For many manufacturers and wholesale distributors, selecting an eCommerce provider is a top priority for 2016. A recent study by Forrester Research found that B2B eCommerce transactions in the US grew 40% from $559b in 2013 to an estimated $780b by the end of 2015, with 74% of B2B buyers doing research online and 30% completing at least half of their work purchases online.

But simply making the decision to implement eCommerce doesn’t guarantee success: choosing a B2B eCommerce software vendor to handle your online business is also a decision that will have long-term ramifications for your business.

That’s why it is crucial to take great care and know the right questions to ask. Following a structured and proven selection process––rather than “winging it”––is also important. In this post, we’re going to provide some tips for evaluating eCommerce providers, as well as a template of questions you should be asking both internally within your business, as well as to the vendors you will be considering.

How to Evaluate eCommerce Providers: Questions You Should Be Asking

Carefully Assess Your Business Needs

Many of the most important questions you will ask in the selection process will not be pointed towards the eCommerce providers you are considering, but rather, at your internal stakeholders. Take a careful look at where your business is now, and ask where you want to see it within the next year, two years or five years. How different or similar does the future you envision look when compared to where you are now?

A few questions to ask:

  • What do we need to be able to do that we currently can’t?
  • Will mobile be an important part of our eCommerce strategy?
  • What are our goals for the eCommerce side of our business? How will we measure success?
  • What changes do we foresee for our business over the next few years?

Look at Your Existing IT Capabilities

Assess carefully what your company’s current IT capabilities are, as this may be an important consideration as far as the type of solution you select. For instance, a company with minimal IT expertise in-house will want to consider a Software-as-a-Service eCommerce provider rather than a custom solution that requires constant, ongoing IT expertise and investment.

Questions to ask:

  • What skills and knowledge does our IT team need to use the provider’s solution?
  • Do we need to upgrade, replace or add on to current systems to implement our ecommerce strategy?
  • How can we seamlessly integrate our existing systems with our eCommerce platform?

Consider the Total Cost

Many companies make the mistake of considering only the upfront costs (such as licensing or subscription fees) without thinking about the ongoing maintenance costs involved.

This is a big mistake. Companies can spend nearly five times as much on services and maintenance of their e-commerce software than they do on the original platform, while annual maintenance can run up to 20% of the original software cost.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the licensing or subscription fee?
  • What will be the cost of future upgrades, or are they included?
  • What is the cost to maintain the eCommerce solution over its lifecycle?

Study Your Competition

Gather information to determine what solutions your competitors or others in your industry are using. It stands to reason that if an eCommerce provider is able to provide a solution for companies similar to yours, they may be able to provide one that works for you as well.

You will also want to make sure that the provider is able to accommodate larger brands with larger catalogs, so that you can be sure that the solution will scale as your business grows.

Questions to ask include:

  • Do you have current customers in my industry using your solution?
  • How will this eCommerce solution scale with my business?

Know What to Expect During the Implementation

You need to understand what to expect during the implementation process itself. A clear definition of roles is important so that you understand the responsibilities of the vendor, your IT team, and any other organizations or individuals that may be involved.

Some implementations, particularly SaaS eCommerce applications, can be managed with minimal impact to your business. Others, such as custom-built software, can require much more involvement from your team or an outside consulting firm. You also need to know what to expect if things go wrong.

Questions to ask include:

  • What is the normal process for implementing this software?
  • How much involvement will my IT team need to have? Who else needs to be involved?
  • If problems occur, how will they be resolved?
  • Tell us how you handled problems on a past project, and how those issues were resolved.

Make a Plan for Mobile

Mobile eCommerce is one of the most important considerations you should look at as you compare eCommerce providers, because B2B mobile commerce is quickly becoming just as important as B2B eCommerce in general.

Questions to ask include:

  • How is the eCommerce solution optimized for mobile use – is it just mobile responsive, or is a native app available?
  • How does the eCommerce solution handle promotions on mobile?
  • Is the mobile experience consistent with the desktop experience?

Choosing an eCommerce provider to handle the online side of your B2B business is one of the most impactful decisions your company is likely to make, so it is important to consider your options carefully and choose the right one.

Is your company evaluating eCommerce providers? What questions are you asking? Let us know in the comments.