eCommerce – Is Your Agency Ready for It?

Michael Firnkes Updated on 22.10.2020
10 Min.
ecommerce agencies
Last updated on 22.10.2020

eCommerce, online shops and WooCommerce: Electronic commerce is constantly increasing. Small to medium-sized shops – and their agencies or freelancers – will also benefit from this. Are you thinking about getting on track? Here's an overview to find out what knowledge you will need.

Services for WordPress or WooCommerce, Shopware or Magento are lucrative. And this despite the fact that cloud providers such as Shopify or Wix Stores are pushing onto the market. Special customer requirements in design, logistics, shipping or payment interfaces ensure that agencies and freelancers are well utilized. See our article on Opportunities and business models for service providers.

I'm speaking to WordCamps regularly with WP professionals and agencies that have avoided the business of online shops until now. They only become active when their regular customers ask for WooCommerce& Co. - more and more companies are turning to a shop as a supplement to their corporate website. This reluctance on the part of service providers is entirely justified. After all, eCommerce projects have completely different requirements, some of which are much more complex and multi-layered. Even more so.

But first of all: What makes the market for online shopping so attractive? Why will it continue to grow in Germany and Europe? And why do many shop operators leave the technical operation to a service provider?

Advantages of eCommerce

Revenues from eCommerce continue to rise rapidly. In Germany alone, these are estimated at around 58 billion euros for 2019 (source: Statista). Shops such as Amazon, Otto or Zalando account for the majority of this. But smaller and medium-sized webshops are closing the gap, as we can see from our own user numbers ...that we can determine...

Which can be observed very well in the smaller shops: Most start with a manageable number of products. Many of them, however, increase their portfolio significantly, and that within a few months. Accordingly, more and more agencies are adding technical services and consulting offerings to their portfolio. It is not just a matter of setting up a web shop once. Most shop owners initially take over the maintenance of their portal themselves. But many are quickly overwhelmed by this - then service providers or freelancers come into play.

Action days such as Black Friday ensure that more and more consumers place their orders online. And this even in market segments that were long considered unsuitable for eCommerce (Source: Statista):

Black Friday eCommerce

Increasingly, channels in the network are being used for purchases that used to take place locally. This is a thoroughly difficult trend, as it leaves many a city centre orphaned. Local traders who do not belong to a large chain can often only react as follows: They set up their own online shop parallel to the retail store. The same applies to small manufacturers, medium-sized production companies etc.

Tip: Do you offer web design or web development? Then ask among your classic portal customers who sell products. Sooner or later they too will think about an online shop. This might be your chance – go ahead before any of your competitors takes over the project.

This is the advantage of systems like WooCommerce for WordPress . They enable you or your customers to realize a flexible online shop, with manageable costs.

Requirements for freelancers and agencies

Online shops are not simply implemented "on the side". Even if you have realized numerous content portals, this does not mean that you are fit for eCommerce projects. The effort for setting up and maintaining a web shop is quickly underestimated.

The example of WooCommerce: Behind inconspicuous sub-menu items in its backend hide functions that quickly cause hardly noticeable errors. For example for a wrong calculation of taxes. If this only becomes apparent after countless invoices have already been sent, then your customers have a big problem. And so do you.

Control options from WooCommerce
Even simple control options of the shop system can be a challenge

The operation of an online shop does not only require technical knowledge, but above all a sound knowledge of the areas:

  • Online and tax laws
  • Logistics and accounting
  • specifications specifically for eCommerce, for example the European Payment Services Directive PSD2 or tax duties for international shipments
  • Development of interfaces for merchandise management systems or payment service providers
  • Usability (user-friendliness) in eCommerce, e.g. in the case of shopping cart cancellations
  • Online and content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) especially for shops

eCommerce requires extensive knowledge

Your customers will therefore confront you with very different questions as soon as you mention "eCommerce" as a possible service package. And if in doubt, they will also hold you liable - make sure you by contract from. Here are a few examples of such questions:

  • Can I connect my POS (Point of Sale) systems to the online shop? And how can several warehouses be mapped in the system so that the correct stock level/availability is always displayed online?
  • How can the sales tax identification number be checked in B2B shops? Which processes does a mixed online shop (B2C & B2B) require?
  • There are always interruptions in the PayPal payment. What is the problem? The provider, the interface or the Plugin?
  • How can I implement the topic of split tax in order to calculate taxes proportionally in relation to the shopping cart items?

With questions like the last one, you'll be quick to pull out the calculator and roll through control tables. But also:

  • Is the checkbox for forwarding customer data to my shipping GDPR service provider -compliant? What exact designation is allowed for the Buy button? How do I generally make the webshop as legally binding?
  • How and where in the system do I have to declare products that fall under the Food Information Ordinance (LMIV)?
  • What exceptions do I have to make with Caching of the shop so that the shopping cart works properly?

This all sounds very strange to you? Then you should ask yourself if you can really get excited about the subject. My recommendation: First set up one or more online shops of your own - no matter if you actually sell the products contained in them or if it's just a demo.

Grouped products
Not only in Germany there are legal requirements on how you have to present your products

The best way to get to know the characteristics of a shop system is to use it. And you will be confronted with the typical questions yourself - without the pressure of having to offer a solution very quickly. If you don't know the underlying processes, you won't be able to offer a corresponding service. And also none Plugins , themes for shop systems like WooCommercedevelop.

Challenges in eCommerce

The next step is then: First take over the maintenance of a smaller shop - including the maintenance of products. This way, you'll quickly learn more about related functions such as order processing, shipping, payment or checkout.

Dealers face some special challenges on the net that you should address as soon as you take on a project:

  • Warnings: Some online merchants - even small ones - complain that they are more and more often given warnings. The legal pitfalls must be taken into account during planning and operation.
  • Data security: Every CMS or portal must be protected against Hacker attacks be protected. In an online shop with customer data, an attack is particularly tragic. Securing the shop will also be one of your tasks. Are you insecure here? Then you should definitely work with freelancers or agencies that are more experienced in the field of security.
  • Calculation during operation: A simple shop is implemented quite quickly. for WooCommerceexample, is very easy to use in large parts. But this is where the work on: Insert or import product texts and images, create product variants, categorization, keywording, SEO metadata. All this takes a lot of time.
  • Scalability: After the first version of the shop has been released, wishes arise quickly that have a lot to offer in terms of resources: For example, the automated transfer of data to the shipping service provider, the integration of the CMS or the development of an enterprise resource planning system.

In addition, many new online shops only survive a few months. After that they stagnate or have to be discontinued. Because in some segments the competition from Amazon & Co. is enormous. Then it is worth testing an eCommerce business idea first. For example via a marketplace on Amazon or eBay.

Do you name the points just described proactively when new customers contact you? This shows that you have the necessary expertise. Only then can you estimate how much effort will be required - and whether the project will be financially worthwhile for you.

A wizard guides you through the installation of WooCommerce
WooCommerce guides you through the installation. But after that the work only begins.

In most cases, projects in eCommerce are invoiced according to time and effort. But you can also agree on a fixed monthly flat rate. The first option is very convenient for your customers: High payments are only due if there is a lot of work to be done, which is ideally reflected in higher sales. As a service provider, you should specify in writing which task packages are included and which are not.

Opportunities in eCommerce

It is not only the ongoing online shopping trend that speaks in favour of electronic commerce. There are also other good reasons why you should consider projects for webshops:

  • Multichannel marketing: All portals struggle with increasing content competition. This is known as the "content shock". For many, the only option is to open up additional sales channels in response to falling sales. This also includes their own online shop.
  • Voice Search: Whether Google Home, Amazon Echo, Cortana or Siri. We are getting used to doing more and more tasks from our home sofa. This also gives the eCommerce market an additional boost. In the future we will "scan" exciting products with our smartphone and forward them directly to a suitable webshop.
  • Scalability: formerly small shops are becoming increasingly professional. This can be seen clearly at WooCommerce plugins for medium to large projects are increasingly in demand. Your consulting services or your agency can grow with these requirements.
  • Marketing: Webshops need different online marketing measures than classic portals. This starts with the SEO optimization of product pages and ends with services like Google or Facebook shopping.
  • B2B shops: In B2B, online shops are only slowly becoming established, so there is still a lot of potential in this market. B2B shops are aimed at commercial users. Their processes differ from those of sales to end customers only. This also applies to mixed online shops that cover both target groups.

In this context, also look at your competitors. So other agencies and freelancers who implement and maintain websites. How many of them already have online shops in their portfolio? Customers who need both - content and eCommerce portals - will choose a service provider who covers both areas.

Business models for agencies

There are several areas in eCommerce where you can offer your services. Besides the complete setup of an online shop this is mainly the ongoing maintenance. Most shop owners initially take over the maintenance of their portal themselves. But they quickly reach their limits. Especially then, when

  • you have no technical understanding
  • The shop is run parallel to a retail shop
  • The virtual warehouse is growing rapidly, many goods have to be entered and updated in parallel
  • Or when the orders and logistics get out of hand

Then you can take over such parts as a service. Or you can contribute solutions for process automation, which your customers will benefit from in the long term.

Typical packages for maintenance are the creation or import of products, the selection and setup of suitable extensions (plugins), the optimization of the Shop designs or the updating of the system. But also the optimization of product images and testing new functions in a staging are part of it. Including the restore of backups in case of errors.

In all these tasks you will quickly be confronted with questions that go beyond technical matters. See the section on agency requirements above. Other areas in which you can work with a shop system

  • Development of interfaces: Depending on the system landscape, there are few ready-made interfaces between the individual tools and databases. Or these have to be adapted in a complex way. For this, however, you need very sound knowledge in software development. And you should have a lot of patience.
  • Development of plugins: This area also requires some experience. Because the little helpers quickly dig deep into the logic of the shop system. One faulty line of code and the checkout does not work as desired.
  • Development of designs and templates: At WooCommerce and WordPress there are Design templates (so-called "Themes"), which sell a hundred thousand times. You will hardly manage to launch a template for a shop system that will become very popular right from the start. Here niche markets are usually more target-oriented. For example specific templates for food shops, online pharmacies, craftsmen, artists etc.
  • Online marketing: Search engines have special rules for the listing of shops. But also the topic of conversion optimization is of higher importance in eCommerce. You can refer to SEO audits for online shops.

You can, of course, also offer all the services described above in one. Your main target groups are then:

  • Companies that focus on sales but not on technical operations.
  • Stationary shops that want to generate additional sales. But who do not have the necessary expertise or time for it.
  • Classic portals that already WordPress work with a content management system and need an additional sales channel. For e-books, webinars, events or vouchers, for example.

Note: To be fair, however, you are only offering such complete packages in an agency, not as a lone fighter. And this only if you have specialized employees for web design, development, analytics, performance, SEO etc. in your team.

Plugins and themes in eCommerce

The development of extensions for emerging shop systems is quite exciting. Depending on the area of application, their market is not as large as it is with add-ons for content management systems. In return they can usually be sold at a higher price. Or they must be adapted to the respective shop landscape. You should research in advance which services your shop system does not offer in the standard version and how big the market for these is. You can find out more in our articles on Plugin development.

WooCommerce Theme Woostroid
Themes like "Woostroid" offer special functions like a showcase

Whichever way you choose: First find out where your strengths in eCommerce lie or what your team looks like. Do you like administration? Do you prefer developing? Do you love web design? Do you know anything about online law or SEO? Do you see yourself in the planning role of project management?

Each subject area quickly becomes very complex in itself. Your customers notice whether you are really familiar with the individual tasks. Or whether you are only moving on the surface. My tip: It's better to specialize in a few selected tasks. Or divide them up into teams.

You can find more tips on project planning for online shops in our 70+ sites strong e-book WooCommerce for professionals. It is aimed at freelancers, agencies and WP professionals. Some parts of it - such as price calculation or business models - are also relevant for other shop systems.

Do you have questions about eCommerce projects? Or about WooCommerce? Feel free to use the comment function. You want more tips on WordPress & WooCommerce? Then follow us Twitter, Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Michael takes cake care of the areas of content and mental health at RAIDBOXES. He has been active in the blogger and WordPress community since 2007. Among other things as co-organizer of WordPress events, book author and corporate blog trainer. He loves blogging incredibly, professionally but also privately. Michael works and writes remotely from sunny Freiburg.

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