According to Forrester Research, 30% of B2B buyers worldwide complete half of their purchases online. B2B online sales are expected to reach $6.7 trillion by 2020. Those impressive figures present a pretty compelling reason for B2B organisations to invest time and money in developing an e-commerce store. A challenge many businesses face however, be they B2B or B2C, is successfully integrating a customer-facing web store with their complex back-office operations. Processes with heavy human involvement tend to not translate too well to the e-commerce world. This can become an even more difficult obstacle to surmount if you’re using legacy systems. At the centre of this is the system that is the backbone of the business – the ERP system.
If you’re looking to grow your presence online and launch an online store, but you’re unsure how best to make sure it fits in with what you’re doing now, then this article is for you. Here is our guide to ERP and e-commerce integration.
Step 1 – what are you trying to achieve?
Our approach always begins with a clear vision – what is it you want to achieve from offering an online store? “Because x competitor has one” and “everyone’s got one nowadays” are not good reasons to develop one. You should ensure an online store is going to deliver additional value to your existing customers, or help you find new ones, before you set off on a project.. Do you want your e-commerce store to facilitate faster turnaround times for orders? Do you want the store to take pressure off your sales team by taking care of lower ticket items and incidentals? Will it present the opportunity to reach a whole other audience you haven’t been able to engage with before? Starting with the what and the why will help you develop your process and map it closely to your ERP and e-commerce systems.
Step 2 – the process
The next thing on our agenda is always process. There is no point trying to get various systems and pieces of software to talk to each other before you have got an understanding of how and when they will need to talk to each other. You should start by mapping out the process from start to finish – from the second a customer clicks “order” to delivery. Then and only then can you start to identify opportunities for automation, and figure out where software and integrations between systems can streamline the process. You’ll also be able to identify points where you’ll need to communicate with external systems and partners – for example distributors, logistics and other partners.
Step 3 – select your integration solution
We’ve got good news for you if you’re already using Epicor 10 – it comes with an e-commerce integration solution module called Epicor Commerce Connect. ECC is based on the industry-leading Magento platform, and with very little web development knowledge you can get a responsive, fully-functional store up and running relatively quickly. It ensures deep integration with Epicor ERP, as you manage products, pricing and customer groups from within the ERP interface. And as Magento is such a widely used platform, it won’t be difficult to find support for customisation, design and configuration to transform your store into a premium experience.
Step 4 – identify an owner
Like any project or process, without an owner (be that a department or an individual), it is serious danger of failing. In the case of an e-commerce project, you need to identify who is responsible for maintaining the store, making sure it is up to date with the latest projects, and provide user support if necessary. You might be tempted to lay this at the door of IT, marketing or sales admin – but be aware that managing and maintaining an e-commerce database is a different ball game. In order for your online store to be a success, ideally you need someone with knowledge and experience of e-commerce – or at the very least a good understanding of website – to own it and run with it.
Step 5 – implementation
Again, if you’re an Epicor ERP user – good news – the ECC module plugs straight into Epicor and you’re good to go. The meat of the implementation project here will be building product lists, managing attributes and configuring customer groups to ensure that you’re offering what you want to offer to the right people on the store. Don’t forget, on the web side of things, you’ll need to consider the following:
- Domain/sub-domain name setup (you could host your store on a brand new domain, a sub-domain or sub-folder of your existing website)
- Hosting – if you’re hosting your store on the same hosting as your existing website, then you might want to double check your package will adequately cover any additional traffic you’ll get. The product and user database shouldn’t be an issue as they’re hosted and maintained in Epicor ERP.
- Payment – with ECC, you can offer various payment methods, whether that’s by PO number, credit card, PayPal, or invoice. For payments taken electronically, you’ll need to make sure you have the necessary integrations and encryption to be PCI DSS compliant.
Step 6- test, test, test
Once you’ve got your integration up and running, before you launch it out into the big wide world, you’ll want to run a number of scenarios through the process to ensure everything runs smoothly. And as we’ve mentioned before, consider only the “sunny day” scenario at your peril. Put your process to the test by running through a number of different scenarios. What happens if a customer manages to order something which is out of stock? How are you going to guard against fraud? The goal of many businesses is to design their e-commerce process to be as low-touch as possible, but during this testing phase you might identify key points in the journey where having human sense check will save time and escalation down the line.
Step 7 – review and improve
Once your e-commerce store is up and running, you should constantly and consistently return to step 1 – “what are we trying to achieve?” and then ask yourself “is this solution helping us achieve that?”. Is the online store helping to reduce lead times? Is it reducing sales admin? If the answer to these questions is “no” or “not really” – you should revisit the process and review accordingly. Have you missed an opportunity to automate something? Is there somewhere an order is getting held up, and what is the reason for this?
Help is at hand
Taking your first step into the world of e-commerce, where expectations are often high and consequences of inefficiency potentially disastrous, can be daunting to say the least. But the numbers don’t lie – the opportunity is huge. As a business with decades of combined experience with Epicor ERP, and consultants with expert knowledge of the ECC module, we can help you get an e-commerce project off the ground and delivering real value to your business. Just get in touch to find out more.