6 Benefits of a Fully Integrated Ecommerce Platform
How many IT solutions does it take to run an ecommerce business? For many participants in the field, the answer is “too many”. If you can identify with this answer, it's likely because your ecommerce team is spending too much time replicating data across systems using manual methods.
For example, you might have an ERP system, warehouse management solution, CRM platform, storefront, shopping cart application, and perhaps even more systems under your business’ direct control. Then you might have manual interfaces with logistics providers to exchange data every time you make a sale.
What if you had control of a seamless, automated data flow to cut out all that data entry and voice or email communication? Doesn’t that sound like a better way to run your business?
A fully integrated ecommerce platform can significantly reduce the time and effort needed to manage your enterprise. To illustrate how so, let's look at what full integration means and explore some of the benefits individually.
What is a Fully Integrated Platform?
Before taking a deep dive into the benefits of ecommerce platform integration, let's take a moment to reflect on what that concept means.
For example, it doesn’t mean you have to let go of your established solutions, and you probably wouldn’t wish to if they are well established and working for you the way you want. Full integration merely means that those solutions, along with those of your ecommerce partners, can talk directly to one another, with little, if any, need for human inputs or communication.
Because ecommerce applications, and many other business information systems are now web-based, integration is most commonly achieved by using an application programming interface (API).
An API links two applications to enable seamless, two-way updating, and synchronization of data. It's possible to use a business API to connect two internal systems. You can also use APIs to link your applications to that of a partner, such as a logistics provider. By interconnecting all relevant solutions this way, you can combine them into a fully integrated platform.
6 Ways an Integrated Ecommerce Platform Benefits Your Business
Of course, it’s one thing to know what an integrated ecommerce platform is, and another to understand the multitude of benefits such a complete system can offer. Without further ado then, here are some outlines of the most notable ecommerce-platform integration advantages.
1. Streamlines the Customer Experience
When you integrate all your ecommerce solutions and synchronize them with your logistics partner's systems, your customers enjoy convenience throughout the purchasing journey.
Browsing, selecting products, viewing availability, checking out, choosing their shipping option, tracking orders, and taking delivery—your customers can do this all on your website, instead of jumping from one portal to another.
In many ways, this makes online shopping an even more natural and intuitive experience than walking into a traditional sales outlet and making a purchase—and certainly a less burdensome one.
Convenience is a big hook for today's consumers, and even business buyers, especially those tech-savvy millennials for whom ecommerce is an instinctive way to make purchases.
2. Reduces Administration and Labor Costs
By bringing your ecommerce applications and those of your partners together, you can substantially reduce your enterprise's running costs. Most importantly, you can slash the number of hours that you or your staff spend entering duplicate information into multiple systems. Instead, you can gain seamless automated data transfer via a business API.
Other savings from a fully integrated ecommerce platform can stem from reductions in rework costs arising from manual errors in data entry. When data is updated automatically across systems, you eliminate the typical causes of such mistakes.
You will also save your business much of the expense involved in periodic data cleansing. After all, duplications and erroneous data will be less likely to occur in a synchronized system.
Then there is the cost of customer service activities to consider. Imagine the advantage of integrating your CRM application into your platform. Continuously synchronized data would keep your customer service agents instantly up to date with the correct information to resolve issues.
3. Improves Order Tracking and Customer Service
While on the subject of customer service, it’s appropriate to mention the benefits of integrating order and shipment tracking into your ecommerce platform. Many logistics providers today offer real-time order tracking that’s accessible to your customers.
Tracking has become an essential feature of online order fulfillment because both business customers and consumers want to stay updated about their purchases. They typically want to know:
- When their orders have been picked, packed, and are ready for dispatch
- When the logistics provider has collected their purchases for shipping and delivery
- Where their goods are at any given time during the delivery process
Customers also like to receive notifications advising of their orders’ status and when they can expect delivery. These functions are perhaps even more critical for business customers, as they often need to keep their end-customers informed about shipment progress.
With your logistics provider’s tracking functionality integrated into your ecommerce platform, your customers can benefit from all the above information without needing to spend time on the logistics company’s website. They can get it all with a visit to your ecommerce portal.
Aside from adding convenience to your customers' shopping experience, this also increases their time on your website, perhaps stimulating further purchasing activity.
4. Accommodates the Mobile Masses
Among customers, stakeholders, partners, and your workforce, will be many who don't wish to sit down at a stationary laptop every time they need to use your platform. Mobility is key to ecommerce success. Hence it's critical to remember that the fewer discrete applications users have to juggle with, the better.
Mobile users need navigation at the endpoint to be as straightforward as possible. With a fully integrated ecommerce solution, you can achieve that highly desirable level of simplicity.
5. Enables Targeted Content Delivery to Users
Full integration, of course, means that all your systems are talking directly to one another—and that includes your content management system (CMS). Integration of your CMS will allow you to deliver personalized, relevant content to your business' user communities.
For example, when customers read your blog posts or visit other information resources on your site, you can serve them with relevant offers or product recommendations.
Similarly, a shopper browsing for a particular product can be directed to pertinent articles or see estimated shipping times and rates without visiting your store checkout.
There are just a couple of examples of how including your CMS as part of a full ecommerce platform integration can add value to your business, primarily by enhancing the customer experience and driving sales increases.
6. Helps You Keep Inventory Under Control
Inventory management is often one of the more challenging aspects of an ecommerce operation. Moreover, it tends to become more complex and demanding as a business scales. Integrating your systems into a single platform will make it easier to maintain inventory accuracy across your business.
You will be able to see where your inventory is, maintain accurate stock levels in your e-catalog or storefront, and reduce the risk of stock-outs. With full platform integration, you'll face fewer of those situations where your customer service team has to tell a customer that the product they ordered is not available.
An integrated platform will also make it easier for your business to manage returns, another complex ecommerce element. That's especially true if you sell to customers across international borders or overseas.
Integrated Ecommerce Works at Any Scale
Now you have an idea of the benefits of full ecommerce integration, and why you might want to combine your systems, and those of your suppliers and partners, into a single ecommerce platform. However, you may be wondering if it's a realistic proposition for your enterprise, especially if it's a small business.
The great news is that if you currently have more than one application in use, it's worth the effort to integrate. As long as you can access a business API to link one of your systems to another, it can be done. You'll gain the immediate benefit of no longer having to transfer data across the two systems manually.
If the appropriate API already exists, integration should be easily affordable. However, in some instances, API development might be required, in which case the cost will be considerably higher. Even so, it will be a project worth considering, especially if there are clear indications of a return on the investment.
For Best Results, Integrate Across the Supply Chain
The higher the number of discrete applications you currently have in place, the greater the benefits—as described above—of integration. Remember, too, that a fully integrated ecommerce platform does not have to be limited to the applications under your direct control.
When looking for partnerships with logistics companies or other service providers, don't neglect to check if they offer seamless data exchange. That would provide one more crucial advantage to your business—and an attractive benefit for your customers.