The challenges of e-commerce stock integration
Integrating in-house stock data from third-party accounting or warehousing systems into an online ecommerce web site can be achieved by a number of methods. The necessity for integration solutions arises from the need to transform data from the format understood by a vendor’s in-house stock system to something intelligible to and usable by an e-commerce system.
The in-house system and the website software will be determining factors in the ultimate solution, but methods can include ODBC connectors, MySQL syncs, scheduled tasks, XML, JSON or CSV transfers and parsing routines, or indeed some combination of these methods.
Whichever method is selected, the integration must then go beyond the standard import process included with many e-commerce systems. This is because the data requirements of an e-commerce system, such as Magento, are significantly greater than that of, for example, an accounting system like Sage. It is not a matter of simply exporting and importing a spreadsheet from one to the other, for reasons that become clear when looking at the structure of the data on an inventory system versus that of an e-commerce system. More data is required to successfully display products on a website.
How the solutions work
To make this data usable on an e-commerce store, a process of transformation is therefore required. This will convert the individual stock lines, each with their own name, price, SKU, MPN, EAN and so on, that are stored in the stock system into product data that the e-commerce system can store in its database and subsequently use to display product pages.
Product pages on an e-commerce site might loosely be considered as stock groups. Each e-commerce system has its own terminology but they may be referred to as “configurable products”, “grouped products” or “parent products”. While some products without options may be displayed successfully as individual pages, stock with multiple variants (e.g. size, colour, length etc) is most effectively presented as a single page from which a product variant may be selected.
Therefore, as the stock data export rarely contains information about the relationships of products, another task of the import process is to associate individual stock lines – or “simple products” – with the relevant parent product, to populate the options from which the customer can ultimately select for purchase.