Questions to ask when reviewing an eCommerce build proposal

We used to call my granny: “Technogran” because she was so sussed and on top of tech. It seems to run strongly in the family because my mum is a total badass when it comes to web, social media, and marketing.

Tessa Graaff and my mum Fiona run the Montebello Design Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, and they are considering launching an online store as part of a thoughtful and strategic response to COVID-19. I think it’s really smart.

They plan to start small and simply – an online shop for a small range of their own-brand range – and just yesterday they received a proposal which she asked me to take a look at.

It’s a great proposal and was pretty impressive to go through. From my years at WooCommerce, I have a comprehensive idea of the working parts of an eCommerce store and the proposal covered all the bases I’ve seen others cavalierly skip:

“Hi mum. Overall, I think this looks really good and they are very much the right sort of partner to work with – especially as you’ve worked with them already. Existing relationship aside: their client list is impressive, they are clearly good with WordPress/WooCommerce, and have put together a good proposal. All good signals.”

But there were still a few things I let her know she should go back and ask.

In case they’re useful for anyone else out there considering embarking on the delightful but sometime treacherous journey of building a store, here they are:

WooCommerce / WordPress theme: A big part of the feel of a webshop – and important component of WooCommerce – is the theme. Think of this as the design template that they apply to WordPress to give your store it’s look. The two options are to build a custom theme or use an out-of-the-box theme from a theme seller. Ask them which of these routes they are proposing. Confirm that their quote includes applying your existing branding and make sure there is no hidden cost associated to the them. Purchased themes usually have annual subscriptions.

Webshop pages and ‘checkout experience’: For webshops you will need a product page, cart ‘page’, checkout ‘page’ and order confirmation page. Worth checking with them on the designs for each of these – that they will have your branding on and what they will look like. For example, will the checkout page allow people to enter coupons? Would you like that functionality? Also will the checkout page include the option for someone to add a gift note in case they are sending the thing they are purchasing to someone as a gift? And what will the emails that the person placing the orders receives look like – will they have your logo? And if they use a courier, will the email automatically include the tracking number or will you have to send that manually? All these questions relate to the ‘checkout experience’. It’s worth thinking about these ‘customizations’ of the checkout experience and asking them to talk you through what the quote includes and what they recommend. For example, WooCommerce has ‘standard’ email templates but some webshops customize them a bit in terms of logo/copy.

Number of products: Within the ‘shop page’ section of the quote they say: “including addition of 30 Product Images Details.”. Does this mean they are including a quote to set up 30 x products for you? I wasn’t quite sure what this meant. Have you decided how many products you want to list for the launch? And where is the imagery coming from – are they proposing to help with that or will it be up to you to shoot the products etc? eCommerce photography is a whole ‘thing’ in its own right. Whatever ‘style’ they go with for the look of the product listings at the outset needs to be repeatable. For example, will the ‘main’ image always be shot from a bird’s eye view on white and then you add 5 x ‘lifestyle’ images? Make sure it isn’t a case that the first 30 they add for you look mind-blowing but are unattainable when it comes to you and Louella wanting to add new ones.

Shipping gateways and options: They reference that the payment gateways will be PayFast and Snapscan – that’s great. Another important consideration is the shipping gateway and shipping options. You mentioned you’d like people to be able to click-and-collect – they need to add this as an option. They also need to advise on what shipping plugin to add to support the postage/courier options you’d like to offer people. For example, WooCommerce has a SAPO domestic plugin that automatically calculates rates by weight when someone is checking out so they can agree to the fee and pay for it all in one go. They also have a Speed Services courier plugin if you wanted to offer an option other than the SAPO. Both of these have recurring annual costs associated to them – good to clarify what they recommend for shipping and the costs. You would likely need to set up a business account with SAPO etc and link them up.

Simple store vs marketplace: I think it’s worth talking them through the possible phase two where you extend the webshop to include products from other of your tenants in what is called a ‘multi-vendor’ implementation of WooCommerce. This means they are added as vendors and given ‘permissions’ to create product listings, manage stock, and would take on the responsibility of fulfilling the orders themselves. Payments are still centralised in this case, with the single vendor receiving their share of the income as a ‘payout’. Although it sounds like the right course is to cut teeth on a smaller webshop selection and not include tenants for the moment, it is good for the developer to know this is where you might take things so he can build foundations now that can support this addition/extension down the line. This Product Vendors plugin is the one that, once added, turns a simple shop into a ‘multi-vendor marketplace’. It sounds scary but it isn’t, and might be a great way to develop the shop down the line.

Inspirations ‘blog’: It sounds like they are adding a blog – the inspiration sections – do you want that? Is there a plan for posting on that? You have a news and events section on the DC website so I assume this would be shop-related inspiration. A good idea as long as there is a plan for posting at least once a month. It could be as simple as a photo of a product.

Inventory management: When we talked, it sounded like the plan is to keep inventory for the webshop separate from your physical store stock. It sounds like that is a good idea but there are ways to combine physical/online stock so that it’s managed centrally and you can’t ‘sell’ something online if it has been sold in the shop etc. There are various plugins for inventory management that do this for you. Just adding this to the mix – if you go the manual/simple route, it will be worth deciding on a clear approach/policy to avoid selling something online you’ve actually sold out of (in the physical shop) and vice versa: e.g. Products we show in stock online are not to be touched and sold in the shop, even if it means we lose a sale in-person. 

Hosting & plugin updates: I was very pleased to see that they have included a monthly, recurring cost for hosting plugin updates. If you go the WordPress route, this is very important. WordPress and WooCommerce get regular ‘updates’ from the mothership that one needs to apply – but it is very good to have someone experienced do this as they can sometimes push breaking changes (a bit like when you update your phone and it makes it slow down). A question to ask is what host they are planning to use – for example, Hetzner is a good SA host – and what the actual cost is per month. Likely, they have a central hosting package and will add you to that rather than you needing to take on the responsibility of the hosting cost.

Reviews: Product reviews are a really good thing to request from people and then add to product pages (or even to the homepage, as ‘social proof’). A question for the developer is to quote you on building this in to the shopping experience: so a month after someone places an order, they get an automated request for a review with a link they can click to go and do so. This then gets submitted for review, and you (or whoever runs the store) gets a notification to approve it and once that is done, it appears on the product page. These really help to drive sales so it’s worth doing

Existing social media integration: I was pleased to see this – I think this should include integrating with: Facebook – which would involve giving them access to you page so they can configure WooCommerce to talk to Facebook and push your webshop products to appear on your page in the shop tab. People click from facebook to come and shop on your website. – and Instagram – once you have connected your Facebook page, it is fairly easy to integrate with instagram and once you have done that, you can very easily ‘tag’ products that are in the webshop in posts on Instagram. Your social media lady will love this and it will help to drive traffic to the webshop. If their quote doesn’t include this, I suggest you ask them to quote you on it. Instagram tagging is a must. There are paid plugins but I am pretty sure you can do this for free – Shopify lets you do it for free.

Search Engine Optimization: They list two hours of work for SEO on the shop: can you ask them what this includes? I imagine it is things like adding a special little image card to the website so whenever the link is shared, it pulls up a nice image and description of the website. Good to know what SEO they plan to do. If you wanted to push this a bit, you could ask them to help you make sure your shop ranks for keywords people might be searching for on Google, like: ‘South African craft’, ‘handcraft’, etc. This would impact some of the things they set up behind the scenes but also the actual words you use on the homepage and for the site’s SEO title.

Mailchimp / newsletter: They propose adding a Mailchimp newsletter sign up – that’s a nice idea. Do you have a Mailchimp account? If you do, you would need to create a new list for webshop subscribers and make sure that these people get added to that. If you don’t have one, you can ask that they set this up for you (which is free). It might be a good idea to get them to add to the quote creating 2 templates for you in Mailchimp: 1 x webshop newsletter template and 1 x single product template. This would allow you to send webshop emails to those that sign up. Worth clarifying if they will automatically add all shoppers to your mailing list or if there will be a checkbox during checkout for people to opt in.

Training: I think you will need more than 2 hours. They need to make sure that you – and whoever will be running the store – are able to:

  • Create new product listings – including how to create variations and fill out the ‘meta information’ and SEO fields 
  • Edit the price, photos, stock/variation availability etc of existing products
  • Make edits to the homepage (e.g. if you have a new ‘Designer box’)
  • Process orders – e.g. change the status; refund people if necessary
  • Create new blog posts
  • Train you on how to sign in to Mailchimp to edit and send a newsletter

That was my mail back as an initial pass at feedback. There is a lot to think about when building an eCommerce store and shipping your idea.

If you’d like some help – get in touch.

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