A decade or two ago, eCommerce might have seemed to be reserved for large corporations with annual revenues in the hundred millions. For the past several years, however, the barriers to entry for online commerce are so low and the potential returns so high that establishing an online store should be an integral part of virtually every business plan. Opting for pure conventional commerce is no longer viable.
So you’ve either already set up an online storefront or are actively pursuing a digital commerce solutions. That’s great, but is it enough?
The woes of digital solitude
You might discover that their eCommerce platform is a rather solitary creature that doesn’t play well with the rest of your organization’s digital ecosystem. It might have its own set of reports and dashboards, separate from reports on your financials and internal operations… or it might not have these reports at all. The former scenario is far from ideal, while the latter is simply unacceptable.
In addition to reconciling reports from multiple sources, your staff will probably spend several hours each week manually rekeying customer and product information between your eCommerce platform and other information systems like your ERP platform, warehouse management software, or shipping solution. Those lost hours would be better spent closing sales or serving customers.
Disconnected eCommerce and warehouse management systems slow down your pay-to-order cycle. The longer it takes to process an order and ship the right product, the higher your cost will be per order. Factor in the errors resulting from manual entry and the potential costs are even higher. If your order processing workflow involves email or spreadsheets, then there is ample room for improvement.
Using a standalone eCommerce system also makes it trickier to inform online shoppers about product availability. If your inventory management solution isn’t integrated with your online store, how will shoppers know whether the items they want are in stock?
The cross-channel conundrum
For most retailers, however, eCommerce is just one slice of their sales pie. Your business probably has old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores, a wholesale business, or even telephone shopping where customers choose products out of a printed catalog.
Bringing together current and accurate information from each of these channels is extremely useful. You can enable cross-channel fulfillment, allowing customers to pay using one channel, receive items using a second, and return items using a third. You can maintain a shared inventory so that your customers have access to your complete product catalog no matter how they choose to shop. You can also provide consistently excellent customer service by sharing customers’ complete support and order history across call centers, retail locations, and fulfillment centers.
Without digital integration across eCommerce, supply chain, and finance, efficient cross-channel fulfillment, inventory, and support is virtually impossible. Many businesses maintain separate product catalogs, customer records, and delivery information for their various retail channels. They spend a lot of time asking their customers to repeat their personal details and reason for calling. They miss sale opportunities because some products aren’t available via a particular channel. They require customers to return to their point of purchase for exchanges and refunds. In short, they fail to offer their customers excellent customer service.
Integration using a pre-built integration solution
Integrating eCommerce with the rest of your business systems is a great investment, but there’s more than one way to achieve unified commerce. Some retailers embark on custom enterprise integration projects, which tend to be expensive and time-consuming. However, it’s possible to achieve the same results more affordably and in less time using ready-made integration solutions designed specifically for eCommerce platforms.
While pre-built integration solutions usually offer better ROI than custom integration, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.
Get an integration solution that supports bidirectional integration. If you want to synchronize business information between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics 365, for example, the integration solution needs to send order information from Magento to Dynamics 365 and inventory information from Dynamics 365 to Magento to be truly effective.
Make sure that the integration solution deploys quickly. It should be compatible with your eCommerce platform and ERP system to enable rapid integration out of the box. Since more and more digital business solutions like eCommerce and ERP platforms are moving to the cloud, the solution should support cloud-based solutions.
You should choose an integration solution by a provider that offers complete implementation and support services. Ideally, their operational model should include both onshore and offshore components to give you an optimal mix of responsiveness and cost-effectiveness.
eCommerce has become an essential part of every successful business, but setting up an online store is only half the battle. It is just as important to establish automatic communication between your eCommerce system and other digital business solutions like your ERP system and warehouse management solution. For more information on how a pre-built eCommerce integration solution can improve operational efficiency with optimal time to value, please talk to a Visionet expert.