Do you want more sales while increasing control over how your products are presented at the same time?
Leveraging the shifting responsibilities in the value chain
Many businesses across the value chain are struggling to keep up with the changes that the marketplace evolution brings. Retailers are struggling to balance between ‘owned’ stock and third-party resellers, wholesalers are struggling with regional exclusivity and sudden direct-to-consumer deliveries and customer care, while brand owners need to manage this ‘new’ channel in their portfolio of online and offline sales channels.
These are strategic issues that warrant their own, separate, deep dives. This article covers the ‘how’ of connecting to marketplaces, especially when considering product information. The value chain is shifting rapidly, however, which leads to a lot of uncertainty while opening up a huge opportunity at the same time.
What data should I connect?
Though we focus on product information in this article, there are more data streams that need to be connected in order to sell on marketplaces. Each of these data streams can often be managed both manually (uploading .csv or Excel files, manually editing products in a ‘supplier portal’) and automatically (often in various degrees: from hourly FTP-uploads to near-instant API calls). Both work, but for each of the streams discussed below you should consider the business case of automating:
- Product information: images, descriptions, attributes. Though this information is (should be) rather static, making sure your product changes are propagated to all channels (your own website, marketplaces, advertising) is highly preferred.
- Stock and price: since stock (and price, but to a lesser degree) can change quickly, you want this to be as automated as possible. Not having items on stock leads to unhappy customers, and lost sales, and might lead to being banned from the marketplace.
- Order operations: orders that come in need to be marked ‘shipped’ (often with T&T) on the marketplace and you want your returns to be managed as automatically as possible as well. Though the latter is not as important (returns require a lot of manual labor anyway), you do want orders to be shipped as soon as possible.
With that intro behind us, how should you connect?
How to connect to marketplaces
On to our main question: how should you connect to marketplaces? We discern three ‘main’ ways of connecting to marketplaces, but the best setup for your organization depends on a lot of factors, including both the current setup of your organization as well as plans for the future.
However, in general, you can fit any setup in one of the following categories:
- Manual Connections
- PIM Plugins/Customization
We’ll dive into each separately below, but first a quick overview of how they compare in a graphical form:
We touched on it before, but most marketplaces support manual connections. That is uploading/downloading .csv or Excel files, manually changing products on the marketplace using a web portal, or any other exchange that requires manual effort to function. There are some advantages: it’s super flexible, you can get started immediately and most of your existing systems will have some way of manually exporting data.
Still, it is not ideal. Some marketplaces do not support manual changes, it is labor-intensive (and exponentially so as your product database grows) and error-prone. We can imagine managing your product information on a marketplace manually, updating only when new products are released for example. But even that soon gets complicated if you offer the same product on both your B2B site, a B2C shop, and a marketplace: you need to make the change on each of them (and in your internal product database).
PIM plugins / Customization
Secondly, you can also let your Product Information Management Tool handle the connection to marketplaces. It allows you to keep your product data “close” and customize connections specifically to your needs. It might be a feature already included in your PIM: some PIM systems offer marketplace integrations out of the box, and others require extensive customization: it pays to keep that in mind during a PIM selection process.
It does have drawbacks though: managing these connections yourself can be time-consuming (or budget-consuming, if a third party is involved). They will also cover only the Product Information “data stream” (sometimes stock and pricing as well), but usually do not cover the order operations.
And last but not least, you can use a dedicated third party to manage your marketplace connections. These syndicators are the “middleware” of the marketplace era but are very useful. Companies like ChannelEngine, ProductFlow, or Channable specialize in streamlining the output process: they allow you to easily map your internal product data to all the external channels your want to sell your products on. From Google Shopping to Amazon: they make sure your product catalog is up-to-date.
Relying on specialists has clear advantages: they make sure the connection with the marketplaces keeps working (they tend to upgrade/downgrade quite often, let alone change categories and hierarchies) and their software often allows for smart rules (filling fields, combining fields, doing calculations) that allow you to maintain the same margins across geographies (as they update the pricing for you) or sell different collections on different marketplaces.
They do charge a fee for this service however and setting them correctly does require a significant time investment. Still, if they work (especially when they also support stock updates and order operations through automated connections) they can be a great tool.