Problems to look out for in the multichannel inventory management space
Just like diversifying your portfolio investments helps you make the most of your money, selling on multiple marketplaces does the same thing for your e-commerce business. However, there are a number of multichannel inventory management problems to look out for when scaling a business this way.
When I started my e-commerce business Think Crucial, back in 2009, we relied on a single channel. That limits your potential revenue and puts a lot of pressure on that single asset. Today, we sell products on over 15 different channels, which certainly requires a unified inventory system and more to make sure that we exercise best practices like having enough safety stock, monitoring inventory levels and customer demand, and tracking inventory costs. A strong multi channel strategy protects profitability when things go wrong, like when Amazon suspended my account for over a day.
Going multi-channel means that we can reach more people, make more money and keep buyers happy. With today's fluid tech, consumers expect to be able to buy from you in a variety of ways. Yet, according to a PWC study only 50% of the consumers interviewed felt that they were getting a solid multi-channel shopping experience. This means that businesses are offering a sub-par experience for half our people.
As the marketplace gets even more competitive, sellers have to step up their channel strategy and supply chain management. Customers are looking for us on different channels so we've got to be there and provide a seamless experience to meet demand. However, there are real problems to look out for and that's what we are going to explore in this post.
Disjointed customer service experience
When a customer buys from you, they expect the same quality whether they placed the order through your website, Amazon, a retailer, or Facebook Messenger. Every experience they have with your brand affects your relationship.
However, it can be hard delivering the same level of service across different channels especially when you use marketplaces. A marketplace like Amazon or Ebay makes it easy for people to find you but it limits the amount of branding you can do. Still, it's not a lost cause.
Start with your product listings. Paint an honest, consistent and appealing picture across all your channels and use the same style of copy throughout. Develop a brand voice and stick to it. Next, make sure you deliver all your products on time and answer customer inquiries quickly regardless of what platform they come through.
A common customer complaint I've come across is brands running out of inventory on one channel, but not another. It makes customers feel that the seller isn't trustworthy. So, create an inventory management system that helps you keep messaging and inventory consistent.
According to a research report from BI Intelligence, shoppers that engage on multiple channels buy more often.
Creating the same irresistible experience on every channel will help you sell more products and keep customers happy. It's an irrefutable win-win.
Order Fulfillment and Supply Chain Management
Selling on different channels brings another big challenge to the surface: fulfilling those orders. Proper order and inventory management for sellers is about your supply chain and making sure that different suppliers have enough inventory to meet demand. This gets pretty tricky if you are using a combination of services like FBA, drop shipping, your own warehouse and a 3PL. You have to make sure everyone has access to enough inventory without shipping too much to a specific location and increasing costs.
Using past data to create predictive models and forecast demand helps but is not a guarantee. You need a system that helps all the various channels speak to each other. This brings us to the real star challenge of multichannel management: your inventory.
Inventory Management Problems
Inventory management is the lifeblood of e-commerce. An e-commerce business that becomes an expert in managing inventory has a major advantage over the competition. It's a major investment and something you have to keep an eye on. It's also what makes it all possible and what makes multi-warehouse and multi-channel selling particularly tricky.
Orders can come from anywhere and consumers expect a seamless experience whether they ordered through social media, a marketplace or your website. You need to have enough inventory to be able to fulfill all orders in a timely manner, while at the same time keeping your excess inventory levels low enough to keep storage costs down and prevent accidentally accumulating items that won't sell.
A mistake here can cost you and cut your earnings, forecasts and profitability. That's why staying on top of your inventory management is crucial to success. Smart inventory forecasting can help with that but it can be hard to do when you've got inventory spread around various locations.
To maximize gains and minimize pitfalls, you need to get all your various channels to talk to each other so that if you sell 50 items on Amazon, your inventory is updated across the board and re-ordering is triggered (for more on Amazon inventory management click here).
Using an all-in-one system to minimize problems
In order to create a seamless experience all the different parts of your strategy need to talk to each other. You need an inventory system that communicates with itself in real time across different channels. The problem is that some sellers still rely on fragmented systems that use manual input and don't keep up with shifting demand.
Inventory management when the stakes are this high requires you to say goodbye to one-off processes and manual management. Manually adjusting inventory count across various platforms and warehouses is both frustrating and inefficient. Plus, it leaves the door wide open for human error.
A cloud-based, inventory management system that updates in real-time, syncs your data from channels, and keeps accurate inventory levels across every warehouse doesn't just save time and money. It sets the foundation for creating an unforgettable shopping experience that will keep customers coming back to you in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Chad Rubin is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Skubana, a multichannel e-commerce software the enables brands to unlock growth by unifying their back-office operations.