Key Questions To Include In An E-Commerce Platform RFP (Part 2)

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 two of a three-part series on questions related to RFPs for e-commerce systems. Part one can be found here.

Q4: what deployment methods are available – on premises, hosted (managed services), and on-demand (SaaS)? Is it easy to migrate between these methods?

Answers To Look For

The ideal scenario here is for e-commerce vendors to offer all three of those options: on-premises, hosted and on-demand, and provide recent successful references to prove their competence. It should be easy and inexpensive to migrate from one deployment method to another.

Some vendors will attempt to “spin” their answer to say that their software can be implemented by any of those three methods. An important follow-up question is to ask that vendor to provide examples of customers running on each deployment method, describe how the vendor was able to preserve that customer’s software configuration between deployments, and disclose how much development time and implementation costs the transition consumed.

Why This Is Important

Companies tend to have very aggressive demands for how quickly a new commerce platform can be implemented. If an e-commerce platform supports multiple deployment methods, the company making the purchase can enjoy the best of all worlds. In many cases, a new platform can be launched in as few as 90 days, using an on-demand version. An interim, on-demand implementation might not have all of the functionality that the company ultimately wants, but an on-premises deployment of the e-commerce platform can always be done later as a second phase. Some e-commerce software vendors will allow their customers to apply a portion of their on-demand platform fees towards a license of the on-premises version at a later date.

The e-commerce industry is growing rapidly, and a deployment method that is suitable today might be outdated in a few years. Therefore, it’s vital for an e-commerce vendor to provide all three deployment options to accommodate changing business conditions, and to allow for flexibility in the deployment method. For example, an on-premises implementation enables more refined control and customization, but also requires more IT resources and appropriate domain expertise. An on-demand implementation might not be suitable or cost-proportionate for a developing e-commerce channel that represents a low percentage of overall sales, and in the early phase, an on-demand or SaaS model may be more profitable. However, as this channel produces a greater percentage of sales and customization needs arise, an on-premise implementation may become more advantageous.

Companies should avoid situations where they don’t have the ability to move easily between deployment methods, or are forced into a hybrid deployment model. This limitation results in sub-optimal capital utilization, and may require replacing the vendor within two or three years and re-implementing the entire e-commerce system. Companies should demand that all three deployment models are available, that each provides flexible pricing to optimize the economics of the e-commerce channel, and that the vendor provides reference customers that are successfully using and transitioning between these models.

Q5: Who typically implements the e-commerce platform?

Answers To Look For

The best platform vendors will support multiple implementation options, with wide variety of price points, vertical solutions and regional expertise, including:

Vendor Implementation

This is where the software developer who has built the e-commerce platform leads the implementation. This implementation option is especially useful when the buyer requires significant customization.

Internal Implementation

The buyer implements the platforms themselves. This implementation option is best suited for companies that have difficult back-end integrations, and especially when those integrations are with homegrown systems.

Third-Party Implementation

A third-party consulting company leads the implementation. This implementation option makes the most sense when the buyer needs localized or industry specific expertise and can’t complete the implementation alone. A French maker of high-end LED televisions who has chosen an e-commerce platform developed by a US company would be well served if they chose a French implementation partner that has particular expertise with consumer electronics.

Why This Is Important

Multiple implementation options will help ensure the company has enough flexibility to find a partner that meets their needs – whether geographic, industry-specific, language, timing or culturally appropriate. It will also lead to a more cost effective implementation. If four third-party firms and the developer are all bidding for an implementation project, this level of competition will likely result in the buyer securing a better deal.

Q6: How does the e-commerce platform ensure integration with new customer touch points such as smartphones and tablets? Does it provide agility for compatibility with future devices?

Answers To Look For

Determine whether the e-commerce vendor offers end customers a good experience on the devices that matter most today – iPhones, iPads, Android devices, etc. A more thorough answer would include several additional points. How rapidly did the vendor support these touch points when they were first emerging? Did they offer iPhone integration in 2009 or much later in 2011?

What additional devices does the vendor already have built into their release plan? Is their platform future-ready to include new touch points that may not be on the market yet? Does the platform support new touch points one by one (an iPhone module, an Android module, etc.)? Do they offer an API with enough flexibility to support a variety of current or future touch points?

Why This Is Important

Researching emerging devices and touch points can be overwhelming. Tablets and smartphones now account for more than 17% of all visits to online commerce sites and more than 13% of sales. This is more than double the level of a year ago and eight times what it was two years ago. The single device with the largest share of mobile commerce, the iPad, did not exist until April 2010.

New customer touch points can emerge overnight, and successful companies need to make sure that their ecommerce vendors keep pace with this rapidly changing landscape. Select a platform that provides flexibility and agility to easily adapt to industry and technology advances.