eCommerce Integration: Preparing for Project Challenges

Written by Jillian Hufford
    

Hands Typing on LaptopOperating a growing online business can take several systems to do so like your eCommerce platform, order management system, ERP and 3PL providers. With numerous systems in place, merchants often find themselves sharing the same data repeatedly between them like orders, inventory counts, product listings and customer data.

How efficient are your processes? Do you find yourself making mistakes or slowing down fulfillment? Do you wish your systems were integrated?

In this article, we’ll cover the benefits of eCommerce integration and some of the common challenges of integrating your systems. This will help you better prepare for a successful integration project.

What Is eCommerce Integration?

First, what do we mean by eCommerce integration?

eCommerce integration is the transfer of data between your eCommerce platform and other critical systems such as an ERP, inventory management, order management, 3PLs, point-of-sale, marketplace accounts and more. Integration allows for the bidirectional flow of data between your systems, so you only need to enter the data once into a system.

For example, do you commonly take an online order and then have to decimate inventory levels in both your eCommerce platform and ERP? With integration, as soon as an order is placed, inventory counts would be updated in both systems. In this way, integration allows for automation between your systems.

Why Integrate Your eCommerce Business

Integration is key to delivering better customer experiences and running smoother operations. It saves you time and ensures data integrity across your organization – which powers you to deliver a consistent customer experience online.

First, integration replaces manual data entry and managing data Excel spreadsheets. Without integration, growing merchants often have full-time employees who spend their entire day hand-keying data from one system to the next. How does this scale during your peak season or when running flash sales?

Further, manual data entry lends itself to costly mistakes like entering a shipping address or SKU number wrong on an order. Or, you can’t update inventory counts quickly enough on your website which leads to overselling. Without integration, merchants often report spending more time in customer service trying to fix their own mistakes.

These pain points are frustrating for both your staff and customers. They’re usually what drives merchants to consider eCommerce integration to automate important processes like order fulfillment, inventory count synchronization, product catalog syndication and 3PL relationships.

Luckily, many apps for things like cart abandonment or loyalty programs will integrate natively with your eCommerce platform. Platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento have extensive marketplaces full of apps for instant download.

The bigger challenge for merchants is integrating standalone systems such as their ERP, POS or fulfillment software with their eCommerce platform. These systems weren’t built to “talk to” your eCommerce platform out-of-the-box, so they take serious configuration to integrate.

Common Challenges of eCommerce Integration

At first glance, integration projects can seem overwhelming. There’s a lot of options available that range in price and functionality. You’ll need to research partners and integration experts to find a solution based on your requirements.
If you’re considering integration but not sure what to expect, here are some common challenges of eCommerce integration projects you need to consider and prepare for:

What Do You Need to Integrate?

While you may use multiple systems to run your business, you might need to integrate all of them. Your first decision is evaluating and determining what you need to integrate first.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to lead you to that answer:

  1. What are your biggest pain points as a company?
  2. What’s negatively affecting your customer experience the most?
  3. Where are you losing the most money?
  4. What manual processes are you spending the most time on?

Understanding what processes are holding back your company will determine which systems need integrating. For example, let’s say inventory management and overselling is your biggest issue. You would need to connect the two systems that hold inventory counts such as your eCommerce platform and ERP.

In general, integration projects require merchants to take a serious look at your operations. You need to understand what processes need improvement and how data moves through your systems.  

Adding or Upgrading Your Systems

When evaluating your online business, sometimes you realize your processes aren’t the only thing that needs revamping. Is it your processes holding you back or your technology systems? This is a good time to evaluate if your eCommerce, ERP or POS system have the right functionality you need. You also might find that a legacy or on-premise system is hard to integrate and will limit your integration option.

It’s common for merchants to upgrade their systems, alongside their integration project. What’s the point of integrating your systems if your current eCommerce platform is bulky and cumbersome to use? Integration won’t solve all your problems.

In other cases, merchants also consider integration when expanding to new online sales channels like a new B2B site or marketplace. If you know the new platform needs to integrate to your current backend systems, it’ll be easier to narrow down your choices based on the new system.

Do you need to upgrade your logistics software? Read more about how to evaluate logistics software.

Evaluating eCommerce Integration Providers

The trickiest part of integration solutions is choosing the right approach. Do you build something in-house or do you leverage an out-of-the-box solution? No matter what the approach or provider is, here are some important criteria to consider:

Experience

Has the provider integrated your type of systems before? Do they usually work with eCommerce merchants?

Integration Approach

How are they integrating your systems? Will it be hardcoded (beware) or is it a middleware platform?

Support

Who’s going to support you during the process? Who maintains the integration?

Capabilities

Are they able to automate the processes you need?

B2B Experience

Do you need to integrate suppliers? Are they familiar with your B2B requirements?

Flexibility

How easy is it to add new sales channels or change your systems? This is important as you plan for future growth. You don’t want to have to replace your solution a year down the road because you outgrew it.

Real-Time Data Processing

If your system allows for it, is your data synced in real-time? Real-time inventory syncs can be the difference in overselling and making your order fulfillment deadlines.

As you compare providers and approaches, you should feel confident in the expertise of your integration partner and the solution you’ll get. Look for a reliable partner that acts as an extension of your team that can recommend best practices.

For an in-depth look at how to compare eCommerce integration approaches, check out this eCommerce integration article here.

Investing in eCommerce Integration

Integration isn’t easy. When done right, these projects can be a considerable investment of your time and money. As you compare, you’ll find that integration providers vary in price tags. It all depends on your project’s complexity and the systems you need to connect.

So, the question is – what can you afford relative to what your investment will return?

Depending on your needs, you may be ready for integration or you may not be quite yet.

Start Evaluating Integration Providers

While integration projects are a big undertaking, they shouldn’t intimidate you. Preparing for these challenges upfront will help you achieve a successful project. Do diligent research so you choose the best solution for your business the first time around.


About nChannel:

nChannel empowers retailers, wholesalers and technologists with integration tools to sync data and automate processes between their eCommerce, ERP, POS and 3PL systems.