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How to synchronize inventory across multiple platforms

This is a guest post by Max Godin, who’s been doing multi-channel eCommerce for the past 10 years, during which he sold over 50,000 products and held multiple warehouses across four continents. Max is the co-founder and CMO of CrazyLister, the world’s leading eBay listing software, used with love by 100,000 retailers. 2-time eBay award recipient for excellence in sales.

I made a lot of mistakes while developing an online eCommerce business to an annual turnover of five million dollars. In this article, I’ll share everything I learned about syncing inventory across multiple sales platforms to make the most of your inventory exposure and avoid the risk of excessive selling.

The challenge: Efficiently handling multi-platform sales

I’d like to begin by sharing a true story of a seller who has 10 laptops in stock and markets them on 3 different channels:

  1. Amazon
  2. eBay
  3. Personal web store

Because he does not have automated stock sync, he allocates 2 laptops to Amazon, 3 laptops to eBay, and the remaining 5 to his personal web store.

If this seller had auto stock sync, he would be able to display all 10 devices on all of his platforms. After every sale, all his sales channels would synchronize automatically and show only the current stock available for sale. This would enable the seller to get the most conversions without risking overselling

Owning and managing multiple sales channels used to be a huge problem that only the big corporations could handle. They relied mainly on online retail and bricks & mortar stores (the two primary sources of modern business), but that was back in the day when retail was straightforward.

Today, retail businesses are all about hybrid and multi-channel, have tougher competition, and have customers everywhere, from social media to marketplaces. Everyone from small businesses to multinationals is trying their best to keep up with the trends.

These days, there’s a lot of pressure on sellers to be everywhere, as a result of eCommerce marketplace expansion, from Amazon and eBay to other marketplaces like Rakuten, AliExpress, Walmart, and more. Irrespective of where customers are, sellers want to be able to reach their potential buyers.

 

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Also, eCommerce has extended itself to social media on channels such as Instagram and Facebook, further increasing the immense pressure on sellers.

Selling on a single platform is challenging enough. How much more multiple channels, most of which are entirely different from each other? Talk about a modern day nightmare for small business owners!

Consider the following 4 figures

1) 29% of sellers lack visibility on multiple platforms, and are unable to reliably provide fulfillment of promises.

The implication is that some sellers may sell on several platforms, but are unable to accurately see the stock they have in real time across all marketplaces. The end result is that customers can order items that are no longer in stock.

For instance, online shoe retailers might show that they still have five leather boots in stock on Shopify and on eBay, but in real time these items may have been sold offline. Restocking is done by ordering from China and could take up to 30 days. Customers will certainly not be happy to receive their orders after one whole month versus promised quick delivery.

2) Annually, $1.1 trillion is lost in revenue as a result of overselling or out-of-stock issues.

3) Every year, $222.7 billion is lost because of the inability to synchronize inventory data.

Continuing with the example of the shoe retail store, the customer would have to wait 34 days (30 days shipment period from China and the 4 days it’ll take you to ship to the customer) before getting his or her shoes, without any other setbacks.

This customer is likely to cancel the order and leave a bad review, resulting in the seller not only losing business but also possibly losing future businesses from others who see the negative review.

4) 43% of retailers continue to practice manual inventory tracking by using spreadsheets or pen and paper.

3 Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How can I efficiently and successfully manage multi-channel sales inventory across all the channels?
  2. Do I need to auto-synchronize stock to beat my competition?
  3. What best practices should businesses like mine implement to keep up?

Excellent inventory management is key to profitability

As mentioned earlier, today’s retail business is complex. However, the better you’re able to manage your inventory, the more profitable your business will be.

How did I come to this conclusion?

  1. With stock sync you’ll be able to display your entire inventory on all sales platforms, giving you the opportunity to get the most conversions.
  2. When you correctly manage your inventory, you can reduce the price of your product and increase your delivery rate. This is because you’re likely to panic when you’re out of stock, and end up purchasing products at a higher price from a more expensive supplier. However, synchronizing inventory helps you source products more carefully, and maintain reasonable pricing. Also, you can deliver products quickly by always having them in stock.
  3. Delivering items quickly and efficiently leads to an increase in customer satisfaction, which in turn increases customer retention and referrals.
  4. Improper inventory tracking could lead to more demand than supply, which might cause you to increase your prices or end up having to buy from more costly suppliers to meet demand. This isn’t good for your business and negatively affects your bottom-line. Syncing your stock means you’ll be able to deliver ordered items in good time, since your store will only display the stock you have available.

The solution: Cloud-based multi-platform inventory management tools

With these platforms, you’ll be able to keep track of your stock 24 hours a day across multiple sales platforms so that you always know (in real time):

  • Your available stock
  • Dispatched items
  • When to replenish your stock

 

Here’s everything you need to know about the Amazon Inventory Performance Index

 

Most importantly, this system enables you to showcase your entire inventory. You have nothing to worry about, as the stock sync is guaranteed to take care of your business.

You could also think about making use of solutions such as Zoho, Tradgecko, StichLabs, or Sellbrite. They provide real time multi-platform sales management. Solutions like these help:

  • Automate ordering and fulfillment processes.
  • Enhance operational efficiency by decreasing mistakes and redundancies.
  • Increase your multi-channel sales by synchronizing inventory.
  • Alert you to low inventory levels, allowing you maintain stock levels.
  • Offer multi-channel inventory synchronization.

Ensure you aren’t overselling and you’re never out of stock

Although no seller wants to have products laying around, you don’t want to find yourself out of stock.

Predicting the demand for each product is difficult, and it’s equally expensive to store up these products in large quantities. That’s why sellers who sell on multiple channels keep less stock on hand and list more than the actual products they have available.

For example, a seller who may only have 15 units might list:

  • 10 on eBay
  • 10 units on Amazon
  • 5 on Shopify

If you use multi-platform stock management solutions, you’ll be notified when you’re running low on stock. You can also collect data from past sales periods.

For instance, if a particular product recorded high sales during the last Christmas period, the channel will help to remind you, and also manage pre-orders in the coming Christmas period.

Your products should be geographically close to your customer

Sellers, regardless of whether they’re multi-channel or not, want to get rid of stock as soon as possible.You don’t want your goods sitting all day in your warehouse, it’ll cost you money.

When selling on multiple platforms, the key to success is Supply Chain Optimization. I recommend figuring out where your biggest customer base is, and having a storage location or a local drop shipper nearby.

We applied this same approach when opening our UK-based company. In 2013, we realized the majority of our sales were going to the United Kingdom, specifically,London. We did some digging and further discovered that the UK is one of the largest markets in film making equipment, which is what we we’re selling.

We made the decision to open up a small office with our fastest movers there to provide an exceptional purchasing experience for our best customers. Within a short period, our pace increased and included a showroom, a move that paid off and subsequently helped to grow our business hugely.

Vital inventory synchronization features

The synchronization process and how it works

Generally, inventory syncing platforms update the quantities of inventory available across all channels every few minutes, and sometimes in real time. Let’s take a look at how the process works:

  1. You begin by inputting the current stock available of everything you’re selling, and link everything to the listings across all your platforms.
  2. Customers place orders on any of the platforms you’re selling on, like Shopify or eBay, and  are ‘imported’ to your sync platform, which allows for the automatic adjustment of your inventory. Keep in mind that you can always manually modify quantities for any reason, like offline sales.
  3. As soon as your sync platform recalculates your inventory, factoring in sales made, this information is updated automatically on your linked listings.

Inventory Rules

This feature allows you to determine the amount of stock you want to display, and on which platforms. This is particularly useful to a seller who is an exclusive distributor of a unique product.

This enables the seller to manipulate prices of products by limiting the quantity of products displayed at every point in time.S/he could also release inventory during important seasons like Christmas or holidays.

The important thing is that a seller has the ability to display as many or few items to prospects on various sales platforms. I’ll talk more about this feature and how you can use it to your advantage below.

One more example is a retailer who also has a store and wishes to keep some stock for offline operations.

Using eBay as an example, here’s how you can fix inventory rules for a particular channel:

There are several inventory syncing platforms that let you play with this in so many ways:

Percentage of inventory

Through this feature, you can limit your display to a percentage of your available stock. For instance, if you have 100 iPhones, but want to sell fifty to family and friends, you would only display 50% of your inventory. A shopper on Alibaba or eBay will see that you have just 50 iPhones in stock.

Maximum quantity

This feature lets you add the maximum amount to be showed on a particular channel. For instance, if you want to increase the scarcity of a product, you can display just 2% of your inventory to shoppers i.e. 2 iPhones.

Minimum quantity

This enables you to show customers across all platforms the minimum quantity of available product. You could even items with zero inventory. This works if you don’t want to discourage people from purchasing when you’re out of stock. However, you ought to ensure that you can quickly access more products to meet demand.

Syncing frequency

Always remember that various solutions provide various sync times.Some could take hours, while others just seconds. If you stock high-speed items, you need a system that syncs quickly.There are times when as little as five minutes delay could lead to overselling, and this can be disastrous, particularly on eBay, in terms of your ratings as a seller.

As a seller, if you select the wrong syncing platform for the quantity and speed that you handle regularly, you’ll eventually pay a heavy price in terms of bad buyer feedback if you need to delay shipment as a result poor inventory synchronization.

Being an eCommerce business owner, there are times when I get upset because I need to keep adding more software to run my business efficiently. However, complexity grows as your business grows.

You’ll get to a stage where excel sheets can no longer help you manage everything. It is at this time that you’ll need solutions like automatic inventory sync. If you want to scale your, business you have to incorporate these solutions to your work process. Trust me, it’ll be worth every dime in the long term.

A way to manage this complexity is to go for the all-in-one kind of software, paying attention to their online reviews before you make a decision.

If there any recommendations you’d like to add, feel free to share in the comments below.

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