Why future-proofing your IT is essential in avoiding the digital trip hazards retailers face online

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Martin Bysh, CEO of Huboo, a UK-based fulfilment technology provider for e-commerce businesses of all sizes., shares his views with Business Leader on the best ways to future-proof your business.

The online retail sector in the UK continues to grow at a rate that has surpassed all expectations. In November 2020, during the second national lockdown, one third of all retail sales came through online channels. Whether through choice or necessity, boredom or genuine need, eCommerce is going to continue flourishing for as long as Covid restrictions on people’s movements and behaviour continue and, in all likelihood, it is just a question of time before online supplants the high street as Britain’s preferred means of shopping. 

Indeed, we are already seeing new and less digitally-savvy audiences become online converts. The over 60s, for example, are learning the ropes and surfing the web for grocery deliveries and online prescriptions, as well as new clothes and even home exercise equipment.

So what does this mean for retailers themselves looking to embrace the world of eCommerce for the first time? 

Well, the good news is that today’s plug-and-play eCommerce software is so intuitive that you can be underway and listing your items within hours on some of the biggest online marketplaces in the world. The challenge isn’t getting started; it’s being prepared and equipped to respond to  surges in demand, something every retailer would like to experience as they start to find an audience for their products.

Responding to demand isn’t as simple as buying more stock, expanding product lines and shipping everything off to a warehouse for distribution. In order for an e-Commerce offering to be successful and sustainable, retailers need to pay close ongoing attention to their entire online ecosystem, or sooner or later (most likely sooner) they’ll run into a whole range of under- or over-supply problems.

Under-supply means unhappy customers, reputational damage and a missed revenue opportunity. Over-supply means wasted product and storage costs. And without a doubt the biggest cause of this inefficient trading is retailers’ failure to employ the right IT systems to manage all of their sales channels, warehouse and storage units and fulfilment and delivery partners. 

This is a particular problem for eCommerce first-timers, but it isn’t necessarily just a small business issue.I am amazed at the number of retailers – including big and successful brands – that still operate and update their own Etsy or Amazon Marketplace channels manually, either because their existing legacy IT systems won’t integrate properly with these channels, or simply because they’ve not taken the time to explore more agile and effective methods of multi-channel inventory management.

Of course, if you’re a newly launched online retail operation, selling only a relatively small amount of stock via one or two platforms, the need for advanced IT that integrates with other elements of your supply chain might not seem like a high priority. However, if you want to ensure your business is scalable and able to grow in line with rapidly increasing consumer demand, investing in this type of management technology from the outset might be the smartest investment you make.

Handling everything internally – orders, sales, picking, packing and posting – can quickly become overwhelming and even when a third party logistics supplier is brought in to support, keeping track of stock and updating inventories yourself across multiple channels is a painstaking and time wasting process.

Some multi-channel management software is perfectly suited to smaller retail operations as well as major providers, and doesn’t necessarily carry a hefty price tag. Exploring your options at the outset, no matter how big or small your business is, is by far the best way of avoiding this digital trip hazard further down the line. These systems are designed to do everything on a retailer’s behalf, so that if a product is sold via one channel, all listings are automatically updated across other sales channels – as well as in the warehouse itself – without the retailer having to lift a finger. This is crucial in managing stock levels and ensuring customer demand can be met. 

Some software tools let you go further still – for example, automatic language translation so you can start listing in non-English markets, or software that provides richer data on listing performance and optimisation, so you can continuously tweak your listings to make them more visible and more attractive. When you consider that we at Hubbo can integrate retailers with over 70 sales channels worldwide, the value of these innovative IT platforms becomes even clearer. 

There is a huge opportunity for UK retailers to take advantage of the eCommerce boom – wherever they’re based and whatever they sell. However, failure to invest in the right tech stack means an online operation could quickly become an unmanageable beast, which is why it pays to do your due diligence on IT early, and take the plunge before the beast begins to bite.

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