FAQs

There are lots of questions you need to ask when choosing the right web provider. We have collected some of the most frequently asked questions.

If you don’t see the question below, then get in touch.

General

We build bespoke websites and product data management solutions only for builders’ merchants and their suppliers. We understand the building materials distribution business and we are experts in digital technology. Don’t take our word for it – speak to our clients and see the results they have achieved and how much value we add to their businesses.

Once trade customers log in to their account on your website, they will see the prices and the terms that they have agreed with you, as if they were in branch with a member of your team. We can tailor the website to work for each individual customer. It can also display trade and retail pricing bands for non-logged in customers.

Yes, we have different functionality and service levels that suit the size of the merchant’s business. 

That depends on what you are looking for. We usually advise once we get an understanding of your business and your online aspirations.

Yes, we can offer multiple storefronts that can be configured and branded individually, down to the colours, content, branding and even products and prices. It is all controlled by one administration panel to keep the management of the website efficient.

Our solution is completely configurable so although it has a standard suite of functionality, you can turn functions on or off as you choose. Because we have a large development team and have been doing this for many years, we have more functionality than any other platform, and new functions come out every month.

One of the benefits of using our system is that we run anonymised analytics on our clients’ websites, which allows you to see how well your website is performing by comparing it to others and learning from best practice.

Our solution has a flexible architecture, so you can change the design, colours, layouts and icons as much as you like. However, we do not advise you to stray from what is considered best practice conventions on critical user journeys.

As long as you like. Most merchants do 3 or 5 years with a rolling renewal. We seek to keep clients as long as it works for both parties.

Yes, most of the page designs are flexible and the elements can be moved around by the merchant’s web team

We will integrate with up to two different ones as long as they have mature API integration capabilities such as Teletrack NavMan

We would not recommend due to the risk that this creates with multiple environments and various back office systems. We would propose a feature flagging environment that would provide alerts.

Integration and ERP systems

The solution will integrate with all of the most common back-office trading systems. Contact us, and we’ll provide the list to you. 

It will reduce the work of your back-office and admin teams and reduce the potential for error, by removing double keying of orders as your customers will place orders themselves.

Stock numbers can be shown on the website, and different clients use the stock function in various ways to suit their business needs. The primary consideration when showing stock numbers is to make sure the information provided is accurate, as not all merchants have reliable stock counts.

It can but we usually take them overnight to reduce load on servers. It costs money when you make multiple data calls, so we limit them to what is needed rather than what is possible.

They should be for Click & Collect. Our system can do this so it all depends on whether the ERP can handle the queries. Most merchants tend to go for hourly updates.

Instantly and through a variety of technical methods. We send them in the format the ERP needs.

REST is best, but we can do others such as SOAP, plat file, CSV, XML, dump into an SFTP location etc

We always advise that the ERP is the master system for pricing. This does raise challenges about how online offers (discounts, BOGOF, bundles etc) are handled, but it’s all achievable.

Yes. Some ERP systems don’t allow account payment, so in these instances we’ve developed a facility to take this outside of the ERP where it gets paid and passed into the system as an order and allocated to the account balance. It works well and is a good solution for a deficiency in that particular ERP system.

Generally yes, although some merchants only allow account holders to access certain functionality or price rules etc

We can set accounts up however merchants want them so both options are possible.

Pricing is set at a customer account and product level in the ERP, so we simply expose that. 

Accounts

Orders placed on the website are automatically transferred into your back office trading system, so they will appear like they have been put on the system directly by the sales team.

Customers can view their account balance, credit limit, outstanding debt along with invoices, statements, order history and payments whether placed in branch or on the website. They can also see and amend their account administration details such as their account team contact, their delivery addresses or upload and change their company logo etc.

Yes, customers can log in and see the status of an order as it works its way through the business from order, in progress, dispatch, delivery and invoicing.

Customers can settle accounts through an online payment gateway that provides reconciliation information to your accounts team.

Product Data

We export your existing product data from your systems and merge it with the data that we have in our master database where we can match it to manufacturers’ part numbers and enhance it. Our product data system will help organise your product data that is of sufficient quality so that customers can easily find the right product that they want. You may also need to speak to your suppliers to ask them to provide product data that your website will need.

That will depend on several variables such as the number of products, the quality and state of your existing data, the amount of data that we can provide, quality thresholds for each product categories and finally how supportive your suppliers are. We have a vast amount of experience in this field so can give you a huge leg up, but ultimately the management of data remains the responsibility of each merchant. Your website will require ongoing effort to keep up to date as new products become available.  Because we do this work with several merchants and their suppliers, we get the efficiency of scale, as your suppliers have only to deal with eCommonSense and the chances are that they are already doing so from previous projects.

The better your product data is, the easier it is for customers to find what they are looking for, which means that they will buy more. Your merchant team will also benefit from high-quality product data, as it helps them when identifying and picking products, which results in fewer mistakes. The data is also useful elsewhere in your business, such as your back-office system, print catalogues, marketing material and prices lists etc. 

 

We have a data management platform that will speed up the task of organising your data, but we rely on suppliers providing the information to the standard that you require. You are their customers, so need to ask them to help as much as they can with providing additional product data for your website project.

We cross-reference your products with our database and, in most cases, it’s very likely that we will have most of the data you need. We’ll help you with any missing data and engage with your suppliers to get it. We have tens of thousands of good quality product data in our database. We also have an additional 220,000 products that are not currently to the standard we would like, but we are working on improving these as merchants require them. To be clear, we only organise data that suppliers or merchants provide. We don’t take photos or write descriptions, as that is the job of the supplier, but we do help them by showing them how it’s done properly.

The PIM handles most of this, but the merchant has to set up their own rules. The technology allows all these commercial business rules to be established but it is up to the merchant to consider all the implications of any offers or defined the returns process in its entirety.

The merchant has to link internal product codes to a unique identifier in the PIM. Often they run their own code taxonomy, which may not relate to the supplier product code or MPN (manufacturer part number), so they have to link them. This can be done en masse or individually but it  usually requires a combination of both. Anybody with good XL skills and product knowledge can do this quite quickly.

In terms of updates, these need to be done manually by the merchant with V-look ups and pivot tables, so can be quick. It is easiest if the merchant has good data governance processes, but, if they don’t, the PIM work normally drives better practice in the future.

They are maintained on the merchant PIM, but not in the eCS master PIM.

No, all rich imagery should be held in the PIM. Most ERPs are not designed to hold all the images connected to a product: thumbnail, high res, landscape, lifestyle, application etc. The ERP only really needs an identifying image for the counter and yard teams. 

Financial

We price our solution for different sized merchants. Larger merchants tend to opt for more spend upfront with lower ongoing costs. Others who want to de-risk the project in the short-term go for lower upfront costs but accept a higher revenue share goes to us to compensate for the lower implementation revenue.

That depends on the revenues generated by your website, as websites with more visitors require more maintenance, but produce more revenue to offset those costs. 

Hosting costs depend on how much traffic and revenue volumes the website creates and a combination of how much content and data is on the website. The more content, products, pages, visitors and revenue the website has, the higher the hosting costs. One of our clients is on target to do more than £8m in website sales, and their hosting will be in the region of £500 a month, so it’s excellent value for money. We manage the service, the set-up and configuration and apply an uplift that covers our costs.

Hosting costs are also affected by the speed and the security level of the website. There are cheaper hosting solutions than ours, but they are a false economy, as slower websites frustrate customers and therefore lose revenue opportunities. Websites with poor security can be easily hacked and are consequently susceptible to losing your business and customer data, which is nothing short of a disaster.

We pay for extra levels of security that you will hopefully never have to appreciate. We aim to achieve the highest level of website security, as cybercrime is the fastest growing crime on earth, so something that should be on the risk register of every business. 

Data from your website is backed-up across multiple regions within the EU. This means that we can recover any data loss due to hardware failure or a data centre disaster (fire or flood etc).

We use a world-class hosting provider who guarantees at least 99.99% up-time. Our client websites achieve more than 99.95% uptime. The reason for the difference is that we intentionally and routinely take down each of our clients’ websites every two weeks very early on a Monday morning out of normal trading hours in order to upload any new code and functionality. This process normally takes less than one minute and is the reason for the marginally reduced downtime percentage.

Merchants pay the transaction fees. We integrate into your existing provider, be it Barclays, RBS Streamline, PayPal etc. We piggyback the same commercial deal you have with your in-branch terminals. Your payment provider then charges you according to your commercial deal.

Typically you will have costs associated with the following items:

  • Back office integration – some providers charge for connecting to their systems and others do not. It depends on what you can negotiate with your provider.
  • Postcode finder  – every address input search made by your customers will start at 2.5p, then decrease with volume. It’s charged when customers input their delivery or account addresses. We help you set up the account with a postcode finder provider and integrate it into the website. Then they bill you directly.
  • Google maps – Google may charge a small fee (under £20 a month) for the branch finder if you go over a few thousand branch searches per month. They used to offer it for free, but have recently added a peppercorn charge. We will help you set this us and most merchants never hit the charging threshold.
  • Estimators online – your clients buy this service if they want it. Merchants can add a margin  if they want, but we don’t. Some merchants refund customers the cost if they then buy the materials from them, but again most merchants don’t.
  • Crystal windows – you decide what margin you make on the Crystal window supply. Most merchants set this up at 15% on direct orders. Again, we don’t take a margin.

Marketing and SEO

The platform has, at its heart excellent search engine optimisation (SEO). The best way to climb up the rankings though is to increase the numbers that visit your website and the amount of time that they spend on the site. The average visitor dwell time is more than 4 minutes on the websites we provide. Speed and security are also used by the search engines to rank the SEO position of websites, which is another benefit of our secure hosting architecture.

We will provide you with some ideas and a basic toolkit but it is your responsibility to produce the posters, t-shirts, mugs etc. We will also ensure that your launch receives some PR in the trade press.

The Google algorithm scores SEO on a number of factors but the top ones are: Security, speed, uptime and user engagement (relevance). Our environment is highly secure, extremely fast with an average up time of over 99.95% and user engagement is on average around four minutes. All of this means that all of our site score highly regarding SEO. This provides a natural foundation on which merchants can build. Our professional marketing team help with PR, marketing assets, basic strategies etc. We do this in workshops and put a marketing plan together ready for execution by your team.

Support

If you speak to any of our clients, you will find that we go above and beyond to make sure that you go live as fast as your resource allows. It’s a significant investment for both our clients and us, but we only win if you do as well. So we are fully committed to your success.

 

The solution is continuously updated to ensure that it has the latest functionality and security. Currently, we spend around £65k a month on development, so it’s always improving. We have spent more than £1m on the development of our website and product management solution, so it’s already the best in the market and improving rapidly.

In general, we jump on any issues immediately if they are major. We have a full SLA (service level agreement) and we always aim to beat it. We run automated testing software, so we’d be the first people to know about any problems.

All our infrastructure is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is a world class enterprise level hosting solution. We have servers in Frankfurt, London and Dublin and within those regions  we have further availability zones. We also make regular back-ups to ensure there is no chance of data loss. We generally achieve 99.97%+ of uptime as we do take the sites down for a few minutes every two weeks at 4am on a Monday to publish new code updates.

Yes,  we also run a help desk where you can report any issues so that the support team can pick them up.

No, support tends to be most intense during the first three months after launch and then it tends to drop considerably as clients get more experience of running their websites. Within the first few weeks after launch, we train our clients’ teams. We then provide ongoing support as teams learn the system.

We’ve built our systems to be resilient and very reliable. You will also have access to a huge knowledge base of helpful documents and videos.

Yes, every two weeks we launch new features that range from optimisation (new checkout flow for example) to a security update. We are constantly innovating and improving our solution. We don’t sell a website so much as a continually improving web sales channel service.

You only pay for support once your website is live and even then, you never pay for anything that is a result of a bug. Support costs are only incurred when it’s an error caused by the client team and they need help to rectify. Most issues can be resolved by the client team by reading the user manual 

Most support queries can be answered in a matter of minutes via a screen share, so we charge by the minute. This means that you only pay for what you use and not for chunks of time such as 15 minutes or a full hour each time support is requested.

Yes, we have a huge amount of documentation that is designed to help our clients self-serve. The best way to avoid support is to have a competent eCommerce manager and team who retain the training information we provide.  It is quite usual for us to go six months or more without charging a single client for support, so it is the exception rather than the rule.

We run a rolling programme of automated back-ups every 24 hours, which means that in the event of a catastrophic system failure, we can restore your website and data to a state that is no more than a day old.

Resources

Launching a fully transactional website will deliver substantial returns. However, it is undoubtedly one of the most challenging projects that your business will undertake. We are experts in providing bespoke software and web solutions for merchants and work with your team to deliver the project, which requires significant effort from all parties to make the project and the website launch a success.

The main tasks a merchant has to do are to decide what products they are going to sell and at what prices, who will be responsible for managing the website project and run the website when it launches. You need to take account of how the website business and sales channel integrates with your offline business and make your teams aware of any potential changes that the website project may necessitate. Another important job is to create content for your new website. We bring all the content across from your old website if you have one, but you also need to develop new content due to the new site being so much bigger and having much more functionality than your old website. Finally, we ask that you contact your product suppliers and back-office trading system providers to make them aware that you are commencing on a website project. This is so that they are prepared for when we need to speak to them. 

You need to dedicate sufficient resources to the project to make sure that you can complete all the required tasks on time. We do not manage your internal staff or resources. Our experience shows that one person from the merchant team needs to be dedicated to the project. They will need to have the support of the board to make decisions and require staff to contribute in their areas of expertise.

The list of tasks that a project of this nature needs to complete is long. Some are easy, and some require significant resource. Requirements are defined at the beginning of the project, and responsibilities are assigned.

Timescales

We can go as fast as your resource and organisation allow but realistically we generally work on three months from signed contract to launch. It also depends on how quickly you can get your internal decisions made about ranging, pricing and resourcing.