At Jasper PIM, we focus our efforts on providing a seamless PIM integration for mid and enterprise technology stacks.

We have clients like Skullcandy, Mad Dogg Athletics (formerly Spinning.com) and Avery Dennision, who publish their content not only to BigCommerce via our PIM integration, but also to third party professional search services such as Nextopia, Google Merchant Center (for remarketing ads), Amazon, and eBay. Having your staff master product only once and not countless times in multiple back-end admin consoles, is the only sane way to manage anything more than a few hundred SKU’s, let alone tens of thousands.

A PIM really shines when integrated to your inventory management system (IMS), such as JDA, MS Dynamics Navision, NetSuite, etc. Many of these older legacy all-in-one back office platforms don’t offer an incredibly vast selection of product merchandising or meta-data capability on their own however, and usually fall down with respect to professional media management and provision for very fine grained customization.

What’s more, a PIM enables sophisticated and extremely granular user access controls all centered around the product data itself, which becomes important in keeping your more junior staff away from pricing data in your ERP, or any other sensitive financial information in your accounting platform. You might not believe how many times I’ve seen junior staff with usernames/password access to the entire financial platform, including views of the balance sheet and income statement, just so they can also update web descriptions for their bosses’ online store!

Another additional architectural nicety of a PIM is that you can train your staff on one solution to use, instead of having to train them on manually publishing product data to various storefronts one-by-one. Imagine the margin for user error here.

In fact, when you’re done imagining, here’s a concrete and less imaginative stat to illustrate the point. The ratio for erroneous entry to accurate entry is typically 1:4. No wonder manually managed product data or (even worse, inventory counts) result in stock count fill issues and customer satisfaction & returns fallout rates of 25% or more.

Publishing Products from Our Professional PIM to BigCommerce Enterprise

Now that I’ve detailed what a PIM is, and hopefully articulated some of the unadulterated sanity in using one, let’s outline below what was involved in connecting our PIM to the BigCommerce API.

Our PIM was developed atop the increasingly popular Laravel MVC framework and the original prototype was developed specifically against the BigCommerce Product API in April of 2014.

The first goal was to ensure that our PIM could support a significant number of SKU’s that would doubtlessly come from a professional ERP source or multiple inbound feed sources via automation. That necessitated in our case running creation tests against the BigCommerce API involving an estimated 150,000 SKU’s. Yes that’s correct… 150,000 SKU’s. That’s more than any one minimum wage product data entry clerk could ever hope to accurately manage manually – via the gorgeous and user friendly BigCommerce admin console no less – even if they had fifteen lifetimes to do it in.

Automation here was key, and while we assumed the BigCommerce API was built for this sort of thing, we needed to run a battery of tests to corroborate the fact that the platform could stand up to our needs for timely and integral operation. Otherwise, we’d have been shopping around for another commerce platform.

Speed Test

Adding tens or a few hundred products via the API we postulated would predictably take seconds or minutes. What would happen if we tried to add 150,000 products within the same hour?

Our first attempt in using the Product API did take an unholy amount of time, unfortunately; on order of 3 days to complete, as we were also attempting to add as many as 35 custom product attributes to each product record. Product attributes are things such as color, size, SKU, series, brand, weight, height, condition, etc.

We needed to get the ingestion time down to something more palatable and thus opted to package all of our attributes from our PIM into a single product entity field as a JSON object. Once we did that, we were able to get the creation time for 150,000 SKU’s down to a matter of 4 hours and 36 minutes. That’s not altogether shabby, since we weren’t planning to add 150,000 SKU’s every 15 minutes, or even every day. We just need to do this once when we onboard a new client during the initial load (or ingestion) process before a new store goes live.

Since we predicted that most of our customers would likely only peak at about 30,000 SKU’s or so, we now have the initial ingestion time down to about an hour, which was totally reasonable.

Integrity Test

At no point did we encounter any integrity issues with the BigCommerce API.

An integrity issue is simply a case where we attempt to add or update a product by making a REST call to a function inside the BigCommerce API, and the function call either:

  • Leaves the data in a corrupt state
  • Deadlocks or hangs the calling process
  • Crashes the server or bungles up the store or database powering the API

No such issues were encountered and thus we were able to move on with our final test.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Integrity Tests are meant to give us comfort in a go-forward plan to execute with a given partner. If this test fails, our development team loses faith in the product and has no choice but to move its integration plans elsewhere.

Reset Test

The joy of using a PIM comes into play when you wish to make detailed wholesale changes to product content. At the time of writing, the BigCommerce API doesn’t have the provision for search and replace functions of product data, modifying attributes with special prefixes, adding watermarks to all product imagery, for example(s). All things a professional PIM could support, but would require a wholesale reset of the products inside BigCommerce.

We tested a wholesale UPDATE and a wholesale DELETE. In both cases, the experiments produced satisfying results.

pim-blog-table

BigCommerce Support Kudos

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. Once our PIM had been developed and approved by our client, things were going along quite nicely leading up until the planned launch. We did encounter however some last minute challenges in using the API that was a result of bugs (i.e. faults) in the PHP. However, the BigCommerce support team worked closely with us to pinpoint and resolve the issue in hours. This could have potentially delayed launch by days or even weeks. 
Sharing that story makes me want to take a moment to say that the BigCommerce support experienc,e from an enterprise integrator’s perspective, is that of legend. Having access to such an amazing team  is essential to any solid project management planning efforts.

My experience working with BigCommerce support was unparalleled in the industry, for the following reasons:

  • The support rep answered the phone quickly, was empathetic, and helpful.
  • The support rep wasted no time in putting me directly in touch with someone more technical, who was himself both pleasant and astute; with a mastery of English that was refreshing. The rep was very patient as I described in painstaking detail the precise symptoms as best we could tell from our diagnostics.
  • As soon as the rep realized he was out of his pay grade, he directed me to one of the engineer’s that was involved in mastering the API itself. Surely, if this individual didn’t know what the issue was, no one likely would.
  • The API engineer provided clear direction and we iterated over the phone on a number of attempts to solve the problem, until the solution was at least sorted out.

In all, we’ve found working with the BigCommerce API to be a first-class due to their documentation, honest design and overall speed. 

We’d just like to tip our hats to a support team dedicated to world-class customer service such as they are. Thank you, BigCommerce!

Recently, during Bigcommerce’s MAKE IT BIG Online Conference, Tracy Wallace (TW), host of the video and Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, sat down with many commerce thought leaders including;

Among these industry leaders, our very own Jon Marsella (JM) CEO of Jasper PIM discussed the ever changing technology landscape. More specifically, the SaaS technology evolution and how Product Information Management (PIM) integration streamlines information from multiple back office systems leading to company growth and success.

TW: Jasper PIM, if you are not familiar, they’ve created a PIM solution, they have a systems integrator background. Also, they work with some crazy, cool brands helping to reduce the complexity in their ecommerce operations. Whether that’s B2B or B2C. On the B2B site it’s like Clarion and Avery Dennison. On the B2B side there’s Skullcandy. You’ve been in the ecommerce industry for a long time. How has it changed and how is it shifting?

JM: What we’ve observed over the past ten years is that ecommerce has really matured and for us we started when ecommerce was just really getting started. At that stage we found that a lot of merchants were developing their own systems and it was a really unsophisticated landscape in terms of packages and platforms. A lot of merchants were trying to solve problems themselves. Many of them were quite technical and hands-on so they would build their own sites in WordPress.

TW: You needed to be then.

JM: You absolutely did, yes. So you need to either be enterprising or get a big agency behind you. It has definitely matured so now we have all these great platforms and technologies. Now we’re starting to see that the industry is starting to consolidate and we’re seeing that some of the SaaS players are really starting to come together and putting more unified solutions together. Merchants are getting better and better solution platform opportunities without having to make that big investment and take that leap. So things are getting a little bit more affordable for them but there still are some challenges and gaps that we see there.

TW: So you work mainly with large organizations and I’d imagine a lot of these folks have been online for a while or have had operations for a long time. So they come from that background of having created their own solutions or having experience with that. How do you educate them or bring them along to the newer stuff that is happening now?

JM: Let me tell you that is challenging. I can say it has been a process for some of our customers and prospects. So yes, you’re right. A lot of the clientele we served are large enterprise merchants or mid-market merchants and they had big, sophisticated back office systems. So they’ll have dynamics and Oracle and SAP. They are used to, in many cases still used to, it’s more control. Their IT departments want a certain amount of control. Leadership doesn’t want to have a lot of dependency on what they perceive in the SaaS space as maybe too many different throats to choke or too many fail points. So there’s a lot of challenge there, but what we’re finding now though is that as these SaaS players are getting more sophisticated and consolidating and have better toolsets and offerings. You think about the past five years how much it has changed. How many of these platforms now are more robust, they have more features and more tools, they integrate with your systems. They just integrate better with what you naturally and organically have. Getting back to your question, you take the large scale mid-market customer who has Oracle or SAP back office you educate them and say take a bit of a risk, take a test or sample of your audience or market. Try out a SaaS offering. Integrate it deeply and connect that nice piece of middleware and connect that with a PIM, a Product Information Management System that we produce. That entire solution set then empowers the customer to start using SaaS platforms and not just shopping cart platforms, but other SaaS technologies. So you can still have your super secure deep office environment and it is protected and so on. On the front end you’ve got a lot more malleability and fluidity.

TW: It sounds like you’re educating these folks on a lot of new tech stack or more modern tech stack.

JM: It does, what we’re really trying to do is take some of the mid-market solution set and bring it more down market and say if you don’t have the big back office experience, you’ve got a little more lightweight ERP accounting platform. You’ve got a lightweight, more modern SaaS inventory system. What we see in the industry is the need to be sort of in the middle of that and connect these systems together with a really malleable front end and shopping environment. Since we’re all synergistic, everyone plays together really well. So that solution now for the merchant is really tightly integrated from a control standpoint. Some of the customers get a really good sense of “Hey I can still have a good measure of control over these things and I can also have some accountability”. Depending on if they partner with us to provide some of that accountability and how do we put these things together and solve some of these problems.

TW: Do you see or think that need for speed and innovation in the market right now is just massive? Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the room always kind of pushing. Do you see the need for speed and innovation on the marketing side of these organizations kind of being a push for some of the guys that are IT and are really looking for more control?

JM: Definitely, I think that’s where we found most of the friction between marketing and IT and those sort of differing needs. I think what we’re getting and finding though is the IT and back office teams, as they’re starting to adopt SaaS and moving away from on-premise, as they identify that there are some really great platform solutions that they don’t have to host themselves. They’re starting to fall in love with cloud and starting to get that done properly still secure. The shift, we’ve seen it happen really over the past five years I’d say. Prior to that there was a lot of resistance so we’re still educating merchants and saying “you guys may want to consider letting go of some of these big systems”.

TW: This allows the IT team to not be the tech dead-center right? It allows them to be part of the innovation and moving forward.

JM: Absolutely, right. Along with that loss of perceived control they now gain control of a different way because now what they’re looking at is the systems that bind the systems together, rather than having to control that one behemoth system. If it goes down it’s all on them. So the business is looking at how they don’t have to be attached or tied to that IT control center because at times it is not healthy for the marketing team or the business as a whole.

TW: Right, let’s talk about some of those integrators. So, Jasper PIM had a background in system integration and you guys have built a fantastic PIM, which I’m going to ask you about in a little bit. You guys work of off APIs on modern SaaS technologies. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of APIs and about how these APIs give IT guys a little bit more security and control?

JM: Yes, so I would say that eight out of ten times we’re on a phone call we get a question from someone in IT asking about our API, about the other APIs that we’re going to be connecting with and about how tested are they, how robust are they, what their rate limits are, things like that. It’s becoming this constant. We’re spending a lot of time talking about the importance of having the right APIs in place. Not just the fact that they’re feature-rich, but they’re integral, they’re robust. That the people that have developed the APIs have thought about all of the different ways that systems integrators can break this thing. Typically, that a myriad of ways, but generally it is on things like “I want to model more of an enterprise context, I want to set up a staging environment and see what happens if I throw a bunch of load at this thing and will it respond properly. Does it have integrity issues, and so on and so forth.” The APIs for all of the various systems that you’re going to be connecting with are key.

TW: So those APIs seem like a very important conversation with a lot of these IT folks.

JM: Absolutely.

TW: I don’t know if you work much with the marking side at a lot of these places, but on the marketing side are APIs known or talked about a lot?

JM: I would say not as much, they’re definitely aware of the APIs, but not as much as the IT group.

TW: Sure, let’s talk more about this PIM then, I want to use Skullcandy as an example. I know you guys are incredibly excited about Skullcandy . To give everybody a little bit of background here, Skull Candy is using the Jasper  PIM essentially as a single source of truth. So, pushing product information out to a variety of localized international sites, as well as off to marketplaces. I also walk around the airport and see all this Skullcandy  stuff and am like “They’re suing PIM too; I know they are”. That kind of model, where you’re using the ecommerce site as kind of a cog in a much larger wheel, it reminds me of this commerce as a service thing that we’re hearing lot more about. Can you talk a little about what Skull Candy is doing, why it is so helpful for them, and maybe how others can get in that mindset?

JM: Yeah, I think so one of the big transformational shifts with other platforms they’re moving off of and on to has just been an empowerment, with not only having the central source of truth in the PIM, but having one that enables them very rapidly to connect to multiple markets and manage multiple languages and currencies. So it’s a platform for scale if you’re a merchant that wants to scale form five million a year to ten million a year, from whatever stage you want to be at from one to two. Everyone has aspirations, you know, let’s double, let’s triple, let’s increase our footprint and so the solution as a whole, and what they’ve identified is that it has empowered them to get new markets up and running very quickly, but with integrity. I mean it has been tested through and is working really well. It has been quite a success.

TW: So a lot of it then is about the innovation, the quick go to market but you want to make sure you’re not messing up the backend processes that have made them so successful to being with.

JM: Yes, correct you are. Again, so what we find, commerce as a service. Mid-market customers are not typically going to go into the back end of a shopping cart and manage their orders and manage those things manually, especially not to scale. This is what is often happening and is often what becomes a bottleneck for merchants. So, if you bring all that content together and tie it in with your back office, which in many cases is already working. So, a lot of merchants don’t want to mess with their back end, maybe they’ve invested a lot in it. They do want to be nimble on the front end. We, or others, there needs to be this piece in the middle and is really connecting everything, its professional, it’s an enterprise environment. Yet, it also allows us to connect to those commerce as a service platforms that are really good at not just being tender but being the fact to the customer. Right, and handling all of that load and demand, all of those things that typically, in your holistic environment when you’ve got your IT department sort of controlling everything, you’ve got one big platform. That big platform is trying to manage all your inventory, it’s trying to manage all of your accounting stuff, all of those elements as well as its trying to be the front end of your commerce platforms. So, often times the whole thing becomes way too rigid and you can’t modify it quickly enough.

TW: Right, so this commerce as a service model seems like it is empowering the marketing team to do what it does best, grow, as well making sure the IT guys have the control that they need and that a system in place to make sure the business is running properly.

JM: Absolutely.

TW: If there is one thing everyone that is watching should take away from this, what is one piece of advice you might give?

JM: I really like to challenge my customers, prospects, and the industry as a whole to really think about investing in not just systems, but invest in people, process, invest in new technology, prototype tests. Take risks, take calculated risks, iterate quickly. Yeah, the one thing I’d really like to just tell everyone is just go for it.

TW: Yeah, and for you, you founded Jasper PIM. What gets you so excited about the changes in the industry that are happening now? Every time I see you, you’re pumped.

JM: Yeah, wow that’s such an awesome question. I think that what really gives me the most rise is seeing merchants’ eyes pop open when they’ve seen that expansion happen in front of their own eyes. Form their perspective and from our perspective. They’ve really seen transformation; they’ve seen their growth double. For me, what gets me out of bed and helps me keep Jasper moving forward is just seeing merchants succeed. We live or them to succeed in that sense.

TW: Final Question here, is a lot of the folks watching right now are probably in this scaling moment. Probably facing the same difficulties that a lot of the folks you talk to are facing. When they say they’re having trouble with, I’m not even sure what to say, a lot of times they can’t even verbalize it. What kind of advice before you move into the tool selection might you offer?

JM: So with a systems integration background our goal is to always work with the customer and try to find if there’s a way we can help them on the business side too. A lot of times the tools are not failing them. It can be a bit of a grass is greener situation where they’ll say “Hey I’m on this platform and my sales are flat, what can I do? Why is that?” A part of that is to loom at their business challenges, but also to look at their business systems and say “We’ll here’s a few ideas as to how you can be more lean, nimbler. What are your goals, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to double your growth? Well, this is how you can go about doing that.” We’re a Software company, and we’re a Product Information Management System. Because we’re living in the middle we’re always trying to figure out how best to help this customer navigate the sea of bits and pieces here and there. It’s a really complex problem.

TW: Well thank you so much for being here with us today. If you want to know more check out Jasper PIM John writes blogs there and for use here at BigCommerce. He is on my speed dial for complex and complicated stuff. He is always having the most sophisticated ecommerce conversations so please check him out.

Last week, the who’s who of eCommerce descended on Chicago for the annual Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, or IRCE. Before that circus – IRCE, still the most significant eCommerce event in the world – kicked off, BigCommerce, a leading cloud eCommerce platform, brought a select community together of partners and several hundred merchants for a day of possibilities and collaboration.

The backdrop for this gathering was the historic Morgan Manufacturing space in Chicago’s West Town, a beautiful environment filled with industrial elegance and legendary Chicago swagger.

The eCommerce Growth Summit was created to activate a community of thought leaders who want to drive the rapid evolution of eCommerce. The topics and insights discussed all revolved around growing business beyond your current comfort zone and geared towards overcoming common eCommerce challenges; breaking new ground as a business and sourcing partners to enable business through new channels, in new markets and to new customers.

Like any vendor summit, the opening keynote was led by the hosts CEO Brent Bellm. There were several product and program announcements along with more information about the BigCommerce’s exciting expansion plans following a $64 million growth equity investment led by Goldman Sachs. However, the focus of the day was not on BigCommerce; this indeed was a day to unite the eco-system and create a catalyst for eCommerce growth.

Partner-obsessed and Customer-centric

It was a very admirable approach by BigCommerce to step back and let their partners and customers take centre-stage throughout the day. It reinforced the sentiment that above all else, the company – with offices throughout the States, Australia, and soon the UK – solicits feedback from their community.

Not every platform player in the eCommerce industry plays the partner card as consistently as BigCommerce, and this has translated into mutual respect between the vendor and their strategic partners. With a stable yet flexible platform and the recent funding and expansion plans, BigCommerce seems well positioned to be a leading cloud player in our industry, but more on that later.

In the spirit of providing well-rounded insights to the attending merchants, speakers representing veteran BigCommerce partners and merchants were teamed up with brand new ones. Particularly engaging was a partner panel moderated by Eric Gutoski, Partner and Managing Director of the New York eCommerce marketing agency The BORN Group.

During the panel, specialists from WP Engine, Modern Tribe, and 5874 discussed how open source systems and SaaS cloud technology can play a collaborative role, and how Headless Commerce strategies allow leading brands to blur the lines of content and commerce. All speakers tried their best not to fall back onto industry buzzwords, but we all knew Headless Commerce was going to be front and centre at the event. After all, very much like the BigCommerce platform and its merchants, the concept has been challenging standard commerce solutions.

Headless Commerce

It still sounds more like a term that belongs in a B-rated Halloween movie, but over the last few years the moniker has nestled its way into our business, so we’ll continue to run with it.

The BigCommerce platform is meant to be a technologically superior cloud-based eCommerce platform, that is flexible and nimble. It’s not restricting what front-end of the sales channels look like, rather powering the merchants’ end-to-end solution through API-based technology. That is exactly what the concept of Headless Commerce is: decoupling the front-end user interface from the eCommerce platform, and all the technology in the back-end, using cloud technology and RESTful API to connect all the dots. In short: Headless Commerce allows creative merchants and agencies to build unique and original experiences for their users.

In today’s eCommerce world, where there seems to be an endless supply of similar merchants, it is critical creating such experiences if you want to stand out from the crowd. This was a lesson also shared with the audience by Keynote Speaker Jenny Fleiss, CEO & Co-Founder Code Eight and Rent the Runway.

Jenny co-founded Rent the Runway, a business that has transformed the retail industry by making designer clothing rentals a convenient, accessible and luxury experience for millions of women. She understood there was a specific niche in the fashion industry that no other company was successfully servicing. But even with a unique business model, she quickly learned her company had to develop highly-personalized, one-to-one shopping experiences.

Accelerating Growth

At the end of the day, attendees were sharing their best practices on how to grow a digital business. Expansion beyond the single channel or market concept is an immediate challenge for many growing Mid-Market merchants. Adding the complexity of multiple languages, currencies, geographies, and distribution networks, there are many questions for merchants today.

One of those best practices is leveraging AI and Social Commerce to fuel your digital growth in order to overcome some of these complexities and challenges. It was fascinating to hear Ken Natori, President of New York high-end fashion brand Natori, share his learnings with his peers.

A particular challenge when expanding beyond your current market and comfort zone is maintaining product information consistency and relevance across all your channels. This is where the Jasper PIM comes in. Our cloud-based Product Information Management (PIM) suite, is a solution built precisely to help merchants scale their business into a thriving global enterprise.

A perfect example of that is the recent expansion of Skullcandy Inc, the leading audio brand from Park City, Utah. Jenny Buchar and Kinsey Butler of their eCommerce team explained to the audience how their growth was only possible through the strong partnership of BigCommerce and the Jasper PIM.

Jenny shared that “Not only does the Jasper PIM have a lot of tricks up its sleeve, it also provides a very stable integration with the BigCommerce platform to run our websites globally.” In fact, since powering their eCommerce infrastructure by the Jasper PIM, online conversions for Skullcandy increased by double digits. Jenny summarized:

“Since implementing Jasper PIM we can’t imagine a world without it!”

Moving forward

Everyone involved can look back at a great Growth Summit, which was BigCommerce’s most significant event to date. Throughout the week of IRCE, the Growth Summit remained the talk of the town, maybe only rivaled by the ‘Growth Summit after party meets IRCE Kick-off party’: the eCommerce Speakeasy, where BigCommerce together with strategic partners ShipStation, Brightpearl, AmericanEagle.com and naturally Jasper PIM, hosted a sold-out party at the Untitled Supper Club.

Together with our partners the team at Jasper PIM is ready to help you grow your business! If you would like to learn more about how Skullcandy is growing their online conversions by partnering with the Jasper PIM, click here.

Do you want to explore our services? Feel free to reach out to us via:
https://www.jasperpim.com/free-demo

E-commerce platforms are competing for your company’s business. Here’s how to make the right choice

There was a time when choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business was a relatively easy task. Back in the mid-2000s—a lifetime ago in the world of digital commerce—there were only a tiny handful of platform providers to choose from. Think the likes of Shopify (which launched in 2006) and Magento (that made its debut in 2008).

BigCommerce would launch a year later, followed by a plethora of platforms that catered to both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B)-focused organizations. Now, the choices for eCommerce businesses are vast. WooCommerce, SAP Hybris, Oracle Commerce Cloud, SalesForce, commercetools and other competitors have joined the likes of those early eCommerce trailblazers.

Organizations now have more choice than ever; that also means headaches when attempting to assess each platform’s utility, customizability and applicability to their business model.

Indeed, the highly-documented ‘eCommerce platform wars’ have been raging for years, with no single vendor able to completely outflank and defeat their industry rivals in the way that Google or Facebook have managed in the search and social media sectors, respectively (and whatever other technology field they happen to be trying to invent or dominate as of the publishing of this article).

But organizations and their IT and marketing departments are wise to rise above the fray as they make a choice that could effectively make or break their eCommerce business. Today’s consumers are savvy and demand an optimal experience when interacting with any company online, particularly when it comes to purchasing goods or services. Your choice of eCommerce platform will not only define your customer service experience when making purchases, it will also largely dictate ongoing customer and community engagement.

No second chances

If there was a core truism in the digital era, it’s that consumers rarely afford companies the opportunity to make a great second impression. Their first experience with a platform will inevitably dictate their willingness to give it a second try. Many organizations choose an eCommerce platform because it seems easy to implement, but the complexity of merging incompatible applications and then ensuring effective use and adoption across internal departments, can often sink their chances of success soon after launch. In those cases, customer engagement fails to gain traction and sales suffer as a result.

Needless to say, this is a very expensive lesson to learn. We’ve encountered several organizations that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars cycling through multiple eCommerce platforms, with no end in sight to their digital dissatisfaction or bottom-line woes. That’s why we recommend taking a 360-degree approach to the eCommerce procurement process. It’s only possible to choose the right platform if you understand exactly how it will be deployed across your organization, what your core eCommerce requirements are in the first place, and whether the platform can scale and offer the resiliency needed to address your ongoing operational requirements. Most importantly, is it the right platform for your customers today, as well as in the future? That’s an important brand question that needs to be explored with your marketing, sales and operations departments.

Implementing a new eCommerce platform that best serves your company in its current form, therefore, is a mistake. The focus should instead be on choosing a system that’s best-suited to supporting your company’s long-term growth objectives.

Breaking up is hard (and expensive) to do

Remember that for many organizations—and possibly yours—an eCommerce platform is the very foundation of its business model. A platform needs to be able to help manage everything from inventory and pricing to customer and product information—more on that later. It should complement existing technology in use across the business and provide a cost-effective, efficient solution for managing all eCommerce activities. It should also provide enough functionality to ensure the consolidation (or elimination) of legacy technology that’s outlived its usefulness. If the platform’s functionality ticks all of these boxes—be it BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify or whichever other system you might test-drive—then you have a winner.

Regardless, make sure that the system you choose also comes with a parachute. Consider it your eCommerce prenup. As any good divorce lawyer will tell you, the best way to enter a marriage is to have an exit strategy. While that may be a highly unromantic way to look at what might otherwise prove a blissful union, it makes sense—especially when it comes to digital technologies. Once your business is built on an eCommerce foundation, it’s very difficult (in some cases virtually impossible) to switch systems.

Ensure that you have a backup plan should the eCommerce marriage fail, or better still, make the right choice of partner in the first place. Does the vendor have a strong industry reputation for providing effective support, with relevant industry experience serving businesses the size of yours—and with a strong business model of their own—to ensure the longevity of the relationship? These are all important questions. And remember, involving team members in key departments such as IT, marketing, sales, finance, operations and senior management in the decision-making process is critical to choosing a platform that makes sense for your company.

A focus on flexibility

Above all else, the eCommerce platform war is largely being won by providers that can provide a client-centric experience and flexibility to users of its technology. It’s important to consider any eCommerce platform engagement as a partnership. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t need other partners to maximize the return on those investments. You’ll likely want to centralize product information to manage multiple SKUs across platforms and across different languages and currencies, with the aid of product information management (PIM) software.

Ensure that any eCommerce platform you select has the flexibility to support a robust PIM system. A PIM platform will allow your team to centrally manage attribute data and publish to various channels and marketplaces, then aggregate all order information back to the PIM. Retailers, for example, can manage product pricing changes and sub-brands across channels without the need to edit information across platforms.

Here’s the important takeaway: as eCommerce platform providers compete for your organization’s business, remember that taking a strategic approach to procurement is key to making the right decision. Take your time to choose the right provider and do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

In the business world it’s almost become a cliché — the large organization struggling to upgrade from a legacy software system gets bogged down in the process and sees its productivity and bottom-line performance struggle as a result. Some never manage to get through the process, instead retaining those legacy systems longer, compromising their organization’s operational capacity and competitive standing, while opening the door to increased risk in areas such as security.

This challenge is felt even more acutely by organizations attempting to upgrade their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

ERP systems help organizations manage core business processes from marketing and inventory control, to human resources and accounting. They are often huge, lumbering programs that provide businesses across sectors with real-time data and predictive analytics that help them formulate important operational decisions. Because ERP platforms are so integral to the operation of successful corporations—due in large part to the fact that they can effectively integrate and share information across various applications—downtime is not an option.

Nowhere is this more important than in the retail sector. To be truly competitive, medium to enterprise-level retailers need robust ERP systems to keep a step ahead of rivals. Without a flexible ERP solution, retailers often struggle to implement and maintain effective omnichannel strategies. With industry-wide consolidation the trend as the market share-gobbling growth of powerhouse retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. continues almost unchecked, a lax approach to technology upgrades can pose a significant threat to organizational success.

Retailers & Legacy Systems

Because legacy systems aren’t always sufficient in helping retailers manage sales across channels—after all, many of these systems were built before the explosion of digital retail—software makers such as Bristol, UK-based Brightpearl gained traction by developing software-as-a-service ERP systems tailored to the retail industry. The aim was to simplify implementation, maintenance and improve performance for retailers who struggled to manage their rapidly evolving multi-channel operations with legacy systems produced by industry giants such as Oracle Corporation.

So, does that mean that retailers should scrap their legacy ERP systems? Absolutely not. On the contrary, those systems are still critical to the smooth functioning of any organization. ERP makers continue to innovate and update their software to deliver value to clients across industries. But they can’t do it all. Brightpearl, for example, excels in helping retailers in areas ranging from resource planning and accounting, to fulfillment and reporting. Where virtually all ERP software falls short is in product data enrichment—or the structuring, categorization, publication and aggregation of product and order information across multiple retail platforms.

PIM – Product Information Management

Enter product information management (PIM) software. PIMs are supplementary middleware that allow retailers to combine information from an ERP platform to create a comprehensive master system capable of handling all product merchandising. Integrating a PIM with an ERP platform is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways for eCommerce retailers—not to mention manufacturers and distributors—to manage product across channels, while also handling core business operations in a single platform and offsetting any legacy ERP shortcomings.

When global adhesive manufacturer Avery Dennison Corporation, reached out to our team for help, they faced a common systems-integration problem.

Avery Dennison’s printers, fasteners and solutions division had been utilizing a legacy ERP system by Oracle that was still delivering impressive results. But when they needed to develop a new BigCommerce Enterprise storefront, integrating the two systems posed a major challenge. The company needed a system that could scale and grow over time, providing it with the flexibility needed to expand global eCommerce sales.

We provided the necessary consultation and insight to understand the challenge and coordinate an action plan, then worked with a partner to design and develop the new digital storefront, integrating a custom payment gateway into the BigCommerce platform. The result: our customer now has a nimble B2B website with easy-to-use payment and has the added advantage of being able to manage product information and tie in relevant data to its ERP system.

This was also a more cost-effective approach than attempting to swap out their legacy ERP software, which would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming.

We can’t underestimate the importance of that last point.

Choose PIM for your Retail eCommerce system

With the advent of online marketplaces and electronic data interchange (EDI) feeds between smaller retailers and their enterprise trading partners such as a Wal-Mart and Home Depot, it’s often far too costly for an ERP firm to develop one-off PIM solutions for a single client — not to mention the fact that ERP software firms may lack the technology needed to match the offerings of PIM-specific providers. Factor in the critically expensive implementation costs, and it’s clear why third-party PIM software makers are often the choice for everyone from budget-conscious enterprise-level retailers to their growth-hungry, medium-sized competitors.

Once integrated, a robust PIM system brings more value to ERP systems because the retailer can publish to channels and marketplaces, but aggregate all order information back to the PIM and flow data to ERP or accounting systems. That alleviates the need to export data to an eCommerce financial or accounting system. This dramatically improves order fulfillment time and simplicity, particularly when managing orders across multiple warehouses.

Even the largest ERP firms are leveraging third-party PIM systems because they need to provide the most robust solutions possible to their customers and would rather outsource that responsibility by working with the very best service providers in the industry, rather than investing the capital to develop a competitive product that may well prove inferior. Developing those partnerships only helps deepen the ERP firm’s relationship with their customers, drives client retention and expands the scope of their product offerings.

Retailers should remember that competing in the age of digital retail doesn’t mean jettisoning legacy ERP systems. The more effective strategy is to find a complementary system that helps them achieve game-changing results for less. It’s an approach that not only makes sense, but could provide the competitive advantage that organizations such as yours need to be successful as digital retail continues to dominate the market in the years ahead.

Toronto, ON – Canada  // June 18, 2015

On June 16th, 2015, along with our partners; BigCommerce, Nextopia Software Corporation, and Jackson Wynne Brand Consultants, we hosted a joint-case study presentation and social mixer event.  It was held at the Brassaii, in trendy King West district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Photo Credit: Emily Kuske – Nextopia Software

The theme for the evening was: Learn how a SaaS platform performs on the Enterprise stage.  One delegate from each respective partner organization provided a brief overview of its teams involvement in transforming a previously flat online business into an incredible success story.  The group spoke to an attentive audience of; clients, valued partners & local eCommerce enthusiasts alike.

The case study involved one of our beloved mutual clients, a legendary retail brick and mortar music store founded in 1958 in Washington, DC:  Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center.   A single store that had become the largest independently owned retail music establishment in the United States, largely on account of its reputation for exceptional customer service and dedication to helping musicians attain exactly the right equipment for the right price.

With the advent of Internet technology, while the retail store itself enjoyed healthy annual sales, its online channel (www.chucklevins.com) was greatly suffering from a wholesale under-investment in design and technology.  The site was hosted atop an antiquated eCommerce platform and had a poor aesthetic, it performed slowly and was difficult to navigate.  What’s more, low consumer shopping confidence hindered checkout conversions and created (at best) a very poor product look-book experience, contributing very little to in-store sales as well.

Not only did consumers not want to shop online via the previous website, they weren’t much compelled to come into the store on account of it either.

In 2014, Jasper Studios was engaged to provide a cohesive, end to end solution to increase sales conversions and boost consumer shopping confidence.  This endeavour required the help of some of our amazing partners (listed below), whose contributions were essential in the development of a robust enterprise solution for Chuck’s new online store.

 

BigCommerce Enterprise

After having undergone a full diligence in testing its API for merchant-ability by prototyping and connecting our PIM [product information management] system to it, we elected BigCommerce as our best-of-breed SaaS platform of choice and it was the backbone to the entire enterprise offering.

The differentiating factors of BigCommerce for us was; a quality, responsive, technically adept support team, a commitment to an impressive 99.999% of uptime SLA (service level agreement) and a fast and robust product API for enterprise integration purposes.  In short, BigCommerce was always up, it was responsive, and functioned as designed seamlessly throughout its first critical months of launch (just prior to Black Friday/Cyber Monday, 2014).

BigCommerce also fulfilled the need for us to connect a legacy ERP system (i.e. Inventory Management and Accounting platform) to our product management tool allowing us to utilize a sophisticated publication engine that powers the automated creation of products to the new ChuckLevins.com storefront.

Jackson Wynne Brand Consultants (www.jacksonwynne.com)

Our strategic design partner of record, Jackson Wynne, rose to the challenge in taking this dynastic, legendary, and time honoured brand for Chuck Levin’s and modernized its identity while paying respectful homage to a very near-and-dear sentiment amongst key stakeholders, many of whom have been there for decades.

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As Chuck’s is an established, family owned organization, and its founder Chuck Levin was a reverend gentleman loved by any and all whom he encountered, coming up with a suitable icon to meet everyone’s acceptance was no trivial feat.

Jackson Wynne is credited not only with producing a gorgeous responsive theme in BigCommerce and executing a clean and highly usable new online shopping experience, but also with producing related quality print collateral (i.e. business cards, t-shirts, letterhead, stickers. etc) and generating a creative brand guide that provided direction for the Chuck Levin’s internal design team.

Nextopia Software Corporation (www.nextopia.com)

An incredibly talented and passionate Canadian company, Nextopia proudly powers the product grid and site search capability for ChuckLevins.com.  It’s an invaluable tool in our arsenal for bringing world class enterprise solutions to clients.

What makes their service so reliable is a robust, tried-and-true technology platform with an uptime performance record that’s second to none. For enterprise clients, partner up time and performance integrity are essential to creating a reliable solution and keeping customers shopping with confidence.

Nextopia’s advanced faceting and auto complete search capability allows customers to find products quickly and intuitively, which was essential in helping increase sales conversion by a factor of 500% in just a few short months after launch.

Nextopia supplements the built in product faceting and search auto-complete capability of BigCommerce and is therefore a highly recommended enhancement to the platform.


Ortery Technologies (www.ortery.com)

Capture

As our proud HD and 360° product photography partner, Ortery Technologies has been working with Jasper Studios since 2012 and has supplied equipment to our clients that has been running for years without fail.  In a record case, producing more than 14,000 quality HD product photos and 3D panoramic views on a single piece of equipment.

Ortery provides a range of product photography solutions to suit many needs and its equipment is robust, works effortlessly and is easy to train staff on how to operate and maintain.

Ortery was elected to power photo automation for Chuck Levin’s, bringing rich media and adding excitement to their product catalog.

 

The results speak for themselves.

Having a grid powered by Nextopia with lightning fast keyword searches, backed by BigCommerce’s solid SaaS commerce platform filled with gorgeous & consistent product imagery transformed the old and under-performing online channel into a thriving new business.  In just three short months after its launch, the new online store realized a 5x increase in conversions and began trending towards a 3x projected annual increase in gross sales.

Our engineering team was able to bring a respectable, enterprise solution to market (not including prototyping time) through BigCommerce in only 6 short weeks, easily the fastest integration time we’d ever encountered with any other commerce platform.

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With the blending of these amazing partnerships, consumer shopping confidence was effectively restored.  Not only could customers now readily find what they were after, they also now had the confidence to shop online and the new high quality imagery and robust search capability was absolutely critical in helping them make noteable in-store sales as well.

Folks would phone into the store at Chuck Levin’s and comment to sales staff about how they saw a beautiful new Paul Reed Smith electric guitar on the website in full panoramic detail for example, and indicated that they wanted to come into the store to try it out.  Ultimately this increased look-booking through the new website and has now resulted in increased in-store retail sales as well.

The key to our success was the election of amazing partners, and that said, I’d like to publicly acknowledge each of them listed here.  After getting to know many of the executives and account team members from each organization, I can confidently praise them all for having an; amazing corporate culture, an excellent approach and attitude towards customer service, in being graceful and classy and utterly refreshing to work with, despite any challenge encountered and any deadline presented.

Thanks to the event organizers, our partners, clients & all attendees for making this mixer a great success!

We sincerely hope you enjoyed the evening, were inspired by the success of this case study, and we look forward to any feedback about your experience at the event.

We’d love to hear from you!  Cheers!  ^_^

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 Photo Credit: Emily Kuske – Nextopia Software