Selling product across multiple sales channels is nothing new. As technology continues to advance, the variety of sales channels increases providing new opportunities for businesses and consumers around the world. It is not uncommon for a business to sell product over the phone, through email, online (both B2B and B2C), through sales reps in the field, at tradeshows, through showrooms, via social media, through EDI, on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay and through traditional retail storefronts. However, successful businesses know that it takes more than just listing product on as many platforms as possible and that what sets growing businesses apart is how product is managed across different sales channels.
Without proper distribution inventory software in place to sync inventory across multiple sales channels, various issues arise including:
- Customers see out-of-stock notices online which may or may not be accurate
- Sales people try to sell product not available, hindering the shipping process and upsetting customers
- Warehouses overstock and understock items, both of which impact costs
- Employees are stuck manually entering and updating information across multiple software systems, an approach which is time-consuming and prone to human error
- Businesses do not have an accurate picture of business health at any given time
Aside from some of the obvious issues with manually trying to manage multiple sales channels or using introductory software, there are also certain situations that further complicate things.
Let’s say for example an order comes in through your website which you manually enter into your accounting solution. You then manually update a spreadsheet with inventory information while at the same time manually updating the website to reflect the reduction in inventory. The order is now ready to send to the warehouse for picking, packing, and shipping. However, a couple of minutes later, you get a call from that same customer as they want to change the order, requiring you to re-update multiple systems. When only dealing with a couple of web orders a day, this may not be an issue, but as order volume increases and if you start to sell across multiple websites, this process becomes very time-consuming and prone to human error.
Let’s look at tradeshows as another example. When exhibiting at tradeshows, it’s great to have product on hand to show potential customers but what about when customers actually want to place an order with you? Manually tracking orders requires that information is re-entered into your accounting system once you’re back in the office and by that point in time, inventory availability might have changed, causing delays in the shipping process.
So how do you properly manage multiple sales channels?
First, you need the right systems in place. The right distribution inventory software enables businesses to manage multiple sales channels, maintaining information in a single database. Look for an all-in-one solution that not only includes functionality for inventory management but also accounting, order entry and processing, contact management and warehouse management. Aside from basic inventory and accounting tools, sophisticated distribution inventory software will provide users the option to turn-on other pieces of functionality as their business grows and as they add new sales channels.
As you start to sell product online through multiple eCommerce sites, you will need to integrate them with your distribution inventory solution. Look for a software vendor that provides this functionality in the form of an API so that your website and/or other marketplaces (such as Amazon) can easily communicate and share information bi-directionally. It is important to be able to easily share information between both your back-end distribution inventory system and front-end eCommerce sites such as order details, credit card information, ship to and bill to address and contact information and product details (pricing, descriptions, quantities etc.). The ability to automatically push and pull information between systems means inventory information is always up-to-date and it reduces the amount of human intervention required.
Mobile Sales Applications
If your business sells products at tradeshows, while onsite with customers or in a showroom, consider implementing a mobile sales application such as RepZio. Much like an eCommerce site, through an API, RepZio is able to connect to your distribution inventory software database so that you can show customers available inventory and product information in the field, and then directly place an order while speaking with them. This means inventory and order information is synced between the two solutions in real-time.
EDI allows companies with different hardware/software systems to exchange business documents and information in a common format. Proper EDI integration means information flows between your distribution inventory system and that of your vendors or customers, without the need for employees to manual find, enter and update data across multiple platforms. This provides opportunities to work with big-box retailers who require the use of EDI for communication with trading partners.
Integration with shipping carriers allows address and contact information from your distribution inventory software to automatically populate within the shipping carriers’ systems. This allows businesses to quickly print shipping labels and documents and send notifications to customers, without having to rekey data.
Selling product across multiple sales channels involves automating the flow of information, managing data from within a single database and properly integrating channels and other applications. The addition of a new sales channel should not involve the addition of software – instead, the right distribution inventory system will allow you to easily integrate and share data across platforms without manual work.