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B2B eCommerce Integration: How It Works and Why You Need It

March 18, 2021 | Oro Team

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The average organization relies on hundreds of connected applications, yet only 28% of business systems integrate. What’s more, the B2B buying process is no walk in the park. The way B2Bs purchase is evolving, and B2B businesses need systems flexible enough to evolve with them. Demand for integrations is increasing across all business functions – and digital commerce is no exception. Gartner predicts that by 2022, a typical eCommerce experience will depend on at least 30 integrated applications.

It’s easy to see why. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are the lifeblood of B2B eCommerce businesses.  They contain everything from product specifications, pricing information, customer details, and order information. Companies also rely on customer relationship management (CRM), product information management (PIM), or point of sale (POS) systems. 

Without an efficient way to send accurate data to and from your digital commerce system through eCommerce integration, you can waste time and money while driving customers away.

What Is eCommerce Integration?

Simply put, eCommerce integrations connect your eCommerce platform to other business systems. These systems include finance, accounting, inventory, order management, and shipping. Back-office functions better coordinate front-office activities such as marketing, sales, and customer service when connected with eCommerce.

Businesses should think of the question “what is eCommerce integration” as a way to save time and money. By integrating critical business systems with eCommerce, your customer and product information, orders, invoices, and shipment data remain consistent. A seamless data integration in eCommerce also eliminates the need to check, maintain, and move data between systems. In short, it boosts employee productivity and the customer experience. 

Benefits of eCommerce Integration

eCommerce integrations provide numerous benefits. When you integrate your eCommerce platform with your back-end-systems, you improve many aspects of your business. For example, you can:

  • Maintain accurate customer, product, order, and shipping data without manual data entry.
  • Keep inventory levels and prices consistent across systems and deliver customers the right information the first time around.
  • Provide customers a better experience across multiple selling channels, devices, and touchpoints in their purchase journey.
  • Offer helpful customer service with instantaneous order status data and information regarding product, pricing, and stock availability.
  • Expand to additional business models. Sell through marketplaces or direct to consumers without disturbing existing channels.
  • Break down business silos, increase employee engagement, productivity, and overall workplace efficiency.
  • Scale easier and react to market changes faster. Expand to new locations and deploy new business models.

Challenges of eCommerce Integration in B2B Models

Unlike in B2C, B2B businesses use highly customized software. Their IT architecture is unique and is built on a plethora of products.  So, while virtually every eCommerce platform offers some integration ability, few are ready for B2B duty. The plug-and-play integrations that work for B2C won’t do the job for B2B. Each integration must be made individually.

Then there is the digestion problem created when companies grow through acquisition. In addition to eCommerce data integration within a company, the IT department is faced with a variety of disparate business systems from different companies. The only way to make this work is an eCommerce integration customized to the business.

Types of eCommerce Integrations

e business integration

eCommerce platforms must be flexible enough to integrate with many systems in a variety of ways

Digital commerce merchants integrate in many ways. While you can bridge systems in different ways, it’s essential to select the method best aligned with long-term business goals. Your method will depend on the workflow, objectives, and development resources. Here are the most common e business integration methods.

Real-time (API)

A typical way to real-time connect two systems is via Application Programming Interface (API). With the API approach, data gets pushed automatically between the application and the eCommerce environment, eliminating the need to match system data. Real-time integrations can be one-way or two-way. 

A one-way integration sends a message from your eCommerce to a neighboring system. An example of real-time one-way eCommerce API integration sends a customer order from the eCommerce platform to the ERP after the order is placed. Another example could be your ERP relaying inventory changes to the eCommerce system. 

Two-way integration goes a step further: it allows both systems to communicate. Inventory changes in eCommerce reflect in the ERP, and changes to the ERP inventory transfer to eCommerce.

Scheduled (SFTP or API)

While most merchants prefer real-time sync over batch sync, it’s not always necessary. While you must sync inventory and order data without delay, product description changes aren’t as urgent. Some scheduled activities such as updating invoicing and fulfillment information can run during off-peak hours.

For example, you can run scheduled API sync or import CSV files through an SFTP server. An SFTP transfer offers a higher file protection level during transit. It’s a great option if you work with different suppliers: not all might sync their product catalogs the same. Whether you choose a scheduled SFTP or API method, pay attention to customization options. Look for the ability to specify parameters and workflows for transfers.

Manual (CSV file upload)

The third option is the most cost-effective. This method manually manages data to or from your eCommerce platform. It enables you to push specific files in the direction needed without additional setup, integration, or development costs. In this case, a flexible eCommerce import and export engine is required.

A CSV file upload is viable for companies with simple data sets and slow-moving inventory. However, it has drawbacks. As catalogs and sales volumes grow, this method does not scale well. Other disadvantages include maintaining data accuracy and security during transfers.

Which integration option is right for you?

Every e-business integration option has its benefits and drawbacks and each has best use cases. Any method you choose should provide a high degree of integration and flexibility without a large investment in expensive solutions or training programs.

Make sure you understand all options available as you develop your integration strategy. Start with an easy-to-implement method such as a manual, SFTP sync, or eCommerce MVP to evaluate how data flows between systems and whether it achieves desired results. This approach avoids sinking development resources into unneeded integrations.

Common Integrations and Examples

You might be wondering – what can eCommerce integrations do in the real world?

Oro had deep experience with integrating eCommerce business systems. We find the most popular eCommerce data integration practices include ERP integration, PIM eCommerce, CRM, and other systems. Here is a detailed look at each.

  1. ERP integration

Your ERP contains a wealth of customer, order, inventory, and accounting data. Proper integrations enable smooth information flow between systems, improve overall customer experience, and streamline back-office operations. A two-way, bidirectional ERP integration offers benefits, such as:

  • eliminated manual data entry that results in errors and omissions
  • real-time inventory, pricing, and promotions personalized by customer
  • increased ordering and fulfillment transparency for an improved buying experience
  • support for increased demand and selling channels with ease

Animal Supply Company is a national pet food supplier. They expanded rapidly, inheriting numerous regional storefronts, warehouses, ERPs, and legacy platforms. They also inherited fragmented ERPs using different business logic.

Hundreds of ASC employees and customers had to log in and switch back and forth between different webstores, self-service portals, and disconnected systems. Managing inventory or checking fulfillment status was not productive, and the experience for ASC staff and their retailers was negative.

ASC leveraged Oro integration capabilities to link their ERPs into a middleware, maintaining unique customer, product, and order information in their OroCommerce eCommerce platform. It allowed ASC to centralize numerous regional operations under a single back-end to cut down on wasted time and offer the best customer experience possible. Today, this headless and composable eCommerce architecture enables ASC to effectively serve all B2B and B2C customers while maintaining maximum visibility across all sales channels.

  1. CRM integration

A CRM integration aligns your eCommerce platform with marketing and sales department tools. With storefront activity, sales, order, and shipping information synced with the CRM, sales and marketing teams better address customer needs. Other benefits include:

  • eliminated order entry errors due to automated sales processes
  • full customer visibility across touchpoints in your eCommerce system
  • customer segmentation according to site activity or abandoned carts
  • reporting for sales pipeline, conversions, and order data

Samuel Hubbard is a multichannel B2B and B2C shoe manufacturer that does not compromise on customer experience. However, their teams worked inefficiently and struggled to meet B2B customer needs.

Sales teams manually entered orders into the ERP, managed the lengthy RFQ process, and updated the CRM manually. The Samuel Hubbard Magento system served their B2C business but didn’t meet B2B needs nor integrate with the CRM. This degraded the B2B customer experience, impacting adoption.

OroCommerce provided extensive B2B-focused product and checkout options, multichannel eCommerce, and flexible workflows out of the box. The built-in eCommerce automation engine and Oro’s powerful ERP and CRM integrations eliminated errors and freed staff from managing order data. OroCRM, a CRM system natively integrated with OroCommerce, now pulls in customer data from their Magento site, giving Samuel Hubbard full customer visibility in a single place.

  1. PIM integration

Many eCommerce brands enrich and manage product data with a PIM system. This solution centralizes specifications, descriptions, multimedia, customer-generated content, and more. A PIM helps sales, marketing, data teams, and management understand the impact of products on different areas of their business. They:

  • manage all eCommerce digital assets in one place
  • specify relationships between related products and upsells
  • centralize product information according to product

Petra is a leading consumer electronics distributor for more than 800 brands. For decades, Petra spent weeks to onboard retailers. Updating SKUs from suppliers and sharing product information with partners was laborious.

With 33,000 products from thousands of retailers, the Petra product catalog suffered from synchronization issues. With product data in silos, there was no single source of truth for product information, which limited their ability to operate smoothly and focus on growing the company.

Petra implemented a PIM solution from Akeneo to centralize and enrich product information. Thanks in part to Oro’s powerful API and integration capabilities, they quickly transferred product data and performed a successful replatforming to the Oro product suite. With OroCRM, OroCommerce, and their PIM system seamlessly integrated, the right product information now easily reaches customers for an improved experience.

  1. Shipping integration

Integrating your eCommerce data with a shipping or eCommerce 3PL solution allows you to improve the purchase experience by informing customers of shipping rates and status. Integrated e-business and shipping solutions:

  • offer customers multiple shipping and courier options
  • coordinate shipping from multiple warehouses
  • manage packaging and label printing

TruPar is a material handling machinery and industrial parts distributor serving the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. To improve the customer experience, they required a powerful self-service storefront with real-time pricing and shipping data.

When factory or warehouse machinery breaks down, parts must arrive quickly. Without real-time integrations to B2B 3PL shippers and carriers, TruPar couldn't relay accurate shipping information to customers. That was a problem, as customers could take their business elsewhere due to the smallest hiccup.

After implementing the OroCommerce B2B eCommerce platform, TruPar leveraged its workflow automation engine and API to integrate with UPS. Now they could display accurate ground times according to the customer location. Customers are aware of their order status, which eliminates disruption and maximizes efficiency.

  1. Punchout integration

A punchout integration links a seller’s eCommerce system to the customer procurement system to make managing purchases easier. Many organizations require their purchases be made using procurement systems via the eCommerce platform. Punchout integrations include:

  • support for protocols such as EDI for eCommerce, cXML, UBL, OCI
  • approval workflows according to customer requirements
  • local tax compliance support

And many other features.

  1. Other systems

There are other business systems beyond those listed above that could require integration with your digital commerce platform.

  • Warehouse management (WHM) systems for accurate inventory, orders, shipments, and effective warehouse asset management.
  • Business intelligence systems for better data analysis to drive business decisions and improve operational efficiency.
  • Artificial intelligence systems such as AI-powered eCommerce chatbots and predictive product recommendations.
  • Payment gateways, financial tracking, tax compliance, and accounting systems.

How to Prepare for eCommerce Integration

Integrating two business systems sounds complex, so many businesses put off initiatives to avoid disrupting existing processes. They also fear being stuck with projects that take too long, go over budget, and don’t work as they should. You can avoid these and other mishaps in your integration project with proper preparation.

  1. Select an eCommerce platform that meets your integration needs. Our eCommerce RFP template can help you to shortlist suitable vendors.
  2. Identify your manual, error-prone processes. Integrations should remove these slow, convoluted, and unnecessary steps so team members can focus on more high-value activities.
  3. Then, look at the customer journey and ways to reduce friction. Reviewing customer and shopping activity identifies interactions that could be streamlined with the business integration.
  4. Consider how information flows between systems. Check how your ERP routes data, how the CRM manages customer information, or the accounting system handles payments.
  5. Determine what must be integrated. For products, that means inventory, pricing, and product data. Customer information includes orders and shipping data. Certain companies require punch-out integrations, connections with extremal databases, or third-party logistics solutions.
  6. Choose the appropriate integration strategy. Whether manually, scheduled, or with an API. Your method should support not only your current but future needs as well.
  7. Implement the integration. This will require support and testing from the developers’ side. Read our guide on a staging vs testing environment to learn more about the effective ways to implement eCommerce integration.

OroCommerce Helps With Integration

Now that you understand what is eCommerce integration and what you need to get started, you’re ready to begin integrating eCommerce with other applications.

OroCommerce is a flexible, customizable B2B eCommerce platform with numerous data integration options. Since it’s built on robust, B2B-ready architecture, it comes with various e-business integration capabilities out of the box. Whether you’re looking for off-the-shelf connections or need to develop your own solution, Oro offers the right OroCommerce integrations, integrations partners, and development resources you need for success.

  1. Robust API
    OroCommerce’s robust API covers front- and back-office functionality and works with countless back-end systems, integration platforms, and methods. If you’re integrating via middleware (hub or enterprise service bus), we meet your requirements.
  2. Flexible and B2B-focused
    OroCommerce comes with many B2B-specific features out of the box. It supports complex pricing rules, multiple product catalogs, sales portals, and business use cases. Oro’s robust architecture with scalable APIs is ready to extend to support many different systems.
  3. Open-source innovation
    The open-source strategy allows OroCommerce to support a diverse set of customers and requirements. With the stability, scalability, and innovation offered by open-source, B2B sellers can extend or build integrations with systems they choose.
  4. Partner and developer ecosystem
    OroCommerce comes with an extensive partner ecosystem to help resolve any challenges. Whatever your needs, you have numerous resources that will help you adapt to changing conditions and seize new opportunities.
  5. Out-of-the-box integrations
    OroCommerce integrates with multiple business systems out of the box. Connect numerous ERP business processes or integrate existing CRM, PIM, payment gateways, punchout systems, and everything in between. OroCommerce also comes with a built-in CRM for a full view of the customer and unified customer experiences across channels.
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