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Salesforce.com Looping in E-commerce

Our team recently implemented a Product catalog tool built on force.com for one of our manufacturing customers. This tool assisted our client's website visitors in searching for appropriate products which match their requirements. However, what surprised me was the missing linkage between the catalog and the purchase process. How nice it would have been, if customers were given an option to make their purchasing decisions right there on the catalog page rather than contacting the call center or filling up a "Contact Us" form to show their interest. That would make perfect business sense more so because this Client is using Salesforce.com extensively for both their sales and service processes automation.

Organizations should put concerted effort in shifting to a single consolidated e-commerce application rather than administering and maintaining these two parallel applications and being forced to keep two duplicate sales data sources.  At the same time, they will have better visibility into sales metrics and customer buying decision patterns by reporting from a single repository.

Salesforce.com today stands out in the market for its product suite which enables customers to automate their Sales and marketing processes and their customer service. A typical Sales cycle includes Leads coming into Salesforce from multiple sources, opportunities created against these leads and sales users tracking these opportunities to closure resulting in revenue for the organization. This lead to cash cycle presents a high level overview of a typical sales process in any organization.
Majority of buying that we do today is online, because of the avenues available in the form of eBay, flipkart, amazon.com and other trusted e-commerce portals. Salesforce AppExchange is another hugely popular example of an e-commerce app for buying and selling of Salesforce partner applications.

A typical e-commerce application integrated with Salesforce.com should exhibit following capabilities and features:
- Managing products and prices directly within Salesforce with no need for duplicate data stores
- Comprehensive shopping cart, merchandising, pricing, Cross sell and up sell promotions, and content management
- Should be able to use the social and mobile capabilities of the Salesforce platform to offer a holistic product catalog   navigation and buying experience to the customers on multiple systems such as smartphones, PCs, tablets etc.
- Use standard Salesforce objects such as Accounts, Contacts, Opportunity, and Product to track e-Commerce sales
- A robust inbuilt Content management or a 3rd party CMS tool for managing product images, brochures and other such content
- Capability to use Salesforce authentication using customer portal to allow access to online store using login and password,   if a business requirement for that exists
- Use Salesforce sites to host the ecommerce website
- A seamless multi-page shopping experience to the user where they can review the cart before making the final payment
- Checkout page to capture contact, credit card and billing info such as Shipping and Billing addresses
- Payment options using commonly available payment gateways such as PayPal, and in some cases options for COD (Cash on   Delivery)
- Add on features such as social media marketing tools such as integration with twitter and Facebook. Customers can be your   product evangelists when they showcase their purchase online
- Standardized connectors for integration with shipping, inventory and tax calculation applications

To meet this requirement, companies may be tempted to build custom applications with API connections to the backend CRM application from their existing websites. This would require development effort and knowledge of database calls and apex and visual force coding. 

What is Salesforce.com doing to automate or integrate this significant touch point with the customer, i.e. online sales or e-commerce? Organizations can explore following e-commerce tools which have readymade connectors with Salesforce and are listed on AppExchange with their customer testimonials and success stories - Nexternal's e-commerce shopping cart software, CloudCraze product developed by EDL Consulting, venue Salesforce e-commerce app, among others.

References:
[1] http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/cloudcraze-brings-ecommerce-to-salesforce-dreamforce-017390.php
[2] http://www.kineticgrowth.com/products/venue-salesforce-ecommerce/
[3] https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N30000003HW0dEAG
[4] http://www.edlconsulting.com/EDL_News_Articles/Internal/CloudCraze_OEM
[5] https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N30000001gUViEAM

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