Practical Ecommerce

Low-cost alternative to multichannel software

Due to the ever increasing cost of multichannel software, I have looked for an alternative solution. Until recently I have not found any. I have now. I use Linnworks, an order management system. I have used it for many years. I pay much less than advertised rates, as I am a longstanding customer. I am therefore tied in with the company. If I moved to another service and did not like it, it would cost me a lot to move back.

That is the main reason I have not fully used the alternative that I am about to detail. A merchant with more than a couple of thousand SKUs would likely find my method cumbersome. It is, however, ideal for a retailer trying out multichannel sales. It does not require much investment, but it helps to understand the basics in a hands-on way.

So, here is my alternative, in a few easy steps, for multichannel management software.

Low-cost alternative to multichannel software

The core of any multichannel system is the inventory database. Create your own database by setting up a WordPress site and installing WooCommerce, the ecommerce plugin. Load your product database onto WooCommerce. You can use this as a public ecommerce site, but for reasons I will detail later, it is likely not a good idea. For now, hide it in a subdirectory that needs password access, or block it by IP.

I have outlined how to install WooCommerce, at “From Magento to WooCommerce, Part 2.” If you are not going to sell from the WooCommerce site, there is no need to worry about templates or search engine optimization or similar issues.

Ebay

There is a terrific WooCommerce extension called WP-Lister. The free version lets you load some or all of your products onto Ebay. It detects when you change a price or a detail on a product in WooCommerce, and flags it for update on Ebay. It is an essential extension just by doing this. If, however, you pay the annual fee of $149, the extension syncs the inventory between your site and Ebay. When a product sells on either Ebay or your site, the inventory is reduced on both. Further, if you set it up, the Ebay orders are created on the WooCommerce site.

Amazon

There is another extension called WP-Lister for Amazon. It, too, has a free version, which allows you to list your products on Amazon, or link your existing listings on Amazon to products on your site, or import your Amazon listings to create products on your site. This last feature is priceless. I have long searched for a method of extracting products and their images from Amazon, and this just does it in a very simple way.

When you pay the $149 annual fee for the Pro version, this extension offers inventory control and copies the Amazon orders into WooCommerce.

Another feature of the Pro version is that it has a re-pricer, to automatically change the prices of products for sale on Amazon. I do not normally like re-pricers; but they have their place and for some they are worth considering.

Conclusions

Used together, for just $300 per year you have a system that nearly rivals solutions that cost more than ten times that.

There are, however, limitations.

First, the software links by SKU. You have to use the same SKU on all channels in order to link to one product on the WooCommerce database. Whilst in theory this is fine, in practice it limits your options on Amazon. This is because Amazon can have duplicate entries for a product. But as the SKU must be unique on that one Amazon, in order to sell that duplicate listing, you have to have a different SKU. Thus you cannot link to a duplicate without likewise duplicating the item on the WooCommerce database.

This workaround, with duplicates, rather defeats the objective of a single inventory item for proper stock control. Further, having duplicate products on your WooCommerce site — if it’s a public site — does not look good for either the shoppers or for Google. As a final caution, having duplicate products on Ebay is a good way of getting suspended. So if you do create duplicates (to accommodate Amazon) you must ensure that they are not in a public view and are not loaded onto Ebay.

Second, although you can link multiple Amazon catalogues to one WP Lister Pro account, from the documentation it seems that the inventory control is only on one of them. This is not as big a problem as it may at first seem. This is because if you use the same SKU on all Amazon catalogues, then Amazon itself will sort out the inventory levels. For example, if you have one item selling on Amazon France, Germany, and the U.K., when it sells on just one of these Amazon will automatically remove it from all three.

Third, whilst WP-Lister pulls the orders into your WooCommerce site, thus giving you all your orders in one place, to gain the most benefit you will need to interface this site with your chosen shipper(s) and avoid having to cut and paste address labels. Depending on your chosen shipper(s), there may be an additional cost.

These limitations can be overcome. It’s just that additional resources are needed to do it. A smaller retailer will be able to easily run this kind of system. But once you get busy, have lots of orders, and have a growing inventory, then it will probably benefit you to grow into a more expensive automated system.

That said, having gotten your hands dirty and implemented this system, you would be in a much better position to select the correct solution for you. You will know what works and what to look for in a full solution.

Currently I use the free versions of WP-Lister that I described above. They are easy to work with and WP-Lister updates them regularly to keep up with the changes on both Amazon and Ebay. I have no hesitation in recommending them — even if you never upgrade to the Pro versions, with their order and inventory features.

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Comments ( 9 )

  1. Bradley Nichol September 22, 2015 Reply

    For any merchant that uses Magento, I’ve heard good things about M2E PRO, which allows you list on multiple marketplaces.

    It is now owned and supported by eBay and the platform is FREE.

    • Richard September 22, 2015 Reply

      Yes it is the same concept at M2E Pro, which is free for Ebay but may not be free for Amazon. I also found WP-lister to be much easier to use than M2E

    • Richard stubbings October 2, 2015 Reply

      M2E Pro is not free, unless your sales are under $1,000 per month. Their starting charge is $19 per month PER CHANNEL. So if you use Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Ebay that is $57 per month

  2. Andy Geldman September 22, 2015 Reply

    Sounds like the same concept as using Magento + M2EPro for multichannel management?

  3. Brian September 22, 2015 Reply

    We have done this many times. We affectionally refer to your method of software as “Frankenstein” meaning that your software is all patched together but does not really work with each other. Usually at the peak of your sales season Frankenstein 2.0 goes down for the count. The real issue is that most people don’t consider the complexity of growth or challenges in the future and then you have to start all over.

    For example what about inventory? If the 2 systems don’t talk to each other what is to stop you from either not having all of your product listed or running out of stock on a channel?

    What about product creation, wouldn’t you have to create an update any of your SKU’s on both channels?

    What happens when you want to add more channels? We sell on 10 channels. For these reasons we use Magento. It gives us full control with 1 software and is not very expensive.

    Great Topic and Hope that helps :)

    • Richard September 22, 2015 Reply

      I am not sure you have read the blog properly. Its all about inventory. The process reduces the stock level across all the channels when it sells on any one of them.

      I also said that this was just a starter and a way to cheaply test the multi channel concept. So as you grow, you understand what is needed more and this will guide future decisions.

      As for Magento, I do not see how it helps selling on multi channels. It is just a big complicated cart and not a multi channel order management and inventory system.

  4. Carlos Rivera September 22, 2015 Reply

    Richard, great setup. I’ve used WooCommerce in the past, and it would work great for a small-to-medium sized business. Thanks for sharing!

  5. M2EPRO Alternatives December 12, 2015 Reply

    M2EPRO is not free anymore. and its not Onetime payment. There will be good onetime payment alternatives for M2EPRO see http://magegaga.com/advanced-ebay-integration.html

    and http://magegaga.com/advanced-amazon-integration.html

  6. Kent November 22, 2016 Reply

    wp-lister is a powerful integration software for smaller businesses and startups who only sell on ebay and/or Amazon. wp-lister Amazon is still in beta. Thus, it still has its bugs the developer needs to workout. I’ve been using it for a few years now. It is a low cost solution but has failed to sync a few times and caused us to have to do a recount on over 10,000 SKUs.

    I still use it now. But if you’re are looking to sell on other channels other than ebay & Amazon, wp-lister will not support it. After a brief conversation with the developer, they are not looking to expand their software to other channels. So if you’re looking to expanding to other selling channels like walmart, Jet.com, Newegg, etc… Then you need to look for a better solution.