The CRM and E-Commerce Convergence Begins

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E-commerce really gained traction during the COVID-19 lockdowns and is expected to continue its long-term growth in 2023 and for the next five years, even if the economy as a whole takes a nosedive. In fact, IMARC Group expects the $16.6 trillion global e-commerce market of 2022 to expand to $70.9 trillion by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of 27.4 percent.

Consumers and businesses alike are continuing their shift to digital shopping, and CRM and e-commerce platforms are now starting to work together to improve customer interactions and open up new avenues for growth.

“CRM and e-commerce platforms can work together effectively by integrating customer data and sales data to create a more personalized shopping experience for customers,” says Henry Wilmer, a PA Consulting experience strategy and product management consultant. “By using the information gathered from a CRM system, such as customer demographics and purchase history, e-commerce platforms can personalize product recommendations and targeted marketing campaigns to individual customers.”

Business customers want alignment between CRM and e-commerce technologies to deliver a better omnichannel experience to their customers, says Kirsten Pattie, PA Consulting’s principal consultant for strategy and transformation.

Analysts have seen greater integrations between e-commerce platforms and loyalty platforms, along with improved integration between online and physical commerce and larger CRM systems, all of which is important for retailers looking to grow hybrid shopping experiences such as buy online, pick up in store, Pattie says.

“CRM/e-commerce platform integration is the industry standard, so in order to gain a competitive advantage, online shopping websites will be required to add additional automations, such as competition price monitoring and pricing strategy tools, AI integrations that can provide customer service automations, inventory management automations, order fulfillment automations, and more,” says Mihai Bisnel, managing partner of PriceFlux, a maker of dynamic pricing tools for e-commerce.

“The integration points between commerce and CRM have been primarily focused on customer service because historically e-commerce solutions have been very B2C-focused,” says Clint Oram, SugarCRM’s cofounder and chief strategy officer. “We’ve been involved in that space because we have customer service capabilities in our product since its inception 20 years ago.”

The integration of CRM with e-commerce platforms allows for streamlined communication and customer service, as customer information and purchase history can be easily accessed by customer service representatives, Wilmer adds. “Fundamentally, the integration of CRM and e-commerce platforms can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as improved sales and marketing efforts.”

Data can be shared between CRM and e-commerce platforms in various ways, depending on the specific integration and systems being used, according to Wilmer.

APIs let users integrate both data and processes together, enabling two disparate solutions to sit side by side, Oram says. “You can stitch them together fairly closely, quite frankly, in today’s modern world of APIs. You accomplish quite a bit with a side-by-side integration.”

While some companies have added newer CRM and e-commerce technologies that are built to easily integrate across a suite or with technologies from another provider, there are ways to integrate older CRM systems with e-commerce platforms so data can be shared across the two, according to Pattie and Wilmer.

Wilmer cited some examples of data that can flow between the two systems, including the following:

  • customer information, such as contact details, demographics, and purchase histories, to create more personalized customer experiences;
  • customer behavioral data, such as browsing and order history, sales totals, and product information, to provide better visibility into customer buying patterns;
  • marketing data, such as campaign performance, click-through rates, and customer engagement;
  • inventory data, such as stock levels, product information, and pricing;
  • voice-of-the-customer (VoC) data, such as surveys, customer effort scores, reviews/ratings, customer satisfaction scores, and mobile and web analytics; and
  • Customer service data from customer inquiries, complaints, and support tickets.

“Ultimately, the integration of CRM and e-commerce platforms allows for a more seamless flow of data and can greatly improve the customer experience and business operations,” Wilmer adds.

“The most significant way in which e-commerce and CRM platforms can work together is by allowing the mix of product/service data, along with customer data, such as self-reported first-party data and/or behavior,” says Ana Mourao, Stanley Black & Decker’s global customer journey and CRM senior manager for Latin America and Asia. “This allows for on-the-fly personalization and increased engagement while keeping your digital marketing efforts agile.”

For example, a travel website collects customer preferences, such as whether an individual travels alone, with a big family, or as part of a couple. The company can then classify its travel packages so communication is personalized based on those preferences.

The company can also add customer behavior data, further personalizing offers to include solo traveler packages related to the content the customer has seen on the company website in the past 30 days or so, according to Mourao. “This not only increases the engagement with the customer, but also allows your company to be more agile. You can develop one dynamic template for communication, such as email, and this one template is automatically populated with data.”

Doing so allows digital marketing/CRM/growth teams to focus on the all-important strategy and analytics instead of setting up multiple templates and campaigns for personalization, Mourao adds.

Many companies, especially in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) area, are going direct to consumer but want to manage their channel solutions with a sales force automation solution, Oram adds, noting that most companies sell products via the e-commerce channel but rely on CRM solutions for customer relationships.

The increased integration between CRM and e-commerce has helped startup companies as well, Wilmer says. “In recent years, anyone has the ability to set up their own e-commerce businesses and link directly with last-mile logistics providers or fulfillment hubs. There are infinite opportunities.”

Add CRM technology to an e-commerce platform such as Shopify and the startup business has access to loyalty and personalization capabilities, Wilmer adds.

Integration of CRM and e-commerce platforms has also enabled businesses to better track customer interactions and purchasing behavior across multiple channels, such as email, social media, and online marketplaces, according to Wilmer.

Beyond the personalization and loyalty benefits, Wilmer says CRM/e-commerce integration helps companies in the following ways:

  • improved sales and revenue growth through greater visibility into customer buying behavior;
  • increased customer lifetime value through retention programs that bring all of their customer data in one place for a better understanding of behavior and preferences;
  • better inventory management, tying inventory levels to customer demand to reduce the risk of having too much or too little on hand; and
  • streamlined communication that leads to better and faster customer service, which can improve customer satisfaction and retention.

Both CRM and e-commerce platforms have benefited from AI for better customer segmentation, personalization, and product recommendations, as well as automation of repetitive tasks, such as basic customer service requests and inventory management, according to Wilmer.

It’s been a very data-centric integration between e-commerce and CRM platforms because the tools have historically been in different silos. There have also historically been different teams handling the e-commerce and CRM sides of the business, according to Oram. “They have different tools that they have been using, but they want the data to be synchronized across them.”

This marketplace need for synchronization was one of the reasons behind SugarCRM launching the SugarOutfitters software marketplace a year ago, following the acquisition of the platform from Fanatical Labs a few months earlier.

Now Sugar’s official marketplace, SugarOutfitters provides a wide array of solution extensions, add-ons, connectors, integrations, and industry templates from large and small software providers.

Also driving the synergies between e-commerce and CRM is the increased growth of B2B e-commerce, Oram says. “Even though they’re operating through a B2B e-commerce engine, which is designed to be self-service in nature, often multiple people are involved in the selection process, ensuring that the product bought meets the [desired] purpose. Collaboration does need to happen.”


But not everyone sees continuing convergence of CRM and e-commerce as the optimal situation.

“The best way for CRMs and e-commerce platforms to work together is to separate them—architecturally, that is,” says Cory Cummings, CEO and founder of PackDigital, a commerce platform provider. “A new approach to e-commerce—often called headless, modular, or composable—decouples the traditional back end (payment processing, inventory, etc.) from front-end, customer-facing layers of their websites. Headless not only frees up retailers from having a single technology dictate how they build and present their brand to the world but simultaneously enables faster websites, better personalization, and the one-click shopping experiences consumers have come to expect.”

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be information sharing across e-commerce and CRM, Cummings says. “Integrating a CRM with a headless platform unlocks key data—from account/order status to browsing and purchasing habits to demographic details and preferred contact channels, and more—and brings it all into a single source of customer interactions.”

Retail marketers can use these insights to quickly and easily test new theories and build more personalization around their user base, according to Cummings. “Together, CRMs and headless e-commerce platforms can help brands engage and retain shoppers while increasing their conversion rates, loyalty, and [lifetime value].”


Oram sees an increasing need for “deal rooms,” where digital selling meets e-commerce. He calls it “an ill-defined space” that is starting to see a lot of innovation.

There’s also consolidation of configure, price, quote (CPQ) solutions with sales force automation technology, according to Oram. “We have our own CPQ capabilities, and we continue to invest in that area,” he says.

Similarly, SugarCRM and other CRM vendors are investing in e-commerce areas like price books, catalogs, etc., Oram says.

Oram expects to see further convergence of what have traditionally been separate e-commerce and CRM features and technologies. “It’s already happening today. B2B e-commerce vendors are adding digital selling capabilities that enable the seller-assisted buying process. The need for configure, price, quote capability is no longer a separate category; it’s a feature of the B2B e-commerce engine.”

SugarCRM and other companies are offering full solution suites to meet customer’s e-commerce, CRM, and related needs, says Oram, pointing to his company’s dozen or so acquisitions since 2019. “That’s what customers want.”

The co-mingling of CRM and e-commerce also makes financial sense for the vendors of the technologies, he adds. The recession that many economists expect in 2023 will make investment capital more expensive, which will mean that some companies offering stand-alone solutions won’t be able to survive as customers look for full solution suites, Oram adds.

“The future ahead of us is going to be a re-platforming of acquired solutions so that you have one product suite, one code base, one fully integrated solution end to end where you’re not relying on API integration. The simple fact of the matter is that data and process integration is happening so deeply behind the covers that you won’t even know that the products started off as two separate ones.”

SugarCRM’s winter release included a complete unification of the company’s SugarSell and SugarServe products into one shared user experience.

“In the next five to10 years, the use of CRM and e-commerce platforms is expected to see a significant shift toward more personalized and immersive customer experiences, enabled by advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, the metaverse, and 5G networks,” Wilmer predicts. “This will lead to more sophisticated and integrated systems that can provide real-time, individualized interactions and experiences for customers.”

Wilmer also expects the use of blockchain technology to become more common in e-commerce technology, providing increased security and transparency for transactions. Another of his predictions is that e-commerce platforms will begin focusing on sustainability and ethical consumerism.

“Overall, the integration of various technologies and a focus on customer-centric experiences will drive the evolution of e-commerce and CRM platforms in the coming years,” Wilmer says. 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at spenterprises1@comcast.net.

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