Smaller e-retail businesses should emulate larger ones – but sooner

By Alex Mills, Sales & Marketing Director, ProSKU.

If you’re running a growing e-retail businesses your main priority is to market your products, win customers and satisfy their orders. So until order volumes hit a certain point you probably don’t need to worry about a great deal else, except of course your bank overdraft! And for most growing e-retail businesses getting orders out of the door isn’t usually the biggest problem. However small your team, your hard work and dedication means you almost always make this happen.

But as you grow the effort involved in doing this is magnified, and the trusted processes you’ve relied on can become creaky. Excess reliance on manual processes, frequent (avoidable) stock handling issues and over-reliance on ‘unique’ knowledge (the familiar “Joe knows where it all is” problem) can all have a bearing on this. And growth brings further ‘logistical’ problems like the need for larger premises for storage, equipment and infrastructure, and extra people to handle higher volumes.

Of course you can always rely on dedicated people to rise to the challenges posed by a growing business. A taste of success can make all the hard work worthwhile and enjoyable, but in reality the problems of handling stock can increase to a level where dedication alone isn’t enough. The most obvious solution - of employing extra people - is one you can’t always avoid. The answer may also be to bring in the right IT systems, but to do so earlier than originally envisaged.

It’s likely you already use an order management system as this is vital to your business. You may also, either directly or integrated with order system functions, use some form of carrier management software. Both of these are key to taking and satisfying customer orders. But which system do you use to manage the physical side of stock handling? Why would you not deploy a purpose designed solution to handle an area of operation critical to the aims of the business, as you would say with orders?

In a larger e-retail concern it would be unthinkable to manage a warehouse without a specific best of breed solution – a warehouse management system (WMS). And the fact is that the difference between smaller and larger e-retail businesses is really only one of scale. The need to maximise space efficiently, rotate stock correctly, locate goods for picking and verify them securely before despatch are no different. Nor is the need to integrate with applications, albeit different ones, to manage orders and transportation requirements.

Reducing the growing pains of a smaller e-retail business by integrating a WMS with e-commerce order and carrier solutions is surely therefore a logical step. Standard API integration with other web systems makes this process simple resulting in a fully integrated solution which gives operational efficiency across your business.  And this is an attractive option compared to the cost of extra labour.  A WMS not only saves money by adding accuracy and efficiency it also means you can handle higher volumes with your existing labour force.         

Not long ago, the chance of finding a WMS to meet smaller e-retailers’ needs was remote. Costs and typical timescales for implementing mainstream products made them a generally (and sometimes wildly) unfeasible option. The picture is very different now. Cloud-based software as-a-service and products focused on e-retail operation mean that smaller e-retailers can start to emulate larger ones.  At costs appropriate to a smaller business they can deal professionally with the universal issue of managing physical stock, saving money and assisting faster business growth.

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