Building an E-Commerce Solution + BONUS Timeline and Budget Factors

Building an e-commerce solution is an investment. Here’s how the process looks like and what might be affecting your budget and timeline the most.

Imagination Media

May 28, 2020
Building an E-Commerce Solution + BONUS Timeline and Budget Factors

You decided you need an e-commerce solution.

Maybe you need a completely new e-commerce site because you are starting from scratch, and selling online is an endeavor you decided on to keep up with trends, competitors, and customer demands. Maybe you decided to refresh your current site, migrate off an old one, or maybe you want a truly personalized digital experience--like the one we offer (wink wink!).

No matter your situation, there is a challenge that comes with such a decision, and we are here to help you get clear on two of the most important things: time and budget needed.

Before we dive deep into various scenarios you might find yourself in or try to answer any of the questions you have, we want to explain a couple of things. What is what in the e-commerce world?

Agency Client Relationship

This, along with the client's communication and feedback, is sadly often underestimated in the agency world. The truth is that this relationship is a secret sauce that makes all the difference. Interaction takes time and effort from both ends, and both sides should feel respected, appreciated, and valued in creating a solution.

Data Entry

E-Commerce involves a lot of data. It is essential that the product data is accurate and displayed in a way that attracts customers to buy. Data entry is one of the key aspects of any e-commerce business, and no matter who handles it (merchant or the agency), setting up the new data for products, and writing text to go onto the website should be handled with care.

Data Migration

Data migration is "...the process of transporting data between computers, storage devices, or formats. It is a key consideration for any system implementation, upgrade, or consolidation. Data migration is categorized as storage migration, database migration, application migration, and business process migration. In an e-commerce setting, it will most likely refer to moving your existing products, categories, CMS pages and blocks, customers, orders, and store configuration over to the new website.

Design

It is not just about building a website to sell products but designing an enjoyable online shopping experience which enhances brand recognition, and trustworthiness. A well-designed website encourages customers to shop more, more often and is tailored according to their needs.

Feature Development

Developing features does not equal developing a site. Features are what makes your website unique (for example, "How You Wear It" module we developed for our dear client Catbird). It is writing the customized code that gives your website enhancements your users need, want, or expect. While some of these features can be achieved by installing extensions, many are developed from scratch based on our in-house expertise.

Strategy

There is a quote from a famous children's book, "Alice in Wonderland," which says: "If you don't know where you want to go, then it doesn't matter which path you take." This is what strategy is all about. Analyzing and understanding your business will help us understand you, your customers, and your goals. We can't stress enough how important it is to take small, consecutive steps in the right direction. The right strategy is a necessary roadmap for the rest of the project.

Testing

Our developers are individuals with years of experience and many certificates. But they are also human, and errors sometimes creep in. This is why we have a testing phase which enables us to control the end results. Quality assurance is one of our highest priorities, along with 100% satisfied customers!

There might be many other words and phrases you might be interested in. While we don't have an official e-commerce dictionary, we urge you to ask us anything you are not clear on.

In the meantime, let us dive deep into why you are here for - learning more about the budget and the timeline of your e-commerce investment.

Co-creating a high-quality e-commerce solution

Every e-commerce development agency is different. Factors you might consider are the type of services offered as well as the size, the number of certified developers, technologies utilized, and years of experience. If you have a critical factor, we urge you to look into it early on.

Since the deciding factors of merchants vary, it is only normal that search results will be different too. However, most retailers tend to agree that their decision is affected by the promised delivery timeline and budget.

This is the perfect time to notice there are almost no agencies "out in the wild" who shared the exact pricing on their sites.

The reason for that is pretty simple: every project is unique. No two businesses are identical, and they need to be treated as such. With that in mind, we've created a website building process - it helps us stay on track and enables you to understand the flow.

Four essential parts of our e-commerce development are, as follows:

  1. Business Analysis;
  2. Website Building;
  3. Website Growing;
  4. Reporting.

1. Business analysis

Your business is unique. Your story is specific.

That's why our first step is to get familiar with who you are and your primary objective. Tell us what's your business model, who your customers are, which channels you are utilizing now, and which channels you plan to grow in the long run. The more we know about your business, the better the results.

This is the phase where we grow that agency-client relationship. We can't stress enough how vital interaction with you is. We want to know everything, especially your vision for the business, your hopes for the results you'd like to achieve, and all the ways you brainstormed to reach them. If you share everything openly, we have a solid foundation for building a brilliant e-commerce solution and nurturing a relationship that can lead to astonishing results.

During this phase, we often present you with a mini-project which might account for 10% of the overall project cost. It is most often billed as it can make or break the whole project. It shows us your dedication, but it also shows you our expertise. This is when we gather the requirements, define and negotiate the scope, and implement a process that works for both parties.

You might be thinking this is entirely unnecessary, however, our experience shows this is often essential in the long run as it gets the roadmap and expectations for the project in place. This mini-project is not "an additional piece of the project" you can simply cross off the list and be done with to reduce the project costs. If anything, it is more similar to the foundation of a house, not another brick in the wall.

2. Website Building

This phase can be divided into three sections, all equally important.

  1. Development Planning;
  2. Development Design;
  3. Website Coding.

A. Development Planning

Timeline and project evaluation

Before we do anything, we have to conceptualize the information and ideas collected in our discovery phase. This is the phase where creativity starts to flow, and we make important decisions regarding design, feature flow, content, and development. By planning the features before we dive into the code, we have a birds-eye view of the whole process while being able to focus on the nitty-gritty details at the same time.

During this phase, we will agree on the final timeline and website release dates and explain the short-term iterations. Our team develops around an agile framework, which allows us to deliver high quality, scalable, reliable, and easy to manage solutions effortlessly, timely, and focused on a need at the individual level. High-level milestones will enable you to keep track of the situation while the short-term iterations will make it easy to maintain control of the quality of the deliverables.

Throughout the process, our team will ensure that there is a weekly meeting set up, which means you will always be able to test, evaluate, and feedback while minimizing the room for mistakes. During those meetings, our team presents you with new features chosen for development in the upcoming iteration, and you can control and navigate your priority list.

Research and planning for the design phase

The successful design process starts with a thorough understanding of your users and how they interact with your website. To create a seamless user experience, we will need hard data that will indicate the gaps we need to close for shoppers to use the site smoothly.

Based on the information we gather, we will be able to wireframe solutions that help you visualize the main groups of the website content, the site structure, and new user flows.

Our wireframes contain a representation of every important piece of the final website. While they are not the final design, and you should not treat them as such, interactive prototypes will enable you to get a full grasp of the changes we will make in the next phase.

B. Website design

We don't believe design is just another thing to cross off the list. It is much more than the simple use of graphics, centered only around the visual aspect. While the visual aspect is a significant part of your story and our website design, it is even more critical to understand how users interact with the web and offer them the information they want or need.

Following UX/UI best practices, crunching data, and having a user-centered design in the heart of our practice enables us to build digital experiences that are easy to use, smooth to navigate, and a breeze to shop on, no matter the device.

This is what kicks off the front-end part of the development and will heavily influence your conversion rates, no matter your platform of choice, resolution, or type of device. We want to help you grow your business, which is why the shopping experience needs to feel easy and natural. We will focus on what we do best - development, so your users can focus on doing what they want - adding items to cart.

C. Website Coding

We have been talking about the planning, research, and analysis a lot, so naturally, you might fear that's all we do. The truth is that most of our processes happen simultaneously. As soon as one part of the analysis is done, we get right to the next one!

The efficient process means the development part of the work happens right after planning. As soon as we get your green light, our front-end and back-end developers are ready to join forces in building you a high-performing, customized digital experience.

This last part is especially important as it happens in incremental phases. It enables you to keep control over the process, carefully choosing priorities along the way while our experts readily advise you on what needs to be implemented first, integrated along the way, or optimized once your site is up and running for a while. Constant testing and quality assurance during this phase is another guarantee that everything will be delivered according to the plan we previously agreed on.

3. Growing your website

Our services do not stop at launch, however. We believe in helping you grow, with business intelligence and development collaborations to improve KPIs, drive sales, target audiences, and achieve a return on investment. While we're not a marketing agency and do not tout ourselves to be, our dedicated individuals with years of combined, e-commerce management and growth experience will help you set new goals for the ongoing optimization.

The main goal of this continuous process is to make customers happy and willing to buy more, more often. Remember, the job is not done when a website goes live. That is the time when the new, exciting phase starts—the phase of growing your site.

We take your website business very seriously. That's why we don't take shortcuts – we create improvements that pay off in the long run. We monitor your on-site SEO, off-site SEO, and analyze everything that can influence your rankings.

At the same time, we monitor trends and data to ensure we are promptly improving your users' experience on the website, lowering cart abandonment, and driving the bounce rates to an all-time low. We will always openly and readily suggest appropriate updates and changes and listen carefully to your ideas to make sure your vision is aligned with what the data is showing us.

Growing your revenue is not a walk in the park, we know that. But it shouldn't be a source of stress either! We want to make this more comfortable and convenient for you, which is why we aim to be your partner, not merely your development team.

4. Reporting

Every month we create a report that includes an overview of all the actions we've taken in a month, and all of the new data-driven conclusions we came to.

We also report on how the changes we implemented in the previous month reflected on your website's performance and revenue. It helps us stay on track - and it helps you navigate the direction of your business!

Major Factors Influencing Your Website Development

While we hope this overview brought some insight into how we develop, we also hope it helped you understand why it's so hard to give you an accurate estimate for the project costs and exact timeline in advance.

We always aim to be spot on, but the truth is that development is a process between you and us - which means it asks for collaboration, communication, and understanding.

With that being said, here are the main factors influencing your project. The range of factors is big, but so are the consequences of your investment. Another reason to invest smart!

  1. Platform Choice

If you opt for a Magento Commerce store, your price will be different than opting for a Salesforce Commerce Cloud or a BigCommerce solution. Depending on the complexity of your business, requirements you have, and budget and timeline constraints, it is worth talking with one of our experts who can advise you on the right platform and how to move forward.

  1. Launch Status

Is it incredibly important to go live with all of the required functionalities, or is it okay to start with a minimum viable product (MVP) and add the additional custom functionalities later? MVP model enables you to enter the market faster or transition from one platform to another easier. It doesn’t mean you will never get the features requested. It just means the phase of the initial launch is different. Depending on your preference, the price changes.

  1. Required Customizations

The complexity of feature development heavily influences the price. Each feature is directly related to how much we need to modify the original platform feature. It adds development time and cost depending on whether we need to extend the built-in functionality and only modify the style, or do we need to do a lot of custom development, or in some cases, develop the feature from scratch.

  1. Design Complexity

When we’re talking about the design, it is necessary to note that everything comes down to the number of subpages and special features. Basic pages are Home Page, Product Page, Category Page, Search and Search Results Page, Checkout, and Static Pages. However, some businesses might require a lot of specific pages (Category Page Layouts or Custom Landing Pages), in which case it takes longer to complete the design and frontend development phases.

  1. Integrations

Various technology tools and APIs allow you to connect your platform of choice to your Customer Relationship Management Software or software for inventory control, accounting, and analytics. This is an important part of the “Unified Commerce Puzzle,” but it also adds cost and lengthens your timeline.

  1. Extensions

Various extensions help e-commerce companies deliver what their customers want when they want it and how they want it. That’s great for business, but it is something you should be considering with a “grain of salt.” Third-party extensions might slow down your site and negatively impact your shopping experience. Ensure the extensions you are opting for are verified by your development team and are trusted across the board.

  1. The amount of data

The more data we have to create or transfer (number of SKUs, categories, attributes, and channels), the more time it will take. If it requires an additional channel such as a B2B channel, then the deadline is extensively prolonged and should be considered a separate project.

  1. Number of websites

One more thing that has a crucial role in the project’s scope is the number of stores and localizations. The more websites and languages we have to implement, the more tests we need to perform. Sometimes we need to implement different payment or shipping methods for different websites. Other times multi-warehouse inventory is required, along with the stock management, which, naturally, takes more development time.

As you can see, the world of e-commerce is a complex market. We still haven’t come across a true plug-and-play platform that will give you precisely what you want (unless that’s simply to sell online!) without any development work.

Human Variable Affecting Your Website Development

Since all e-commerce solutions require at least some level of customization to perform according to business expectations, please also consider the human factor of developing your site. It is the one that will influence your timeline and budget almost more than the technology itself!

  • Experience. Developers who have worked on a few e-commerce projects will not work as quickly and efficiently as a more experienced or certified professional. Look for developers who will tell you honestly what's a realistic deliverable and when you can expect it, even when the answer is not something you'd like to hear. Straightforward communication will keep your expectations and business in check and will always result in a high-quality e-commerce solution.
  • Expectations. We are all humans, and we all tend to create lists (in our heads, or quite literal ones) about how we'd like things to go. If this is your first time working on a website go-live or a first time re-platforming, it might be useful if you brought a literal list of requests to the table. What you think is simple customization might take weeks or months to fulfill. At the same time, this will enable our team to set a clear timeline of what you can expect and when. We will consider code languages, request variables, new interfaces, and user experiences. Customizations can enhance your website, and we'd definitely like to implement them, but we will never shy away from telling you what's possible now versus what should be done in the future.
  • Roadblocks. As you get excited about the capabilities of your new platform of choice, you will also learn they might hinder our progress. Staying focused is a way to hit your goals, but also avoid roadblocks along the way. Keep in mind that, sometimes, roadblocks can appear seemingly "out of the blue," but their core is actually in the unclean data migration, bug resolution, integration problems, or communication issues. Having a bird's eye view and setting the strategy straight will keep us all in check!

The real question is: what do you ACTUALLY need?

E-commerce is an investment. Before you go saying: "This is my platform of choice." consider functionalities that you need, the budget that you have, and the timeline you are constrained by.

Thinking about your new e-commerce platform is a matter of thinking long-term. This is not a one-time expense: your e-commerce solution will require constant development and refinement to stay ahead of the competition and to respond to customer needs.

Investing in e-commerce is pretty similar to investing in a brick-and-mortar shop. You can't have a beautiful window, but not have a functioning cash register. Ensure that your customers aren't going to the competition just because you wanted a platform that sounds fancy, but you are not able to keep up with its maintenance costs.

Your e-commerce store can realistically achieve a 10% growth in revenue, but that's if you have a dedicated e-commerce budget and resources to manage it. Keep in mind that this is not a one-person job and that you need to consider your employees, investors, product enhancements, as well as other areas (marketing, for instance) before diving deeper into splurging on a platform that might not be a right fit.

Not sure which platform to choose? Let us help.

What might be the lowest possible cost to install a vanilla build?

This depends on the platform you choose, but we are usually talking about low costs (up to $2,000). This budget is literally to begin renting a server at a host of your choosing, download the platform onto the server, and install it.

However, please be aware that there are limitations to this approach:

  • There are no code backups, so you can't go back in time and see what modifications were made, when, and by whom.
  • Updating the site will likely result in minutes of downtime.
  • If you do actual development on this machine, you will likely have more errors and downtime.

While this might get you up and running, we do not recommend this approach unless it is for a minimal, short-lived proof of concept.

Why not just use an "off-the-shelf" theme for $100?

E-commerce sites are not WordPress. Pre-built themes don't come in such a wide array of choices, and many tend to impact your site negatively. They often introduce bloat, which makes your website slower, don't use correct coding standards, and many of them might not be compatible with the devices that your customers use.

On top of that, consider that your business is unique, and your customers expect a unique shopping experience. Even if they are not voicing it, the e-commerce world's standards are so high that a pre-built theme is hardly a choice anymore.

That said, theme implementation accounts for the large share of building a website. There might be some developers who might be okay with installing a theme and calling it a day. However, we believe in creating an experience for your customers, not just serving you with a simple website.

Be prepared that a pre-built theme might not save you much in the long run. As your website grows, you likely will want to customize it and make it your own. Off the shelf solutions might save you some money today, but ask yourself - does this really reflect who we are and what we're trying to build? Either way, we will support you, but great customer experience is tailored to your customers' needs, not taken from a virtual shelf.

If you can't afford a custom design and find a theme you like, please tell us. Our developers will happily review it with you and will do a thorough code review. Informed feedback about the quality of the theme you chose is the first step towards a great experience in case you can't afford a customized one.

Ongoing maintenance costs?

One might think that with a good developer, the monthly costs of maintenance will be $0. We have found that a good developer reduces maintenance, often by a lot, but there will always be unavoidable costs.

For example:

  • Site patches;
  • Ongoing education and training of your staff;
  • Feature enhancements;
  • Bug fixes.

Depending on your needs and wants, the price will vary from $1,000 to $50,000 a year. There is no "average" with our customers. You might need little assistance with your site, while somebody else wants us to run the show, continually innovate and tune their website to higher revenue-producing levels.

Wherever you are on your journey, we hope to assist.

Let us know how we can expand on this article, and we will gladly add whatever we missed. In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact us to discuss your timeline, budget, and high-performing site.

Strategy
eCommerce
Development