As a small business owner, one of your most important assets is time. Many independent retailers are under the assumption that using mobile phone and tablet apps will increase productivity, and allow them to use their time more effectively. Using app center features, however, is a time killer that can leave you frustrated and with less time to do the things that enable you to run your business smoothly. Apple introduced the world to an app center that significantly increased the value of mobile phones and tablets, and many small business operators have several tools on their phones and iPads that they use every day. While apps give retailers the ability to work more conveniently and in more places, they do not save time. Business owners are still working as much as they were before?they are just more efficient in response times.
Based upon Apple's success generating income from the app center, almost every SaaS (Software as a Service) business-related provider started building out their app centers. The goal was to make more money under the guise of helping small business owners with new features, tools and services. Within ecommerce, there are a number of companies, including Magento, Big Commerce and Shopify, with app centers. These companies are responsible for the core platform, and third party companies build new features and sell them directly to small business owners. Sounds simple, easy and logical, but the devil is truly in the details. Let us walk through an example. You decide to go with a new ecommerce provider and you find they do not have features that are critical to your business. You do not want to throw away the investment you have made in learning this new system, so, instead of moving to a solution that suits your business, you look to the ecommerce provider's app center. There you find plug-ins for the three features that will help you and your business. It all sounds perfect, until you consider that you will be dealing with three new companies, and you will need to learn how to use three new applications and reach out for ongoing support. Retailers can lose two to five hours per week by adding such new services to their businesses. That, however, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Here are additional consequences to consider:
Cost. Each application will come with a one-time or recurring cost.
Support. You will not receive the same level of support you might expect from the core software company. Many app companies do not have phone numbers, and more than 80 percent of the developers in app centers are individuals or small companies of less than five employees.
Stovepipe application. Because the application plugs in to the core software, it creates a stovepipe scenario in that the core software only talks to the plug-in. Any information, data, etc., that is not communicated throughout the software could affect the accuracy of your reporting.
Here is another example. Pinnacle Cart decided to move away from the live chat software it was using on its website. The company figured it would be eliminating an extra software system and would save time by using software that integrated with its CRM system. For Pinnacle Cart, many live chats were business leads and were reported as such in the CRM. The new integration was a stovepipe set-up, and did not communicate the leads generated to the CRM reporting. Ultimately, people had to manually add in the leads to the report, meaning more work.
The last and most important element you cannot overlook is the actual usability of the integration. All software has bugs, and the challenge will come when you have an issue with one of the features you added from the app center. It can be difficult to get someone to take responsibility in this situation, leaving you holding the bag. This is a real issue that will appear constantly, because software evolves. eCommerce solution providers come out with new releases that will grow, improve and fix the software. In doing so, core files are changed and this often will conflict with the third party applications being used. The worst case scenario is that the app will break your feature, causing a lengthy delay, as the third party company will then have to fix the feature based upon the changes to the core software. This is a cycle that happens over and over again.
Using app center features is ultimately a time killer that will leave you much more frustrated and with less time to do the things that make your business run well. When you make the decision to change the ecommerce software for your business, take the time to ensure the company believes in having all features of the software core to the application.
Mike Auger is president and CEO of Pinnacle Cart, a hosted shopping cart and ecommerce software application that allows you to create, manage and effectively market your business.
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