Taking The Friction Out Of EDI Inventory Checks

Long before B2B eCommerce, there was EDI (electronic data interchange). This technology has served large organizations for decades, facilitating inventory inquiries, order placement, status checks, and more.

For many organizations, EDI is still the right channel for order placement. The infrastructure is in place, the standards are maintained on both ends, and the system largely works.

However, for some use cases not directly tied to the transaction, EDI introduces unnecessary friction in the customer experience. Here are the most common issues—and how to solve them.

Inventory check (EDI 846)

EDI 846, for checking a supplier’s inventory levels, is well-known for causing friction. Customers may have to send an EDI 846 once a day, or even multiple times a day, to check available inventory before placing an order through EDI.

There’s only one problem with EDI 846. It’s a snapshot in time.

For high-volume products, inventory data received through EDI is out of date the moment it arrives.

EDI ordering processes get smoother when you give customers access to real-time inventory lookups. This is why the Corevist Platform provides quick inventory lookup by SKU, right in the customer’s B2B portal dashboard.

Check it out:

With self-service access to real-time inventory data, customers can place their EDI orders without waiting for a response to an inventory request. They also get more reliable inventory data, which helps them purchase with confidence and reduces manual intervention in your order fulfillment process. It’s better for everyone involved.

Catalog pricing request (EDI 832)

EDI 832, the request for a catalog with products and prices, is an old standby in the world of EDI. It’s how companies share their product information in lieu of a print catalog. As such, it’s far more efficient than a non-electronic price sheet or catalog.

However, not every customer wants to send an EDI 832 to get catalog information. Images have always been a problem for EDI 832. You can include them, but the size of the file may cause transmission errors, so you don’t normally see that as a best practice. 

Of course, there are many ways around this. For example, you can provide images in a separate digital catalog that doesn’t support order placement.

However, it’s worth questioning the process itself. 

Customers don’t have to send a catalog request when browsing Amazon in their personal lives. They just hop on Amazon and find what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds. They can search for products, see images and videos, educate themselves with in-depth product content, and build an order. All along the way, they have a clear sense of what they’re getting.

Now, this B2C-style catalog experience isn’t essential in all industries. But for many users, it’s a welcome alternative to EDI 832 when they’re building an EDI order.

After all, which process sounds easier?

  • Reading through the text output of a response to EDI 832 that provides catalog and pricing information but no images, then matching up those SKU numbers with a separate print or digital catalog.
  • Navigating an intuitive, digital product catalog with search and sorting capabilities. The digital catalog automatically shows only the products that the customer is allowed to buy. It also displays their personalized contract pricing and real-time, personalized inventory availability. If they want, they can buy directly in the B2B web portal rather than using EDI, which may be more convenient for smaller, one-off orders.

Granted, in some cases, EDI workflows are firmly embedded in the customer’s processes. But for edge cases, particularly for newer employees who are still learning how to run EDI, a quick check in a self-service digital catalog is far more convenient (particularly for digitally-native millennials who are entering procurement roles). With this information in hand, the customer is better equipped to place an EDI order with confidence.

If customers need to educate themselves on products, then a self-service catalog (with real-time pricing and availability) is a key component of a holistic customer experience. This type of catalog balances buyer preferences for self-service with existing EDI infrastructure and processes. It’s just one way in which a self-service B2B portal plays an “assist” role that’s more difficult to measure than traditional B2B eCommerce KPIs.

Order status inquiry (EDI 869)

This one may be especially frustrating for millennial buyers. They’re used to checking real-time order status on Amazon, through self-service. Why should they have to send an EDI message and wait for a response—especially since that response is potentially out-of-date the moment it arrives?

Checking order status is a great use case for self-service. A B2B portal that provides real-time order history and status, straight from SAP ERP, can eliminate cumbersome processes surrounding minor inquiries. When customers can see real-time order status themselves, on any device, you eliminate the need for manual intervention from a customer service rep to provide order status updates.

Here’s how self-service order tracking works in the Corevist Platform:

Once again, this is an area where a B2B portal supplements EDI-based processes by offloading pesky tasks to self-service.

Note that the B2B portal MUST have a rock-solid integration to SAP ERP for this to work smoothly.

Order status response (EDI 870)

If you can reduce or eliminate order status inquiries coming through EDI, you can also end your reliance on sending order status responses via EDI. There’s literally no need because the B2B portal provides real-time order status straight from SAP ERP.

When customers can instantly see the status of all orders from all channels in your B2B portal, you make life easier for your own team and your customers.

Hint: You also reduce your cost to serve.

The takeaway

These are just a few EDI exchanges that benefit from supplemental self-service options. Depending on your business processes, there may be other EDI actions that customers would rather perform through self-service in a B2B portal.

Whatever your mix of EDI and self-service, it’s essential to provide convenience where customers need it. That’s what the Corevist Platform is all about.

The Corevist Platform | Full SAP Integration Included | Corevist, Inc.

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About Author

George Anderson

George serves as content marketing manager. A blogger and journalist with a passion for B2B ecommerce, he has written for the Magento blog, Digitalcommerce360, Supply & Demand Chain Executive, ERPgenie, and others.