A newsletter is a great way for an e-shop to show what it has to offer. Subscribers can get acquainted with the products and get to know the latest offers.
Before long, however, you will need an integration between your ecommerce system and the emails that you send out.
A trip down email integration road
You are entering a complex world now. Which choices are there to make? What should you look for when choosing the right email marketing system for your web shop?
Ecommerce email: More than the good old newsletter
Wouldn’t it be great if you could really help your customers with their purchases? Help them find precisely the product they were looking for? Build a relationship so they prefer you as a supplier? I am sure you would say “Yes.” Any e-shop would also want to monitor the reactions of its customers, measure results, see which messages and offers customers appreciate most, and track how campaigns are doing.
It takes more than the good-old newsletter to accomplish this. Keep this in mind when choosing the right email system to go along with your ecommerce platform. It must have the right level of functionality for your goals AND the right integration possibilities.
Three levels of ecommerce and email integration
First of all, your email system and web shop must be able to “talk” to each other. All changes in customer data should be both recognized in your web shop and in your email system. This way, both systems have the same information about your customers at the same time. This form of integration is broadly separated in three different ways.
1. Manual but fixed process
In this case, all the talking between the ecommerce and the email tool is handled by manual ETL processes. Data is exported from one system and imported into another. You could say this isn’t an integration at all, but as long as a process is documented and contains fixed tasks and steps, it might be partially automated. Manually linking ecommerce and email is still very common. The downsides of a manual process are numerous. To name a few:
Downsides to manual link between email and ecommerce
* Prone to human mistakes
* More time and resources needed to get the email out
* Dependency on availability of people
* Data might not be the same / up to date in both systems
* Data tasks are not fun to do, even demotivating
* Extra security risks due to files being manually handled
And to emphasize: Prone to human mistakes
If you recognize any of these pains, it might be time to look for a more ecommerce-friendly email platform to go with your e-shop. Even if you are just sending a relatively simple newsletter.
2. Open API integration
An open API offers an interface between the ecommerce platform and the functionality of your email tool. It is important to realise that APIs come in many shapes and forms. Not every ESP will offer a full, open API.
For instance, the most elementary functionality is to synchronize subscribers. Add new subscribers, update when they change their details and unsubscribe when they opt out. Realize that customer data like name, address and email are needed in both the email system and the ecommerce system, for they are being used in emailing and in handling the orders from your online store.
API integrations can, for instance, differ in:
* Offered functionalities
* Documentation and ease of implementation
* Maximum number of API calls and processing speed
* Ability to check and validate whether everything is going as planned
* Security measures
* Etc, etc.
Pay close attention to the way your questions are handled. There might be some people behind the curtain who can bring unexpected issues.
3. Ecommerce + email plugins
The ideal way to integrate and synchronise is to use a plugin. Some ESPs have developed a plugin for popular ecommerce platforms like, for instance, Magento, A plugin is a set of integrations between email and the ecommerce platform, just like you would find via an open API, but already pre-baked and ready to simply “plug and play.” The setup should be rather simple and quick.
Ecommerce email plugins differ just like the open API does. So hearing the words “Magento plugin” or “plugin” is not enough to tick the box on web shop integration!
Dealing with IT and making an informed decision
You see, integration of ecommerce and email marketing can become a bit technical, quite quickly, but your Email Service Provider should be able to take your marketing wishes and translate them into the technical functionalities and ecommerce integrations that you need.
My advice is to get those marketing and business requirements clear first and then talk tech with the supplier. If you lack the in-house tech savvy (which is very common), it is great to talk to the marketer and IT in a reference call of other clients of that same system and supplier. Speak to both clients that just finished the integration and ones that have been running it for a while as they will be able to tell you how it works from experience.
Image via flickr (cc)