Business system integration crucial to e-commerce success

Business system integration crucial to e-commerce success

There’s no point in investing heavily in an e-commerce site if it doesn’t provide the visits to translate into sales. Joining an existing online market-place may help solve that problem but in both cases if your systems aren’t efficiently automated, you’ll end up annoying your customers.

Despite large investments, many e-commerce sites end up on the virtual backstreets of the web with no visitors. The threat of such an expensive mistake is enough to put many retailers off the investment especially if you don’t have a single strong brand guaranteed to drive traffic to the site. This is where existing online market-places can be an important, but often overlooked, part of your e-commerce strategy. These online market­places have already built the traffic that you need to make sales, being essentially, the web equivalent of a shopping mall with existing foot traffic and comparatively low rent.

Typically, the costs associated with online market-places are in the form of commissions paid on every sale and while this may grate with many shop owners when the numbers are com­pared to the large upfront investment and risks involved in building your own e-commerce site, they start to look very attractive.

They also provide a low-risk entry into e-commerce so you can experiment and sort out the business challenges such as shipping of goods to custom­ers and integration into your existing business systems. Prove that the opportunity is real and you can then invest further in creating your own e-commerce presence.

Even after you’ve built your own e-commerce site, maintaining a presence on other market-places can be an important way of continuing to reach customers that you are not attracting to your own site. At the end of the day, a sale is a sale and you want to extend your reach to maximise the results.

Whether you leverage existing market-places, build your own site or have multiple e-commerce avenues, it’s vitally important that the business processes behind your e-commerce operations are in good order.

A good-looking site alone will not make customers return; on the web, as in the high street, customer service is often the deal breaker. Nothing destroys a consumer’s confidence more than delays or errors in shipping. This means a strategy is required to integrate customer information and orders from your various web market-places into your back-end business systems for immediate processing.

Customers expect their informa­tion and account details to travel with them through all their interactions with you be it at your store, on your own website or through your presence on third-party e-commerce market­places. In particular, VIP and Loyalty schemes need to be synchronised so you do not annoy your most valued customers.

To make this happen seamlessly you need to automate the flow of data both within your business systems and between those systems and the systems of suppliers and e-commerce platforms. Where bespoke point-to-point integration may work when building your own e-commerce website, using multiple online market-places throws up new challenges such as the different technolo­gies used by multiple systems to expose data. This means an integration platform is needed to provide a consistent ap­proach to managing your online stores.

Integration systems provide a central point to manage the synchronisation of product information, customer details, orders, invoices and payments between your various systems and let you repeat and edit the process with new systems without expensive custom coding.

Technology is not the only challenge when integrating multiple websites into your business systems; there is also the issue of the different business rules imposed on you by the various market-places you use such as how and what you can list for sale. These rules vary and are subject to change. An integration platform can provide a central point to manage these business rules issues optimally in a way that your staff can control without relying on programmers or outside consult­ants ensuring that product listings and, importantly, product quantities remain synchronised between all your market-places.

An integration platform can also help with the challenge of distribution to support multiple web stores which may be servicing different countries.

In these cases you may adopt a third-party logistics provider to store and ship your product to online customers and the integration platform can automate their dispatch when a customer orders providing a true 24/7 operation for your web stores.

Ultimately, e-commerce is no different to standard retailing a storefront is only as good as the efficiency of the systems backing it up and these should be transparent to the customer.

 

 

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