US firms will outsource close to $20 billion this year for the strategy, marketing, design, and technical services associated with building advanced eCommerce sites. The prime beneficiaries of this spending are the eCommerce integrators (eCIs) — professional services firms that design, build, and deploy these sites. Despite the demand for their services, the eCIs are characterized by widespread weakness. In a new Report that grades the top 40 eCIs in five categories, Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) concludes that none are capable of delivering excellence across all service areas and few can provide expertise in more than one.

Forrester graded the 40 leading eCIs on their strategy, marketing, design, technology, and business practices, examining several key factors within each category. Overall, the scores were unimpressive, with the highest rated eCI (Sapient) earning 35 out of 50 possible points and the average eCI scoring just 24 points. Equally important was the fact that no eCI proved capable of delivering a complete solution — each of the five categories was won by a different company, while none of the eCIs received seven or more points in all five categories.

“Despite the eCIs’ claims to design and technology expertise, we found very little evidence of either in practice,” said Paul Sonderegger, senior analyst at Forrester. “Reviews of the eCI reference sites suggest that design fundamentals have yet to permeate these organizations. And few eCIs appear capable of delivering the features and functions that provide a real competitive advantage. But the eCIs aren’t solely to blame for these results. With clients providing unclear or incomplete objectives and exerting tremendous pressure to deliver projects on time, many eCIs toss both site requirements and good processes overboard in order to get the job done.”

To get the most from their investment, clients need to hire eCIs with strengths that make up for their own weaknesses in design, strategy, or technology. Clients must also carefully weigh their need for speedy delivery against the goal of long-term success. If speed to market is critical, they must choose an integrator with sound methodologies and try to lock in their top performers. Similarly, clients should select an integrator with specific product experience — provided it’s the right product for their needs. Knowing a platform pays off in time and cost, but even experienced integrators can’t recover project/product mismatches.

“This remains an industry in transition,” added Christine Spivey Overby, analyst at Forrester. “While mergers and acquisitions will continue, few of these efforts will result in complete offerings. Instead, best-in-class solutions will come from networks of cooperating service providers that pool their talent. Clients should look for shared methodologies and vocabularies that allow these service providers to seamlessly come together, deliver results, and then re-form for new projects. Clients will also need to hone their integrator management skills to ensure results.”

For the Report “eCommerce Integrators Exposed,” Forrester narrowed a list of 152 eCommerce integrators to 40 leading eCIs. These firms were then graded on their strategy, marketing, design, technology, and business practices. Forrester used several research techniques to help assure accuracy — in-depth eCI interviews, extensive reviews of an eCI-provided reference site, and client interviews. After the initial findings were complete, Forrester allowed the participants to review the findings and correct any omissions or errors. Additional information about the Report and its methodology can be found at