Why Web Developers Get in Over Their Head with eCommerce

Let me know if this story sounds familiar…

You hire a "web developer" who has built websites for multiple clients. Perhaps they have extensive knowledge of content management system platforms like WordPress, Drupal, SharePoint, or DotNetNuke. You discuss developing a new website that allow you to sell your products.

Even though eCommerce development is an unfamiliar territory for the agency, they tell you "of course we can do that!" They’ll just charge you double to account for the unknown aspects involved.

This isn't going to end well.

The development team selects software that can manage three primary things:

  • Products
  • Accounts
  • Orders

Then they start implementing it on your website.

As the project goes along, you continue to ask for more features and the developer continues to say yes because who cares they're making money. They add in some nice design but never get all of the functionality in place.

They quickly discover that this is harder than they thought. Things are soon labeled as "phase 2" and as the timeline gets bloated, a decision is made to just launch the site. They hand it off to you and send a bill for the “work” they've done.

Two weeks after launching your new eCommerce site, the problems begin.

Out of stock items are still visible, customers are charged without receiving a confirmation e-mail, shipping costs aren’t calculating correctly, and you’re unable to issue a return. On top of that, the promo code you struggled to implement was shared on Reddit and is causing you to lose money. Customers are mad and you’re frustrated because your new site isn’t cooperating.

Why are you experiencing these problems?  

It’s because your web developer had no idea how complex the simplest online business is.

We hear horror stories like this every week. I was THAT developer when I first started in the eCommerce industry. I wasn’t trying to screw over my clients, I just didn't know what I was doing. I wanted to provide the best possible service for my clients, but was unknowingly setting up the client, and myself, for a disaster.

What makes it complex?

The simplest website that a developer or agency is used to creating is fundamentally a digital brochure for the organization. It will list the products and services, have a contact page, and maybe a couple dynamic features to display additional information.

We call this type of site "Read Only", as the organization puts together the content and the customer consumes it. Essentially, it is a “set it and forget it” type of site.

An eCommerce platform is much more complex.

In actuality, an eCommerce platform requires an entirely different business model than a “read only” site.

It has to interact with people, internal and external to the organization, as a content management system. It’s a piece of software that is creating accounts, accepting product reviews, sending emails, taking and processing orders, shipping merchandise, charging tax, reporting sales and more.

It’s about expectations.

At the end of the day, it's all about your expectations. It's important to know that eCommerce platforms aren't  "set it and forget it” websites.

You can't budget for a one-time project cost and expect to have success. To stay competitive in the space, you need to budget and plan not just for a website, but for an ongoing sales and marketing machine that drives business and fulfills the underlying operational aspects of the business.

It's important to partner with a service provider that can understand the operations of your business and craft the best solution.

You should have the correct ongoing compensation structure in place to allow the vendor to assist in resolving issues as they arise and you should also work with people who have operated online businesses and know the common pitfalls to avoid.

Creating an eCommerce site can have huge benefits for a business but it’s important to choose a web developer who knows what they are doing.  Have questions on web development? Feel free to leave them in the comments or shoot me an email.


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