The Dirty Little Secret of Multichannel Ecommerce

October 25, 2015

10:00 am

If you’re not familiar with the term “multichannel ecommerce,” it basically means selling your products on multiple ecommerce sales “channels” simultaneously. If you’re like most Internet retailers, one of those channels will be your own web site, likely built on one of the major hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion, WooCommerce, or Magento. The other channel (or channels) will likely be one of the big ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, Rakuten, Etsy, or eBay.

There’s a simple reason to get into multichannel selling: more sales. If you’re selling your products successfully on one channel, in principle there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t be able to sell more of them on multiple channels.

There is however, one rather large turd in the punchbowl of multichannel ecommerce: inventory synchronization. If you don’t know what inventory synchronization is, imagine the following scenario:

Imagine you sell, I don’t know… French tablecloths. It’s the holiday season. You’re happy as a clam because you have your linens listed on Amazon (as well as on your own web site) just in time for the holiday buying spree, and the joint is jumpin! Sales are happenin! Bells are ringin! People are running around, picking and packing and shipping!

And then, it happens. You sell something you don’t have in stock. On Amazon. And then another thought hits you: you realize that this is not only going to make your customer very unhappy, it’s also going to hurt your Amazon seller rating… ugh.

And why did this tragedy happen? Because you thought you could synchronize your inventory manually, didn’t you? You thought: how hard can it be, really, to decrement one of my channel inventory databases manually every time I sell something on the other one? I can do that, can’t I?

No, you can’t. And why not, you ask? Because you’re a human. There are many things in this world that humans can do much, much better than machines. Inventory synchronization is not one of them.

What you need, my friend, is an inventory management system. Yeah, a cloud based inventory management system that could connect to all of your ecommerce channels and automagically decrement all of your inventory databases whenever you sell anything on any channel so you don’t sell stuff you don’t have!

Lucky for you, they exist. Examples include Stitch Labs, Ordoro, Freestyle Solutions, and Shopventory.

The way they work, at a high level, is pretty simple. Basically the inventory management system becomes your “master of stock” – the arbiter of your in-stock quantities, the gatekeeper of your goodies. When you sell a Thing on one sales channel, the inventory management system decrements the quantities of said Thing on all your other channels, thereby keeping all of your different inventory systems in sync. And the same thing happens in reverse: when you increase your stock in the inventory management system, it “pushes” the new quantities down to all of your other channels. Schweet.

And that’s not the end of the happiness. Once you have the inventory management system in place, it really becomes the center of your little ecommerce universe because it’s the one place that all of your beloved orders flow through. So it’s the ideal spot for connecting your business to shipping and postage services like ShipStation, ShippingEasy, or Shippo, and accounting services like Xero and Quickbooks Online. It also becomes the digital guardian of your most precious and sacred cipher, your sanctum sanctorum: your COGS (Cost of Goods Sold).

So the bottom line is, you should seriously consider dipping your toe in the multichannel waters. But don’t go in there unless you’re wearing your inventory management life preserver…

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I was born in the back room of a butcher shop in a coal mining town in northern France, and now I'm the owner of Occitan Imports, a fast-growing Internet retail company specializing in fine French table linens imported from Provence in southern France. I live in New Hampshire with my husband, my two beautiful children, and a German Shepherd dog and a Ragdoll cat who cannot really be left alone together (neither can the children).