One of the most expensive currencies in e-commerce is time. Consumer expectations are growing, and online stores are racing to deliver parcels ever faster and cheaper. In this race, customer experience is at stake - the correct integration of e-commerce systems can give us a significant advantage.
However, e-commerce owners are not always ready for this step. In the Technology for E-commerce Report, we read that more than 40% of online stores indicated system integration as one of the greatest barriers to growth. It was perceived in terms of a problem that is unable to be independently solved. It is therefore not surprising that 1/3 of them declared that they would hand over a system integration project to operators or integrators. A wise decision: the integration process does not have to be difficult, but an experienced partner is important.
In this article, we will show you:
- what problems are eliminated by system integration;
- the benefits for e-commerce and customers;
- what information can be gained;
- the system integration process.
Imagine a typical order that we receive when a customer buys a product. Its implementation follows, more or less, the following steps:
- the customer places an order which appears in the e-commerce system,
- we check the stock level and, if necessary, we order the missing quantity of products,
- we change the status of "waiting" to "in progress",
- next, we generate a receipt/invoice for the customer, we print stock documents (Reservation or Delivery Note) and a consignment note for the courier, which we have to order at the same time,
- we forward all documents to the warehouse,
- the warehouseman locates the goods in the warehouse, packs the order and hands it over to the courier,
- we change the status to "sent".
Although it sounds relatively simple, processing an order in this way can take upwards of 30 minutes (only when we have goods in stock). What cannot be seen here is the necessity to log in and check data in various systems to enable their flow between sales, warehouse, accounting system and courier. And what if there are 10, 20 or 50 such orders flowing every day?
The so-called "critical moment" comes at some point in the development of the store. The time devoted to not only the fulfillment of orders but also to the explanation of misunderstandings simply overwhelms us. More and more often, we begin to face:
a) errors - processes which in lower volumes can be dealt with manually start to become complicated. It turns out that we have sold a product that we do not have in stock or we have sent a packet of A to customer B (although they ordered a packet of B).The main reason for mistakes is:
b) lack or inconsistency of information - information on the store's website is inconsistent with the stock level; we do not have up-to-date information about the status of our shipments; we do not know if shipments are always delivered to the correct customer and are carried out by the right courier. All because the success of the process relies only on manual work, which can lead to errors and the risk of making mistakes grows with the volume of data.
Another warning signal is when:
c) most of the team’s work involves "data transfer". nChannel, a provider of integration software, mentions a company which had a team of employees called "data ninjas". It sounds positive, but their "nickname" had a rather dark origin - these were people who worked exclusively on entering information about the product from the ERP system to the e-commerce platform.
In the above situations, system integration seems to be an indispensable step for logistic processes to work properly and people to work more effectively.
The importance of integrating the e-store with a 3PL logistics operator
System integration is a very important element of cooperation with the operator in the fulfillment model. Thanks to this, we can reap 100% benefits from it - the automation of order processing ensures that orders will be implemented swiftly and error-free.
Swipe to the right to see the entire table.
|Benefits of e-commerce platform and WMS system integration|
|For the store||For the customer|
1. Speed and efficiency
Time saving and scalability are the two biggest advantages of integrating an e-commerce platform with a warehouse management system. The increase in organizational throughput - and throughput not only in the flow of goods, but above all information. Integrated systems are constantly performing queries, providing us with real-time information. The amount of manual labor is drastically reduced and we can fulfill more orders in less time. When we send out 100 parcels a month, manually entering an order into the system, generating labels for shipping, defining the delivery form and ordering the courier will not be a problem. Once we start sending 1000 parcels - the battle against time begins. Thanks to integration, the entire process can be reduced to a single click - data migrates between the sales platform (information about payment, form and delivery address) and the warehouse system (order preparation, automatically printed waybill and information about the courier company) - everything without human intervention.
Integration also allows us to start selling new products faster. When goods arrive at the warehouse, once entered in the inventory they automatically appear in the store, ready for sale. A lack of integration means the process of adding products to "turnover" depends on how quickly an employee is able to do it manually (by simply rewriting the product codes). Shipment cancellation looks similar - the appropriate instructions to the system means that the product automatically returns to the store and we can sell it again.
Another matter is settlement and invoicing. Integration with the accounting system means that the invoice or receipt is generated automatically, without the need to manually manage this process.
2. Minimum errors
The ability to automatically synchronize inventory with the offer available to customers almost completely eliminates errors related to the availability of goods. We can track in real time how much "stock" of each product we have left. Without system integration, we need to change the inventory number manually in both systems after each transaction in our store. Thanks to integration, systems exchange data automatically. This helps to avoid the situation when an unsuspecting client makes a transaction and then learns that the product is unavailable.
3. Previously unavailable information
Thanks to the correct combination of both tools, we gain the ability to accurately monitor the status of orders and the current overview of the work of the warehouse. We know where our customers’ orders are in the process: if each package been completed and packed, whether it has left the warehouse and whether at any stage there were issues. We can also check the queue of orders to complete on a given day and check information on returns or complaints.
A view of the Omnipack Client Portal.
All warehouse operations are constantly updated and available in the panel (at Omnipack, we use our Client Portal). We have real-time information in one place - we keep our finger on the pulse not only in terms of order fulfillment, but also in sales management. We can more easily plan orders from the distributor, as well as decide what not to order. We can also quickly and reliably respond to customer inquiries, e.g. regarding delivery time.
|24/7 access to automatically updated data:|
How does the sales platform integrate with the warehouse?
In this report, e-commerce owners were asked what services they expect from integrators. They considered "support" as crucial (61% of respondents), followed by "project management" (56%) and "integration with other, additional systems" (54%). It seems, therefore, that e-commerce owners and managers most often fear having to face integration on their own and a lack of support. They need someone who knows exactly what steps to take and help the technicians who are operationally carrying out the next tasks.
As a logistics operator, we carry out integration for our clients both with popular, open access Shoper or Shoplo, marketplaces (Amazon, Ebay), as well as with proprietary solutions or SAP systems. (You can see our integrations here: Omnipack: Integrations with sales platforms)
Based on this experience, our onboarding managers plan and carry out system integration according to the requirements and specifications of clients. The standard process lasts from 3 weeks to 3 months and takes place in several stages:
- An Omnipack Manager determines and confirms the implementation schedule with the client
- The client provides the documentation necessary to connect the systems (API)
- The technicians carry out the integration of the e-commerce platform and the WMS system
- We create a test order to confirm the integration operation
- After delivering the goods to the warehouse, we confirm the stock and start order fulfillment
A dedicated onboarding manager supervises the entire project, which ensures the flow of information between the client and the logistics and technical team. He manages the process and supports the client by, for example, providing guidelines for preparing the necessary documentation or product records (if they have not been prepared so far) and reporting on work progress. This is a person who will alert you if something goes wrong - for example, the amount of products delivered to the warehouse does not match what the customer says.
In this article, we have shared our experiences in the integration of e-commerce systems and warehouse management systems. However, technologies for e-commerce are a complex ecosystem and offer many more possibilities. From the point of view of consumers, e-commerce is simply a website. However, this is just the tip of an iceberg constructed of a network of systems that can be integrated with each other:
a) WMS (Warehouse Management System) - the most important system for the warehouse, because all warehouse processes are based on its data. A WMS:
- controls inventory, automatically noting shortages and surpluses of products,
- generates reports and statements from completed processes,
- conducts inventory,
- allows for the possibility of managing multiple warehouses.
b) e-commerce platform – the so-called backend of the e-store, where all operations related to the order made by the client take place. Platforms are divided into: ready-made SaaS systems (e.g. Shoplo, Shopify, IAI); open source solutions (e.g. Presta, Magento, Woocommerce) and dedicated, proprietary solutions written specifically for a given store.
c) transport companies - thanks to the combination of a WMS with transport companies' systems, we can automatically print shipping labels for each shipment. We can also track packages right up until delivery to customers.
d) retail software - thanks to integration with retail software, we are able to accurately determine the number of available products not only in online channels, but also in stationary stores.
e) accounting system - thanks to integration with the e-commerce platform, receipts and invoices are automatically generated after a transaction. We can also easily monitor and manage payments not only with end customers, but also with suppliers, packaging manufacturers and courier companies.
From the operator's perspective, the integration of systems allows us to efficiently work with clients. We cannot imagine a different scenario - the scale of our action simply requires it. Additionally, we know of the many benefits that integration brings to a business. These are primarily real-time data and the ability to control your orders.