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.
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.
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.
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.