Key Questions To Include In An E-Commerce Platform RFP (Part 1)

A comprehensive RFP that thoroughly covers all the critical points can assist companies in reducing costs and producing better ROI, faster. If an RFP helps a management team reach a final decision in 12 weeks rather than 16 weeks, an additional month of revenue may be added to the bottom line from the e-commerce channel.

This is part one of a three-part series on questions related to RFPs for e-commerce systems.

Since 1997, hybris has responded to hundreds of RFPs and RFIs for e-commerce systems. Over that time, hybris consultants have evaluated and observed which questions are most critical, and which questions truly help companies select e-commerce platforms that meet and exceed present and future requirements.

A comprehensive RFP that thoroughly covers all the critical points can assist companies in reducing costs and producing better ROI, faster. If an RFP helps a management team reach a final decision in 12 weeks rather than 16 weeks, an additional month of revenue may be added to the bottom line from the e-commerce channel. This could translate into hundreds of thousands of additional revenue dollars. And, a well-crafted RFP can ensure that a company doesn’t pay a premium for features it won’t need for the foreseeable future.

For each of the RFP questions recommended below, potential follow-up questions are provided along with appropriate answers, and an explanation of why that question is a valuable part of the selection process.

Q1: Does the platform provide a foundation for multi-channel commerce? Does it integrate with other systems (in-house and third party) to facilitate multiomni-channel commerce?

Answers To Look For

Companies should look for e-commerce platforms that come pre-integrated with a wide selection of third party solutions. The best platforms will integrate with a long list of third party applications and provide a robust API for integrating with other in-house systems. These capabilities will allow the e-commerce platform to serve as a foundation for multiomni-channel commerce. Key system integrations to look for include order management systems (OMS), product information management systems (PIM) and enterprise resource planning systems (ERP). Some e-commerce platforms also offer multi-channel-friendly capabilities, such as PIM and OMS as add-on modules.

Why This Is Important

No matter whether the buyer operates in the B2C or the B2B world, their customers expect to interact with the company across all buying channels (online, sales reps, physical store fronts and telephone) in a seamless and integrated fashion. These customers’ expectations have been set by companies such as Best Buy and Apple that were early adopters of a multiomni-channel strategy.

Consequently, customers are disappointed when they can’t:

Buy Online, Pick Up in a Store
Buy In a Store, have Order Shipped from wherever It is Available
Buy Online, Return to a Store

Q2: What’s the total cost of ownership of the platform over five years? Is the e-commerce vendor willing to guarantee future upgrade costs?

Answers To Look For

On the surface, this looks like a question with a simple answer that can easily be compared across different e-commerce vendors. In fact, it is a bit more complex than it appears. A follow-up question that is much harder to answer is the following: When (if ever) will the buyer have to replace the e-commerce platform with a new one? In order to get at this question, one has to consider the specific long-term limitations of the new platform.

Since much of the cost of the platform is front-loaded, the lifespan of the new e-commerce platform is pivotal. It may be more cost efficient to invest $500,000 in an e-commerce platform that remains in service for five years, than spending $400,000 on one that must be replaced after three years.

Why This Is Important

It’s important to consider total cost of ownership for a variety of reasons. First, the company must determine whether they can recoup the investment in the new platform in a reasonable period of time. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this forces the buyer to consider the ripple effect of implementing a new e-commerce platform. It may streamline a company’s IT infrastructure by obviating the need for other systems. Or, it may decrease or increase staffing needs in other departments. This is especially true when the platform extends beyond e-commerce capabilities and can be used to meet omni-channel needs.

Q3: Was the platform architected from the very first version to be global-ready, or was it designed for a specific market/region and internationalized at a later point in time?

Answers To Look For

When thinking about internationalization, companies need to consider how their e-commerce platform handles different currencies, languages and localized product catalog needs.

These attributes vary by country and region to meet the needs of local markets for different products and different price positioning. Companies should consider solutions that natively support multi-language, multi-currency and multi-byte operations.

Platforms should be architected from their inception to handle the shopping requirements of all the geographic regions an organization plans to target immediately, and in the future. It’s easy for e-commerce solutions vendors to bend the truth a little when answering this question, because it’s hard for platform buyers to verify the answer. A good probing question for this is, “What were the multi-regional capabilities of the very fi rst version of your e-commerce platform?”

Why This Is Important

Many e-commerce software vendors started delivering products for one specific geographic region, grew organically, and then tacked on new functionality to support other new regions.

This can lead to the proliferation of time-consuming and potentially expensive “upgrades” that should have been standard features from the start.

These capabilities should have been present from the start, and users should not have to pay extra to build out basic multi-region functionality through “maintenance fees,” that should instead be fueling product advancement and innovation. And, platforms that were singularly focused on a specific region are often developed solely through the filters of how that region conducts business. This kind of bias can permeate the entire architecture and functionality of the platform.

Platforms with retrofitted multi-region capabilities might eventually get the job done, but users may discover they require costly customization as the organization grows and expands into new international markets. Companies should expect and demand that their e-commerce platform is global ready from the start, and requires no customization or exceptional development effort to support new markets.