How to Write an eCommerce Request for Proposal (RFP)


Consumer behaviors are making a drastic shift towards eCommerce, due to lockdowns, working from home, and spending nearly all of our time in our homes.

Now may be the right time to focus on rebuilding your online store, and if you’re unsure what to do, we have a guide so you can create a truly killer eCommerce RFP (Request For Proposal).  eCommerce has gone from something that is nice to have, to a complete necessity across all industries. If your company has neglected digital commerce, there’s a strong likelihood you’re working on getting an online store up and running. We see that the technologies used to build those first online stores have become old and brittle, and they are not able to keep up with modern Content Management Systems (CMS) and commerce platforms. This technical debt forces many companies to look for a new solution to run their online stores along with other B2B and eCommerce needs. There are several traps to avoid, particularly early on when making big strategic decisions.

Here are some ways to avoid the most common strategic pitfalls:   

  • Don’t let management set an unrealistic timeline. Be sure to set aside enough time for initial planning.
  • Organization – 1 -3 months
  • Planning and executing the RFP and sales process – 2-3 months
  • Project execution – 3-6 months  
  • Don’t let management set an unrealistic budget. With a brick and mortar presence, companies know what to expect when it comes to opening a new branch. A digital branch will have similar fixed costs and initial investments required to get the site up and running. Plan to spend as much on your online store as you would a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Understand business needs before going to your internal IT teams.
  • Don’t let management insist your current IT teams can complete the project. Your current team is an expert at managing what they currently have and are not experts in the new technologies. You will need help, so expect to use an outside implementation partner to get started. 
  • Don’t go online and start evaluating new platforms. You don’t know what you need yet, and this will slow down the process, as your focus needs to start with your business needs and goals.  

You must treat a digital transformation like any other major project, and answer the essential questions. One great approach is to create a high-quality Request for Proposal (RFP). With a well-executed RFP in hand, you will address all those questions and be able to provide the key information any team may need to build or rebuild your eCommerce platform. 

At Luminos Labs, we read a lot of RFPs, and we believe we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. It’s even possible to predict the digital agility of a company from the information in an eCommerce RFP. A bad RFP can set you up for failure, and that’s why we’d like to share an approach for creating an RFP that works. 

13 Steps to a Killer eCommerce RFP 

  1. Why a new website, and why now?
  2. Identify all of the eCommerce stakeholders
  3. Determine goals and objectives 
  4. Evaluate the current solution
  5. Review the competitors and industry
  6. All the integration of the current website
  7. Determine your user’s needs
  8. Identify your customer’s needs
  9. Document your key eCommerce features
  10. Prioritize the eCommerce features
  11. Write the RFP
  12. Identify potential implementation partners
  13. Pick an implementation partner 

The key ingredient in this approach is prioritizing the questions and answer the most important ones first. Tackling a new eCommerce project in this way will allow you to determine what solution is critical to the company, get buy-in from the internal teams, and have a clear statement of solution needs.  

Step #1 – Why a new website, and why now? - The first thing you should determine is how necessary a new eCommerce experience is to your company and how do I quantify the problem. What’s at stake? At a high level, who is impacted by this change, or failure to change? Why do you need to rebuild the eCommerce platform and online solutions? Then ask, Why now? It’s vital to ensure the executive and management teams agree on the answers to these questions.   

Step #2 – Identify all the eCommerce stakeholders – Determine who in the company will be affected by this change. You need to meet with them to understand how they interact with your current eCommerce platform and online store and exactly what they want in the new solution.   

Step #3 – Determine goals and objectives - It is crucial at this point to determine 1-5 goals and 5-15 objectives for this project. The goals should specifically address the needs of the company, and the objectives should achieve the goals. Agreement with the executive team and stakeholders is critical as these goals and objectives will keep everyone heading in the same direction. 

Step #4 – Evaluate the current solution - Ask important questions about the current solution: What features are critical? What works well that you want to keep? What doesn’t work well? It is helpful to try to monetize each feature on your website and rank by its importance of value.  

Step #5 – Review the competitors and industry - This is an excellent time to look at what your competitors are doing and make a list of the things you want. Also, look at other online stores outside of your product area and identify what you like. Determine if this would be helpful for your customers and include it in your list of desired features.  

Step #6 – List all the integrations of your current website - It’s time to talk to your colleagues in IT and compile a list of the systems that must connect to the eCommerce platform (ERP, order management system, inventory system, credit card processing service, tax system shipping services, etc.). Now is an excellent time to produce a list of cybersecurity requirements as well. 

Step #7 – Determine your user’s needs - Users are people inside the company who interact with the site. These are often merchandising teams that are creating products, planning teams that are setting prices, creative teams creating content and images, and marketing teams planning promotions. Determine who all of these users are, what they do, what they like, and what they want to change. 

Step #8 – Identify your customer’s needs - Who are your end consumers? Work to identify 2-4 profiles of types of customers that buy from you. Then talk with these customers for feedback on what they like and don’t like about the site. 

Step #9 – Document your key eCommerce features - Now that you have compiled all of this information, you can start to create a list of the key tools and features for the new website. 

Step #10 – Prioritize the eCommerce features - Understand you will likely not get everything that you want for your eCommerce platform and online store. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize the features into three equal groups of importance: critical, significant, and important. Critical features are non-negotiable and must be included in the new site. Significant features are those that fall into the next category of providing business value, but not being critical to the site. Lastly, important features may affect one or two departments or a few end-users and have business value for them, but not as much on a global level.  

Step #11 – Write the RFP - If you have followed the previous steps, this should be easy. You can create a structured document that includes all the things you have uncovered, starting with your goals and objectives, including the details of all the roles and customers, providing details on integration, and finishing with your prioritized features. 

Step #12 – Identify potential implementation partners - Now you can research possible platforms and implementation partners. Once evaluated, you can send the RFP and prepare to move to the next phase of the project. 

Step #13 – Pick an implementation partner - After receiving the responses from the partners, compare their responses with your preferred answers, and then choose the partner that best meets your needs.   

As you can see, there is a lot of work required before you even start replacing your outdated eCommerce solution and online store. We hope this 13-step plan helps you transform your business and please contact Luminos Labs to learn more and to discover your digital agility and digital transformation ROI.

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