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Apr 08 2022

GSA Looks to Scale Up New E-Commerce Platform

The General Services Administration has indicated it will expand a new governmentwide online portal for procurement.

After 18 months of testing, the General Services Administration has signaled its plans to expand a new government e-commerce platform designed to make the purchase of low-cost goods easier for agencies.

The GSA portal, known as the Commercial Platforms Initiative, could grow beyond its current model, according to a request for information the agency released in March.

In June 2020, the GSA issued three no-cost contracts to three e-commerce companies. The goal was to test the use of commercial e-commerce portals for purchases below the micropurchase threshold of $10,000. The program formally launched in August 2020.

In the past 18 months, the pilot program grew from 350 buyers at four agencies to more than 40,000 eligible buyers across more than 20 participating agencies. The GSA says the feedback it has received from those testing the platform has spurred it to think more expansively.

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GSA Focuses on E-Commerce User Experience for Feds

The RFI makes clear that the GSA is intent on rolling out an e-commerce platform that users actually enjoy using and find intuitive. The business model is less relevant, according to the agency.   

“Buyer feedback has significantly improved GSA’s understanding of the e-commerce landscape, with the buyer’s experience emerging as the top priority area,” the RFI notes. “This feedback underscores the need to think beyond any previously identified business models, given that they were identified more than 5 years ago. The market has evolved and so too has GSA’s understanding of the environment.”

Government buyers, the GSA notes, are “more interested in a given platform’s user experience, and the features on that platform to help them accomplish their mission more efficiently, as opposed to the type of platform or business model it operates.”

A key focus of the pilot so far has been looking at user feedback to determine whether it is delivering an innovative customer experience. The GSA has conducted three customer surveys, done user interviews and has solicited customer feedback in other ways.

RELATED: Learn how supply chain issues pose issues for federal IT purchasers.

So far, the pilot gets high marks, with a customer satisfaction score of 9 out of 10, and strong levels of satisfaction in the areas of time savings (92 percent) and price competitiveness (90 percent).

Despite that, the GSA is looking to push its e-commerce efforts further, according to the RFI. Government buyers see the platform as a “managed channel” for their open-market online spending, “and have asked how GSA can expand and broaden the pool of participating providers, to include other online retailers,” the RFI notes.

The fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act requires the GSA to start testing other commercial models beyond those used in the initial pilot.

The GSA is seeking industry feedback on the “features and processes that buyers need to efficiently and cost effectively purchase in this space, and to allow those providers that offer those capabilities the ability to participate.”

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