6 Things to Make Your Product Catalog More Customer- and Billing-Friendly,
Or How Not to Make a Mess of Your eCommerce Business Due to Poorly Compatible Billing and Product Catalog Functionality
Just like any complex process that consists of a mosaic of components and business-specific nuances, billing is hard to both implement and fine-tune. You not only have to take into account a diverse number of components and interrelations between them, but also manage to predict your future needs and plan over the long haul. This is a very difficult task, especially, if you have no previous experience with billing software and off-the-shelf billing solutions seem to fail to meet your needs completely, or are just overloaded with frills that make them overly costly.
Although it is still advisable that you find a software provider, knowledgeable of the many things that need to be taken into account while building a product catalog and making it compatible with a billing system, below we will dwell on several important facets of the billing process that involve a billing system's interactions with a Product Catalog. We’ll provide several tips that can help you stay out of any billing-related trouble, caused by your Product Catalog and billing system being at variance with one another. At first, about,
How It All Works
Regardless of whether your billing software is intended to help you make millions of dollars by selling utilities to the inhabitants of megalopolis, or to enable you to collect whatever your small sideline business has yielded, your billing app always interacts with your Product Catalog.
For a small-time eCommerce business, you hardly ever need to add to the Product Catalog something other than the products, or services you sell. You also need to indicate the prices of these products or services.
With larger-scale eCommerce retailing, things, normally, get a lot more complicated.
If a product you want to sell comes with an after-sale service of some kind, or with a regional, volume, or seasonal discount, you need to indicate all the related interrelations in your Product Catalog. The same happens if your products and/or services are bundled, i.e. sold together.
For example, if you sell mobile phones via your eCommerce app, you may want to bundle some of your models with an accessory, such, as for example, a phone case. Simultaneously, you would also like to be able to grant your buyers a corresponding discount.
Any movement of funds across your eCommerce app, caused by the sale of a product or service, creates a charging event. The same happens if you engage in other commercial activities via a website, for instance, if you lease out equipment, run a car rentals business or boat livery, or grant loans.
Often, such as, for example, in the case of Telecommunications or utility providers, customers make regular payments, or pay on installment plan. Because of this, one-time and recurring charging events also need to be introduced.
All charges for products and/or services, sold via your app, are calculated by the Rating functionality of your billing software. This is done taking into account the corresponding discounts and other pricing factors, as well as their various often intricate combinations.
So, how does one go about implementing the whole thing in such a way that nothing will collide, everything will be taken into consideration, and no overhaul of what’s been developed will, eventually, be required?
How To Make It All Work As Expected
There are several more generic tips we would stick to as developers of billing software and Product Catalog functionality.
They are as follows:
Focus on your Product Catalog and align the rest with this functionality. A Product Catalog is always central to any billing system.
Bundled products and services affect greatly the structure of a Product Catalog. Try to think of and list as many product and service bundles, as you can, prior to the start of the development effort. Make sure all the bundles are reflected in your functional specification and the billing system to be developed allows for adding more bundles you may require in the future.
Spend more time on working out an optimal hierarchy of the product categories. While a large number of product categories makes finding a product difficult for the user, a small number of product categories entails longer product lists that are difficult to navigate and search. We are of the opinion that the best option here is to implement this functionality as an easily navigable tree.
Also, you can create several sites with varying look and feel, each devoted to one of your product categories and powered by the same engine. This will make your Product Catalog a lot more user-friendly and the products it contains a lot more accessible.
One of the blunders a less experienced software development team can easily make is implementing the Price Management functionality of your eCommerce software as part of your Product Catalog.
We think that it is a lot more expedient to implement the Price Management functionality as a standalone module of your eCommerce application in order to allow for greater flexibility: you may want to postpone selling some of your products and will need to adjust the prices in the offing accordingly.
Besides, it makes no sense to lump together your Product Catalog/billing software application and the Inventory/Warehousing functionality you use. This can, actually often be critical: without this partition, you would in most instances, be unable to achieve the flexibility your business needs. This happens because a number of parameters, used in Inventory Management and Warehousing are frequently irrelevant or excessive for a Product Catalog. There can easily be some differences in the measurement units (simply put, you may be buying by the ton in crates and selling by the kilo in jars), and even in the product names (you may want to re-name a product to make it more marketable on an overseas market), and so on.
Moreover, if you want to take advantage of any seasonal upsurges in demand and be able to sell a product at a higher price later the separation of your Billing functionality from your Inventory functionality is absolutely essential. You will simply be able to expose a snapshot of a product and a message to the effect that the product will be available at a later date.
Whether by design, fluke, or through your painstaking effort, but your business may go so well you’ll want to expand into an adjacent business area. For example, if you are presently in mobile communications, you may want to get into the utilities space and establish a business presence there: after all, why not. At the same time, the business tools you have at your disposal must be able to support this move.
It will most probably be possible to enable the expansion and diversification of your business technically in any case. However, being able to foresee your future business needs and wants at the start of your business endeavor can sometimes save you a fortune. As far as your Product Catalog is concerned, this means exactly the following: the introduction of a product or service from a different business area must not be more complicated than a regular configuration/the mere creation of a new product line.
Business customers vary not only by category, but also individually. They want special prices, lines and data volumes. This means that it may not be enough for you to simply provide the ability to configure, within predefined limits, several attributes on the customer category level to make your clients truly happy.
Make sure your Product Catalog is flexible enough to support creating any combination of your products and services, including bundles that comprise products and/or services from different business areas.
In conclusion, it should be noted that both sophisticated product catalogs and billing solutions are just the kind of software that can hardly be developed properly by a team that consists solely of software engineers and does not include one or more highly qualified (and, preferably, Billing-savvy) Business Analysts.
The active and close interactions of your business stakeholders or other in-house experts, conversant with your business, with your external billing software developers will be essential to the success of your billing project.