More and more companies are moving into the realm of selling their products online, or starting up specifically to do so. Many typically focus initially on the web store, and as orders begin to come in and volume grows, they have to deal with managing their inventory, purchasing and shipping of orders. Frequently the back-end processing is manual, Excel-based or shoehorned into an entry-level accounting system. The idea is that "if we grow beyond this, we'll then implement new integrated systems."
If you're starting an online sales business, be aware that at some point in the future, if you're successful, you'll become a victim of your own success. Your manual or disconnected back-end system will become a millstone around your neck, and either become a drag on your ability to grow sales, or a cause of inefficiencies and potentially customer dissatisfaction. Statistically, you're most likely to only start looking at integrating your web store and back-end system seamlessly and efficiently once you're already in this mess. But there are many benefits of not waiting until that point. Here are three reasons to integrate your systems early:
- Web store platform: many of the less costly basic web stores do not play nicely with others, or provide a basic level of integration with one or 2 basic bookkeeping programs. That may be fine if you're only ever going to be handling 10 or 15 transactions per day. But if you grow too far, too fast, on such a platform, you may have to change your web store to a completely new platform before you can even begin to work on systems integration. And that can end up being a massively disruptive and costly exercise. It's much easier to change your web store earlier on, or even better, start off with a plan in place for integration that shapes your decision on the platform to start off with.
- Personnel: a seamlessly integrated system both requires and allows for a different level of employee in the warehouse and to some extent in the office. If you put integration in place early, you avoid hiring / firing issues, retraining of staff, and resistance to changed processes. I've seen a company add two people to the accounting dept. because the incumbent bookkeeper refused to change from a stand-alone accounting system to another one that could integrate with their online store, and she'd been at the business too many years to be retrenched.
- Avoid losing customers: if you don't have an integrated inventory management system at the back-end of your web store, with accurate up to the minute availability data, you'll accept orders and payments from customers and be unable to ship what they've bought. Do that to me more than once, and I'll probably never buy from your web store again.
By integrating your online sales with a robust back-end inventory, purchasing and accounting system as early as possible you avoid these and other pitfalls that frequently limit the growth potential of many businesses.