Four Crucial Tips for Choosing an Ecommerce Designer

While our company offers web design services, there are a variety of design projects we do not take on. Typically, these are projects that involve considerable customization and/or implementation of enterprise-class ecommerce system (like Magento) that are complex enough to warrant specialization.

Thus, some of this information will help potential clients learn more about our approach to web design, and some of this info is for companies that won’t actually hire us to complete their website.

Either way, I hope you find this info useful and informative.

Self-hosted vs hosted ecommerce websites

If your ecommerce designer can’t make a case for a hosted or self-hosted ecommerce website platform, find a new designer.

Tip #1. Finalize your Internet marketing strategy before you hire a designer. This is key, mostly because a) you need to know what your marketing costs are before you ever even think about building a website and b) your marketing plan will help your designer “spec out” the site you need.

Marketing costs are key, as the last thing any website owner should do is spend thousands of dollars on web design, only to find out that they don’t have enough funds to properly market their new investment. This isn’t a “Field of Dreams” situation – visitors aren’t just going to show up to your new site once it’s live. You’ve got to promote your site, and promotion costs more than you might think.

As for spec’ing out your new website, it’s incredibly helpful if your designer and your marketing team can talk about website function and form. Thus, it’s a very good idea to get your marketing team hired and plans ironed out before you begin to engage with a designer.

Tip #2. Study the big players in your industry and across the web. Want to be successful selling products online? Model your site after companies that are already doing a good job. Study,,,, plus any ecommerce websites in your niche. Make note of what features these sites have, how their shopping carts work, how their products are organized, etc.

Studying these sites will give you insights into standards and best practices, as well as help you answer the questions that your designer will be asking you about how you want things to work.

Tip #3. Make two lists. The first list is for all your absolutely must-have website features. The second list is for all the want-but-don’t-need website features.

It’s important to create these lists before you contact a designer, as you want to be able to ask them what they think about your list of wants, as well as ask them to prepare a quote for both lists (or, if possible, a quote for all your needs plus prices for each want).

Additionally, by giving your designer a list of specs early in the process, you’ll save everyone some time.

Tip #4. Beware self-hosted ecommerce solutions. Magento Community Version is a powerful and popular ecommerce website platform, but it has a high investment cost, relatively high maintenance costs, and typically requires working with costly development teams.

For example:

  • Designing and developing a Magento site from scratch typically costs thousands of dollars, and some of the best developers can charge tens of thousands of dollars…it’s not at all unusual for Magento sites to costs upwards of $100,000, at least if the customization requirements are substantial.
  • Any self-hosted website requires regular maintenance, periodic updates, and backups…all of which typically require training and/or experience to complete successfully. If you don’t want to learn to do these things yourself, you’ll need to hire someone to do this work for you.
  • Hosting costs can explode as your self-hosted sites grow. Most developers aren’t well versed in what it takes to setup and maintain a stable and secure server, let alone all the systems that high traffic sites need (like Varnish or Nginx caching, load balancing, etc.). If your developers aren’t up to date on the latest tools/tactics for dealing with server load, you’ll spend a lot of money on raw server power to compensate.

When you add it all up, a self-hosted ecommerce site can cost thousands to setup and hundreds a month to maintain. While there are some key benefits to self-hosted ecommerce – the main being full customization options – there are other options.

Contrast these cost with a hosted ecommerce site. BigCommerce, for example, charges a monthly fee ranging from $25 to $300, but this fee includes everything you need (hosting, maintenance, backups, etc) as well as an extensive number of features. Additionally, the up-front development costs associated with a hosted site like BigCommerce (or Volusion or Shopify or Magento Go) are typically much lower than setting up a self-hosted site from scratch.

Key Takeaway: Be sure to compare the costs of hosted and self-hosted websites very carefully…if your designer is pushing a self-hosted solution without discussing hosted options, find another designer.


Adhering to these four tips helps to ensure that website buyers are happy with the finished product, mostly because these tips are based on what we’ve learned from unhappy website owners. There are a shocking number of ecommerce website owners who own expensive, difficult to maintain websites who would be much better served with a simple hosted ecommerce solution.

Likewise, designers who fail to ensure that their clients have a marketing plan, a list of wants and needs, and a basic understanding of ecommerce websites are setting themselves up for trouble. As far as website designers are concerned, a smart and well-informed client is a good thing.