Business tips

How to brief your e-commerce website developer in 10 steps

Get the website that your e-commerce business really needs by following this 10-step checklist to briefing your website developer.

You want a beautifully designed, functional and scalable e-commerce website – but how do you brief your website developer in order to get the perfect site for your business?

Scott Kilmartin heads up strategy and innovation at Melbourne-based website development firm Online Store Guys. Kilmartin has been an online merchant himself, so he understands both ends of the briefing process. He shares 10 steps for the perfect website brief.

1. Examples

Take along three examples of websites that you like when you meet with your website developer. Be able to explain what specific elements and functionality you find attractive. It is also worth taking along links to three websites that you don’t like to show the developer what you don’t like – and why.

2. Budget

Work out a rough idea of how much you are prepared to spend, because, without knowing your budget, developers can’t make recommendations about platforms, testing and integrations. “Some people worry that if they give a developer a budget range, they might inflate the quote to fit the top end of the budget. But having some idea of finances is key for a project. There is no point being shown Mercedes features if you have a Corolla budget,” says Kilmartin.

3. Functionality

Make a list of the types of functionality you would like your website to have. “Think about things like stockist locators, gift vouchers and whether you will sell both physical and digital products online, and know what freight company you will be using,” advises Kilmartin.

4. Integrations

Know what sorts of integrations can help streamline your e-commerce business. Kilmartin advises integrating your website with your accounting software right from the start. “It is really easy for a website to speak to accounting packages,” he says, “which means there is no need to pay someone to do manual data entry and it removes the possibility of human error.” He adds that the cost of integrations has declined and that the productivity benefits of good integrations can be invaluable.

5. User experience

Having a good-looking website and having one that can sell lots of products well are often two different things. Think about what your customers really need and what your website needs to be able to do for them.

6. Platform

Kilmartin recommends speaking with a number of different developers before you decide on an e-commerce platform. “Some business owners do some homework and decide that they want a particular platform, but it might not be suited to their business needs,” he says. “It is important to be open to different platforms – not all will suit your requirements.” Kilmartin suggests finding out whether different platforms integrate seamlessly with your inventory, accounts and even point of sale (POS) and whether they can scale as your business grows. He adds that, for most businesses, it isn’t necessary to start out with a platform that can immediately be scaled for growth. “Many businesses won’t need a top-end platform from the beginning,” he says.

7. Payment gateway

You will need a payment gateway to securely process online payments. You can get a payment gateway from a specialist online payments provider, like SecurePay, or from a bank. Kilmartin advises you to carefully research the different payment gateway offerings. “Banks sell their own payment gateways,” he says. “Payment gateway companies are constantly updating their products to meet the needs of e-commerce businesses, where banks are not as focused on updates.” Kilmartin suggests speaking to another e-commerce business owner who has already gone through the process of deciding on and working with a payment gateway provider.

8. Timelines

Let your developer know whether you plan to launch a website for a particular event or date, allowing time for product descriptions to be written and photographs taken. If you are outsourcing any writing or photography to a copywriter and photographer, ensure you provide them with a clear brief and realistic deadlines, says Kilmartin.

9. Research your developer

Do some research on your developer before you commit. “Get feedback from some of their customers – find out what their work was like and how they communicate and work with clients,” says Kilmartin. If the developer has a blog, you can also check that they are writing articles themselves on topical and up-to-date issues. Remember to find out if the developer simply designs and builds websites or whether they provide ongoing support, such as analytics or advisory services. Find out what costs are associated with any extra services they might offer.

10. Hosting and ownership

It is crucial that you understand whether your website will be hosted by your developer or a third party. “Make it clear that you want access to all passwords, and get that in writing,” advises Kilmartin. Also find out if you own the design of the website or whether that sits with your developer. “You want to ask: ‘at the end of this project do I own my site?’. Check the small print.”

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