If you’ve been running an ecommerce business for a while, you undoubtedly have the foundational aspects of a good tech stack, like a marketplace presence, online store, and accounting system. But you might be missing some of the key ways to make your technology work for you, instead of the other way around. The best tools for retailers and brands integrate with each other and automate tasks to boost a business’ productivity, predictability, and profitability.
But how do you know when to take that next step to power up your ecommerce tech stack? We talked to Denise Brooks, founder and CEO of Alexis Information Systems—a digital agency dedicated to solving ecommerce business problems with technology and certified Webgility partner—to find out. Denise answered our burning questions about the common growing pains of tech stacks for established brands and retailers, and offered advice for a sustainable path forward.
Focus on people first, not apps
With 20+ years of experience helping customers, Denise knows her fair share about navigating the complexities of people and technology. Regarding the pain points in a retailer’s tech stack, she says, “In my experience working with customers on their software issues, I usually find that it’s more about the people than the apps.”
“The growing pains a business experiences when scaling up almost always have to do with people first, rather than technology,” she adds. “The biggest mistake management makes is having the belief that all they need is a new system and everything will be okay. The apps aren’t the problem; it’s management who is making the wrong decisions.”
This false narrative that just one more app or software program will solve everything can lead to disarray within a business. “You can have as many systems as you want; it’s not going to make your business successful,” Denise says. So what’s the key? “You need qualified individuals using your systems—that will change your business.”
Involve the “little guy” in decision making
The biggest conflict Denise sees is not businesses having the wrong technology, but rather leaders making decisions without taking the end users’ opinions into account. For example, consider a web developer who was hired to create a website for an online store. The manager was ultimately satisfied with the look and feel of the website, and the developer was paid for his or her work. The problem in this scenario? The developer was hired to create a website, not to address the operational needs of the business.
“Unfortunately, big decisions are not made by the people who use the technology—the little guys aren’t at the table,” Denise says. “Whenever I have to deploy a point of sale system or online store, I have to understand what the finance department needs, what the warehouse workers need. I interview the future users, which often span the whole company.”
Decision makers tend to focus more on an online store getting visitors than on the user experience of the people who have to process and fulfill the orders. Managers should make sure to consider the feedback of the workers who will be directly involved in the processes that stem from the online store. Although a powerful frontend is important to make a sale, a backend that works for the people on your team who use it is even more important.
Plus, as Denise says, most apps have got the frontend covered. “All apps have been optimized for the best user experience,” she explains. “They are constantly being improved and updated, so that part is covered. When I work with a business that’s having technical challenges, there isn’t much frustration in how the systems work—it’s how the people use the systems.”
The fewer apps, the better
When working with her ecommerce clients, Denise prefers to have a very small number of apps that the business is working with. The sweet spot? “You don’t want more than 4 or 5 apps when working on an online store,” she says.
When business owners get distracted by shiny new technology, they can end up having more apps or software programs than they need. And that tech stack bloat can be detrimental to their business by generating duplicate entries.
Having too many apps can also cost a business money, especially if they are paying for two apps that do the same thing. For example, Denise had a client who was using Shopify. The business owner then signed up for Stamps.com’s shipping service. However, he did not realize that he was already paying for Shopify’s built-in shipping service, even though his business wasn’t using it. Denise says that finding inefficiencies like this can save you time and money by limiting the number of apps you need to log in to and maintain.
Her biggest tip?
Choose one app to anchor the rest of your apps around
“The most effective way to ensure you have a small number of apps is to choose one single app that everything else in your business revolves around,” Denise advises. “Businesses patchwork too much together instead of upgrading to one better app that can do everything. The anchor app you choose will be your main tool, and it should sync with everything else you need. That way you only need to work out of the one app.”
With automation tools that integrate with your core ecommerce tech, you won’t have to do any manual work or log in to a dozen different apps to check your business information. Automation and integration are key: “If any human has to retype information, you’re gonna have a problem,” Denise says. “Any time you have a possibility to sync data and make systems talk to one another, go for it! It’s a valuable addition to the business because there’s no risk of human error.”
“Think of the simplest data entry error,” she continues. “There’s a town here in Arkansas called Bella Vista. John Doe could type Bella Vista, Jane Doe could type Bella-Vista, another could type BellaVista. None of those entries would be considered the same. With automation, you avoid those common issues.”
Watch out for signs that your tech stack is working—or not
“You can tell that your tech stack is working well for you when all of the financial data that is needed to run your business is available through the sync,” Denise says. “When your Quickbooks fields are filled with information you didn’t have to type manually, then you know your tech stack is working for you.”
Pay attention to the warning signs as well. “The old-fashioned way was to have one screen open with Shopify, another screen open with Quickbooks, and copy your information over,” Denise says. “If you or anyone on your team has to retype anything by hand, something is wrong! If you find yourself having to duplicate tasks, then it’s time to upgrade.”
If you start accumulating too many apps, or you have to leave your anchor app to log in to another system that’s not integrated, your tech stack may not be serving your business.
BONUS: Denise’s Dream Tech Stack
So now that she’s doled out all her advice, what would be in Denise’s dream ecommerce tech stack? Let’s find out.
Denise Brooks’ Ecommerce Tech Picks
“So many things are built into Shopify, so it can serve as the center of your business,” Denise says. “Shipping, POS, payments, inventory management, and even basic sales tax automation can be done in Shopify. That way one app replaces the need for five!”
“Amazon has all the business tools you need, so you don’t need to venture out much to other marketplaces,” Denise explains.
“The cloud-based version, QuickBooks Online, is great for someone who is using Shopify because the assumption is you’re someone who’s on the go,” says Denise. “Your online store is on the cloud, your POS is on the cloud, so your accounting should be on the cloud.”
“With Webgility, all the data from Shopify and Amazon is automatically shared with Quickbooks and vice versa,” Denise adds. “You don’t have to do anything yourself, it’s all synced automatically, from inventory to sales to shipping—Webgility integrates it all.”
“Avalara is great because it talks to Shopify directly,” says Denise. “It provides a nexus list to help you figure out if you need to pay sales taxes for certain states. But if you’re only doing business in one state, Shopify’s sales module has everything you need.”