November 2nd, 2021 | 6 MIN READ

What to Ask When Evaluating Ecommerce Providers

Written by Pranav Bahadur

Pranav Bahadur is a Product Marketing Manager at Elastic Path living in the Boston area.

We all know what it's like when you find yourself endlessly scrolling through Netflix to find your next show. The analysis paralysis is real! Choosing an eCommerce provider that best fits your brand can be a similar experience. With an ever-expanding plethora of options, it can be a dizzying task deciding if you need a modern, Composable Commerce platform or if an all-in-one platform will meet your needs. It's easy to be swayed by flashy marketing, industry group certifications, and a litany of technical buzzwords. We often hear stories about that moment of realization well into the evaluation cycle, where a pricing surprise or lack of flexibility hinders your brand's ability to launch and run a key experience or rapidly add new functionality. We recommend you follow two key steps to make the most of your evaluation.

Step 1: Rethink the RFP

While we have seen a recent change in this behavior, historically, the first thing prospects tend to do is send out a long Request for Proposal (RFPs) to vendors. These proved useful in the past for traditional legacy eCommerce platforms; they’re not as valuable for Composable Commerce solutions like Elastic Path, which are designed with the flexibility to integrate to your preferred partners rather than offer everything out of the box. We have found that customers get more out of their evaluation process when they base criteria on their unique desired outcomes and use cases, not a 400 line excel sheet. For more info on re-thinking the RFP process, check out our guide.

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Step 2: Ask The Right Questions

In a few cases, we've heard of customers being promised the world only to be delivered a Proof of Concept (POC) that sends both implementation cost and technical debt through the roof. We have put together a list of must-ask questions for any brand currently evaluating commerce solutions to avoid this pitfall. We recommend that you ask these questions of all vendors you are evaluating to help you save time and bring you peace of mind to ensure you are picking the right solution for your business.

What will the cost be for my specific commerce project?

While most commerce platforms will be ready to provide you with a cost estimate early in your evaluation process. You won't see a specific proposal for your business until the commerce vendor knows and understands your unique need. At this point, you need to make sure that the proposal truly reflects your requirements. Some key follow-up considerations:

  • Do I need multiple instances to run multiple brands, geographies, or account strategies?
  • Does each instance come with an additional cost?

We recommend these follow-up questions specifically as we know that some commerce solutions require brands to use multiple instances if they need unique catalogs for geos, brands, or B2B accounts. The use of each additional instance will drive your total cost up. At Elastic Path, you can run unlimited catalogs from one instance, so you don't have to worry about this but, it's a critical complexity to understand with other vendors.

Can you handle my product catalog?

Most Headless Commerce offerings will be able to support large catalogs; however, making sure that your specific catalog needs can be tackled easily and effectively is essential. Depending on your brand's needs, managing your catalog can be a significant source of frustration. Here are further considerations based on where other solution's catalogs have proven problematic in the past for our customers.

  • Can I have multiple prices for the same product to cater special pricing for a specific group of customers?
  • Do you have a limit on the number of product variants I can add?
  • How can I set up catalogs for specific B2B customers?
  • Can I set up a sale for a select set of products? For example, a limited-time 'back-to-school' sale for a select group of products.
  • How do I edit the categories in my catalog to change how my site is organized?

Elastic Path Catalog Composer offers the industry's only decoupled catalog architecture. Why does that matter? A decoupled catalog architecture allows you to set up unlimited catalogs, with pricebooks separated from the product listings to offer unparalleled flexibility in how you want to cater to your customers now and in the future. Learn more about Catalog Composer here.

Do I need to custom integrate your commerce platform and my preferred third-party providers? (most relevant for headless, microservices-based platforms)

If you have existing providers you would like to keep for components like search, payments, CMS, etc., a headless, microservice-based platform will need to be integrated. Often these integrations come pre-built for leading third-party providers. Depending on your choices, they may need to be created net new, potentially slowing down your time to launch. Ensuring your preferred third-party providers can seamlessly and quickly be part of a composed solution is essential.

  • Do you have a set of third-party providers that fit my brand’s use case?
  • How long does it take to complete a net new integration?
  • Do you offer any support in building these?

Elastic Path offers Pre-Composed Solutions™ that enable you to get up and running in a matter of weeks! Check out a complete list here

Do I need to add custom integrations on top of what comes in the box?

The value in Composable Commerce is building a solution tailor-made for your brand's needs. However, the path to creating a composed solution can differ drastically between Headless Commerce platforms. Ensuring that your proposed eCommerce solution has those capabilities natively or with a pre-existing integration that only needs to be turned on will go a long way towards your brand's digital success in the future. To make sure your brand's needs are addressed, here are a few specifics to consider:

  • Do I need to build integrations from scratch?
  • What pre-built integrations do you have?
  • Can I change third-party integrations in the future?
  • How long does it take?

Elastic Path offers Accelerators for several “best-of-breed" third-party vendors that can speed up your time to launch or to add new functionality when you need it in the future. Check out a complete list of accelerators for pre-built integrations here.

What happens if something isn't working outside of the core commerce platform and I don't know what to do?

A Composable Commerce approach can seem complicated just down to the sheer number of vendors a brand may need for their solution. A significant number of 'build with us' platforms will leave the onus on your eCommerce or third-party vendor's developer team to diagnose and address an issue. To be sure you are in safe hands, consider the following:

  • How can I tell if the problem is with a third-party integration or the commerce platform?
  • Can I call you to help diagnose and resolve any potential issues that may arise?

Elastic Path has a 99.99% SLA uptime; regardless, we still believe in providing a solution that works for you rather than dropping tools in your lap and sending you on your way. Composable Commerce XA™ de-risks multi-vendor solutions by offering support across all of your applications so when an issue arises, you have one point of contact- Elastic Path.

Still, have questions on what a good fit for your needs is? Please chat with us now, we're always happy to help guide you to ensure your brand has the solution it needs to deliver results for your business and your customers.

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