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ERP Systems for Digital Commerce: Expanding the B2C and B2B Markets


Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are part of the core IT architecture of most companies in industry and commerce. It is not only in times of crisis that it is worthwhile for many business models in the B2C and B2B market to expand the classic sales channels to include digital commerce and to expand their ERP systems into a platform for unified commerce. Read here what it takes to do this.

Shopping digitally is quite normal for a large proportion of consumers in the B2C market: many manufacturers and retailers also use their own online channels to bring their products to consumers themselves, in addition to stationary retail in a Direct2Customer (D2C) model. The Corona crisis in particular demonstrated the benefits of this additional digital store counter: those with a broader base and not completely dependent on bricks-and-mortar retail benefited from this direct channel to their customers. It made the company a bit more crisis-proof.

The following aspects are important for successful digital commerce in both the B2C and B2b segments. However, they may have different priorities depending on the business model and the level of digitalization in the company:

Determine online strategy

Even though it is usually the first thing that comes to mind when we think of digital commerce or e-commerce: opening or using your own web store is only a small component in the spectrum of possible online channels. Anyone who wants to successfully supplement or implement their business model here needs a clear online marketing strategy.

First clarify the follwing questions:

  • Which target group should be addressed? B2C, B2B or both?
  • Which sales and supply chain processes can be digitized and automated via e-commerce?
  • Which online marketplaces offer interesting options in addition to the company's own web stores?

The palette here ranges from B2C classics such as Amazon and eBay to industry-specific portals such as Zalando or Aboutyou for the fashion world, for example, to B2B platforms for technical wholesalers that serve medium-sized industry and trade with their products.

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Making IT architecture connectable

Every company has a historically grown IT landscape in which there are older and newer systems to support the business processes: starting with purchasing, inventory management, warehouse management and shipping - usually with a connection to logistics service providers to legally compliant accounting, to reporting, planning and marketing. It is important to take a look at these with the aim of creating intelligent bridges to the modern technology of cloud-based web stores and online marketplaces.

The challenges can vary:

While one company may want to continue using tried-and-true ERP systems such as IBM AS/400 or SAP R/3 and combine them with modern cloud technology, others may just be looking for a new ERP system that not only needs to be cloud-based, but also offers a powerful range of functions and provides interfaces (APIs) that make it easy to connect to a digital commerce platform.

In any case, companies must ensure that an end-to-end data flow through the systems involved is possible for all processes if digital trading is to be largely automated and efficient. The disadvantage that easily arises in heterogeneous IT environments is that countless 1:1 interfaces are created between different systems, which in the long run not only become more unmanageable and error-prone, but also significantly increase the administration effort for updates. Thus, true automation of connected online processes is often rather hindered.

Instead, the use of a central data hub that acts like a central data hub within the IT architecture and ensures a smooth flow of data in real time between all systems has proven its worth - regardless of where in the IT landscape old legacy systems are reliably doing their job and where the latest generation of hip cloud solutions interact agilely via microservice on the web.

Manage product data systematically

In most companies, product information is spread across a wide variety of systems in the enterprise. This makes it tedious and time-consuming to upload products with their features, images and descriptions to a web store - be it the company's own or an online marketplace, be it in the B2C or B2B segment.

Systematic product information management (PIM) is therefore essential for efficient online trading. Companies should therefore clarify for themselves which information about their own products is available at which point in the value chain and where it is needed. This ranges from master data of a product with article number, designation and price, to manufacturer information such as order number or purchase price, to product features such as brand, material, color, size, etc., to associated marketing material such as product photos and videos or brand-specific description texts with language versions also for international marketing. Here, too, a central data hub can make a good contribution.

Acting digitally agile on the market

Those who have created the conditions for efficient digital commerce with powerful interfaces and consistent PIM can get down to connecting the actual commerce platform and the desired sales channels.

The decision for an e-commerce platform should be based on the company's own business model and growth plans.

For both the B2C and B2B segments, there are a variety of offerings on the market:

  • In the B2C market, these include Shopware, Magento and Shopify, for example.
  • In the B2B segment, Electronic Sales, oroCommerce and IntelliShop, for example, offer corresponding platforms.

Together with the company's own prepared IT architecture, they form a powerful platform for unified commerce and the systematic use of new online channels for sales.

Companies that succeed in expanding their ERP architecture into a unified commerce environment benefit from efficiency in implementation and high agility.

They can react quickly to current trends in the market and serve their target groups with desired products in a timely and brand-true manner via their own web stores, via online marketplaces or in marketing cooperations with their manufacturers - regardless of whether this involves the fashion line of a fashion blogger or innovative technical tools for industry and trade. The companies benefit from additional sales channels with which they can address existing target groups flexibly and efficiently and reach new ones.

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