(Editor’s note: This article is part two in a two-part series by John Hickey, co-founder of Tech 2 Success, on integrating an e-commerce solution in a convenience services business.)
Integrating an e-commerce solution into a convenience services operation requires planning, but pays many benefits, as described in part one of this two-part series.When choosing a B2B or B2C e-commerce solution for your business, operators have the options to choose from self-service e-commerce platforms like Shopify, online order forms native to their VMS or full-service integrated e-commerce solutions like the service offered by Tech 2 Success. Here are some items to consider when choosing your path to e-commerce success.
1.Functionalitya. Make a list of things you like about your personal e-commerce buying experience that you would like to offer your customers.
b. Review your existing processes and list steps that need to be replicated in an online order. For example, customer specific pricing or customer specific product catalogs.
2.Integrationsa. What integrations are already in place and which require development?
3.Mobile responsivenessa. Your e-commerce site must render properly across different devices and screen resolutions.
4.Payment optionsa. Businesses pay differently for different reasons. An integrated e-commerce solution must offer various payment options to meet your customers’ requirements.
5.Security and PCI compliancea. Securing hosted servers from hackers is extremely important to prevent an unpleasant event on your web site.
b. Regarding PCI compliance, the answer you want to hear from your provider is that PCI and payments are managed strictly on your payment processor’s website and payments are tokenized for payment on your website.
6.Product managementa. As most operators offer hundreds if not thousands of products, management of products and pricing is the primary integration required for maintaining an e-commerce solution.
b. A well-integrated platform will match product images and web friendly titles and descriptions to products stored in a database designed for fulfillment and logistics. Learn how your e-commerce platform will manage product images and descriptions.
7.Customizationa. Your e-commerce website is an extension of your brand. Operators strive for their customers to have a steady flow of positive experiences with their brand. Make sure your site is a seamless extension of your website and brand and that all communications and e-mails are appropriately branded with your company marks.
b. Avoid services that cannot customize the layout to match your existing web site and marketing materials. It may be a sign of inflexibility in the future to adapt to new requirements and trends.
8. Supporta. Is the team developing and supporting the e-commerce solution experts in your industry? Are they experienced with e-commerce? Is an in-house IT team required to develop and customize the e-commerce website? What are the service level expectations for responding to issues with integrations?
9. Roadmapa. Ask if there is a roadmap of features in development, future ideas and vision for the platform. This can also trigger some creative thought for how you can implement new ideas into your own business when implementing the e-commerce solution. By developing on top of open-source platforms, development teams can implement new e-commerce features in a rapid fashion by integrating with other e-commerce solutions rather than taking on long and expensive development projects to catch up to new trends.
10. Costsa. Understand what services you need to pay for and how it affects your investment. If choosing a self-service platform, you may save on initial platform expense but require more labor and a developer to help accelerate the learning curve. Consider future costs for making changes, driving customers to the website and potential upgrades.
Choosing an integrated e-commerce solution is an investment in the long-term growth of your business. Take time to make the right decision for your business and commit to a successful project.
Getting the most out of your integrated e-commerce solution
As with any technology project in your company, setting goals and committing to success are imperative to success. Leadership’s commitment to the project will exponentially accelerate the impact of the results expected from your integrated e-commerce website.
Focus on automating existing processes
The excitement of implementing some of the e-commerce functionality can cause managers to lose focus on the task at hand. Setting clear goals for automating certain processes will create a bridge from the manual to the automated processes. The sooner you can eliminate duplicated processes, the sooner your team can focus on growth in standard fashion.
Offer products you currently sell
To determine which products should be sold on the website, run a trailing 90 or 120 day sales report. This is a good representation of what is actively selling and what is generally being stocked in the warehouse. Avoid the temptation to add everything you have in your warehouse to the web site. A tighter list helps customers see products they are familiar with and make finding products faster and more straightforward. There will be opportunities later to introduce more products to the website in a fashion that will increase the chance of customers adding them to their orders.
Invest the time to clean up your data
The benefit of integrating your e-commerce solution with your VMS is that your team will be spared the painful task of reentering all the product and customer information on the website. The challenge is that some of that information will now be publicly available to your customer on your website. It is worth the time required to review each customer’s record to ensure that their contact information is accurate, products are assigned the correct pricing, and tax settings are correct. This will remove any misinformation that could distract the customer when they first login to your e-commerce web site. If you have many customers, start with the highest volume accounts so you can account for the largest volume in the shortest timeframe.
Commit to migrating customers to the new platform
Please tell me you’ve already unplugged the fax machine! It is natural and correct to want to take an order from a customer via any method they are willing to send it to you however duplication of processes drain your company of efficiencies and leave the door open for errors.
Add customer migration targets to your list of goals and measure success weekly after launch. Use automated e-mails to communicate the benefits of the new platform and use coupons and one-time discounts to drive customer behavior.
Test and learn by entering orders
Using the e-commerce website is the best way for your team to experience the ordering process from a customer’s perspective. Prior to onboarding customers, have the team enter real orders they receive from customers directly into the website. Then follow the order through the integrations to the VMS and other systems. Identify any issues to be resolved and ask questions. An experienced team is well equipped to support any questions your customers may have when first using the system.
Plan for marketing and promos
Leverage your new website and communication tools to promote new products, seasonal items, and order reminders prior to delivery dates. Schedule periodic recurring meetings with your team to discuss and plan promos. Coupon codes can be used to offer discounts.
Opportunities with the at home employee
Companies are working hard to retain talent with convenience services like free coffee and full pantry services HR teams are also working hard to ensure that remote employees and employees in the workplace are afforded equal opportunities from an employment opportunity perspective as well as an employee benefits perspective. Provide a value-added service to your customer by offering the option to subsidize their remote employees with redemption codes to your e-commerce site. Integrating with shipping options gives employees a quick way to receive your products in their home.
By working with the right professionals and committing to making positive changes in your business, implementing an integrated e-commerce solution is an operator’s path to long term growth in the convenience services industry.