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From the TheGenieLab US - TheGenieLab Blog blog

eCommerce requirements:  Where no Application has gone before.

When a store owner struggles and pulls long hours daily to keep their business running, their mind wonders “what if?”  What is this wondering? How could it be satisfied? There are several steps of bringing efficiencies to your ecommerce model, or take your business to the next level.  Here are three to consider, and may relate to your needs.

  1.  App Integration

As per a previous post we have done in the past month (Link), this important step delivers a more seamless data flow between apps, business reports and tax/finance keeping.  However, while this exercise adds efficiencies, they are still tied to industry best practices, and are tied to tools that may not mirror your preferred business practices. Examples of such apps are:  Xero/QuickBooks, Referral Candy, Plug-in-SEO, Facebook Channel, etc.

It is no bad thing to follow industry practices, however, every business is unique and a lot of times do not follow the norms – which is part of your competitive advantage in competing with the industry.  Yet, these industry best practices will still slow you down as they are designed for a broad audience in their specific category/function. App integration can ease the data-flow, but cannot alter the individual app’s processes and interfaces with the controls necessary to manage with staff executing in operations.

App Integration should be considered a must-do step in your ecommerce store.  For the shopkeepers, a data flow review and map gives you greater control over your store’s features, data exchanges and the ability to data mine for better marketing campaigns.  However, when your organisation grows, the next areas for consideration become relevant.

  1.  Custom App

When the industry cannot offer you what you need, and you have identified a part of your operations that needs automation, process, structure and audit – then a custom app may be the way forward.

Usually this presents itself as part of your unique business model, something that makes you stand out, and requires you to wrap your ecommerce tools around it – yet, the internal processes that delivers to its clients are in need of workflow, notifications of completions (stages) all the way to shipments.

While process mapping, working with team leads to factor in process deviations for special circumstances, the desire for reliability and quality drives the business owner to want integrated efficiencies in the tool they know well and best.  However, this does require further though if the current ecommerce platform is able to provide you the architecture to fit in this level of automation. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Cloud vs. Hosted:  While a cloud based ecommerce system such as Shopify makes great sense as a start-up or straight forward trading where you can extend its functionality with free or paid apps subscriptions, the architecture will limit you at its transactional core.  WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Magento are examples of hosted platforms that are editable in those particular areas. They are by no means easy to modify, yet, you can leverage that code base to add additional triggers or processes to occur. Additionally, if you require your own URL during transactions without having to pay the extra Shopify plans to do so, and have full control over branding/layout of your checkout, that may be reason enough to be in a hosted platform.  But why would that be?

Shopify offers industry standard checkout steps – 3 pages of checkout (name/shipping-address, Shipping Method, Billing information).  Apps like Bellroy checkout process can consolidate these 3 steps into one. But what if you have additional information required outside these standard steps?  Things like uploading documents or review of these documents/images at checkout, identifying multiple locations or adding additional delivery instructions to duty/tax forms to be supplied.  If that’s where you need your process automation and an app does not provide you that level of access/flexibility – your platform needs consideration.

  1. Cloud/Hosted Hybrid:  As an example, let’s cover Back-end workflow.  While cloud solutions provide you with a lot of flexibility in managing your business with various apps and integrations with that platform, what if you need your staff to access the back-end with the correct permissions to view/manage their areas of the production to yield a completed order?  Yes, platforms like Shopify can provide you with some controls/access, however, there will be limitations on how much customisation you can have in the back end. Much like the above point made in Cloud vs. Hosted, the platform must be considered, but now you can have additional options where a hybrid of Cloud and Hosted can co-exist.  Yes, the app lives outside of the App-cloud, and is hosted on your own server, and interacts with the cloud API (Application Programming Interface) to extract an order request, processes it in the workflow desired and is then handed back via the API as a completed order. The interface can also be within Shopify all the while it is operating within your server, and communicating to Shopify via the back-end API.

  1.  Cross eCommerce Platform App.

How about taking your business to the next level, and an App is your way forward to allow others to use their brand to funnel orders to your store and drop ship directly to their clients?  The App can be relevant to multiple ecommerce platforms as your clients are now shopkeepers that may vary on their choice of ecommerce platforms – yet, a unified process between all your clients provide a common interface to offer products, tracking which ones are being offered, which ones are customised to which store, order reports of each store, financial tracking and financial arrangements between your business and each store – the list is extensive.  An example of this is Printful (can be found in Shopify) where custom T-shirts can be offered by various shopkeepers and are all printed in a central location. Yes, these apps exist, and if your business is looking to expand, this may be a way forward - Franchising your ecommerce store.

Conclusion:  While the strengths of a shopkeeper are trade, your business acumen and relationships – it may not easily translate to IT based requirements for discussion.  At TheGenieLab – the expertise to translate your needs to specifications is key to size up your needs and be able to calculate your return on investment. eCommerce platforms are powerful tools that have to deliver on many fronts securely, and delivering the right expectations for consumers.  Apps can help in industry standard ways, however, your business is unique – considering your growth to frame the question – what if? How about saving time, money, increasing quality, shortening time-to-delivery, increasing customer satisfaction by minimising returns and avoiding procedural mistakes.  All of which increases your bottom line.