The Ultimate Multichannel Guide: Selecting The Right Platform For Your Business
This post is for sellers that want to sell on Walmart Marketplace, Jet.com, Amazon and eBay from one central software platform.
Selecting a multichannel platform is a major decision for your business. The selection process deserves careful analysis and consideration because, ultimately, the commerce platform you choose will directly impact how your products are displayed on each of your channels, how well you sell and how fast you grow.
This guide is designed to help you understand the critical factors that should be considered in order to confidently select the multichannel platform that’s right for your business. Further, this guide will make it clear that not all multichannel platforms are created equal, and will point out warning signs to be aware of.
What is a Multichannel Platform?
Before we get started, let’s clearly define a multichannel platform. A multichannel platform is software used by online sellers (resellers, brands, manufacturers and distributors) that centralizes some or all of the core functions of selling products on multiple online sales channels.
In the world of commerce, the word multichannel means multiple sales channels. Sales channels can be 3rd party marketplaces including Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Jet.com, shopping carts including Shopify, Bigcommerce and Magento, and 1st party vendor direct wholesale and dropship relationships with major online and big box retailers.
While multichannel platforms vary significantly as it relates to the functions that they address, they all assist to varying degrees with managing product data, publishing listings, synchronizing inventory, and aggregating orders.
Think about what matters to your business.
What are your goals?
What are the goals you plan to accomplish over the next 12, 18, 24 months? Can you afford to transition between platforms as your requirements become more complex or are you looking for a software platform that can be customized to meet your evolving needs and grow with your business?
What are your requirements?
Do you need a platform that integrates with international marketplaces (Amazon UK, etc.)? How many SKUs do you actively list? Would having a built-in dynamic repricer help simplify your operations? Do you require dropship automation? Do you need to list against duplicate ASINs? Do you need orders to be routed to a 3rd Party Logistics provider? Do you require an integration with an ERP or Warehouse Management System?
Who will be using the software?
Are you and your employees tech savvy enough to interact with complex interfaces or will a dead-simple interface be required?
How important is data quality?
Do you just want to get your products listed or do you want your products to be optimized to sell on each new channel?
Poor product data quality creates poor customer experiences which causes pain for your support staff as well as the support staff of the channel.
How important is analytics?
Do you know how profitable you are on all of your channels? Can deep analysis of your operational data help you and your team spot trends, make sound decisions quickly and avoid error?
How important is real time?
What is an acceptable amount of time to synchronize your inventory and publish your product data to your desired channels? Can you afford to wait while your SKUs are under Jet Review or while Walmart Marketplace provisions your Seller Center account?
How important is automation?
Can you and your employees afford to tediously manually enter product and order data into multiple systems? What would you and each of your employees be working on if you let intelligent software handle the time consuming, mundane aspects of your operation?
How important is service?
Are you willing to wait more than 24 hours to receive a response to an urgent matter? Is it acceptable for you and your team to deal with outsourced customer service representatives based overseas? Would you like to be able to pick up the phone and get your issue resolved by a trained, US-based expert? Would you like to be able to schedule on-demand training sessions for you or your staff?
How important is your feedback and input?
Would you like to influence the prioritization of features yet to be developed and be kept in the loop with periodic updates and surveys? Would you prefer working with a development team that can move quickly and implement your suggestions?
How important is your onboarding experience?
Are you willing to invest 2-3 months of time and disrupted operations to fully transition to your new multichannel platform? Would you rather invest 1-3 weeks and be assigned a dedicated onboarding specialist to guide you through the onboarding process and configure your product catalog and operational workflow thoroughly and efficiently?
How important is commitment?
Are you willing to pay large up-front fees and sign binding annual contracts? Would you rather a month-to-month arrangement as you build trust and confidence with your new platform?
How important is pricing?
Are you willing to pay a fair price to receive high quality software and service?
Red flags to watch out for.
Sales representatives with limited industry knowledge.
Your demos and sales calls should be highly informative and pleasant. If you don’t feel like you’ve received helpful industry insights, keep looking.
High pressure sales tactics.
Take your time to make your decision. You should not be made to feel like you're about to miss out on a great deal if you don't sign on today, this week, etc.
You should not need to commit to an annual contract when you're figuring out if a solution is the right fit for your business. Once you're comfortable with your multichannel solution, then the option to switch to an annual contract that is discounted from month-to-month pricing is a welcomed way to lock in savings.
High up-front payment.
Uprooting your operations and running your business on an entirely new platform is enough of an investment. Vendors that are unwilling to co-invest in your on boarding and success by keeping your start-up costs low and reasonable are sending you a clear message that they’re primarily interested in your money, not your success.
Billing based on % of revenue.
Your technology costs should be predictable. Paying a % commission means you're often penalized for high average order values. A fixed fee per order is an attractive arrangement for many online sellers because fees only vary based on order volume.
Fees for Amazon orders fulfilled via FBA.
Your Amazon FBA business is your business. Since management of Amazon FBA order is primarily handled via Seller Central, there are limited circumstances where it should be acceptable for a multichannel vendor to charge you for these orders. To justify being billed for the Amazon FBA component of your business, make sure you are receiving value added services such business analytics in return, and your fees are significantly lower than your per order fees for non-Amazon FBA orders.
Configuration fees on a per-channel basis.
You should not be charged to sell on a new channel that your multichannel platform has added. Your incentives should be aligned with your multichannel platform -- increased order volume, regardless of channel, means more business for everyone. To charge you for each channel you add is unfair and creates an unnecessary friction that typically results in under-utilization of the platform. The only reasonable exception is when you require custom development to add a channel that the majority of sellers on the platform are not interested in.
Inability and unwillingness to offer custom integrations at a fair price.
Few ecommerce businesses are identical. Your multichannel platform should be architected in a manner that support custom integrations cost-effectively. You should not have to make sacrifices that prevent you from running your business as seamlessly and efficiently as possible. If data needs to flow somewhere, your multichannel platform should be able to make that happen with out costing an arm and a leg.
Halted pace of innovation.
If a vendor is slow to roll out new features and integrations, this likely means they are saddled by the weight of their existing product. When software systems are poorly architected and implemented, supporting existing features can take up all development resources. If you’re talking to a vendor that claims that a deal-breaking feature or channel is in “beta" and will be available shortly, there’s a good chance you won’t see it anytime soon.
Software developed by industry outsiders or overseas.
When software is developed by an overseas team, quality control is difficult to maintain and feature requests and desired process flows are often lost in translation as communications across timezones breaks down. Be careful if you're speaking with a multichannel platform operated with a heavy reliance on overseas teams and by people who were never online retailers themselves -- there's a good chance they don't understand the nuances of the US ecommerce ecosystem and what you truly require.
We've asked you a ton of questions to get you thinking about what's best for your business. Take some time to think through these concepts with your colleagues. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. If we don't see a good fit for your business with our platform, we'll be the first ones to tell you and we'll help steer you in the right direction.