COVID Has Made Ecommerce a Necessity for Retailers
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential store owners found themselves unable to open their brick and mortar stores. To stay in business, many of these retailers quickly pivoted to selling online. Many launched basic websites that provided instructions on submitting phone orders or launched stand-alone ecommerce sites. Other retailers with more time and resources invested in integrated ecommerce-POS solutions.
Key Benefits of a POS-Ecommerce Integration
An ecommerce site offers many benefits. The most basic websites allow retailers to post store hours, directionsand major brands. Basic ecommerce sites offer the ability to sell store items online or products than can be quickly and reliably drop shipped from a supplier. Websites can also help reinforce the store brand or market position.
At bare minimum, an integration between an ecommerce site and the store’s POS system should sync the inventory levels between the two systems. This will enable the website to reflect an item’s availability based current store stock levels and prevent the biggest issue when starting to sell online – accepting payment on an item that is no longer in stock. More advanced POS-ecommerce integrations sync the customer order data - including customer record and transaction information - from the ecommerce site to the POS system. This allows the retailer to maintain online and store customer data in one system and run combined reports. The most advanced integrations sync changes in the product and customer records, include the ability to accept gift cards online and offer ‘buy online-pick up in store’ services. Obtaining these advanced capabilities usually requires switching POS systems or paying for a custom integration.
Open Source vs. Paid Platforms
Ecommerce platforms range greatly in price and complexity. For smaller retailers, open source ecommerce platforms such as WooCommerce and Magento offer tremendous value for their overall cost. These two platforms are supported by armies of third-party developers that offer a variety low cost ‘plugins’ to extend the functionality of the base platform. There are also a variety of paid ecommerce platforms, such Shopify and BigCommerce. These paid ecommerce systems offer simpler onboarding but can become costly as the developers of these paid systems tightly control (and charge for) hosting services and access to modules that extend functionality.
A third option is to use a proprietary integrated ecommerce platform developed by the POS software’s developer. These proprietary systems offer tight integration between ecommerce and store operations - often have significant functional limitations compared with pure play ecommerce sites. In addition, ecommerce sites built on these proprietary POS platforms generally cannot be switched to or connected a different POS system in the future if you want to switch systems. This creates a significant barrier to switching.
Costs of an Ecommerce Site Can Add-up
Operating an ecommerce site can be expensive, depending on the complexityand size of the site. At the lower end of the cost range, the software of open source ecommerce platforms such as WooCommerce is free, with the retailer only having to pay for hosting. The larger open ecommerce platforms offer marketplaces where retailers can purchase a variety of extensions or plug-ins at relatively low process to extend the fictions and features of the core site. The paid platforms generally bundle software and support into a combined subscription fee. The larger paid ecommerce platforms also have marketplaces, but because these are operated for profit, the cost for plug-ins can be higher than prices on the opensource platforms. Overall costs can range from as low as $15 per month for hosting a basic WooCommerce site to hundreds (or thousands) of dollars per month for a larger paid ecommerce site. Thesecosts are in addition to initial build out costs and money spent on online marketing and search engine optimization.
Ecommerce is Here to Stay
The ongoing pandemic has increased the strategic value of an ecommerce site. While many retailers have invested in launching or enhancing their ecommerce operations, these efforts were met with varying levels of success. However, it’s clear that the movement of retailers to sell online is here to stay.