25/02/2015

By Chris Tanner, founder, Brightpearl

Henry Selfridge, one of the great innovators in retail, coined the term ‘the customer is always right’. Over 100 years later this adage still holds true. More than ever, customer expectations are driving retailers to deliver the optimum retail experience.

In today’s digital era, shoppers are using a mixture of on and offline activities to find and compare products they’re interested in. We’re in a world where the retailer can no longer dictate the shopping experience – and the successful retailers are those who can better respond to customer needs.

With UK online sales expected to reach £52bn this year, increasing numbers of brick and mortar retailers are opening online sales channels. To maximise exposure, today’s modern retailer will often have a retail outlet together with an online offering – while simultaneously using sites like eBay and Amazon to boost sales.

By having a multichannel approach they can offer the convenience of online shopping with a more personal, in-store experience where customers can look, feel, and buy their products.

The idea behind multichannel retailing is simple enough – but in the real world it can be difficult to carry out. Beyond combining websites with a physical store, the key challenge is implementing agile supply chains and logistics.

As a business grows, so does the difficulty in efficiently managing and accessing information about stock and inventory levels, deliveries, returns, sales information and accounts across the various digital platforms being used – a task not made easier by the disparate software systems used by different channels.

The more moving parts to your business, the more likely you’ll suffer from double-selling, inventory inaccuracies and delayed orders. The inevitable result will be that instead of having an enjoyable and convenient experience, the end user – your customer – will suffer poor service.

To avoid these pitfalls, here are some best practices and tips retailers need when setting up their multi-channel service.

(1) Pricing:

As audiences vary between different sales channels, to effectively cater to each your prices may need to vary as well. eBay and Amazon shoppers are especially price sensitive. Here small changes make a notable difference, so as a result prices are changed more frequently on these channels than others. Regardless of what channel is used, retailers need to tailor prices dependent on the audience.

(2) Taxation:

All channels handle taxation slightly differently. This is especially the case in cross border trading, where you’ll consistently combat different country taxation codes and rules. Your best bet is to make sure things are properly set up at the sales channel level – enter tax exclusive (net) prices and then add tax based on country specific rules.

(3) Shipping:

A number one hot button for shoppers is low or free shipping costs. Retailers need to keep costs and profits in line so they can meet this demand. Keeping your numbers in line also allows you to see which products you can provide at a discount, provide deals and keep your inventory flowing.

(4) Customize your product content:

Different sales channels may need different product information, so it’s best to manage products at the channel level. For example eBay listings may contain much more information than Amazon listings. Although this channel-specific content can lead to inconsistent data, it’s generally worth having the information tailored to each channel’s format.

(5) Stay on top of partial shipments:

Different channels treat partial shipments differently. Most e-commerce systems support the concept of shipments and multiple shipments for an order – and most software pushes shipment information back into the sales channel. However eBay is the big exception, as it marks orders as ‘shipped’ only when all shipments are completed. Make sure you know which channel does what.

(6) Pay attention to post-sale chatter:

How shipment details are communicated to your customer also varies between channels – so to keep your customer service quality up, ensure you know you know how each works. For example you need to update eBay and Amazon when an order is shipped, as seller ratings and buyer service are monitored closely. Some sales channels like Shopify and Magento email customers when a shipment is created – but for those that don’t you need to manage this communication yourself.

(7) Boost your IT / software:

When you launch new sales channels, your e-commerce and accounting software won’t be able to handle the complexities of multichannel retailing. You’ll need to supplement it with a ‘hub’ system that both supports your existing ecommerce platform (to keep back-office processes ticking over) and augment your accounting software (to provide more purchasing, processing and inventory management power to handle the increased load).

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