How to Write an RFP for Ecommerce Website [+Questions]
Another sales season has hit you hard. You’ve lost on sales, the downtime of your website increased, and you’ve detected yet another bug too costly to fix. At another company board meeting, you take a drastic decision: it’s time to replatform.
But how do you find the best ecommerce platform and the most reliable partner for you? RFP is your answer!
Writing an RFP for ecommerce websites is a quite demanding process. But a well-structured one with the questions tailored only to your ecommerce project will help you find an agile, professional partner who’ll make ecommerce platform migration as painless as possible for you.
What is an RFP process, how to write an RFP for an ecommerce website, and which questions are most common — read more in this article.
What is RFP?
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a formal document that announces the bidding process between B2B software vendors. It includes a list of questions SaaS companies have to answer for you to select the one ecommerce platform that will suit your business needs.
The reason to write an RFP for your ecommerce website is twofold:
on the one hand, you set clear objectives and goals for your business,
on the other, you articulate them to the vendors and specify your expectations so that no SaaS company sells you what they have and affects your judgment.
Mind that an RFP is not the same as RFI (a Request for Information) which aims at getting broad information about an agency and its projects and precedes the RFP process. An RFP also differs from an ecommerce website specification document which is written after the agency selection process and specifies the e-store functionalities you want to see in the end-product.
Your RFP should be specifically tailored to the needs of your project and include specific questions and requirements for a vendor. You might still be open to vendor’s suggestions, but your RFP should present a clear idea of your business plan and goals.
Once you’re past an RFP and settle down with an ecommerce agency, you might actually want to tap into writing website specifications. Check out our step-by-step guide on the matter.
Knowing that the future of your project depends on a properly written RFP can be intimidating. But it gets better if you break it down into bite-sized tasks or steps.
Any RFP process includes the project planning, drafting, issuing, and evaluation stages. Here are a few steps we recommend taking to obtain a killer RFP for an ecommerce website — and actually use it.
Step #1: Ask Yourself Why You Need Replatforming
Before you start searching for ecommerce platform vendors, ask yourself why you need replatforming and why now. The answers to these questions will guide your project goals and objectives. Make a list of your project weaknesses and limitations. Think of all the lost sales, downtimes, and poor customer experience.
Talk it over with your colleagues to identify what you want, where you need improvements, and how you can achieve them. Explaining things to yourself is the first step to finding a solution.
Step #2: Set Your Goals
You should clearly see where you’re going with the whole replatforming thing. Are you trying to reduce the cost of running an e-store? Or increase revenues by upgrading ecommerce software? Or improve website performance and UX? Write out about 4-5 goals, each having at least three objectives, and prioritize them. The goal plan will keep you focused on your plan and choose relevant questions for your RFP.
Step #3: List Your Website’s Integrations & Features
To improve the efficiency of your replatforming and spend the budget wisely, you might want to talk to your IT department to see what your e-store is integrated with and which other systems you want to connect to it. It might be a good stage to consider which third-party systems you want to preserve and expand (like payment gateways or cybersecurity services) after migration to another platform.
Step #4: Determine Your Users’ and Customers’ Needs
Running an online store, you must already have an idea of your working team’s needs as well as your customer’s profile. Create a plan of what might be optimized during replatforming: maybe your marketing team will appreciate a new CRM or your accountant might want to change the tax system.
Ask the same questions in relation to the customers: what they do for life, why they use your service (or why they stopped using it), what they’d recommend to change. You might even send them a short survey asking for feedback and recommendations.
Step #5: Write an RFP
Create a structured document with all the questions you wish to ask the software vendors based on the info obtained in the previous steps. Organize the questions in logically arranged sequences or categories starting from the most general inquiries about an agency to more specific questions about their specifications.
Quick advice: you might want to put the questions in your RFP in an Excel document, for the agencies to answer quicker and for you to have an easy-to-compare spreadsheet.
Step #6: Create a Timeline and Evaluation Criteria
To keep things under control, you’d better set the timeline for your RFP process. Decide on how much time the agencies will have to fill out an RFP, when it should be returned (include the actual date in your RFP), and how long the negotiations will last after a successful candidate is shortlisted.
It’s also a good idea to establish some criteria for RFP evaluation. Some of the questions that may guide the scoring are
What are the most important aspects we should factor in the assessment?
How important is each category (for instance, can we sacrifice ecommerce platform security for the speed of implementation of the solution)?
Is pricing a weighted criteria?
A timeline and a scoring table will bring clarity and transparency into the selection process. They will also prevent you from building a piecemeal and let you stay focused on your project goals.
There’s another article in our blog with tips & tricks to choose the best B2B ecommerce platform. Check it out! Be sure to find more ideas there to include in your RFP evaluation criteria list.
Step #7: Identify Potential Partners and Issue an RFP
Research potential partners and agencies ready to implement an ecommerce solution for you. Don’t send an RFP to everyone you find on your way because you’ll only get swamped with responses. Instead, do your homework and come up with a decent list of candidates whose answers you can compare later. Issue an RFP with your project name and details, deadline for submission, and relevant questions for an agency.
Step #8: Review Responses
Response evaluation is probably the most important step in the whole RFP process. You’re about to entrust a third party with your project budget and tasks, so you thoroughly review each response in the survey against the backdrop of your business goals, set timeline, and criteria established in the previous steps. Compare the RFP responses apple-to-apple and shortlist 2-4 candidates to continue negotiation with.
Step #9: Make a Choice
In the second round of negotiations, you might actually meet vendors and interview them in person. This way, they will provide you further answers to the questions not listed in your RFP and maybe even present a demo. Discuss the pricing and the terms of agreement, and make a final decision.
Most Common Questions to Be Listed in an RFP for Ecommerce Website
Apart from your project overview, its description and pricing expectation, the timeline, a B2B ecommerce RFP should include a list of questions towards an ecommerce platform vendor. Organize them in a spreadsheet or in a Word document. You might place a separate vendor scoring column to evaluate the answers as you review them.
Here are 90 ideas for your RFP template that you might want to ask while facing the platform migration issue.
Disclaimer: The questions below are universal but may vary from one business to another.
Company Overview Questions
What is your company structure and how long have you been in business?
Describe your company products and services.
Share a case study of your clients in our business niche.
How many people do you employ and how many would be working on our project?
What makes your services stand out from the ones of your competitors?
Web Design & Front-End Development
Do you provide any front-end developers & UX designers to work on our project?
Can you migrate the existing design of our website with slight/no changes?
What are the available themes/storefront templates on your ecommerce platform?
Can we preview our product catalog in any theme, without purchasing the theme?
Is your design mobile responsive?
Is there a local development environment to manage code customizations before publication?
Can we install additional apps and plug-ins?
Is a CMS embedded in the solution or should a third-party system be integrated?
Does your ecommerce solution provide multilingual support for our storefront content?
Can the design be customized in a local development environment and edited in-browser?
Hosting Solutions & IT
How is the software hosted (on cloud, on-premise, or through a third party)?
How is the performance of the IT components and capacity of the server monitored?
How many customers share a single instance/server?
How can the software be monitored for performance and availability?
How does your platform maintain scalability (high-load traffic, increased sales, etc.)?
List your uptime results. What uptime did you experience during the last holiday season/Black Friday/summer sales?
What is the average downtime during upgrades and patches?
How often do you backup?
Can the software be scaled to support additional user and API load?
How many servers (dev/test/uat/staging/etc.) does a typical client use to manage the implementation of enhancements?
How is sensitive data encrypted and audited in your solution?
Can you configure security notifications and alerts?
Does your solution provide any built-in security patches?
What are the most common security vulnerabilities of your ecommerce solution and how can they be mitigated?
Is your software PCI-DSS compliant?
Are SSL certificates included?
Do you implement 3D-Secure for online credit and debit card transactions?
What admin roles and permissions are available for users?
Does your solution have an ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification for Information Security Management?
How does your ecommerce software support GDPR compliance?
Products & Categories
What is the maximum number of products/categories your platform can handle?
Is there a limit on the size of the image/video uploaded in a product description?
How product options are managed in your system? Can they be configured?
Do you support digital and physical products?
How does your platform support real-time inventory synchronization across multiple sales channels?
Can you customize related product pages? It is possible to automatically generate them?
Are product reviews built-in or is it a third-party app?
Do products and categories have breadcrumbs?
Does the platform support mega-menus and multi-level category navigation?
How do you support products with multiple variants/configurations (e.g., color, size, length, etc.)?
Ease of Use & Administration
How can we manage product catalogues in your platform?
Can product and price lists be imported/exported in bulk?
Can we manage multiple storefronts from a single account (e.g. sales that come from a website and a social media account)?