Welcome to the BlackBook Consulting guide to E-Commerce Infrastructure for 2021. This guide will spell out in (relatively) simple language and concepts how you can build a fully-fledged e-commerce infrastructure for the online side of your business. It will help you avoid expensive, time consuming mistakes. Knowing your CRM’s from your ERP’s is valuable knowledge in the 21st century.
Your e-commerce infrastructure is one of the biggest ‘must have’ investments you can make in any size of business or organisation looking to move product over the internet. The cumulative cost in time, manpower and money of implementing an integrated commerce infrastructure across the web can be huge.
Aside from the cost of actually building your e-commerce infrastructure, there are the implications for the costs of running your business. Your e-commerce function wont run itself, and the marketing and merchandising alone takes a lot of time and effort to get right.
You’ll also have the increased costs of picking & packing, shipping / freight costs, and most of all, *stock control*. Aside from the transactional side of e-commerce, it is the stock control function that is most overlooked, and can often provide the most return on investment if a solution is implemented correctly.
Lots of ‘experts’ will say you can do e-commerce on the cheap. Of course you can. If your business is small and nimble enough for you to manually do most things, no problem. But if you’re growing – you MUST automate as much of this as you can to stay profitable and retain some sanity.
I’ll be clear on this – if you get these systems wrong, it can cripple your organisation, cost you tens or hundreds of thousands in wasted investment, and delay the progress of your efforts by years.
To help you understand what we are talking about, and to give you a crash course in e-commerce digital infrastructure, you need to know the basics. Here are all of the key terms and descriptions of the systems you need to know about to get e-commerce right in 2021. (How they fit together in a typical situation, is shown above in our handy map.)
For software to be able to work together and talk to each other successfully, you need what is known as an ‘integration’. I have classified these under three different categories, neatly explained for you here. When specifying integrations, the three key considerations are:
- How effective is the integration? Does it cover all of the data fields I want it to transfer?
- Am I able to control its settings without resorting to coding? Can I control the data flow direction myself?
- Who is going to maintain it? The vendor of the software being integrated? A third party integration developer? Do we have to ourselves?
The options shown below are not always available for integrations, and sometimes you are limited to only one option. It is this issue that causes the single biggest hurdle to implementing an integrated digital e-commerce infrastructure. It is so serious, that it can often dictate which software you choose to do a job in the first place. This is why using a planning map to plan everything out before making a single purchase (similar to that shown at the top of this article) is absolutely necessary.
There are three types of focus around E-Commerce that you should consider, when specifying an integrated e-commerce infrastructure:
It’s important to note that all three areas should really be a focus for you – but you can only achieve that if you have the budget, the expertise and the manpower. So unless you do, pick the focus that is most relevant to your organisation. Having the courage to admit that your organisation cannot be all things to all people is an important step in growing it successfully.
Unsurprisingly, any e-commerce infrastructure relies heavily on the fundamental parts of the operation. I’m going to get controversial here. It is my view that the fundamentals are:
- The Front-End – You’re going to need a shop window / website that is well built, user-friendly, and highly optimised for search engines.
- The Back-End – The control panel for your website needs to be easy to use, and contain all of the programmable functions you need.
- The E-Commerce System – This needs to be simple to use, well-tested and secure, and provide solid reporting functionality for your shop.
- The WMS – You need a system that records your stock levels, your stock condition, and that controls your stock-out criteria for reordering. (If your products are downloadable, it’s a different story.)
Including the WMS here is controversial because it branches out of the standard coverage of most e-commerce system specifiers. Many companies that provide e-commerce systems purposefully often try to exclude WMS from their specification, because it complicates the project, and can seriously erode their margins if they’re not sure how to price it. The idea of integrating an e-commerce system into other systems is absolutely terrifying to many agencies – this is the e-commerce development criteria that separates the basic from the brilliant partners.
Every single e-commerce function built in 2021 needs to have these fundamental components. Your whole system will rely on them early on – so get them absolutely right.
*It is possible to build a very basic WMS function into your e-commerce system, which is something I’ll explain elsewhere.*
Here, we have listed a set of guides for you to compare and contrast the leading platforms that cover each of the technology headings above. It’s not exhaustive, and certainly things will change as the software is upgraded and developed.
These articles are a work in progress (it’s a huge amount of work) so please be patient for me to create and publish them.
Get in touch via the form below, with Ben at BlackBook Consulting to have an initial consultation to build or improve your eCommerce operation from the ground up.