The secret life of integrations: What they are & why they’re useful
The word ‘integrations’ is thrown around the eCommerce world a lot. But what is an integration, how does it work, and why is it useful?
What is an integration?
Put simply (and in relation to eCommerce and other online platforms or SaaS providers), an integration joins two or more software platforms together so in essence they can ‘talk’ to each other. As one platform changes or is updated, the other updates accordingly. When two or more platforms are integrated with each other, they effectively run as one, so a company doesn’t have to operate multiple systems (and in some cases, multiple computers) at the same time.
The beauty of smart integrations is how much time a retailer can save and how much human error they can prevent. If a retailer is dealing with high volumes but relying on manual processes to juggle everything, at some point they’re going to drop the ball.
However, if their systems are integrated with each other, updates will automatically happen across all platforms, automation will manage those manual tasks for them, and they’ll essentially only need to run one program instead of multiples.
eCommerce integrations start with an eCommerce platform
Over the last few years, eCommerce has seen exponential growth. This is partly due to how easy it is to create a website these days.
A DIY eCommerce platform empowers businesses to create a slick website that includes all the bells and whistles, without requiring a huge financial investment upfront. Most platforms include basic website development features like hosting (where your website ‘lives’ on the internet) and customisable themes that make your website stand out from the rest.
BigCommerce takes DIY online retail website development to the next level by offering snazzy features that other platforms don’t, like the ability to advertise unlimited products, upsell and cross-sell, display prices in multiple currencies, and include email marketing integrations.
eCommerce platform + inventory management software
Once a retailer has set up their business, managing stock levels across multiple SKUs will eventually become too much of a headache. One key integration that’s useful for an eCommerce website is inventory management software (IMS). An IMS manages stock versus orders so, for example, if you’ve only got 12 candles in stock, you can’t sell 13 of them.
This integration is particularly useful if you want to reduce hands-on, manual stocktaking which often occurs in small business. Keeping stock of your stock gets even more complicated if you sell via different channels too.
Inventory management software like Cin7 doesn’t just integrate with your website; it also integrates with all your different sales channels. This means that if you sell instore, online, via an online marketplace like Amazon, through Instagram, even at your local market, your stock will be updated between them all so you never oversell and under deliver.
Inventory management can also be used to manage components of the items you sell. For example, if you sell candles, the packaging and the actual candle may come from different manufacturers. An IMS will let you know when levels are low so you can reorder all the bits you need, before you need them.
eCommerce platform + inventory management software + fulfilment automation
Once someone has made a purchase, a business has to get it out the door and into their customer’s hands. The final piece of the online retail integration puzzle is fulfilment automation. Integrating an eCommerce platform and IMS with fulfilment automation software like Starshipit means that retailers can essentially set and forget their shipping processes and rely on automation to manage almost everything for them.
Starshipit lets retailers set business logic based on variables like weight and size of an order, whether an order requires domestic or international shipping, proximity of an end address to a warehouse, or SKU. Based on this logic, orders are automatically assigned to the couriers and services a business specifies. A retailer can bulk-print shipping labels and packing slips, electronically submit customs documentation, autocorrect invalid addresses, and create manifests, significantly cutting the amount of work it takes to get orders out the door and ensuring customer expectations are met every step of the way.
How these integrations work together
If you integrate an IMS like Cin7 with your eCommerce website that’s hosted on a platform like BigCommerce, then add a fulfilment automation integration like Starshipit, the process looks a little something like this:
A customer buys, say, a candle from an online retailer. They go to checkout, select their shipping preference, and pay for their order. The website’s integration with the inventory management software has already made sure there are enough candles available, so there’s very little risk of overselling. If there weren’t any available, the website would say it had sold out of that product.
From there, the fulfilment automation integration kicks in. Orders from the IMS are automatically imported into Starshipit and assigned to a courier, so a business can see what’s been ordered, who by, where the order needs to be shipped, and what company will manage delivery. From here, the retailer picks and packs the orders that appear in Starshipit (possibly using a barcode scanner).
When orders are dispatched, Starshipit will receive tracking data from the relevant courier company and pass it back to the IMS, which in turn passes it back to the sales platform so they can update customers on the status of their orders. Supplying customers with regular notifications on parcel location significantly reduces a merchant’s customer service queries and improves their overall customer service reputation.
Integrations make business simple
And just like that, you’ve created a seamless, fully integrated online business that does a lot of the heavy lifting for you, leaving you with more time to focus on more important things … like actually growing your business.
If any of that sounds complicated, imagine how much more work you’d have to do by hand if you didn’t have it all integrated and automated. Savvy integrations empower online retailers to work smarter, stay ahead of product innovation, and improve overall customer experience.