Without automating your eCommerce operations, sellers face all sorts of issues like delayed fulfillment processes, shipping to the wrong address, and overselling. Slow downs and mistakes can result in constant customer service tickets. It makes it hard for you to stay relevant in a competitive online landscape. You can’t provide the level of service that your customers demand like same-day shipping.
Realizing this problem, online sellers can turn to system integration to connect their eCommerce stores with other critical software like ERPs, 3PL/shipping, marketplaces, POS, CRMs and more to automate their business processes. In this post, we’ll cover what system integration is and how to choose the best integration solution for your online business.
What is System Integration?
System integration automates the movement of data between one system and another.
Each of your systems holds important data for your organization and should be shared among the rest of them to increase performance and data quality. System integration between your eCommerce web store and other platforms like an ERP, POS, 3PL/shipping or CRM can automate critical business processes like:
- Publish new product listings online
- Show accurate inventory availability online
- Automate order processing
- Provide order and shipment details for a customer online
- Automate returns process
Without integration, your team can spend hours manually hand-keying this data between systems. Not only is it a waste of employee time, but you’re prone to human errors that result in serious issues like overselling and shipping to the wrong address.
eCommerce automation not only speeds up your process, but also requires less people interfering in the process which can cause slow downs and mistakes. When backend processes run smoothly, you can deliver a consistent and competitive customer experience.
For example, online sellers can offer same-day shipping, if they’re able to sync an online order in real-time to a backend system like an ERP for processing. New online orders can make it to the warehouse within minutes of being placed online.
How to Choose an eCommerce Integration Approach
Not all sellers require the same integration solution to solve their problems. Picking the right integration approach depends on a few different factors about your business.
Before comparing eCommerce integration options, answer these questions first:
What systems do I need to integrate?
First and foremost, you need to prioritize what systems you need to integrate with your eCommerce platform.This will determine whether you can use a basic app or a higher-grade integration solution.
How easy/hard are my systems to connect?
By nature, some systems are easier to integrate than others. Modern software with open and well-documented APIs will be easier to integrate than a legacy or on-premise system that can only accept flat-files.
What processes do I need to automate?
Take some time to consider what you think your online experience should look like. What are some table stakes processes to automate to make that happen? If you’re not sure where to start, check out our beginner’s guide to eCommerce automation.
It’s also important to determine the complexity of your needs. For example, it’s much simpler to sync online orders “as is” to an ERP than splitting orders between a network of suppliers based on location of the customer.
What’s my current data volume?
Note what your current data volume is for orders, products, and customers. Do you need to update inventory counts in real-time or just at the end of the day? These measures are important when considering how robust your integration solution needs to be.
What technical resources do I have to manage the integration?
Integration projects are often technically complex. Will you have an internal or external IT resource to rely on or are you on your own?
What can I afford?
Every project has a budget. You have to align your goals relative to what you’re willing to invest.
Consider upfront the unique requirements of your business. You want to invest the time and money in the right solution first instead of wasting it on the wrong one.
eCommerce Integration Options
There are three main ways to integrate your eCommerce store: basic apps, cloud-based middleware solutions, and custom-built.
Basic Integration Apps
Many eCommerce platforms offer native integrations or one-click installs from their app stores. For example, Shopify offers Amazon and Instagram integrations out-of-the-box. The Shopify App Store is also full of solutions for email marketing, returns management, shipping, and loyalty programs that easily connect to your eCommerce store.
These integrations are “point-to-point”, meaning there’s no operational hub between your systems. Systems are pointed at each other and data is usually sent “as is” between systems in one direction. These are affordable solutions for small to medium size sellers. They’ll automate some key processes for your everyday tasks.
In app stores, you usually won’t find out-of-the-box solutions for more critical systems like an ERP, POS, or 3PL. These are more complex integrations that require more than “point-to-point” capabilities.
If you do find an integration for an ERP in the app store, be sure to do your due diligence. The integration is often limited in the data it can sync and how often. While the integration might get you off the ground, it won’t serve your needs long term.
Cloud-based Middleware Integration Solutions
For a comprehensive integration solution, sellers can turn to a cloud-based, “middleware” platform that sits between your eCommerce platform and other systems. These types of solutions are well-suited for connecting your eCommerce platform to critical systems like an ERP or automating complex processes for B2B selling.
Ideally, the technology uses pre-built integration tools for your endpoint systems for faster implementations. You also want to see if the integration is configurable meaning that sellers can customize the integration to their requirements. For example, you can define business rules for how data should sync between your systems.
These solutions will cost more than a basic app integration, but you’ll receive a significantly higher level of functionality and capabilities. Middleware integration solutions can handle complex integration requirements like customer-specific product catalogs, order splitting among suppliers, and real-time inventory updates. They also can handle integrating cloud-based systems to legacy systems that can’t connect via APIs.
Custom-built eCommerce Integration
It’s always an option to build a custom integration between your eCommerce platform and other systems. Custom-built integration requires writing custom code that ties your systems directly together. They can be built by an in-house developer or provided by a vendor like your eCommerce agency or software consultant.
While custom-built solutions are costly upfront, they will be tailored to your specific business needs. Some sellers might require a custom solution if they have truly unique processes to automate or systems to connect. For example, a custom-built B2B eCommerce platform might require a custom integration because it doesn’t have open APIs to connect with.
However, most online sellers don’t have truly unique needs that require a custom-built integration. You’ll end up paying more for a solution that’s overkill for your business.
What Approach We Recommend
System integration is often key to competing online today. It gives you the ability to stay relevant and grow your revenue by offering a consistent online experience.
At the end of the day, every business has its own needs. Choosing the best integration solution depends on your budget, business complexity, and types of systems you need to connect.
Overall, here’s who we think is a good fit for each integration approach:
Basic Apps: Great for connecting marketplaces like Amazon, shipping tools like ShipStation, and add-on functionality like loyalty programs and email marketing. For small businesses with low-volume, a basic app or provider like Zapier can also automate processes to an ERP or CRM for you.
Cloud-based Middleware: Best solution for high-growth DTC and B2B sellers looking to automate critical backend processes between eCommerce and EPR, 3PL, or POS systems. You’ll need both the out-of-the-box integration and configurability to create a solution to handle your complex processes and data volumes.
Custom-built: Custom-built is to connect custom-built systems or automate truly complex processes that require it. Otherwise, you could end up paying more over the long run to implement and maintain it.