Choosing the right e-commerce integrator: Building an effective RFP

October 13th, 2015 by Azur Digital

Adding a new e-commerce channel to a brick & mortar business is an intricate process and choosing the right e-commerce integrator is crucial. In the first of a 2-part article, we will share key considerations that will facilitate your supplier search and enable you to identify the integration partner that best meets the needs of your project.

As the backbone of the project’s implementation, your integrator’s experience and support will not only help secure the delivery of your project, but will also greatly affect the development and deployment of your multichannel roadmap in the future.

Ensure key elements of the business plan are in place

Certain aspects of your business plan are important prerequisites to successfully identify and select a suitable e-commerce integration partner. Above and beyond all, it is key to have prioritized the business objectives behind your project, with measurable KPIs for each, and an indicative budget spend upfront.

Develop a realistic roadmap and timeline

It is also important that you have defined a multichannel commerce roadmap that is realistic and takes into account your actual organizational resources and capabilities.

When putting together this roadmap, there are many unknown aspects of the project that might have timing implications. A targeted timeline is therefore recommended at this very early stage (especially for the launch date) as the planning phase which follows will help better understand such implications.

It is also worth noting that the integrator you select can largely drive the actual implementation timeline.

Define your project philosophy early

Upon initiating your project, we strongly recommend defining the leading principles on how you wish to implement your multichannel commerce strategy, which we will refer to as your project philosophy. These are often decisions resulting from organizational, operational, financial, technological, commercial or cultural requirements and constraints. This could include for instance the need to reuse existing IT assets, outsource e-commerce operations or limit investments until the financial viability of the new multichannel setup has been demonstrated.

Your project philosophy will influence the choice of e-commerce solution and integrator

All these requirements and constraints will need to be reflected in your RFP as they will influence the choice of e-commerce solution and integrator, both of which are interrelated. This is why we strongly discourage issuing a multichannel commerce RFP until both your project philosophy and business plan have been adequately defined.

Prioritize your needs

When completing the list of requirements for your RFP, it is essential to prioritize them based on your business objectives and multichannel commerce roadmap. This is important to be able to select a solution and an integrator based on what really matters to you.

This could correspond with specific features or with a challenge you have identified. As an example this could be the quality of the product database, the consolidation of customer data, the integration with the ERP, or the flexibility of the supplier.

Your roadmap and prioritized requirements will enable you to appropriately phase your project implementation and trade features when agreeing to a scope of work with the integrator. For instance, to accommodate budgetary or planning constraints.

Involve cross-business stakeholders in the RFP building process

Defining a suitable multichannel commerce RFP however will require a cross-organizational effort. In practice, IT alone is unable to define the supply chain requirements of your future multichannel business. Similarly, Marketing can’t specify technical requirements such as hosting, security, SLA etc. Such a collaborative process will in addition help secure project endorsement by its key stakeholders, thus ensuring progress and preventing late blockers.

Develop evaluation scorecards using the criteria that matter to you

Developing rating grids (or scorecards) using pertinent qualitative and quantitative criteria will enable you to remain objective and avoid being seduced by bells and whistles.

Implementing your multichannel commerce strategy will typically require choosing several solutions (e-commerce, product content management, product reviews…) and integrating them with existing and new operating capabilities such as your ERP, POS, loyalty system etc.

On paper they all look great

In theory, any solution out there could deliver the required functionality with sufficient customization efforts, but sorting them out can easily get confusing and time consuming for retailers.

This is why your focus when preparing an RFP should always be to reflect your priority requirements in such a way that you can compare on an equal foot how various suppliers would meet them.

This will prevent you from a tedious, biased and lengthy RFP process that could potentially lead to an unfit solution or implementation partner.

Create multiple RFPs to include expert solutions

Depending on your target architecture and project philosophy, you might want to consider splitting your requirements into multiple individual RFPs. For instance, one for the front office, another one for e-merchandizing and a third one for the customer service tool.

Creating multiple RFPs can also enable comparing how an all-in-one e-commerce platform performs in each key functional area, versus best-in-class specialized tools. Remember, multichannel commerce projects typically involve mix-and-match solutions: as each retailer’s business and operations are unique, there are circumstances where adding specialized tools to a leading platform can prove more valuable than going for a single supplier product.

Multiple RFPs will increase pricing transparency

Another benefit from multiple RFPs is they make the pricing of all-in-one e-commerce solutions more transparent. Suppliers will need to breakdown their pricing per RFP, which will help avoid “black box” pricing schemes you can’t properly appreciate. This will make it easier for you to assess how appropriate the price of each key feature is.

A properly defined RFP will yield returns beyond the supplier selection

Regardless of how well defined it is, your RFP will in almost all cases, require the e-commerce integrator you select to conduct a discovery phase. This is necessary for your partner to validate your requirements in order to agree to a contractual scope of work.

Your RFP can therefore be seen as the version zero of your e-commerce specifications (also called product backlog), meaning that if properly defined, it will not only accelerate the discovery phase, but also limit budgetary and timeline surprises.

With an adequate set of RFPs and scorecards established, you can now initiate an effective integrator search. The latter will heavily depend on the e-commerce solution you choose, which we strongly recommend pre-selecting before issuing your RFP. In the next article, we will share some insights on how you can confidently select the right solution and integrator partner.