Often, retailers rely on separate applications to power their business. Brands may use different companies for a point-of-sale (POS) system, ecommerce website, inventory management, and employee scheduling. Some retailers rely on a mix of software tools, excel spreadsheets, and even paper files.
Sound exhausting? While using separate platforms may be ideal when starting a business, it can lead to headaches, errors, and lost sales.
With an all-in-one commerce platform, retailers unify their businesses and drive revenue. Here we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of investing in an end-to-end commerce platform. We’ll also discuss features to consider when choosing a commerce platform for your business.
What is a commerce platform?
A commerce platform is an all-in-one software solution that powers a retailer’s business. It includes vital components such as:
- A point of sale (POS) system
- Inventory management
- Ecommerce website
- Employee scheduling and payroll
- Marketing tools
- Reporting and analytics
Popular commerce platforms include Shopify, Square, Lightspeed, Woo Commerce, and of course, Material.
Some platforms—such as Shopify—offer an all-in-one platform and ecommerce application integrations. For example, the Shopify app store features over 6,000 independent applications. While Shopify customers receive one invoice, they must choose and manage the separate apps—similar to a piecemeal solution.
What are the benefits of commerce platforms in 2022?
With an all-in-one commerce platform, retailers drive revenue, meet consumer needs, and enhance the customer experience.
Here are some reasons why retailers are investing in commerce platforms in 2022:
Commerce platforms are cost-effective
A retailer may benefit from using different software at the beginning of their business as they learn what works best for them. However, a robust commerce platform is more cost-effective over time.
As retailers start to scale, they will need to add additional software—which means added costs. Since software companies usually increase their prices annually, a piecemeal approach could become expensive. On average, larger SaaS companies raise their prices by 5-7% every year.
Commerce platforms bundle services, making it easier to track and anticipate costs.
Commerce platforms are easier to manage
Commerce platforms provide a complete overview of a retailer’s business. With tools and metrics in one place, business owners better track performance and improve efficiency.
For retail staff, commerce platforms simplify administrative tasks. Downloading or uploading data (e.g., CSV files) can be tedious and lead to errors. By eliminating spreadsheets or paper files, retailers better ensure data integrity and employees can focus on customer service.
Commerce platforms also need less technical oversight. Retailers don’t have to worry about a software bug or update affecting other applications. If there are technical difficulties, you will only need to contact one customer support team instead of multiple vendors.
Commerce platforms enable brands to enhance the customer experience
Today, consumers are digital-first and channel-agnostic. While 43% of shoppers still prefer to shop in-store, they will likely start their journey online. Regardless of channel, customers expect speed, convenience, and a personalized experience.
With a commerce platform, retailers better meet the needs of the omnichannel consumer. With tools to sell on and offline, retailers can provide a seamless experience.
Commerce platforms help retailers adapt and respond to trends and challenges
During the last three years, retailers have faced unprecedented challenges. Consumer habits are changing faster than ever. Rising inflation, staff shortages, and supply chain issues have also put pressure on retailers’ bottom lines.
A comprehensive commerce platform enables retailers to be more agile. Retailers can react to challenges more quickly when their business is all in one place. And with robust reporting and analytics, brands use data to anticipate customer needs.
Finally, retailers can rely on commerce platforms to stay on top of the latest trends. The best commerce platforms will update the platform and add new features to meet the changing needs of retailers.
The disadvantages of commerce platforms
Despite their popularity, commerce platforms have a few drawbacks. First, a commerce platform may require a lengthy setup process. If you currently rely on several vendors, transferring data may take time. Ensuring data integrity is vital.
Additionally, commerce platforms limit customization. By using separate vendors, companies can build a retail toolkit that works for their business. If a retailer does want to customize a commerce platform, it can mean extra fees or require a developer.
Finally, selecting a commerce platform is a commitment. If the platform does not work for your business, you must find a replacement for all services. And commerce platforms may not work for every type of business. For example, POS systems may not be compatible with some industries, like cannabis.
What to consider when selecting a commerce platform
Choosing a commerce platform that suits your business needs and goals is essential. Today, there are hundreds of commerce software companies available.
Here are 7 critical considerations when choosing a commerce platform:
Commerce software varies in pricing. Some platforms have one monthly fee. Others add extra fees for transactions, domain hosting, and integrations.
Some platforms offer no-code tools to build an SEO-optimized website. These vendors oversee hosting, domain registration, security, and maintenance. With easy-to-use templates, these platforms make it easy to get started.
Other commerce platforms require brands to build a self-hosted website. While this allows for more customization, it can also mean extra fees and the need to work with a developer.
In the retail industry, staff turnover can be high. Business owners should choose a POS system that is easy to use, especially when training new employees.
The system should also include integrated payments to reduce data entry. Lastly, an all-in-one POS system should be able to track client information so retailers can provide more personalized service.
Inventory management systems should be scalable as businesses grow. Some critical questions to ask include:
- How do products and inventory sync across the system?
- Does the platform support multi-location inventory tracking? How many items and stores can you manage with your plan?
- Can you fill out purchase orders from the system?
- Does the system integrate with your existing hardware, or will you need new tools?
- What happens if there is an internet outage? Will my inventory still sync?
A commerce platform should make it simple to promote your business. Today, merchants need tools that support personalization and can capture consumers at every stage of the shopping journey. Platforms should integrate and support SMS messaging, email marketing, social media, and customer loyalty programs.
Reporting and analytics
Tracking performance is essential. A commerce software should include a customizable reporting and analytics dashboard. Retailers should be able to export reports to share performance with teams.
Platform customer service
Understanding the onboarding process when moving to a new commerce platform is vital. Implementing a new platform will involve data transfer, so it’s important to know the timeline and support available.
Retailers should also assess ongoing customer support. While some platforms include a dedicated account manager, others charge additional fees.
Grow your business with Material
Material makes it easy to scale your business all in one place. Our all-in-one retail toolkit enables retailers to manage inventory, websites, payments, customer data, and marketing. And with the Material Marketplace Network, retailers can reach over four million new shoppers.