Choosing an e-commerce provider
As discussed in About e-commerce website hosting, you can set your web site up for e-commerce in several different ways. Unless you're doing the entire project in-house, you'll need to choose appropriate e-commerce site providers for hosting, development, or both.
(Note: This Buyer's Guide focuses solely on e-commerce, not web site design and hosting or search engine marketing. Many e-commerce site providers offer a wide range of online marketing services, so you should decide in advance whether you want to work with a vendor who focuses only on e-commerce or one that takes a broader view of your marketing efforts.)
Make sure the vendor you choose has the capabilities and expertise necessary to build a successful online store. Here are some questions to ask e-commerce companies:
- What are your strengths as an e-commerce web developer?
- Do you understand what my company offers and what my customers need? (This is not a requirement - but it can be helpful.)
- Will the store work in multiple browsers? Which? (Browser compatibility can be trickier for online stores than for informational websites.)
- Do you create websites that are mobile friendly?
- Can you create a separate e-commerce shopping mobile app?
- Can your developers connect the site to our customer database/inventory tracking software/sales software?
- How long have you been in business? Can you provide some sample sites for me to look at?
- (If you choose a hosted e-commerce service) What guarantees of uptime and availability do you provide? What are your typical outage rates? What are your busiest times of the day? Do you have a data storage/disaster recovery system set up?
Customer support is critical to choosing your provider. E-commerce systems are complicated and there is a strong possibility that something will eventually go wrong. While not every error is a complete disaster, you should be able to count on your vendor for assistance.
Ask about the hours and methods of support they provide:
- Is it 24/7, or only during business hours? (Don't forget - which time zone?)
- Do their support hours match your busiest times?
- Is there access to support by email, online chat, telephone, or all of the above?
- What is the average resolution time for typical problems?
- Is there a per-call fee?
In addition to looking at the sample online stores the developer provides, you should also check their references. Talking to their other clients can give you a good idea of what it's like to work with a particular e-commerce web developer. Get at least three different references, and ask them specific questions:
- Did the vendor meet deadlines?
- Were they flexible?
- Was the price reasonable for the services received?
- What aspects of their work were particularly strong?
- What areas were not quite up to your expectations?
- Are you happy with your e-commerce results so far?
- Did they set and meet realistic goals for your store?
- Would you work with this company again?