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Understanding The Options In Manufacturing eCommerce

Mon, 05/06/2013 - 12:21pm
Bob Barr, Senior Vice President, Acquity Group

eCommerce is driving new opportunities in manufacturing and other B2B industries. With the right technology, a manufacturing brand can dramatically improve its online presence, from a basic website to a sophisticated digital resource capable of promoting products, completing orders and performing other functions that are standard in today’s B2C sector and emerging in the more progressive B2B companies.

But for many manufacturing companies, the decision to launch an eCommerce initiative isn’t as simple as it sounds. Immediately, key stakeholders are hit with a dizzying array of terminology and options that frustrates their efforts to get their eCommerce program up and running as quickly as possible.

To lay the groundwork for a robust online commerce agenda, manufacturing brands need to have a basic understanding of the various components of eCommerce technology as well as the implementation strategies other firms have used to achieve success in the digital space.

Elements of eCommerce Platforms for Manufacturing

Most B2B companies implement packaged eCommerce solutions (attempting to build a solution from scratch would take an inordinate of time and investment).These packaged solutions equip brands with the ability to present detailed information about their products and create online shopping experiences that enable buyers to search, browse, research and purchase items online.

Some of the most common components and options of eCommerce solutions for manufacturing brands include:

Product Information Management (PIM). PIM is a tool that allows you to manage product attributes for search and other functions. With a robust PIM, vast product catalogs can be seamlessly classified across a range of attributes like size, color, description or product category and then searched by these attributes.

Content Management System (CMS). CMS aka WCMS (Web Content Management System) components manage and maintain resource articles, promotional material and information that are not specifically related to your products. Your CMS solution will also be used to store copies of your web pages, and to organize the workflow by which content is created, approved and published.

Digital Asset Management (DAM). DAM tools are used to manage assets that are only available in digital form. Manufacturers often use DAM solutions to manage audio files, product images, instructional videos and other media-rich resources.

Analytics. Analytics components provide information about visitors to your eCommerce website. The best analytics tools reveal insights about the path to purchase and the decisions potential buyers make when they shop for products. These insights play an important role in helping you fine-tune your site to achieve higher conversion rates and other goals.

Search. High-performing eCommerce solutions feature search components that allow customers to quickly locate desired products using advanced search criteria. Strong search capabilities are particularly important in manufacturing due to the size and complexity of product catalogs.

Order Management System (OMS). Order Management Systems accept and process actual product orders captured by the Shopping Cart. Order processing entails accepting and validating an order, checking for fraud using a variety of simple and more sophisticated techniques, accepting and processing payment and then communicating with a fulfillment and logistics solution to pick, pack and ship the product(s) purchased. Typically an OMS also tracks orders and communicates with a customer as the order is processed.

Shopping Cart. The Shopping Cart is the experience used to capture the order — products and quantities, show the price including applying discounts, calculate sales tax, When the cart is processed, then and only then is an actual order (or orders as the case may be) created and processed by the OMS.

eCommerce Implementation Options

When the various eCommerce solution components are assembled (purchased as a package and extended as appropriate for a particular industry or business), there are additionally, several different implementation strategies for eCommerce solutions. Some of these approaches rely on cloud technology, which simply refers to a set of computers or servers that are located offsite and operated by a third-party. For example, popular email services like Gmail and Yahoo! use the cloud to store messages, archive files and provide other services to their users.

SaaS (Software as a Service)

SaaS is a fast and convenient way to enter the eCommerce space. Rather than purchasing and operating the necessary hardware and software, SaaS enables you to contract with a company that provides a full-service eCommerce experience for your brand.

The SaaS provider is responsible for staffing highly skilled IT professionals and maintaining the infrastructure it takes to create and manage your eCommerce website. Depending on the provider, you may have the option of integrating the solution with your existing backend fulfillment system or completely outsourcing logistics, fulfillment and other functions.

Hosted

Hosted eCommerce solutions are one step closer to total ownership of your eCommerce technology. While you own or license the software, an external provider owns and manages the hardware and IT infrastructure. A hosted approach allows you to leverage advanced eCommerce functionality with minimal internal IT resources and hiring requirements.

Managed services take hosted solutions to the next level. In addition to hosting your software on their hardware, managed service providers have the ability to provide application support and to optimize the software that drives your eCommerce agenda.

On-Premise

On-premise solutions give your company total ownership of the hardware and software needed to operate your eCommerce website. Instead of outsourcing hardware and/or software requirements, your business is responsible for managing and maintaining every aspect of your eCommerce technology.

The benefit of an on-premise approach is control. When you have ownership of both the hardware and software, you can customize your eCommerce platform to the precise needs of your business and customers. But the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone — most brands contract with an external technology provider or consultant for assistance in implementing and managing their on-premise solutions.

Since no single approach offers the right fit for every manufacturing brand, your choice of implementation strategies and solution components will depend on your unique mix of in-house IT resources and digital commerce objectives.

But by clearly defining your goals and thoroughly researching your technology options, your brand can quickly deploy a highly functional eCommerce platform capable of generating increased revenue, saving you operating costs and improving customer experiences.

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