An eCommerce Agency Can Come in 5 Types: Which is the Best?
SO you've decided that you need help with your eCommerce program? Maybe you've arrived at this point because your eCommerce sales haven't grown as quickly as you'd like. Maybe it's something that your boss (or board of directors) have asked you to investigate. Perhaps it's that you just don't like what you see when you look at your brand online...
However you got to this point, you have a serious challenge ahead. The eCommerce services space is complex - there are some really great providers out there along with some not so great ones. Like many other "hot" business sectors, there are also quite a few pretenders selling ahead of capability and expertise. Sorting out who's who is a big challenge.
The choice is easier once you understand the alternatives. I've personally experienced many different types of providers in this space, both on the "buy" and "sell" side of the table. Here's my take on what you might encounter in your search.
5 Common Types of eCommerce Providers:
The Lone Ranger: An independent consultant is often the first choice of cash-strapped small businesses. They are typically the most affordable option. Most are specialists in a certain area - this is their strength but can also be a major downfall. The person that helps you manage your reseller issues on Amazon may not be the same one to help build your DTC store creative or to help you assess cost-effective fulfillment options. Hiring a Lone Ranger might be a short-term win but you could be looking for help again very soon.
The Content Slappers: Many big product companies still believe that the key to eCommerce success is simply putting more SKUs online. This works in physical retail where share of shelf drives share of sales but in eCommerce, where shelf space is not a constraint, SKU productivity has much higher leverage. Top selling SKUs in any given marketplace will sell exponentially more than the category average. Many companies move huge catalogs online with substandard content and very little optimization or marketing and then wonder why their sales are in the thousands of dollars and not the millions. Content Slappers are the agencies that support and encourage this approach - they're great at creating mediocre content at scale. They deliver quantity and cost over quality which is just fine IF your KPIs favor activity over results. They may help you to "check the box," but they won't help you to meet your growth goals.
The Ninja Squad: If you hear providers talking about their "ninja tactics," "magic," or "hacking" techniques, there's a good chance that you're talking to a Ninja Squad. These providers are keenly aware that their clients lack patience and they promise short-cuts to magnificent sales. In many cases, these short-cuts can get the client in trouble - review manipulation, search manipulation, and other gray or black hat tricks can get you banned (or worse) from the major marketplaces and usually don't deliver sustainable results anyway. The costs are not worth the benefits with this route. High growth IS available without risky shortcuts!
The Platform Wonks: Wonks go deep on a particular platform such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Shopify, etc. They have good understanding of available tactics, understand the rules of the road, and the "technical underpinnings" of their platform. In many cases, Platform Wonks are former employees OF the service that is their specialty. While they can be great resources, their platform understanding often doesn't translate to any practical understanding of the products business, retail strategy, or of the marketing techniques that you'll need to win. You may end up with a great channel insights and technical knowledge but no real strategic roadmap.
The eCommerce Advisors: Usually the highest priced of all, these partners have deep business and channel understanding. They can help you determine "size of the prize," develop a business model, and write up a long-term plan. In many cases, though, they lack deep technical or platform knowledge to actually get the job done. This means you may get a great strategy with lots of potential but have no one to execute it. You may also end up in a situation where the strategy looks good but doesn't really work because some important detail has been overlooked.
So, Who Should You Choose?
It's a trick question... Clients shouldn't have to compromise! Given today's challenges, most brands need partners that bring the full package: an integrated mix of business strategy, operational, technical, and product marketing expertise.
This is why we started Bold Retail. We're strategic product people who've managed Multi-Million and Billion dollar businesses. We've built a playbook, a winning team, and a toolkit designed solely to help product companies achieve rapid growth online. We integrate strategic, operational, creative, and analytical expertise to help you at all stages of your work from channel opportunity assessment, to eCommerce content, to ongoing management of your operations.
If you'd like to accelerate your eCommerce growth, we'd love to speak with you!