Does your company work with both an eCommerce site and an in-store point-of-sale (POS) system? If so, your customer experience may be in danger.
As we know, eCommerce relies on a tightly-integrated customer experience across each of your company’s assets. Customers should be able to have the exact same shopping experience regardless of where they purchase, whether it’s through your website, your mobile app, or your brick-and-mortar store.
And while we’ve spent plenty of time discussing the importance of optimizing your website and mobile experiences, there’s one important aspect to bridging your physical and digital shopping experiences that has received less attention: The eCommerce and POS integration.
System Integration—Your Customer Experience Relies on It
To understand the role that each system plays in your customer experience, we need to look at what each system does:
- Your eCommerce platform is the master system behind your customer experience. This platform has functions related to inventory management, customer account management, shipping/warehousing information, sales data, and more.
- Your POS system is the hardware and software collecting customer sales data. Typically, POS systems collect only basic customer information related to the specific purchase, though most retailers upgrade their system to expand its capabilities further.
Integrating these two platforms seems like a natural fit, but you’d be surprised how many retailers operate with these systems in silos. Their legacy eCommerce platform may not support integration with their newer POS system, or they may mistakenly believe that their customer experience isn’t affected by keeping the systems separate. Either way, they’re missing out on the benefits.
Accurate Product Data
When updates are made to an eCommerce product catalog, employees usually need to go in and manually update product details at brick-and-mortar stores. But with eCommerce/POS integration, these updates are automatically applied so that customers know exactly what they’re getting.
In addition, as a result of having a centralized product information management (PIM) system that is included with your eCommerce platform – store associates can accurately answer product related questions, create orders in-person and place online orders for any product not in stock at the store. The customer experience takes on an important new dimension when store associates have more tools and more information at their disposal and those tools require no in-store management in order to be effective.
Updated Inventory Levels
Along those same lines, linking the eCommerce/POS system helps guarantee that inventory levels stay accurate across all transactions. Employees can find information in real time on inventory status and product availability across any of the retailer’s locations. And like product details, changes are applied automatically—meaning no more bookkeeping or invoicing surprises when employees forget to deduct product from your master inventory list.
When employees process orders manually through uncoupled POS systems, there’s a natural delay from when the customer orders to when the order is actually placed. However, when you join your eCommerce platform to your POS, orders are processed and sent to ship immediately—a great boost to the customer’s buying experience.
Ease of Use
Your customers won’t be the only ones who benefit from an integration. If your employees are still processing customer orders manually and inputting POS data into the eCommerce platform by hand, they’re wasting time that could be spent helping your customers.
- Your eCommerce and POS systems are separate parts of your customer experience that must be tightly integrated.
- Joining the systems provides benefits to your shopping experience, ordering process, and backend efficiency.
- Companies using eCommerce systems that lack the flexibility to integrate with the POS may struggle to achieve these benefits.
Connecting the Two Systems
Don’t underestimate the impact these customer experience boosts can have to your company. Research by Forrester showed that customer experience leaders in retail grow revenue faster than laggards. Of course, to unlock the benefits for yourself, you’ll need to make sure the two systems are integrated correctly.
At its most basic, “integration” just means finding a way for two service providers to communicate to provide a solution that will work with your business model, in this case, your POS system and your eCommerce platform proper. As such, the integration conversation begins with the eCommerce partners supplying your platform.
Typically, there are several scenarios for deploying a POS system and integrating it into an existing eCommerce platform:
- Built-in POS: If a retailer is lucky enough to have an omnichannel eCommerce platform implemented there may already be a POS system available that simply needs to be “turned on”. A true point of sale integration is simply another “store” that a customer is shopping. The POS will feature a unique interface for running product search, order creation and customer account lookup – designed with an emphasis on speed and quick access.
- Connection As A Plugin: If you’re forced to maintain two disconnected systems, between eCommerce and POS, the best solution may be to install a separate plugin or module built specifically for your setup (“Platform X to POS Y”). Unfortunately, relying on a plugin product means that you’re going to be forced to maintain another product and keep data in sync across both platforms. The integration between both systems requires that both the eCommerce platform and the POS can make data available and incorporate data from another system in an effective way.
- Custom Integration: The most comprehensive type of integration, this approach involves working with your eCommerce and POS partners to develop custom code that allows the two systems coordinate. When there are no out-of-the-box solutions and the systems aren’t playing well together, the only remaining option is to look for customizable stand-alone services. There are obvious downsides to this type of integration including an additional vendor to deal with, another piece of software that can break or mess up data and added expenses (both time and money). However, if a POS is already in place and the integration options are limited, this may be the best (and only) option to accomplish a true eCommerce / POS integration.
Clearly, custom integrations offer the most flexibility, though they tend to be more complicated. Many eCommerce platforms come standard with closely-connected frontend and backend interfaces that make more advanced integrations tricky. If so, you’ll need to work with your providers to see which options are available.
- Retailers who prioritize the customer experience see higher revenue growth than those that treat it as an afterthought.
- eCommerce platform integrations are possible through a variety of means, depending on the retailer’s existing platform and desired features.
- Comprehensive, feature-rich integrations rely on an eCommerce platform that’s flexible and adaptable.
The Bottom Line
U.S. retail eCommerce sales will surpass $735 billion by 2023. In other words, there’s plenty of gold in the streets for companies that know how to push their customer experiences to the next level. If you’re working with a dedicated eCommerce platform alongside a POS system, take stock of your system and see where your experience might be coming up short. Unless your systems are integrated well, there might be room for improvement.
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