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How to build your ecommerce tech stack: what you need and why

Sep 1, 2022

1.9.2022

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11:00

PT

Ecommerce businesses rely on technology to operate. From your website to payment processor, your fulfillment provider to financials, your ecommerce tech stack influences every aspect of your company’s performance—and can make or break your success. Let’s take a look at the critical elements of an ecommerce technology stack and how you can leverage it to make your company run more smoothly and efficiently.

What is an ecommerce tech stack?

By “ecommerce tech stack,” we’re referring to all the tools and technologies that enable you to run your business—from developing new products to balancing your books. 

Ecommerce tech stacks are usually made up of a combination of these elements:

  • Tools: These are the software elements you use to measure performance or glean insights (think Google Analytics). 
  • Applications: Sometimes “tools” and “applications” are used interchangeably, but think of applications as those programs you complete specific tasks in, like Microsoft Excel. 
  • Platforms: Think of platforms as more robust applications that have multiple functions, like Shopify (sales, marketing, payment processing, etc.)

When you put all of these tools together—or “stack” them—you create an end-to-end system for running your business.

Pro-tip: In other industries, especially those selling software, the tech stack may include frameworks and programming languages; but generally, retailers won’t need to get that granular unless building their own website from the ground up.  

What to consider when building your ecommerce tech stack

Your tech stack is crucial to the success of your business, especially if your goal is to grow. If any element of your tech stack doesn’t meet all of your needs, is difficult to use, is incompatible with the other elements, or is not designed to grow with you, you’ll be leaving a lot on the table. 

In most cases, technology is your friend—at least when it comes to running an ecommerce brand. Some tech won’t be top-of-mind every day, but will still play an important role. Think of it as your neighbor with a 70” TV or a snowblower: it exists in the background most of the time but comes in really clutch a few times per year. A well-oiled tech stack prevents you from wasting time troubleshooting issues,  manually migrating data, and more. Not to mention, without one you’ll also be running the risk of missing key insights into your business performance, increased human error, and a poorer customer experience. 

Besides—shopping for tech solutions can be a long and arduous process. If you load your tech stack with flexible, widely compatible, and customizable solutions, you’ll get to spend more time actually running your business and less time replacing tools that you’ve outgrown. 

It’s worth noting that while no one technology will fulfill your every need, you should keep your stack as small as possible. Fewer tools and technologies mean information is easier to find, there are fewer interfaces for you and your team to learn, and there’s less opportunity for things to break. 

When building your ecommerce tech stack, keep these four things in mind:

  • Cost
  • Compatibility 
  • Ease of use
  • Customer support

Cost 

Pricing is usually top of mind for anyone shopping for technology. You’ll need to strike a delicate balance between paying for quality (remember, you get what you pay for!) and staying under budget.  

Before you begin comparing competing tech, get a sense for what each element of the tech stack is going to cost, then set a realistic budget for each and identify which you’re willing to compromise on. If you go over-budget on your sales platform, for example, you’ll have less to spend on your ecommerce fulfillment provider, marketing tools, or returns provider. 

To minimize your costs, look for platforms that can help you consolidate elements of your tech stack. For example, an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Squarespace will host your brand’s website and process customer payments—combining two elements of your tech stack into one purchase. This will also help you simplify your operations, which is crucial for expanding businesses, especially those with lean teams. 

Of course, the cost of any given tech element shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum. For each piece of the puzzle, take into account your ROI and your business goals. For example: it may be tempting to opt for a cheap mom-and-pop 3PL now, but as your business grows, you’ll need additional warehouses, technical capabilities, and manpower that local 3PL won’t be able to provide. 

Compatibility

The most important thing to consider when building a tech ecosystem is whether these systems can communicate with one another. In order to effectively monitor inventory, fulfill orders, maximize sales and revenue, and plan your next move, you’ll want the full picture—and that’s only possible if your tech elements are compatible. 

Think about it: do you really want to be manually pulling data from three to five different sources into Quickbooks to create a P&L report, or reconciling stock counts across your online store, fulfillment center, and inventory planner? If your ecommerce platform can’t automatically route orders to the warehouse, how will you ensure orders are sent to customers accurately and on time? 

Creating a cohesive, end-to-end tech stack that can transfer data quickly and reliably is like building your team: they all have a unique role, but must be able to work together. Be sure each element can integrate seamlessly with the others—preferably through direct integrations, but at least through third-party integration tools. 

The benefits of a fully-integrated tech stack include: 

  • Simplified maintenance
  • Greater flexibility
  • Stronger security (fewer logins and licenses required)

Pro-tip: Look for platforms and tools with an open API. These technologies are able to integrate with any other tool in your belt.  

Ease of use

Let’s face it: all software promises to be intuitive and easy-to-use, but that’s more true for some than others. You’ll have to weigh capability and ease of use, since technology that allows its users lots of freedom and flexibility is typically less user-friendly, precisely because it allows for so much customization. Still, a longer learning curve can be frustrating and time-consuming, and if you plan on adding members to your team in the near future, keep in mind you’ll need to train them on this technology. It’s not too long before those learning curves compound and become more of a hindrance than a help. 

Prioritize tech that is easy to use and has all the capabilities you need—both now and a few years down the line. Look for tech that has plenty of resources to bring you up to speed, like tutorials, FAQs, and a stellar support team. 

Customer support

When every aspect of a business is dependent on technology—as is the case in ecommerce—a reliable support team is crucial. Every minute your sales platform is down is money lost; a glitch in your inventory tracking system, and you could be on backorder before you know it. In a perfect world, you’d never encounter these issues—but encountering occasional tech problems comes with the territory when you’re running a business.

Look for customer support that’s available through multiple channels: phone, email, and live chat. When it comes to the elements that directly impact your customers, like your sales channel, payment processor, and fulfillment partner, make sure support will be available when you need it. Signs of a good customer support system include dedicated account managers, positive user reviews, and in-house support.

An infographic displaying the key components of an ecommerce tech stack. The ecommerce technology stack is made up of eight categories, including the ecommerce platform, fulfillment and shipping technology, and order and payment processing.

Common ecommerce tech stack elements

Now you know what you’re looking for in your tech stack, at least at the high level; but what elements do you really need to operate? The answer depends on your business’ unique needs and goals, but in general, be sure you have the following. Keep in mind that some of these can be combined by a single provider, as we mentioned under “Cost.” 

  • Ecommerce platform: This is what you’ll use to sell your product and market to existing customers. It’s typically the first technology element new ecommerce businesses think about because it’s what will allow customers to find you. 
  • Order and inventory management: To keep track of your orders, identify top sellers, find the right balance of inventory, and manage restock, you’ll need a robust tool that integrates with your ecommerce platform. Sometimes, this is rolled into your fulfillment provider.
  • Order and payment processing: Your website’s no good if customers can’t pay you! While many ecommerce businesses opt for a pre-built platform like Shopify or Squarespace that includes a payment processor, this will be an important consideration if you opt to build your own website with in-house engineers.
  • Fulfillment and shipping: Traditionally considered more of a service than a software platform, modern fulfillment providers have put technology first to accommodate the needs of growing online retail channels. Be sure your provider can integrate with all of your ecommerce platforms (your primary website, online marketplaces, and so on) so orders are seamlessly and immediately delivered to the warehouse for fulfillment, and look for providers that can provide real-time insights into how inventory and orders are moving.
  • Customer service and support: Many ecommerce businesses keep customer support in-house, at least until they reach a certain size. If your sales platform doesn’t have a built-in support feature—or if you’re fielding customer support queries from multiple points of sale—a customer service platform can go a long way in ensuring those customers feel seen and heard.
  • Returns management: Returns are an unavoidable reality in retail—especially if you sell apparel. Make sure you have the tech infrastructure to handle reverse logistics easily and talk to your fulfillment provider to ensure returned merchandise is handled appropriately.  
  • Data and analytics: In order to run a successful business and grow, you need to keep your finger on the pulse. This could include a host of tech tools that will provide data on anything from website analytics (visitors, conversion rate, cart abandonment) to the cost of order fulfillment (packaging, pick and pack, and shipping).
  • Financial reporting tools: This includes the tools you need to manage your expenses, measure revenue, and run payroll.

Shrink your ecommerce tech stack with Airhouse

Building an effective tech stack is not a simple task. The upfront investment—both of your time and money—can be daunting, but creating a tech ecosystem that is both fully integrated and positioned to grow with your business will pay dividends as your company takes off. 

As a tech-forward 4PL, Airhouse combines the benefits of several logistics tools into one reliable platform. Managing all of these tools under one umbrella means there’s less for you to keep track of, and you can see the status of your entire fulfillment process on a single dashboard. 

Airhouse’s proprietary software includes the following: 

  • Fulfillment and shipping: Manage fulfillment for all of your orders—regardless of where the sale was made—through one platform. Airhouse seamlessly connects with your ecommerce platform(s) so orders are automatically routed, with customers’ shipping preference, to the most logical warehouse. With EDI integrations, Airhouse can fulfill wholesale orders too, meaning you don’t need a second provider to expand into stores.
  • Order and inventory management: With real-time data, see the status of every order and inventory count by SKU at any given time to ensure things are running smoothly. Use the Airhouse platform to predict inventory needs and alert your warehouses to incoming shipments, no email required. 
  • Order processing: Airhouse lets you choose how your orders are processed based on what makes sense for your business. Opt for full or partial fulfillment of multi-part orders and choose the shipping method that suits your budget.
  • Multi-warehouse management: Realize the benefits of multiple strategic warehouses without signing new contracts or managing multiple teams. Our unique warehouse network allows companies to expand into additional warehouses—and move inventory between them—using one platform.
  • Returns: Reverse logistics are part of fulfillment. Airhouse will manage your returns and restock inventory so you have one less thing to worry about.

Looking for a tech-forward fulfillment provider that’s built to grow? Schedule a call with Airhouse today.

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