Rising technology demands across all types of commerce have steepened the curve when it comes answering RFPs. Our RFPs and Rising Technology Demands series examines the state of the modern RFP, what big customers want, and the path to winning the business.
RFPs for company stores are likely to feature a number of requirements concerning visibility, budget control, payment processing, security, who has access to which portions of the site, and how or how fast orders are fulfilled.
Employers often need to equip their staff with uniforms and apparel, stationary and office items, promotional products and more – all of them branded.
Sourcing, procuring, decorating, fulfilling, shipping and budgeting for these items, however, often falls outside of the core competencies of the employer. For example, a large medical employer may need nurses’ scrubs or other uniforms for hundreds or even thousands of employees spread across dozens of facilities. But the employer’s strength is in medical care, not branded apparel.
This is where digital company stores come in. A company store is a dedicated ecommerce storefront where employees can purchase the items that are required for their jobs, usually with a cost center, stipend, or other form of budgetary control and spend management. The work is often outsourced to a third-party who sets up and maintains the company store and manages the fulfillment of the orders that employees place. Frequently, the prospective third-parties are solicited via a Request for Proposal.
RFPs for company stores are likely to feature a number of requirements concerning visibility, budget control, payment processing, security, who has access to which portions of the site, and how or how fast orders are fulfilled. The RFP requirements are also likely to necessitate automation and integration between the company storefront and the distributor back-office business management system, and also potentially with the employer back-office system. At the same time, the distributor operating the company store will want automation and integration that makes its own job easier or that may simply be necessary to fulfill within the parameters set by the RFP.
Here, we’ll explore some of the features that employers commonly request in RFPs for company stores and how you, as a distributor or fulfillment house, can meet the requirements to win the RFP.
The employer still requires visibility and control. The spend, after all, still belongs to the employer.
While the employer outsourcing the company store through a Request for Proposal does so because it wants a third-party distributor to manage the sourcing, procuring, decorating, fulfilling, shipping and more for the program, the employer still requires visibility and control. The spend, after all, still belongs to the employer, which will want to control the spend and see at any time how much has been spent and on what. The expectation is that the distributor will manage the payment processing and accompanying PCI compliance, as well.
Cost centers are a department within a business to which costs can be allocated. In the company store arrangement, a budget would be assigned to the cost center and then as employees purchase items from the store, costs are allocated to the cost center. Whether the costs are for uniforms, office supplies, or marketing or promotional items, the cost center provides a defined budget at the company level and a single point of visibility for the overall spend of the program. A detailed cost center would provide information on how much was spent on which items, effectively acting as a supporting tool, but the cost center can also be used for budget enforcement. Certain employees may be allocated certain amounts of the spend and rules can be enforced about what to do when the limits are reached, whether it’s to stop transactions or to pay overages with something other than the cost center budget.
Since the employer is not directly managing the day-to-day, order-to-order, the RFP may seek require the ability to batch orders for invoicing purposes. Rather than pay for each small order as its placed by potentially hundreds of employees across dozens of facilities, the RFP issuer may prefer to pay in one sum at the end of the month or on another regular interval. Consolidated invoicing becomes a valuable tool for the distributor. The distributor is able to combine all of the smaller invoices into one large invoice at the end of the month or the end of another time period, and provide that to the employer, allowing the employer to pay once per month instead of dozens or hundreds of times for smaller orders.
The employer is devoting spend to the company store – but it doesn’t want unlimited spending. The employer will want controls in place to make sure that employees aren’t spending over their allotted voucher, stipend, or budget. The automated cost center can be used as a hard enforcement tool. Additionally, the company store should support credit holds that prevent buyers from exceeding their limits or and can’t buy on net terms, COD, or other arrangements that permit after-the-fact payment.
The employer buyer issuing a Request for Proposal for a company store is likely to require controls concerning who is authorized to purchase, when, and under what circumstances.
As an offshoot of budgeting and spend management, the employer buyer issuing a Request for Proposal for a company store is likely to require controls concerning who is authorized to purchase, when, and under what circumstances. The issuer under almost all circumstances is likely also to require that payment card processing and PCI compliance rest with the distributor since the distributor is the one processing the sales and taking payment.
The RFP will almost certainly require the distributor who’s conducting the sales to process the payments for those sales, including payment card payments. This will require the company store ecommerce platform and/or the distributor back-office business management system to accommodate payment card processing, which typically happens through a third-party like USAePay or Payeezy. A built-in payment processor that meets payment card processing standards.
Payment card processing is accompanied by an alphabet soup of payment card compliance, most notably Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS, or PCI Compliance), which is a lengthy list of security requirements for companies who process payments and hold sensitive data, like credit card data. There are two ways to lighten the compliance load. One is to use the third-party payment card processor. The other is never to hold the payment card data at all. Tokenization allows companies to replace the payment card data with a token, a randomized string of characters that represent the card and allows the card to be processed, while the actual payment card data itself resides with the third-party processor who specializes in this type of security.
The company store arrangement features various employees buying at various times, which the employer will want to control. The employer will want to control who buys: a brand-new hire might be provided a budget for uniforms or while the hire from six months ago should no longer have access. A company store that supports permissions, so that only the right employees can enter and buy, may be required; permissions may need to be enforced at the site level, email domain level, by the IP address, or by combinations. An additional requirement may be Single Sign On, where the employee logs onto the employer system which then provides permission to the company store.
The way for the distributor to meet turnaround times required by the RFP comes down to integration.
The fulfillment requirements of company store RFPs often come down to turnaround times. And the way for the distributor to meet those turnaround times comes down to integration. Essent had one distributor providing a company store where the employer required half-day turnaround times: an employee who bought before noon was required to receive the item before the end of the day. It’s virtually impossible to meet such a rapid turnaround without integration between the ecommerce platform, customer relationship management (CRM), order management, fulfillment/warehouse and other facets of business.
An RFP might not specifically require that the company store integrate with the distributor’s back office. But from the practical standpoint of meeting turnaround times, or just general efficiency for the distributor, it’s essential that the ecommerce platform integrate with the back office. This way, complete, accurate orders with business rules enforced can flow from the website into the back office ready for immediate processing. The alternative, re-keying with the time it takes and the error opportunities it creates, would greatly slow turnaround times, not to mention becoming a time and labor drain for the distributor.
Another item that likely would not be listed on the RFP but would still effectively be a requirement is integration with the distributor warehouse or fulfillment system. If it takes an order half a day or more to reach the warehouse or fulfillment, the turnaround time will be lengthened – and a half-day turnaround would be impossible – especially since the items are branded. The branding may necessitate the involvement of a decorator, which takes more time. Unless the already decorated items are routinely in stock, which may be the case, then the fulfillment portion will be lengthier than the standard pick, pack, and ship. An integrated system that can communicate orders to the warehouse and fulfillment immediately and with minimal manual intervention is a must.
RFPs do often require that the employer buyer has visibility to inventory. There may be a consignment arrangement where the employer does in fact own the inventory that the distributor is holding. Even if not, the inventory is dedicated for the employer’s purchasing and the employer buyer will want to know what’s there. As it pertains to turnaround times, the distributor may have manufacture on demand or order on demand arrangements that don’t require inventory on hand at a given moment; but if someone orders inventory that’s supposed to be on hand and isn’t, it will lead to a turnaround time that might fall within the bounds of the RFP requirement.
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Essent is the leading provider of fully-integrated business management software solutions and services for process-intensive industries and the largest trading network for the promotional products industry. The Essent family of fully-integrated products and services combines best practices, business processes, software automation, and network communications to deliver unparalleled, unified business management solutions. Since 1980, Essent has offered the systems, service, software, and support critical to success in today's highly-competitive marketplace.