Where to Draw the Line on Your POS and Website Integration?

When integrating your POS or ERP system with your website you're most likely looking to connect at least three key data points: products, orders and customers. The question becomes, “What is the POS system responsible for and what should be done in the e-commerce platform?” Meaning, what data should be managed in the POS system and what data should be managed in the e-commerce platform? This article will try to address this question.

Product Integration

Integrating the products from your POS system with your website is typically much harder than orders and customers, so let's start there. For many retailers, the product information they entered into their POS system was never entered thinking it might one day show up online. Product names are often short and only understandable to you and your staff. Product descriptions, if you've entered them at all, are probably filled with meaningless information and aren't very appealing to consumers. Finally, how you categorized the products in your POS system probably makes perfect sense from an inventory or receiving standpoint, but is completely nonsensical to the consumer. My advice to you is to not fight it. Your data is dirty and trying to clean it up before it is sent, at least initially, probably won't work for you. Instead, send your product information to your e-commerce platform and clean it up there before it is displayed online.

Product Corrections

Over time, you will learn to improve how your products are displayed online by making small adjustments to these products in your POS or ERP system before they are sent to your website. For example, the size drop down on your site may include S, M and L. Instead you want the drop down to read Small, Medium and Large. You could pay a developer to "map" S to Small, M to Medium and L to Large; or, you could simply update you POS system to say Small, Medium and Large.
Unfortunately, sometimes your data is just so dirty that there's nothing else you can do but map one value to another one. One of the most common occurrences of this is with colors. For example, we've seen retailers enter red in their POS system as: red, rose, salmon, coral, scarlet, ruby, maroon, brick, crimson, etc. For some e-commerce platforms this can be a problem, and you must map all those color variations to one attribute called "red."

Product Master

Once you've added your products to your e-commerce platform, you'll need to update two key pieces of information: Price and Quantity on Hand (QOH). The keeper of record, or master, is the POS or ERP system. You do not want to try to manage inventory and pricing in both systems at the same time. Instead, as you make pricing and inventory changes in your POS system, these changes should automatically be sent to your website for updating. However, given that you've updated other product attributes such as product names and descriptions, these values should not be changed when making updates.

Order & Customer Integration

Sending order and customer information from your e-commerce platform to your POS or ERP system is far easier. Typically this involves sending orders down to your system after they've been "shipped." Ok, I know what you're going to say, you want to send these orders when they are "placed" because you want to update your inventory as soon as possible. However, we've found this does not work as well, especially when you don't have a significant amount of online orders or or when you don't have inventory dedicated to your website. Instead, you should send the orders when they have been shipped and fulfilled in your e-commerce platform. Yes, there is the potential that you may not actually have the product in inventory because it was sold in-store during this fulfillment window. However, there's really no way around this problem, even if you were to send the products down to your POS system when they are placed online. Why? Because it is highly unlikely you are going to have a runner pull this inventory as soon as you get the order and you'll never eliminate the possibility of someone buying it in-store at the exact time it it placed online; and you certainly cannot rip the product from the consumer's hand in-store.
The good news is, you'll probably rarely see this collision in the real world. Yes, it may happen, but if your catalog is fairly large, then you might only see it once or twice a year. With this frequency, it is easier to make your apologies and offer the consumer an alternative and 20% on their current or next order.

High Volume Shipping

The above logic definitely breaks down as your online shipping volume grows. As you approach a million dollars a month in sales, you may find these collisions happening more often. At this volume, one of two things usually happens: (1) you have a dedicated warehouse, negating the problem altogether or (2) you find it impossible to ship from your e-commerce system because you don't know where the inventory lives. Meaning, you don't know if the inventory is in Store #1, Store #12 or the warehouse. You also don't know if it is a more efficient to ship everything out of one store, the warehouse or the location that's closest to the consumer. Luckily, your POS or ERP system may be able to answer all these questions, which means you need to allow it to ship your online orders. This means you need to immediately send your online orders down to your POS system as they are being placed online. Your POS or ERP system will then ship your online orders and notify the e-commerce system.
Hopefully that was helpful as you decide how to manage your POS and website integration. Knowing when to send data, and how that data is managed, can mean the difference between a successful integration and an utter failure.