When making an ecommerce integration choice, it’s easy to be shortsighted.
One common mistake that companies make when choosing how to connect an ecommerce storefront with a back-offic business management system is to opt for the method with the lowest upfront costs and complication — only for costs and complication down the road quickly outstrip the upfront gains.
How to integrate an ecommerce storefront with a back-office business management system, if at all, requires awareness of the benefits and challenges of several possible approaches. API integration, native integration, and manual ‘integration’ (meaning no integration at all) each have strengths and weaknesses, upfront and ongoing, that determine the best approach for a given company.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each approach helps companies choose the ecommerce integration method that’s most efficient and cost-effective, with both the short term and future in mind.
The ecommerce "integration” option with the fewest upfront costs is to use manual import, export, and data management; in other words, no integration at all.
This includes manually managing both the ecommerce storefront and back office business management to consistently match.
When products are added or changed in the back office, someone manually updates the website to match. As orders are placed online, someone manually imports the orders to the back office for processing.
There are virtues to the manual approach. Either upfront or ongoing, there are no development or integration costs.
Also, since nothing compels the systems to be compatible with one another electronically, a company can use any ecommerce platform it chooses in combination with any business management system it chooses.
The flexibility is attractive when a company wants to use a new business management system but keep its ecommerce websites, or vice versa.
As with any manual data management endeavor, time and labor costs are likely to add up quickly, often in unanticipated ways: some of the challenges will remain unknown until they are encountered.
As products change in the back office, their SKUs, descriptions, images, configuration options, and more must be updated on the ecommerce website as well. And as orders are placed online, they must be entered into the business management system manually.
Business rules like customer-specific pricing, volume-based pricing, shipping charges, and more can only be applied manually and retroactively. And inventory availability may need to be managed in parallel, as well.
And it’s all supposed to happen without the errors that create even more time and labor costs.
Making two un-integrated repositories match is a never-ending manual project.
While there are no development or integration costs, the time and labor costs to maintain and update two systems often eclipse the savings.
The manual approach is most viable for companies with small catalogs and low order volume, while the flexibility to pair independent systems is a plus in some situations.
For companies with even moderate catalog size and sales volume, however, the manual work and duplicate efforts scale rapidly toward unfeasible.
An Application Programming Interface (API) is a tool to integrate electronic systems when the systems aren’t natively integrated.
When a business management system offers an API, a company can use it to integrate a separate ecommerce website of its choosing.
The API approach to ecommerce integration provides true integration where the back office and ecommerce storefront are automatically matching and up to date. But work is required to create the integration itself and keep it up to date.
Like with manual ecommerce ‘integration,’ an API allows a company to use the business management system of its choosing with the ecommerce platform of its choosing.
The API approach likewise allows a company to use a new business management system but keep its ecommerce websites, or vice versa.
Where the API approach separates itself from the manual approach is that the API offers true integration.
Product data is automatically pushed from the back office to the ecommerce storefront, eliminating the sizeable time- and labor-intensive work of matching the back office to the storefront.
While the time and labor of matching the back office to the storefront are eliminated, there is new time and labor involved with creating and maintaining the integration.
The API is only a tool for integration. Creation and maintenance of the integration itself requires time from the company’s development team, or from developers that the company hires.
Updates to either the back office system or the ecommerce system can require updates to the integration, and either platform may update quarterly or monthly if not even more frequently. Everchanging security requirements demand attention as well.
While the API approach creates a path to true integration between the business management system and the ecommerce system, it is only a path. The integration itself, which may be a moving target based on updates and security, rests on the company.
The API approach to ecommerce integration is typically used when a company changing business management systems is required to keep its ecommerce system, or vice versa.
Given that the API approach include ongoing development costs, however, it’s worthwhile to ask whether it may be just better to take the full measure of using an ecommerce platform and business management platform that are natively integrated.
Native integration requires more upfront work like recreating a website from another platform, but once, it’s done. The ongoing indefinite costs of development are eliminated.
Native ecommerce integration refers to business management and ecommerce systems that are integrated with one another out of the box, often from the same provider.
The native integration automatically pushes and pulls the information to and from each system with no upfront work to create the integration or ongoing work to maintain the integration.
Native integration may require upfront work like recreating a website that exists on another platform, but once, it’s done, without ongoing development costs.
With native integration, there is no need to manually update products on the website to match the products in the back office, nor is there a need to manually import orders from the website to the business management system.
There is likewise no need to create and maintain integration through an API. The systems are already built to integrate with one another, so the provider maintains the integration.
The integration is established automatically.
Through the integration, business rules like customer-specific pricing, volume-based pricing, shipping rules, and more can be automatically applied, and the website can receive feeds for further information such as inventory.
The primary challenge with native ecommerce integration arises when the company’s ecommerce website already exists.
The website needs to be recreated on the new ecommerce platform that natively integrates with the business management system, which requires more upfront work. There also is likely to be a learning curve for using the new ecommerce platform.
The challenges, however, are usually less than the challenges of developing and maintaining an integration through API. And the recreation of the website is a once-and-done task while the API integration maintenance is an ongoing task.
Anytime that a company is starting a website from scratch, it is ideal to create the website on an ecommerce platform that natively integrates with the back-office business management system.
The complication arises when an existing website needs to be recreated, but this one-and-done complication is often preferable to the ongoing complication of creating and maintaining API integration.
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Essent is the leading provider of fully-integrated business management software solutions and services for process-intensive industries and the largest trading network for the promotional products industry. The Essent family of fully-integrated products and services combines best practices, business processes, software automation, and network communications to deliver unparalleled, unified business management solutions. Since 1980, Essent has offered the systems, service, software, and support critical to success in today's highly-competitive marketplace.