Firstly let’s quickly identify whom this article aimed at and why on earth you should even consider reading the rest of this article.
I’ve personally spent over four years at 3rd party software providers working with businesses that have got themselves into operational & data issues that could have been avoided when it comes to marketplaces such as eBay & Amazon.
Some businesses have had no tool prior to moving into them and some have done but have made fatal mistakes along the way. Such mistakes have cost them untold amounts of wasted resources. This article is is aimed at helping you identify such issues as early on in the process as possible and to help you understand that data is the lifeblood of an eCommerce business.
New Businesses / Proof of Concept
This article is aimed at a brand new business that has just started exploiting the marketplaces for the first time, after all you need to have proof that the channels work and you need to start from somewhere.
Manual processes at this stage are a “good thing”, there is so much to be learned and as such the ‘manual’ entry experience is absolutely required, so that the people in the business understand the requirement for a tool as soon as possible and that they’re able to scale their operation.
Take the points on board now regarding data and look to the future of your business.
Businesses that have proven the marketplaces work for them.
This article is also aimed at businesses that have already proved that the marketplace channels are viable for them and are paying attention to them each day to manually load on products to the channels and most importantly processing orders from them too.
There is one exception to this, this is a business that has carried out substantial intelligence on the marketplaces and needs to leapfrog the basics and move straight to a large scale model as quickly as possible. If this is the case for your business, then you need to know how valuable data is and why you should retain it when it comes to the popular marketplaces.
As Your Business Grows
As the business grows bigger and bigger, normally by working (harder) on achieving one or all of these factors:
- More inventory
- Better priced inventory
- More staff within the team
- Adding more sales channels
- Higher quality descriptions
- Better order management
- Lower operational costs
- More profit
The cracks within the starting phase start to show very quickly, some identify this early on, some never identify it at all. Some unknowingly start to tackle this issue, but don’t actually realise why.
These could be through micro-management of staff & processes, after all most small businesses are rarely started & run by highly experienced managers, but by normal people and haven’t had the training or experience in dealing with such issues and I know personally that when I ran my own business, this is a trap that I got myself stuck in (and one that I’ve done my darn hardest to help others realise).
Putting internal management part aside and the other points above, what a small business owner(s) rarely tend to recognise is that “data” is one of core the reasons why they’re able to operate a business at all.
Data in a Business is Like Blood in a Human
Without blood, we’re pretty much screwed. The same as data within a business. Data is the lifeblood of the business.
This also ports to non-eCommerce businesses too, however is amplified by the very nature of the “e” part in eCommerce.
This article is entirely aimed at helping you understand that when you’re processing your orders in say eBay’s Selling Manager Pro, loading inventory to Amazon via spreadsheets or Seller Desktop, you are dealing with data. Your businesses data.
So when you’re ticking the boxes to print the orders out in SMP, using the sell your item form on eBay or adding items manually into Amazon using the add a product link. You are working with data, data that you should have absolute control over. It is after all the blood of the business.
Also the data that you are creating is exceptionally valuable to the business, the most obvious data is inventory data, however the not so obvious is the order data, that provides a unique history and insight to what the business has done.
So the moment you manually add inventory data into a marketplace like eBay or Amazon or process one or more orders in their web interfaces, you are potentially giving away the largest asset of the business to a process that you do not fully control or own and in the case of Amazon, you cannot get that data back out easily either.
An Example of Bad Data – Amazon
Let’s take Amazon as an example. It’s not unheard of for a business to have spent hundreds of hours loading thousand upon thousand of inventory records onto Amazon manually. And of course, this most likely had some huge positive effect to the business, namely orders & profit.
However what has been happening is that the business has been building Amazon a superb product database, that the business no longer has ready access to. You’re unable (either easily and certainly not officially) to export the product data that was originally created. While at the same time, Amazon are using that data to market not only your businesses data more effectively to more customers, but to other businesses too.
If you are manually creating products on Amazon using the web interface, stop immediately.
(More on this later in this article)
An Example of Bad Data – eBay
The data requirements of eBay are huge. Lets taking the clothing categories for example. In recent updates the pressure to include attribute data as part of the listing process has become mandatory (along with many other categories too).
This compared to Amazon has positive effects, eBay are then able to leverage this data and then allow customers to drill down on their searches and ultimately makes a better buying experience and ultimately more sales for the business.
However, those attributes are now locked into eBay’s platform and getting them out again is painful and will cause a massive mop-up job of cleaning the junk out to make it “portable” later.
If you are manually creating products on eBay using the web interface, stop immediately.
(More on this later in this article)
Ironically in both examples it’s your data. Once it’s been entered into the said platforms, getting it out again in a format that is reusable is in some cases just not possible.
I’ve only ever worked with one company that elected to completely ditch all their product data to start again afresh. What they did make of it a second time around with a structured approach was truly amazing, but out of the hundreds of businesses I’ve worked with, this was the exception, rather than the rule.
What is more common is for businesses to try and do is to extract their product data and bring it into a 3rd party tool. In doing so (as I mentioned above) causes an absolute mess to try and sort out. The descriptions that come back from eBay are the full descriptions, so the data held within them is difficult to impossible to extract. Item specifics can be lost completely and any attribute data that formed variations can also be lost too.
In a recent conversation, it was mentioned that a business had tried using an import tool from a 3rd party software provider and the mess that was left over, not only went wrong multiple times, but was in such a state they were forced into abandoning it completely.
This is exactly the situation that you should avoid.
Step in the Saviours
It does not matter what software tool you use and this could of course be a combination of tools. The critical factor is that you have access to both the inventory data and sales data externally, outside of the marketplaces themselves.
To spell it out very clearly:
The moment you suspect the business is going to work long term, employ 3rd party software that is not created by the marketplaces as soon as possible or if it is, you can easily gain access to the original data.
Frankly I do not care what software it is and neither should you (to a point, that point normally being cost), as long as it allows you to enter the product data outside of the marketplaces and retain this data.
As far as sales orders go, having the ability to process them externally is normally a huge positive to the business, however in the case of Amazon, you are able export the sales data for current or later use, where as eBay, no real export and sales data can be lost after 45 days or so.
There are providers that can cost several thousand pounds over a year are not suited towards smaller businesses, however there are plenty of options out there and again the core criteria outside of cost, is:
- Access to the raw product data
- Access to sales data
Other requirements such as stock control, order management in the case of this article are either assumed or luxuries.
We all like free and here are two free options for both eBay & Amazon.
If we take the Amazon marketplace as an example here, if you stop entering data manually and start using the import sheets they provide for the inventory data, because you’re storing this on one of the computers you have access to, after sending it to Amazon to create the product, keep the sheets, because you can use it at a later date, either to update the records that were in the file or to transfer the data to another marketplace/sales channel.
If you’re looking for a free option for eBay, then for product data eBay’s File Exchange this covers both product creation, updates and also order data too. However can be clunky and in massive accounts, can take several hours to process requests (I tried this on an account with over 10,000 live listings, it took 5 hours even for a basic export, on a smaller scale it would be adequate though).
There are a multitude of providers that can offer superior options outside of this, they are not all SaaS models (where you pay them a commission on sales) and if your requirements are low, then community extensions to popular website open-source products can be free or very inexpensive (covering these is not a concern for this article, just that they exist).
Ultimate Goal For Your Data
However the ultimate goal in regards to your sales and inventory data is that you have access to them and you can then re-use the data. I call this “portable data”, data that you can use as you need to, where ever that may be.
Sticking with the example approach of this article:
Lets say you start a business on eBay or Amazon, you see the signs that its going to go well and do put some form of software in place to maintain control and ownership of your data, you can then grow and grow as the business dictates. You can move software providers relatively easily and if you want to add in new sales channels, such as a website or another marketplace, with a few tweaks to the data you already have access to, you can do. The other option of not doing this, is frankly nasty.
Data either product or sales related is the life blood of an eCommerce business.
It needs to be “clean“, it needs to be “yours” and it needs to be “portable“.
If you keep bashing data into marketplaces and don’t retain a copy, then you’re basically capping the potential of you and your business. And that’s something neither of us desire.