Ecommerce is a great investment for most businesses. There are hundreds of studies to outline the benefits of an always-live sales and information system, as well as justify the increased visibility and reach that an online shop can provide. But why should ecommerce stop there? For the majority of businesses, an ecommerce system is just a tool to get sales online. It very rarely develops past its initial scope which is a shame considering how capable it could be, and how much benefit it could provide in growing your company.
Ecommerce has always had the capability to be more than an online brochure that takes sales. 2014 will see a tighter integration with business critical systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). A lot of companies already integrate to some level with these systems, however this is generally on a limited scale. Examples include pulling inventory and price information from an ERP system into the website, and sending order information back to the ERP.
This is just scratching the surface of information that is available natively in most ecommerce systems like Magento or WooCommerce (WordPress). It does not take into account the amount of extra data that can be utilised e.g. linking all customer order data so offline and online orders can be managed anywhere, or allowing sales representatives to see historical purchases and browsing of customers, or automatic email campaigns generated on user preferences and activity (or lack of).
Benefits of an integrated commerce system for your business
A few immediate benefits of integrating and expanding your use of ecommerce include:
Save time and money – by automating business processes
There is a huge amount of manual processing that goes into each order of traditional businesses, this can be streamlined by allowing the customer to checkout online, they select their own products, your payment gateway processes their payment, and your ecommerce solution lets dispatch know that the payment has been cleared. This can all be done in a matter of seconds using ecommerce, instead of taking hours of employee time.
Stock updates and pricing changes can now be done ‘live’ and on the fly, rather than taking a long time to update manually. This gives greater transparency for your customers, and avoids confusion or over ordering.
Improve Customer Satisfaction – through up to date and better knowledge throughout the company
Having information shared between multiple systems, allows all your staff (and customers) to know more, and help the customers have a better shopping experience. Imaging being able to call up a support number, and the sales assistant can know about all previous orders (online and offline), and can also see the browsing history and current online cart. That sales assistant will be in a much better position to help, then someone who would have to ask a lot of questions, to a possibly already upset customer.
Having a system which distributes the correct information, when needed, can also help a Marketing department know when and who to target, help a Buying department know what is selling well, help Finance predict future throughput and potential turnover.
Optimise Picking & Packing – automatically create documents and an optimised pick list for the warehouse
Picking and Packing can be a lengthy process, especially when you’re dealing with 10,000s of product codes. Depending on your warehousing and current systems, having automated processes will improve efficacy and accuracy, reduce time and wastage, and cut costs.
Automatically generating the picking list can save huge amounts of time. Consolidating the items to be picked from multiple orders, and sorting by ‘areas’ can significantly reduce the time it takes to complete. This can then be taken to the packing area, where each orders documents (including postage labels) are automatically printed and sorted, ready for assembly.
Better ROI from Marketing – Marketing can make better decisions and target customers more effectivly
Marketing revolves around information; it is no longer based on instinct or hunches. The term ‘Big Data’ is being used more often, and one of the biggest contributors to the ‘Big Data’ resources is an ecommerce site. Marketers can look at shopping trends, keyword searches and product margins, across a huge range or sources, and all within a few seconds.
Benefits of an integrated ecommerce system for your personnel
Companies will be looking to differentiate themselves from the competition, and an easy and beneficial solution is utilising the power of ecommerce.
Think about the following scenarios where an ecommerce system can help and improve with common business processes.
Area Sales Manager
Internet connected device with latest stock and sales figures including quoting and payment devices allow the Area Sales Manager (ASM) to talk about real product availability, and have the most up to date pricing, without carrying round sheets of paper. Providing the customer with more information about the products and having a large browsable catalogue on one device, instead of many brochures or data sheets. It also means that they can produce an order and have it placed with head office in a matter of seconds, instead of having to phone it in after the client meeting. This means the client can know a shipping date and have confirmation of the order before the ASM leaves the meeting.
Even the best ASM can’t remember everything about the customer, with an internet connected device that syncs with a CRM system and the live website, they can better advise the customer, and suggest products based on their previous orders, search history and wish list.
Telephone sales operator
A connected Sales Operator should be able to more easily provide support to a customer. Through an ecommerce system they can see what the customer has been looking at and also what is in their basket. This allows them to provide better advice and solve problems more efficiently. It also means that they can process orders over the phone, through the website backend, where a customer might have gotten a bit confused. This avoids having to take a paper order for it to be processed later. And by knowing more about the customer, it is often easier to advertise upsells and cross-sell products, which mean better customer service, and higher order totals.
Postage and order calculation are done automatically by the ecommerce system, improving accuracy, and consistency. Imagine a customer phoning up and getting a different postage price over the phone, in comparison to the website.
By automating more of the sales operators processes, it allows them to have more time for following up hot and warm leads, generated through lead generation. Lead generation can be extremely important to some businesses, and is very easy through ecommerce tracking software.
Aa marketing department should be working on numbers, and statistics. Having all the metrics from all sources (ecommerce, Apps, CRM and ERP) all syncing live into one or multiple tools for analysis, will help with decision making, and give a better overview of the site usage.
Single, collaborative and direct marketing database with segmentation allows marketers to be very specific about what email campaigns go where, and when. Optimising for things such as previous shopping habits, purchasing frequency and preferred method of advertising.
Creating, automating and analysing marketing journeys are even more important now. Marketing isn’t just about producing a one off email, or advert. It’s about a series of adverts and different stages of the buying process, and which ones work best in combination to generate sales. All this information can be collected and shared across multiple systems.
In-store sales assistant
Integrate using iBeacon and PayPal technology to identify customers and provide personal services which can advertise in-store offers, allow automatic checkout through face recognition, and even pre-order for ‘collect in store’ services. Using ecommerce and digital technologies to improve the in-store customer experience will be how bricks and mortar stores stay alive. Having the same customer experience across all these channels is important, and the main way to do this is through integration of online and in-store services.
Processing returns from online sales in store, gives customers the ease of shopping online, with the customer service of a bricks and mortar shop. If a customer buys something online, they should be able to return it to a store, as the store should be able to process the return and offer alternatives. This again, is part of a multi-channel offering.
Some businesses have started using mobile and tablet devices as portable POS, meaning that sales can be made without queuing. Giving the customer a choice of how to pay, and how to receive their receipt (physical or email). This also means that a company doesn’t need to invest in permanent cash registers, and counters for peak sales periods, but instead can implement more portable solutions to reduce the queue lengths.
Regular, automated reports can be sent to an email address, which contains all the required knowledge and charts to make business critical decisions. No more chasing someone to put together a report, the information is all presented and available to you.
Cut costs (through automated systems), increase market share (through better visibility and coordinated marketing efforts) and increase sales (through multi-channel sales and single point delivery).
Generated picking list, with product locations and optimised collection routes, reducing the cost of picking the products and allowing for more products to be picked in the same amount of time. This can also be done for stock replenishment, and returns.
Automatic postage and international tax calculation, printing and tracking information is printed. Integrating postage directly into a shipping API through the website, allows for tracking codes to be automatically logged against an order. It also avoids the need for each package shipping to be manually calculated, printed and shipped. This saves time, and money, whilst improving accuracy with the shipping supplier.
There is so much scope to improve business systems with integrated data, an ecommerce system is in a unique situation where it is both customer facing and able to perform back office operations and business processes. It is by definition one of the most connected piece of marketing and sales software that a modern business might own. Make sure that your business is considering how best to utilise this application, and build a strategy around integrating ecommerce into your business systems.