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  • Nico Kotsapanajotou

What e-commerce agencies and clients can do better in 2022!

Over and over there are disagreements of various kinds between agencies and clients in e-commerce. Are the expectations too high? The result too weak? Our article examines both sides with insight knowledge and has identified five aspects for both sides that can be improved in 2022.


What can e-commerce agencies do better?


1. Portfolio


The solutions on the e-commerce market have developed at an incredible speed in recent years. Customers no longer just want to sell a standardised product catalogue, but to serve increasingly complex business cases, play on more channels and offer different touchpoints. Many of the e-commerce agencies have already recognised that a one-trick pony has a much harder time converting customers. Especially since there are also synergies in offering different software. In particular a recommendation for software a) or b) is more authentic if you have both in your portfolio. So it is advisable to offer a certain diversity within the solutions. After all, anyone who offers Magento, Shopware and Shopify, for example, is unlikely to pull the right solutions for highly individualised multichannel or marketplace projects out of a hat. Nevertheless, such solutions are too often "bent" in practice, creating long-term problems in terms of scalability and updateability. Therefore, it makes sense to take a look at Spryker or Commercetools, or to deal with headless concepts. Sometimes it also makes sense to look beyond the country's borders. Then you can be the first to offer a new technology such as VTEX or BigCommerce.


2. Processes


As a client, you will often come across agencies that intensively promote their internal processes. Agility, Scrum, iterative procedures are the buzzwords that come up. But when you look at the project plan and see that up to 40% of project management is required to implement a technology project, then you have to seriously ask yourself whether the processes are beneficial to the success of the project. Weekly and daily meetings with the team, with the customer, quality assurance, acceptance tests are then on the bill. But doesn't the customer rightly ask why so much quality assurance is necessary? Don't the developers know what they are doing, haven't they already done a few more e-commerce projects? Or haven't we defined the requirements very clearly and held numerous workshops? Agencies will have to find ways and means to spend more time in development and less time in inefficient workshops, agency-internal processes and project management. The good players will differentiate themselves through the ratio of development hours in projects. And this is not possible with swollen user stories and thousands of acceptance criteria, but with efficient processes and good staff.


3. Structures


Agencies will inevitably have to think about their internal structures. This includes, above all, the quality and further training of staff. Often, hours are simply sold instead of putting teams together in a meaningful way. Well-established teams that have worked together many times are much more efficient than a patchwork of employees who are not working to full capacity at the moment. Of course, this is not always feasible in the agency's daily routine, as project size and content often vary. Nevertheless, building small and agile teams of specialists helps to increase efficiency in the long run.


Furthermore, it is important to use the right set of tools. Especially tools for communication and project planning should not be an obstacle. Those who use Microsoft Teams as an agency, for example, should ask themselves whether a more lightweight Slack or Discord might not be more efficient for internal communication. And those who use a tool other than Jira for project implementation must inevitably ask themselves whether this is the right way to go.


4. Transparency


One of the most frequent criticisms from the client's point of view is a lack of transparency. It is advisable to communicate openly from the outset what costs, efforts and time implications the client will face. It is not uncommon for agencies to make offers that are as cheap as possible and weak in terms of content in order to fit into the budget framework and to bill many of the services later via change requests. This is legitimate, because the client can check the offer comprehensively. Nevertheless, agency and client often come to this point of contention. Therefore, agencies should clearly emphasise (when the client applies the thumbscrew) that the offer is very tightly defined within the framework of its specifications and that there is little room for deviation, or recommend a scope from the outset that is more expensive but ultimately delivers a quality with which one can identify.


5. Say no


A good agency is characterised, among other things, by being able to say no sometimes. You can't squeeze in every project somehow and then carry it out with a trainee and a junior developer. If you want to build up a good reputation in the long term, you have to have the courage to turn down shaky projects. After all, at the end of the day, you want to produce high-quality projects that serve as a long-term reference.



What can E-Commerce clients do better?


1. Preparation


Customers often go into e-commerce projects too unprepared. The attitude "yes, we are talking to experts now and they will guide us" is widespread. However, it is enormously important that a certain know-how is available on the client side and that appropriate preparation takes place. Comprehensive preparation in terms of requirements and briefing drastically increases the success and efficiency of any project. In addition, extended workshops can be avoided and not insignificant costs can be saved.


The following things should be available in an early phase: Clear description of the business model and the project goals, organisation chart, system architecture (actual state), cost/licence overview of running systems, customer journey map, traffic KPIs, turnover figures, internationalisation matrix, an answer to the question "in-house IT yes or no".


This is followed in further phases by: functional and technical requirements catalogue, wireframes / layouts, system architecture (target state), navigation architecture, interface descriptions, product data model, customer data model and a few other preparatory documents.


2. Cost


At this point I have to speak up for agencies. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency or disputes about change requests are often caused by outdated expectations on the client side. It is still a widespread belief that projects will be cheaper and of higher quality if I push a price hard and define every single requirement in detail in advance. If clients then spend weeks having agencies calculate every last detail down to the cent and then agree on a fixed project price, then the project starts off for the agency with a huge investment and not a single earned cent. The handcuffs in which you can't move a millimetre to the left or to the right in the waterfall-like planned project are bombproof. The overhead required to fulfil this plan exactly and to document deviations caused by the client is immense.


Clients need to understand that a certain level of agility is necessary to move forward quickly. MVP or rapid prototyping are methods that allow you to see successes more quickly, test and constantly question and adjust the original plan - mainly for your own interest. At the end of the day, much more time goes into development than into resources for monitoring and steering the project.


3. Trust


Anyone who wants to work successfully and efficiently with agencies today needs a healthy partnership based on trust. Of course, you can't commission a six-figure project on instinct and take a completely irresponsible risk. BUT: If I as a client know exactly what I want, have done a healthy preparation and work diligently with the agency, then the basis is there to deliver a successful project. It is advisable to first do a small test balloon with an agency within as free limits as possible, such as a rough cost offer. In addition, there are enough big-name agencies where you can be sure that they also want projects to be successful and representative out of their own interest.


4. Time-to-market


Unfortunately, it is a sad truth that clients with a completely unnecessary deadline often reduce the success and quality of projects. Of course it makes sense to see the publication of a new shop in the overall company context, such as a brand relaunch. But unfortunately, too often the time frame is too tight, so that there is no time to complete the task properly. Workarounds, temporary interim solutions and an average outcome are often the result.


Instead, it is advisable to start early and slowly, to quickly produce visible successes such as a prototype, and to extensively test and further develop it in-house - especially with stakeholders. The total duration should be defined generously and, optimally, flexibly.


5. Communication


From many years of experience on the client side, the agency side and as an independent consultant between the two poles, I can say with certainty that at least 85% of delays and additional work are generated on the client side. Unfortunately, this is all too often due to a lack of communication. If you want to realise your projects quickly, cheaply, on time and to a high standard, you have to work accordingly. This includes quick answers to questions about the project, swift solutions to unforeseen problems and a generally pronounced willingness to make decisions. However, decisions are often communicated back and forth between departments within the company and in the end no one wants to make them. Therefore, it is incredibly important that the product owner on the client side, not only has a great deal of experience in e-commerce, but also has strong project management skills. The product owner is the most important role in the project, success stands and falls with him/her.


Summary


Some agencies will certainly have to develop further if they want to survive in the market. But there are also numerous examples where agencies and clients already organise themselves as equals in practice and home-made problems such as discussions about change requests are history. Strong leadership from the client side coupled with realistic expectations and an experienced service provider who can freely develop his strengths without being handcuffed and who proactively gets involved are the best mix for successful cooperation.


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