As a means of giving your customers the opportunity to purchase products 24/7, 365 days a year, eCommerce provides huge opportunities for businesses to sell their products online and achieve sales volumes like never before. According to Forrester Research US eCommerce is expected to reach $250 billion in 2014 -- with an expected 10% compound annual growth rate. An opportunity like this cannot be ignored, however many companies underestimate the resources needed to open an eCommerce store or fail to consider that a strong front-end eCommerce system will never perform as well as it could without a strong back-end ERP system. In order to be successful in an online marketplace and keep up with increased demand, your eCommerce strategy must include accounting and inventory software. But before looking at the benefits provided by having an integrated eCommerce and ERP system lets look at some other important factors to consider before investing valuable resources into the process. Who will manage your eCommerce site? Managing an eCommerce site is a full time job and must be done on a day-to-day basis. This means you must determine whether or not your company has the people to manage your site. You may need to consider hiring additional employees or outsource management to a third party. Is your budget realistic? Many people miscalculate the costs associated with opening an eCommerce store, but like starting any other business, starting an eCommerce store will require significant capital investment Are you prepared to treat eCommerce as an entirely separate business? When opening an eCommerce store it is important to treat the business as separate from retail operations with separate staff, reporting, marketing and budgets. This is important because eCommerce presents new and different opportunities for sales and you want to avoid one store taking precedence over the other. Once you're confident in your company's ability to answer the above questions, it is time to evaluate your ERP system by asking yourself: Will your current ERP software system easily integrate with your eCommerce store to help deal with increased demand? As demand increases from selling online, consideration should be given to dealing with shipping products and product returns as well as maintaining up-to-date product catalogues. Having a reliable back-end ERP system that's integrated with your eCommerce system will help with these issues by allowing automation between both systems. Some important benefits of having both systems: An automated eCommerce inventory management system tracks and updates and manages orders that come in from the web store as well as automatically reflects any changes made to inventory back online. An integrated system can automatically notify customers when orders have been shipped and allow them to track the delivery of products. The need for manual workarounds and the amount of errors will be greatly reduced, even as demand increases with automated processes. Price changes to inventory such as quantity or promotional discounts are simplified. Customers can purchase more products, more often, online, without your company needing to hire additional staff to handle inventory data and process transactions. ERP integration allows for cheaper shipping by rate shopping the cheapest shipping method/carrier on each order. With many different factors to consider, some are often overlooked -- especially the need for an integrated ERP and eCommerce system. But eCommerce is much more than just a web store; each aspect of your business is affected by eCommerce and processes need to be examined before deciding to proceed. An integrated ERP system will help to bridge the gap between selling online, managing inventory, and processing transactions - ultimately making things easier for employees, and customers. Photo credit: ajiboye.com Samantha Hornby is the Assistant Marketing Coordinator of Blue Link Associates, an ERP Software Vendor that specializes in ERP and eCommerce integration. We share content on a regular basis on our Inventory and Accounting blog.