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30 Seconds of Silence as the Penny Dropped

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

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

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

Read on and you’ll find out why.

 

Typical Business As Usual?

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

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

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

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

Curiosity

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

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

The conversation went something like this:

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

Mohammed: “So what does that mean exactly?”

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

Mohammed: “Yes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammed: “What no commissions?”

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

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

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

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

Mohammed: “Got it”

Silence

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

It must have only been 30 seconds or so.

But it felt like hours.

Finally

Dave finally asked, “did you find it?”

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

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

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

The Pieces are Almost a Picture

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

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

And on that note.

Say Hello to the 3rd Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come over & say hello to the 3rd Generation.

And we’ll see you there.

Matt & Dave

What is Order Aggregation & How Can it Help Your Business?

Aggregating orders from multiples sales channels is one of the main features in 3rd party software, but what are the benefits of doing this and how can it help your business?

I delve deeply into order aggregation in this article and explain how this can help your business tackle multiple sales channels and still leave you with (some) hair.

I’ve also included a video accompany this article and I would value any feedback you have in relation to the aggregation of orders from multiple sales channels, maybe this is something you take for granted through your current provider or maybe it’s something you’re pulling your hair out with right now. Let me know in the comments box at the bottom, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Order Aggregation Video Overview

What is Order Aggregation?

This is a process that collects orders from more than one source and aggregates them into a single location, this could be into your own system or that of a 3rd party.

Simply put, while you may be able to manage one, even two sales channels and even possibly three with a low velocity of sales and/or inventory, the moment you try to scale the business or add any increase in sales or inventory you’re going to run into a brick wall.

Order aggregation at any level of complexity can help you and your business deal with sales orders from one or more sales channels in a structured manner.

Winding Back to the Order Life Cycle

Let’s consider the typical life cycle of an order before we dig any deeper into this subject. We make one or more products available on one or more sales channels for customers to buy, this could be eBay, Amazon, your website(s) and maybe even a trade counter or retail store or may be many stores.

A customer commits to purchase one or more items and an order is formed. We may take payment straight away (cash over the counter or electronically) or the payment could be delayed (think eBay here) and some common details are taken and we then need to process the order.

For orders taken over the counter in a store or trade counter are orders that require little packaging in most instances, however for orders that need to be fulfilled by a delivery process you will likely need to create any documentation to pick & pack the line items and then possibly bespoke courier labels to prepare the order for despatch.

Once the order has been despatched, then typically with most online order sources, we need to update the channel source with common details, such marking the order as despatched and some other luxury data, such as the method, time of despatch and tracking details. We may also desire to email the customer to let them know that their order has been processed and despatched.

In the background, for the line items on the order, we need to keep track of their quantities, which is super important when dealing with multiple sales channels, so we can notify the other sales channels of stock updates or maybe to identify that the stock level for one or more products has fallen below a set level and a re-ordering process needs to be triggered.

Typically when you first started your business with one of the online channels, keeping just one channel up to date is relatively straight forwards for low volumes of orders, however as soon as we mix in multiple sales channels, a high velocity of orders and/or large inventory base, keeping everything in-tow can be an impossible task to complete manually.

Locating software that can solve all or part of this process can be hugely beneficial to the efficiency of the business, resulting in costs savings and sanity of the staff & business owners. It’s these benefits that I delve into for the rest of the article.

Benefits of Order Aggregation

Even if we just had two eBay accounts, logging out of one account and then into the other is cumbersome and time-consuming, as we’re duplicating the effort placed to process orders. It’s amplified when we have many order sources, in some cases to the point it would be almost impossible to do so.

Single Interface to All Orders

If we imagine that you have several order sources, these could be two eBay accounts, Amazon Seller Central or Marketplace, two websites and the desire to take manual orders in a retail or trade store aggregating the orders together for unified processing can by hugely beneficial and even if you have just one sales channel.

However, if we mix in the other features of the software providers offer, making use of a single orders screen can be an added feature to gain efficiency.

Customer Services

By bringing in orders from two or more sources into a single location can be hugely beneficial. Not only for ease of processing orders in mass, but also as a single reference point for all processes relating to orders, thus lowering the time spent by customer services in resolving order-related issues.

Some applications also include the ability to process payments & refunds from the orders screen. besides the obvious of not having to jump to a different system to conduct such an action(s), a by-product is that you are easily able to administer this and keep a history of the transactions have been made (such as who, when, why and for what amount in a refund).

Platform Specific Functions & Marketplace Integrations

If the order system that you use also has direct integrations back to the order sources, such as eBay, Amazon or Magento, then payment processing issues can be tackled from a single interface. For example if we need to check a PayPal payment or to make a refund, instead of giving all the members of staff the login details, it can be controlled in the orders system so that this is no longer needed and depending upon the system used, an audit history can be maintained for referencing later if needed.

If we pick on eBay for a few moments (as this marketplace certainly has some platform specific functions!), just because we received an order, this doesn’t mean we were actually paid for the order.

eBay have the disputes process that is unique to eBay and when processing large amounts of orders, the amount of unpaid orders can become a concern to your business (turning on immediate payments doesn’t suit all businesses). Some software applications allow the automatic processing of disputes back to eBay, so that stock  that isn’t going to be paid for, can be released with the minimum amount of effort of you or your staff and with minimal time lag. So that the order can either be committed to that customer (after payment) or released back onto the sales channels for resale.

Amazon is not without its quirks, specifically around the fact that unless you mark an order as shipped you don’t have the funds released for that order. So being able to mark multiple orders as despatched from multiple locations and then the system going back to update the different sales channels to confirm they’ve been shipped can not only keep customer service communications down to a minimum (especially if you include the despatch method, time and tracking information), but to also to get paid for those orders.

Amazon also keep track on how quickly you despatch orders, remember Amazon only cares about ITS customers, then if you consistently ensure that your orders are processed ASAP for this channel and keep within their allowed levels (and far higher than these are strongly suggested) then you will ultimately benefit from a stronger relationship from them.

Here are some examples of what such an integrations could offer you:

  • Leaving feedback when orders are shipped
  • eBay dispute integration for unpaid orders
  • Marking orders as shipped when marked as shipped in the orders screen. In the case of Amazon this means getting paid for the order.
  • Updating the sales channels with the despatch method and tracking number, so the customer can see these details within their marketplace account

Business Rules

A by-product of being able to collect the orders from multiple channels is that you are able to process business rules on the orders. You might become confused here with these, this is not as simple as matching the delivery method chosen by the customer to the right order, that’s just matching, I’m talking about business rules and I’ll explain these now.

Business rules might be as simple as if an order arrives and is over 2Kg, then a courier should be used as the despatch method. Maybe if an order has an order value over £30 and as such its deemed by the business that it would be safer to send via a courier or a recorded method of delivery. Not just the shipping method that the customer chose at the time of checkout.

Also couriers are renowned for having exceptions to their services and typically there is either a delay in posting to certain locations or an extra charge. By applying a business rule (or several) to your orders, you could create an exceptions list of postcodes and select a different despatch option.

An excellent example of this is Northern Ireland, almost all couriers charge a premium for delivery to this location. Lets say we receive an order from Amazon and there is two line items and normally these would be sent via a courier, however because the courier wants $10 more to this location, using a service such as Royal Mail tracked would be more suitable. Its still relatively quick and it’s a traceable method, but works out cheaper than the main courier and has the attributes not found with normal Royal mail offerings.

Here are some of the attributes of orders that you may want to apply business rules to when processing them:

  • Order Source
  • Shipping service selected by the customer
  • The value of the shipping selected by the customer
  • Order value
  • Weight
  • Quantity
  • The destination of the order (postcode/zipcode, state, region and/or country)

Unified Processing & Documentation (Including Email Notifications)

Integrated Label ExampleAnother benefit of aggregating orders is that all the orders can be processed in the same process, so that could be the same (or similar) despatch documents, thus saving an array of custom documents to each order source and standardising the entire pick, pack and despatch process.

Obviously I’m guessing that you would desire customisation to the despatch documents, as if we have one part of our business branded in a certain fashion and another part to another, ensuring that the documentation is either universal or customised to the sale source would highly beneficial.

Depending upon the software being used, some allow you to fully customise each document, this could be the picking slip, shipping document and invoices. These documents could also be depending on the shipping method set by the business rules be customised paper stock, for example if the order has been allocated to Royal Mail 1st or 2nd class, then the document printed could include the PPI label, so  there is no need to stamp or add a stock for this.

The paper stock could also include an integrated label, so that once the contents of the order have been checked, you peel off the label, pop it on the front of the package and then spike the sheet or pop the rest of the sheet into the package itself for the customers reference.

Going beyond the paper documents, we must not forget email notifications. It’s quite possible to include a PDF version of the invoice for the order in the order despatched email and also for the email notifications to be tailored to each business identity and order source. Of course if you have the courier details from a courier integration to the orders aggregation software, then including the tracking information (and ideally links to track the order) could be a huge win for your business.

Despatch Process

If you can imagine that you have your orders in a single place of reference and have control over the documentation and business rules being applied to your orders, then we shouldn’t forget the ability to find a process of despatching orders that works well for your business.

Some businesses have really simple despatch processes, this could be a single document that fulfils multiple roles, such as invoice, picking slip and shipping list. Whereas another business may require barcode scanning of orders and products to ensure the accuracy of the despatched orders.

Whereas others may be required to enter or scan a serial number of the product being shipped in the order, for security or tracking. Having a software product where the despatch process can be altered, either globally for all orders or specific order parts can be hugely beneficial when working out a despatch process that works for you.

To add an extra dimension here, it’s not uncommon for a business to be looking at the despatch process and idealising other people’s businesses when it comes to order efficiency. The biggest eye-opener for me personally was during a visit to Expeditors in Avonmouth, Bristol.

This company specialises in warehousing and despatch of orders for 3rd party companies (amongst several other services). When I queried the team over despatch process and whether they used a unified process, the eye-opener was that for each business they worked with, they each had a tailored despatch process. Some had barcode scanning, some had picking lists for later processing and some just had a single sheet for all the despatch functions.

Stock Control

If your orders are being collected to a single location, then if we know what your stock level was before the order was received and the amount sold. We know what your true stock level is and this can be uesed to update the other sales channels where you are selling the same inventory.

This process varies from system to system, but the crux of this process is exactly the same, we know what we had to begin with, we know we have X number less and where from and where the item is being sold to, thus we know where we need to update with the latest stock level, so that we still achieve maximum market exposure of our products, but minimise the risk of overselling.

Note: See this article relating to the eSellerPro Channel Profile which is a process that does just this.

Accepting Manual Orders

One order source that we shouldn’t overlook is manual orders, these could be orders taken over the phone or trade orders. By allowing these to enter the normal despatch process can also be a huge win. Taking an order over the phone, checking stock levels and taking payment can be a tricky task when using multiple sales channels and without this basic information to hand, it can be impossible.

By having ALL the information about your inventory in a single place and being able to process an order with this information at your (or your staff’s) finger tips can make a call with a customer into a few minutes rather than 10’s of minutes and saving awkward situations of taking an order and not actually having the stock available to fulfil the order.

External Fulfilment

Not every company fulfils their orders internally, with the process of fulfilment becoming cheaper and cheaper and whole host of specialised companies out there that are capable of dealing with both stocked and just in time despatch (ProFS and Expeditors are two good examples of these).

With such orders, you can either allow the 3rd party company access to your orders or even in some cases integrate to their EDI or API systems for automated exchanges of the order data for them to fulfil the orders for you.

How Can it Help Your Business?

Bringing orders from multiple sources to a single orders screen will give you an exceptional business advantage. You can see your orders, process them in-mass, most likely be able to integrate with couriers, expedite the time it takes to process issues in customer services, apply business rules to the orders and have a clear picture of what is happening in your business, right now.

Going to the extreme, any and I mean any! order aggregation software will help your business become more efficient.

The processes in even less ‘evolved’ applications will allow you to process your orders more effectively and apply one or more processes to your despatch process. Some applications will go much, much deeper and allow for the full customisation of the processes, documentation and integrations involved with collecting orders from multiple sources.

Your Feedback

Maybe this is something you take for granted through your current software or maybe it’s something you’re pulling your hair out with right now. Let me know in the comments box at the bottom, I’d love to hear from you.

Urgent: Dealing Amazon Pending Orders

 

Firstly apologies, I’ve know about Amazon’s pending orders for a long time now and they can be dangerous. I should have considered their impact at this time of the year earlier. I never suggest anything as ‘urgent’ that I cover here, but this is the exception…

What Are Amazon Pending Orders?

Amazon pending orders, are orders that have one or more issues with either the customer or the payment for the order. This means that there is an order that has been taken by Amazon, but not yet been made available for download and/or processing.

Taking a direct extract from the Amazon help system, pending orders are explained below:

Orders in pending status indicate an issue with the customer’s payment method. Those orders are not in a shippable status, and should not be shipped, even if the buyer contacts you directly. Pending orders will not have confirm and cancel buttons in Manage Orders, and they will not appear in either the Order Report or the Unshipped Orders Report.

Once an order is in a shippable status, the confirm and cancel buttons will appear in Manage Orders and the order will appear in both the Order Report and the Unshipped Orders Report. At that point, the order should be shipped and the shipment confirmed in Manage Orders or with a feed.

Note that Amazon assumes the risk of buyer non-payment for every order in your Unshipped Orders Reports or that has confirm and cancel buttons in Manage Orders. Of course, just as now, there may be circumstances where payment may later need to be refunded, for example when the buyer does not receive the order, or it is not as described.

Why Are Amazon Pending Orders Dangerous?

Using the Amazon help explanation of pending orders, I’ve highlighted the key points above “orders are not in a shippable status” and “will not appear in either the Order Report or the Unshipped Orders Report“. To clarify such orders are dangerous because:

  • They’re sat in a different queue
  • Stock may or may not be allocated to such orders
  • They don’t appear in the standard (or any) reports that can be exported

Pending orders are both a liability & risk to the business. Such orders can sit in this status for weeks sometimes, however at this time when there is a higher velocity of sales than normal the low risk of these turn into a serious risk.

Stock can be locked in Amazon orders and 3rd parties may not know of them, thus keeping the stock available on other channels and open the business to higher chances of overselling. The orders are not shown in the order reports and any system, whether it’s the sellers own or a 3rd party can overlook these and not account for them in the current stock levels.

The Scale of Amazon Pending Orders

Now this is curious, I checked on four Amazon Seller Central accounts this morning, roughly their account types were like this:

Average Order Value Order Velocity
Very High (over £150) Medium
Medium (below £50) High
Medium  (below £30) Medium
Very Low (below £10) High

Now my logic beforehand would have indicated that both the “very high value” and the “high order velocity” for the “very low” orders would have been the two accounts that displayed issues with pending orders.

However I was wrong, both these accounts had very few pending orders (one had 3 and the other 11). It was both medium order value accounts with moderate to high volumes of sales that had the most number of pending orders, one account had over 150 of them and the other was over 50.

However they ALL had pending orders, some were showing back to late November and the numbers differed from account to account (they’re four unrelated accounts in four different product verticals).

How Do You Locate Pending Orders?

Locating Amazon pending orders is relatively straight forwards, there are several paths and I have also included a direct link to them as well:

  • After logging in to your Seller Central account, on the right column, scroll down to the section called “Your Orders (Amazon.ext)”, under the section called “Seller Fulfilled” there is a line for pending orders and the count is a link
  • From the top menu, hover on “Orders” and select “Manage Orders”, then click on “Advanced search” and select a date range (I’d suggest 365 days for the first time) and set the “Order Status” drop down box to “Pending” and hit search
  • A direct link to the last 180 days of Amazon pending orders is here and if you want to search for less or longer change the value of the “preSelectedRange” attribute

How To Handle Pending Orders?

Firstly the good news…

3rd parties such as eSellerPro, ChannelAdvisor & Linnworks use Amazon’s newer API called MWS (Marketplace Web Services).

Why is this important? Included in the calls is the ability to locate and account for pending orders. This allows them (3rd parties) to allocate stock lines that are held in pending orders so that they’re not allocated for sale on other sales channels (like eBay or websites for example). If you’re using either of these then you have nothing to worry about.

This is of course assuming that you have setup MWS with these platforms. If there is any doubt at all, contact them immediately.

Now the bad news…

If you are using the order reports from Amazon to process your orders either manually, through a 3rd party or through AMTU (Amazon Merchant Transport Utility) then you are likely to have a potential issue.

The ability to integrate to MWS is there but requires time & a developer, this is ruled out. The same goes for integrating to any of the fore-mentioned 3rd party platforms. So you’re stuck in a limbo period.

Also this only affects merchants that either use a virtual business model or are also selling the same products on other platforms/marketplaces. If you only sell on Amazon and work in a stocked business model, then you can ignore this completely.

Dealing With Pending Orders Manually

However if your business does sell its product ranges elsewhere or uses parts of a virtual product model, then I suggest the following:

  1. Check the pending orders 2-3 times per day, once in the morning, then around lunch and once in the evening (this depends upon the velocity of your orders and the amount of pending orders you’re seeing)
  2. You can copy/paste the pending orders list to excel (it doesn’t paste that well, but its workable)
  3. Take a few minutes to highlight new pending orders that have appeared and allocate stock levels accordingly.
  4. Track orders exiting to real orders and orders that are removed

A 5th option which may or may not be an option for your business (and I suggest you do so, because of the complicated risk factors with Amazon as we need to allow as much lea-way for returns and cancelled orders post Christmas) is that you actually order the products in the pending orders and allocate them to one side.

Summary

Amazon pending orders can be tricky, especially if your business is not using the MWS API or a 3rd party that uses this to communicate with Amazon & have that part dealt with effectively.

Stock can be allocated without the ability to let other selling channels know and this opens your business to a risk of overselling and the “fun” that stems from cancelled orders.

If you’ve not read this article yet (there is a video too), I cover some core essentials on how Amazon reacts to marketplace sellers. You never cross Amazon because if it was a human, it would be a woman and she is a ………

If there is only one takeaway from this article, go check your Amazon orders right now for pending ones, be aware of them and you can do this via this link.

The 3 Ways to Increase Your Online Business Part 1: Efficiency

time-warp-spiral-clock-face

As far as I see it there are are three core ways to increase your online business, this is pretty much universal across all the marketplaces and yes, I am blatantly ignoring some of the “traditional methods” in this article.

The first of these three ‘ways’ is “efficiency” and I’m looking forward to detailing the following two in the next few days or so, but for now, lets get right into ‘efficiency’.

Efficiency

Efficiency in general describes the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose. It is often used with the specific purpose of relaying the capability of a specific application of effort to produce a specific outcome effectively with a minimum amount or quantity of waste, expense, or unnecessary effort. “Efficiency” has widely varying meanings in different disciplines. Wikipedia

This article has two spurs, the first is internal efficiency and the second is external efficiency. They are quite different and I’m looking forward to showing how they differ and what they mean for you.

Internal efficiency

What I mean by this is making the processes you use each day more efficient. This could be the implementation of software products like eSellerPro, ChannelAdvisor, Linnworks, 247TopSeller etc… What you’ll not be openly told, is that such tools add processes and normally the gains made by using such software stem from a single source, which is…

Efficient Processes!

None of these tools (yes they are tools, they are not the be-all & end-all) are not quick to learn, however if you’re migrating from one to another, then they are generally all very similar, they just have different interfaces, features and dare I say it quirks too. But the underlying factor in them all, regardless of design, is that they enforce processes onto the business and typically they are a lot more efficient than the processes the business was using before.

This might be inventory creation, unifying the data that is created, so that it can be ported across many sales channels, courier rules to match orders to the most cost/time efficient service or just simple order processing of orders from multiple channels in a single place.

The list goes on, however ultimately, these tools are designed to automate the labour intensive tasks and this is where the one of the largest gains can be made by a company, because after the initial learning curve** (see note), strict (ish) processes are in place and the bi-product of efficiency here is time gained, which typically goes into three places:

  1. Sourcing & creation of more stock
  2. Greater focus “on” the business
  3. More leisure time (lol, I had to add this one, I’ve only seen one do this thoroughly and I envy them greatly)

** This varies greatly from not only one software product to another, but to person-to-person also. Noting that some people just fail at this stage, its typically tied to either the person not being capable (through lack of applicable skills) or through their unwillingness to let-go of certain tasks.

Outside of “software products” that add obvious efficiency gains, focusing on the processes that are used to do the following, all allow extra efficiency to the business

  1. Sourcing stock & supplier relationships
  2. Managing accounting
  3. Managing staff (internal and external)
  4. Create new, better products (and/or inventory data, if not a manufacturer)
  5. And so on…

Internal Efficiency Summary

Internal efficiency is everything that happens inside the business, this could be the use of software “tools”, that typically give the biggest gains or becoming more efficient with accounting, so that the funds that are in the company move quicker (or slower) or even developing better relationships with your suppliers to then leverage a greater buying power outside of pure monetary forms.

External Efficiency

To define what I mean here by “External Efficiency”, this is everything that happens on sale producing platforms and not internally related (such as accounting or sales order processes). I know these are directly linked, but if you simply think of the internal efficiency as everything you do in your offices and the external efficiency as everything your customer sees.

As the majority of readers here are focused on three areas eBay, Amazon and Website commerce, I’ll keep to these three areas.

eBay.com LogoeBay Efficiency

Starting with eBay, I am implying that gains can be made through more efficient listing practices & styles. This could mean using more item specifics data, reworking your listing titles, especially if you consider that the titles on eBay are going from 55 chars to 80 chars soon, why not rework your current titles now, but also rework them so that you add-in the extra characters later, when the longer listing titles have been launched.

Note: I’m thinking reworking listing titles now using market research, but also keeping track of the current title in excel, the new title (to be changed now) and a longer title that is ~80 chars long, all with the custom title, so that they can be updated through the said third party software, or if you are not using these, then something like eBay File Exchange to update them en-mass later.

Adding of cross-selling modules to listings, better product images, reworking item descriptions that you know are poor or have caused numerous questions and so on…

I could (but I’m not going to) go on a bender here with regards to eBay, however, let me pose you this question and leave you to make your own decisions:

If you were starting from scratch and could change anything you wanted about your current eBay set-up, what would you change?

Now change them.

Amazon Efficiency

Focusing on the external side to Amazon, when was the last time that you looked to see if there were any duplicates of your products on Amazon and listed against those as well?

While Amazon is supposed to have a single record for a single product, with so many merchants creating inventory on Amazon, you’re bound to find duplicates across your product range and you could leverage these to gain extra sales and sometimes for more money too as there are less competitors with these records.

This is just one area of many that can be employed with Amazon, the other two note-worthy tasks in relation to Amazon is to increase your exposure across the other Amazon sites, as Amazon have recently enabled UK accounts to sell across Europe and the second is FBA.

Have you looked at Fulfilment By Amazon yet?

If not, do so now here http://services.amazon.co.uk/services/fulfilment-by-amazon/features-benefits/ oh and this tool is well hidden, I only found it a few days back, here is Amazon’s FBA calculator! https://sellercentral.amazon.co.uk/gp/fbacalc/fba-calculator.html

Website Efficiency

Perhaps the biggest opportunity, yet the biggest challenge for online businesses. With eBay & Amazon, the marketing fees (yes eBay and Amazon fees are MARKETING FEES, not a fee for being party of a community and drooling over feedback counts), its hard for merchants to comprehend that they need to spent more on the promotion of their website than they do with either of these channels.

Its a common complaint, that they[merchants] do really well with regards to the other two channels but fail completely when it comes to their website channels. If you’re focusing 99.9% of your time & resources on eBay & Amazon, its no wonder that they account for 99.9% of your sales. What would happen if you flipped this on its head, do you think you’d make a pretty hefty dent in the 99.9%?

I’m over a thousand words at this point, so if you’ve got this far you’re doing great. This topic deserves hundreds of thousands, but I’m going to cut it short to stay on topic and detail a few ideas you could focus upon to make your website more “efficient”.

  1. Look at page load times
  2. Improve categorisation
  3. Add better category descriptions
  4. Create backlinks in forums
  5. Create a email marketing campaign
  6. Create a blog
  7. Do some article marketing
  8. Add tracking counters (or set events/funnels) for critical pages, such as home, category, item detail, add to cart events, cart, checkout stages and the cart final page. So you can measure them and then make changes to improve them and have quantifiable data to measure the impact.
  9. Try some simple A/B testing using www.google.com/websiteoptimizer
  10. Set up a Google Adwords campaign, if you already have done so when was the last time you looked at the ad groups or where you were gaining links from, could you create some targeted backlinks on the content sites that are delivering click through’s?

Efficiency Summary

While both mutually dependent & a little tricky to get-ones-head-around to begin with, internal efficiency is everything that happens in the background and external efficiency is everything that the customer sees. In both cases there will need to be efforts made to improve efficiency, some will be simple and quick to do, while others are much longer term.

Reading

I’m inclined to include two books for some light reading here (both aff links) and the full list of my reading materials can be found in my library:

  1. 4 Hour Work Week
    The first is the 4 Hour Work week by Timothy Ferris whom takes the concept of efficiency and smashes it to pieces (also introduces you to a concept of dreamlining, but that is quite a shocker and you need to read the book to at least comprehend this, its why I sat in the sun all day yesterday with the kids & friends enjoying a picnic)
  2. e-Myth Revisited
    The second is another personal favourite, E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Sarah and ‘All About Pies’, I can vividly imagine the manager of the hotel taking the file off his shelf and showing him the processes, the walk from the reception to the restaurant & the orchard.The last chapter is rubbish compared to the rest of the book, but if you need (and I’m guessing you do, because I did) a easy step into the franchise model, even if you have no intention to ever franchise your business, this is a fantastic starting point. Oh and when you’ve read the book, I have the managers hat on currently, whom is whipping my technician in to writing this article.

This concludes this section of a three part article on “The 3 Ways to Increase Your Online Business”. The next two… I’ll release in the next few days, but for now, did you find this useful?