The digital commerce platform market has undergone significant changes over the last several years. Acquisitions, technology advancements, and customer expectations have altered the commerce platform landscape and left brands wondering if their investment will realize an ROI, or more fundamentally if their platform provider will still be around in five years.
Protect the investment you are about to make by asking some simple, yet powerful, questions. The vendors actively pursuing your business need to ante up and demonstrate their capabilities today, but also give you some degree of comfort for tomorrow.
To ensure your requirements can be met, here are four key questions to ask:
1. What is the product roadmap?
Your business is not going to stand still in perpetuity, neither can your platform. Ask prospective vendors for an overview of their roadmap, but look beyond simple features and find out if there is alignment on capabilities that you know are important to your business. As technology shifts occur, each platform needs to embrace those shifts to provide you with growth opportunities in the future. A good source of information on technology trends is the Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Commerce, which provides “a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.” Thing commerce, augmented and virtual reality commerce, API-based digital commerce and many more will shape the future of digital commerce for all industries. Are the vendors you are evaluating providing you with these tools, and others, to support your future initiatives?
2. Is the platform scalable?
Deployment models significantly impact scalability but even then there are real limitations. The architecture of an application plays a significant role in determining scalability, and the types of business uses you have planned for the platform must be validated. Do you have peaks for certain types of requests? For example, is there a significant rise in the number of searches done for a specific period? Do you experience a rise in the number of transactions that need to be processed in a limited period of time?
Consider these peaks and valleys and then ask your potential vendors for real data to ensure they can comfortably meet the peaks today but also in subsequent years. Better yet, ask them to prove they can meet your projections for the next few years and have them run a Proof of Concept to validate the platform scalability. And don’t forget to factor in deployment models! Perhaps a cloud deployment will work for your business, or maybe there are technical or regulatory reasons for using an on-premise solution. Be sure to find out if the platform supports both of these models and evaluate them separately. Moving to the cloud dramatically reduces computing costs.
3. Will the pricing model enable you to grow your business without restrictions?
Every platform purchase eventually hinges on the price, but think beyond the standard pricing agreement and consider the impact on your future business. Some vendors employ pricing structures that limit growth. Perhaps you want to sell in multiple countries with local commerce sites, expand to a new line of business, deploy to multiple business units or any one of many possible business expansion opportunities. Does the pricing model of the platform place significant, or any, upfront cost on pursuing these business possibilities?
Your vendor needs to provide flexible models (you need options) that are tied to the business value they are providing, or more specifically helping you to grow your digital business. But more importantly they need to ensure that you can explore potential lines of business with minimal licensing cost, and instead support the success as you grow.
4. Is the vendor a partner?
Often overlooked is the long-term business relationship required to make your investment a success. You need your platform vendor invested in your long-term success, a relationship that needs to be mutually beneficial. A true partner will solicit feedback on the future of your platform; understand your business and how they can help you realize your goals; quickly address critical business issues that are preventing you from transacting, and not get caught up in contract language tied to SLAs; advise you on how to get the most out of the platform; communicate effectively and often.You don’t need emails and phone calls every day but you need a partner who is aligned with your business vision, helps you when there are problems and treats you like you matter.