Beyond the RFP - Decoding common eCommerce vendor answers

Beyond the RFP - Decoding common eCommerce vendor answers
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The process of selecting the right eCommerce platform through a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be daunting. At Brink Commerce, we understand the obvious importance of making informed decisions in this critical phase. That's why we've crafted this article: to help merchants effectively scrutinize vendor responses (including ours) in eCommerce RFPs.

Our experience has shown that vendors often provide answers that, while technically correct, can be misleading or incomplete. These responses can lead merchants to make choices that might not fully align with their business needs or fail to give them a fair comparison.

It's crucial to ask the right questions and understand the nuances behind each answer. This article aims to shed some light on common pitfalls in vendor responses and guide merchants in asking deeper, more insightful questions.

Q: Can we integrate the systems and functionality we already have in place?

  • Common Answer: Yes, our platform supports integration with a wide range of systems.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Here’s where you need to be careful. No integrations are the same. They might be limited to specific systems or certain parts of those systems, require expensive customization, or may not be seamless. Also, ask what type of interface is used. For example, is it a modern API solution or older FTP file transfers? If it is an API, is it a modern REST API, and what are the limitations (usability and cost)? Finally, ask if you can use your team for integrations or if you are dependent on the vendor.
  • What to Look For: No system is integrated with everything else, so you will likely have to do at least some integrations. But look for a system built with a microservice and API-first approach for quick and easy integrations - no matter what system you choose to integrate with. A system where you can easily add integrations yourself.

Q: Can we switch out platform parts that no longer support our processes?

  • Common Answer: Yes, parts of the platform can be replaced or upgraded.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Replacing components might lead to compatibility issues, extensive development costs, or significant downtime. Additionally, all functionality in the platform may not be accessible to external systems. Can you do it yourself, or are you dependent on vendor resources? Do you still have to pay for the old, replaced part?
  • What to Look For: A truly headless platform where all data points are accessible through APIs. Look for documentation for this, along with any potential risks or limitations. Look for a system built for Composable Commerce, but always scrutinize what the vendor means when they call their product composable.

Q: Is it possible to change the functionality of the platform?

  • Common Answer: Our platform is highly customizable and can be extended to meet your needs.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Customization may be complex, costly, or require specialized development skills due to rigid frameworks or legacy tech. All functionality or data points may not be accessible. It is also a good idea to ask who will own the customization, and most importantly, can you or your team implement changes, or are you forced to wait for the vendor to update the roadmap?
  • What to Look For: An open and flexible system that prioritizes your requests. Ask for specific examples of extended functionalities implemented for other clients and the required level of effort and expertise. Speak to references as much as you can. What are their thoughts?

Q: Is the front-end website fast?

  • Common Answer: Our platform ensures optimal website performance and speed.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Performance may vary based on the framework, design, content, or third-party integrations. Also, consider what is important to you: A great score in the various available speed tests or the customer’s actual experience. Additionally, ask if the front-end is fast due to extensive caching (which may introduce difficulty in displaying correct stock levels or other information) or if it’s built on a modern framework.
  • What to Look For: Front-end technology is constantly evolving. Various online speed and performance checks may not be up to date. So don’t blindly trust them. Performance metrics regarding website speed should always be secondary to the perceived experience (but do test extensively).

Q: Can we operate in several regions?

  • Common Answer: Yes, our platform supports multi-regional operations.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Multi-regional support might require separate instances for each region, increasing complexity and costs. Can you offer multiple languages and currencies in the same region? Always ask where the solution is hosted and how that affects response times. For example, what will happen to the response times if the customer is in Australia and the solution is hosted in the EU?
  • What to Look For: A unified system that handles multiple regions within a single instance, including language, inventories, legal entities, currency, compliance variations, and distributed hosting.

Q: Can we add payment and shipping options?

  • Common Answer: Our platform integrates with various payment gateways and shipping providers.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Integration with specific payment and shipping providers may be limited or incur additional costs.
  • What to Look For: A commitment to support the payment gateways and shipping providers you need and details about the integration process and eventual costs.

Q: Can we use multiple inventories/warehouses?

  • Common Answer: Our system supports multiple inventory locations.
  • Potential Pitfalls: The platform may not efficiently manage inventory across different locations, leading to synchronization issues. Can you have fall-back inventories, and can you prioritize between them? Can you have several inventories per market and switch between them? Can you customize the setup per market?
  • What to Look For: Robust inventory management features that allow for real-time tracking and synchronization across multiple warehouses and regions.

Q: Can we support different sales channels?

  • Common Answer: Yes, our platform is omnichannel and supports various sales channels.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Some channels may not be fully integrated, leading to disjointed customer experiences and operational inefficiencies. Not all data points are accessible for custom front-end channels. Do you need to set up multiple instances to support different channels?
  • What to Look For: A truly headless and framework-agnostic system that allows you to manage omnichannel operations and ensures consistent customer experiences regardless of device or channel.

Q: How often is the system updated?

  • Common Answer: We regularly update our platform to ensure it stays cutting-edge.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Updates may be infrequent or require additional costs in terms of version upgrades (in the form of development projects). Can you influence the release schedule? Always ensure updates don’t require scheduled (or, worse, unscheduled) downtime.
  • What to Look For: Seek a platform that offers continuous, seamless updates without needing scheduled version upgrades. For example, Brink Commerce API's update approach is designed to be non-intrusive, minimizing or, normally, completely eliminating downtime. Moreover, we prioritize customer feedback in its update cycle, reflecting a commitment to adaptability and client needs.

Q: Can we add hosting resources for major campaigns?

  • Common Answer: Our platform can scale to meet increased demands during major campaigns.
  • Potential Pitfalls: Scaling might not be automatic, so you must plan ahead and ask for upgrades. And you usually need to add just-in-case resources, which means a significant waste of money.
  • What to Look For: Cloud-native systems with automatic scaling capabilities, for example, systems built on Serverless technology. Ask for case studies of past campaigns and details on cost implications and resource management.

As the Head of Merchant Success at Brink Commerce, I've seen firsthand how asking the right questions can significantly affect selecting an eCommerce platform. We hope this article helps you uncover the true capabilities of potential vendors, steering you toward a solution that genuinely meets your needs (Hint: Brink Commerce API).

Please get in touch with us if you’d like to know more.

Johan Afséer
Johan Afséer

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