I recently placed a web order with a well-known US retailer for holiday gifts for my family. So with their catalog on my desk and my laptop in my hands, I launched their site to place my order. I should have known I am in for future trouble when I had to rely on my printed catalog to place my order. The site was cumbersome to shop, the customer experience quite poor and overall it was not conducive for easy search and retrieval of information. But heck, they seemed to have their items nicely displayed in their catalog, I knew it will make a great gift, they claimed the items are available for immediate shipment, and even my credit card seemed to have been accepted. What I did not know was that the waiting game and frustration was about to start.
Over the past several years I’ve seen a trend where organizations that have been implementing web strategies are focusing on solutions to significantly improve their business. This is especially true for sites that enable their customers to conduct business with them over the web. The old days of implementing “static” sites that basically place a version of their company business cards and marketing material on the web are being replaced with practical and effective systems that make it easier for your customers to do business with you at their convenience. Not only do these web systems improve your organization effectiveness and efficiency while allowing for profitable business growth, they enable you to gain competitive advantage while also becoming the expected norm by your customers. When developing Internet solutions that enable your customers to conduct e-business and / or e-commerce transactions with you, the key distinguishing factor is understanding the difference between integrated vs. non-integrated web solutions.
First let’s cover some of the basic web functions your customers expect:
- Browsing of your online catalog
- Easy way to search and retrieve information
- Logon with a unique username and password to access:
- Personalized pricing
- Browse and maintain personalized catalog or order guide
- New order placement
- Ability to user credit card or charge to account on file
- Pending order status with back order BO report and integration to shipping carrier web site
- Inquiry to purchase history and reports
- Inquiry to account status
When planning for your future site, you have two major paths to select from. First is the non-integrated method, which does allow for the development of a powerful web site. However, these sites by nature of their non-integrated way to the back-end financial system require a lot of extra maintenance and duplication of data and efforts. Customers and items for example have to be setup once on the financial software and once on the web system. Anytime changes are made to customers such as address, credit limit or other changes, they have to be duplicated on both systems. The same apply to all other databases since they exist on two separate servers or separate systems. When orders arrive through the web they have to manually be entered into the financial software for processing and the same applies when orders are shipped. Programs can be written to transfer data between the two systems, but this is cumbersome and creates a delay of how recent the data is updated or synchronized between the two systems. Also, when business logic changes are implemented on one system, they have to be copied to the other. The main reasons organization select this non-integrated way are usually economical, simpler and faster to implement on the web side, and their financial software is often outdated.
The second option is the integrated way. This method incorporates the power of the financial software, which integrates in real-time to the web solution. The data occurs only once on the server which prevents duplication. Changes reflected in the database are immediately and instantaneously available to the web. For example if a customer address is changed in the financial software, that change immediately is available on the web. If item quantities and availability have changed, they instantaneously display when customers check for their availability on the web. Even though such systems require careful planning and are more complex to implement, the increased efficiency, productivity and profitability to your organization are immense. The most successful organizations opt to use this integrated method. There are some newer ways such as direct link between your customers’ computer systems and yours, which require XML but this is for another article.
Weeks after I placed my order, I got a postcard saying that the items I ordered are on back order while one of the items already showed up in my mailbox. It is the end of January and I am still waiting for my December promised gift items. Not only is their archaic system unable to use the Internet to notify me of the status of the items, it is apparent that their non-integrated approach has created a business chaos that has frustrated one of their customers and is about to cost them additional and precious dollars – the cancellation of my order.