Finding the Best E-Commerce SaaS Platform for Your Business
The need for rapid business change, advanced innovation and reduction in up-front capital spending is leading retailers toward software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions for e-commerce. If you’re like the 58 percent of global software decision makers who will increase their use of SaaS platforms and services over the next 12 months, these steps will help you ask the right questions at the right times to find the best solution for your business.
Get to Know the Landscape
There's a significant amount of credible research that’s easily and readily available to kick-start your selection process. Refer to sources such as Forrester’s B-to-C Commerce Suites Wave, which offers a comparative analysis and downloadable spreadsheet containing detailed scoring criteria. The goals of this stage are to take a comprehensive look at the marketplace and narrow the list for a more detailed review.
Consider the following:
- What's its licensing model? Revenue sharing (i.e., percentage per sale) could get expensive depending on your average order volume or value. With subscriptions, you’ll pay a set amount at regular intervals.
- How long has its e-commerce platform been around and how many customers does it have? How many has it added and lost over the last 18 months?
- What's its core client base and retail market presence?
- What's the typical implementation time frame and cost associated with ongoing operations?
- What’s different or complex about your business? Do you require unique branded sites that share common data, globalization, high order volumes or something else? Has the provider solved similar challenges for other customers?
- Consider how its platform will fit into your technology stack. Do you need a suite that offers product information management (PIM) or order management system (OMS) capabilities, or will the e-commerce engine integrate with existing internal systems?
Dig Into the Details
A request for proposal (RFP) is typically issued at this point. It’s important to ask the right questions to ensure finalists will yield strategic solutions for your business. Keep it to a handful of vendors since a lot of time and energy will go into evaluating each response. Key benefits of SaaS include shorter implementation time frames and frequent releases of new features. It’s important to ask how many times per year new capabilities are released and the impact to customers.
With a SaaS platform, the business will need to change its operating model to fit the solution. To simplify the upgrade path, you’ll need to limit technical, front-end and business tool customizations. Vendors typically have a “starter store” to increase speed to market, and most will have core e-commerce features built in. Therefore, concentrate on areas where the industry is playing catch up or your requirements are unique. You can ask for responses based on how robust the offering is for each capability, from exceeding your requirements to a complete customization.
Consider the following:
- How well does the platform streamline omnichannel experiences? Is the site responsive across tablets and mobile devices? Does the provider offer apps and integrated tools for in-store and customer care associates? How are inventory and order management handled across channels? Is the platform service-based with extensible APIs?
- Compare your third-party list for things like analytics, rich media and personalization to native platform offerings to see if there's an opportunity to simplify the vendor pool. Furthermore, does the platform offer pre-built integrations to those you’ll keep?
- What tools and features are controlled by the business? Content management, workflow and site preview capabilities can be very different across platforms.
- With any cloud offering, the cost and responsibility for infrastructure and security lies with the vendor. How does the platform measure up on performance and scalability, and what service-level agreements and monitoring are in place? How does it keep your data and your customers' data secure and PCI compliant?
- If you’re planning to develop and maintain customizations internally, you’ll need to understand which programming languages are used. If you're going to partner with a systems integrator (SI), find out how many it's certified and which companies those are. In either case, make sure there’s a strong, competitive market of technologists to support you in the long term.
Make Your Selection
Once you’ve received the responses, you’ll need to narrow it down to at least two finalists for an in-person demonstration. In this final phase, there are three key activities.
- Conduct calls with a handful of relevant clients from each platform provider prior to bringing the vendors in. You’ll uncover common themes and questions that can be clarified during the decision-making process.
- Give the vendors real-world scenarios to demonstrate live and in person. You’ll want to verify usability of the site and business tools prior to sealing the deal.
- If the vendor participates in the implementation, ask them to bring the key resources that would be assigned so you can dig into its background and find out for whom it has successfully built platforms.
Selecting an e-commerce platform is a business-critical decision. Ensuring you’re asking the right people the right questions will help you make the right decision in order to achieve a seamless, differentiated brand experience.
Danielle Werner is an omnichannel master practitioner at North Highland, a global management consulting firm.