Over the years I’ve heard many smaller business owners disregard the idea of hiring an Internet consultant when setting up their web presence. So today I am going to fall back on a past client experience and review why having an experienced set of eyes on a project is important, for both the client and the developer.
A couple years ago I was working on behalf of another client when I stopped in at a development firm. Because of a scheduling conflict I was being asked to wait while the person I was there to see wrapped up with someone else. To pass my time, they had one of their developers show me some other projects they had been working on. One he showed me was an online ordering system for a pizza place. It was built entirely in Flash (ruh-ro raggy… “but what about mobile?” I asked myself), and the system used an interface that resembled an excel spreadsheet with buttons. As soon as my actual meeting was done, I was on the phone calling the pizza company and set up a meeting with the owner. After the meeting with him, where he took copious notes, he basically dismissed me out of hand, saying that he had a handle on the situation and thanked me for my concern but in no uncertain terms was he going to hire a consultant to “sponge” money from him. So the meeting ended with me giving him a business card and advising him to ensure that the development firm set up Google Analytics on the project.
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A year went by when I got a call out of the blue from the same pizza company business owner asking me to stop in for a meeting. The meeting started out with the owner telling me no one could understand how the system worked, and that he had been losing money because of incorrect orders, where the fault was system, because the customers didn’t understand what they were ordering. To my surprise, he had followed my advice and had the development firm set up analytics on the site. When I pulled it up one thing was clear, almost 70% of his visitors were mobile. However, the sales conversion rate (amount of times the visitor made a purchase) was only 0.23%, when compared with 13.6% for desktops. To the owner this meant nothing, until I explained to him it was like a customer walking in the door of his business, looking at the menu and then walking out again without a purchase. So on mobile devices only 2 people were placing orders for every 1000 visits. The problem laid in, you guessed it, the Flash. First, the entire platform was not responsive, there was no mobile optimization done. Second, if you’ve ever used Flash on a mobile device before, especially a data driven application, it can be a bear to deal with. Furthermore, when we consider that this application was not built to function on a mobile device, and has a bad interface, we find the problem.
For more information on how and when people use mobile devices for shopping read Why Your Business Needs Mobile Optimization
Now this is not a tale of a bad developer putting the shine on an unwitting customer. First of all, the customer hired the wrong firm. The company that was hired specializes in maintaining large intranets, not e-commerce websites. Should this firm have turned away a contract they didn’t have experience in? Probably, we would, but with the economy the way it is, it is easy to see why they wouldn’t. Second, neither party understood the dynamics of customer interaction. They didn’t see that many people would be ordering pizza on the way home, to feed the family. Or that late night sales would be generated from those returning from a late night at the bars and wanted a hot pizza to be arriving on their return. A consultant would immediately foresee that these users would be engaging via a mobile device.
So the moral of this tale is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Had a consultant been involved from the beginning, the costs of rebuilding the system would have been avoided. Generally, a consultant’s time is negligible when compared with the overall project, and it ensures that both the developer and the client know what is expected of them and what they will be receiving as an end product.