Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series on the benefits of an integrated, all-in-one ecommerce platform. The first installment is "The Benefits of an Integrated Ecommerce System." The final installment is "Choosing an Integrated Ecommerce System; 4 Steps."
There are clear advantages to an integrated ecommerce system. I addressed them in the first installment of this series. But choosing an integrated system that fits your business is another matter.
There are vendors in specific market segments — primarily shopping carts and multichannel order management. A few vendors have partnerships with other pieces of the puzzle. Some are a shopping cart and that’s it. Others imply that they offer inventory management. But they really only track the units sold.
So where do you begin? In this article, I'll return to the basics I learned from selling software a few years back and from running my own ecommerce business, one that used an integrated system — NetSuite.
Think of it as rebuilding or remodeling a house. Define your piece of land; identify basics like size, number of floors, and bedrooms. Decide what’s most important: a big kitchen or a great room? You answer that by knowing where you spend the most time, what furniture is important to you, and so forth.
Designing and choosing an integrated ecommerce system is a similar process. Here are some tips to get started.
What's Your Current System?
To choose an integrated platform, first list out your current workflow, processes, and needs.
- What are your current systems and databases — and processes that each one supports? List all your current systems and the details and dependencies.
- What is good and bad about each system? If you use a component that you like, make that a requirement. If dislike a feature or a component, make that a requirement.
- What is the cost of ownership for each system? Break down your annual maintenance costs, training costs, and integration costs. Try to establish what your current technology really costs you. That will be a baseline you can plan from.
- What risks are associated with changing the system? For example, if you change your website and all its architecture, you will lose traffic for some period of time. How much risk are you are willing to assume to do that?
Define Your New System
After you list your current system, then define what you want in a new one.
- If you had no budget or technical constraints, what would your system look like? Would you want a fully integrated system or can you live with your product information being in a different system than your customer details and your financial details? Would you be able to work on mobile device or is logging into a desktop system just fine? You may need to compromise on this vision. But it is helpful to think of the ideal scenario first.
- What is your primary objective for the new system? Are you trying to increase revenue through higher conversions? Add new marketplaces like Amazon.com or Buy.com? Lower your operating costs with higher efficiencies when fulfilling orders?
- What are your goals for the new system? Do you want to do it all at once or in steps?
- What time period do you envision for making a decision and going live? Make a project timeline. It will likely change, but give yourself a clear map as a target. It will help keep you on track and accountable.
Choose Essential Components in a New System
Decide what is not negotiable in your new system.
- What features or integrations are essential and not negotiable? If you won’t change your accounting system and the new shopping cart has to be integrated into it, then make that a must-have item.
- What features or integrations are not allowed? If you are tired of doing something a certain way, make sure to avoid new solutions that do the same thing.
- Which risk is simply too high to take? If you determine that you can’t risk something — cash investment, downtime, lower revenues for a time — make that not negotiable.
What’s Your Budget?
Be realistic about what you can afford. Your budget should remain flexible. There may be efficiency and cost improvements from a new system. But, understand your overall constraints. Start putting them in the categories below because they will help determine your cash flow requirements.
- Identify initial investment for purchase software or even SaaS solutions. Many require payment for at least a year in advance upfront.
- Budget for ongoing costs for software maintenance and customer support.
- Identify training, development, data migration, customization and testing.
What Level of Ownership Do You Desire?
Decide whether you want to purchase integrated system software, or rent one. This is an important question as there are many different business models. There are many SaaS — software as a service (really a rental) — solutions, but you need to be clear about what different providers are selling versus what you really want.
Once you have a big picture view of your new system, drill down into the details. Here are some areas to focus on.
- Merchandising. What features are important for product display, promotions, navigation and search?
- Product catalog and content. How much data do you need to store for items? Is it the same in all your sales channels? Do you keep just product content for display or detailed purchasing and manufacturing and supply chain information on each item?
- Website design and development features. Templates, customization, language, platform, search engine optimization.
- Customer management. How will you manage customer records, buying history, financial information? Will you take phone orders? Email marketing services?
- Marketing. Social media management, email subscribers, ad management capabilities.
- Financials. How tightly integrated is this system? Summary revenue? Detailed order history by customer? Inventory information? Is it stored here or in your product management system?
- Order management. How will you edit orders, maintain order history, manage the fulfillment process, print shipping labels, manage drop shippers, manage multiple order shipments?
- Supply chain management. How do you manage your vendor information and history? Inventory reorder points? Buying history?
- Scalability. What are your peak requirements and growth plans?
- Interoperability and integration. How easily does a given component integrate or interoperate with other components? Which are the most important integrations? Usually this should be around data: The fewer databases you maintain, the better.
- Analytics. What type of reporting do you require? Key performance indicators or just historical data?
- End user functionality. How much control do you provide to individual users?
- Standards. How does your system adhere to industry standards. Is it open source or proprietary? That's an important question for the total cost of ownership.
Once you have assembled a document that contains this information, you can start shopping. We’ll focus on that process in our next article.