Why Does Multichannel Software Cost So Much?

Howdy,

Three questions for you to ponder:

  • Why does multichannel software have to cost so much?
  • Why do you get oversells?
  • Why can’t that developer just add in that one extra box that you need?

That’s the questions I’m going to be exploring in this article, feel free to jump in and add your 2p worth in the comments at the bottom.

If you have any interest on what actually happens in the background to multichannel software, the software that manages your business across multiple marketplaces like eBay, Amazon or your own website, say Magento, you’ll want to pull your chair closer and grab a cuppa.

 

The Entire Process Simplified

Before we start, let’s simplify the process down to it’s simplest of form.

Listing Process

The process to create a new product listing onto a marketplace, collect the order and then process it, you as a seller have to go through several key stages, these are:

  1. Add a product to a database
  2. List it onto eBay (or insert another marketplace here)
  3. Collect the order
  4. Despatch the order
  5. Update the marketplace

That’s pretty much the entire process in 5 steps, create, list, collect, process, update.

And that’s where the simplicity ends.

Product Data Fields

If we think about step 1 for a moment “Add a product to a database”, this product could be anything, from a microphone to keyboard, a painting to a tent, there will be common attributes about each product, these are:

  • Title
  • Description
  • One or more images
  • Categorisation
  • Price
  • Condition
  • Cost price
  • Stock quantity

As you can see this will get deep very quickly, in fact it is, let’s pick on the products description for a few moments.

A products description could just be a block of text, but more likely it’s going to be broken out into many parts.

Picking on Product Descriptions

Listing a Product onto eBayFor example, let’s pick on a pair of shoes, picking on the bare minimum of requirements for listing a pair of shoes onto eBay, you’ll need to set a Shoe Size and the product Brand.

So that’s now 3 fields just for one product!

No seller in their right minds would just use the bare minimum and looking at the eBay Sell Your Item form for the boots category on eBay, it’s suggesting 10 product attributes  to add and 3 additional fields as secondary attributes and you could add in your own custom attributes  as well if you wanted to.

And we’ve not even considered that the business probably wants to separate their data out, so that they have say 5 key bullet points that they can use on Amazon and on their website, let alone another sales channel too and the main product description.

If we now consider the data requirements that are needed here, we’ve just sprung from 8 or so fields to way over 20. But also to use any software easily, then an interface would need to be built so that it’s easy for a business owner like you to be able to actually enter this information in.

We’re dealing with “expandable” and “unlimited” data, so while in boots category there maybe Shoe Size, Brand, Style etc… if we pick a completely unrelated category say tent’s for example, I’m now looking at a page where we have Type of Tent, Berth, Style, Sleeping Areas, Brand, Season, Model, MPN and the ability to add in extra options too.

There have been several different ways to invent this, there has been the just give the seller 20 fields and let them sort them out and match them up manually, there has been custom fields route where you define what the input boxes could look like and mix in a few different input types, such as an input box, a drop down box or a checkbox.

The Need for a Framework

Oh and as I’m assuming that you maybe a larger business, you would probably want to set these fields up manually first and then use an import/export system to create, update and append information about your products.

To get to that stage a framework would need to be built that can handle that kind of data input, allow it to be searched upon (which is no mean feat over lots of fields of data) and an import/export system as well.

So have we just gone from a simple product description to a squllion fields? For which more than half were dictated by a marketplace to create?

I think so and this is just one of the challenges any inventory management system needs to cope with.

So let’s assume that this was written from scratch, this wouldn’t happen over night, it would take months, if not years to get right.

Changing Tack to Stock Control

10 Pens for Sale on the MarketplacesAgain keeping this as simple as possible, let’s pretend we have just have a plain old pen (unchewed) as a product and we have 10 of these in stock, sat our shelf.

So get that product onto the marketplace, an integration would have needed to be built that allows you to actually send the product “up” so that it can be made for sale (we’ll come back to this later), but let’s assume the 10 pens are on the say eBay. Fantastic!

A customer buys one of these pens, so we have an order for a pen and we also have the customers details, their payment details, and the selected shipping method.

Again we’re assuming that an integration has been made to the marketplace, eBay in this case and also PayPal too to collect the payment (which isn’t a small task for even a seasoned developer).

But hey we’ve sold one, happy days.

When we’re dealing with just one marketplace, then stock control is pretty simple, we have 10 in stock, 1 sold, so we now have 9 available. Or you would have thought so.

What happens if that sale was an auction, the customer has not paid yet, so that 1 pen we just sold is now sat in a holding queue?

That then means you need to track your actual stock quantity and the held quantity and probably another integration to eBay (using eBay in this example as it has a lot of API’s) to handle disputes.

Let’s ignore that for now, we sold one, ace!

Going Multi Channel

Amazon- LogoWhat’s the point of software if it’s only just going to do one sales channel?

We like our multiple sales channels as that means we can sell the same 10 pens across all the available sales channels, reach more potential buyers and basically sell more stuff.

Chucking in Amazon into the mix now, we had 10 pens listed on eBay and we had 10 pens listed on Amazon. And we sold one on eBay.

That now means that we need to let Amazon know that we only have 9 left.

Amazon uses a reports system for their integration, which basically means you send them a file that contains your stock levels, they sit on it for a while (5-15mins normally), don’t actually tell you that it went ok, only if something bad happened (and even then, they pass back a message that basically says “Huh?”), you have to assume that and with both of us crossing our fingers that it was received and processed.

Easy-peasy, we sold an item, eBay was already at 9, no need to update them, Amazon, we lobbed them a file, they didn’t go “huh?” at us about it and we’re all down to 9 now.

Our Magento WebsiteWhile all this was going on, we just took an order from our website.

Let’s say it’s a Magento website (I like Magento websites so we’re having a Magento website) and through another integration to Magento, the order has been collected and we now have 7 pens in stock, because the customer just bought two pens.

So our multichannel software has to kick in again and this time, tell eBay that we now have 7 (which is pretty quick via their API and it tells what was wrong, unlike Mr Huh? have the file back, there was an error “somewhere” in it), we tell Amazon that we also have 7, they don’t go “Huh?” at us and we’re all good.

Timmy on the phone takes an order for the last 7 pens (a real big spender that one), he enters the order manually in and assigns the last 7 pens to Mr Big Spender.

Oh pants, we need to let eBay know we have 0 left, great that will end the listing on eBay, take it off Amazon too and the Magento website.

But when we end it on eBay, we need to remember that we ended it and what the item number was, so that when we more of these super fast moving pens in again, when we list them again, we want to reference the previous eBay Item Number, so that what little best match ranking is carried over to the next listing.

Oh and we send a file to Amazon which may go “Huh?” or give us the silent treatment and we also send an update to Magento to take the item off the site and change the stock status to “Out of Stock”.

Overselling is Going to Happen

sad-face-icon_newTo recap, we’ve just had multiple integrations to different marketplaces:

  • One that we need to remember what we did on it for next time (eBay)
  • One marketplaces that gives us the silent treatment (Amazon)
  • A Magento website
  • And Timmy who took a phone order for Mr Big Spender

Now let’s times that by the other 999 products we had in our inventory system (or insert however many you have right now), is it any wonder that oversells happen from time to time?

Oversells, they suck nuts, but it’s amazing we don’t see more of them every single day.

It’s one of the side effects of the be-everywhere strategy that we see with multi-channel or “omni-channel” catch phrases being bounded around. If you sell on more than one marketplace or even on the same marketplace more than once, you’re bound to have an oversell sooner or later.

And the thing is, the software in the background has just been working it’s little leggies off try to do all the above as fast as it can, so that it’s users (that’s you) don’t phone up their account managers and give them an ear bending about DSR’s, Amazon Scores or some lerry-nut-job whose order couldn’t be fulfilled.

So if you were building multichannel software, then you’d need to add in the ability to track changes to products and update the outside world with those changes.

Piggy In the Middle

Piggy in the MiddleIf we think about what our multi-channel software does on a daily basis, it’s no small feat.

Tens of thousands of hours would have gone into making it work right for near-as-damit 99.9% of the time. But because it is a separate system from the marketplaces that it’s interacting with, in many ways it’s piggy-in-the-middle.

This is just like the school playground game, but this time, the ball is the stock levels, orders and updates and the software is the one chasing the marketplaces around rather than the other school kids.

Let’s now say that you have one product, but you have 2 in stock and two marketplaces, eBay and Amazon

The challenge that we have when dealing with marketplaces are:

  • Constantly updating API’s
  • Constantly changing products (stock, descriptions etc…)
  • No control over the the interfaces uptime
  • And hopefully a consistent stream of orders and their updates as well

Note: API = “Application Programming Interface”.
It’s the Nerd term for how you can connect to a 3rd party system using a set of calls or instructions to add, edit or remove things. Typically the 3rd party such as eBay provide these and document them accordingly (pages and pages and pages of it)

The multichannel software needs to sit in the middle and work out what is happening with the marketplaces, what needs updating, what doesn’t and doesn’t just deal with one interface to speak with the marketplace, probably several.

Piggy in the middle is the best analogy for all this.

If it was for just one business, things would probably run quite smoothly, however the off-the-shelf providers (insert any name here, eSellerPro, ChannelAdvisor, Linnworks, StoreFeeder, SellerExpress and so on….) want to scale their multichannel software to more businesses, it’s how they make money, either through a monthly fee or a percentage of sale model.

And scaling up chaos is crazy (crazy good fun though!)

King Piggy

officesThe one dynamic we’ve not covered to yet is the business itself that is using the software.

The software doesn’t just run by itself, there is oodles of human interaction to it as well, this could be a member of staff adding in new products, updating images, importing a stock update file or processing orders.

And not just one member of staff, probably lots!

If you thought that being piggy in the middle to the marketplaces, with their quirky interfaces or creating an inventory management system that can cope with extendible data that could come in any shape or form was tough, let’s account for the users (that’s you) that are working with the software everyday.

A typical day in any business will involve the following tasks:

  • Creating new products
  • Updating existing products
  • Adding more stock
  • Processing orders

You’ll note that I’m missing out luxuries like reporting & customer services, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Up until now we’ve only really covered the first 3 of these, we’ll get on to the processing orders task in a minute.

The thing is that while most businesses complete the same tasks, they don’t all go about them the same way.

One business may prefer to work heavily in excel spreadsheets, another with just the interface of the software, so not only does the front end of the software that the staff actually use need to be slick and easy to use.

This is the layer sat on top of the database that is being used in the background to store all the products and keep track of changes and the database is being hammered to try and keep the marketplaces in touch with the latest changes as well.

Order Processing

giftA topic which we only just touched a few moments ago, order processing, So we’ve managed to collect orders from different marketplaces through their different interfaces, now what?

Those orders need to be processed, this  involves some form of document being created, normally lots if we include emails as documents (such as order received, order despatched etc…).

Those need to be templated somehow and spat out either on demand by a member of staff pressing a button to print out an invoice or via some rules in the background, that send them out automatically.

So let’s say that’s happened and oh, we’ve brought in the payment for the order and matched that up to the right order (a feat in itself I hasten to add as they don’t always match up exactly, for example what happens if the customer paid too much or too little?).

Anyway, we have the order printed out in front of us, that order hits the real world, is picked and packed. But we’re missing something, that something is the courier label.

If we’re just dealing with Royal Mail, then we could have just printed out the PPI logo on the invoice. However a courier, well that’s another kettle of fish.

Unlike the USA where it’s pretty clear cut who the main providers are for actually sending orders (USPS, FedEx, UPS and DHL) with inexpensive integration tools like ShipStation or ShipWorks which costs peanuts, in the UK it’s a friggin mess.

Each courier has their own API and they all work differently, there is only one main software tool that has licked this and that’s Metapack. Metapack uses a SaaS model (software as a service) so that it’s pay-per-use and costs upwards of 12p per label. This is either a complete bargain or a massive expense, it depends how you look at it.

Many of the current software providers (in the UK) looked at it as an expense and built their own integrations into the couriers directly, thus adding another layer of complexity to the software that they built (and bloating it out even further).

Business Rules for Order Processing

courier-logosOne  area we’re missing here is that just because the customer selected Royal Mail 2nd Class, that doesn’t actually mean that it’s how the order is going to be sent. There are business rules that most likely need to be processed on top of the order to work out which method the order should be shipped.

If we think back to the example of the pens earlier, they are really light and have no real size to them, a letter would do. However what happens if the customer also bought some other office supplies at the same time and the weight hit 1.2Kg and the order value hit £35.

Suddenly the method that the customer chose and paid for doesn’t become cost effective, so instead a business rule may be that such an order because it has gone over 1.2Kg and went over £30, to send it via a courier instead.

But what happens if that customer was in the top of Scotland and our normal courier would charge us a surcharge, then a secondary rule would need to be put into place to switch the order so say Royal Mail tracked. It might not be as quick, but surely saves the £12 surcharge.

MetapackSo any software that deals with orders and the despatch process needs to account for business rules that need to be applied to orders and this is where something like the 12p to Metapack becomes more attractive because they have this level of rules ability built in. Different software products have different ways of working with such orders and some have elected not to tackle it at all (ie ChannelAdvisor).

Back onto topic, we have the invoice, the courier label and we then ship that order off to the customer. Happy Days right?

We then have at least a carrier that was used and most likely a tracking number. These details then need to be passed back to the order source, so that the customer can be updated and in the case of Amazon, so you can get paid.

This involves another call back to the marketplace or order source (for example the Magento website) to update the order and change it’s status to shipped. And most likely at the same time, the inventory system has been altered to confirm that item has sold, a record was kept and possibly an email was sent out too.

Not as straight-forwards as it looked originally?

Pricing Multichannel Software

Generally there are two ways that multi-channel software providers will charge you:

  • Fixed price
  • Percentage of sale

Some multichannel software providers go with a tiered system, if you have X number of products or orders then you pay this amount and the cost increases the more products and sales that you make.

Others go with a percentage of sale. It’s this one where the costs can really spiral out of control and it’s no uncommon to find businesses paying £30K, £50K or even £80 or £120k a year to such providers.

Yes, obviously they’re turning over millions, but at these kind of numbers, we’re getting into the territories of buying houses with the amounts being paid to multi-channel software providers.

There is another billing method worth noting here, is that it’s pay per user. So you pay say £80 per user head in the business to use the software.

It doesn’t really matter how you cut it, the more you sell, the more you should expect to pay.

How much you’re actually willing to pay is a completely different topic!

So why does multi-channel software have to cost so much?

The thing is, up until now the current 2nd generation providers have been building their own bespoke systems to cope with inventory, orders, the marketplaces & other business rules. This takes a shed load of time and a lot of money.

As the software grows, so does the complexity (and we’ve already seen some of the complexities including in the basic 5 steps, create, list, collect, process, update) which then adds in the requirement for an on-boarding team, staff that can help businesses migrate to the new software and of course a development team to keep everything working as it should.

I know from personal experience of doing this twice, first time around at Marketworks (eBay auction management software), also doing this myself with my own business, migrating to a software product can be painful, especially if prior to the migration all you’ve been using is the eBay Sell Your Item form or 1st generation or proprietary software like Turbo Lister.

Oh and the second time around at eSellerPro, sometimes it can take months. Every business is different and so are their requirements and it’s not as straight-forwards as it looks.

The more customers that are added, the more depends are put on the software to do feature x, y and z. Some multi-channel software providers just draw the line in the sand (ChannelAdvisor is a good example of this) and “say we do this”, then find partners for everything else. And others try and do everything under one roof.

We’re also missing a sales team, support staff & marketing, oh and a management layer as well somewhere too.

Everything & everyone has to be paid for.

In Summary

Any multi-channel software is good software. I whole-heartedly believe that.

A business even using excel has a competitive advantage over a business that isn’t using excel. It’s that simple.

Remember those 5 stages create, list, collect, process, update from the beginning? Even simple nowadays is complex when it comes to managing multiple marketplaces and this complexity causes overheads, costs that need to be accounted for.

The thing is that some of these multichannel software providers (some with the help of myself) have taken the level of complexity, features and options to a whole new level, levels that were not thought possible only a few years ago and it’s the percentage of sale software providers that can get really, really expensive, the more you sell, the more you pay. It sounds nice, but the thing is, it gets to a stage where the amounts being paid is just plain silly.

A Different Take on Multichannel Software

Howdy,

Two questions for you:

  • What if multichannel software didn’t have to cost the earth?
  • What if you knew of a way to deliver multi channel software that can meet the needs thousands of cool people?

What would you do?

Sit on it? Work out a business plan to bundle it up and sell it as typical 2nd generation software? Or would you go a different route after trying both?

I’d like to share a story of what happened last year, when looking for multichannel software to launch a new business onto eBay, Amazon and to build their own website and the typical options out there, just didn’t work.

 

Backed into a Corner

backed into a cornerBack in March 2013 we were looking for multichannel software to launch a new business onto eBay, Amazon and to build their own website.

The natural option eSellerPro wasn’t an option and neither of us were fans of ChannelAdvisor, plus both of these were really expensive for a start up (you’re talking +£500 a month and £2,000 upfront costs), so we picked the next best option.

After 3 weeks in all the stuff I took for granted was missing.

  • What do you mean we can’t import 61,000 products in one go?
  • What do you mean we’ve got to assign one of the variations as being the parent sku?
  • And where on earth are child sku’s?

As we dug deeper we soon realised that the normal alternative wasn’t going to work (I’m doing my best not to name them), it was so far away from what I was used to. What I took for granted that should be in multi-channel software, well… was missing.

This just isn’t working out is it? What are the options?

I don’t know we’ll try a different provider, after a phone call they also wanted £500 a month and 1% of sale because we had soo many products (61,000 is apparently lot for most companies).

This is just nuts, how could you start a multi-channel business without the software that was so sorely needed? There was no way this could be done manually. There was just too many products to do it with.

What about?

Magento Usage Statistics Feb 2013Magento?

It can cope with that number of products easily, it can handle complex product relationships, variations, multi variations and so on…

After all it’s the most popular open source software to build eCommerce sites with and powers 26% of the top 1 million eCommerce with (see here), so it’s at least got to have a decent founding.

So that’s the inventory & order management part taken care of. Ok what about the eBay & Amazon part?

Why don’t we give M2E Pro a whirl? It can’t be that bad and hell it ain’t going to cost us £500 smackers to get started with is it?

So that’s what we did and what we ended up with something quite different.

Note: If you’ve never heard of M2EPro before, it’s an extension for Magento that allows you to use Magento for the order & inventory management and allows you to sell on to the marketplaces using the same inventory. Oh and it’s subsidised by eBay too.

Sipping Coffee

CoffeeDid we just replicate eSellerPro?

As near as dammit we had.

Yea not everything & all the bells & whistles, but it was close. Scarily close.

An import system that could take all 61,152 products in one hit, a templating system that allowed us to make comprehensive listings onto eBay with keywords, the stock levels were kept up to date pretty much in the same manner as what the Channel Profile does.

And for orders, well the framework was there to automatically deliver the orders to the supplier, then once the order was shipped, grab the tracking numbers and delivery back into Magento which in-turn, M2E Pro would pick up and notify eBay & Amazon.

Holy moo-moo, what if we bundle this up into a business?

So we did, we put the numbers down on paper, moved them, added, removed and that’s where we got stuck.

The numbers just didn’t work.

It wasn’t really until year 2 where after a huge amount of risk a lot of unknowns that such a business would hit any form of black. And that’s where it got curious…

If we couldn’t make the numbers work on software that was basically free, how the hell do the existing providers actually turn a profit? And that’s where things started to make sense, they do but they don’t. SaaS products/services tend to be highly lucrative,  however the life is being sucked out of them by bloat.

So to support N number of businesses you need N number of support staff, N number of developers, N number of account managers and so on… Humans need humans, especially if you’re looking at a high monthly fee product and especially one that takes a percentage of their sale. It just doesn’t scale very well.

Basically, none of us particularly liked the numbers, great idea but we were all out.

Now What?

Icon-round-Question_markI’m sat there with the tools and the knowledge to make a massive, positive difference to the world. But the normal thinking of bundling this up doesn’t work.

WTF now?

Dave, what if we gave it away for free?

Dave looked at me oddly.

Yea seriously what if we gave away the knowledge on how to do this?

It’s not the original business model, but we know that won’t work, the numbers say it won’t. So why don’t we take a completely different tack and share. I know that if you do something with passion, the money part kinda sorts itself out, I’ve seen this time and time again. I know it works.

Note: This is not for the faint of heart, you have to have some heavy form of commitment to even consider doing something like this, a topic for a different day

So that’s what we decided.

Show the world how they could gain access to low-cost multi-channel software, that didn’t cost £500 a month, didn’t come with all the expensive bloat and if you needed something extra then you bought it off the shelf, without paying oodles to support 100% of a product for which you were only likely to be using a mere 40%.

We hammered out a vision that encapsulated this, a goal for us to follow that followed this line of thinking and we came up with this:

“A hybrid of both free and paid for open source software where multi-channel business owners can pick & choose the tools that suit their business, both now and in the future.”

Quite a hefty goal, but that’s where we’re swinging for.

Last Year

And that was back last September.

Since then we’ve been working our little socks off, mainly because I set such a ridiculously high goal that we’d have to think differently. Did we hit the final goal? No, but we got bloody close though.

We called it “UnderstandingE”, a name that I been sat on for a few years, it seemed perfect for what we wanted to do and that’s what we rolled with.

What I needed TEN Years ago

When working at Marketworks & eSellerPro, I always kept in the back of my mind, what did I need when selling online. “How does this port to what the person to I’m speaking to right now?” and crucially “How does that port to the multichannel software that I working with right now?

I think that’s the key reasons why working at eSellerPro was like being a pig-in-poop, if it was a good idea and the demand was there, then it got put in. That was some wild times, but ultimately ended up in a product that has issues dealing with such a veracious amount of development being applied to it.

Basically in hindsight, it was overkill. Really good overkill I hasten to add and nothing has even got anywhere near it since.

Stuck in a rut

The thing is, businesses that are using current software tools they’re used to paying silly amounts each month and there does come a time where the brighter business owners work out that they’ve just paid way over £30,000 (say $50K USD) for software that yes has helped them to get them to the stage where they are at, but for that kind of money it’s starting to hurt and hurt bad.

Some of you reading this you’re just too far down the line, you’re too comfortable with paying this kind of money, as much as you hate it, you’re stuck with it.

And my advice for a long, long time has been not to move software providers, it’s painful and doesn’t happen over night. It’s really up to you to work out how much of a difference it would make to you and your business.

A Different Way

But what we can do is make a difference to the businesses that have not got to this stage of lock-in yet, that can still be nimble.

So thinking back to the original questions:

  • What if you knew of a way to deliver multi channel software that met the needs thousands of cool people?

Yea I’m standing up (Dave too) and are firmly planting ourselves off the fence and are saying there is a different way. It doesn’t have to cost oodles, we’re not saying it’s free, but we’re saying that it’s a damn-sight cheaper than anything else out there and it’ll get you far, wayyy far down the line.

And there is nothing quite like putting money-where-your-mouth is, so that’s what we’ve done.

UnderstandingE went live on January 1st 2014 at around 4pm (kicking & fighting, we had to do an emergency site move the day before).

It’s not finished, it will never be finished. But we’ve started and that’s what matters.

Rabbit Hole

rabbit holeLet’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I don’t know where it leads, but to be honest it doesn’t matter where it ends, as it’s about the journey to find the end.

Fancy coming along for the journey?

Whack the button below and get dug in.

[button size=”large” style=”round” color=”blue” url=”http://understandinge.com/”]Say Hello to the 3rd Generation[/button]

Matt

PS. If you’re looking for me to write anything about eSellerPro over the next year, it’s doubtful. Even with my ability to remember screens and how things interact, that knowledge has been put aside, what’s been left undocumented is just that undocumented. It’s time to move on.

Embrace the Struggle

Howdy,

We’ve been super busy interviewing the “cool people”. The cool people are business owners just like you.

Hear their fantastic stories of how they started their businesses using the marketplaces and listening to the challenges they’ve had along the way.

Here is 6 to choose from or you can download them all via iTunes here.

Journalist Quits BBC to Sell on eBay

Hear from Jonathan (38,000 feedback on eBay) who quit the BBC after 14 years to turn Plan B into Plan A and the challenges he’s had along the way. Jono is also super-stoked about the 3rd Generation. Listen in right now here.

£2K in their Pockets & Only an Idea

Hear from John from Bamford Trading (+330,000 feedback on eBay) who left the corporate world to go to the NEC with two grand in their pockets and the determination to make it happen.

They have now made half a million orders on eBay & John shares his top tips for business owners just like you.

50% Growth this year?

You can also hear from Ian from Spirit Footwear (32,000 feedback on eBay) and how Ian & his wife turned a hobby into a successful business.

You’ll hear how he’s aiming for a 50% growth this year online, what Magento has meant to his business and how he tackled the warnings from Amazon to update all his pictures in 14 days or less.

Cross Border Trade in Plain English

Cross Border Trade is bounded about by everyone now, but you can hear what it actually means to Nigel from GamesQuest (+61,000 feedback on eBay) and how Nigel & his wife took a hobby of collecting books at carboot sales to a business turning over £1.5M a year.

You’ll also hear how Nigel looks at every phone call as an opportunity and where that can lead to.

Stop Making Support Tickets!

Alex is moving to the 3rd Generation as his current provider told him to stop raising support tickets for something that he paid for. Hear from Alex, how he went from a few pallets to containers and how he deals with a large number of products that vary in condition.

2,000 Orders a Week

And finally hear from Gurpreet who basically though paying software providers a “percentage of sale” was crazy, he processes 2000 orders a week using Magento & M2E Pro and is now expanding out into a trade/whole sale site using Magento.

These are REAL Business Owners Sharing their Story with You.

These are Entrepreneur’s at their finest, no matter what the challenge, they’ll chew it and spit it out and say bring it on.

 

Are you wired that way too?

Listen into the cool people using any of the links above or if you use iTunes, subscribe here and listen to them in the car, train or on the bus.

See you there,

Matt

Why is Content Marketing Like a Bicycle Wheel?

This very topic came up earlier as we recorded another Podcast for The Entrepreneur’s Corner with John Hayes and it’s the metaphor that was used to explain the step into email marketing with using a blog for your business as the hub of the activities.

You may remember John from two other Podcast’s we did together, “Social Marketing Is a Waste of Time” & also we discussed one of the books he published “Becoming THE Expert“, if you haven’t listened to these yet you can pick them up on iTunes here.

John is covering “Why is Content Marketing Like a Bicycle Wheel?” in a free Webinar next Wednesday at 2pm GMT how to leverage content and treat it as a bike wheel. And because it’s John we know it’ll be in plain English and you’ll have lots of actionable take-aways.

  • How to find the inspiration to create compelling content
  • How various content marketing channels work together to build a watertight strategy
  • How to use email to generate leads, sell more and maintain relationships while reducing your reliance on (high cost) paid advertising
  • How to engage your prospects with social media as well as win local, national and global media coverage with well-placed PR Campaigns
  • How to improve your rankings on the major search engines, shorten the sales cycle and reduce the need for cold calling techniques

When & Where?

This is taking place on Weds 27th November at 2pm GMT.

To register, click the monstrously huge button below:

[button size=large style=round color=blue align=left url=https://event.on24.com/eventRegistration/EventLobbyServlet?target=registration.jsp&eventid=704413&sessionid=1&key=69B1E7EEE514DDBDC2DCB335F1A067EE&sourcepage=register]Register to Join the Free Webinar with John Hayes [/button]

We’ll see you there!

Matt

 

Hear from a Business that is Moving to the 3rd Generation

Last week we shared with you an interview with a business owner called Gurpreet that processes 2,000 orders a week and pays no commissions.

While we’ve not got another story like this to share with you right now (3 more coming very soon!), what we can do is share with you the story of Alex’s business, how & why he’s moving to the 3rd Generation right now.

Hear how he started selling a few items on eBay, turned it into a full time business where he is buying containers and his struggle with multi-channel software. Alex is now in the process of moving to the 3rd Generation of multi-channel software.

Oh and you can hear how his current provider phoned him up and well, you’re not going to believe what they said, that’s at about 10 minutes into the interview…  You can listen to the interview here.

The 3rd Generation is REAL

This is where we can tell you outright, we are helping business move to this new generation.

We might not have all the answers and that’s ok, we’re learning and if there is one thing to take away from this podcast, the 3rd generation is REAL. It’s been around for years, the thing is the business owners that are using it are keeping quiet because they’re saving oodles every month and the other software companies out there don’t want you to know about it either.

I’ve been accused of being a used-car-salesman and one cheeky-minx implied I have “really annoying west country drawl” in the past few days after the Podcast we published last week. But the thing is, I don’t work for a software provider any more, I have no involvement with any of them and I am not here to please everyone either.

But…

The person I am here to please is you, the multi-channel business owner in my world, you are the “cool people”.

But please understand I’m smart enough to know how certain businesses work, I know how they tick, remember I’ve been around for over 10 years in this industry as a seller like you and with two software providers and I can’t share with you everything just yet.

Some of these companies have shown their true colours and I have wised-up to know when to shut-up (trust me that is really hard) and I can’t share everything that we’re up to right now. In this interim period between now & January, it’s going to be dribs & drabs of information and to some people I’m going to look bad and that’s ok, I know, we know what is on the other side.

Meet the Cool People

Next week you’re going to start hearing from more “cool people”, businesses owners like you, entrepreneurs, how they started, what challenges they have had from all over the world, the UK, Australia, Germany, Vietnam & the United States.

And if that sounds like something you’d like to be involved in too, you can get in contact with me directly here.

Oh and of course don’t forget to listen into Alex’s story, click the monstrously huge button below to tune in right now:

See you soon,

Matt

Do You Like Being Called “an Entrepreneur”?

  • Have you had to struggle to get your business where it is today?
  • Do you like being called an Entrepreneur?

If you’ve answered yes to either or both of these, I would love to hear from you and for you to join myself & Dave on the UnderstandingE Podcast we’re calling “The Entrepreneur’s Corner”.

It’s so that we can share the challenges that marketplace business owners like you have experienced, how they’re handled and for you to listen to like-minded entrepreneurs.

 

Share Your Story

It’s the story behind the never-ending challenge of running your own business is what we’re looking for.

We know how tough it is to start a marketplace business, rules changing every 5 minutes, sometimes with no warning at all. Once you’ve got past your first years trading, then the years that follow are tougher than the first.

And it’s this story we’re looking to you to help share with other like-minded entrepreneurs. How people just like you suck-up the challenges that you’re thrown, spit them out and say “bring it on”.

Some examples of the questions we would ask you:

  • Can you tell a little more about what you business does?
  • How did you start selling online?
  • What challenges have you had along the way?
  • What one tip would you give someone listening to this who wanted to start selling online right now?

And of course:

  • No hidden or sly questions
  • You don’t need to share your turnover
  • You don’t even need to share your business’s identity (but you can shamelessly plug it if you wish)
  • Just be you

Contact Us!

If this is something you would like to be involved in use the contact form below and myself or Dave will be in touch shortly:

2 + 6 = ?

Credits: Image

30 Seconds of Silence as the Penny Dropped

We were on a call yesterday with what you could say is your “typical” multi-channel business owner, in many ways he’s probably just like you.

Business is doing well, it’s been a slog this year and literally this weekend has just started to show signs of picking up. One eBay account, one Amazon account, a website that could do better and nothing really that complex to put high demands on pretty much any of the 2nd generation multi-channel software providers.

But why on earth did he go completely silent on us, for what felt like hours?

Read on and you’ll find out why.

 

Typical Business As Usual?

Being in the most demanding categories for the marketplaces, fashion, he has to deal with complex inventory, sizes, colours, mixed sizing, demanding buyers, demanding marketplaces and most of all, the challenge of seasonality.

Fashion has to be the #1 toughest category to do well in online and this chap is rocking it & is set for his highest turnover Christmas ever.

On the other hand, in many ways it’s not a complicated setup they have, we’re only talking one eBay account with a couple of thousand listings, Amazon does really well for them now they’re settled in and from an operational standpoint, the team is experienced.

The booking in system for new lines is fast as they use excel & a couple of macros to create the variations & the order processing system is simple, no real warehouse control per-say, but a simple system that works and can manage 200-400 orders a day with ease.

Curiosity

As the conversation progressed he brought up the project me & Dave have been working on. He had seen a couple of the emails, read some of the articles and was wondering what was keeping us so busy. So we told him.

For the sake of this article and because he’s switching providers in January to the 3rd Generation we’re going to call him “Mohammed”, plus the numbers quoted are vague to protect his business.

The conversation went something like this:

Dave: “We’re building the training guides for the 3rd Generation of multi-channel software”

Mohammed: “So what does that mean exactly?”

Dave: “Well you know you’re using <removed> right now to manage, eBay, Amazon & your website?”

Mohammed: “Yes”

Dave: “Matt found a way of using Magento for exactly the same thing. You’ve heard of Magento?”

Mohammed: “Yea, I want to move our website to that after Christmas. We’ve been frustrated not being able to add anything to our current site”

Matt: “If you’ve looked at Magento, you’ll have seen it can handle fashion products just like yours, sizes, colours, shoe sizes etc… It has basic stock control and does pretty much everything you’re used to right now on your website.”

Mohammed: “Yes, my cousin uses it for his site and it does well”

Dave: “Matt was asked earlier this year to set up an eBay/Amazon & website business for a friend, he couldn’t use the software you were using as it’s too expensive so we had to look alternatives. He had already been working on Magento for a connector for eSellerPro, so knew it well. What he ended up realising was that Magento & an extension called M2E Pro could do pretty-much the same as the software you’re using”

Matt: “That’s right. They aren’t too dissimilar to your setup, but they had more products. Well 61,152 to be precise and roughly 2,400 variations. We were quoted £500 a month + 1% from one of the providers, it was a new business and there was no way that the business could afford that. So we have to look at other options

What I found was as Dave said, pretty much exactly what you have set up right now and we automated the supplier feeds in and the orders go off to the suppliers directly. We downloaded Magento for free and M2E Pro is also free because eBay subsidise it. He’s only just added his website now, as we’re using Magento not for the website part, but for the inventory & order management capabilities”

Mohammed: “Free & Free, I like the sound of this already”

Dave: “Yea we thought you would. The thing is besides the work the that Matt & the client put in, they’re only paying £114 a month for a server”

Mohammed: “What no commissions?”

Matt: “No commissions and the only reason he using such a ludicrously expensive server is because he complained about speed of one of my small servers. They’re not built for Magento, plus I didn’t want the hassle, so I got him a pair of xenon quad core processors, 16Gb of RAM and two SSD disks with hardware RAID 0 and dared him to complain about speed again. After that he never did, probably was a little over-kill if I’m honest”

Mohammed: “So he runs his business using Magento & M2E Pro, the same channels, has more inventory than us and pays £114 a month?”

Dave: “How much did you pay <removed> last month?”

Mohammed: “I’ll get the invoice, it’s here somewhere”

Mohammed: “Got it”

Silence

We heard the chair creak in the background, the sound of paper shuffling and then a deeply exhaled breath.

It must have only been 30 seconds or so.

But it felt like hours.

Finally

Dave finally asked, “did you find it?”

Indeed Mohammed has found his invoice, it had £1,500 on it  (approx $2,400 USD).

What I had set up for a client earlier this year can scale and for Mohammed came in at a tenth each month of what he’s paying right now and is set to save him around £17,000 – £19,000 next year.

UnderstandingE goes live on January 1st, what do you think he’ll be doing that day?

The Pieces are Almost a Picture

We’ll be open with you, the pieces of the puzzle are not all there yet, but we’re getting close, very close.

For Mohammed’s business, he’s going to need a couple of extensions to get all the backend features into place, two order extensions & two courier integrations (Royal Mail DMO was one of them) and a couple of the extensions we’ve been building to get him going. Plus we should never forget the training of the staff (which is where UnderstandingE comes in) and the time to migrate products between systems.

And on that note.

Say Hello to the 3rd Generation

We silently put the UnderstandingE site live a week or so ago. The reason why is simple, it doesn’t matter what you do for a launch party, it’s what you do for the next 6 years that truly matters.

While the guides are not published yet, they’re being released on January 1st, the forums are open and we are listening.

We’re listening to business owners like Mohammed and business owners like you.

Tell us what you need
Tell us what you cannot live without
Tell us how you want to innovate in your business once again
Rid your business of bills costing tens of thousands each year

And the best thing is…. We will show you how for free.

The 3rd Generation, everything you’ll need to know. It’s a click away (click here!!!!)

Come over & say hello to the 3rd Generation.

And we’ll see you there.

Matt & Dave

What’s The One Thing Missing from the 3rd Generation?

We’ve been working hard in the background trying to fill in as many blanks as we can so that when we go live in January we have all the bases covered for both new businesses, but established businesses as well.

However there is one thing this is missing and we need your help.

 

Keywords!

If you’ve used any of the current multi-channel software providers, most, if not all of these offer keywords (also known as macro’s or variables) that help you create informative & comprehensive eBay listings.

Even simple keywords like the image URL’s help you make great looking image galleries in your listings or maybe a keyword to bring through your domestic shipping cost, so you can add a simple line of text saying something like this:

“Our UK Delivery is just £1.99”.

The uses are almost endless.

How Big Sellers Manage Their eBay Listings

This is how the really big sellers on eBay make fantastic looking listings that look like they have uniquely made each listing, but they separated their data out in the management tool so that only the small bits of information, like a product title or bullet points need to be added.

This saves them countless hours each month when adding new products and when it comes to redesigning an eBay listing template, because the product data is removed and keywords are left in their place, upgrading or tweaking designs is made sooo much easier.

Note: If you have never come across this idea of keywords before, I’ve written two articles on this to show you exactly how they could work and reverse engineer a live eBay listing, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here. And if you’d like a glimpse at what you can potentially do with such keywords, see this article.

We Need Your Help

help-imageM2E Pro, one of the core components of the 3rd generation supports all the common Magento attribute values and you can even in add in an image gallery within a few clicks that looks great. But we’re missing some vital keywords and that’s where we need your help.

I’ve put together a comprehensive list of keywords that I know that you will need for the 3rd Generation (huh? 3rd generation, see here for that that is).

This is using my experience from the past 10 years, as a business owner that used eBay, two multi-channel software companies and hundreds of business I have  had the pleasure working with. We need these extra keywords and we need your help making the point to the development team over at M2E Pro that you need these too.

So… Myself & Dave need your help.

This is How You Can Help

Note this is not only for yourself for when you migrate to the 3rd generation, this will help every business owner that also moves to the 3rd generation, globally.

M2E Pro Vote for Keywords to be Added

  1. Go to this page: http://support.m2epro.com/forums/137040-m2e-pro-ebay-magento-integration/suggestions/4720248-m2epro-system-keywords-variables-for-ebay-listi
  2. Check over the specification I have written and add a comment you feel appropriate to the bottom
    (something like “OMG we need this” would be appropriate)
  3. In the top left-hand corner there is a “Vote” button
  4. Press the “vote” button
  5. Enter your email address
  6. And press “3 Votes”

This shouldn’t take more than 1 minute of your time and in doing so, you can help make the world a better place with new functionality for everyone to use.

Again the direct link to this feature request is here: http://support.m2epro.com/forums/137040-m2e-pro-ebay-magento-integration/suggestions/4720248-m2epro-system-keywords-variables-for-ebay-listi

Make your contribution to the 3rd generation today, and for that myself & Dave, thank you.

Matt & Dave

Does This Look Familiar to You?

If you were unfortunate enough to miss out on the no-holes-barred history to the 3rd generation at the eCommerce Expo two weeks ago, it’s about time we give you a little teaser to the 3rd generation (if you missed this, see here for part 1)

Today’s article is a sneak-peak at the progress being made & what the 3rd generation could look like, if you want it to look like this at all.

 

Order Processing

If you’ve ever used or seen eSellerPro the image below should be familiar to you. If not, it’s really simple to follow, I’ll cover the colour codes with you in a moment

Multi-Channel Order Processing

This screenshot is from a test system that shows orders in different statues, each row is an order. Here is the breakdown on the order colours:

  • Pink is pending a PayPal payment
  • White is processing and good to be processed
  • Brown, well those orders are brown for a very good reason, they’re fraud or reversed payments
  • Green is shipped or complete
  • Yellow the order is pending payment
  • And the blue, the order is on hold

As a business owner you now know exactly which orders should be processed and where they came from too.

But….

There’s a caveat, I didn’t write a single line of code to do this.

It already exists, the whole 3rd Generation already exists.

But there are some people that don’t want us to tell you what it is…

A Different Way

Hit play on the video below:

Then go to UnderstandingE.com/NOW and change your business forever.

See you there!

Matt & Dave

Meet the UnderstandingE Team @ eCommerce Expo (2 Oct)

By now you’ll have heard quite a lot of buzz about UnderstandingE, we believe it’s going to put you back in control and change the world of eCommerce forever and we bet you’d like to know more and here’s your only chance before January.

This is something never done before, we have a clear vision and a single goal of what we are going to achieve and using the passion we have for eCommerce we truly believe that what we launch in January will be of benefit to soo many online sellers like you.

 

Find Out What UnderstandingE is

Myself and Dave Furness will be making our first appearance as UnderstandingE at the eCommerce Expo next week.  We will only be there for few hours on Weds 2nd October because of the epic challenge we have set ourselves between now and January 1st and need to get back the grindstones.

We are arranging a special meetup at one of the stands at 2:00pm.  This way we can get to share with you, the cool people, the business owners what exactly it is we are up to and how with your help, together we’re going to create something amazing.

Here are just a few of the comments we’ve had in the last few days:

“We never considered using it like that before”.
We know, we didn’t realise this ourselves until earlier this year when we had no other option

“You telling me that this will work?”
Yep, we’re using it ourselves, we know it works

“That’s going to save us thousands”
Yup, that’s us off the Christmas card lists

So Which Stand?

To find out which stand we’ll loitering on at 2pm, pop your name & email on the UnderstandingE site here and we’ll let you know on Wednesday morning.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Matt & Dave

Why there will NEVER be 4th Generation of Multi-Channel Software (Ever)

The only direction for the 3rd generation of multi-channel eCommerce software to go is to take ownership. To write, to own the software that will directly integrate your business into the marketplaces, this is exactly the piece that you never want and I’ll explain why.

 

A Mirror Image

It’s just like what we have right now with the 2nd generation, a multitude of multi-channel software providers, all with varying levels of integration and complexities. A “one-size-fits-all” approach and as I’ve already admitted, this approach isn’t the right approach anymore.

Let’s imagine for a few moments if you owned one of the software companies. You would have to deal with never-ending updates from the marketplaces, couriers integrations, bug-fixes, feature requests from your ever expanding user-base, the list just goes on and on and on and on… It’s software that is never finished and the thing is, it never can be finished.

So to step into the responsibilities of managing multiple marketplaces, the direct API integrations is not a world you want to be in as a business owner.

It’s expensive, it’s complicated, it’s ever-changing and unless you’ve got the experience, clear requirements and have a skilled development team on hand, you’ll be strangled by the overheads needed to be able to keep abreast of the highly-dynamic environment we use to operate businesses in and restricted by the one thing that keeps any business going, the ability to innovate and adapt.

Innovation

In conversation for the past eight months with the “cool people”, (that’s business owners just like you), “innovation”, “being able to innovate” has come up again & again.

I know you’re not happy.

The 3rd Generation allows you to innovate, it breaks you free of the massive overheads and allows you to focus on your business exclusively and when you need to add in extra functionality, then it’s optional. Think of it as a salad bowl, you can pick & choose and it’s exclusive to your own requirements.

The 3rd Generation isn’t bogged down with the really complicated parts, that’s the 4th stage of the life-cycle, the taking ownership of the integrations yourself and for 99.9999999% of you reading this, you’ll never want to be involved with this, ever.

January 1st

January the 1st, for most of you will be the same story, you will have just had the busiest season online ever.

You’ll have seen the best and worst of your multi-channel software when you needed it most. You’ll also be sat there with probably the largest bill you have ever had if you’re using one of the multi-channel software providers that take a cut of your sales.

And on January 1st 2014, we’ll be sat there with another way, the next generation and that’s our deadline.

Part 3, where we bare-all is Coming Soon

Think of this article as a delicious appetizer between now and then, but also think of it, that with this open commitment to you, we better deliver what we’re talking about…

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, sadly we never will, but an option where you’re not tied down is already out there, we just need to show you how.

And the thing is, we know we can :)

Matt & Dave

PS. If you’ve not yet signed up to be notified the moment UnderstandingE is launched yet, you can here UnderstandingE.com/NOW