May 31st, 2016
Are Websites a Product or a Service?

What should membership organizations expect when they enter the web market?

One of the first difficulties many membership organizations run into when they begin their search for a web developer has to do with a difference in expectations. Specifically: are websites a product or a service?

The distinction may seem trivial, but it can have important implications. Because clients often view websites as commodities, they enter a web design project with related expectations: that the website will be (relatively) cheap and immediately available.

On the other hand, most web developers consider themselves to be in the service industry, and services take time and are expensive. They involve a large degree of human labor, and the more hours someone spends focused on your project, the costlier that project becomes.

So the question is: which is it? Product or service?

Well, that depends on the website.

What do product websites look like?

You can buy entirely pre-built websites as a commodity: they’re cheap, or sometimes even free. But they’re also limited.

These are the T-shirts of the web industry: they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. You can get them plain, unisex, and baggy, or with a neat, custom-designed graphic. Made in China, or sourced from organic, fair-trade cotton. But at the end of the day, they’ll only ever be a T-shirt.

For some people that’s fine, but most professionals require a higher standard of design and functionality. And when they reach this point, that is when a website ceases to be an out-of-the-box product, and starts demanding special attention.

What aspects of a website need individual attention?

Obviously, your brand is not something you can buy pre-made in a store. Anything that is unique to your organization needs to be handled as such, as does any custom functionality. Many membership organizations have specific software needs relating to the benefits and services they offer their members. These are not features come with the T-shirt websites, and they’re not ones that can be jury-rigged into your website via 3rd-party plugins. However, if you’re working with a professional developer on these aspects of your site, this is where you will get the most bang for your buck.

How do you find the balance?

Website development should be considered a hybrid of product and service. If you can easily duplicate the repetitive aspects of labor involved in building a website, then you can cut down the cost for the consumer and focus your attention on the customizable, user-focused areas that could use a little TLC. This is the solution we found with Clubhouse: build a toolset and a beautiful design, and then tailor it to the specific needs of membership organizations.

We think it’s pretty neat.