Getting an E-commerce Business Started
To succeed in today’s very challenging economy, you must build an e-commerce business. The idea can be daunting, but … if your ERP solution is already linked to online stores such as Magento this is actually very simple. How so? All you need to do is create a store account, download a theme and customize the look and feel of the online store. Then, you can automatically push products as well as product updates and inventory from the ERP system to Magento and automatically pull in the orders placed on Magento. The ERP system functions as the inventory management system for Magento as well as the fulfillment or warehouse management system for Magento. You can be up and running and selling online within a few days, and since Magento has an opensource edition, the cost can be surprisingly affordable.
E-commerce is Here to Stay
E-commerce has been around for a long time. However, the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and 2021 and the lockdowns that ensued, fundamentally changed the role of e-commerce. According to the US Census Bureau’s Annual Retail Trade Survey for 2020, e-commerce sales increased by 43% in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, rising to $815.4 billion in 2020. Through the pandemic, most consumers and many businesses were forced to use e-commerce and did. For the most part, they were impressed by the convenience, ease of use and ability to easily compare options, that e-commerce provided. Now, even after the lockdowns have ended, this experience has permanently changed buying habits. Your customers now demand e-commerce options, and you have to deliver these e-commerce options if you hope to retain your customers. You can create a single online store on a platform such as Magento, or you could consider multiple online stores as well as selling on online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay or Walmart. You can also create a Self-Service online portal.
Types of E-commerce Solutions
Traditionally, e-commerce solutions were thought of as either B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). The original distinction between B2B selling to businesses and B2C selling to consumers is blurring as both types of customers continue to embrace e-commerce. B2B solutions are typically Self-Service Portals for your existing customers that have pre-established credit terms and pre-negotiated complex pricing including contracts, matrix pricing, quantity breaks, etc. B2C solutions are more limited and allow customers to purchase items typically at a set price and prepay by credit card. Both types of e-commerce solutions allow customers to search for items, place orders, view status of their orders, and view their account history and invoices. e-Commerce solutions can be online Self-Service portals, or stores on e-commerce platforms like Magento, Shopify, Woo Commerce or online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay or Walmart.
How the Right ERP Solution Can Help
Regardless of the type of e-commerce solution you implement, there are several challenges that need to be addressed. These include figuring out how to update your products and prices, how to manage your inventory, how to sell online across multiple platforms as well as through physical stores, how to fulfil your orders, how to purchase products from your suppliers, how to track your customers, etc. Most e-commerce solutions do not have robust inventory, order, fulfilment and purchasing capabilities. That is where ERP solutions come into the picture. ERP solutions excel at (1) inventory control and tracking across multiple warehouses and multiple units of measure for each product, (2) order processing and order management, (3) warehouse management for picking, packing and shipping operations including multi-carrier shipping, (4) purchasing management (5) customer relationship management and (6) Reporting and BI. If you have an existing business, chances are that you already have an ERP system. If it is the right ERP system that has an online Self-Service portal and is already linked with multiple e-commerce platforms and marketplaces then you’re in luck. To create an online Magento store for example, the ERP solution will serve as the inventory management system for Magento as well as the fulfillment engine and warehouse management system for Magento.
What ERP Can Do to Build Your E-commerce
ERP solutions can be particularly helpful where your e-commerce strategy includes multiple online stores and/or self-service portals. The ERP solution serves as your central source of truth across all selling channels. We discuss below each of the areas in which an ERP solution can provide the operational capabilities to power your e-commerce business.
An online Magento store, for example, without a comprehensive inventory management system for Magento that includes inventory control and inventory tracking across multiple branches and warehouses, will quickly run into trouble. It is important that the inventory management system for Magento allows multiple units of measure for each product, since products are often purchased in pallets or cases and sold by the each.
- Inventory Control: Allows you to view products by group, by category, by sub-category, by product, what is committed, what is available to sell, where the products are located in the warehouse, what is coming in on purchase orders, and when.
- Inventory Tracking: Purchasing goods from suppliers often involves taking ownership of the goods before they arrive. This means you need to be able to track the flow of goods from the supplier through the Supply Chain to your warehouse and/or from your warehouse to customers.
Order Processing and Management
Orders can come in from e-commerce online stores, or through a self-service portal, or a variety of other channels and a key success factor is being able to process and manage these efficiently.
- Order Processing: Orders go through various stages from receipt of the order to fulfilment by the warehouse which includes the operations of picking, packing and shipping, then delivery to the customer, managing backorders and invoicing the customer.
- Order Management: Order management entails keeping track of the orders received from all the different channels in one place and ensures that orders are not overlooked as they are processed through the various order processing stages.
Many e-commerce-only sellers will outsource warehouse management to a third-party. However, if you operate an online Magento store, for example, alongside other physical channels, a warehouse management system for Magento is critical to being able to get the goods ordered quickly to your customers without error. Warehouse management covers six key processes:
- Receiving: Includes checking in and logging incoming items to verify that you’re receiving the right quantity, in the right condition, at the right time.
- Put-away: Involves moving items from the receiving dock to their correct storage locations.
- Storage: Includes safely storing and logically arranging your inventory to enable fast and accurate picking.
- Picking: This is the process of collecting the items needed to fulfill sales orders.
- Packing: To prepare the picked items for shipment, they must be safely packed into the correct packaging with an accurate packing slip.
- Shipping: Once packed orders are sent out on the right vehicle, at the right time, with the correct documentation, so customers receive their orders on time. To get the best rates and delivery you need to be able to rate shop against multiple carriers and/or LTL, FTL and rail options.
As you sell goods, you need to keep your e-commerce business restocked. Purchasing management helps you decide what inventory to purchase, how much to purchase and when.
- Reorder Planning: As products get sold you need to plan when to replenish products that are getting close to their reorder points. Reorder points are generally preset thresholds based, for each product, on the product’s safety stock level, the rate at which the product is sold or used and the lead time that it takes to get the product into the warehouse after a purchase order is placed with the vendor. The process of reorder planning seeks to balance the amount of inventory you purchase against the return on investment of tying up capital in inventory.
- Placing Purchase Orders: This involves first determining which pre-qualified suppliers can give you the best price and terms on the inventory you are seeking to purchase. Then once you have determined which suppliers to purchase from, you need to create purchase orders with the inventory line items you need to be filled by the supplier or vendor.
- Receiving and Settlement: Once the goods are shipped by the supplier, they need to be tracked through the Supply Chain and then correctly received and booked into inventory at the right cost. If you are ordering goods from overseas suppliers, the supplier’s price must be marked up by the Landed Costs including: shipping and insurance costs, clearing and forwarding costs, import duties and tariffs, local transportation costs, etc. Settlement involves ensuring that all receipts of goods as well as all Landed Costs are properly matched to purchase orders and the suppliers and/or vendors are paid.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
e-Commerce platforms have very limited CRM capabilities. For an online Magento store, for example, the ERP solution can provide not only the inventory management system for Magento and the warehouse management system for Magento, but also the CRM capability. CRM helps you keep track of your customers’ and prospects’ details, profiles, interactions, and overall relationships. Tracking all this information allows you make more sales, improve your marketing and provide better customer service.
- Closing More Sales: With CRM, salespersons can record all the feedback from customer interactions and have it always at hand. Information is not lost, important follow up can be calendared and tracked, and feedback captured, and all of this greatly improves the likelihood of a successful sale. Also, salespersons can manage their sales funnels to turn prospects into leads, then into opportunities, then into deals and then finally into closed sales.
- Marketing: CRM allows incoming leads to be prioritized and properly categorized using a pipeline approach to sales. This process can be improved with calendaring and setting up the regular communications necessary to progress leads to sales opportunities.
- Customer Service: By tracking all customer interactions, CRM can help support personnel better respond to questions. Also, all support personnel can see the same customer record and so anyone can respond knowledgeably to the customer’s inquiries.
Reports and Business Intelligence (BI)
With a full ERP system, you get extensive reports and BI capabilities. These can be used to analyze and improve your e-commerce operations too. For example, you can use BI to optimize the inventory management system for a Magento online store to minimize investment and maximize turns to improve ROI. You can analyze the warehouse management system for the Magento store to improve fulfillment and improve the customer experience. Also you can use BI to analyze your e-commerce sales and determine how you can improve. You can analyze your customers’ buying behavior to uncover many hidden cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. For example, many customers buy several products together, and once you identify this, you can search for and find those customers that are buying only some of those products but not others. These are then up-sell opportunities. If products that are typically bought together but some are rising and some are falling, this might signal, for example, that customers are substituting one product for another. With an early-warning alert like this, you can adjust your purchasing to better position yourself.
Accolent ERP is a Cloud-based solution that delivers complete inventory management, order processing and order management, warehouse management, purchasing management CRM and reporting and business intelligence. Accolent ERP is linked directly to many online e-commerce platforms such as Magento, Shopify, Woo Commerce, and online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart. Accolent ERP also offers an online Self-Service Portal that allows your customers to place orders, and get their negotiated pricing, payment terms, account statements, reports on their purchases, etc. Contact us today to learn how Accolent ERP can serve as the inventory management system for Magento, the order management, CRM, purchasing management and the warehouse management system for Magento or any of the other e-commerce platforms or marketplaces Accolent ERP is linked with.