The View from England

Multichannel order management packages

I use Magento and sell on my own site, six Amazon country sites, and Ebay. That’s a total of eight channels. I would be lost without a package that merged all the orders into one place and handled stock control. My problem is that my chosen solution has doubled in price since I started using it and will re-double next year.

Naturally I have started looking for an alternative, but most that I have found seem either more expensive, or less useful for me. I seem to have tailored my business process to fit the package (not a bad thing) and now I have to review my business process to see if it can be changed reasonably, so that it will fit another package.

It should not come as a surprise to me that these packages are expensive. This is because interfaces are complex and constantly changing. They are crucial to their users and as such we would all suffer if they went under. Nevertheless like any sensible business owner I look for alternatives to reduce my costs.

First, what does a decent solution do?

  • There should be a central stock database, with one unique stock item for each item you sell.
  • There should be a mechanism to link the one central item with the item for sale on each of the channels. The system should allow the same item to be non-unique on a single sales channel.
  • When an item sells on one channel, the stock level should reduce across all channels. This should happen quickly, 24/7.
  • Orders should download automatically.
  • The system should have a decent picking and packing list(s).
  • The system should interface with your chosen shipper(s).
  • Any tracking number should be stored on any order shipment. Preferably automatically.
  • When an order is shipped the channel should be updated with the shipment details, and any tracking number.
  • Invoices/order delivery notes should be customizable so that the retailer can brand them.
  • The system should print parcel labels from the order details. (No cut and paste).

This is a bare minimum. Most systems additionally allow the central stock database to be used to create the listings on the sales channels. Although I tend not to use this feature as it can take longer than actually listing on the channel by hand. All the above can save up to one full-time employee for me. So I cannot afford to not have a suitable multichannel package.

So which package is suitable?

For me I automatically exclude any solution that charges a percentage of the sale. I cannot see how that is relevant, but can see how that gets expensive fast. I would accept a pricing that includes a fixed fee per hundred orders as the more you use a system the more resource they supply. Likewise I would be happier if the pricing could be trimmed to exclude all the features and functions I do not use. Typically this could be an automatic Amazon re-pricer bundled in for “free.” I also typically exclude any solution that does not have a price, just a “Contact us for prices.” I know I cannot afford these, although I will consider a couple this time just to see.

For me there are three things that I absolutely MUST have in a solution.

  1. My main shipper is the Royal Mail as I’m located in England. The package must link to the Royal Mail systems. This saves me 1 to 2 hours A DAY, and can in itself pay for any package.
  2. The package MUST allow two or more listings of the same stock item on a single Amazon channel without duplicating the item on the central stock database. Often when there is a second/third duplicate listing on Amazon, it is these duplicates that sell with the better margin.
  3. The synchronization across channels must be done within minutes (I don’t strictly need simultaneous). Any delay means you can continue selling whilst out of stock.

Unfortunately I only know of one company who does all of the above three. It is my current supplier, Linnworks, which is mainly for U.K. and European companies, by the way. I do not know how good it is for U.S. retailers’ shipper interfaces.

So I am yet again trapped, until some competitor comes along with solutions for the above.

When and if I find an alternative, then the difficult decision is whether to migrate. These systems are complex. They are not easy to set up. They are certainly not for the novice ecommerce owners. Set up properly they are an asset that more than pays for themselves. The problems become exponential if you migrate. It cannot be done overnight, but you have to continue selling and processing orders. So you need both the old and new packages to be able to run in a non-live mode. Thus you can continue running the old package live whilst setting up the new and letting it mirror the old package in a non live mode (to test that it works) and then switch over when you are ready and let the old package run non-live for a bit to ensure the new one is fine. The last thing you want is both packages running live and updating stock twice and sending two shipment notifications.

So I continue with my current supplier, and let it make money from my successful multichannel selling.

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