Caffe Ladro's had an online store for years, but it's never been as important as it is today, as the Seattle chain faces competitors — including the notoriously tech-savvy Starbucks — that have stretched the limits of how to sell coffee online and through mobile devices.

This raised the stakes for Caffe Ladro, which could no longer tolerate an online ordering process that was barely serviceable (and, frankly, barely digital).

"It was really clunky to take an order. I had to call into the office with the order and then send an email to confirm the order," said Adrienne Kerrigan, wholesale marketing coordinator of Caffe Ladro, a 22-year old business which has 16 locations in Seattle.

Like a lot of small businesses, Caffe Ladro is using mobile technology to not just improve payments but to streamline business management in a tough competitive environment. For example, the small chain is increasingly taking shipping orders for its coffee blends and other products from outside its traditional footprint, further pressuring it to provide a clean experience for staff and patrons.

The coffee retailer has done a sweeping recast of its digital channel over the past year, a move it says has quadrupled e-commerce sales, a key win in an industry that's increasingly reliant on Web-based orders and subscriptions to different coffee blends for in-home consumption.   

Caffe Ladro deployed an integration of technology from HighJump, a supply chain company, and Nexternal, an e-commerce company that HighJump acquired in 2015. The coffee chain is able to use this integration to combine ordering, transactions, payments and coupons with electronic data interchange tools from TrueCommerce and enterprise resource planning and accounting software from QuickBooks Enterprise.

That has removed many of the manual tasks involved with online ordering, since the orders and transaction information move digitally between different parts of the company, Kerrigan said, adding the integration also makes marketing easier.

"We've been able to do a lot of really interesting, successful coupon offers for our customers," she said. .

Small businesses have a reputation as being behind the knowledge curve in adopting new technology such as mobile payments or digital ordering, but the advances in application programming interfaces and cloud-based tools now allow for relatively easy deployment and management of new payment, ordering, marketing and business management tools, according to Alex Gile, founder of Nexternal and executive vice president of the Nexternal division of HighJump.

"It's as simple as uploading product information and configuring the system to play by the business rules that you want to play by," Gile said.

Web-based business tools allow merchants to organize and categorize customer data, add and change payment options based on consumer categories and control the look and feel of a website for brand consistency, according to Gile.

Cloud-delivered technology is playing an important role in making sophisticated technology more accessible to smaller businesses, according to Dan Charron, executive vice president of global business solutions for First Data, which recently launched an online store to make e-commerce tools such as virtual checkout, search engine optimization and social media connections available to small business clients.

"Historically, if you were a small business, you had an accounting package on a PC and inventory management or appointment booking on other programs from downloaded software apps," Charron said, adding the cloud and APIs allow small businesses that use First Data's Clover tablet application to update and combine these tools in the same place. "People are now developing all kinds of different things for small businesses on Clover, like on demand delivery, or marketing or social media Charron said.

Mobile and cloud-delivered software are also helping small businesses manage omnichannel sales by mixing online ordering with in-store sales and services.

Antica Mare, a Tuscan restaurant in Miami, uses Clover to manage a retail store that's attached to its restaurant. The store and restaurant operations, such as ordering meals from the restaurant bar, all operate off of Clover, which also stores information about specific customers, said Marco Betti, the owner of Antica Mare.

"We are able to access information on preferences in meat preparation, or dietary restrictions or food allergies, along with taking payments," Betti said of how his restaurant uses Clover in addition to staples such as enabling staff to take payments at the table or to shorten wait times. "It's got a lot of complicated information, but it's still easy to use."

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