Partner and Vice President of eCommerce at NXTurn and AcuTech, focusing on Cloud ERP, and eCommerce Solutions for our Customers.
Omnichannel retailing is not simply selling your product through multiple sales channels, such as online or in brick-and-mortar stores. The notion of providing a seamless customer experience — whether the client is shopping online from a mobile device, on a laptop or in-store — is what omnichannel commerce is all about.
To make the omnichannel experience as seamless as possible, the back-office systems used for your financial, inventory and customer service management, typically housed in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, must be able to communicate in real time with your e-commerce solution.
When planning a successful e-commerce integration strategy, I like to first break out the entities that we will be integrating, along with the direction (import, export, two-directional), and then add notes or more details for each so we can decide how to handle the individual data and what we may or may not be syncing.
We all think about customers, products, pricing, inventory, sales orders, payments and shipments. But when it comes to integrating ERP solutions with e-commerce platforms, there are six challenges or stumbling blocks I often see organizations face:
As an organization’s customer pricing structure gets more complicated, so does the integration. Some companies need to sync things like customer price lists, price groups, price levels and even credit limit, open orders balance and remaining credit. This should come directly from the ERP and flow to your e-commerce solution.
If your e-commerce solution does not allow you to manage or modify this data via integration or, worse, doesn’t even offer these features, then you should look for another platform.
ERPs allow for complicated shipping scenarios, multiple warehouse locations, multiple countries, multiple carriers, multiple shipping routes per sales order, less than load (LTL), full truckload (FTL) and so on. You will find that e-commerce solutions are not quite as flexible.
So, if you are charging for shipping, make sure the shipping providers you use in your ERP are available in your e-commerce platform. You may even need to add a third-party product to your e-commerce so that you can provide real-time rates to the customer.
Typically, you cannot sync your promotions from your ERP to your e-commerce system because they will not follow the same rules or formats. For promotions, it’s important to understand that online promotions will be managed in the e-commerce store and will flow through via a sales order to your ERP as either a line-item discount or overall top-level order discount.
This presents the challenge of how to manage phone orders and make sure that customer service has a way to enter the same promos and discounts on a phone order as an e-commerce order.
There are two options when it comes to taxes: manual or automatic. Manual is just like it sounds — you configure your tax manually. Most of our customers these days use an automatic tax calculation provider. This provider will calculate taxes for you based on rules you have set up in the system. Both your ERP and e-commerce solution should be using the same tax provider service so that it is easy to manage.
The important thing to remember here is that, for your e-commerce orders, the tax will have already been calculated for the customer at the time of the order creation and will flow through on the sales order via integration to the ERP. Make sure you are not recalculating taxes again for every order in your ERP solution. The automatic tax service may charge based on this calculation, and you could incur additional fees. However, there are some scenarios where you may want to recalculate tax on the ERP, and I talk about that next.
Three big things to be aware of here are your payment gateway, payment methods that you will allow (credit cards, terms, Bitcoin, PayPal, Amazon Pay, etc.) and authorizing versus capturing the customer’s funds.
Having the same payment gateway for both your ERP and your e-commerce solution will allow you to have the greatest flexibility. This will determine if you will be authorizing the card and capturing the funds directly on the e-commerce platform or if you will be able to authorize the card on the e-commerce side and then capture the funds in the ERP (best practice).
Earlier, I talked about taxes and the scenario where you may want to recalculate taxes on the ERP. For example, suppose a customer creates an order on the website and then decides to call you and make a change to that order or add another product. If you have the same payment gateway, then customer service has the flexibility to modify that order directly in the ERP, recalculating pricing, taxes and shipping, and then reauthorize that customer’s card.
In an ideal scenario, you will only authorize the customer’s card on the e-commerce solution, and you would capture the funds from within the ERP. Not all e-commerce solutions support this, so be sure to ask.
6. API Limits
Often overlooked but extremely important when it comes to integrating your ERP and e-commerce solution is the API (application programming interface) limits of each system.
The use of APIs is vital to the communication of data between your ERP and e-commerce system. Both will have limits and those need to be identified and understood. You may be updating hundreds of thousands of item inventory data or receiving several thousand e-commerce orders per day. In either case, you don’t want to start receiving error messages and time-out notifications during your busiest day or season.
Spending time upfront doing some critical thinking about these six topics can help prepare your organization to overcome the challenges of integrating your ERP solution with an e-commerce platform.