2012 eCommerce Trends and Why You Should Care

January 31, 2012

2012-ecommerce-trendsIf you regularly stop by this blog, you have probably noticed an increase in posts about eCommerce. This is of course not an accident but rather us demonstrating the increased importance and relevancy of eCommerce webstores for wholesalers and distributors. In today’s post, we will take a look at where eCommerce is headed, and hopefully illustrate the importance of online selling to meet changing buying behaviour.

Brendan Soucie of Demac Media wrote a great post on the Top 5 eCommerce Trends for 2012. In the article he addresses 5 areas in which eCommerce will play an even larger role this year:

1.       Higher level engagement through social media

Social media is a powerful sales tool when combined with eCommerce. The ability for people to recommend products and have conversations about them with their friends is a dream come true for business owners. Social media is certainly much more than a buzz term at this point and is really a key to success, especially for the online selling space. It is becoming more and more common for wholesalers and distributors to sell products directly to the end consumer online. If you have not explored this opportunity, perhaps now is the time. Start building those relationships on social media!

2.       Tablet & Mobile Shopping

Why not give your customers multiple ways to access your products? Surely this is not a bad thing. Customers of all types are spending more time on devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Wouldn’t it be great if they could submit orders and buy product using these devices? They may even be more likely to buy product on off-peak times like the weekend.

3.       Customer Support Channels

Customers should have multiple options for help. Some customers like to email while others need to speak to a live person. The eCommerce space is necessitating changes to the way support is given to customers. For example, real-time chat is becoming more and more popular as is video conferences. What options do you currently have for your customers? Surely, you should be more than one communication channel with your customers.

4.       Website Experience

No longer is it acceptable to have websites that were designed in 1995. Customers make active judgements based on site layout and functionality. This may be less of the case for the B2B space, but it is still a factor. Ensure your website is both user-friendly and conveys a level of professionalism with forward-thinking functionality. For example, can customers place orders through your website? Can they request support from your site? Is your site properly optimized for search engines?

5.       Job Opportunities

Finding qualified individuals to help you run with these new trends can be hard – particularly for those businesses that have no experience in this space to begin with. Get a start on it sooner rather than later as it will likely only become more difficult in the near future to recruit for these positions. The alternative is to seek out help from organizations that have these key individuals to help you grow your business.


Ensure Proper Training for ERP Software

January 20, 2012

proper-training-erp-software

I get phone calls all the time from managers, consultants and company owners who want to immediately “take the reins” and pilot our software before they have been properly introduced to the system. What is worse is when these same individuals decide they want to minimize software training for their staff as well. The problems with this approach are almost too numerous to mention but I’m going to take a stab at it.

Every Piece of Software is Different

Many people assume that if they are even remotely technically-inclined, that they will be able to pick up any piece of software and immediately be productive with it. This is obviously not possible as everything in life has a learning curve of some degree. As a result of this mindset, we as software providers must spend time convincing buyers that education needs to come first before productive product trials can take place. This goes for some of the most simple and intuitive software out there as well – if you’ve never seen it before in your life, you’ll need time to adjust.

Vendors should offer to take you through the system so that you can use your time wisely if you decide to perform a hands-on evaluation.

Difference in Productivity Levels

An intuitive software package may allow for quick familiarity, but a system’s true power lies in the shortcuts and more complex tasks that may not be quite as obvious. For example, consider a sales order review screen. At the basic level, you open it up and review open orders by sifting through them. More advanced functions would allow you to sort, segment and quickly identify actionable orders. And finally, you can set up automated email reports alerting you to important actionable orders. Without proper training, your staff may never get past working with the basics.

Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain

Yes, paying for things can be painful but investing in your business should never seem painful. Think of training as an investment in long term productivity for your employees. Will they be able to get by without adequate training? Maybe. However, they may spend twice as long working with the software as they need to. The long-run cost savings of properly trained staff cannot be overstated.

Hopefully this post has made it clear how important it is for proper software training. All forms of employee training are important, but ensuring proper training for the system that runs your business and that they work on every day should be at the top of the list.


Hosted Software: Keeping Your Data Safe

January 17, 2012

hosted-softwre-keeping-data-safeSo you are now familiar with the differences between on-premises and hosted software solutions and you have decided that hosted software seems like a great fit for your business – yet you have concerns over the safety of your data. You are not alone in being worried, but you shouldn’t have to be.

Most hosted software solutions are very safe and very stable. Of course, I cannot speak for all the software out there; ultimately it is up to you to have an in-depth discussion with the vendor in question to determine how they keep your data safe. There are, however, a number of things you should look for in a hosted solution and the data centre used by the vendor:

Stated server up-time

The vendor in question should be comfortable stating the historical reliability of their servers. Down-time should be rare for a reliable system so a good level is somewhere north of 99% up-time.

Redundancy

In order to ensure the highest level of security possible for your data, there should be a number of fail-safes in place. These can include multiple power supplies, processors and harddrives per server and multiple data back-up locations. A bonus is the option to keep a copy of your data in-house as well.

Automatic Fail-Over

A proper hosted solution will employ back-up servers that immediately take over if one were to fail. This means that in the event of total server failure there is always another server to take over the task of running your business.

Data Centre Security

One of the biggest benefits of employing a hosted solution is that your data is often far safer than it ever would be if you kept it on-location at your place of business. A good data centre will offer multiple levels of security (BioMetric, PIN code, Access card etc.) and 24/7 monitoring to ensure the servers and data are secure. Most small/medium businesses will not have this level of security in their place of business.

Disaster Prevention

Back-up power generators should be employed in the data centre as well as state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression systems. The implied bonus with a hosted solution is that, if your entire business was to encounter a disaster such as a fire, your system would still be accessible and all your data would be safely running in the data centre.

Ultimately it is your comfort level with these new technologies that will determine whether or not a hosted solution is agreeable to you, however, data security and reliability should not be a concern as most data centres provide a far bigger safety net than most in-house implementations.


Customization: Finding the Right Software for YOU

January 13, 2012

customization-software-customDepending on your industry, it can either be very hard or very easy to find software that is a great fit for you. Some industries are better represented than others but even in well-represented industries there are many businesses with unique requirements that may pose problems for solutions that are designed from a “one-size fits all” perspective.

For example, consider software for wholesale and distribution – on the surface, wholesalers and distributors will share many of the same requirements. However, there are many different lines of businesses or sub-industries within wholesale and distribution with vastly different requirements. Those in the HVAC industry may require servicing & repair management while those in food distribution may be primarily interested in landed cost or lot tracking.

Different modules offered by vendors can accomplish specific tasks required for specific industries, but even at the module level there may be some functionality left to be desired. That is why customization should always be an important consideration when evaluating vendors. Regardless of how well the software works out of the box, you want to be assured that the vendor can accommodate your specific needs – now, and in the future when you make changes to your business/processes.

Although significant customization should be avoided (i.e. the software should do the majority of what you need it to), it should be considered a good option for the small pieces that are very specific for your business. Often these customizations help accommodate the unique aspects of your business that set you apart from your competitors. After all, if this functionality were available out-of-the-box then it wouldn’t be unique to you, now would it?

Ensure that your software solution is customizable to avoid having to drastically change business processes to accommodate your software. Your options are to develop customized software specifically for your business (which can be very costly and often difficult to upgrade) or you can choose to find a software solution that is a fully integrated solution with the ability to be easily customized. Don’t focus on finding the right software for your industry, focus on finding the right software for YOU.


ERP Software Consulting – It’s not just about the software

January 8, 2012

erp-software-consultingPerhaps you’re thinking of putting in a new ERP system or have already done so. Regardless, you should also be taking a very close look at your business processes. Making a change to your business software can be a big step in increasing efficiency and is the best time to make changes to your overall business processes as well.

Good ERP consultants, especially those that are on the implementation team, do not simply install software and say goodbye – instead, they work with you to take a hard look at your organization as a whole and make changes to improve efficiency. Some changes may be required to integrate the software with your organization while other changes may not be necessary but will greatly improve productivity. Before you select new software you should be thinking about what changes need to be made to increase efficiency so that you know what your requirements are. ERP software consulting (often offered by the vendor) can then help you build upon your requirements and add efficiencies you may not have thought of in the process.

A reputable vendor will often help you work through your requirements at no charge and help you gain an understanding of where you need to be on the software side of things for when you make your selection. This consultation can be used to identify price points for the functionality you require as well as solidify your needs on a functional and software feature basis.

After the sale, a number of consultation services are available such as on-going business support to refine processes as well as the in-depth setup and configuration according to your specific requirements. It may seem like a no brainer that this sort of consultation is offered but stories aboard of botched ERP implementations because the vendor sold their software and offered little support in helping tailor it to an individual company’s needs. Be sure to have a discussion with any vendors you are seriously considering regarding their consulting services and expertise. You should feel confident that they understand your business well and their software will be able to deliver on your requirements.

Hint: it is a bonus if they are able to identify requirements you were not aware of. The same goes for delivering above expectations on functionality.


4 eCommerce Implications for Distributors

January 5, 2012

ecommerce-implications-distributorsPreviously, we wrote about some of the opportunities and concerns with eCommerce and inventory management. We are now beginning to see more and more information spring up on this topic and it is obvious that distribution for eCommerce has become extremely important – and that integrated eCommerce and ERP software may be the key.

Consumer demands for eCommerce are peaking – they are demanding faster delivery times at cheaper costs – and distributors are rushing to keep up. So, it is extremely important to ensure you, as a distributor, do whatever you can to make the process more efficient. Derek Singleton, of SoftwareAdvice.com, points out in a recent article 4 ways distributors can capitalize on eCommerce, which we have summarized below:

1.     Make products easier to pick

Ensure fastest-moving products are kept at the front and are easy to access.

2.     Minimize package space

To reduce shipping costs, it is beneficial to minimize the amount of packaging on products. This has the added benefit of also being environmentally friendly – a growing concern in the business world.

3.     Boost efficiencies in delivery routes

If you do your own delivery, a proper software system can help you plan out shipments based on quantities available and help maximize truckloads. Software also exists to integrate with ERP systems to automatically select a shipper based on cost given various criteria from your ERP software.

4.     Critically analyze how orders are shipping

Orders need to be packed on an individual basis but before being shipped there are opportunities for cost-savings. Taking a periodic look at orders ready to be shipped can allow you to identify commonalities on where they are being shipped.

In the modern business environment managers must think about ways in which they can streamline their businesses using technology. These 4 points should help.


Software Search/Replacement Process Guideline

January 3, 2012

software-search-replacement-process-tips-guidelineOutlined below are a series of steps you should consider during your software search/replacement. These steps do not have to be followed perfectly for a successful search, however, setting out and sticking to timelines, like those outlined below, are very important for success.

Stage Process Duration
Set Priorities
  • Set aside the time required to make an important decision like software replacement
  • Establish and stick to a timeline to accomplish tasks in manageable stages
On-going
Evaluate Requirements
  • Perform analysis on business processes
  • Determine what works well with current software and where gaps exist in functionality
  • Establish outline of functionality requirements from a business process perspective (not software function)
  • Determine the required software tier (segment)
1 month
Research Software Vendors
  • Search industry and software sites to find appropriate software vendors
  • Avoid the use of consultants that are pricey and often biased
  • Select an appropriate number of software vendors to evaluate (typically 6 or more is too many)
1 week
Contact & Engage with Software Vendors
  • Most software vendors will expect time from you to discuss business processes and requirements
  • Demos should not be expected or offered at this stage – vendors would not know your business well enough to perform a demo catered to you
2 weeks
Short List Vendors
  • After preliminary discussions with vendors, demos should be performed
  • Shortlist vendors based on what can be shown, not on what is promised
  • Narrow down vendors to a maximum of 3
2 weeks
Select Vendor
  • Compare vendor demos and discussions with business requirements
  • Consider “soft” criteria such as comfort level with vendor, honesty, personalization etc.
  • Should be completed 2-3 months before desired implementation date at a minimum
1 week
Pull the Trigger
  • Once a vendor has been chosen as the winner, immediately begin the implementation process to avoid delays
  • Anxiety at this stage is common but largely misplaced – a vendor that has been selected with due diligence is the right choice
Immediate

If you want more detailed information on the software buying process, feel free to download this Software Buying Guide.


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