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Video: Why are e-commerce integrations so hard?

30 May 2018

If you've integrated e-commerce systems before, you'll likely know just how difficult it can be. Which makes approaching new projects more challenging; you've been burned before, lost some hair, maxed out the stress-o-meter...why would you want to do it again? 

The answer to that is simple. You know that you have a problem that needs solving, and you need software solve it. Whether that's some CRM tech, a new e-commerce platform or a Warehouse Management System (WMS), the result is the same: your new piece of software is going to need to be able to communicate with all of your other systems. It's going to need to integrate.

But why is that process so hard? It really shouldn't be. It should be as easy as plugging in and playing. Why are the teething issues seemingly so impossible to get over?  

This is why e-commerce integrations are so difficult

It's a burning question. And it was on my mind the other day, so I recorded this video. Watch it below and keep on scrolling for a round-up of my opinion, alongside thoughts from several e-commerce leaders.

The truth is that integrations aren't universally difficult. But they have definitely become a sticking point for e-commerce companies. There are a number of strains innate to the business model that other industries simply don't need to think about. Here are a couple of them:

  • Inventories.  Everybody wants real-time inventories on their website. This means that every time somebody buys something, an update needs to be sent to the warehouse. And an update on stock levels needs to be sent back to the website so that there's no risk of overselling. When it works well, it feels like a simple and natural process. But the truth is that it's very complex. And any kinks in the way that any two pieces of software communicate can cause major headaches. 
  • Order statuses.  All important information about order updates need to be recorded accurately and passed on to the customer. Again, when everything's aligned this process can work like a dream. But if your systems aren't properly integrated...there's no doubt that your customer service team are going to hear about it. 

After I posted the video on LinkedIn, I attracted some responses. This comment from Codeless Platforms' Paul Cannon sums up the situation pretty neatly:

"Any system integration, whether e-commerce to ERP, or whatever, can be an iceberg. On the surface, it seems fairly benign. All you have to do is map point A to point B, as previously stated. But it’s what lies beneath the surface that can sink you. If you don’t understand the key business rules and processes that need to drive the integration, it will fail. No matter how talented your developer."

The mapping of point A to point B is particularly difficult when you consider just how many e-commerce platforms and other systems are out there. The number of potential combinations of different systems can, frankly, be dizzying. And as platforms continue to change and evolve (say, for example, with the introduction of Shopify Plus and Magento 2), each integration is only going to get more complex. 

How to make integrations easier

There are ways to ensure that integrations run smoother. Look for evidence that the pieces of software that you're looking to integrate have worked well together in the past; ask for case studies, ask to see it in action. It's always easier and more reassuring if the grunt work of making sure that both systems work well together has already been completed. 

And always go into each integration with your mind focused, and your eyes wide open. Look at the processes that your business and your warehouse already use and make that your starting point. There are very real pitfalls to neglecting your business rules and processes. 

Ultimately, the biggest problem with integrations comes down to the knowledge of the retailer. There's a learning and bedding-in process with any new piece of software. But when you consider just how quickly some businesses scale, it's easy to see how some confusion can set in.

Bridging the knowledge gap

At Peoplevox, we see brands going from using manual methods to record inventory updates to working with e-commerce platforms, new carrier management systems, a dedicated WMS, potentially an ERP... When they start piecing together exactly what their business needs to grow without pain and to gain a competitive edge, it can then be difficult to see how it all connects and fits together. 

If you're in the position of scaling, take this piece of advice from VL OMNI's CEO Robin Smith to heart:

You can't separate the business from the tech.

Software provides solutions. These solutions should only ever exist to enhance the way that your business works. And these systems should be able to work well together to help you to achieve your overarching business goals.

For the reasons explained above, e-commerce integrations can be difficult. But when you find the right mix for your business - technology that helps you to control the end-to-end product journey with a clear focus - you've developed a strong base from which your brand can grow. 


Update: after posting this blog, VL OMNI's Robin Smith expanded on his thoughts in this video. Give it a watch: