While there may be a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the retail market today, one thing is certain. The market for enterprise software — solutions that retailers rely on to run their online businesses and satisfy customer expectations — is exploding.
There are more than 3,000 software vendors in the e-commerce space alone, offering a wide variety of solutions from web site platforms and shopping cart technology to mobile commerce and digital payment. And all signs point to continued growth. In fact, the number of enterprise software vendors is growing 20 percent each year.
While a robust retail software market is a sign of a healthy e-commerce environment, it can also pose challenges to retailers looking to find just the right solution for their business. The numbers of options and dearth of useful industry and competitive data can prove overwhelming.
Simply put, whether companies are looking to upgrade an existing technology solution or implement a new technology, navigating through the plethora of options can be a daunting task.
In order to simplify the process, we surveyed enterprise technology decision-makers. We asked them to identify the most important questions to ask when evaluating software. What we learned was insightful and can prove invaluable as buyers of retail e-commerce software attempt to find the perfect solutions for their businesses.
1) Is There a Comprehensive List of Enterprise Technologies That Solve My Need?
Much like we wouldn’t start out on a road trip without access to a map, neither should buyers attempt to navigate the enterprise software market without some “route guidance.”
This need has nothing to do with the experience or quality of the buyer and everything to do with the changing nature of the market. It’s nearly impossible for buyers to keep up with the slew of mergers, acquisitions and new vendors in the industry.
And even if a buyer gets a handle on the industry, he or she needs to ensure that the vendors with whom they partner can support their business size. This may mean weeding out vendors that serve smaller companies and focusing on enterprise-capable vendors.
Therefore, it is wise for decision-makers to start their search by asking for a list of enterprise-focused vendors within a specific solution category.
2) What Vendors Do My Competitors Use?
Asking this question when looking for software may seem like the easy way out, but it’s actually a clever approach. In fact, I would argue that it’s irresponsible not to know what technologies others in your space are investing in.
The main reason is because someone else has already done the work for you and has vetted the numerous options out there. Competitors are often faced with similar challenges, share a comparable business size and have many of the same business needs. So conducting some competitive research to identify the solutions that have worked for your competitors allows the wisdom of the crowds to do the heavy lifting on your behalf.
3) What are Thought Leaders in My Industry Using?
Now that we know learning from our competitors is a savvy strategy, it’s important to discern exactly which competitors we should be learning from. It’s critical to identify who the thought leaders are in your industry and learn what works for them and take advantage of the technologies that these influencers use.
Remember, a thought leader in social media strategy is very different from a thought leader in Big Data. Find the thought leader most relevant to your business and learn what works for them.
4) What Is Compatible With My Software Stack?
As technology becomes more complex and software stacks continue to grow, the decision-making process when buying enterprise software gets even more complicated. Not only do buyers need to determine the best solution for their needs, but they must also determine if the product is compatible with their existing solution.
Decision-makers need to know, for example, that the cartridge or APIs are available to connect technologies. And equally as important, decision-makers should see proof that their peers or competitors are successfully deploying this combination of technologies. Again, let the wisdom of the crowds vet your choices.
5) What Is the Vendor’s Market Share?
When looking for software, it’s certainly helpful to know which vendor is the 800-pound gorilla that dominates the market.
It’s safe to say the vendor with the dominant market share likely offers the leading technology to serve a specific vertical. But be certain that the vendor is in fact serving your vertical. Just because a market-leading vendor offers an innovative solution to the apparel industry doesn’t mean that same solution will be as effective in the beauty market.
Clearly, the common denominator in all of the answers to the above questions is information. Information is the key to successfully navigating the $620 billion enterprise software industry. Decision-makers in the market for enterprise software need to be informed —1 informed about available technologies, competition, software compatibility and market share. Attempting to make software decisions that will best serve your business, allow for growth and satisfy customer expectations without this information is risky at best.
Buyers making high-stake decisions that impact their existing technology platforms and their bottom line should take advantage of the robust data and deep insights available in the market today. While this may only be the first step in your decision-making process, it will certainly make the selection process much easier.
Cindy Lincks is chief executive officer and founder at Reachify.
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