Matthew has both positive and negative points to say about ChannelAdvisor, this is to be expected as he’s spent +4 years in direct competition with them.

Putting Channel Advisor’s tremendous PR machine to one side, ChannelAdvisor is able to offer merchants a tool that covers all the major platforms, eBay, Amazon, Web & more and has SEM (Search Engine Marketing) nailed down. Founded by Scot Wingo and Aris Buinevicius in 2001, ChannelAdvisor has attracted investment from numerous parties, including four (yes four) venture capitol companies and interestingly too.

ChannelAdvisor is a solid, stable product and while it may not sport the same feature set and customisation of eSellerPro or similar tools, its been around longer than almost all the other contenders. Its the SEM piece of ChannelAdvisor that forms its most attractive service offering for merchants, with a self service, guided or fully outsourced option to suit all merchant types. Their reporting is absolutely superb and literally unrivalled by anything in this arena.

On a personal level, Matthew has both positive and negative points to say about ChannelAdvisor, this is to be expected as he’s spent +4.5 years in direct competition with them, at both (which was bought by Channel Advisor) and more recently, Its unlikely you’re going to ask Matthew something he does not already know about ChannelAdvisor, you can contact him on his dedicated Contact Matthew page.

The Responsive eBay Template Builder in Minutes


The full-house webinar we held for the launch of the Responsive eBay Listing Template builder was really good fun and we were at the limit of what GoToWebinar could handle, if you were able to make the live event, thank you!

However if you were unable to make it live, instead of you watching the full hour long webinar, I’ve created you a 12 minute overview where you’ll see us:

  • Start from no template at all
  • Create a unique listing template where you’re in control
  • Download the template code
  • Revise a live eBay listing using M2EPro & Magento ( this could be any 3rd party software )
  • And then… go back and make changes to the layout, design, widgets and colour scheme remotely

Remember, eBay say that over 40% of transactions are now touched by mobile devices.

You can still get an edge before Christmas!

The 12 Minute Overview

The shorter version is below for you:

Where to Get Started

All the major software tools are supported ChannelAdvisor, Linnnworks, eSellerPro, M2ePro, ChannelGrabber, BrightPearl, TurboLister, Selling Manager, Ad-Lister, SellerExpress, Inkfrog, InkFrog Open, StoreFeeder etc…

You can started with your very own fully responsive eBay listing template here:

If you would like to know more about pricing this can be found here as you can get started for just £9.99 a month and there are 2 months free for annual subscriptions too.

You can try the unique responsive listing template builder out for 30 days with a no-questions-asked refund policy.

We both need happy customers right?!


Why Does Multichannel Software Cost So Much?


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


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=””]Say Hello to the 3rd Generation[/button]


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.

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.


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”


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.


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

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.


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

Part 2 – Hands Up I Was Wrong – But What About?

In this second part of the History of Multi-Channel Software, we’re starting a journey, a journey to find the utopia and a journey that we’re going to share openly, wins, failures, the lot.

The utopia for multi-channel software that can fit the needs of any business regardless of size, type, location or revenue both today and tomorrow.

And to do this effectively, I need to admit I was wrong.


A Re-Cap

In part 1 of the History of Multi-Channel Software we covered how we have ended up where we are today with the collection of software providers that offer pretty much the same options, all wrapped up into different interfaces for multi-channel businesses to use.

I also shared with you the vision for the future which I’ve put below, the “utopia”, the goal that we’re aiming for and the commitment that I believe together we can achieve. I also admitted that I don’t have all the answers and never will but are willing to share this journey as we go and we invited you to join in.

The Vision of the Future

“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

I Used To Think…

I used to think that multi-channel software had to:

  • Fit the needs of every business perfectly
  • Have every single feature, bell & whistle going
  • Advanced to the point of being over complicated
  • Do everything, anyone could ever want
  • Be one system that encompassed everything

And the thing is… Hands up, I was wrong, so very wrong.

The Glimmer of Hope

Crude by today’s standards, I had built my own eBay order management tool back in the early 2000’s using excel, outlook, an addon for Outlook and some VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

I was parsing the notifications for “end of auction” and “end of transaction” emails from eBay using a plugin for Outlook (which amazingly you can still buy it today, see here), loading them into an excel spreadsheet and then using VBA to process them, adding in notification flags for a pick/pack/despatch process with mail merges to create invoices , then email mail merges to email customers their order received, packed and then despatched notices.

I’m probably being a little mean to what I built back then by calling it “crude”, it took me from using a paper tracking system to a semi-automated system, which then led the business to a stage where it could afford more advanced software such MarketWorks or ChannelAdvisor (the only two options we had back then) at around £15-20K a month turnover and then we added in MarketWorks, we ni-on quadrupled the business in 3 months.

I have always wondered “what if the business could have afforded the best software available earlier on?”.

As I sat there in the cyber-cafe looking at eSellerPro for the first time, I genuinely felt that “this was it”. What had frustrated me as a business owner myself and through having seen hundreds of business at Marketworks, seeing them struggle with a slowly developed product with the possibility that those frustrations could be answered and what you use today in eSellerPro is part of the answer I saw back then (after a ~3 years stint that is).

The Stark Reality

I believed one product could fit the needs of every scenario thrown at it and that is where I was wrong.

  • No software product will fit the needs of every business perfectly, ever
  • Software doesn’t need every cool idea in it for it to be viable and meet the needs of the vast majority of businesses
  • Who needs complicated when straight-forwards will work just as well?
  • Why does software need to do everything for everyone, when the core essentials are all that are needed?

The reality is that:

No single software product will ever meet the needs of every single business perfectly

And Wrong Again? Maybe Not….

I know many of you will cringe at the idea of ChannelAdvisor, having a core system and with bolt on modules, using specialists in their own areas, it’s a “hybrid system”.

Frankly speaking, you’re most likely scoffing at the idea because it doesn’t help that the base system is so expensive it rules it out as being a viable solution for +99% of all multi-channel businesses.

The thing is, I believe we were all wrong about this “hybrid” approach and I’ll explain why.

Take the massive cost out of this hybrid approach, so let’s say we take £600 monthly minimum fees and floor them by 95% to just £30 (yes that is thirty quid or $47 USD, or less but that’s a topic for another day) and suddenly it’s a lot more attractive don’t you agree?

Hold on to that thought for a few moments…

Breaking it Apart

Let’s boil everything down to the three key parts of a multi-channel software product.

An inventory management system, an order management system and listing abilities to marketplaces. This goes for any of the 2nd generation providers regardless of origin.

Inventory Management
The inventory management system would need to be able to with both simple and complex products (variations), kits, virtual products, stock control, imports, exports and customisable fields that you can match to eBay & Amazon item specifics.

Order Management
Then the order management system which would need to aggregate orders from multiple channels, websites, multiple eBay accounts, multiple Amazon accounts (if you’re being naughty lol), have order stages, customisable despatch options, links into couriers and back to the marketplaces for order updates. Email notifications, while they’re not an essential they are a nice to have and are of notable value for any order management system.

Listing Abilities
Being able to match up to existing listings on the marketplaces, create new listings and keep prices, descriptions and stock levels updated. And be kept upto date with the updates that these marketplaces like to do every few months.

These 3 are the key components for any multi-channel software product. I am missing one other part on purpose though, support. Because this component it is so special, I need to be address it specifically at a later date.

The Current Approaches

As we saw in part 1 the vast array of options, there is no one right way of approaching each of these components and when we look at the different providers out there, they have all come from different angles and ended up with varying levels of success for each of the 3 components.

Let’s pick on two other providers as an example. StoreFeeder, StoreFeeder came from a fulfilment background so as you would expect the despatch process in StoreFeeder is amazing. I love how you can batch process orders easily and I’ve not seen anything to touch it at the price point they offer. ChannelGrabber, they needed simplicity, so ease of use is unparalleled.

Each and every multi-channel software has come from a different direction and ended up with something that can (or is being) labeled as “Multi-Channel Software” and they can all be boiled down to these 3 components.

Again, hold onto that thought for a few moments too…

So a Time for a Different Approach

Keeping the key components in mind, 3 questions for you to seriously consider.

#1 What if we took the ChannelAdvisor, hybrid approach. One core system that has inventory management, order management and listing abilities and bolstered it with industry expertise?

#2 What if we took away the costly overheads and we leveraged a platform that was open-source and getting back to that £30/$47 I mentioned earlier, what if it would run on shared web-hosting, which is available anywhere, globally, inexpensively?

#3 What if we then said because it’s open-source, you can extend it further and gave you the power to innovate?

What if the listing abilities were available for free to eBay and Amazon was ridiculously inexpensive?

And Then Consider

Originally I thought this hybrid approach wasn’t the correct path to follow. It’s expensive with the current providers but on the flip side allows us to bring in industry expertise in each area, when you need it, if you need it.

So what happens if we floor that massive overhead, leverage the already existing technologies that are proven globally, bring in expertise when needed, if needed at all and open the doors to be able to innovate through open source? The potential is huge?

Interesting theory right?

Like we said in Part 1, we know that this new approach works, it’s not a theory for us or you anymore.

All that is needed is a journey to be started, for knowledge to be shared and for each of us to work together.

We have the the vision of a world where you can use a hybrid of both free and paid for open source software where you can as a where multi-channel business owner you can pick & choose the tools that suit your business, both now and in the future.

Find out more at

And in part 3, we reveal all :)

The History of Multi-Channel Software – Part 1

Multi-channel software, love it or hate it, if you’re selling online and using the online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, you need it and it makes a massive difference to you being able to run a successful online business or having to wade through the endless repetitive tasks each day manually.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on that covers the history of multi-channel software and is the beginning of a journey that will change the future of multi-channel software.

If you were wondering, this is directly related to main reason why I have been so quiet lately and together (thats us & you) will be changing the world of multi-channel eCommerce software forever and dipping our toes into the world of 3rd Generation multi-channel software.

However before we can get to the really cool stuff, we need to start our journey from somewhere and the best place to do that is to reflect on where we have come from and where we are today and this is what this article, part 1 and accompanying video is all about.


Part 1 – The History of Multi-Channel Software

Myself & Dave have put a video together to explain the history of multi-channel software below.

You can subscribe to the UnderstandingE YouTube channel here:

Proprietary, 1st & 2nd Generation Software

From it’s beginning where proprietary tools like Turbo-Lister (eBay) and Seller Desktop (Amazon) were created by the marketplaces themselves, then through the demands of businesses to expand further and add-in several missing features tools like InkFrog (1999), Auctiva, AMan Pro (for Amazon) and ChannelAdvisor who appeared on the scene in 2001. The 1st generation of software born and was there to help businesses be more productive with these channels.

Then the 2nd generation came around in the latter part of the naughties (around 2008/2009) where “Auction Management Software” turned properly into “Multi-Channel software” and was needed by businesses as they really started to leverage both eBay & Amazon and other online sales channels. We suspect this was because the Amazon marketplace really started to take off around then and the requirements changed for online businesses, they were selling in more than just one location, they had eBay, they had Amazon, their offline trade and the website platforms out there were getting better & better.

A Change in Requirements

This change in the landscape of business requirements spawned multiple 2nd generation providers that include ChannelAdvisor, who jumped from 1st generation (as they added in Amazon support), MarketWorks, ChannelGrabber, Linnworks, eSellerPro, SellerExpress and numerous other software companies who have come in later such as Brightpearl & StoreFeeder that have woken up to the apparent lucrative world of multi-channel software and whom we see today.

Some companies haven’t made the jump from the 1st generation at all, InkFrog, Auctiva & AMan Pro haven’t really strayed from their original selling platforms and that’s “ok” if that’s all you need for your business.

In the cases of eSellerPro and 247TopSeller, these were created by the failings of the original two providers that serviced the United Kingdom, ChannelAdvisor & Marketworks to adapt to the UK (and Europe for that matter) fast enough.

eSellerPro started as a shipping solution and with an integration to Sage from MarketWorks that then evolved into the tool we see today (see here for the unofficial history), as for 247 TopSeller well this was born in the same 2-3 months time window of eSellerPro because neither of the existing options (CA & MW) would meet the requirements of UK wholesaler.

Cost, Cost, Cost

The current options for business owners like yourself that use multiple sales channels (including the marketplaces) all fall into one of the two camps when it comes to pricing, fixed price and a percentage of sale.

Generally the “smaller” providers offer fixed price software where you pay a set amount each month to them for them to help you manage one or more marketplaces, these are generally medium cost and viable options. The more expensive options appear from the larger providers such as eSellerPro and ChannelAdvisor, where you’ll have a committed minimum monthly bill in the region of £500-600 and if a percentage of sales (around 1-2%) exceeds this value, then you pay more. That’s why you’ll find numerous businesses paying in excess of £1,000 a month for multi-channel software.

It doesn’t matter which path you have followed up to today, all the current 2nd generation multi-channel software products offer good-ish value for money.

As a whole, they all do the same tasks with similar features when we look at them from a high-enough level (in some cases it has to be really high with a slight squint). When we get down to the minute detail, there are major differences which explains the differences in the amounts that different providers charge and it’s these smaller details that generally depict which business uses which software provider because their business needs these small, less “transparent” options.

3rd Generation

It took a mistake by one of the 2nd generation providers to force this path to be explored and when we joined the pieces of the puzzle together we ended up with something that is greater than the original parts combined. What has been missing up until now is for us all to work out that this is actually viable and what we found, personally I was very surprised by.

The 3rd generation is a completely new take on multi-channel eCommerce software and while I say completely new, this has been around for the best part of 3 years already. We’ll cover more on this in part’s 2 & 3.

We don’t have all the answers, frankly we never will, however we know this path works. It’s highly flexible, ridiculously inexpensive and leverages the might of both open source and the backing of a massive corporate umbrella. For the past 7 months, I have followed it myself and there are examples of businesses turning over millions each month using this method.

The Vision of the Future

“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

We’re going to leave you with the vision of the future of multi-channel eCommerce software and we’re starting a journey today and we both invite you to join in at

PS. You can find part 2 here, where I admit I was wrong. But what about?

The Amazon Buy Box – You know the Secret Formula Right?


If you’ve not read this article before, then you’re in for a treat as the Amazon Buy Box pretty much obey’s the formula and has been proven to do so time and time again.Amazon UK

If you’re new to Amazon, then in short the holy grail of Amazon is the blue buy box and if you’ve not come across the buy box before, you cannot miss it, it’s blue and on the right-hand side of almost every product on Amazon.

Hey, they’re infectious! There is one over to the right :)

When there is only a single seller fighting for the buy box, there can only be one winner, but when there are two or more sellers, then assuming that everything is even, you can win the Amazon Buy Box with the formula in this article.

The Amazon Buy Box Factors

However there is a but… This assumes that everything is equal and we know that nothing is ever a level playing field, especially when it comes to marketplaces and Amazon, well is not always even either (see this article Why do eBay Sales Stay Consistent? for further reading).

There are many factors that influence who gets the buy box on Amazon and ChannelAdvisor points out the obvious in their help file,  as a reference, I have put an amended table below.

Factor What Amazon is Considering Winning Practices
Featured Merchant Status How trustworthy you are based upon account history. Being noticed by the Amazon account managers.As ChannelAdvisor suggest, it doesn’t hurt to ask Amazon support about your “Featured Merchant Status”
Price What is your product price? What is your shipping charge? Low total price, including product price and shipping
Availability How many do you have in stock? How quickly can you ship? Quick and consistent fulfillment
Volume Do you sell many of this product? Consistency
Refunds How often do you issue a refund for seller error? Low refund rate
Customer Feedback How do customers rate your service? Low negative feedback ratings
Customer Support How quickly you deal with customer queries Answering in less than 24 hours, 7 days a week (yes that’s weekends included)
A-to-z Guarantee Claims How often do you get returns? Low A-to-z claims

A Special Note on FBA

But that’s not all, because we have not included the “motherload” which is “Fulfilment By Amazon” AKA “FBA”.

FBA means that the seller has one or more of their products in Amazon’s fulfilment centres and because Amazon has it, have verified it’s condition and knows it can get the product out to its Amazon Prime subscribers, then it promotes FBA held items heavily against seller fulfilled items and routinely it’s going to take a hefty price difference to shake FBA products out of the buy box, or is it?

The Amazon Buy Box Rule?

If you have had a slap from Amazon, whether that’s an account warning or a suspension and very worryingly even if it was not your fault and a mistake on Amazon’s part (we have this documented in a support email back from Amazon) then this can count against you if everything is even.

But course your business exceeds in every area on Amazon, you are the perfect seller, well second to Amazon that is, so for the following to work, we’re assuming that everything is level.

So to the “Amazon Buy Box Formula”:

(Lowest Selling Price – 2.7%)

– £0.01
= The Buy Box, For Longer

By taking away 2.7% off the lowest selling price (including postage) and an extra penny, you receive the Amazon buy box for much, much longer.

It took me ages to work this out, testing, refreshing over many days it’s this worked out to be the lowest % and value I could get trigger the buy box and for it to stick.

The minus one penny is in the formula for the lower priced goods in the sub £20 area, it always seemed to take that extra penny to kick the box into action.

There are a few clauses, on the accounts I tested this out on, they were ALL of a great standing with Amazon, no major issues and all had long track records of great service. The other is none of these accounts were using FBA (Fulfilment By Amazon). FBA is a lethal advantage as I mentioned above, to shake FBA items takes a little bit more.

Also none of the products that were tested on were over £50, I am sure there is alterations in the trigger for the buy box, the percentage is likely to be a lot less than 2.7% at these levels.

Your Feedback

I would like for you to try this on ONE product for ONE day and let us know your results.

I know that several of the readers here have used this formula to great success over the past year since I first published this article, what I’d for you to do is try it for yourself for a day and let me know your results here by leaving me a comment below.

Alternatively if you have been using it, let us know your feedback as the formula does move around in different categories and price brackets, again let me know in the comments box and of course if we lost you anywhere in this article, don’t hesitate to ask in the forums.

Will You be at the ChannelAdvisor Catalyst 2012 Event?

ChannelAdvisor Catalyst 2012

Catalyst Register 2012It’s getting closer! I was pretty much veto’d from attending the Catalyst event for the best part of 5 years due to working for competitors, I had always recommended others to go and the feedback was always really positive.

So last year I broke my Catalyst virginity and attended the ChannelAdvisor event at the Park Plaza Riverside hotel in London and I’m really looking forward to attending this years event. Its also a special time for me as I’m getting married to my partner of 12 years a few days after, so if you’re attending and would like to meet up for a beer afterwards, let me know!

I’m also looking forward to meeting David Spitz again and also the new Managing Director of EMEA Seamus.
(I wonder if he has the same dancing skills as James?)

Chris from Tamebay has a special voucher for the event, giving you a £80 discount, use the code “tamebay2012” when registering.


This year we have an interesting line up of speakers including:

*coff* they’re all links to LinkedIn profiles ;-)

The event is spread over two days, Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th May. The agendas are below:

Monday, 28 May, 2012

9:00 AM  –  10:00 AM
Registration Open
Location: Foyer Area
10:00 AM  –  10:45 AM

1 – International Expansion: Breaking down borders

2 – Becoming Social- Tips on using Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube to generate leads

3 – The Evolving Customer

10:45 AM  –  11:30 AM

1 – Putting the changes in Comparison Shopping to work for you

2 – Time to get mobile- Making your business mobile friendly

3 – Back-Office Integration: How to simplify your processes

11:30 AM  –  12:00 PM
Networking Break

Exhibition Open

Strategy & Support Booths Open

12:00 PM  –  1:00 PM

1 – Creating an engaging and user-friendly website that converts

2 – Whats hot and whats not – Channel Trends

3 – How to succeed and make more money online

1:00 PM  –  2:00 PM
Networking Lunch

Exhibition Open

Strategy & Support Booths Open

2:45 PM  –  3:30 PM

1 – Our path to success” One company’s insight into their business.

2 – How Retailers Can Succeed Independently with Daily Deal and Flash Sale Campaigns

3 – eBay Best Practices, things to ensure that you do, things to ensure that you don’t do.

3:30 PM  –  4:00 PM
Networking Break

Exhibition Open

Strategy & Support Booths Open

4:00 PM  –  4:45 PM

1 – Online Marketing Strategy- Tips, Tools and Techniques

2- Leveraging CRM to Streamline and Grow your eCommerce Business

3 – Trading online – Making Payments simple

4:45 PM  –  5:30 PM
1 – Becoming a Top Rated Seller on eBay2 – How to win the Buy Box3 – TBA
5:30 PM  –  10:00 PM
Catalyst Drinks Party
In The Sky Bar

Tuesday, 29th May

8:00 AM  –  5:00 PM
Registration/Info Desk Open
8:00 AM  –  9:00 AM
Networking Refreshments
9:00 AM  –  9:45 AM
Scot Wingo – CEO, ChannelAdvisor
9:45 AM  –  10:30 AM
The Changing Face of the Global Retail Landscape – Panel Discussion
10:30 AM  –  11:00 AM
Networking Break
11:00 AM  –  12:00 PM
Miriam Lahage, Global Head of Fashion Brand, eBay
12:00 PM  –  1:00 PM
Jacqueline Gold, Chief Executive of Ann Summers and Knickerbox
1:00 PM  –  2:00 PM
Networking Lunch
2:00 PM  –  2:45 PM
Amazon Keynote
2:45 PM  –  3:15 PM
Interview with Peter Briffett, MD, LivingSocial UK, Ireland & Netherlands
3:15 PM  –  3:45 PM
Taking Retail Mobile – Panel Discussion
3:45 PM  –  4:15 PM
Networking Break


Strategy & Support Booths Open

4:15 PM  –  5:00 PM
Gavin Sathianathan, Head of Commerce Partnerships, Facebook
5:00 PM  –  5:30 PM
Practical tips to immediately apply to your business
5:30 PM  –  7:00 PM
Drinks & Networking Reception

Are You Attending?

So will I be seeing you there this year? Let me know in the comments box below.

The Top 8 Pitfalls of Using 3rd Party Software To Manage Your Business

“I thought using 3rd party software to automate my online business was one of the best decisions I ever made?”

I asked myself this question back in November last year, since then certain events have happened and  I strongly feel that adding software to manage repetitive parts of an on-line business is a sensible move.

This is to the point that it doesn’t matter which tools you use, as long as they’re automated and take less work than processing the tasks manually would take is a good thing. However, sometimes the pitfalls are overlooked and in this article I delve into these.

Setting the Scenerio

Let’s make a fictitious company called “Widgets Ltd”.

This company started from one person and as the business model was proved, several members of staff were added and a team formed.

Widgets Ltd sells on multiple channels, they started with eBay, dabbled with Amazon and also have their own website, they also have a trade site and a trade counter with a simple till, with no real stock control over any of the platforms.

Approximately a year into the business, multi channel software was employed and while this took a few weeks to employ & for the staff to get up to speed, due to the forced efficiencies of the software, better stock control & they looked at Amazon more seriously, sales grew within a few months, compounded by a seasonal period, sales figures rose to levels they’ve only dreamt about and everything looks rosy.

Pitfalls, What Pitfalls?

On first glance, Widgets Ltd has done really well, mainly because they got past the one person stage and had a business model that worked at small scale, with efficiencies through the use of software,  the business was able to amplify the model worked and allowed them to add the important factor scale and grew.

As I suggested, everything looked rosy. More & more money going through the business, everyone looking busy, feedback rocketing & receiving some real kudos from their family, suppliers & friends.

To quickly clarify, automation especially when it comes to labour intensive tasks is a generally a “good thing”. By automating these tasks, it can allow the business owner(s) to work on their business and not always in it. Purely because of this, this is why most 3rd party tools are a positive to their business, to a point that is, which I’m making in this article.

The moment you add software to automate a process, you become removed from it and this is the stem of majority of the issues that 3rd party software creates.

However, I’m going to take the most basic of examples, probably the most highly desired automated process of them all, leaving feedback on marketplaces such as eBay.

Can you remember when you first started on eBay? You probably bought a few items and gained some feedback, you then started selling a few items and leaving feedback was a personalised affair, tailored to each customer, you were leaving them manually and keeping a keen eye on what buyers were telling you.

After all the rest of the selling process was probably all manual as well and you knew everything about the products, listings, questions, orders, customers etc… However the second you automate one of these processes, you become removed and tend to focus on the visually detrimental parts, such as neutral, negative feedback & DSR scores and forget about the positive comments that may hold the key to moving forwards with the business.

And that’s why it’s quite easy to identify the pitfalls, because the dangers are all around the business when automation is employed and this is what I have dedicated the rest of this article to.

The Eight Common Pitfalls

There are way more than just eight of them, however, these are the common occurrences.

  1. Not at ground level any more
    As I suggested in the simplest of examples above, when you automate processes, you can easily become removed from the ground level and only focus on the bad points, rather than the good points that become overshadowed. This happens throughout the business, as the decision makers become further removed the ground.
  2. Mistaking marketplace growth for business growth
    Focusing on eBay & Amazon, these sites have seen double digit growths over the years, however eBay has slowed down & Amazon has picked up pace (on a global scale), however we’re not seeing huge growths with eBay anymore and it can be misleading to assume that the 5-25% growth in your business has been to the effects that your actions have had, rather that the marketplaces have grown by these numbers and you’re riding the wave.
    Note: This is discussed in detail in two articles called The eBay “Best Match” Position Bias Modifier Hypothesis and Why do eBay Sales Stay Consistent?
  3. Unable to identify trends effectively
    This goes back to the ground level view again, when the business in the example above Widgets Ltd was only one or a few people, it was easy to identify which products were moving and which ones we not, because the staff knew them intimately. However as the owners moved up the ranks, they became further & further removed from the front lines and if the software that they’re using is able to report on data their business is generating, then can lead to the business hitting a plateau and no-one knowing why and in the next one the most lethal of them all is covered.
  4. Happy with the businesses performance
    Some business models have a natural plateau point in them due to the factors that make the business up and while adding automation to a business can remove most of the softer walls to a business to progressing, if we combine a spike of growth over a few months and the owners becoming complacent, the business becomes ‘happy’ with the current results and doesn’t take a serious look on how to expand further.
  5. Unhappy with the businesses performance
    And a complete inverse of the above is that the business owners may mistake the automation of their systems and growth of their business as a huge demand for their offerings, when in fact the automation part, just allowed them to work more effectively, focused on a few key issues like stock control, sourcing, customer service and order management, but continuously expect the same amount of growth of the business that the employment of automation first provided.
    I have one question for this, do you define success as a business that lasts 10 years with ever decreasing profitability or a business that lasts 10 years and keeps a competitive advantage and a decent profitability? Maybe both are right, but which one do you automatically get pulled towards?
  6. Unsupported or time lag to new features
    When working with multiple marketplaces, things are bound to move. This is especially true of eBay you release updates every few months, some of which can completely alter the way that the marketplace works, such as best match did or the introduction of multi-variations (see earlier article here for examples), the same goes for updates to other platforms & software products, take a courier integration, they shelve the older version and you’re forced to the new version.
    Now imagine that your current software provider, that was previously automating the courier process is unable to support the changes for 2-3 weeks. That’s a scary thought & while I’ve never experienced a courier software change that inflicted weeks of failure in automation, it can happen and crucially does happen.
  7. Owners are not always good managers
    Before you draw insult from this, I am the first to admit that I am not a very good manager. People that are brilliant technicians rarely make brilliant managers. While they are outstanding at ground level, maybe creating code or graphic design, they can lack core skills to be able to manage people & businesses effectively. Employing automation can blur this, but without a core understanding of the processes required to scale or adding members to the team that can manage such roles, then this as I know all too well, can cause issues.
  8. Tell others about their automation tools
    I’ve personally seen this a few times now, where business owners have seen obscene growths in turnover have spilled their tools to others (either knowing or unknowingly) and competitors and even suppliers have jumped in too and taken the advantages the automation provides.
    While I’m not going to name examples of the latter, I can note here that one of the first tasks I made when using MarketWorks (a tool to automate eBay processes), the first task that I took was putting a layer on top of the MarketWorks logo that was automatically inserted in the listings, so that competitors could not readily work out which tool I was using.


While the above was not exhaustive and that 3rd party software products can provide huge benefits to businesses through automation, there are downsides to using them.

Some are obvious, such as competitors or even suppliers picking up that the business is using certain tools to manage their business and then using them to compete more fairly with the business, while others less succinct issues like the owners not being competent managers, or time lags in changes to marketplaces or being unable to trend their business can all impact a businesses effectiveness.

Image Source

ChannelAdvisor Powers 25% of eBay UK Fashion Outlets

I’m working on an article relating to competitive advantage for businesses through software usage and I’ve just stopped to share with an interesting observation.

Using the official eBay Outlets list here,  it turns out that 8 of the 31 listed are powered by ChannelAdvisor, that’s a clear 25% (and not the result I expected).

Here is the run down of service providers for backend processing in these accounts:

eBay UK OutletsSoftware Providers
2Branch 309Own API Integration
4Baron JonUnknown 3rd Party
5Blue InceSellerPro
8Ed HardyUnknown 3rd Party
10FigleavesUnknown 3rd Party
11House of FraserChannelAdvisor
12JigsawUnknown 3rd Party
13Joe Browns ClearanceChannelAdvisor
14Karen MillenUnknown/None
18Littlewoods ClearanceChannelAdvisor
19La RedouteUnknown/None
20M and M DirectUnknown/None
22Pied a TerreDocdata
23Roman OriginalsUnknown
25SchuhOwn API Integration
26SoletraderUnknown 3rd Party
27Sports Direct OutletRedstar
29Savile RowChannelAdvisor
30Ted’s ShedUnknown/None
31Very ClearanceChannelAdvisor


  • These maybe inaccurate and are my conclusions from interrogating the listing data of live listings.
  • “Unknown 3rd Party” there is a common provider to these.

ChannelAdvisor Amazon 360 What this Could Mean for the Future

Two weeks ago I was kindly given a walk around the new Amazon 360 as part of the Autumn Release which also included upgrades and comparison shopping merchandiser from ChannelAdvisor.

What struck me the most was what ChannelAdvisor has been and created, could be the foundation parts of a much larger offering which I’ll cover in this article. I decided that it would be easier to explain the points covered in this article in a discussion video and have included this above.

ChannelAdvisor Amazon360

What is Amazon 360?

This is a great question as the Amazon 360 feature includes the follow new elements:

  • Improved seller dashboard
    Displays key information on your Amazon sales, top-performing products, orders pending shipment, and product listing status
  • Amazon seller metrics
    Highlights important seller metrics monitored by Amazon integral in your seller status
  • Detailed feedback
    Imports all negative feedback notes for quick response
  • Product performance view
    Covers seller performance down to individual SKU details
  • Competitive landscape view
    Shows a compact view of your major competitors on Amazon by SKU
  • Rule-based price adjustments
    Configures rules based on margin to automatically change product price

Basically it’s the combination of multiple elements from Amazon, into a single dashboard to empower merchants to have the information that they need know, instantly available to them.

How Do I View Amazon & Why is this Important?

I always refer to Amazon as a person, this “person” has several key attributes and requirements from 3rd party merchants, these are:

  • Have the highest regards for their customers
  • Expects the best possible pricing for their customers
  • Will not be mucked around by merchants that poor results to their customers
  • Is looking for and at the long term relationship
  • Expects that ALL customer queries are answered ASAP
  • Does not tolerate disgruntled customers for whatever reason
  • Doesn’t like competitors (amongst other things)

If Amazon had a gender, it would be a woman.

Firm, but fair and you’d never cross her (ever).

That’s why (to me) a dashboard system like Amazon 360 is so critical. You need to know this information and if you don’t then that’s asking for trouble.

What Could this Mean?

This is curious as it became glaring apparent that what ChannelAdvisor has done is bring in the core information that sole merchant needs to survive on the marketplace, but has also opened the potential for providing key information to a business that has multiple employee levels.

For this example, we’ll assume that we have three people in company XYZ, their roles are:

  • Company Director
    Dave runs the entire business and manages both staffs and provides the direction for the company.
  • eCommerce Manager
    Ian, is Dave’s “man on the ground”. Ian is responsible for ensuring that all the channels are working effectively and efficiently
  • Miss Fix-it
    Zoe, she’s the do-er. Give her an issue and she’ll fix it. When Ian has an issue, Zoe resolves the issues for him.

Now can you realise that each of these people have different business roles to perform. Dave needs to information to help guide his company direction, Ian needs detailed information to identify where attention is needed and Zoe needs to the information & tools to action Ian’s requests.

What we can see in Amazon360 that this is on-the-way to being able to provide these differing requirements to different business roles. Not only can you see the account status, but also identify issues such as products, account status and feedback, but also identify products that require further attention, whether that be to focus upon pricing, data or to look at bringing in adjacent lines to complement the lines that are performing.

An Open Suggestion

Also digging deeper down this rabbit hole [think Alice in Wonderland], let’s think beyond what we can see from the screenshot above. ChannelAdvisor now “has” access to the information that each of these key business roles need to operate effectively.

An open suggestion to ChannelAdvisor is not stop where they are right now, but to introduce a multi-tiered dashboard that can be tailored to each role function and also to not stop at just Amazon, but include company-wide information. Combine all the channels together, but also tailor the information to specific business roles.

Take Zoe in our example above, she does not need to know how well the channels are performing, she needs to know what needs her urgent attention to solve issues. Now!

Ian as the eCommerce manager, needs to know how each channel is performing and also as a group, to identify where the staff should focus their attention and to focus his time upon expanding the business.

Where as Dave needs to know where the business is heading, not only individually on a per-channel basis, but company wide and help steer the direction or follow the direction its following as needed.


Firstly, nice work!

This was the first time I have seen a 3rd party solution provider incorporate this information into their solution and not only is it fabulous to see, its also exceptionally exciting what could be done with this information, when you look at the larger picture and realise the ramifications of combining data & metrics together.