Three Back-Office Functions That Should Be Linked to Your E-Commerce Platform
As B2B e-commerce sites become more prevalent and online ordering becomes the norm, integration with back-office systems is the next big step in the e-commerce evolution for uniform manufacturers and distributors. The benefits of integration include expanded capacity, reduction of staff time, and increased profitability.
The first step in integration is typically integrating orders from the website to the company’s accounting system. This saves time and reduces the cost of servicing customers by eliminating re-keying orders from the website to the accounting package. Orders can be fulfilled more efficiently, and re-keying errors are eliminated.
The second integration most companies undertake is updating inventory on hand from the accounting or fulfillment system to the website. By pulling product inventory directly from internal systems, companies can save time spent on manual inventory management on the website. Depending on how the website is set up, customers can see inventory levels when they place their order and backorder situations can be avoided. Making real-time product availability available to customers reduces customer support calls to check on stock. Some companies also choose to publish the “next available” date for inventory on their site, taking customer self-service one step further.
Another useful integration is passing order status details from the accounting or fulfillment system back to the website. This saves time associated with customer support by giving customers details on where their orders are and when they will arrive. “Self-serve” tracking information puts the information in the hands of customers through the website and email, cutting down on customer calls to support.
The value of integrating e-commerce sites with back-office systems
When Landway.com (outerwear supplier) decided to develop a new e-commerce website, the company knew that integration to their apparel specific ERP system was a must-have. After launch, the % of transactions handled through the website quickly exceeded 50% which brought huge efficiency savings and the ability to scale without adding employees. Downloading the orders directly into their system not only saves them time, but also reduces the human error factor that comes into play if orders were manually entered. Additionally, showing real time inventory to distributors that were placing large quantity orders helped avoid the frustration of ordering items that might be out of stock.
Uniform distributors can also benefit from integrated solutions. Anderson Uniforms (Unilink Member) manages several uniform programs and one specific one that serves several thousand employees that individually order their allotment of annual uniforms. By creating a solution that was integrated to both Anderson’s system for order processing but also to their customers system for receiving those orders, the manual efforts that required hundreds of hours a year have been fully automated and invoices are paid in less than half the time. A high transaction uniform or company store is a perfect scenario where integration delivers a clear return on investment.
Making integration a success
One of the keys to a successful integration is to work with a partner who has plenty of experience handling this complex work. This may be your e-commerce provider, ERP consultant, or a 3rd-party company that specializes in data exchanges and integrations. Every integration is different, but experienced technology experts will often know ahead of time exactly what you need and in what format.
You will also need to keep your customer service team in the loop. With many integrations, you are enabling customers to service themselves, and your service department will be responsible for showing them how. Make sure your service department understands how your website works and what tools customers can use to get the answers they need. With the right training, you can reduce the number of calls into your service department and free up your staff to spend time on more high-value activities.
Companies may incur a setup fee and monthly fee for integrating their systems. But when compared to the direct cost of payroll and the indirect costs from keying errors and related shipping errors, the cost of integration is normally pennies on the dollar.