review the system and learn more about the layout (ease of use), functionality and speed of loading.
Take notes of each area to ask the company about.
4) Is their programmer doing the design? Are they using a template purchased online?
- Make sure they assign an experienced web design specialist dedicated to your project.
Many smaller web development companies have employees who wear several hats. Make sure the programmer isn't also the designer. It is rare to see an experienced and competent programmer also be up-to-date and well versed with the latest design standards.
5) How many design revisions do I get? What if I am not happy with the design?
Does the company provide a wireframe before creating the design? If so, ask to see a previous wireframe.
Does the company provide multiple design compositions, or do they focus on one and make revisions?
Ask to see some of their previous designs, and how they used design principles to create the site (font, layout, images, colors and hierarchy of elements).
The company should provide you with a specified amount of compositions/revisions, and they should have a very clear and methodical process for creating the initial design composition. Make sure to learn how this process works, and ask to see existing site compositions.
6) What is the expected time frame to complete my new site (start to finish)?
- How much time do I realistically need to allocate to the process? What’s expected of me?
- Is there a penalty for unforeseen delays in launch (by the client or company)?
- Get a firm timeline, and ask for the average timeline of recently launched websites. Ask how much time you will need to dedicate to the project, and what your deliverables are.
The company should provide you with a timeline with phases, milestones, and dates of start/finish. They should also provide a list of deliverables you will be responsible for, and when they are due.
7) How do I provide you with my content and product information?
Do you lay this out for me, or do I enter it in myself? What if I have multiple different product options (small/medium/large, etc.) and prices related to each item?
Ask the company who is responsible for the data entry/migration. If you have hundreds of pages, all with custom images, hyperlinks and meta data, understand who will be migrating it.
If you have thousands of products, with images, videos, metadata, and other attributes, understand how this will be migrated and installed in the new system.
Many companies will be able to import this information, but the process is not always perfect. It takes time to analyze the data and prepare it for import.
Hosting and Post Live Support
1) Will your website be hosted by the development company, or can you host it on your own?
- If it is hosted via the development company, ask about their Uptime Guarantee, current 12 month Uptime, Disaster Recovery process (what is backed up, and where), Server installation (do they have multiple servers for live failovers?), dedicated server administrator, and data center specifics (geographical location, connection backbone, security, and power/generator systems).
Since the hosting of the website is a critical element of a successful online business, learn as much as you can about their hosting facility and hardware infrastructure.
2) How much are the ongoing support/hosting/maintenance fees and what’s included with these fees?
For example, what happens when new browser versions are launched….how is my site updated to accommodate? Is this an extra fee or included in the ongoing support plan?
Many companies will charge monthly hosting and support fees if you are purchasing a license to use the software (Software as a Service). In many cases, companies will provide support for software issues, training needs, and general issues that come up.
You should also be provided with a hosting package. This should outline how much disk space and bandwidth you are permitted each month. If they are hosting your email, learn more about what’s included and how you can access it (webmail or POP).
Learn how much you are paying, and what you are receiving in return.
3) What are your support hours of operation? If not 24/7, how are after hours emergencies handled (e.g. my website goes down)?
Many companies have on-call agents to respond to emergencies. Ask if they have a team monitoring the servers 24/7 that can start working on the issues immediately. If not, there’s a good chance that when/if your website goes down, it will require more time to resolve.
Bug fixes for broken functionality – how are these handled, what’s the turnaround time, and am I responsible for reporting them, or do you have a team proactively monitoring/fixing for me?
Every software development company faces the same challenges when it comes to software glitches. What makes a great company stand out from the rest is its support department and turn-around time in handling issues.
Learn more about how many support representatives they have, how long these representatives have been working with the company and how long fixes take to be resolved.
4) Is there training provided for managing the site and using the admin interface? How is the training handled (one-on-one, webinar, help manual)? Is this included in my package?
- Understand how you become trained on the use of the system. Since this is the pinnacle system managing your business, it’s important for you to understand it inside and out.
5) Am I locked into any kind of a contract, or is it just month to month? What can I expect to pay in increases each year/month if any?
- Understand the term of the contract, and the estimated increases each term.
6) What are the fees if any for major updates to the site after it goes live?
For example, if I want to make design or programming changes to the site or add new features (not available through my admin interface) after the site goes live, what is your fee structure for your team to do it?
Do you just bill me an hourly rate? Do I get a bid? What can I expect to pay? What’s common among other clients?
Many companies will charge an hourly rate, or bid on a per project basis for new feature requests. Understand how this process works so you can plan/budget accordingly for the future.
Feel free to copy these questions to a separate document or email and send to a variety of development companies you are looking to work with. You will avoid costly mistakes and grave pitfalls-believe me! Click here to see Part 1, which covers; General Questions, Business Development, and Investment & Terms.
Pamela Hazelton says:
I would add that you ideally want to be able to contact "someone" at any time in the event of a crash or emergency. It may be someone's personal cell phone, but that's better than having to wait until morning to have a downed site fixed.
Thank you for taking the time to write these entries. Do you have any advice regarding due diligence as a company compiles its long list of potential ecommerce platforms? In my search so far, I've found that some providers won't respond to my request for information, most likely because they think my company might be too small, but then smaller providers don't appear to provide the best solution for my company's online growth strategy, so I don't really pursue a conversation. How long does that initial longlist need to be?