International sales – newbie or seasoned pro?
The challenge of multichannel
Selling on one marketplace can be a challenge; but it’s manageable. But if you operate on multiple marketplaces (and possibly have a webstore presence too) then you’re talking about a whole different level of complexity. This kind of challenge can be extremely time consuming to manage with manual effort alone.
Today’s various marketplaces and ecommerce platforms all offer opportunities for you to grow your business. They provide different routes to market, sometimes meeting the needs of specific product types and consumers, such as Etsy. Others, like Alibaba, Rakuten and NewEgg, offer avenues into new geographical areas. Meanwhile, Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce make it easy to set up a web-store presence.
But how do you coordinate what’s happening across all of these channels?
You have two major problem areas.
Firstly, each marketplace/platform has its own way of transacting with you and handling areas like inventory, payments, order management and customer service. It’s not feasible for you to do things differently for each channel - but how can you consolidate all of this activity into a single set of manageable processes?
Secondly, these different channels don’t usually communicate with each other. This can cause particular complications when it comes to managing stock levels: your latest sale on eBay, for example, may have used up the last of your stock of a particular product – but Amazon, not being aware of this, continues to show stock available. Having to tell a customer they can’t have an item after they’ve ordered it or having to delay delivery doesn’t make for a good customer experience.
And the more channels you use, the more onerous the process to make changes to your products – to the listing, images or price. ‘Do once – change all’ is not normally an option. You may have to make the changes manually on each channel – and if you’re making lots of changes, that uses up a huge amount of your time.
Something else you can’t forget is that the higher the level of human intervention for routine tasks, the greater the risk of error - and mistakes can be costly on an online marketplace.
Trying to manage a multichannel business without automation tools is a drain on your time and resources that can distract you from focussing on the more strategic aspects of running your business.
But, if you’ve not automated your online business yet – where do you start?
Key areas for automation
The Web Retailer directory includes the following three areas as prime candidates for multichannel management automation:
These standalone solutions sit at the core of your business, covering the most important activities: inventory, sales and shipping. They can connect to marketplaces, web-stores and suppliers.
Inventory and channel management
The Web Retailer directory lists the suppliers of these solutions, and summarises the features typically included:
- Managing inventory data, including detailed product information.
- Listing to multiple channels and keeping data in sync between them.
- Receiving order data from sales channels and managing shipping.
- Monitoring inventory levels and generating purchase orders for suppliers.
- Reporting and analytics on sales, profits, inventory etc.
- Marketing, including channel promotions, email marketing and repricing.
Inventory and channel management solutions offer a good starting point for multichannel sellers – but if you already use an ecommerce platform (such as Magento or Prestashop) for inventory, order management and shipping, you may not wish to replace that facility.
Web Store Connectors
Web store connectors can instead be used to extend the core inventory management features of ecommerce platforms into complete multichannel management systems, by adding a plugin or app.
A number of web-store connectors are listed in the Web Retailer directory.
Web Retailer cautions, however, that while the use of web store connectors works well for some businesses, the end solution may not meet all of your needs because the core ecommerce platform itself has not been designed as a hub for multichannel selling - unlike inventory and channel management systems which have been built with that aim in mind.
When it comes to inventory, you want to be able to predict the right amount of product you need to fulfil future sales without going out-of-stock - while at the same time not tying up funds and warehouse space with unsold stock. It’s quite a balancing act.
You may already be doing your sales forecasts in Excel – and even building in seasonal adjustments, promotional demands and supplier lead times. This approach is all well and good for a small product range, but for a bigger product catalogue, selling across multiple channels, automated tools can really simplify the task.
True inventory optimisation software is highly complex, relying on the use of statistics and algorithms to predict future stock requirements. They also tend to be aimed at larger retail organisations.
WebRetailer points out, however, that some restocking tools for SMEs are beginning to emerge. It cites the growing number of Amazon-focused restocking tools, such as Forecastly, Inventory Planner, Teikametrics’ FBA Restocking Optimization and RestockPro. Some of these tools also include additional features such as repricing, product selection and the management of shipments into FBA.
According to WebRetailer, the latter tools tend to take a very different approach to sales forecasting than inventory optimisation software: Amazon-only tools are typically rule-based, using sales velocity, lead times and perhaps seasonal differences to calculate reorder quantities; general forecasting tools tend to be algorithmic data crunchers that use statistical techniques to generate their results.
Details of these solutions can be found in the Restocking category of the WebRetailer directory.
As well as managing inventories, you also have to consider how you handle your overseas payments and earnings. It can be hard to accurately forecast your cash flow when your sales revenue is spread out in several different currencies.
Automate Payments with new Currencies Direct for Sellers app
This also makes it difficult to manage your inventory - fluctuating exchange rates could drastically change the amount of funds you need to pay suppliers or the amount you receive when repatriating earnings.
The Currencies Direct for Sellers app simplifies the entire foreign exchange process. With quick and convenient on-the-go access, you can make international payments you’re your currency accounts and get instant visibility of your balances in different currencies, in seconds.
This gives sellers the opportunity to be more proactive about their cash management than ever before - react to market movements as and when they happen, spot potential cash flow problems early, and make more accurate business forecasts.
The star feature of the new app is the AutoWithdraw capability, which allows you to automate the withdrawal of funds, get quicker access to capital, and fuel business growth.
Currencies Direct for Sellers is available to download now from the Apple App store or Google Play.
Think growth; think automation
Automation removes the risk of you failing to have enough time and energy to focus on the really important aspects of your business and is essential if you want to achieve continued growth on a global scale. Take the time to look into your options now if you want to reap the rewards in the future.