How to identify the correct development partner in four steps

I’ve heard countless stories that go something like this: 

You partner with an eCommerce agency, and you are excited to work with them. 

Things look great, and they promise to deliver. 

Unfortunately, as you continue to work with them, instead of results, you’re met with missed deadlines, ignored requests, and a nagging feeling that they just “don’t get it.”

Your frustration begins to mount, as the project you’ve been working on is going over-budget, and your site isn’t live. 

Or on the flip side, you’ve managed your eCommerce site for awhile, but now it’s time to look for support. 

Where do you even begin? 

In this post, we’ll go through how you can identify the correct development partner in four steps. 

1. Research and evaluate your options: 

It all starts with thorough research. Don’t just pick the first agency with a flashy website, because it “looks cool.” 

It’s important to look for agencies with a proven track record in your specific industry. They will better understand your unique challenges and customer base you’re going after. In fact, there are agencies that only do work in specific industries, and this ties perfectly into our next point. 

It’s equally as important to make sure that the agency you are wanting to work with has experience working with your eCommerce platform, or alternatively, if you’re planning to replatform, the one you are looking to migrate to. 

Most agencies will have portfolios on their site, with links to the sites they have built. This will help you better evaluate their technical skills, and design proficiency. 

Whether the agency is experienced in Shopify, BigCommerce, or Magento, their team should have certifications from each platform provider, and success stories for each. We’ll highlight the importance of the success stories in a later section. 

Beyond the technical piece, it’s also extremely important to look at the overall partnership which we’ll highlight next.        

2. Make sure it is a mutual partnership!: 

Having the technical capabilities are important, but a successful partnership goes beyond that. It all starts with communication and collaboration.  

Let’s start with an example of what not to do by sharing this quote from one of our clients, Pioneer Athletics, as they were researching agencies for their Adobe Commerce project: 

“Their whole pitch was to redesign everything with the website, and how expensive it was for all this stuff. They really didn’t listen to what we had really asked for. But then when we talked with 121, there was more of a conversation.

We really liked your sales rep too. He was really down to earth and he actually listened to what we’re asking for. We decided to go with 121 (based on) that.”

It is an incredibly frustrating experience having your needs just ignored, or not feeling like you are being listened to. Our recommendation is to opt for an agency that embraces a collaborative approach, valuing your input and working alongside you. 

Outside of having a collaborative approach, another key consideration is the overall communication with your agency partner. Clear and consistent communication is a priority, especially if something urgent happens, like your site going down. 

Unfortunately, we’ve heard horror stories about someone’s site going down, and they needed to email a general inbox to get a response, and it took hours. Or, the project was shuffled to another development team that had no context of the project, and needed to take time to understand the complexities before fixing the issue.  

You just don’t have that time to wait. 

One of our recommendations is to look for agencies that will not only have a dedicated point of contact, but can be reached in multiple ways too. Using our own agency as an example, during your time with 121eCommerce, you will have a dedicated Product Owner, along with the same development team during your entirety of your time with us. This way, you’re not being shuffled around, and know who you need to contact for any questions or concerns. Not only that, but we always have support available, so you never have to wait.    

On the topic of communication, one other thing to keep in mind is the decision to stick onshore or go offshore. Some offshore agencies do work standard US hours, however, there are some where there is a huge time zone difference and delays in communication can (and usually will) occur. While going offshore can be cost-effective, this is an important consideration for you, and ultimately up to your comfort level.  

On the topic of cost-effectiveness, let’s talk about pricing. 

3. Understand their Pricing and Agreements

Before signing an agreement, it’s important to ensure there is complete transparency regarding the agency’s pricing structure and agreement terms. Some will include line items for “fees” that are entirely necessary for your project; don’t be afraid to ask questions and for clarification! 

Another consideration for your business is how the billing of the project is structured. Is it project based, a lump-sum installment, or hourly? This will help you determine the model that best aligns with your budget and project scope.  

Understanding any termination clauses and associated costs should you need to end the partnership early is also important, and a key consideration before working with a partner.

Lastly, one of the most important things to consider when choosing a partner is their success stories, case studies, and reviews.  

4. Success Stories Speak Volumes

One of the telltale signs of a good agency to work with is with their success stories, case studies, and reviews. For the success stories and case studies, there should be numerical data, or metrics that indicate success rather than, “it went well!” Simply put, numbers don’t lie. These tangible results illustrate their capabilities and how they’ve helped businesses like yours.    

Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask for references before signing an agreement! By speaking with current clients of the agency you are researching, you will be able to get the honest feedback you need to make the best decision possible for you and your business. 

Finding the right eCommerce agency partner is an investment in your business’s future. By conducting thorough research, prioritizing clear communication, and ensuring transparency, you’ll be well on your way to a successful partnership that delivers real results!