Emily Strachan

A guide to choosing an eCommerce provider

Hundreds of retailers lose a huge amount of time and money on their online stores because they don’t carry out due diligence when choosing an eCommerce provider.

As a result, almost 80% of the enquiries we receive are requests to rebuild failed eCommerce projects, where alternative providers have either produced stores that fall short of expectations, or they’ve ceased trading and can no longer support the stores they’ve built (or in worst case scenarios, failed to build anything at all). Such catastrophes can be easily avoided by carrying out a few simple checks before choosing a provider, so to ensure you don’t fall foul like many retailers before you, we’ve put together this straightforward guide of key considerations to help you avoid the pitfalls many of our own clients faced prior to appointing Visualsoft.

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Unbeatable Security

Payment fraud is a very costly concern for all online retailers, and those that don’t comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) run the risk of being fined thousands of pounds by VISA or Mastercard if their store is breached. In light of this, as well as ensuring your own business makes the grade, it’s crucial you choose an eCommerce provider that also adheres to the highest possible security standards. Look for a company that’s been independently audited and accredited as PCI DSS Level 1 compliant, which means it meets the most robust operational and technical requirements that have been established for data and payment protection.

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Company Stability

It’s wise to run a quick credit check on any company you’re looking to do business with, but especially one within the digital sector as the rapid rise of the industry means that lots of smaller companies come and go (and take their clients’ online stores with them). Riskdisk.com and similar sites can give you an idea of a company’s financial stability and confirm how long they’ve been trading for, because if you want return on investment you need a provider that can not only deliver a great online store, but also support that store for as long as you need them to.

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Proven Portfolio

As the eCommerce sector is becoming increasingly competitive and consumers’ expectations are higher than ever, we believe it’s absolutely crucial to choose a provider that has proven experience in designing, building, and even managing, online stores. While many multi-media agencies can create an attractive store-front, without specialist knowledge, development skills or industry partnerships they’re unable to provide the tools, functionality and on-going support that online retailers need to build and retain a solid and long-term customer base. Also, remember to look for quantity as well as quality when checking over a provider’s portfolio, as those that rely on business from a small number of clients can become financially vulnerable overnight if they lose just one company’s custom, and in turn this can put all of the online stores they’ve built at serious risk too.

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UK Employees & Offices

The digital age means that face to face meetings aren’t always needed, however, it’s worthwhile visiting a prospective provider’s premises where possible, so you can get a glimpse of their setup and be assured that they have a UK-based workforce that will be responsible for the production of your new store and will be on hand to help when you need it (outsourcing abroad can cause production delays, quality concerns and huge support issues). If you’re unable to travel to a provider’s offices, you can always take a virtual look via Google Maps, just to be sure you’re not dealing with a ‘bedroom business’, and also make sure the provider has UK landline contact details.

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Adequate Resources

While size isn’t everything, if you engage a freelancer or a provider with a modest workforce, you may find that relying on their limited resources puts your online business at serious risk, as small or sole trader businesses can lose a huge chunk (if not all) of their service offering with the absence of just one employee (whether they fall ill, take a long holiday or leave the company). In worst case scenarios, working with a provider without adequate resources could leave you with an unsupportable online store that simply doesn’t work, and you may be forced to appoint a new provider to build another store from scratch (and shell out once again for that service).

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Clear Costing

Before production, any provider should be able to give you a clear price (including a breakdown of charges) – be wary of those that won’t/can’t do this as it indicates that they don’t have the right kind of experience for the store you want (and your project may end up being their development guinea pig!) and ultimately, you could end up paying a great deal more than expected. Also, carefully consider exactly what you’ll get for your money from each prospective provider and evaluate this based on actual value rather than just cost – for example, there are thousands of ‘off-the-shelf’ store solutions that come with a low price tag, but they lack the design and functionality needed to generate revenue, making them a false economy.

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Perfected Processes

Avoid providers that don’t use tried and tested production processes, as this could mean that you’re very much left in the dark while your new store is being built, and what you end up with isn’t as planned. Online store production needs clear project management, from concept to launch, to ensure your new store is built to specification and within budget (without cutting corners), so a strong provider will be able to give you an outline of their processes and let you know exactly what happens at each stage – this not only demonstrates experience, but also means you’ll know what to expect, and when.

Want to know more? Call our Business Development Team on 01642 633 604.

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