The Ultimate Guide to Multi-Channel Software Part 5
This week Matthew Ogborne, co-Founder of UnderstandingE.com is authoring a five part series on Tamebay – “The Ultimate Guide to Multi-Channel Software”. We’ve already published Part 1 “What is Multi-Channel Software?”, Part 2 “The Key aka the Stock Number“, Part 3 “Inventory Management” and Part 4 “Templates”. Today is all about “Order Management” as Matt the series on how you can manage your stock when selling across multiple channels.
That’s not the end though, next week you’ll be able to download the entire series plus a ton of additional content as a totally free eBook.
Welcome to the final part in this series on Multi Channel software and in this part we’ll looking at order management.
You’ll soon learn that by using Multi Channel software that includes order management abilities it’ll enable you to work with orders from multiple sources from a single screen to pick, pack & dispatch orders in super quick time, plus because your orders are being collected, this comes full-circle to keeping stock levels correct.
To recap where we are, in part 1 we looked at what is Multi Channel software and how it can help your business, in part 2 we looked at the key, aka the stock number, in part 3 we looked at inventory management and in part 4 we looked at templates and how they can expedite the listing process for your business.
At the bottom of this article I have included a link to the Ultimate Guide to Multi Channel Software book that completes this series. You can read at your own leisure, plus I have also included hints, tip and simple tools which will aid you in selecting the right Multi Channel software for your business in the exclusive book-only chapters.
On to order management!
Simply put, this is the collection and management of orders from multiple sources, into one screen or page.
So that’s orders from eBay, maybe multiple eBay accounts, Amazon and one or more websites into a page where you can then bulk process those orders without having to login to lots of separate sites and manage them individually.
It doesn’t matter which software you look at for this, if they have a order management section the outline of the process will look like this:
- The software collects orders for you (ideally automatically)
- Then shows them on a page or screen (so you can process them in bulk)
- You to batch process the orders (printing documents etc..)
- The software updates the source where they came from (so you don’t have to)
If we then consider that the software could then link to your courier(s) and print those dispatch labels for you, there is a heap of time to saved each day in processing orders.
It should be noted that just like in the other parts of this series, the options that you’ll have available to you will vary massively between software tools. Some are very strict in the way you must process orders while others are super flexible in the process and also in the level of customisation of the documentation and integration options that they offer.
And also to be super clear, we are considering throughout this series Multi Channel Software for eBay, Amazon and a website as well.
USA Based? Just Want Sales Order Processing Software?
The caveat to this is that if you’re based in the USA and as I’m considering that all you may just want or need is just order fulfillment software and don’t care for anything else that Multi Channel software can offer you (stock levels, inventory creation, templating etc… And yes you’d be nuts to overlook the power of these features…), then there are two software products that will allow you to do much of what I cover in this part of the series on order management called ShipStation & ShipWorks which would be worth investigating if this is only your requirements.
Slightly off Topic – Fulfilment
Before we start looking at the standard documentation that can be produced and order management in any more detail, let’s pause for a few moments to consider a side-shoot topic to using software. Fulfilment.
In the beginning stuffing items into bags or boxes and taking them to the Post office is fun, it’s an experience I believe that everyone should go through. However stuffing items into bags is not the best use of your time.
So while reading through this part of the series, also consider the potential for a 3rd party fulfilment company dispatching your orders for you.
They could be logging into the software to create these documents or depending on the level of the Multi Channel software, there maybe developer API’s (the nerdy code things that developers use to integrate systems together) which you or the fulfillment company could be using to collect and process the orders for you.
This is one of the options included in the accompanying book, a simple checklist to help ensure that you choose the right Multi Channel software for your business.
Note: If you also use Amazon FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon) then specifically investigate to see what happens with such orders.
Very few Multi Channel software tools offer any of the packaging side to actually send items into Amazon FBA, however your primary concern is not this (because the Amazon site does this adequately), instead you’ll want to ensure that your FBA orders are at least collected so any reporting functions that are available account for these extra sales.
Let’s start with the bad news first, unfortunately there is no such thing as the “perfect” pick pack & dispatch process.
And on the bright side (aka the good news!) there are many options available to you and the documentation that you can print from Multi Channel software.
In short you should be looking for the ability to create at least the following documentation per order or per group of selected orders:
If you’re VAT registered, this could need to include a tax summary and other key fields such as the customers address, your registered address etc… Oh and the order line items too!
A Packing slip
This is just like an invoice, but heavily cut down to print faster and may include a picture of the line items on the order and possible a box where a warehouseman can initial the document for tracking purposes.
A Picking List
This is a combined list lots of orders, but without the customer’s details. This will enable you to grab a collection of products in one pass and then match them to the orders using a packing slip or an invoice.
Pro Tip: Look for advanced options such as being able to sort the picking list by name, location, quantity and also to be able to print a picking list in the same order as the invoice or packing slip. You normally need these in the same order as what the main dispatch documents have been printed in so when marrying up the items picked, they match the ordering of dispatch documents to expedite the dispatch process
And a daft point, confirm that you’re able to print not just one at a time either! You want to be able to print orders out in batches so that means lots and lots at one time!
Note: I mentioned a term called “Line Items” a few moments ago, this is the term used for each item in the order from your customer. So if an order has 5 different items in an order, that would be 5 line items and if the order had 5 items and the customer bought 2 of one of them, that would still be 5 line items, one of them however has a quantity of 2.
Software helps you list more products, manage your inventory and leverage templates. The side effect of this is that you’re extremely likely to see an increase in sales by using Multi Channel software. I’ve personally seen this effect hundreds of times and it’s been well documented in marketing spiel, so when it comes to printing documentation, you need to be able to do this in bulk.
The invoice, pick list and packing slip documents are the common types that you can create with most software tools, however there are several other things to look out for, such as:
- Can you show product images on the documents? (saves picking errors, especially with temporary staff)
- Can you add stock locations? (so you know where to pick the items from)
- Can you include a square box so that you can get your warehouse picker to sign/tick/initial each document? (adds accountability to warehouse staff)
- What happens when you have an order that has a quantity of more than 1? (easily missed when busy, can the software highlight line items where the quantity is greater than 1 to make it “Matt proof”?)
- Look for the ability to add flags or markers to orders so you can process orders in batches more easily (this also helps you find new orders that need to be processed)
- Look for safety features that stop you and/or staff double printing orders by accident
- Are the documents customisable with your logo, custom messages such as a returns form or a promotional message?
- Also ensure that if you have multiple accounts that you can customise this per selling account. The last thing you would want is the logo from another selling identify (say a different eBay account) to appear on the wrong invoice for example.
- Are integrated labels supported, if so which ones?
- Do you use return services by UPS, Fedex or Royal Mail that allow including return labels in your outbound shipment? If so can the software print the label to document included in the shipment?
And finally for this section on documentation, while looking for flexibility, be prepared to work with what is possible with the software provider without consuming masses of time on minute details. The last thing you’ll want to do is spend a week playing with an invoice template when it would be a far better use of your time to just get up and running.
Having your primary courier integrated into the software you’re using can and will save you oodles of time every single day.
You could print the labels on demand or in batches and then slap them on the orders as they’re being packed.
The most importing thing for you to investigate here is first to confirm that your courier(s) of choice are supported and if they are, how exactly they work. IE How can you print the labels and select the courier and shipping method to use per order.
Note: Just because they have the courier logo on a software providers website, doesn’t mean that all the services are available. The level of integration can vary massively between couriers, software tools and may require special software or contracts with the courier.
My point here is check and double check!
Courier Selection V’s Business Rules
If you’re one of the lucky businesses that can just say that ALL of the orders go via one method, these won’t be much use to you, however if you are offering more than one shipping option, are selling internationally or want control over how each order is dispatched and the service that is selected, then courier rules are going to be of interest to you.
The first thing to note is that the actual shipping method you dispatch an order by may be different to that of what the customer chose on the site they ordered from.
The reason for this is that it maybe your business rule to change the method of shipping based upon the rules you set and not exactly according to what the customer selected.
This could be a rule on the order total, number of items in the order or destination of where the order is being sent to.
A simple example is an order which a customer selected 1st class on eBay, however because they bought 4 of them, it would be cheaper for you to send the 4 items via a courier. You could have a business rule that says that when the order quantity is greater than 4, that the order should be upgraded to a specific courier and courier service.
Taking this example a little further… Let’s now take into account that the customer is in the Isle of Scilly.
If we send this order via a normal courier then it’s extremely likely that we are going to incur a surcharge from the courier. Where as for Royal Mail Tracked, there is no surcharge and we could then add in an additional rule that for orders in postcode TR21 to TR25 that are over 3 items are sent via Royal Mail Tracked. For the US, a common business rule is to deal with shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, APO/FPO and other US Territories.
Below is a screenshot of such rules in action.
On the second row, we can see orders that are received with a weight of greater than 1Kg and where the customer has selected “Royal Mail 48” are having the dispatch method altered to “Parcel Force 48”. And in the later lines, generic eBay courier shipping options “Other Courier 24” and “Other Courier 48” are being mapped to the courier of our own choice.
Some Multi Channel software doesn’t have such rules or maybe an addon or extension (which it is with Magento & M2EPro). So with that in mind, here are 2 questions to ask or investigate:
Q: Can I apply business rules to orders to change the shipping method to be used?
Just see if this is possible and then move on to question 2 below.
Q: What are the order attributes that I can use in such rules?
Specifically look for options around order source, so you can have different rules from one eBay account to another, to Amazon to your website. The order total, number of line items, weight and order destination are also useful.
Customer Services & Order Management
Another byproduct of having your orders in a single system is that it makes the job of customer service a lot quicker.
For clarity, this is unlikely to ever be a full blown CRM as that’s a separate industry.
Instead of having to log in & out of each of your accounts and then make searches to track down an order, you’ll have all your orders from all your sales channels available in front of you from a single screen or page and most certainly with many search options too.
Also from a practical point of view, this means that for members of staff, there is only one screen for them to learn, saving you time & money in training (plus you won’t need to share your account passwords with all your team. Oh and if you do, try an inexpensive service called LastPass.com to share passwords with members of your team).
And while on the topic of staff, depending on the complexity of the software, you maybe able to restrict the level of actions that different members of staff can take on your orders screen (whether they have access to this section at all, read or write access and to other parts of your system too).
This comes in varying names, however look for options around “user access control” and is likely not just to be available for just a sales order screen, there could be options for all parts of the software allow you granular control over what your staff can & cannot see and also do as well (for example not being able to pull sales performance reports by warehouse packing staff).
And back on to topic. Such order screens work in similar ways, you’ll have the ability to search across the orders, see the current status of the order (whether it’s shipped etc..) and be able to click into each order to see the order specific information.
Some software tools colour code the orders for you, which makes viewing orders over a long page much easier to identify and also helps reduce potential mistakes too.
Below is a screenshot of what the sales orders screen in Magento can look like after adding an inexpensive extension.
If I told you that any order that is white needs your attention because it’s paid and good to be packed & despatched and any of the other colours mean different things (green = shipped and pink = pending payment by the way), you can very quickly see how such Multi Channel software can help you every single day.
From the orders screen or page you’ll be able to see where the order came from, the customers details, the line items they purchased and their payment information too. When it comes to refunds, this also varies greatly, as a minimum look for a link to the transaction details, especially if it’s an order from eBay via PayPal or on Amazon.
Also on the same screen look out for a feature of being able to add internal and external comments on each order.
Internal comments are for you and your staff, customers won’t see these and they’re handy for jotting down notes, say on a phone call with a customer.
External comments are handy for providing a status update about an order with a customer, the customer is generally emailed the message in the background, a super cool feature for following up after a call or email from a customer.
Hey that’s another weird term!
Basically this means does the software send emails to customers when orders are received, updated & shipped?
Some Multi Channel software providers will charge you extra for this feature and amount of flexibility on what you can include also varies greatly too.
When it comes to sending emails to customers, specifically look for the following options, the ability to turn these on or off as desired and for customisation for each of your sales channels. Again you’re most likely want to include different information for a eBay customer, to an Amazon customer to a website customer.
- Send an email when the order is received
- Send an email when payment is received (you may be selling an auction and payments are not instant for these)
- Send an email when the order is marked as dispatched (also look for the ability to include a PDF copy of the invoice too)
Pro Tip: Amazon will get leery at you if you start sending email notifications for dispatched orders. Explicitly look for an option to stop or block emails to Amazon customers on the order dispatched event if the software supports the sending of transactional emails.
Also to wrap up this section on transactional emails, it’s extremely unlikely that you will find email marketing software as part of Multi Channel software. For a start this is an entirely separate industry that requires dedicated resources (and a topic for a different day), plus is highly likely to be against marketplace policies to email customers about anything other than their order.
There are a couple of considerations that need to be accounted for when it comes to software and processing orders from multiple sales channels.
Q: How often are sales orders collected?
This might seem like a daft question, however in one or two providers you have to press a button for the orders to be downloaded. This is far from ideal and look for software that can automatically collect orders on your behalf and find out how often they are collected.
Note: Remember that note around Amazon, expect the collection time for Amazon orders to be a minimum of 15 minutes, eBay should be every 10-20 minutes and the same for your website too. Basically a lower number here is more desirable because going back to part 2 on stock control you’ll need these to collected frequently to keep the stock levels true.
Q: Are you going to be charged more per sales channel & account?
I’ll be covering the different pricing structures in the book with you, however for now, investigate how much it’s really going to cost you to integrate each of your sales channels. Some providers include the connections for free while others can charge you hundreds of pounds.
Also investigate to confirm that you’re not going to be charged extra for the collection of orders from international sites say eBay.de, eBay.com, eBay.com.au or any of the Amazon sites besides your core site.
Q: Does it cost you more for additional members of staff to access the software?
We also touched on user accounts in this part of the series. A factor when selecting Multi Channel software is to look out for any additional charges that may apply on a per user basis. Some software tools can have hefty jumps in pricing (anything from £69 to £180!) when it comes to adding more users that have access to the software.
Sales Order Processing
Together we’ve covered the key requirements of order processing in Multi Channel Software.
We learned that we want to be able to collect our orders from one or more sales channels and to be able to process them from a single screen or page.
By doing this, it saves us time by not having to log into multiple sites and manually collect orders, you and your team have direct access to your orders from multiple locations and this has several key benefits:
- You’re able to batch process orders from all your sales channels
- You can print documents, ideally customisable and includes packing & dispatch documents
- That extra business rules can be applied to orders
- Couriers can be integrated
- You can email customers status updates about their order
- Customer support is made easier, you’re logging into one system, not different systems to find order details
We then came full circle in this part and learned that by collecting our orders into a single screen and using the key, aka the SKU we’re then able to allow the Multi Channel software to go back to our sales channels and update our stock levels.
We also found that some of these software tools allow us to control what our members of staff can do and see within the software.
I used the example above that you’d probably not want a warehouse picker running sales reports on your company, so specifically look out for options around user access control and the ability to enable or disable entire sections of the software to different types of staff members in your team.
Also I’ve included several questions for you to investigate regarding sales order processing in such software. Some of these might be obvious, however just like every other question included in this series, they’re leading questions. They lead you to investigate deeper to find the details you need to know and back you up with the extra information on what to look out for and crucially why.
Which Multi Channel Software is Right for You?
In this 5 part series we’ve dug deep into the world of Multi Channel software. The things that you should be looking out for, why you would want certain features & how they work and opened your eyes to what is possible.
Software will help you and your business grow. I’ve seen it so many times now I’ve personally lost count.
The big “however” is… Which Multi Channel software is right for you and your business?
I am the worlds most expensive marketplace consultant, even if you could afford me, right now I’m currently unavailable due to my commitments to UnderstandingE & the 3rd generation of Multi Channel software. However this is a question I can help you answer by yourself.
Download the Free Book next week
To accompany this series, myself & Dave Furness have created for you “The Ultimate Guide to Multi Channel Software“, everything you should be looking out for when selecting Multi Channel software. It will be available for download for free and the link will be published on Tamebay next week.
The things that will catch you out and how to calculate how much the software will really cost you in the long run (because some of the software tools get very expensive fast).
In this book you’ll not only receive this 5 part series so you can read it at your own leisure, you’ll also gain access to simple checklist of questions and rating system you can use to rate any Multi Channel software tool against another to make an informed decision on which software is right for you and your business.
In this book you will receive this entire series in one document in PDF format, plus the following 9 chapters & simple-to-use tools:
- The generations of software
- Why any software is good software
- Which is best for me, desktop or web based software?
- How to work out how much the software will really cost you
- The simple check-list & rating card of options to evaluate any multi channel software tool
- The questions you must have the answers to before selecting any Multi Channel software
- 5 mistakes you don’t want to make
- I’m already using company XYZ, should I move?
- Arh, I need help!
If I can help just one person like you, the countless hours it took to create this book will have been so worth it.
To your success!
Co-Founder of UnderstandingE.com