The demand for integrations is rapidly increasing across all industries. e-Commerce is no exception. According to Gartner, by 2022, a digital commerce experience will consist of over 30 integrated applications. Furthermore, over 50% of the effort and cost in digital commerce platform programs will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems in 2023.
It’s easy to see the benefits. For one, ERP integration for e-Commerce is particularly attractive for B2B businesses. It encapsulates everything from product specifications to customer information. Of course, CRM, PIM, and POS integrations are also widely used among e-Commerce brands. But we’ll delve into their specifics a bit later.
The point of the matter is, fully integrated e-Commerce offers a multitude of ways to get accurate data to and from a digital commerce system. So if you want to keep attracting new customers and organize processes in a more cost-efficient way, this tech is worth considering.
What is e-Commerce Integration?
e-Commerce software integrations connect e-Commerce platforms to other business systems. Those usually deal with finance, inventory, orders, shipping, or accounting. e-Commerce integrations can also perform such back-office functions as customer service, sales, and marketing.
In essence, integration is a simple way for e-Commerce brands to save time and money. The trading data is kept consistent and up to date; what’s more, it doesn’t need to be checked, maintained, and moved between systems manually. As a result, employees become a lot more productive, and the customer experience is less likely to suffer due to human error.
Advantages of e-Commerce Integration
We’ve already talked about the general advantages of employing e-Commerce software integrations. But just in case you needed any more convincing, let’s look at the benefits in a little more detail:
- integrations allow businesses to effortlessly maintain all sorts of data (product, customer, order, shipping) with no manual control;
- integrations keep prices and inventory information consistent and updated across all systems;
- e-Commerce brands can provide better customer experience across multiple sales channels and devices;
- instant access to order status, product, pricing, and stock availability information vastly improve customer service;
- integrations allow expanding the company’s business models – that is, to sell their products either directly to customers or trade through marketplaces without disturbing the original channels;
- integrations increase workplace productivity and employee engagement by automating a variety of tedious time-consuming task;
- integrations help adapt to market changes and expand the business (both by means of adding geographical locations and new business models).
With benefits like these, it should be no surprise that so many e-Commerce brands are seeking to gain more powerful integrations. For now, that’s where the future of e-Commerce lies: a broader scale, more automated processes, more engaged employees, and – last but not least – more satisfied customers.
Types of e-Commerce Integrations
Integration technologies are notably flexible, meaning they’re able to perform a huge variety of functions. Naturally, different kinds of integrations fall into different categories. Therefore, every business looking to adopt integrations should carefully consider which type to prioritize.
And now that we’ve clearly defined what e-Commerce integration is, let’s have a closer look at what flavors it comes in.
Real-time Integration (API)
Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) are the most common way to connect two systems in real time. It automatically transfers data between the e-Commerce platform and the integrated app. Real-time e-Commerce API integrations also have two types:
One-way integration. A one-way integration sends data from one system to another. For example, a real-time one-way integration sends customer orders from your e-Commerce platform to the ERP as soon as they’re made. The ERP relaying inventory changes to your e-Commerce platform is also an example of one-way API integration.
Two-way integration. Two-way integration is a bit more complex, as it allows two systems to communicate. To use the example with e-Commerce and ERP again, the inventory changes in the ERP will reflect in e-Commerce, and vice versa.
Scheduled Integration (SFTP or API)
A lot of merchants go for real-time sync by default, but it’s not always necessary. At least, not when it comes to product description changes, as well as invoicing and fulfillment updates – those can run just fine during low-traffic hours.
Say, you want to import CSV files via an SFTP server or run a scheduled API sync. Here, an SFTP transfer would be more secure, especially if you work with several suppliers: not all of them sync their catalogs the same way at the same time. Though, whichever method of transfer you choose, make sure to check customization options to specify transfer parameters and workflows.
Also, remember that scheduled synchronization is a no-go for inventory and order data – these heavily rely on real-time updates.
Manual Integration (CSV file upload)
This is the most affordable option. The manual method allows one to manually direct files without any extra setup, integration, or development costs. Mind you, this approach requires a flexible e-Commerce import and export engine.
If an e-Commerce company has simple data sets and a slow-moving inventory, the manual integration method works very well. However, as product catalogs and sales volumes grow, this approach becomes less and less efficient. In addition, neither data accuracy nor security is guaranteed during transfer.
Common e-Commerce Integrations
There are other e-Commerce integration types that we have to discuss. As we’ve mentioned before, the most popular kinds of integrations in e-Commerce are:
- ERP – enterprise resource planning;
- PIM – product information management;
- CRM – customer relationship management;
- e-Commerce shipping integration;
- punchout integration;
- other systems.
Let’s look at each of these in-depth.
e-Commerce ERP integrations
e-Commerce ERP integrations deal with accounting, inventory, customer, and order data. Its general benefits include (given the integration is two-way):
- automatic data entry that eliminates the risk of omissions and human error;
- real-time inventory and pricing updates;
- promotions personalized on a customer-to-customer basis;
- ordering and fulfillment are made extra transparent, boosting customer experience and trust;
- automatic handling of increased demands and selling channels.
Basically, a quality e-Commerce ERP system improves data flow between multiple systems, automates back-office operations, and greatly improves customer satisfaction.
e-Commerce Shipping integration
This one probably doesn’t need much introduction. Integrating an e-Commerce system with a shipping solution brings about a number of substantial benefits for both the seller and the customer:
- shipping solutions provide information on the current shipping rates;
- shipping solutions give up-to-date information on the order status;
- customers get multiple shipping options;
- the e-Commerce company can coordinate shipping from multiple warehouses;
- shipping integrations help manage packaging and label printing.
That’s not to mention the fact that integrating with popular delivery services can give an e-Commerce brand more visibility.
CRM integration handles the marketing and sales departments. It includes tools for managing storefront activity, order and shipping information, and, obviously, sales and marketing functions. The advantages of CRM integration in e-Commerce include:
- automatic data entry that eliminates the risk of omissions and human error;
- complete customer visibility across all of the system’s touchpoints;
- segmentation of customers based on their site activity;
- automated sales pipeline, conversions, and order data reporting.
And that’s not including the long-term benefits that detailed customer information, automated sales, and targeted campaigns will bring to the business.
PIM integrations centralize things like specifications, multimedia, descriptions, and customer-generated content. They are especially handy for marketing, sales, management, and data teams, who have to understand how different areas of their e-Commerce business are affected by various products. PIM integrations help:
- manage all the digital assets of the system in one place;
- specify relationships between products and upsells;
- organize and centralize data for different product types.
All in all, PIM integration is a must-have for any e-Commerce brand willing to streamline data management.
Punchout integrations make purchases easier to manage by linking the customer procurement system with the one of e-Commerce. Procurement systems are an integral part of most e-Commerce platforms, so punchout integrations are extremely common. Their advantages include:
- support for EDI, cXML, OCI, UBL, and other protocols;
- approval workflows based on customer requirements;
- local tax compliance support.
These ensure that the process of buying a product is smooth, safe, and legal.
e-Commerce software integrations aren’t limited by the ones listed above. Some other (albeit, slightly less common options) are:
- warehouse management systems – WHMs;
- business intelligence systems;
- AI-powered systems (chatbots and predictive product recommendations, for example);
- payment gateways and financial trackers;
- tax compliance systems;
- specialized accounting systems.
As you can see, there are plenty of tools to choose from, so consider your e-Commerce company’s budget and needs before deciding which integrations to use.
Challenges of e-Commerce Integration
Whether you want to implement an e-Commerce ERP integration platform, an e-Commerce CRM integration solution, or any other type of e-Commerce software integration, you’ll have to be ready to face some challenges. Let’s look at the most common ones.
When e-Commerce brands decide to add integrations to their platform, they often don’t know where to begin. If their stakeholders aren’t clear on how exactly the business has to manage its customers, trading partners, and integrations in its ecosystem, the process can become overwhelming.
IT managers will also have to worry about whether they have the necessary IT staff to maintain integrations and whether they’ll be able to securely migrate data from one system to another. In other words, ambiguity is never a good thing when it comes to e-Commerce software integration.
Outdated Legacy Software
Overreliance on legacy systems can spell disaster for an e-Commerce business. While everything can look functional on the surface, a legacy system is extremely clunky and downright difficult to work around compared to a modern integration platform.
So, when a company feels ready to integrate new partners and services or to migrate its data to the cloud, legacy software sometimes lacks the capabilities to do so. In case your e-Commerce company deals with legacy technology like that, it’s advisable to modernize the outdated software before implementing integrations.
Poor Multichannel e-Commerce Integration Management
Multichannel e-Commerce integration requires proper maintenance. e-Commerce platforms usually allow merchants to sell products on their own website through a regular browser. However, retailers also sell through call centers, mail order catalogs, brick and mortar stores, online marketplaces, and other websites.
The fact of the matter is that customers prefer using their own devices for e-Commerce. So e-Commerce brands have to remember that there will always be a degree of challenge associated with having master data sync up with all other systems connected to those customers’ touch points, which can include everything from an iPhone to a personal laptop.
When an e-Commerce company uses a legacy system, it takes away the ability to make real-time decisions due to the lack of visibility. However, companies can gain end-to-end visibility by consolidating legacy integration systems and centralizing the amount of control they have over a piece of data.
Gaining full visibility of every single order is only possible after embracing a modern (or modernized) integration platform. This will allow you to track orders more efficiently, and help decide which integrations will be the best for your e-Commerce business.
How to Ensure Successful e-Commerce Integration
The process of integrating two business systems may sound daunting to many e-Commerce brands. After all, no one wants to disrupt existing processes or risk getting stuck on expensive projects. But worry not – there is a simple course of action that will help any e-Commerce prepare for quality integration.
- Identify manual, slow, and error-prone processes.
- Review typical customer journeys and look for ways to reduce friction, see which interactions could be streamlined with integrations.
- Check the information flow between your systems: how your ERP routes data, how your CRM manages customer data, how the accounting system deals with payments, etc.
- Clearly define what needs to be integrated: inventory, pricing, and product data for products; orders and shipping information for customer data; punch-out integrations, external database connections, third-party logistics applications, etc.
- Select an integration strategy: manual, scheduled, with an API. Note that your choice has to account for both your current and future needs.
If you stick to this simple plan, the process of e-Commerce software integration will be smooth and painless. More importantly, it will bring about massive improvements for both the staff and the customers of your platform.
It’s clear by now fully integrated e-Commerce is the way of the future. The choice is not whether to adopt integrations or not – it’s which integrations you must adopt first. It’s a decision that requires a thorough analysis of your business processes, as well as a keen understanding of what customers expect from a modern e-Commerce platform.
In case it sounds like too much of a challenge, consider consulting an experienced e-Commerce development company – especially in case your outdated software needs an update. e-Commerce development is a key vertical of Bamboo Agile’s expertise. Feel free to get in touch for a free consultation with our specialists! We’ll be excited to help your e-Commerce platform flourish.
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