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Multichannel selling: How to evaluate solution providers

In “Selling on multiple channels creates headaches,” my previous post, I detailed some of the problems a retailer has when trying to sell on third-party websites.

There are companies that provide solutions to help. In this article, I will address how to evaluate them for your business. In reading some of the blatant advertisements in the comments on the first post, together with the emails and even telephone calls I have received, it is clear that this is a competitive market with a lot of hopeful players.

First, to be clear, I am not going to recommend a solution. This is because whatever solution you choose is critical and must fit your circumstances. It will sit in the heart of your business. As such, in selecting the correct solution you not only have to ensure it covers the basics, but also that it fits with the way you want to work, and that you like using it. Search on Google to get a list of the main players. Then read reviews of them.

Expensive, but worth it?

The major solution providers are not cheap. They cost upwards of $100 per month. Some cost more than $1,000 per month. They are not being greedy. They cost so much because they are trying to do what most developers consider the most difficult task: third-party party integrations. These solutions try to seamlessly interface your product data with major marketplaces, such as Amazon and Ebay, as well as your own website(s). They are also continually chasing moving targets, as these major marketplaces are always “improving” their offerings and thus changing the interfaces.

So this is the first question you need answered: How often does the provider update its platform. And, second, how easy is it to implement?

Support is critical

You and your staff will use the solution you choose every hour of every working day. If it stops working, your business stops working. If it is down for a day, you do not send any orders out that day. This means that support is critical. It must be available when you are open for business, and support personnel must speak the same language as you and your staff. Anything less than this is a risk to your business.

These solutions can be difficult to implement and require discipline to maintain. There is little point spending hundreds of dollars per month if you feed it garbage information. The setup will likely be different for every retailer, as it depends on your current situation and current markets you are selling on.

How do they function?

In simple terms, most solutions have a product database. You need to somehow import your current product list into this database, and then somehow indicate, for each product, where you are selling it and for how much. A good solution will help you do this, provide tools, and possibly even support. The two critical things to remember is you must be accurate, and you have to do it quickly. The time constraints occur because whilst you are setting this up, you are also receiving goods and selling them. Thus your data is constantly changing.

Once it is set up, the discipline begins. Every incoming delivery has to be checked in; every new item loaded onto the database; every existing item needs an updated quantity. Prices need to be set or checked for each marketplace. New products must be listed on each marketplace.

How easy is it to do all this with the solution? How easy does it fit in to your existing workflow? Can you change the software or your workflow to better integrate them? Do you need a separate computer or terminal to record inventory?

Listing your products on each marketplace is a time consuming task. Many of these systems help by letting you list first on their central database, and then you use this data to populate the different sales channels. The danger here is that you may be better off tailoring the product descriptions for each channel. This is crucial, as quality listings help sales.

Help with order processing

When you get orders, how do you process them? Do you have a list that you pick and then match to each order, or do you pick and process each order individually? Can the solution do it the way you want? When you process an order and ship it, does the software print the labels and interface with the shipper, or do you have to do this manually?

The order fulfillment part is critical, as a good solution should streamline your order processing and shipping by interfacing with the shipper, and thus reducing the potential for mistakes and requiring much less time to process each order. Most good solutions pay for themselves many times over by reducing the time and labor for order processing and shipping.

Discontinued inventory?

The final consideration is clearing out old data. This is often forgotten, but it is important and should be easy to do. Your list of products will likely be constantly changing. There will inevitably be products that you will no longer sell. How easy is it to safely remove them? The danger is deleting the product from the central database, but leaving it on one or more sales channels. This would clutter the channel with zero quantity items, which looks bad. Worse, it may result in you selling this discontinued item multiple times on different channels.

In the next article, I will detail inexpensive alternatives for the more technical retailers.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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