If the last couple of months of shelter-in-place orders have taught businesses anything, it’s the value of digital communications and e-commerce capacity. Modernizing how we stay in touch, and in business, remotely has become focus number one.
Most IGCs were not equipped with online shopping capabilities prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Much less, even basic ways to take list orders and payments for curbside drive up or pickup orders. Some have been stubborn about adopting and learning new technology. Others may have simply been overwhelmed by the work and cost of converting to a new POS and inventory system capable of integrating with e-commerce platforms. This crisis has forced most businesses to adapt, and fast.
Before we dive into e-commerce options, let’s first clarify some important terms: Interfaced modules versus integrated modules. Interfaced modules use software protocols — called application programming interfaces, or APIs — to translate and transfer data between two different pieces of software, or a third-party application. For example, you may use a POS that “talks to” — using an API — your QuickBooks accounting software. Some modules can be configured to work automatically, some must be triggered manually. There are also pieces of software called plug-ins, which are added on to an existing piece of software (say a website platform) that give it added functionality.
Integrated modules, on the other hand, share the same data files together in live time. For example, a POS that includes inventory, customers, purchasing and accounts receivables and a general ledger all-in-one. When it comes to websites and e-commerce options, it’s crucial to understand which options are interfaced, and which are integrated; and which ones do and don’t play well together.
Every POS system will have a different ability (or lack thereof) to interface with third-party payment processing, website and e-commerce platforms. They all must be compatible simultaneously. This is where most green industry nurseries and garden centers get into trouble. You find out you have one or two of the necessary puzzle pieces that successfully interface, only to discover the two you need don’t. Once you’ve made a big investment in one platform or the other, it can be difficult, or impossible, to use the other pieces of software you want.
Anyone who sold you a POS system in the last 10 years should have been talking to you about e-commerce capability. Shame on them if they didn’t. That is the first question you need to ask if you’re looking to start from scratch with a new POS or need to upgrade. In addition to its ability to either interface or integrate with your inventory and accounting systems, you must also know which third-party payment processors and e-commerce platforms the POS is equipped to smoothly interface with.
Your e-commerce ready POS must also have multi-channel sales capabilities. Meaning it enables you to be mobile and sell wherever you are, not just at your physical retail site. The ability to sell remotely at pop-up shops, farmers markets, or multiple physical stores, is a must for future flexibility and growth.
E-commerce platforms such as Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce and the like offer you ease of online store building. We used to build shopping carts within existing websites. These days, it’s much easier to use one of these turnkey online options and interface them with your compatible website.
Third party payment processors, such as Square, can be used to handle not only your payments, but also payroll. Square also has a good POS for retailers, and you can build an online shop with them. While Square does interface with certain e-commerce platforms, such as WooCommerce or BigCommerce, website platforms such as WordPress and Squarespace, and accounting platforms such as QuickBooks, they do not interface with Shopify. Shopify has an excellent POS and multichannel e-commerce platform.
There are some green industry specific POS platforms that are e-commerce ready — check out SBISoftware — but be sure to investigate all platforms thoroughly and their features before pulling the trigger.
Some DIY website building platforms, such as Squarespace, include integrated payment processing and e-commerce. Meaning if you build and host your website with them, you have built-in access to add an online store and secure payment processing.
On the surface this may be a great option, but only if Squarespace can successfully interface with your POS. Squarespace recently announced it developed a new POS option in partnership with Square, so that might now be a good turnkey solution for many small garden centers. If you already have a WordPress website, you can add their e-commerce plug-in called WooCommerce, but make sure it can interface with your existing payment processor and accounting software.
What’s an SSL?
Let’s talk secure socket layer, or SSL, certificates for a minute, because this is another e-commerce area that trips up beginners. You must purchase an SSL certificate for your website domain name (for example lesliehalleck.com) if you want to take secure payments online at your website. You can purchase an SSL from the same company where you bought your domain (Register.com, GoDaddy, etc.) or through your website hosting company, and install them on the server where your website is hosted.
SSLs are only valid for terms of one or two years. The second they expire your website will show up with an error message advising visitors your site is not secure. You will have to go to the registering authority to renew the certificate, manually request new credentials, download them and reinstall them on your site server.
During this time of high friction, you can either lean in or give in. I prefer the former. I’ve only scratched the surface here on what you’ll need to learn to lean in on e-commerce. Do not rely on your POS salesperson or web developer alone to guide your decisions. You’ll need to commit to a technology learning curve, real costs and real qualified help. When times are tough, investing in yourself and learning new skills can be scary; but it will help you come out stronger on the flipside of a crisis.