eCommerce is a broad field encompassing many industries and types of software. To many people, this is a confusing term, since it is often interchangeable with other, related words. In this article, we cut through the noise, understanding eCommerce integration and what it means for your business. We also discuss why this is important for your business success and how to go about the integration process.
What is eCommerce?
eCommerce is short for electronic commerce. Simply put, this is a system where goods and services and bought and sold using electronic systems, like the internet. To make sense of these transactions, some data, such as inventory and pricing information, travel along with the transaction data.
While eCommerce predates the internet (it started in the 1980s), it has, of late, become almost entirely dependent on the internet. Features like group buying, private sales, and social commerce form part of eCommerce as the field continually evolves. Both small and large businesses use eCommerce to supply the demand for retail convenience. People want to purchase things 24/7 from the comfort of their living room, and they want things to work well.
To this end, businesses use a wide range of websites and website models to fuel online shopping. The downside is that these websites often don’t integrate well with other, existing processes, and inventory management software packages.
What is eCommerce Integration?
Linking your online shop or retail website to your inventory system, order management, and accounting systems is essential for success today. Customers should know whether or not the item they want to buy is in stock. Refunds should go through seamlessly regardless of the channel the customer used. Likewise, your CRM systems should have a full and complete view of the customer’s order history.
Sure, you could manually update all this information, but that would take an inordinate amount of time and resources. The information on your website would then also be constantly out of date, exasperating customers and staff alike. Alternatively, you could link your retail website to the back-end accounting and inventory system. This accounting system or ERP (enterprise resource planning) software – there are also a wide variety of software packages on the market to this end.
Proper integration is essential.
Proper integration of all these systems allows for full automation, resulting in an update on all systems, i.e. bi-directional data flow. Here, inventory levels update automatically at each step in the process. You will know when the product is available on the eCommerce website. It would be clear when the product leaves or enters a warehouse. Moreover, it is easy to monitor when the entire transaction is complete. Initially, these updates occurred in batches, once or twice daily. Recently, however, advances in technology allow for real-time or near-real-time data flow, keeping your site up to date, to the minute.
We work with companies all the time trying to solve this problem. The scope varies dramatically depending on the specific needs, but consider this recent example.
The customer operates three different websites one on Shopify, one on BigCommerce, and another using WooCommerce on their own server. They also sell through several different marketplaces. They have an Amazon Seller Marketplace Account, an eBay account, and Lazada. All have different requirements for integration. Further complicating matters are the different payment systems and methods applied from each channel. And finally, to make matters worse, all inventory is shipped from a third-party warehouse vendor or 3PL.
Lastly, your bank, accountant, and shareholders need a consolidated view of this information in a proper accounting system.
To say the least, doing this right is hard.
When eCommerce integration allows for real-time updates, the pricing, inventory, order, and shipping information available to staff and customers are up-to-date, easing the process flow. The added benefit is that this is all handled automatically, decreasing the need for staff on hand to complete transactions.
Why is eCommerce Integration Important?
Often, businesses rely on a variety of different packages for their eCommerce websites, business operations, and ERP systems. Too often, these software packages can’t communicate with each other, hampering the integration process. Here, staff members suffer exasperation as they untangle the mass of conflicting messages. Their task is figuring out what was sold, at what price, and what’s left in the inventory. This disconnect severely hampers business flow and thus the profit margins and customer experience.
Customers Want a Seamless Experience
Customers expect a seamless experience in brand interaction, regardless of the type of interaction they choose. They expect the information on your website to be accurate and up to date, and they expect smooth sailing in purchasing your goods or services. This is where eCommerce integration enters the picture. If customers have a disjointed experience with your brand, fuelled by systems that can’t talk to each other, they are unlikely to return or recommend the brand to others.
With proper integration, your eCommerce, business operations, and ERP systems “talk” to each other in real-time, resulting in accurate, up-to-date information displaying on all your platforms, both front-end, and back-end. Here, customers know whether the goods or services they require, are available and when to expect delivery. With correct pricing information, your bottom line is protected as well.
With eCommerce integration, shipping addresses update automatically. The customer types in their own delivery address, which is then used across the entire purchasing process. You no longer have human error entering into misspelling addresses, resulting in late deliveries and frustrated customers. The integration allows for automatic shipping notifications, enabling customers to track deliveries from when they ordered to when the package arrives at their door.
Another benefit of proper integration is in handling returns. This is especially relevant for online fashion retailers – customers often change their minds and return products. Traditionally, this was a nightmare for online retailers, since the return process was handled manually. Integration automates even this process, saving time for your employees and simplifying the process for the customer.
Saves Time and Money
Integration has the added benefit of real-time sales tracking and statistical analysis. Since the process is fully automated, you no longer have staff members cranking away at the hidden machinery, updating inventories, and tracking sales manually. For companies with large sales volumes, this process was traditionally a full-time job for entire teams of people. These teams are now free to do work of greater value to your company, saving both time and money. Automation is the way of the future. With automation, you have the added benefit of eliminating human error, something that often occurs when entering data manually.
Manage Increased Sales Volumes Easily
Since eCommerce integration allows for automatic updates on all your linked systems, you save time on data entry. In the past, an uptick in sales meant hours in front of a screen, manually keying in sales figures, and finding mistakes to match up your online and actual inventories. With the automatic updates resulting from proper integration, you will know exact inventory levels in real-time. When merchants experience an increase in sales volume, they know immediately and can thus act immediately if needed. This integration also prevents overselling, which is a definite benefit to the merchant.
An uptick in sales used to mean a mad dash to get more inventory, as you only know that you’re running low on a product when it’s already too late. Proper integration adds a buffer, buying you time to supplement inventory levels if needed. Real-time access to this data shortens your staff members’ reaction time as well.
Often, increased sales volume is the result of extended marketplaces. This often happens when you add an additional website to your eCommerce arsenal. With proper integration, you can do this without losing operational efficiency. Your customers won’t even know the difference.
Online Retail is on the Rise
According to eMarketer, global retail eCommerce sales could account for as much as $4 trillion at the end of 2020. This staggering amount accounts for 14.6% of the forecasted retail spending of the year. Of course, these numbers might change dramatically in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to news reports, online spending is on the rise with the increase of social distancing measures and the advent of the touch-free economy. Getting your business in line with the latest market trends is essential to stay ahead of the pack.
How do I Integrate eCommerce?
eCommerce integration, if done right, is a smooth process with minimal disruption to the workflow and other business operations. Here, two or more systems that can’t work together are “taught” to work together, facilitating bi-directional data flow. For this to work smoothly, minimizing the effect on your customers and staff members, you need the right people on the job. Industry experts, such as the teams from APIworx, understand your concerns regarding integration, and they know the challenges you face without integration.
Before lifting a finger to integrate your current systems, you need to understand where you’re headed. This will help clarify which systems and solutions are needed for successful integration. Our team has the relevant experience to make this happen with minimal disruption to your current systems and optimal performance of the integrated system.
For new businesses, this road is far simpler, since they can factor in eCommerce integration from the get-go. There are many “all-in-one” software packages available that allow for integration across all aspects of a growing business. Here, choosing the right solution for your business is simpler and potentially less expensive than after-the-fact integration options.
eCommerce is on the rise, taking over market share at a rapid rate. To keep up with current and future global demands, eCommerce integration is essential for all online retailers. For new businesses, this integration is simple, since they can choose an all-in-one software package to help them on their way. Established businesses that are not yet integrated, have a more challenging road ahead of them. For them, finding the right integration solution is essential – that’s where APIworx can help.