Ah… the little things! (Part I)

Clients always like to know the cost for a web site. And my favorite response is another question: How much is a car?

In reality, you can buy a small used car for $500 or a brand new luxury sportscar for $250.000+…

and anything in between.

What’s more, web site features can be very tricky to pre-define. More often than I like, a client reveals a new requirement after much work has been completed. In cases where I use a third-party tool, an eCommerce system for example, some requirements can simply not be met. Or only by way of complicated work-around.

So lately, I’ve been working with shopify.com, a hosted eCommerce solution that is fairly simple to modify and customize. A client with an existing cart wanted to put their shop “on hold” until the re-design was complete but shopify doesn’t provide functionality to simply turn off their shop temporarily. Instead, one has to modify the main navigation and “hide” each product individually (so that they can’t be accessed “accidentally” via direct URL or browser cache). A seemingly simple request thus turns into a 3 hour side project.

Another client wanted product add-ons. But shopify manages those as product variants (just like “color” or “size”) and only allows for three product variants. Therefore, offering a product with color and size options as well as two product add-ons is not possible…

Yet another client hired me to build a membership site. And after over 100 hours of work, they realized that “gift membership” was an essential feature. We just didn’t talk about that in particular (I try to think of all possibilities but with so many other custom features, “gift membership” was overlooked in this case). And it turns out that our membership system or none of the others, for that matter, offer gift membership options. A user (“gift giver”) could just sign up with another (the recipient’s) email address and name but that could mean that the gift recipient would have access to the gift giver’s billing (and credit card) information. Not acceptable.

A workaround was found to utilize another third-party system (stripe.com, in this case) to allow the gift giver to purchase a “membership” without actually creating an account on our site. My client would then have to manually enter the gift recipient as a new member account. Again, a workaround that took many extra hours to develop. And probably won’t hold up if the site becomes very successful (with dozens of gift members to be set up every day?).

I do make a point of explaining that estimates are just that: an approximation of final cost, depending on details that might emerge only later on during development. And yet there are surprises to be expected when it comes to more ambitious projects.

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