How to build an online store with an agency. Simple guide
Daria Maksimenko
Feb 22, 2021
If you decided to build a web store by hiring a specialized e-commerce agency, it means that you have a lot of questions in mind now. Right? What would be the process? How much would it cost? What agency and platform to choose? We've collected the most popular questions and prepared the answers based on our own experience. Let's go!
How to create a business plan, set a project budget

All right, your business decided to go online or transform the existing customer experience, and it already sounds like a plan. To make it more effective, we recommend you devise a detailed business plan with actionable milestones, OKRs and KPIs.
 
OKR example.

OBJECTIVE: Improve online sales.
 

KEY RESULTS:
 

  • Generate 50,000 monthly website visits
  • Reach $100,000 online revenue by the end of 2022
  • Generate $10,000 through FAST Checkout
 

KPIs examples:
 

  • Website Visitor Conversion Rate
  • Monthly Sales Growth
  • FAST Checkout Purchase Rate


To make a good business plan for an online store start by asking yourself these questions:
 
  1. Where is our business now?
  2. Where do we want it to be in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years?
  3. What (additional) features should our store provide?
  4. Are we planning to expand into more markets/stores?
  5. How do customers find our store? How do we want them to find our store?
  6. What are the pain points of our customers?

Next, try to evaluate how much money you need to invest in this initiative. A detailed example of how to estimate costs for building an e-commerce store is described at the end of this article.

 

How to choose the right e-commerce (and strategic) partner

Yep, sometimes that’s even more difficult than to find a soul mate...
 

But we’ll now share with you 5 simple, but not obvious tips on how to choose a perfect e-commerce development partner.
 

1/ Explore their previous work and experience

Some people rely more on ratings and references from previous clients, and these are also important things. But what can get you a real picture of any digital agency is their portfolio of projects and case studies. 
 

Sometimes not all projects are listed on the website because of the confidentiality agreement (aka NDA), but you can send a request via email and get a more detailed presentation.
 

Try to find a partner who already has relevant experience developing e-commerce solutions for your industry or worked with companies of your size and business model. In this case, the setup process should go smoother.
 

2/ Check culture compatibility
 

That’s a really crucial point even if your tech partner delivers services remotely. You must be confident that they will build a good relationship with your internal team.
 

Jump on a few entry calls, ask more questions about their internal culture and operations. Look into their work ethic and define if they’re a good fit for you.
 

3/ Don’t be afraid to share any sensitive information
 

Try to clearly describe what you expect from your potential software partner. Sign the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and feel free to discuss any sensitive information with no fear.

The better you describe the project plan, desired results, and budgets, the better your future vendor could understand the scope of work and what resources they should commit to maximize the return on your investment and deliver quality work.
 

4/ Full-cycle services vs highly specialized agencies: what to choose
 

Usually, there are 2 types of agencies: those who specialize in one or a couple of directions, like design, development, or testing, and those who provide full-scale services from business analysis and consultancy to post-project maintenance and support.
 

It depends on the goals, but if you want to keep it simple, choose the second type, as it’s much easier to align the processes with one team rather than several. Besides, it will definitely cost you less in the long-term.
 

5/ Look beyond the project scope
 

While considering your options, think about how those agencies can add value beyond the project scope.

Very often development agencies are partnered with related-to-industry services and brands, and these relationships may become beneficial to your business.
 

For instance, Grinteq is an e-commerce development agency, and the list of our partners’ services includes payment integrations, fundraising, and digital marketing.
 

Just ask your potential agency what additional value or connections they can provide, so that you don’t waste your time in an endless search for qualified and trusted experts.
 

How to choose the e-commerce platform

We are preparing a detailed blog about how to choose e-commerce platforms and what factors to consider. 
 

Exclusively for our Medium channel. Subscribe to not miss out.
 

While waiting for the blog, read the story about how James Bond was choosing the e-commerce platform for his new business.

What is the process of developing an online store with an agency?

Each agency may share some differences in their approach, but the process of setting up the team will look mainly in the following way:
 

1/ You prepare a clear specs sheet with project details and requirements
 

This is the document you create right after the planning stage (point 1 of this blog).

While your plan describes your goals at a high level, the specs sheet must be very detailed and clearly outline the list of all the functionality you’d like to see in your final solution:

How should it work?
What features should it have?
What options should your platform provide?
How should it look?
How is the end-user supposed to interact with it?

 

We recommend you hire an expert who can help with crafting the specs sheet (unless you already have a project manager on your team, of course :D).

Investing money in such services will allow for a smoother and quicker process as well as a more accurate estimate of the project’s total cost later on.
 

Be wiser from the start!
 



2/ Schedule a discovery call to learn about the vendor, their models of cooperation, services
 

 

Discovery call is the best way to get acquainted with your potential vendor face-to-face, get your business questions answered, address any concerns, and discuss the future steps.

The more clearly you talk about your expectations and requirements here, the better idea you will have about the vendor’s match. 
 

3/ Share your specs sheet and wait for the estimate
 

If you are happy with how the vendor presented themselves on the discovery call and feel confident that they can add value, send them the specs sheet (the one you created in step 1) and wait for their estimate.

You might go back and forth with the vendor to clarify some points, and that’s totally expected. 
 

Eventually, you will receive a number of quotes from all the vendors - now is the time to compare them, weigh all the pros and cons (from both the quantitative and qualitative sides), and make a decision about which vendor suits your project best.
 

4/ Negotiate the terms of the agreement 
 

Before starting the development process, discuss all the details of your agreement ONCE more.

It will minimize the chance of any mistake or misunderstanding.
 

Transparency is the key to mutually beneficial cooperation.



Take a chance at reducing the total cost of the project - most agencies have some wiggle room in their rates or can offer additional services at no extra cost.

At this stage, you can also discuss the project steps, timeline, and regularity of communication with the team.
 

 

5/ Development process and Quality Assurance
 

Usually, the process of development consists of a few stages: requirements analysis and feasibility assessment, design, and coding.

During these stages, you’ll make regular calls with the team to discuss the project progress, vulnerabilities, and new changes.
 

Depending on the complexity of the project, the development process may last from 2 to 8 months on average.



But if there is a need to highly customize the chosen platform or integrate a third-party payment gateway that isn't supported by the platform, the terms of development may increase.

After that, it’s significant to check the quality of the software and discover any defects or bugs prior to deployment. Testing (Quality Assurance or QA) helps to successfully complete these tasks. 
 

User Acceptance Testing - is the way when you check usability on your own and ask developers to fix some things that you don’t like.
 

Choose agencies that include testing in their package. That’s not even because of the cost reduction, but for clear communication and coherence between the development and testing teams.
 

6/ Support after the project release
 

The availability of post-project support depends on your agreements with your partner. These terms must be agreed in the contract in advance.

It may be a fixed number of hours when your partner's team will be available for your needs or support on-demand with the agreed hourly rate even after project release.

Special thanks to our PM team for the help in the preparation of this blog part :)

 

How much will it cost to build a web store?

This question often becomes a stumbling block during the planning process. Let’s try to divide it into parts.
 

  • E-commerce Platform

The cost of an e-commerce platform may vary depending on a number of factors: business’ size, goods volume, e-commerce capabilities that solution provides.
 

The annual cost may range from $0 to $20,000+.

 

E-commerce platforms pricing
 
 

 




















 
  •   Design and Development costs

You can choose whether to design and develop your store in-house, outsource this part to an agency, or combine the advantages of both models. 


The most convenient way is to hire a full-cycle e-commerce agency that provides consulting and design services as well as software development.
 

If you want to have more control over the project, consider extending your internal tech department with a dedicated team of e-commerce developers.
 

This option could save a lot of time with finding top talents and could be more cost-efficient compared to keeping your own large team.
 

  • Maintenance Costs
These usually include marketing, analytics, security management costs, SEO tools, and integrations. Try to think about it beforehand as it’s also a large part of expenses people often forget about during the planning stage.

 

  • Transaction Fees
Payment processing costs depend on the e-commerce platform you choose and payment services. The average charge for the majority of solutions (like PayPal, Stripe, Shopify Payments) is about 3% + $0.30 per transaction.

 

Note: These costs do not include any fees that may be charged by your bank.
 

  • Hosting
There are 2 types: self-hosted and SaaS e-commerce platforms.

Each website must have its own web hosting (the place where your files are stored) and domain name, e.g. grinteq.com.

With a hosted solution (SaaS) your e-commerce provider handles server maintenance, updates, etc., so your hosting costs are already included in your software price. Shopify, BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud are examples of SaaS solutions. 

Alternatively, you could choose a self-hosted solution and handle the setup and management of your own servers or find a hosting partner. You’ll have to buy an SSL certificate (HTTPS) for securing data transfer between a user’s browser and the website if it isn't included by your provider by default.

For instance, Magento and WooCommerce are examples of self-hosted platforms, meaning you won’t be dependent on any centralized service and are free to choose your hosting service. This enables extreme mobility when your customers increase.