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Website Development – a Product or a Service?

website development product or service

When you manage a WordPress development agency, it is important to clarify one issue – how to think about the process of website development in basic marketing terms. Is website development a service or is it a product? Because this central marketing paradigm – Product or Service – is related to everything in your business process: from the way it is organized to how it is marketed and how much the products should cost.

A quick review of company websites for WordPress development agencies shows that both terms are used: some call what they do “Our Products” and others keep to “Our Services”.

Similarly, the terms are both used by clients who need website development. When the demand arises and business owners are asked what they need, most will simply reply “We want a website” and think about it as a product. And quite a few will say “We need development services”.

The term “websites” appears to be more associated with products, while “development”  is obviously a service. But how about “website development”? Let’s build the Product vs Service comparison in that context and see what conclusions could be made.

The Basic Marketing Paradigm – Product vs Service

Starting from the two textbook definitions, here is what we have:

Website Development as a Product

A product is very often identified with its physical characteristics. But in business and marketing terms, products are not limited to tangible objects. A product is an item that can be sold to customers and it is common for companies to call everything they produce and sell “products”.

Website Development as a Service?A service on the other hand is “a valuable action, deed, or effort performed to satisfy a need or to fulfill a demand”.  Services may include physical things but they always include something intangible such as management, customization, maintenance, and client experience.

However, there is a significant tendency in many industries to wrap all products in value-added services. This is done to increase revenue by offering more to customers. Also, services allow businesses to establish close relationships with customers. In this way, they charge customer demands according to pre-designed service packages such as subscriptions.

In short, a product is physical but may refer to abstract, intangible things. And a service is related to intangible elements but may exist to produce physical things.

So, when it comes to website development, where do we draw the line and why?

Is Website Development a Product or a Service?

Here are 10 key differences between products and services, related to website development:

  • Products are tangible. Services are intangible.

Websites may not be considered tangible objects but they consist of programming code and files, that are physically located on hosting servers. But website production is done according to the client’s needs as an intangible service. It is impossible to create a website without close communication with the client.

  • Returning – it is possible for a product but not for a service.

Websites are easy to transfer – from one hosting to another and from one owner to another. So if you buy a ready-to-use solution, you are able to return it if you are not satisfied. However, it is not feasible to return all the services associated with site development.

  • Ownership – it can be changed for products and not for services.

In a similar sense, the ownership of a website can be transferred and websites sold. After a website is developed or sold it can be transferred to the customer’s hosting with all administration access.

But ownership does not refer to site creation. To be able to experience development services the customer needs to work in cooperation with the service provider.

  • Satisfying an Immediate Need vs. Developing a Relationship

When developing a website, the main goal is to fill a certain customer need. For example, the website could be used by its owner as a media outlet or as an online shop. So if there is a product – a ready-to-use website – that can immediately fill that need, development becomes obsolete.

But most clients need a development agency to create a unique website, tailored to their business and communication goals. So website development derives its value from the relationship between the customer and the development agency in situations when the need could not be immediately satisfied by the market.

  • Formulations: Many vs One

Related to the previous one, websites as physical products may come in many different forms. But the process of website development is unique for each project. Even if customers are buying a WordPress theme that has numerous options for customization, in most cases they hire somebody to upgrade the theme and do that customization for them. And this is already a service.

  • Quality and Evaluation

As a rule, while the quality of products usually may be checked and measured, the quality of every service provider is different and is a matter of perception. Website production is not associated with using any physical materials so its quality could not be clearly compared and evaluated.

Website Development

Website quality comes down to the quality of its programming code and architecture, which renders the way assets and information are structured and content delivered.

That is why it completely depends on the skills and experience of developers, designers, UX architects, marketers. With development services, quality comes from how the service team is selected, then trained and motivated to keep providing the required service.

Also, websites are evaluated by their performance, stability, security, and visual features, so the programming code and website architecture practically remain hidden to the general audience who use only their subjective perceptions.

This is quite an important issue – the connection between website development quality and how it is evaluated by the customer is complex. It involves many different stakeholders and remains pretty much subjective.

  • Standardization vs Customization

As a rule, products are standardized and services are customized. Some customization is usually possible with standard products – for example, when you buy a WordPress theme, it offers a number of ways that will adapt it to your needs and preferences. But buying a theme and adding plugins on top of it is a standard solution as a whole. It is not really a development job as your options are limited to the ones included in that particular theme.

With website development, every project is different and customized to each customer’s needs and preferences. That is why it is also called custom web development and is solely focused on the individual requirements of the customer.

  • Customer Placement

With products, customers are placed outside of the production business while with services, customers are directly involved and placed in the center. In website development, it is impossible to exclude the customer. Direct interaction on a regular basis is crucial for the process.

When the goal is to develop, for example, a plugin, that will be sold to many, customer priorities and requirements are also very important. But in that case, they are not approached individually. Statistics and collected user data are applied to design and manufacture plugins and themes, suitable for many different websites.

  • Variations in Scalability             

Scaling up the production business is simple by increasing the production volume, distribution, and the sales reach. Scaling up a service business is not as easy.

To scale website development, agencies need to increase their main resource – their trained and experienced team. That involves a lot of investment of time and money on recruitment, induction, training and motivation programs for onboarding employees and retaining them as well.  

  • Who Are the Main Heros?

Website development is a complex process and employs many different team members – designers, developers, marketers, UX experts, etc. It is up to management how the services will be packaged, named and offered, similar or not, to products.

Website Development - a Product or a Service?

But at the end of the day, customer satisfaction comes from the relationship with all team members involved. Maybe not everyone will be in direct contact with the customer as a typical service personnel but still all of them have their roles in providing the development service.

Bottom line is, the choice “Product or Service” is fundamental. All of the above differences impact the marketing and sales of any company, its production process, and costs, assets and resources management, its performance matrices, etc. And that choice should be made clearly and early in the business strategy. In that way, the company may further create awareness about what it will produce to satisfy its target customers.

WordPress Development Agencies – Product Companies or Service Companies?

WordPress is the most popular CMS for website building. As an open-source platform, it is also associated with free and premium ready-to-use products like themes and plugins. That is why a lot of people think that “a WordPress agency” could provide them with a website for $500 or less. Thousands of freelancers and marketing agencies specialize in those.

At the same time, WordPress Development agencies provide custom development that has nothing to do with free or low-cost mass solutions. They build for medium and large enterprises. With large WordPress platforms, it is of utmost importance that they are stable, secure and perform impeccably. Reasonably, custom development’s quality requires top talent, client communication, and project management and is worth more than a standard mass product.

So the short answer to the above question is – both are possible. But custom WordPress development services and WordPress products development like plugins and themes are completely different businesses although both could be called “website development”. And the providers range starts from freelancers who construct “lego” websites with ready mass products to agencies with a number of highly trained employees that provide services for over $200 per hour.

Every WordPress agency is free to choose how to present and label itself – as a service or a product company. And where to focus their customers’ attention – on the website they will provide or on the process of delivering a service. As long as they make it very clear what they sell. Only in this way, they will be able to market what they do smartly and efficiently.

The Path to Becoming a Good Web Designer

Website Development as a Custom Service

Custom website development is a service inseparable from the client-agency partnership, although the result deployed – the website – is an actual product. The focus should be in the service process and the customer’s perception of it.

Build Relationships Not Just Websites

Build Relationships Not Just WebsitesUnless the agency’s focus is on creating WordPress themes and plugins for the large market, the client should be in the center and the whole workflow organized around their needs. Communication is crucial and at the end of the day, every step of each project development is subject to a presentation on the agency side to prove their skills and competence.

Do You Need Custom Website Development? Start a Retainer Payment Plan.

Retainers are the future of development and the best way to organize an agile development process. To be able to provide their services through a consistent workflow and to continuously improve a website, WordPress agencies like us need retainer service plans.

They give the opportunity to continuously deploy updates that increase the client’s business volume and maximize profits on both sides. Retainers also provide the best conditions to develop valuable relationships with clients that allow us to provide solutions tailored to specific business needs.