September 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

Shop.org panel advises retailers on how to choose e-commerce vendors

Retailers planning major e-commerce technology projects need to focus on matters most important to their business, be clear about their goals with vendors, and involve business and technological staff in setting project plans, a Shop.org panel said.

Retailers planning major e-commerce technology projects need to focus on matters most important to their business, be clear about their goals with vendors, and involve business and technological staff in setting project plans, a Shop.org panel said.

“Be clear what you want your platform to do, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of vendors,” said panel member Andrea Gulli, vice president of e-commerce at apparel retailer New York & Company. She noted that an e-commerce project can take six months to two years to implement, making it crucial for retailers to work out clear details about how a project’s goals.

Retailers should also include a cross-functional team in charge of the request-for-proposal process of getting project proposals and cost estimates from vendors, she said. The team should include members of the legacy I.T. staff, the e-commerce group and financial management department. “It’s important to for them to have confidence in the project,” Gulli said.

Among other advice, the panel said retailers should pay particular attention to both customer-facing front-end and back-end system requirements, determine the retailer’s competencies and non-competency areas, and determine where the merchant expects to be in technology needs in three to five years.

The panel also recommended that merchants open themselves to learning from vendors about technology options, but not to let vendors create requirements not important to the retailer’s goals.

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