We actually took the decision to use a software solution very early on in 2006 when the business was around a year old. We had something like 100 SKU's and were already finding it hard to keep everything in synch, in stock and under control.
There were only a couple of options then and they were basic compared with the powerful solutions now on the market.
I often hear people commenting that these solutions are expensive and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We recently calculated that the solution we use - eSellerPro - saves us around 3 people in a 9 person company. If I thought about it more I could probably up that to 4 or 5 and I am not exaggerating.
In September 2014 we shipped just under 20,000 items. Don't forget these items also had to be bought in the first place, booked in, stored and picked/packed.
Just 9 of us.
Why do I say it saves us so many people?
No. I'm not on commission.
There are of course the things you would expect it to do - it manages our stock across the channels we use ensuring we don't oversell. It gathers orders, payments etc. and presents us with a list of orders requiring dispatch. Of course it prints packing lists and communicates statuses to the channels themselves.
But is also does things you might not immediately realise.
The software works 24/7. It manages our stock ensuring we re-order before we run out and warning us if we have dead stock which needs to be sold. It helps us to speed up answering questions by presenting them to us linked to products and customer orders along with stock answers for commonly asked questions.
Using clever algorithms it calculates our pricing and to make sure we continue to offer competitive pricing it can re-price items every two hours depending on our competitors pricing. If a supplier increases prices we can download a price file and within minutes the system has recalculated selling costs and updated listings. It is hard to imagine doing this manually.
The system updates stock information from suppliers each morning ending listings where stock is no longer available and warns us if items are becoming low at the supplier.
Accounts are a pain for most small businesses. Each day the system updates our accounts package with sales, VAT, cost of goods information making VAT returns and annual accounts a far less painful experience.
Communications with customers. Yes it does this as well confirming orders, despatch and sending receipts.
You have probably seen eBay Strike Through Pricing where you can see the crossed out RRP next to the selling price on the item listing. This and initiatives such as the Argos Click and Collect are often offered to Multi-Channel Software users before being rolled out to other sellers because the systems use the eBay API making these things easier to manage.
Yes Multi Channel Software costs £££ and that can be hard to swallow for a small seller but remember if you plan on growing you will need a solution sooner or later and its far easier to do is sooner.
My other piece of advice on the subject is to choose wisely. Its hard to and expensive to change providers later.
Talk to users who have used the system for at least a year and find out if it is suitable for the channels you use.