If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re looking to switch ecommerce platforms — but you’re not alone.
In a 2020 survey of 100 retail ecommerce executives, Digital Commerce 360 found that 51% of respondents cited ecommerce platforms as one of their top three technology budget priorities for the year. And in another survey later in the year, 92% of professionals planned to increase spending on ecommerce technology.
Perhaps you’ve reached your breaking point after another unexpected bug, major site outage or poor customer experience, and your current platform simply isn’t meeting your business needs. As a result, you’re unable to focus on your core business activities, because you’re too busy working out the kinks in your current solution.
If that’s the case, it might be time to replatform — which means it’s time to issue an RFP.
An RFP (Request for Proposal) is a formal document that standardizes your evaluation criteria across all the vendors you choose to send it to. It announces the bidding process between vendors and consists of guidance notes and a questionnaire to help you evaluate and shortlist prospective solutions.
By using an RFP, you accomplish two goals:
- You set clear business objectives and goals internally.
- You can communicate those objectives and goals to your prospective vendors, outlining the specific expectations for your business on your own terms.
Without an RFP, each vendor will likely sell you on what they have –– removing your ability to judge each platform effectively across the business critical requirements of your brand.
But RFPs aren’t one-size-fits-all. The specific questions you should ask each vendor can vary across internal departments and ecommerce requirements, and it may take some time to formulate an effective RFP that clearly articulates your needs.
What Are the Advantages of Using an RFP?
One of the most important decisions an ecommerce business will make in the replatforming process is whether to use an RFP or opt for a more flexible selection process. Both are viable options depending on your preferences, however it may help to know the pros and cons to each approach.
The process of selecting a new ecommerce platform can be tedious and time-consuming, especially if you’re a business owner with lots of responsibilities on your plate. But this is where an RFP approach comes in handy. Here are just a few of the perks to issuing an RFP:
- It creates equal opportunity for each vendor. An RFP levels the playing field by limiting interactions with vendors prior to their RFP submissions, and any and all vendors are allowed to apply. Since the RFP contains the same questions for all vendors, and since a committee typically evaluates the proposals, there is less chance of bias in the selection process.
- There is a potential to discover new vendors. Since any vendor is allowed to submit a proposal, there is a chance that your business could find a provider that is better suited to your needs.
- You can set clearly defined parameters for your business. Rather than hearing a platform provider’s sales pitch before making a decision — and potentially being swayed the wrong way — issuing an RFP will help direct your evaluation committee’s attention to the criteria that is most relevant to your organization.
Although an RFP approach does offer several advantages, there are some downsides to keep in mind.
- RFPs can potentially eliminate qualified vendors. If the RFP criteria is too specific, you may risk disqualifying a potentially good vendor. Plus, if your RFP is too lengthy or stringent, some vendors might not be willing to submit a proposal in the first place.
- It hinders valuable relationships with vendors. While the RFP is built to be fair for all prospective vendors, the formality of the process can hinder potential business relationships. If the evaluation committee isn’t allowed to interact with potential vendors outside of official communications, this could be a missed opportunity to learn the details of a platform provider that may actually be a good fit.
- It can prevent potential vendor benefits. Since the vendor isn’t allowed to give their sales pitch before submitting a proposal, your business may miss out on special services or features that aren’t included in the RFP.
How Long Should the RFP Process Take?
Considering the detail that goes into creating an RFP, as well as the effort it takes to evaluate each platform provider, it’s no surprise that the RFP process can be time-consuming. According to RFP 360, the average RFP timeline ideally spans six to ten weeks, depending on the size of your team, the number of vendors and the types of questions asked.
Although an RFP may vary from project to project, the basic three steps will usually stay the same:
- RFP creation (1-3 weeks): This step involves identifying the need to replatform, collaborating with key stakeholders to determine what your business’s top ecommerce priorities are and writing the structured document.
- RFP administration (3-6 weeks): This step involves selecting which vendors to issue the RFP to and allowing time for vendors to prepare and submit their proposals.
- RFP evaluation (1-4 weeks): Finally, the evaluation step involves scoring the proposals, shortlisting potential candidates, making a final decision and notifying vendors of the result of the RFP.
How to Use an RFP
The sole purpose of a B2B ecommerce RFP is to articulate your specific business needs and evaluate a vendor’s potential to meet them.
Thus, when issuing an RFP, keep in mind that the effort a vendor puts into their proposal is also a signal of their commitment to your requirements. Pay attention to the quality of the responses you receive, and eliminate the vendors that clearly aren’t putting in the effort to win you over.
In the RFP itself, there is a column of priority — the first column after the question — where all relevant stakeholders should sign off on which aspects are business critical and which others might not be as important. This will help align your team on the business’s top priorities, as well as guide the platforms you send the RFP to on which items are the most important to focus on.
To help you get started, we’ve created a free RFP template that you can personalize according to your business requirements. Feel free to omit any questions that aren’t relevant to your business or modify any questions to better suit your needs. Read through each section to confirm that the questions meet your business-critical requirements, and make sure that the priorities are set right for each question before you send it off.
Typically, an RFP is best accompanied by a cover letter with further details on pricing needs and service requirements. Traditionally, this part is done in a Word document, not Excel, and it includes business scope, pricing expectations and service requirements.
Company Overview Questions
- How is your company structured? (public/private, partnership, joint venture, subsidiary, etc.)
- How long has your company been in business?
- Please list your top competitors and their respective market share. How are you positioned against these competitors?
- What differentiates your commerce offering?
- Please describe your product(s).
- What is the most current version of your product and when was the last release date?
- How many merchants are currently using your software?
- Please provide the size and scope of your top 5 clients. List 3 customers that are similar in size and scope to us.
- How many people do you employ and in how many locations?
- How do you price your application? Describe your license methodology or structure.
- What is your target customer base? (SMB, mid-market, enterprise)
- What documented programs are offered to assist your customers in continuous improvement in ecommerce?
- Do you have an agency partner program?
- Describe the partner training or certification programs (if any).
Site Design, Development and UX Questions
- Do you provide ecommerce feature upgrades to any themes we purchase?
- Would we have the ability to install additional plug-ins or apps?
- Do you enable persistent shopping carts across devices?
- What third-party developers/designers would be available to us?
- Would we have the ability to install and use web fonts?
- Do you automatically cache store assets such as images globally to local points of presence?
- Are your designs mobile-responsive?
- List all third-party programming languages required to make theme changes.
- Do you offer mobile-optimized checkout out-of-the-box?
- How much of the design customization can be done in a local development environment versus in-browser editing?
- Is there a local development environment to manage code customizations prior to publishing?
- Are themes standards compliant?
- Can we preview our product catalog in any theme, without purchasing the theme?
IT and Hosting Questions For Ecommerce Providers
- Describe how your ecommerce software is hosted.
- How do you manage automatic backups? How often do you backup?
- Define your server redundancy process.
- List your most recent uptime results. What uptime did you experience during the last holiday season?
- How many environments (dev/test/UAT/etc.) does a typical client use to manage the implementation of enhancements?
- Describe how the software can be monitored (at all tiers) for availability and performance.
- How many API calls per second do you support out-of-the-box?
- Describe how the software can be scaled to support additional user and API load.
- Describe how high availability and disaster recovery are addressed.
- What controls are used to protect against malicious code?
- How often are upgrades delivered to clients?
- What percent of your customers are on the most recent version of your product?
Important Ecommerce Security and PCI Compliance Questions
- Does the platform have the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification (the gold standard for information security management)?
- Is the software PCI compliant?
- Describe how the software supports federated identity and single sign-on (SAML/OpenID/OAuth/etc).
- Describe how security roles are defined and what access restrictions can be managed by role.
- Describe how contact information such as customer names, addresses, preferences and shopping habits are stored and handled in a secure manner.
- Describe how data access and change is audited.
- Describe how security vulnerabilities are identified and mitigated.
- Describe any additional data protection, audit or financial control features of the software.
- Are SSL certificates included?
- Are merchants on your platform responsible for any type of patching?
- How does your software support GDPR compliance?
APIs and Headless Commerce
- Do you have storefront APIs that allow for a full ecommerce website built using modern frontend frameworks like Vue or React? Are you able to host and manage this type of solution?
- What third-party tools and in-house software do you consider to be essential?
- Do you have a full suite of APIs that would allow a headless deployment with an ERP or enterprise CMS such as Acquia?
Administration and Ease of Use Questions
- Please describe how we can manage our product catalog within your system.
- How do you import/export catalog and customer data?
- Is there a WYSIWYG editor available?
- Can product and price lists be imported/exported in bulk?
- Do you provide a staging and preview environment so we can test before launch?
- What admin roles and permissions are available for users?
- What types of reports and analytics are included?
- How do we configure site search rewrites and redirects?
- Can I manage multiple storefronts from a single login?
- Do you provide a CMS for content pages and blogs?
- What SEO capabilities are available in your platform?
- Do you offer your own POS system or integrate with an existing one? List all POS systems you integrate with.
Customer Service Questions
- List all order management capabilities.
- How can we segment our customers and members into separate groups?
- Can customers access “Saved Addresses” during the checkout process?
- How can our customers manage and view order history?
- How can we reorder the products on behalf of a customer?
- Do you support wish lists?
- How are refunds/partial refunds managed?
- How do you manage rewards/points?
- Can a CSR complete an order via chat? Or screenshare to help a customer complete an order?
Ecommerce Analytics Questions
- Does your ecommerce solution offer built-in analytics or via third-party apps?
- How can we report on product and merchandising?
- Do you provide a dashboard with business critical metrics?
- Is Google Analytics integrated?
- How do you support Google Tag Manager integration?
- Do you provide analytics and insights for metrics including customer LTV?
- Is there a report for total revenue/sales?
- How would you generate a tax report?
- What types of shipping and fulfillment reports are available?
- Can we generate a low stock inventory report?
Checkout and Payment Option Questions
- Can you migrate our existing payment gateway to a new platform?
- Do you charge any transaction fees if we want to keep our existing payment gateway?
- Is mobile optimized and single-page checkout supported?
- Can customers pay using Pay with Amazon?
- Can users pay in browser and on mobile with Apple Pay?
- Can customers check out as a guest?
- Are customers able to use stored credit cards and shipping addresses during checkout? Is it done natively or with a third-party app?
- Are there options for both Authorize & Capture and Authorize Only?
- Can customers save their shopping cart and use it across different devices?
- Are tax and shipping estimates provided to customers?
- Can customers ship to multiple addresses?
- How do you support recurring payments and box-of-the-month/subscription orders?
- Does the platform support shipping from multiple warehouses?
- Can a CSR modify an order prior to shipment?
Email Marketing Questions
- Are transactional emails native to the platform? Can these be fully turned off if we want to use an external email marketing automation application?
- Can we integrate with a third-party email service provider?
- How are abandoned cart emails handled?
- Can we create an email signup form?
- How can we create a Contact Us form?
- Are email templates mobile-responsive?
- What third-party email applications are integrated? Are MailChimp, Klaviyo and Constant Contact integrations available?
SEO and SEM Questions
- Can product meta tags be customized?
- How do you support 301 redirects?
- Are SEO-friendly URLs auto-generated for products and category pages?
- Can full URLs be customized? Are there any extraneous words or symbols that cannot be removed?
- What type of blog management is included in your solution?
- Is a sitemap included?
- Do you support canonical tags?
- What is the process to disallow URLs in robots.txt?
- How can we export the product feed from your platform?
- Do you support Google AMP integration to optimize mobile search results?
Products and Categories Questions
- Can we add multiple images per product? Is there a limit to the number or size of images?
- Do you support SKU level images with image switching on variation selection?
- Is product image zoom enabled by default?
- How easy is it to add video to PDP? Is there a limit on the size and length of videos we can upload?
- Please describe how product options and option sets are managed in your system.
- Please describe how you support products with multiple configurations (color, size, style, etc.).
- Is there a quick edit option available to modify stock levels or pricing changes?
- Do you support both digital and physical products?
- Is inventory management built-in?
- How do you support real-time inventory sync within multiple sales channels?
- Can inventory be tracked at variation level?
- What is your current largest SKU count for a live merchant?
- Does the shipping system understand and support dimensional weight?
- Are custom product attributes supported?
- Can you configure related items?
- Is it possible for related items to be automatically generated?
- Do you allow pre-orders?
- How do you support custom product pages? Can these be configured per category?
- Are product reviews built-in?
- Is it easy for customers to share products with friends from the PDP?
- Do you natively support faceted search? If using a third-party, what are the impacts on the availability of the site if they go down?
- Can categories be sorted manually in the control panel?
- Can categories be used for private sales?
- Are category filters supported?
- Do categories and products have breadcrumbs?
- Are page/product/category URLs auto-generated?
- How can we customize the product and category level URLs?
- Does the platform support multi-level category navigation?
- Describe how import/export of data can be scheduled.
Ecommerce Questions About Omnichannel
- List all third-party marketplaces you are currently integrated with.
- How would we manage catalog publishing with specific pricing and product information per channel?
- Can users check out within Facebook or would they be redirected to our online store?
- Do you support publishing catalogs to eBay? Is it restricted to specific verticals or categories?
- Is there a centralized view of all our orders across all channels?
- Do you support publishing our product catalog to Amazon?
- How can we promote our products via Google Shopping?
- Describe your integration to third-party channel management applications like Channel Advisor.
- Do you support Instagram marketplace?
- Do you support Pinterest buy buttons?
- How would we manage catalog publishing with specific pricing and product information per channel?
- Can you publish microsites from a single store with their own unique inventory?
- Please provide details about your onboarding processes for new clients.
- What is the average timeline for implementation?
- Do you provide training and user documentation for the entire platform?
- List all services/resources who will be dedicated to our ecommerce business.
- Provide an example of a QBR or Customer Success Plan you offer your customers.
- Do you have extended support hours for supporting an event’s onsite operation?
Ecommerce Questions About Customer Support
- How big is your customer support team and where are they located?
- Which CRM does your ecommerce platform support?
- Please detail your phone support offering. Is it available 24/7? Is there an additional cost associated with this service?
- What are your average wait/response times for phone support?
- Is there a priority queue available for urgent and time-sensitive requests?
- Can we get a dedicated support representative if needed?
B2B Capabilities Questions
- What type of developer support is available for B2B stores?
- Does BigCommerce support dynamic pricing?
- Can we enable bulk ordering and set price limits?
- What different types of B2B business models do you currently support?
- How do you support price lists?
- Do you support B2B from the same store as your B2C or does it require a subdomain or different set of management tools?
- Can you display different catalogs and pricing from the same site for B2C and B2B users?
The Final Word
Replatforming to a new ecommerce solution is a big decision that can affect many different areas of your business. It may seem like a daunting transition at first, but if you choose the right platform, it can be an open door to exponential growth.
During the evaluation process, you’ll undoubtedly come across a number of big-name platforms such as Magento, Shopify and Volusion — which all have their own unique features and can work for certain types of ecommerce projects.
However, BigCommerce stands out as one of the leading open SaaS ecommerce platforms for mid-market and enterprise retailers. With all the benefits of SaaS as well as the flexibility of an open-source platform, BigCommerce offers a solution for businesses of all sizes and needs.
To help you evaluate your options, we’ve created a Free Ecommerce Platform RFP Template, which includes 193 questions to send to the platforms you’re considering. Covering areas such as IT, security, design and development, this customizable document will allow you to evaluate each platform provider on a level playing field and put your business priorities at the forefront.
FAQs for Ecommerce RFPs
What are the benefits of an ecommerce RFP?
Without an RFP, comparing ecommerce platforms can feel like comparing apples to oranges. Every platform provider will likely try to market their strongest, most unique features — but with so many sales pitches coming at you from all sides, it can be difficult to determine which platform is actually most beneficial for your business.
Creating an ecommerce RFP will drown out the noise and make your unique business requirements the centerpiece of your decision. Since all vendors will have access to the same questions and key information, you’ll be able to fairly evaluate each platform and make an unbiased decision.
What should you do before creating an ecommerce RFP?
Before making the decision to replatform and create an ecommerce RFP, there are some essential questions you need to ask yourself:
- Why do you want to replatform and what are your business goals (Do you want to reduce total cost of ownership, modernize your tech stack or become a market leader?)
- What third-party tools, integrations or partnerships are essential to your business?
- Who are your main competitors and what features do you admire about their platforms?
- What products do you sell and what sales channels do you use?
- Do you have any special needs, such as product configurations or order fulfillment requirements?
Once your team is aligned on your current state and future goals, then you can start drafting your RFP.
What are the steps in an ecommerce RFP?
A typical RFP creation process consists of four stages:
- Planning: The first step involves identifying the business requirements, scope, prospective platform providers, budget, timeline and key stakeholders.
- RFP Draft: During this step, you’ll work with stakeholders to write your RFP, including a questionnaire and scoring criteria.
- Issue the RFP: Next, you’ll send out the RFP to the providers you’d like to consider, along with a deadline for RFP submissions.
- Review and Evaluation: Finally, the last stage involves reviewing all submissions, shortlisting those with the highest scores and beginning negotiations with potential partners.
Who are key stakeholders in an ecommerce RFP?
Crafting an ecommerce RFP requires the input of both internal stakeholders and external stakeholders, who play a major role in brainstorming business objectives and evaluating providers.
Typically, the RFP process is spearheaded by marketing and ecommerce directors and other key stakeholders include CFOs, IT managers and business owners. However, the ecommerce RFP process doesn’t only involve company executives — the input of individual departments and units is also extremely valuable for choosing the right ecommerce platform.
What are the most common ecommerce RFP challenges?
Of course, there are a few inescapable challenges of the RFP process:
- It requires lots of time and resources. Replatforming is not an easy task, so don’t expect the process to happen overnight. And don’t rush it — make sure that you draft your RFP carefully and take your time evaluating each vendor.
- Creating an RFP does not guarantee the best proposals from vendors. Not all submissions will meet your expectations, which is why it’s important to invite enough vendors and ask the right questions.
- Engaging and aligning stakeholders on the same goals can be challenging, especially if there are lots of conflicting opinions. Make sure you’re communicating with the most valuable stakeholders, and start gathering their feedback early in the RFP process.