Ecommerce Website Development: How to Stay on Track and What to Do When Things Go Wrong

 

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Hi there.

Replatforming or upgrading your eCommerce site is no small task.

It’s often a huge investment of time, resources, and most importantly, money. And, if things go wrong, the sunk costs plus lost revenue can end up being a massive expense.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. 

Yet, when an eCommerce website development project starts to go off the rails, most website owners will stay the course because it feels like the safest path forward. Not to mention, the alternative means guaranteed delays and additional expense. 

For the sake of your site and business, don’t be afraid to take action as soon as there is trouble. 

Trust your gut. Acting early and decisively can save you time, money, and most importantly, your online store.

To help you identify red flags early we’ve created this comprehensive resource to help eCommerce store owners:

  • Identify common mistakes to avoid.
  • Pinpoint the signs to look for that spell trouble. 
  • Salvage what’s been done, protect your assets, and find a development partner who can step in and rescue your project.
  • Determine what you need to know to transition to a new firm.

We’re proud of this comprehensive resource and hope you find it helpful as well.

Enjoy!

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Ben Chafetz

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

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Common Mistakes to Avoid

magento mistakes

OK.

You’ve hired a developer – or maybe you’ve even got some technical skills and you’re planning to be part of the development process for your new eCommerce site. 

You’re excited to get to work and build a modern, streamlined, beautiful eCommerce site.

Hold on a sec.

Before you get into full swing, there are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid during your project.

And trust us, we know. We’ve got years of experience in eCommerce website development, and we’ve seen it all – we know the common mistakes stakeholders often make during the development process.

Below are thirteen of the most common ones we’ve encountered.

Mistake #1: Not Taking the Time to Learn the Basics About Your eCommerce Platform

If you plan on building an eCommerce website, even with the help of a developer, you still need to make sure you understand the basics of how the platform works. 

Relax. You don’t have to learn how to code. But you should still familiarize yourself with the basics – how basic administration works, how to add and remove products, how to change page layouts and make other minor adjustments, and so on.

If you don’t know much about the platform you’re using, you’ll end up paying developers to do things you could otherwise handle yourself – and you may not know to ask for a specific feature that can really benefit your sales – which could lead to missed sales opportunities.

USE CASE: Manufacturer of mattresses for heavy people

This client was constantly asking us to complete simple tasks that he could easily learn to do. Multiple people at 121eCommerce repeatedly explained that with just a few hours of his time, he could manage many of these tasks himself. The response was always the same, “Just take care of it.”

While this creates billable hours for us, we would really prefer not to do this work, more for the client’s sake than ours. While every task is small and doesn’t take many man-hours, over time, these add up and can increase TCO.

 

Most eCommerce platforms offer a wealth of learning material and Magento is no exception. 

Here’s a partial list of resources we’ve identified to help someone learn all about the Magento Commerce platform:

  • Adobe Digital Learning Services (ADLS) (formerly Magento U) – On-demand and in-person training and courses.
  • Magento User Guide – As the name says, this is an all-inclusive guide on all things Magento. You’ll learn pretty much everything you need to know about Magento in one convenient place.
  • Magento Help Center – A comprehensive knowledge center has lots of helpful articles and a powerful search function to help you get answers to common questions. 
  • Tips & Tricks Videos – See how you can get the most out of Magento with these quick videos.
  • Magento YouTube Channel – The official Magento YouTube channel has dozens of How-To and entertaining videos on Magento, as well as announcements and other helpful information. 

Mistake #2: Ignoring Native Features & Functionality 

All major eCommerce platforms will allow you to install extensions, apps, or plug-ins to add functionality to your store. 

But beware. Don’t start adding extensions willy-nilly. First, you should familiarize yourself with your platform’s native features.

The Magento Marketplace has over 3,800 extensions. Each extension has to pass a rigorous approval process to be listed on the marketplace. This ensures you receive a secure, reliable extension and can install it with confidence.

 

However, even though Magento put each extension through a QA test, it’s a minimum standard. Not a maximum. Just because an extension integrates smoothly doesn’t mean you should install it into your platform. You still need to look into the extension provider. 

Think of it this way: your computer has a USB port, but just because a USB drive plugs in without a problem, that doesn’t mean it’s great for your computer. 

Best practices when choosing a third-party extension:

  1. Purchase only from known, major extension providers.
  2. Make sure they provide:
    • Updates so the extension can remain to be compatible with updated versions of Magento.
    • Support in a quick and efficient manner.
    • Security updates.

Learn More About Extensions

 Download Extensions Explained Doc 

Don’t assume your platform lacks – or has – a certain feature you want. Or, that since an extension exists, the native functionality does not.  

This goes back to our first point. You and your team should familiarize yourself with the functionality of your platform.

Then, once you know for sure that you need to utilize extensions, you can consult with your developers, discuss your options, and think about which additions may offer the features you want.

This ensures you don’t add unnecessary bloat to your store – and that you don’t end up paying for features that are already natively included.

Mistake #3: Not Nailing Down Your Project Scope Before It Begins

If you don’t nail down your project scope before your project begins, you’ll always be at risk of scope creep.

You may be surprised with unexpected costs mid-project for items that were not included in the original scope – and you may have no choice but to pay and soldier on, hoping that everything works out.

Scope creep can cause delays, higher costs, and can even contribute to a strained relationship with your developers — sometimes to the point where you need to part ways. 

But it doesn’t have to come to that.

Work with your developer to get everything clear before your project starts and scope out each individual task. This will take some time and effort, but by working to define your project scope early, you’ll reduce development costs, streamline the process, and save a lot of time and money.

Mistake #4: Not Spending Enough Time Adding Product Attributes & Information

This is a “missing the forest for the trees” situation that’s actually more common than you may think. You and your developers may be so invested in creating the “nuts and bolts” of your website that you overlook one of the most important parts of your site – your products!

You need to make sure you build time into your project to add product attributes (e.g., size, color, price, brand, etc.) for each and every product you’re selling.

This is a vital step. 

Remember, an eCommerce customer can only make a buying decision with the information that you give them. If you don’t provide them with what they need, they’ll leave – and may end up purchasing a similar product from your competitors instead.

Data Augmentation

One area where most merchants miss optimizing their product info is data management. Specifically, consolidating, cleaning and augmenting their data.

Optimizing your data can help maximize the functionality of your eCommerce platform. It can also help with your SEO efforts.

We feel so strongly about data augmentation that we have a dedicated team that can provide data services, including file extraction, data transformation, and data loading.

Learn More About Data Augmentation Services 

Download Now

Mistake #5: Not Setting Out Clear Communication Expectations With Your Development Partner

It’s important to hire a development agency that will communicate clearly and regularly with you and your team throughout the development process. And this responsibility goes two ways – it’s up to you to make sure you set clear communication expectations.

For example, you should let your development team know how often you’re planning on checking in. Will you have a daily meeting? A weekly stand-up? Meetings after certain milestones are met?

How will you communicate? Will you use email? Phone calls? Slack? Zoom? When should developers be expected to respond to messages immediately? Are there certain business hours in which you want your dev team to be available for questions?

You need to work out the answers to all of these questions in advance and make sure that you and your development team are on the same page. By doing so, you’ll be more informed about the development process. 

Mistake #6: Bringing New People Into The Project Mid-Stream

Bringing new stakeholders into a project in the middle of things rarely goes according to plan, and often throws a wrench into the development process. Why?

Because with new people come new ideas. And new demands. And new requirements. And scope creep. Lots of scope creep. So much that – if you’re not careful – your new site could easily cost you twice as much to build.

USE CASE: Gift card reseller

After confirming the key stakeholders at the start of the project (our protocol with every project), we were surprised when the client brought in the CEO mid-project. While including the CEO as a stakeholder is not unusual, bringing him into the project mid-stream causes problems which could have been avoided had the client clarified their internal processes more rigorously before starting.

 

Before you begin developing a website, decide who will be involved. And once that’s been set in stone, don’t change it. Don’t bring in new team members, external marketing consultants, or anyone else – usually, it will just make things worse.

Mistake #7: Making Large Changes (Especially Close to Launch)

Any qualified web developer will tell you that the best time to make large changes is before the project starts. The worst time? Right before launch.

Think of your website as a freight train. While your train is parked in the station, it’s easy to swap out cars. However, once this 20-ton monster starts chugging along at 70 mph, it’s nearly impossible to change cars. 

 

The same is true with eCommerce website development. While it is possible to make major changes right before the product launch, it will be extremely expensive – and will almost always involve redoing good work that you’ve already paid for.

USE CASE: Wholesale costume feather manufacturer

During our discovery call, we showed the client a demo site that was not too different from the default theme out-of-the-box. The client liked it and signed on to create a very similar site with a few changes. Halfway through the project, the client hired a marketing consultant who insisted on major design changes. 

We told them they had two options:

  1. Stop the project, deliver an estimate, and review the ROI of the proposed changes (our recommendation).
  2. Move forward with the requested changes with a general estimate that was subject to change.

They chose the latter and after seeing the increased cost, complained that the project was over estimate. We politely explained to them that we were not over estimate since they were not in the original estimate. 

Their site ended up being beautiful, but at a price they weren’t expecting.

Mistake #8: Waiting Until Your Site is Perfect Before Going Live

We have a philosophy here at 121eCommerce:

Now, we’re not advocating for you to launch a website that’s not finished. Obviously, that’s a bad idea – for a huge variety of reasons.

But if your website is done – meaning, it’s in working order, it looks good, it’s integrated with your other systems, your developers are telling you to launch it – it’s time to launch it.

A Site in Staging is Costing You

A site in staging will never make you a cent. A live site, on the other hand, starts earning revenue from day one and immediately contributes to your ROI. 

The longer your site stays in staging, the more you’re paying out-of-pocket development costs.

On the flip side, once your site is live and earning revenue, it’s much easier to invest in development. 

 

Sure, you may want to play around with the UI. Maybe you’d like to add more product photos. Perhaps the content on your pages isn’t perfect. It doesn’t matter. No website is ever “perfect.”

When your developer says you’re ready, trust them. Once the basic site functionality has been confirmed and your site has been launched, you can get started on other projects to improve your site, and continue fine-tuning it as much as you want.

Mistake #9: Not Testing Credentials Early On

This may surprise you, but in eCommerce website development, some of the most basic things you need to troubleshoot are not tested until pretty late in the process, including:

  • Order processing
  • Automated shipping rate quotes
  • Payment gateways
  • Fraud protection
  • Inventory
  • Transactional emails (e.g. delivery/order confirmations)

You need to test the functionality of these systems early on – and work with your developers to give them the credentials and information they need to do so. Working these basic things out ahead of time can help you save a lot of time and headaches later on.

We can help you with:

  • Failed launches
  • Emergency rescues
  • Bug fixes and poor code
  • Code retrieval
  • Performance issues
  • Functionality problems
  • Stalled projects
  • Third-party integrations and compatibility

Mistake #10: Not Choosing A Reputable Hosting Company

This is a mistake we’ve seen lots of companies make over the years. Hosting is something you should never skimp on. Choosing the right hosting company can make or break your website’s performance, which is essential for conversion rates.

A slow website means bad sales and low conversion rates. A fast website means higher sales and better conversion rates.

USE CASE: Leading Online Retailer of Lifeguard Supplies

When this client first came to us, they were experiencing many frustrations with their current hosting provider: 

  • With each deployment, their site went down.
  • Site speed was extremely slow on the frontend and the backend.
  • Overall performance of the site was horrible. 
  • Hosting provider was not optimized to handle large catalogs.
  • Customer support was weak.

After begging them for two years they finally decided to switch hosting providers to one of our trusted partners. The change has been dramatic. Site speed is up. Conversion metrics across the board are up. They are kicking themselves for not making the switch sooner. 

 

Even a slight increase in conversion metrics can have a significant impact on your bottom line and shorten your time to recoup your return on investment.

Your website may be beautiful and elegantly coded – but if it’s hosted by a snail-slow provider with bad customer support and horrible contract terms, you’ll be out of luck.

So take your time. Do your research. Find a hosting provider that offers blazing fast speeds, great support, and plenty of features specific to your platform. Even if they cost more, it will be worth it – because a great hosting company just makes your website better. Period. 

Explore our ROI Calculator to See How Small Improvements in Conversion Metrics Can Dramatically Improve Your ROI.

 

Access ROI Calculator

Mistake #11: Not Choosing Reputable Third-Party Vendors

Choosing reputable third-party vendors is another area many merchants miss the mark.

When additional services are needed, for example, integration, SEO, shipping, marketing, many merchants are pressed for time and choose third-party providers solely based on their offering. However, it’s just as important to investigate the third-party provider as well. They may have a great product or service, but their methods may be questionable.

Here’s a case in point:

USE CASE: Online retailer of beauty products and body care 

Everything was going fine until one of our developers noticed some bugs appearing in the code and the frontend as well. When we asked the merchant if any other partner was touching the code, they said, “Oh yeah. We hired an SEO firm to do some work for us.” Common sense would dictate for the merchant to let the solution partner know that another partner is working on the site, especially if they’re adding in code! But alas, common sense was set aside for the hopes of higher search rankings. 

What was the result? 

The bad code cost our client many hours of consulting time, development time, and additional payment to their SEO agency to clean up the mess.

Mistake #12: Editing the Core Code

Editing the core code can completely destroy your website, cause major errors, and lead to other instabilities and issues that may cost a lot of time and money to fix. It’s just not worth it. If your current web developer is editing the core, or even suggesting to do so, be very wary. Be sure to ask them why they’re doing it. There are only very few (emergency) circumstances when editing the core is necessary. 

Editing the core can have many negative ramifications to your store, including:

  1. Extension conflicts: When it’s time to install a new extension, the possibility of conflicts increases which can cripple your store.
  2. Destroys your upgrade path. Meaning, when your eCommerce platform releases an update, you will be unable to install it because your core code has been altered.

Mistake #13: Focusing On Design Over Substance Or Functionality

A flashy design is great, but unless your website works properly, loads quickly, and has helpful, unique content that will actually make customers want to buy your products, no amount of fancy animations or gorgeous product photographs will make a difference.

We’ve seen sites that have made simple, yet devastating mistakes when they focus on the way a site looks instead of the way a site performs. 

For example, burying the add to cart button below the fold. While it may look better there, it’s a surefire way to lower your conversion rate.

An even worse malady is overdesigning. It’s sad to see an eCommerce site that has been so over-designed that it ends up being counterintuitive and even outsmarting its users.

Again, we’re not saying that design is unimportant. But in the hierarchy of your development process, functionality comes first. Once everything works well, loads quickly, and operates as intended, then you can start thinking about how your website looks.

What To Expect When You Hire a Developer to Rescue Your Project

 

There are 3 basic steps that your new developers should take to begin the project rescue process. 

  1. Code audit – The first step of a project rescue is always a code audit. A code audit is a comprehensive review of all of the core code, as well as all of the custom code that has been added to your store. A code audit lets your new development team assess the health and condition of your website – and determine whether it’s salvageable.
  2. Create a plan – The next step is to create a comprehensive project plan to restore your website, and complete the process of building, testing, and launching your store.
  3. Review your proposal Now it’s time to decide whether you want to rescue your website. You’ll need to review the proposal from your developer to weigh whether it’s worth it to fix your existing troubled site or start from scratch. It all depends on your situation.

 

The good news: You probably won’t have to start from scratch. Project rescues account for over half of our business, and in our experience, less than 10% of these projects need to start from scratch.

Red Flags

woman holding red flag

We’ve listed five below that may be harbingers of future problems and may even convince you to throw in the towel with your current developer.

Be on the lookout for the four signs outlined below and start having candid conversations with your web development team sooner than later. So if you determine it’s time to find a new developer, you’ll be prepared and well-warned.

1. Your Developer Isn’t Communicating Properly – Or Stops Responding Entirely

We’ve said it before on the 121eCommerce blog – and we’ll say it again.

Communication is the single most important factor in an eCommerce website development agency. 

Your developer needs to have good communication skills – and should keep you updated on the status of your project, individual milestones and goals, project sprints, and so on.

So, if communication is breaking down, this may be a sign that their internal communication processes aren’t effective or there are issues they don’t want you to know about.

Communication breakdowns lead to poor efficiency, bugs, and dozens of other issues.

If you’ve found that your developers are slow to respond to questions, or they ignore you entirely and don’t update you about your project status, it may be time to find a new development team.

2. Your Project Has Missed Multiple Deadlines

Your project launch was set for June. 

Then August. 

Then the end of Q3. 

Now you’re just hoping to get it pushed out before the end of the year – but you can feel another deadline change is just around the corner.

If your development partner isn’t able to handle the deadlines of your project that were outlined in the beginning, this may be a sign that something is seriously wrong. 

Yes. It’s possible that your project was more complicated than you thought – or that your development team just doesn’t have the skills necessary to stay on time and on budget throughout the development process.

Regardless of why you’re missing deadlines, you need to do something about it. And if you can’t get a clear answer from your development partner about why they’re having trouble with your project, it may be time to move on.

3. Frequent New Points of Contact

If you start with one point of contact and then are handed to a second and then a  third, it may be time to have a conversation with your development partner. 

Frequent changes in your point of contact can mean one of two things: 

  1. Your development partner has a high turnover rate, which in and of itself is troublesome.
  2. You’re in a round-robin ticketing system where the next available agent is assigned your project versus having a dedicated contact throughout the duration of your project.

Either of the above reasons is not good, and both are red flags.

As we’ve mentioned before, communication is a critical factor in the success of your development project. Having frequent new points of contact makes communication challenging since your entire history has to be reviewed with each new contact. 

4: Your Developer Isn’t Able to Handle the Technical Needs of Your Project

Ideally, during the interview process, you evaluated solution partners based on their ability to handle the scope of your project.

Not only do you need a partner that has great client communication (see above), you also want a partner that has the technical skills to use your chosen platform to its full capabilities as well as create any custom functionality.

For example, you need a developer who can:

  • Integrate third-party APIs into your website.
  • Create custom code and features as needed.
  • Install and integrate extensions, apps, or plug-ins from third parties. 
  • Customize and create a new theme.

These are just a few technical abilities your solution partner should be able to perform.

However…not all projects are built alike. 

You may find that, in the course of development, the scope of your project has changed and your partner is unable to handle the advanced technical needs of your project.

Or maybe there were some complex issues with a third-party API that you didn’t expect. 

Or maybe your developer is having trouble adding some custom functionality. 

If you notice these issues, your new site may not function as required and it may be time to look for a new developer.

5: Your Site Isn’t Working Properly

Maybe everything has been going pretty well for your project. Your developers have created a nice website, integrated your third-party software and APIs, added extensions, built a custom theme, and so on.

But as you start testing parts of the site, it’s plagued by bugs and errors, including:

  • Slow page loading speeds.
  • Improper integration with databases, extensions, and add-ons that are crashing your site.
  • Navigation problems. 

You get the picture. Your development team doesn’t seem to be concerned, but you are.

A buggy, unstable website can cost you a lot of money due to lost sales – and it can expose you to liability if there are serious security issues that result in a data breach. 

If your site just doesn’t seem to be working properly, there may be some serious issues with the underlying code that your developers have put together. And no amount of simple troubleshooting will be enough to resolve these problems. 

You’ll have to take a look at your entire codebase and site architecture – and may even have to rebuild some parts of your site from the ground-up. And to do that, you may need the help of a specialized project rescue team. 

eCommerce Website Development is a Team Effort

Building an eCommerce storefront takes a team effort. The most critical part of your team is probably the development company you choose.

So take your time and choose wisely.

If things start to get shaky, all is not lost. Most relationships with development partners can be ironed out. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep the four signs outlined above in the back of your mind. 

As you move forward in your eCommerce website development project, you’ll also want to avoid the fifteen most common mistakes summarized below.

How to Transition to a New Developer Mid-Project

firing your current developer

So, you hired an eCommerce developer, and things aren’t working out. 

Maybe you’re not communicating properly.

Maybe they oversold their capabilities.

Maybe they’re just not delivering the product you want on the timeframe you agreed upon.

Whatever the reason, you’ve decided that it’s time to jump ship.

The last thing you want to do is fall victim to the “sunk cost fallacy,” and continue pouring time, money, and energy into working with a bad development team.

Now it’s time to begin the process of a project rescue.

It may not be a simple, easy, or cheap process to start working with a new development team. But by separating from your old developer and hiring a development team that knows what they’re doing, you’ll have the best chance of salvaging your project.

Below are some advice and tips to help you navigate the logistics of transitioning to a new developer with fewer headaches and less stress.

Make Sure You Own & Control All Credentials Associated With Your Website

First and foremost, make sure that you have access to all of the credentials associated with your website and your brand. Depending on the situation, these may include – but not be limited to – the following:

  • Website credentials
    • Backend credentials
  • Server access
    • Hosting control panel
    • SSH access
  • Domain name/DNS registrar
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console
  • Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Google Tag Manager
  • Google AdWords
  • Passwords for all systems integrated with your site, for example:
    • Quickbooks
    • Shipping platform
    • ERP
    • Netsuite
    • Etc.
  • Social media accounts
  • Any other passwords to specific sites associated with your project

Once you have possession and control over all of these passwords, you need to update and change them before you fire your developer. This will simplify the transition process, especially if you do not part on good terms with your old development team.

Take Further Security Precautions To Lock Down Your Site

Password updates are all well and good, but there are a few other steps you should take to boost security further and configure your site, no matter what its development state may be.

  • Remove all of your old whitelisted IP addresses from the hosting panel, including all unknown addresses
  • Look through your SSH user list and remove all authorized_keys that are no longer relevant
  • Change the MySQL password
  • Change all API keys
    • API keys
    • Backend API keys
    • Payment Gateway Transactional Keys/Tokens
    • All other third-party API keys being used in the store

Get Control Of All Relevant Assets Produced By Your Developer

You should also make sure you have access to and retrieve all relevant assets that your previous development agency produced for you, including:

  • Design master files (.psd, .ai, etc.) 
  • Newsletter designs
  • Wireframes 
  • Mockups
  • Custom code and relevant documentation
  • Stock photos/images purchased for your project

Work with your new development team to make a list of all of the assets and information that you will need from your developer during this transition time. 

This may be a complicated task if your developer is using multiple file storage solutions or you do not have direct access to specific assets, but it’s worth taking the time to request access and gain possession of all the assets you need. 

Know What You’re Obligated To Pay Based On Your Contract

It would be great if firing your developer meant you got your money back – but building an eCommerce website is a little bit different than returning a spoiled bottle of milk to the grocery store. 

Even if you fire them, you’re going to owe your developer a certain sum of money – and this depends on your contract and your agreement with your developer. This is why it’s very important to work on an ironclad, mutually beneficial contract before the project begins.

Commonly, website developers include a clause in a contract that will require them to be paid out based on their hours worked during the project if the contract is terminated.

However, this is not always the case. We highly recommend consulting the contract you signed initially – this way, you’ll be clear on the amount you’re legally obligated to pay. 

This is also why it’s so important to go through the contract carefully before you sign it and hire a developer. You’ll be able to identify any unreasonable stipulations and address them before the project begins.

Be Polite And Be Professional When It’s Time to Leave Your Developer

Even if you’ve had a horrible time working with your developer and they’ve let you down in pretty much every way imaginable, be polite when it’s time to let them go and end the contract. You may be tempted to unleash your frustration on the project lead or owner of the development company, but that’s counter-productive.

Venting at a developer who has let you down won’t accomplish anything – and at worst, you’ll burn the bridge with the developer completely, and they will refuse to do anything to help during your transition period.

It’s important — crucial even — to leave lines of communication open with your previous developer.

For example, if your new developer runs into a problem, it could take a simple, 20-minute phone call to your previous developer to figure it out versus hours and hours of reverse engineering to discover the root cause.

If you’re polite, courteous, and professional, you’ll have an easier time transitioning to a new developer. Your old developer may even volunteer to turn over assets, passwords, and other such things to you directly, making it a lot easier to get your new team started quickly.

Case Studies

Don’t worry. You’re not the first project rescue that’s come across our desk.

Others have come before you. Explore the case studies below to learn from their mistakes to ensure your eCommerce website development project stays on track.

View Case Studies

 

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Congratulations! You made it to the end!

Now that you are well versed in project rescues, let us know if you need to be rescued!

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