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“We spent nearly 10 times as much developing our website with morphsites than we could have paid.”

Portrait photo of company director Pete Fairburn.

Pete Fairburn

This was the statement one of our clients made at the end of a positive account management meeting as we shook hands to leave.

“It’s true. Our ERP provider provides an out-of-the-box e-commerce solution for 10% of what we have paid morphsites in the last 18 months.”

At first, the comment seemed out of context. The meeting had gone well. We’d reminisced on how long they had been a client (over 12 years) and the reasons for that. And yet, this seemed like an expression of dissatisfaction, possibly a complaint. At the very least, a challenge.

But then I saw the glint of amusement in his eyes as he asked, “Instead, we’ve spent over 6 figures with you. Do you know why we did that?”

“I think I know,” I replied. “But I’d like to hear it from you.”

His response restored my faith and confidence in one of morphsites’ core principles…

Bespoke or off-the-shelf websites - which is best?

morphsites was founded on the belief that a website, or web application, should be built around the needs of the business and its customers and not the other way around.

It seemed disingenuous to force a business to match the arbitrary way a particular system worked, and it also violated UX fundamentals: why bother trying to understand your user’s needs if you weren’t going to try and address them?

Of course, that is an oversimplification - many user needs can be addressed through good copy and brand positioning. But we don't just develop lead generation and marketing websites. A lot of our work involves complex integrations with other business systems and web applications.

But then systems like Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix matured. Plug-ins and add-ons gave the promise of out-of-the-box integrations with little to no coding requirements. ERP providers started producing out-of-the-box offerings.

Along with these SaaS systems and the word “good practice”, everything pivoted towards a homogenised sea of bland magnolia uniformity where, to quote Syndrome: “If everyone is special, then no one is”.

But we're not dinosaurs. So we adapted, becoming largely platform agnostic, within our own offerings.

And that was a good thing for the business, the team, and our clients, which is why today we provide Statamic, WordPress, and Shopify development in addition to bespoke.

But I was shaken. Doubting if there was a place for what we loved the most anymore. Who needs bespoke websites and web applications in 2024, right?

Wrong, as I was about to find out...

“Best” is what gets you the right outcome

“We sell commodity products where typically the only differentiator is price. A race to the bottom. Fundamentally, there is nothing special or unique about them," he explained. "So to grow the business and maintain a decent margin and profitability, we needed to innovate to stand out and offer things our competitors couldn’t.”

This is a perennial problem, particularly in commodity-based businesses. How do you make your website or digital offering stand out if are selling paper, cleaning supplies, or something someone could easily get somewhere else, perhaps for less?

It’s not a problem if your product or service is in a niche or is so amazing it sells itself. Take Steve Bristow Furniture for example. Their furniture is made out of marble, granite, and other stone. It’s unique and stunning. It doesn’t need innovative website features - just good copy, imagery, and the right audience. So Shopify ticks the box - the hard work for this client is getting the right clients to become aware of the brand and products and purchase.

But with commoditised products, you need to innovate.

“We could have got the changes we wanted made by our ERP provider. But we would have had to of paid them for that work to be done…”

And here’s the kicker…

“…and then they would have rolled it into their core product and sold it to all of their customers, including our competitors, leaving our innovative points of difference useless because everyone had them.”

Sound familiar?

“So that’s why we decided to invest with morphsites and build an offering no competitor could match without investing the same themselves.”

My faith was restored. Well, almost…

“But what is the result? Have you got the outcome you expected?” I asked.

“We’ve won contracts and accounts we would never have stood a chance with before because of the service and innovations we offer via the website and supporting applications. Those contracts have paid for our investment more than 10 times over so far, and we are picking up more. It’s been a complete no-brainer. Thank you for your support.”

“Good practice” is the enemy of innovation

This is the kind of golden feedback and experience that validates that there is still a place for innovation if you want to stand out in a crowded marketplace. It takes courage and it is an investment. But the return, when done right, makes it a no-brainer.

Not every business will have the resources or nerve to make that jump. They will sit within the comfortable and unremarkable beige of good practice (i.e. what everyone else does) and wonder why their results are also unremarkable and beige.

But for those who do take the plunge and invest in innovation, the rewards are there for the taking.

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