Key Questions To Include In An E-Commerce Platform RFP (Part 3)

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

Q7: What features are available to empower business users to configure and update the e-commerce platform without help from IT?

Answers To Look For

Almost every platform vendor will provide an administrative control panel that enables business users to add or edit products, create promotions, personalize a site experience, generate reports, complete other tasks necessary to run the day-to-day operations of an online store, and execute a multi-channel strategy.

The best platforms allow for different types of users to have distinctly different views of the control panel. A finance user might need to customize several types of sales reports while a category manager would need the ability to add products or edit inventory items within different categories. The key here is to enable users to view, edit and customize the information most relevant to them without complicating the interface with data that is not pertinent to their role.

Another critical back-end feature is how the e-commerce platform handles workflow and staging of content. When adding a new product line, a finance manager first approves product pricing, and then an art director approves the visual layout. In parallel, copy is routed to a translator and then to a product manager for final approval. Imagine how convenient it would be if the e-commerce platform would help create, manage, and track those tasks through a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use, workflow engine.

Why Is This Important

In most e-commerce companies, IT resources are scarce. It is essential for an e-commerce platform to provide functions that allow different types of business users to interact with the system without continual support from IT. In an economy where rapid time-to-market is critical, business users need to make quick changes and update websites to stay ahead of the competition. When end-users are dependent on IT, bottlenecks can develop that slow down the company’s response to competitors and changing market dynamics.
Back-end interfaces that are well designed, easily customizable, and focused on specific tasks, will save time on user training and platform adoption. Companies should demand that an e-commerce platform removes as much complexity as possible from the user interface, without requiring expensive customizations, and while leveraging all current advances in technology and design thinking.

When platforms can’t manage content workflow and staging, the process of updating an e-commerce site becomes much less efficient and far more prone to errors.

Q8: What is the frequency of versions and point releases? When were the last two major versions of the platform released? When were the last three point releases?

Answers To Look For

E-commerce developers providing the greatest value in exchange for ongoing maintenance fees and those with the best-managed research and development teams usually offer quarterly point-level releases (3.1 in Q1, 3.2 in Q2, etc.) and a major version release every 12 to 18 months. When evaluating answers to this question, buyers should look for both frequency and consistency in the release schedule.

Why Is This Important

A consistent release schedule can help ensure the platform developer is addressing critical bugs and needed enhancements, and delivering innovation that keeps up with market demand to maintain competitive advantage. Ongoing maintenance fees are a major component in the total cost of ownership equation. The most reliable vendors will use maintenance fees as a way to fund a continual support mechanism for their customers, and an ongoing stream of innovation and functionality improvements in the form of regular upgrades.

If a software vendor is unwilling to commit to a predictable schedule of upgrades, this may call into question the rationale for maintenance fees as high as 28 percent of the initial software license costs. A predictable consistency of releases allows users to better manage their budgets and resource planning.

Q9: Which features and modules of the e-commerce platform are written on a single code base (homogeneous stack), and which are not? Is this single code base built on an open standard? And, is the open standard an industry standard (or likely to become one)?

Answers To Look For

E-Commerce companies are advised to make sure that all software modules involved in powering their multichannel or e-commerce businesses are written on a single code base. This includes the commerce front-end software and any supporting systems bundled in the platform, such as product content information management (PIM) software and an order management system (OMS).

Why Is This Important

Problems can arise when one buys a solution from a vendor who has developed an e-commerce product line through acquisitions rather than in-house development. A patchwork quilt approach can result in time delays and extra costs for integrating modules built by different teams in different development centers. It can also lengthen the selection process, since different modules in the solution may be sold by different, competing sales teams within the same vendor organization.

The integrations between modules written on differing code bases create complexity and cost when it’s time to upgrade to new software versions. Platforms built on a single code base are typically more flexible, more scalable and more easily implemented. They also create less risk, lower cost, and provide a quicker return on investment. Further, if this single code base is an open standard, or an industry standard such as Java, then it is easier and more cost effective to find resources to customize the solution.

Q10: Does the e-commerce system include an integrated module and centralized repository for managing both structured data (text, pricing information), and unstructured product information and content (video, pictures), in multiple languages? If a platform includes an integrated product information management (PIM), how does that compare with conventional PIM software and similar capabilities available from ERP systems?

Answers To Look For

E-Commerce platform providers should offer solutions for ensuring that all content and information related to products (video, text, reviews, pictures, etc.) is easily and centrally managed in multiple languages, and is easily available to other channels (print, web, mobile, field representative devices, call centers, store, physical locations). It should also be consistent across those channels.

While ERP systems and traditional PIM systems are capable of managing basic, structured information such as pricing and product descriptions, they are typically incapable of supporting rich content types such as videos or photos. Vendors who offer solutions that attempt to address these issues often provide them as separate, non-integrated modules that are not purpose- built for the complex needs of multi-channel, multiregional strategies.

Why Is This Important

Product information management has become very challenging, considering the variety of content types and channels through which content is consumed by customers. The content pieces associated with one product can include text, reviews, pictures, and video – all available in multiple languages.

Managing this variety of structured and unstructured information is made more difficult by the need to ensure it is displayed consistently across various channels – mobile, web, and print – in physical stores and in the hands of field sales representatives using tablets. To manage this complexity, it is best to have one repository where all content resides, so that all channels and regions can draw on the central repository for product related content. This approach reduces the cost and complexity of managing product content, and reduces discrepancies among channels.