So, you’ve managed to build a thriving retail business, but with a relatively basic eCommerce platform that no longer suits your organization’s needs—maybe due to the geographic scope of the business, operational realities or product information complexities. In other words, it’s time for an eCommerce upgrade. Perhaps it’s also time to integrate a robust product information management (PIM) tool to run alongside your eCommerce platform of choice, be it Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento—or any of the dozens of other options available in the marketplace.

Expansion is the goal of any growth-minded organization. And why not? Your business wasn’t built to be small. You should be seeking out new markets and customer segments to sell your wares. The good news is that rapid advancements in eCommerce technology are making it faster and cheaper than ever to sell more with lower capital investments and fewer staff. Organic search rankings are the new foot traffic; each potential conversion another step towards bottom-line success for your organization.

But then comes the hard part: managing logistical challenges such as distribution, marketing to disparate audience segments across locales, order fulfillment, maintaining search engine performance through a robust search engine marketing program and even updating product information across channels could seem like an insurmountable hurdle. New software is the solution to your woes. Or is it?

The obvious answer is that, yes, updated eCommerce and PIM technology is the key to ongoing organizational success. But it can also be an albatross that stunts the growth of even the highest-potential companies. In fact, we would take it a step further. Most organizations that go it alone when attempting to upgrade their eCommerce software will fail at the task and wind up worse off than when they started. This may sound like heresy coming from a software firm that sells PIM services, but it’s a simple reality. Companies are often dazzled by their shiny new technological toys but fail to take the human element into account. Cue the potential for an unmitigated platform upgrade disaster.

The reason is that humans have a particular disdain for change. We all want our organizations to be successful but give most of us the option to keep running good ol’ Windows XP, for example, and most of us would have been happy to keep on carrying on. The so-called innovators or early adopters of technology are the exception, of course. They’re usually the top talent who look for new software to challenge their skills and grow in their positions. They’ll often hop from one company to another just to find the latest and greatest tech infrastructure to satiate this demand. They’re also in the vast minority across workplaces.

User adaptation challenges are typically the greatest obstacle to eCommerce integration success. This is a costly problem that plagues almost every organization. But there are solutions.

Choose the right system for your culture

To foster real change, the process needs to be led from the top. If senior management or ownership doesn’t want to make the shift, it will never be accepted among the rank-and-file. Solving people problems means tapping the talents of an effective leadership team who can find the right software, sell it to employees and ensure its adoption and effective deployment. Easy, right?

This is where organizations tend to separate the managerial wheat from the chafe, so to speak. We would argue that the first step when test-driving any new eCommerce solution (or PIM, for that matter) is to devote equal time to focusing on the organization’s operational needs, user experience and employee culture. Let’s focus on that last point for a moment.

If yours is a workplace filled to the rafters with keen innovators who want to learn about new technology, then your options for choosing new software expand dramatically. Team members who fall into this category may be so comfortable with tech that they’re prepared to suggest ongoing modifications to a new platform to improve efficiency in areas such as merchandising, for example—leading from the bottom up so to speak. We’ve also seen the exact opposite scenario play out, where change-averse staff recoil at the thought of learning new technology. In that case, finding software with the most user-friendly interface possible is a smart choice.

But does it really work?

It’s possible to be sold on a wonderful piece of technology only to realize a few months into its integration that it doesn’t quite tick the boxes you’d expected. That dazzling front-end interface may be easy to use, but if the functionality is substandard, what’s the point?

It goes without saying that function must always share equal billing with form on the tech front. Our PIM systems, for example, are designed with flexibility in mind, allowing 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. But if that functionality isn’t what your organization needs—and as much of a game-changing benefit as it might provide—what’s the point?

That brings us back to the earlier mention of user experience. We’ve seen situations play out where an eCommerce platform delivers the exact back-end functionality an organization needs to grow online sales and expand its digital footprint. The problem in many cases—particularly when legacy systems are tied into new ones—is that front-end simplicity and functionality is compromised to ensure everything works well behind the scenes. It’s sort of like being a restaurant that pours all of its capital into making sure its kitchen is decked out with top-of-the-line equipment, but at the expense of dining room aesthetics and service.

A simple rule: balance functionality with user experience or be prepared to upgrade your software (again!) in a very short period of time.

Communicate the benefits and take time to train staff

Another prime pitfall for organizations is introducing new software as a fait accompli, but failing to sell its advantages. Now, you may be wondering why this is necessary. Employees are paid to do a job and are paid to use whatever tools their employer provides to get the job done. Like it or leave it.

That all makes sense, until you factor in the crippling impact of employee turnover, retraining, and rampant disengagement on an organization’s bottom line. In that case, taking the hardline approach to user adaptation sounds far less appealing.
Management should be the ones ready and able to take the time to present the benefits of new technology to their staff. They should be ready to field an array of questions: When will it be implemented? Do we have to use it? Do we really need to change now—and why? They’re all rudimentary queries, but also reasonable. These are the human challenges that come with introducing new technology, and they can be devastating. If employees outright refuse to use a new system, it will either gather digital dust or be used inefficiently. Some may even choose to move on to a new employer if the tech rollout is seen as a botched job.

Be prepared to get those early adopters on board fast, perhaps by introducing them to your new eCommerce software first. Maybe they’re part of an in-house tech committee, or part of a group that volunteers to beta the new platform. Whatever the case, your initiative stands a far greater chance of success if they buy into the process in advance of their colleagues.
Training is crucial once a new system has been introduced to staff. This is another area where so many organizations fall short. And we don’t mean a half-hour primer. In some organizations, particularly those with staff who are less tech-savvy, the training process could take weeks. In others, it could be ongoing for months. Some might be able to direct their employees to a YouTube how-to video series and leave them to figure out the rest on their own (particularly when using a relatively user-friendly eCommerce platform such as Shopify). Determining an appropriate training investment will depend on your corporate culture and staff composition. Taking the time to make the right assessment will save major headaches down the road.

Take time for implementation and migration

Last point, and it’s an important one. No matter how tech-savvy your team may be, remember that implementing and migrating content and data from one system to another takes time. It’s common for organizations to try to rush the process based on an arbitrary deadline. This is usually a recipe for disaster. Give your team at least three to six months to make the leap from old to new software, and again, focus on the end consumer’s experience. Just because a system works mostly well, doesn’t mean it’s ready for prime time.

All it takes is one negative customer experience to generate a tidal wave of bad social media and search engine reviews for your brand—and no one needs bad press based on an unforced error like launching a new platform before it’s been bug-tested and tweaked to perfection.

So, here’s the big takeaway: user adaptation is a very human challenge that needs to be managed with care, both internally and from the customer’s perspective. The good news is that your organization won’t be the first to overcome this seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

AI’s Role in eCommerce

I think we’ve all got to a point now where we are seeing AI’s role in our future slightly differently than movies of the past saw it. Yes, there may always be that slight ‘they’re gonna take over’ fear at the back of your mind, but the technology has proven to be much more than a bunch of maniac robots hellbent on the demise of humankind. Many companies now have begun implementing accessible new AI technologies to enhance customers experience. It is beginning to play an even more critical role in eCommerce, and it shows no sign of being less useful anytime soon, so business owners should see how it can work to their advantage.

How Artificial Intelligence Affects eCommerce

AI is impacting online businesses in a myriad of ways. It helps customers by showing them more relevant products related to their interests or search history. It benefits companies by retargeting potential customers after they may visit a site but not make a purchase. And whereas there may be a number of reasons why that purchase didn’t go ahead, AI can remind customers of the webpage they had visited, to boost the chance of them coming back to complete the sale.

In many ways, AI serves as a virtual shop-floor assistant for consumers. In a traditional shop environment, an ambassador of your brand can help customers by upselling items related to those you’ve expressed interest in. Online stores do not have the same capabilities, so its important for proven retail tactics and the best customer experiences be replicated. A highly advanced AI can essentially fill in and help customers find exactly what they’re looking for.

The Benefits

One major advantage to using artificial intelligence is that it creates a more efficient sales process. Your company’s resources and – more importantly – customers no longer have to deal with cold calls or other time-consuming, less than popular enterprises. For instance, you can implement your AI system into voice input devices, such as Alexa or Siri, so that your products show up in customers’ inquiries.

Machine intelligence also takes into account a number of other factors in a customer’s online behaviour. It can take into account Google searches and images you have looked at in the past. The technology will do more than simply show consumers more pictures of potential items to buy. It can provide coupons and special offers for customers who decide to pull the trigger and buy something.

The Features

There are a huge amount of features that come with AI. From the simple to advance, cheap to pretty expensive. One great and next-to-nothing feature is chatbots. That’s right, chances are when you’ve seen a little message box pop-up on a site there’s not actually a real person on the other end of it. However, they are perfectly able to answer basic questions that the everyday customer will have, and well too. And if they cant, they will forward it on to your team. One more thing to give the customer the real-life experience of someone asking ‘how can I help you today?’.

On the other end, impressive features like integration with household devices are becoming real. AI will soon be able to register what items you have in your refrigerator and automatically order them when they come close to running out, more time for the consumer, more guaranteed sales for you.

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.

An increasing amount of consumers are choosing to do their shopping from the comfort and convenience of their mobile. Out and about, travelling or just at home people are buying stuff on their smartphones more than ever. Any competent business owner needs to have an eye toward optimizing web pages for smartphones and tablets.

Both Browsing and Searching Options

People either know exactly what they want or are having a browse. They may be linked to a specific product page, or have landed on your site for searching through product lines or ranges. In either instance, your site needs to cater to both circumstances. Having a great mobile-optimized search feature, and a homepage that visually takes you on a tour of your offer and product line will ensure people stay on your site for recreational browsing. Product pages need to be visual and provide all information, but on screens that are small enough to be held in hand, cluttering can happen pretty fast. Consider collapsable descriptions and product information, to make way for beautiful imagery. Navigation should be simple, so customers do not need to go far to find what they want.

Large Clickable Elements

Sounds obvious but is important and sometimes overlooked. To learn more about a product, consumers will need to click or tap on their mobile device; you need to ensure the tap-able area is big enough. On a laptop or desktop, chances are people are using a mouse so that interactive components can be small pieces of text or something similar. On mobile, make the images the links or nice big colourful tabs so that consumers do not struggle to learn more.

Easy Checkout

Ultimately the goal is for customers to buy something straight from their smartphone. So like the rest of the experience, the checkout process needs to be seamless. Include calls to actions (CTA’s) on each page so that consumers can go effortlessly from one step to the next. Avoid significant long scrolling forms, as errors will often arise, instead make each section easy and straightforward. Include positive and assuring icons like ticks, so people know parts are completed. Make sure you offer information about your service, as much as people want things to be effortless, they always want to know their money is being handles and process legitimately. You may even want to consider things like integrated payment gateways, allowing people to snap their credit card information with their camera, uploading the data instantly to your site.

Seamless Transition Between Devices

Over the course of a few hours, users may cycle through numerous devices. A person may shop initially from a laptop but make the final purchase through a smartphone. Therefore, your business should allow customers to develop an account through your site, which will enable them to put items into a shopping cart for later purchase. That way people can log into their accounts from any device and pick up right where they left off.

Simple-to-Find Search Tabs

When consumers look through clothing, they may want to filter by size, colour or brand. You want these types of tabs to be easily found on search pages. You can add an expandable search icon at the top of the page, allowing consumers. Part of including these tabs should also involve allowing users to take away mistakes easily. Allow consumers to backtrack effortlessly so that they do not need to start from scratch every time they want a do-over.

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 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.