Online Company Stores: A Complete Guide
Online company stores are a complete solution allowing you to effectively distribute company branded merchandise. This may include functionality tailored to your exact business requirements such as integrations with ERP and accounting systems, single sign on (SSO) capabilities, real-time reporting, user groups and permission levels, team/department budgets, and custom payment methods.
- What Is an Online Company Store?
- Who Needs an Online Company Store?
- The History of Online Company Stores
- What Makes an Online Company Store Different From Traditional E-Commerce?
- The Advantages of an Online Company Store
- Ways to Use a Company Store
- Using Points as Currency
- Store Setup & Onboarding Process
- User Groups & Permissions
- Selecting Branded Merchandise
- Launching an Online Company Store
- Privacy & Security
- Support & Account Management Teams
What Is an Online Company Store?
An online company store is a corporate-branded e-commerce website offering custom, branded merchandise and materials that have been specifically designed and created for your organization and its target audiences. For context, online company stores typically allow employees to order customized logo apparel and branded swag from their employer’s curated online catalog of branded merchandise. But, this isn’t their only use. Behind the user interface (the web store and catalog) is a complete solution that offers advanced functionality that includes integrations with several ERP and accounting systems, single sign on (SSO) capabilities, real-time reporting, user groups and permission levels, team/department budgets, and custom payment methods.
Who Needs an Online Company Store?
This is a question we often get asked by family members who try their best to understand what it is we do for a living. Well, any business with 50 or more employees can benefit from having an online company store. An online swag store is especially beneficial for employers who have already invested in branded merchandise as a marketing or HR tool and who are overwhelmed by the manual process of managing spreadsheets, financials, and their inventory of branded merchandise — often referred to as their swag closets.
Larger businesses and employers have more to gain, of course. Once a company is spread across many departments, business units, and business locations, managing a swag inventory the old-fashioned way (on-site merchandise closets) is nearly impossible. With a complete online company store solution like the one we are talking about, they would be able to better account for merchandise spend, while gaining insightful data about how branded merchandise is being used.
The History of Online Company Stores
During the 1950s, right through to the 1990s, corporate merchandising programs were typically referred to as catalog programs. Once per year, merchandise would be selected for production and a printed catalog would be mailed to employees and customers. Orders were then faxed or mailed and shipped from inventory. The internet age brought about many changes and more-traditional catalog programs were transformed into e-commerce websites. This meant that companies were no longer “locked-in”; the items included in their online catalog could be refreshed from time-to-time. As the promotional products industry continued to mature, on-demand production was introduced. This meant that companies no longer had to keep tens of thousands of items in inventory, eliminating the need for producing a years’ worth of inventory. This brought down their inventory carrying expenses.
Coggins Promotional Advertising was founded in 2001 and, shortly thereafter, began to develop an online company store and order fulfillment platform. Using web-based technologies and innovative, on-demand production techniques, Coggins developed an industry-leading solution that is used by some of the largest Fortune 500 companies today.
What Makes an Online Company Store Different From Traditional E-Commerce?
When creating our platform, we were inspired by leading e-commerce solutions and retailers; we wanted our online company stores to look and behave like theirs. In addition to this, we also built our platform in such a way that makes it possible to roll out new features, enhancements, and fixes to all client stores (this is called multi-tenant architecture). Through configuration settings, we also ensure that core functionality is not affected in any way and any new functionality is turned off by default. Not to toot our own horns, but this is also what separates us from other company store providers who run on legacy systems with dated and convoluted UI/UX.
Traditionally, e-commerce retailers have in-stock inventory. The buyer expects that they will be able to order a single item from the e-retailer’s catalog and, in turn, the retailer responds by shipping the order to the buyer the same or next business day. Having these same capabilities, for an online company store, is recommended. For example, a salesperson may need one of a particular item as quickly as possible to take advantage of a prospect or sales opportunity.
Despite this, some businesses choose to sacrifice same-day shipping on in-stock inventory in exchange for an on-demand production model. This avoids keeping large amounts of inventory on-hand. On-demand items are produced (decorated with your logo or artwork) after the web order is submitted. Production times typically range anywhere from 2 to 10 business days depending on the particular item. The most successful online company stores typically feature a combination of in-stock and on-demand items.
Traditional e-commerce retailers, in many cases, offer free shipping. But, as everyone knows, there is no such thing as free shipping. In most cases, the items are marked up 50% to 100% or more, with the cost of shipping buried in that markup. When setting up your online company store, you may want to consider structuring shipping charges in a similar fashion to better align with the same consumer expectations set by e-retailers.
Company stores are often different that traditional e-commerce in that products that have yet to be decorated can be customized. For example, you may want to give users the option to choose from different logo variations, logo placements, or to add a personalized message. You will want to be sure that your online company store can handle this in an elegant, user-intuitive fashion.
The Advantages of an Online Company Store
Ultimately, the purpose of a company store is to effectively distribute branded merchandise. So, it’s important we first discuss the power and effectiveness of branded merchandise.
According to a 2016 study conducted by the Advertising Specialty Institute, most people keep promotional products for an average of eight months. This means that your ad can be seen by multiple people for an extended period of time. The study also shows that 63% of promotional products are given away to someone else once their original recipients are finished with them. In the United States, promotional items like bags, hats, pens, and apparel receive an average of 3,300 impressions throughout their useful life. The study states “[t]he number of impressions a product makes was derived from multiplying how long a recipient has the product to how many people they come in contact with each month while using it.” The study also found that recipients of promotional products experience feelings of happiness, appreciation, gratefulness, and thankfulness when receiving these items.
But, the problem is that branded merchandise can be more difficult to administer than other forms of advertising. Rather than just loading a digital ad that pops up on a screen, branded merchandise must be selected, designed, produced, packaged, shipped and then possibly hand-delivered to the end-user or intended recipient. The process must also be available to and easily manageable for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of employees, with proper controls in place. Most companies barely scratch the surface of what is possible with their branded merchandise strategy — a company store could help change that.
The good news is that an effective online company store platform can streamline processes related to branded merchandise. By providing ease of access to all of your branded materials, end-users or intended recipients no longer have to contact your marketing department to request items. Pre-approved items are online and readily available for your employees to order exactly what their contacts need. This greatly increases the adoption of branded merchandise, delivering a powerful impact for your brand.
An online company store will also allow you to minimize administrative tasks. Placing a new order for branded merchandise can be a complicated process. An employee would need to review available items, compare pricing, coordinate approval for the purchase, provide artwork, approve digital proofs, request samples and more. The time spent going through this process can take up a lot of time for your organization, especially when this is multiplied across numerous employees, departments and locations. By having an online company store with pre-approved items, you are going to eliminate the time wasted ordering merchandise allowing employees to get back to what they were actually hired to do in the first place.
Brand abuse is also rampant in the world of promotional products and custom apparel. When companies do not have proper brand controls in place, various locations and departments often end up ordering from unapproved vendors, order low quality items, use the wrong fonts, and send in bad or outdated logo files. Embroidery quality will also suffer as there is not a centralized and corporate-approved embroidery (DST) file being utilized. An online company store eliminates all of these problems; each item is carefully selected and approved at the corporate level, making the item available to the entire organization.
To get the most out of your branded merchandise efforts, you will also need to control and reduce costs wherever possible. This can be accomplished a number of different ways:
- Consolidate Your Purchasing Power. Rather than letting various departments and business units order from various vendors, a company store allows you to consolidate your purchasing power with your primary vendor. This means that you’ll be able to leverage total order quantities and order value in your negotiations.
- Eliminate Minimum Order Quantities. Company stores allow users to order the exact quantities they need; even if that’s just one item. This prevents them from having to order the manufacturer’s minimum production quantity, which might be a higher quantity than they need. This, in turn, reduces inventory carrying expenses.
- Improve Cost Reporting & Insights. An online company store will also allow you to better allocate costs throughout your organization. By capturing order data from each online store purchase, you will be able to better allocate advertising budgets throughout your organization.
Ways to Use a Company Store
- Personal-Use Purchases. If you’ve built a brand that employees (or others) love, you will want to provide ways for them to show corporate pride and admiration. Allowing individuals to express their positive feelings of your brand can turn them into brand advocates. Branded apparel like baseball caps and t-shirts, or useful items like drinkware and USB drives, are a great way to do this. For many brands, extending this beyond employees to customers or affiliates, can have transformative effects in the marketplace.
- Corporate Purchases. If your company has many departments, locations, or business units that need access to branded merchandise, having an online company store for authorized corporate purchasers has many benefits. You will be able to prevent brand abuse, streamline the ordering process, and create more opportunities to put your branded gear and swag to work.
- Rewards & Incentives. A company store gift code system, like the one we offer at Coggins, is a great way to distribute funds to employees that they may claim towards purchases on the company store. Gift codes can be generated and sent to employees quickly, allowing them to apply the gift code as a payment on their order. For example, we often recommend sending out gift codes to employees when a store first launches. Doing so creates excitement and also provide an opportunity to educate the entire organization on product availability, store functionality, and ordering processes.
- Human Resources & Recruiting. An online company store can also be used to send new hire kits or recruiting packages. Simply designate your approved purchaser; the individual in your organization who has access to enter these types of orders. Some solutions, like those we provide to our customers, can be integrated with existing systems to automate the process using an Order API.
- Work Essentials & Office Supplies. Essential items such as USB drives, pens, notebooks…etc. can be branded with a corporate logo and ordered from the company store. For remote workforces, “work from home essential kits,” like those we offer, are the perfect way to ensure employees have everything they need to be successful in their home office.
Using Points as Currency
Points stores allow employees to accrue a points balance. Rather than displaying product costs in $USD, $CAD, or €EUR, a points store uses points as currency. The points value can be set to a multiple of the dollar value of each item. For example, if you set the multiple to 20, a $10 item would be listed for 200 points. You can also rename “points” something clever that aligns with your brand. In our solution, points can be loaded to a user’s account by accessing the admin section of the store. Simply upload a spreadsheet of email addresses and point values. From there you can download a document that lists each user’s email address, points value, and unique points claim link (URL).
A points claim link is an easy way to create a high level of engagement with your users. Rather than blindly loading points to a user’s account without them knowing, a points claim link can be sent to each user—typically in an email blast to all of your users. Each user is then required to click on their unique link and log in (or create an account), allowing them to exchange points for products listed in the catalog. This process creates a lot of engagement and increases participation in the points store. Points stores, like ours, typically also allows administrators to load points directly to user accounts and bypass the claim process.
A smaller number of solutions additionally offer a Point API. By utilizing a Point API like ours, administrators can automate points creation and claiming processes by integrating with other business systems. A team of in-house developers are a phone call away to assist with any points integrations that clients are interested in creating.
Store Setup & Onboarding Process
Once you’ve decided on the solution you would like to go with, it’s time to:
- Choose Your URL. The first thing you’ll need to decide is the URL you would like to use for your online company store. With our platform, you can opt for any domain or URL of your choosing, as long as it’s available for purchase on the world wide web. For example, you might choose something like www.companynamestore.com or store.companyname.com. From there, our e-commerce team will provide you with DNS (domain name server) information to point the URL to our servers located on Microsoft’s Azure cloud hosting platform. While this sounds complex, this can take as little 5 minutes.
- Set Access Levels & Permissions. Next, you’ll likely need to decide on the type of access levels and permissions you want to allow for your store. When it comes to a Coggins store, the standard set-up is an open E-Commerce website that anyone can access, checkout and submit a payment on. Additional permission levels can typically be created for you to designate internal users who can bypass credit card requirements and allocate the order to an internal company department, budget, GL…etc. With a Coggins store, you’ll also have the option to set up SSO (single sign-on). This means that we have pre-built integrations with all of the leading identity providers. Our developers can also implement custom SSO integrations. SSO advantages include automating the onboarding and offboarding processes while ensuring store access is highly secure. With SSO, employees can checkout using their company login. This enables users’ account and shipping information to auto-populate. Our accounts team can also help you set up user provisioning through SSO to provide expanded access for designated employees. Another option we offer is SSO + Guest Checkout. This option is great for organizations who may want outside users like customers, dealers, distributors, and fans to be able to place orders on the site. In this case, a solution like ours can provide a combination of SSO and Guest Checkout that enables credit card payments or gift code purchases from users outside of your organization or network. Many online company store solutions also offer the option to password protect your store. In this case, administrators can force users to log in before they can access the store and its catalog.
- Select & Set-Up Payment Methods. While a platform such as ours accepts all major credit cards including Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express, the most successful company stores are those that designate funds for various departments (or uses) like Marketing, Events, Human Resources, Sales and so on. With our solution, one way to do this is by providing designated internal users the ability to bypass the credit card requirement and allocate orders to an internal company budget. Company Budgets can be fully customized to include a customized budget menu per user, display and enforce budget balances, an approval process, as well as the ability to add additional fields and drop down menus. Another way to distribute funds is through Gift Codes. When launching the store you may want to provide each employee with a gift code. This not only boosts morale and creates excitement, but also serves as great introduction to your new online company store. You can request as many gift codes as you need, and there is no need to pre-purchase the codes. Your users can use their gift code to apply a payment towards order totals. If the value of goods in their basket exceeds the value of the gift card, the store will prompt users to pay the difference by credit card. With our solution, employees who choose to accrue gift codes will be able to apply multiple gift codes to a single web order. Gift codes are also great for employee recognition, new hires, custom gifts, and more.
- Design Your Approval Process. While Order Holds are not required, they can be useful and help to ensure that employees are wisely using the resources at their disposal. With a Coggins store, automatic order holds can be applied for several different reasons. When an order is on hold, it can be routed to the appropriate Decision-Maker or Manager for approval. Typically, through an SSO or API integration, Coggins stores can pull an employee’s direct Manager from existing systems and route their order to that person for approval. Once the order is approved, the hold is released and the order moves forward with fulfillment and shipping. Typically credit card transactions do not require any approval. However, by default, many providers will put any order over $500 on hold. We do this to help with fraud detection and prevention. If you’re a Coggins client, our dedicated e-commerce team reviews the order before releasing the hold. With our solution, further customizations are available: you may route on-hold credit card orders to one of your corporate contacts for approval or set the on-hold threshold to any dollar amount you choose. With our solution, Budget Payment Holds can also be configured. When internal users allocate an order to a previously-configured Company Budget, the order can be automatically routed to its designated Approver.
- Configure Your Shipping Preferences & Settings. When it comes to a Coggins store, we will configure your store shipping settings with our corporate shipping account information. Choosing the right shipping partners can be a difficult task, this is why we offer pre-negotiated rates with both USPS and FedEx. Many solutions, ours included, also give administrators the ability to use their own corporate freight accounts. If you work for a large corporation that has steep discounts, you may choose to add your own FedEx or UPS account information to the store. From there, you’re able to choose how much to charge (or not charge) for shipping. With a Coggins store, you’ll also have the ability to limit the use of your corporate shipping account to specific users. For example, shoppers outside of your organization can have their orders shipped using our pre-negotiated rates and internal users can have their orders shipped using your corporate freight account. If you have multiple freight accounts for specific uses, departments, or business units, your company store can be further customized so that each group has access to their designated freight accounts.
User Groups & Permissions
User Groups are a powerful feature of our online company store platform. The best company stores are designed to effectively cater to different audiences for different purposes. Over time, as your online company store grows and takes on more functions, creating User Groups is a great way to ensure that designated users have the appropriate access to the store. By leveraging User Groups, you can control access to:
- Pricing – setup different price lists for various user groups;
- Categories & Products – control which groups can see which products. This can be useful if a certain department or group has their own set of items that others should not be ordering;
- Shipping Accounts – you may want to add your corporate FedEx or UPS account to the store, but only for designated users;
- Payment Methods – create custom payment methods for internal user groups to bypass the credit card requirement, and allocate orders to a department, cost centers, GL codes…etc.
Most online company stores only have two user groups: Internal users and Public/Employee users. However, you can create as many user groups as you need with custom access for each group.
Selecting Branded Merchandise
When setting up a new online store, the merchandising process is the most time-consuming part of the process. Typically, your online store will be set up and fully configured in advance of item selection.
With Coggins, the merchandising process always starts with a Discovery Meeting. During this meeting we will learn about brand guidelines, the items you presently order, and gather information about your target audiences, how items might be used, the organization’s different marketing initiatives or campaigns, annual event schedule and more. We’ll also show you some of our top items and most preferred suppliers and catalog of products.
Next, a Dedicated Merchandise Account Manager will provide you with custom presentations of items that we recommend and believe will do well with your target audience. From there, it is a back and forth collaborative process between you and your Account Manager to narrow down product selection for your store. During this time, we’ll answer any questions as well as ship physical product samples to you for inspection.
Once products are selected, specialists will need about 2-3 weeks to add items, load custom photography, set pricing, create product descriptions, and produce any inventory you may want to keep on-hand in our fulfillment center. During this time, you can begin finalizing your online store launch strategy.
What Items Are Available?
Solution providers of our scope and size have the ability to source products from just about anywhere. Popular product categories include apparel, drinkware, office accessories, bags, travel gear, tech accessories, writing instruments, and golfing accessories.
Who Decides What Items Go on the Store?
Ultimately, you’ll get to approve every item. While merchandising teams may make recommendations and help guide you to make the best possible decisions by sending product samples and delivering customized presentations, an item is never added to your store that you have not approved.
How Often Can I Update the Store?
Administrators are able to request updates to their stores, as-needed. Your dedicated Account Manager is always available to assist with your every store need — whether it be to add a new item, product category or to help you coordinate a special event or project.
Inventory vs. On-Demand Production
When selecting your branded merchandise, you’ll have the option to stock items in inventory or to produce items on-demand. There is no right or wrong answer as to which model to choose. Many of the best performing company stores feature a combination of both in-stock and on-demand items and both models have their pros and cons. It is important to consider your target audiences and their needs in the field, how much (or little) they would typically need to order, how frequently they need to place orders, and how you plan to distribute funds to users.
- Users can order exactly the quantity they need, which is often less than the manufacturers minimum production quantity, preventing the need to over-order;
- Orders submitted by 3 PM ET ship same-day;
- Order just 1 of any in-stock item;
- Users do not have to plan way ahead and account for production times;
- Take advantage of last-minute opportunities to utilize branded merchandise;
- Creates an Amazon-like retail buying experience.
- Add items to your store at no upfront cost;
- Wider selection of items;
- Offer niche products that you are unsure about;
- No minimum order quantities on embroidered apparel and digitally printed tees.
Adding Kits to Your Online Company Store
Custom kits are a great way to create engagement and excitement. Types of kits include:
- Sales Kits
- New Hire Kits
- Recruiting Kits
- Onboarding Packages & More
Kits can be pre-assembled in custom packaging ready-to-ship same-day. Or, you can create kits from various items on your store, where items are kitted on the fly. Kit-on-the-fly kits enable you to sell an item individually on your store, but also include that item as part of a particular kit.
Launching an Online Company Store
The initial launch of your online company store is an important moment. You will want to take advantage of this opportunity to create buzz and excitement for your new online store. This might include several advance emails as well as the use of promotional codes or gift codes. You will also want to have a plan in place to educate any internal or external users who have customized access levels and permissions to the store. This may include creating guides, support documentation, video tutorials, or hosting an online webinar to educate power users.
Handling Store Maintenance
If working with a reliable solutions partner like Coggins, they’ll take care of most of the heavy lifting. This includes website Hosting, E-Commerce maintenance, photography, warehousing, order fulfillment, product sourcing, and production. So what is it that you need to do? A designated corporate representative is responsible for new item selection, stocking inventory and approving orders to replenish inventory. With a solution such as ours, Low Stock Reports are automated and generated each week to identify any items that may need to be replenished. Your Account Manager will also present you with new branded merchandise ideas that they think will be a great addition to your store and brand.
Performance Reporting & Analytics
A reliable solutions provider like Coggins will also give you access to a full-suite of online reporting tools. Online reports give administrators the ability to drill-down into data, uncover insights, and make better decisions. Automated reports will also provide a summary of store performance for your executive team. Our solution offers a real-time reporting dashboard, giving store administrators a complete view of:
- Order History – see full order information and filter by web orders in process, submitted, orders on hold for approval and shipped orders;
- Current Inventory – see exactly how many of each item you have in-stock, in real-time;
- Low Stock Items – get alerted to items that may need to be replenished with more inventory;
- Receipt History – see all inventory receipt transaction details;
- Items Arriving Soon – see items due to arrive in inventory;
- Item Sales & Usage History – drill-down to see usage history for on-demand and in-stock items;
- Registered Users – see all users who have an account on your store, their spend history, and what level of access they have to your store;
- Budgets – see Company Budgets and order history for each budget;
- Monthly Order Summary – receive end-of-month reports, during the first week of each month, detailing the previous months’ activity. This report can also be customized to your finance departments requirements.
In addition to these standard, out-of-the-box reports, our dedicated Accounts team can also help you create any customized reports you’d like to add to your dashboard.
Hosting Your Online Store
One of the most important things to understand is how your company store will be hosted on the internet. There are many concerns including credit card security, data privacy, site speed, site availability and various compliance requirements. At Coggins, we chose the Microsoft Azure Cloud Platform for Hosting. This highest level of Enterprise Platform Hosting is included with all of our company stores.
Microsoft Azure offers the following benefits:
- Security. Microsoft employs 3,500+ cyber security professionals and has spent more than $1B USD in security research and development. With more than 90 compliance offerings, Azure is the most secure and most trusted cloud platform on the web. It is the same cloud platform used by the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Built for Scale. Azure provides real-time visibility into your online company store’s performance. We can see exactly how each page is performing; giving us the tools we need to continually optimize your store for better and faster performance over time. If you are planning to launch a popular online store and expect a surge in traffic, Azure lets us quickly spin-up dedicated web servers ensuring this surge of users does not crash the store.
- International Reach. If your store is international, Azure has over 60 data centers on 6 continents. This allows us to route web traffic by location and provide both domestic and international users a robust shopping experience.
- Continuous Improvement. Azure DevOps tools give development teams (like us) the resources they need to easily roll out new features, site upgrades, and performance enhancements. This ensures your site stays up-to-date rather than being a time capsule of the day it was created.
Privacy & Security
A reliable solutions partner like Coggins should ensure user privacy and store security. That’s why we audit our platform annually to ensure compliance with all major personal and confidential data frameworks.
GDPR & CCPA Compliance
Safeguarding personal information is more important than ever before. Ensuring compliance with GDPR and CCPA requires a secure environment and the administration of rules, policies, logs, and procedures related to personal and confidential data. With an online company store, you will mostly be dealing with personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Part of complying with data privacy legislation includes ensuring that your users are both informed and have the right to request a copy of their data on file and ask that their personal data be removed. From there, a certificate of destruction must be provided to the user confirming their data has in fact been removed from all servers.
Credit Card Security & PCI Compliance
At Coggins, our platform is audited annually and scanned quarterly to ensure PCI Compliance. PCI Compliance requirements are formulated by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. There are 12 main requirements, as well as 220 sub-requirements for securely handling and processing credit card payments. While no system is 100% foolproof, complying with PCI requirements greatly reduces the chances that your users’ credit card data will be intercepted or stolen.
Support & Account Management Teams
When selecting an online company store solution, ensure the provider has a dedicated team in place that you can reach out to for help. Whether you’re transitioning from a competing platform or launching your very first online store, it’s important to work with the right partner who can help with set-up, inventory design, selection, production, warehousing and fulfillment. In the absence of the right partner, setting up and administering an online company store can quickly become overwhelming tasks. So, before pulling the trigger, be sure to demo the solution extensively and ask to be introduced to the teams responsible for set-up.
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