How to Build Effective Custom CRM For an eCommerce Store?

Semen Petrenko
Semen Petrenko (CEO at Fruitful Code) 12 July, 2021
Building a CRM for Online Store

The market of online stores is growing rapidly. And this year the trend will only continue its development.

The truth is, buyers already have an immense abundance of online retail companies selling the same goods at the same price, so the choice they make upon purchase is frequently determined by such factors as customer support, responsiveness of sales agents, solution usability, etc.

Tracing the changes, implementing updates, communicating your brand values, and keeping the buyers in the loop is quite challenging. But with an efficient eCommerce CRM, your business routine can be more automated and straightforward. Let your teams help people, while machines are handling mundane automatic operations.

Role of CRM for retail stores

2020 changed the world of retail and eCommerce due to the COVID-19 spike. This is a known fact, but let’s look at the numbers:

Total spending$598.02 billion$861.12 billion
Online spending15.8%21.3%

The pandemic has changed the way people shop and hence the operations of online stores in the background. Businesses had to adapt to the new reality, accommodate more customers, and satisfy the needs of much more buyers coming daily. As a result, the need for a more efficient way to manage the retail industry has come in the format of a CRM for eCommerce.

What is a CRM for an online store?

CRM is a shortcut for Customer Relationship Management. Globally it is a combination of techniques, technologies, and tools implemented by businesses for acquiring, converting, and retaining customers. In the context of building a CRM, it is a piece of software that monitors, manages, and ensures that every interaction with (potential and current) consumers goes smoothly and efficiently.

Most often, CRMs facilitate communication between a customer and a seller, manage customers’ accounts, monitor account history, connect multiple stores and guarantee idea-sharing. In fact, a CRM retail solution can take various shapes, features, and functionalities depending on the online store’s needs, urgent requirements, and overall goals.

How do eCommerce businesses benefit from CRMs?

Addressing emergencies, proactive communication with buyers, cross-platform social media management, astonishing effect on the target audience – these are just a few examples of the good that CRM systems offer to the retail industry. But you have probably read the loud headlines, so let’s take a deeper look into the benefits your business can acquire with an eCommerce CRM solution.

Processes automation.

Every CRM has a set of features to automate the manual work of your employees, allowing them to focus on more critical parts of the business. For example, one of the main benefits of CRM for eCommerce is the automation of marketing processes (follow-up emails, order notifications, drip marketing, etc.) Leave the repetitive tasks to the CRM to facilitate daily routine and improve team productivity.

Streamlined collaboration.

eCommerce requires tight communication and collaboration inside the team, as well as D2C messaging. Order confirmation and tracking, email marketing, tasks communications – these are frequently handled via different channels by various teams. As a result, the D2C gets affected when the sales do not confirm the payment to the warehouse, for instance. A CRM for an online store gathers all this communication in one place and at an arm’s length allowing everyone in the team to stay on the same page.

Customer insights.

Every online store collects customer data (email, first and last name, purchase history, cart filling, etc.); however, most eCommerce businesses neglect the value of this data. With a CRM of any kind, companies can collect all of it in one place for further analysis. You can segment customers to optimize your offer for every group, learn about people’s buying habits and improve your store web/app design, track conversion rate and bounce rate to change the latter.

Customer success.

CRM to eCommerce is like a Yellow Pages book in the past. It has all buyers’ data stored efficiently. This means that a support team can browse through the purchase history to identify the key issues. The marketing can suggest the best goods for personalized promotion. The sales can communicate it before the customer even knows about it. Anticipate what your users need and effortlessly establish the customer success strategies at every level of interaction with customers.

Detailed analytics.

In simple terms, CRM is a huge collection of data optimized for easy access. By applying analytical features to all this Big Data, a business can identify who and how interacts with the brand, see the trends and break the faulty patterns at the start. The power of prediction can change the way an online store operates to outrun the competition and provide buyers the experience they aim at.

Enhanced marketing.

Based on the collected and analyzed data, all marketing strategies will get more efficient. Your brand can be market-led, ensuring that your advertising, emails and promotions respond to the customers’ needs and not only lay stress on the matters you believe are right. Automation of marketing also becomes of great advantage during the hot-sale periods and for customer retention strategies.

Better inventory planning.

There are always some items that remain in stock forever and never get sold. Instead of ordering them over and over as a standard practice, CRM allows monitoring which products you sell most, which ones get more interest, and which ones attract new users. This data can help predict the trends for the upcoming season and adjust your manufacturing, sourcing, and sales processes to the actual market demand.

Custom CRM vs Salesforce (ready-made solution)

The market is filled with ready-made CRM systems: Salesforce, Zoho, Apptivo, Nimble, Ontraport among others. Each of these tools offers a standard and a personalized set of features, making them specifically good for multi-channel communication or business management. And with so many options in the market, it might come as a question “why custom eCommerce CRM development is still on the table.”

There is no doubt that a ready-made solution is a faster way to get a simple CRM for a specific need since each system serves standardized features for basic functions. Most of these CRMs can also be enhanced through customization to match particular needs of a company. Yet, their set of tools and possibilities are still limited and frequently cannot satisfy specific requirements of a business. Some of these ready-made systems allow customization of the product to some point.

Still, whenever your workflows and business processes cannot be easily categorized for a ready-made CRM,  custom CRM development could be a perfect alternative.

Let’s look at the difference between the two types closer.

Custom CRMReady-made CRM
CosteCommerce CRM development is a continuous process that costs about $50,000 in total, but the payment will be spread over the years (1-3-5).Per-user, per-month cost is applicable. The price varies from $25 to $300 per month per user, depending on the plan you select.
Speed to marketAbout a year for a mid-sized business with up to 100 users.About 6 months for a mid-sized business with up to 100 users.
Functions & featuresThe set of features and functions is unlimited and fully tailored to the business needs. Every requirement set by the owners can be fulfilled without any difficulties.Most CRMs possess features you must have and those you can choose from. About half of those offered are useless to 43% of business owners. This means that almost 50% of businesses are overpaying for a ready-made CRM.
Integration with existing business systemsCustom eCommerce solutions are designed to fit seamlessly into the existing company system and processes. So even if it is a challenge, it will be completed by the development team.It might be a challenge, especially when a new CRM needs to fit into the legacy system. Sometimes, complete integration is impossible.
ExtensionsExternal references and connections of a custom-made solution are an in-built feature that is developed from the very beginning based on the client’s requirement list.Depending on the plan and package selected, every ready-made CRM allows for a limited number of external integrations (payment systems, social media connection, etc.)

When selecting one option or another, take into account onboarding offered by the readymade CRM provider (if any) and the overall system complexity since it directly impacts the in-house adoption rate. Keep in mind that providers try to stay ahead of the trends so you will experience regular updates with the off-the-shelf CRMs.

Customized versions would require updates only if you need them, and they will not interrupt your daily routine. However, with an existing system, you can always get a free trial to check whether the offer suits your needs, while with a custom solution you will receive only drafts and designs, but the try-out prototype or MVP is not a part of the standard deal with most vendors.

You have already understood from this part that we are not trying to drive you into the selection of either option. We have merely compared eCommerce CRM features of different solutions to give you an overview of what you can expect.

Now, to facilitate your choice we offer you a couple of questions that can help:

  • How many people will use your CRM?
  • What is your project budget?
  • How soon do you need a new CRM?
  • Do any of the off-the-shelf solutions satisfy your needs?
  • Do you need to maintain brand identity across different product lines?

eCommerce web development: CRM

Now it is time to get to the point. Below we offer a generalized plan for the eCommerce CRM development.

However, note that every project is a unique case that requires adjustments and minor process tweaks.

Building a CRM

To develop CRM software for the retail industry, you first need to understand the types of existing systems. There are four main groups: strategic, operational, analytical, and collaborative.

  • Strategic CRMs are customer-centric. Their goal is to acquire and maintain customers, promoting them to profitable buyers.
  • Operational CRMs are focused on processes. They handle marketing, selling, and customer service.
  • Analytical CRMs work with Big Data. They mine insights from customer data to analyze them and tactically implement the analytics in future strategies.
  • Collaborative CRMs aim to facilitate communication. They optimize collaboration inside and outside the organization.

Stage #1: Preparation (~3 months)

The first and foremost stage in every development project is planning. The better you plan your eCommerce CRM, the easier and smoother the second stage will go. So do not neglect all the prep work.

  1. Determine business purpose and goals.

    Understand why you need a CRM, what purpose it should fulfill primarily, and what you plan to achieve with or through it. This step should leave you with a high-level strategy for the new eСommerce application development.

  2. Select features.

    Talk to your company members and write down what characteristics they might need in a new solution. Analyze what you are currently using and why it does or does not work. Make lists of must-haves and nice-to-haves for every team, combine them together. If you have time, give this list to the team again and ask them to prioritize it. This step will give you buy-in for the new eCommerce CRM solution.

  3. Choose a CRM type.

    Based on the goals and features you selected above, decide on the main functionality in your CRM and choose the type. It will help with deciding on the right vendor later on.

  4. Consider legal requirements.

    Security and data protection are currently written in the legal system of every country, so check the laws before you start to build a custom CRM. The decisions made here will impact the CRM functionality at the very beginning of system development.

  5. Define users.

    Customer, salesperson, marketing specialist, etc. All of them would need specific types of features, accesses, and CRM elements. By defining their roles, you can prepare to develop the right UX.

  6. Plan the UX.

    It might be a challenge at first, but you are now planning a perfect CRM system for your business. So, without giving much focus to the system constraints, plan the ideal user journeys considering what each role needs. Later, you will amend these based on the restrictions of a ready-made CRM or professional advice from custom web development services. But for now, you have to design a desirable UX.

  7. Finalize documentation.

    Collect all the prep work in a single brief for the development team. Include all your findings, requirements, wishes, etc. Create a request for the proposal to be prepared for the estimate requests and collaboration with the vendor.

Stage #2: Development (~6-9 months)

  1. Choose a vendor/Compile a team.

    With all the requirements and the request for proposal, head out to search for a team that knows how to create your own CRM system. Team creation is a much more complicated process extended in time. Hence, if you need a fast and efficient solution, collaboration with a reliable web app development company whose specialty is CRM development would be a better solution. To find a reliable partner, check their online reviews and go through their portfolio before setting up a meeting.

  2. Plan tech stack.

    This step will already be handled by your offshore team, so if you are not into coding, you can leave it to them. They will select the architecture for your CRM, the coding language, and the tools for the development. However, if you plan to build custom CRM or integrate a ready-made CRM for eCommerce, then make sure to outline your current system specifications so that the new solution could seamlessly fit into your existing business processes and systems.

  3. Draft the UI.

    This step is also completed by the vendor but you have a huge say in the look and feel of your next CRM solution. Designers and system engineers will work on the UI offer and provide design drafts demonstrating how the future solution will look like. Ensure that it aligns with your brand image and style and satisfies the needs of your team members collected in step two above. The CRM UI must be simple, usable, intuitive, consistent, and responsive.

  4. Compile the backlog.

    Backlog is a more precise development plan created by the custom CRM development company. You should be able to review it to check that all your features and external integrations are accounted for by the developers. Once this step is completed, the true development process begins.

  5. Develop the CRM.

    Coding, testing, and reiteration of the process take place in step 12. You will monitor the progress from the reports and demos presented by the vendor. As the client, this step only requires that you meet with the development team and discuss any ongoing changes, designs, features, etc. Just keep your hand on the pulse of CRM development.

  6. Re-test and get feedback.

    Agile development of an eCommerce CRM solution needs to go through user tests before the launch. Ensure that the vendor conducts user tests, collects feedback, and then reiterates every feature based on the results received. Regular tests will allow for faster pre-launch testing and rapid penetration into the market.

Stage #3: Launch and Support

  1. Get training.

    Before the launch of the new solution, you need to let your teammates get accustomed to the new flows, features, and functionalities. Reputable developers of a CRM retail solution will provide professional onboarding training to the internal employees and outline user journeys for the support team to assist the end customers further.

  2. Launch and tidy up.

    Once everyone is ready to work with the new system the time for launch comes. It is a victorious and yet challenging moment as the integration with the existing (especially legacy) system might not be seamless from the very beginning. So do not expect a launch in a single day. It usually takes about a week to tidy up the implementation and adjust to the new solution.

  3. Rely on support.

    eCommerce web development of a CRM system is a continuous process. Over time you might need new features or a consultation on the existing flows. So once the project is launched, decide with the vendor on the check-up meetings during which you could receive support with the new tool and discuss any further development options. Stay continuously updated to provide the best service with a new CRM for eCommerce.

Must-have eCommerce CRM features

Whether you opt for custom eCommerce solutions or plan to go with a ready-made platform, there are 7 essential features of an effective CRM. Check them in the offers on the table and plan them scrupulously in a tailored software. Here is a checklist to help you.

  • Contact management

It is required to create contacts for leads, customers, and buyers to monitor their activity and analyze their behaviors. Structured customer data is the best way to handle business optimization. Here is what you should have in a CRM:

  1. Customer name and contact details
  2. Communication history
  3. Tips on follow-up communication (timing, messages, offers, etc.)
  4. Deal stages

Every CRM for eCommerce has differentiation between the sale stages. Each company has its own flow (some have 3 steps, others make 15), so make sure that you can customize the selected solution to your stages.

  • Deal management

Track which opportunities have been missed, which require a follow-up email, which ones are at the final stage of conversion and need a deal. A special view for the sales team is a must-have to track activity, highlight every deal’s details and history, quotes compilation and sending, as well as expanded communication inside and outside of the company.

  • Daily dashboard

This is an extremely useful feature to get every team member up to speed at the beginning of the day. A dashboard needs to contain essential metrics for salespeople (their completed deals, those that need a follow-up, pipeline stages, progress against quota, etc.); for a support agent (number of incoming support cases, follow-ups from previous users, metrics on countries and regions/problems/areas/etc.). A dashboard should be adjustable to every user role in your company.

  • Content repository

eCommerce employees spend about a third of their time on developing content and sharing it with the leads and customers. Thus, a perfect CRM retail solution allows developing and sharing this content inside of the system. A simple built-in content management system coupled with the social media extensions can create a seamless sharing process for every team member thereby significantly improving productivity.

  • Workflow automation

The more you can automate, the faster and more efficiently you can manage a business. Automatic replies, notifications, alerts, task assignments, data capturing, analytics – all this can be easily handled by the algorithms with the correct flows defined.

  • Reports creation

Reports in the retail industry make the day, change the company’s strategy, and impact the whole running process. They are required weekly, monthly, and yearly, taking much time for employees to create. Automatic visual reports with efficient data representation are one of the most essential retail CRM features.

A final tip

Since you are still with us, you do need an eCommerce CRM to run your business more efficiently. However, you might be confused whether a custom-made offer is better, or maybe you will be fine with an off-the-shelf system for routine operations. The decision can only be yours because only you know what your business truly needs. Here are a couple of questions that can help you make the right choice:

  • How many people will use your CRM?
  • What is your project budget?
  • How soon do you need a new CRM?
  • Do any of the off-the-shelf solutions satisfy your needs?
  • Do you need to maintain brand identity across different product lines?

The answers will hint you in the right direction.

Have ideas, doubts, or questions? At Fruitful Code, we offer a free consultation on eCommerce web development of CRM systems in pre-existing and tailored packages. Write to us and we will be back with an estimate, offer, or piece of advice.


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