What’s Wrong With Marketplace Management Software?

Musings on Marketplace Management Software

Selling on multiple marketplaces is hard. Everything is different and disconnected: categories, images, pricing, stock levels, policies and more. The only way to hold it all together is software: marketplace management software.

So selling on complex, diverse platforms requires software. That’s hardly a revelation. But what does fascinate and surprise me is the dozens of competing tools out there, all designed to solve that same problem.

The market looks saturated, but more contenders spring up each month. And yet more are thinking about entering the market with their own software. Why is that? I don’t have the answer, but would really like you to help me figure it out!

Meditating
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A Short History of Marketplace Management Software

The longest-standing multi-marketplace tools that I know of started as software just for eBay sellers. As new marketplaces emerged, their users started expanding onto them, and those tools adapted to support them. Many from that era have fallen by the wayside: anyone remember SpoonFeeder and Auction Hawk? Others were taken over by competitors, like Marketworks, SpareDollar and Andale (by ChannelAdvisor, inkFrog and Vendio respectively).

Plenty from that first generation are still around though, including AuctionSage, ChannelAdvisor and Zoovy.

The next generation, as I see it, were the tools created with multiple marketplaces in mind. UK-based eSellerPro was one of the first to lead the way here, in 2006.

But it’s just in the last few years where we’ve had a real explosion in marketplace management software. Some of that growth has been from order management tools like Linnworks and Teapplix adding feature after feature, until they became end-to-end solutions.

Many others grew from scratch as multichannel management tools, including Brightpearl, SellerExpress and StoreFeeder in the UK; Ecomdash, SureDone and Stitch in the US. More recently, companies like UnderstandingE have been promoting Magento with the M2E Pro plug-in as a complete solution.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We currently have over seventy multichannel management tools in the directory here, and I know there are more out there.

Why Are There So Many Tools?

Unlike my previous posts, I’m not going to answer my own question. I’m really not sure what the answer is! In the forum post I linked to earlier, discussion starter countingfish got the sentiment just right though:

…there seem to be many, many players in this space, but lots of people seem dissatisfied.

That’s exactly what I see and hear too. Why is that? I have a few ideas:

  • No one has really cracked the problem yet.
  • The software works fine but it’s too expensive.
  • People aren’t as dissatisfied as it seems, they’re just a vocal minority.
  • Sellers don’t realise there is so much choice, so go with the tool they find first.
  • Multiple marketplace management is a really tough problem and can’t be made simple by software, no matter how good it is.

I’d love to know what you think. Is the “perfect” software solution for this yet to be made? Or are the available tools as good as they ever can be? Maybe I’ve just read it wrong, and most people are pretty happy with what they’ve got? Let me know in the comments below.

21 comments on “What’s Wrong With Marketplace Management Software?

  1. LInnworks. It’s awesome. We have 3000 listings over 4 channels, and adding more channels next year. It may cost a little more than others, and may take a little more time to understand how it all works, but it’s saved our business at least 1 employee from the back office and improved sales… Enabling us to increase turnover. Well worth the investment.

  2. I’ve tried quite a few to help keep track of multiple marketplaces but came away disappointed. All have severe limitations that make them worthless. The support staff is non-existent and any problem is your problem. Once you allow them access to your marketplace then they can create havoc. My Amazon account was fed wrong pricing and product details for 3 days. I had to finally get Amazon to stop the feed.

    1. Sorry to hear that Victor, are you handling it manually now? I think a lot of people compare software based on features, but perhaps they should look at quality of support more closely. That’s a lot more difficult to assess, but good support makes a huge difference. Average technology with great support can be better than great technology with poor support.

  3. Everyone seems to be going down the “these companies are a rip-off, I’m gonna build one thats priced lower” route, but seemingly even that is a task WAY bigger than they were expecting, and they end up expensive. Linn used to be really cheap, now its not that cheap as they expand their functionality and support systems.

    I use ChannelAdvisor and it is capable of a most things I ask of it. Is it cheap? No. The real problem here is that 99% of small sellers put no value on time. I would likely need 4 or 5 staff to manually do what ChannelAdvisor does automatically, so rather than a cost, a solution which does almost everything I need is a saving.

    1. I think that’s a good point Mark. It’s easy to see all expenses as “bad”, but actually a cost that brings in more sales is good – you want as many costs like that as you can get!

  4. Further to that, the other consideration is what that tool can do with your information to bring more sales. We like ChannelAdvisor as it takes the same information from our central database, and manipulates it (on the fly, automatically) so it can post to many more places that just eBay/Amazon/Webstore. The other channels which it supports all give incremental growth to sales with little additional effort on our behalf.

  5. Howdy Andy, All,

    Let’s answer the first question “Why Are There So Many Tools?”.

    And the answer to this falls down to time, cost & requirements.

    eSellerPro & 247 were created due to MarketWorks and ChannelAdvisors *failure* to adapt to the UK marketplace at a time when these were only two UK based options.

    For a long time MarketWorks didn’t even support UK shipping options!

    Since then numerous new companies have appeared due to both of these new options being too expensive (insert long list here, see the WebRetailer directory), even more so as investors have spotted that these companies have highly profitable SaaS products.

    And companies on the peripherals such as website platforms (Giant Systems) or accounting software (BrightPearl) having their customers ask for marketplace integrations.

    Also each business is different, some just sell on Amazon, just eBay, their own websites any combination in between. The business maybe new, already up & running or a long standing one, may have supplier feeds, fulfilment and so on…. This does lead to some very different requirements.

    When I left eSellerPro after ni-on 3 years, my conclusion was that there can never be the “Perfect” multi channel software tool, there is just too much you need to fit into one piece of software to satisfy the needs of so many.

    Your suggestion of “Sellers don’t realise there is so much choice, so go with the tool they find first” is probably more likely that they didn’t fully research and understand what the options are capable of.

    Multi channel software can appear to be very, very complicated to someone new to it, I wrote an entire book to tackle this specifically. http://understandinge.com/ultimate-guide-multi-channel-software-book/

    I know it was very weird to me the first time using MarketWorks over 10 years ago, however when I got the hang of it, I quadrupled what I was doing in 3-4 months.

    Also the thing is that you don’t find out what the software is possible of until you actually use it on a day-to-day basis and if it’s your first step into using multi channel software you can’t really tell if it’s any good or not for the business because you have nothing to benchmark it against.

    Anyway this reply is too long already!

    I’ll leave you with something to ponder from your other question:

    “Is the “perfect” software solution for this yet to be made?”

    The perfect solution cannot be made to solve everyones challenges.

    There is just software that suits the business today and for tomorrow, but the business requirements will change in a years time and it’s OK to move software tools when the time is right.

    Hope that helps you,

    Matt

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for the detailed reply.

      I’m sure you are right that sellers often don’t fully research the options out there… BUT isn’t it really hard for them to do that? These are complex systems, sometimes with a 12-month contract and a slick sales team, so how can they get an accurate impression of them without signing up?

  6. It is the “vocal minority” who deter sellers like me! ALSO the cost of some of the high end ones is prohibitive. A tool like this is invaluable to sellers but the final off-putter is simply learning how to use them – we don’t have the time to absorb the method when we are dealing with regular changes on eBay (especially). I have used several (including one designed by my son for his University Degree which was excellent for Amazon) and have reverted to listing directly to the sites themselves (there is so much danger now in the defects sytem on eBay that you cannot afford to be out of stock for a minute!)

  7. We shopped around 18 months ago and looked at many different systems before we settled on SellerExpress and we made the right choice for our business.

    We were surprised how many could not even manage ebay variation listings, but SellerExpress can! Support staff at SellerExpress are brilliant, the monthly costs are very reasonable. We now have 4 different marketplaces connected and syncing stock, more coming on line next year and it manages around 30,000 live listings for us at the moment.

    There is not ‘one size fits all’ out there, (despite what some will tell you!) so go with what you need for your particular business in terms of features and functionality and ensure some future proofing in terms of scalability as you grow.

  8. The biggest ‘wrongs’ by some:

    The ones who demand you sign a 12 month minimum term contract ( that auto renews unless you give written notice ).
    Then you find out the product you bought/’leased’ does not even come close to the power and options you have through other tools. Your support tickets are ignored phone calls not returned.

    If your thinking of choosing a management package, ask yourself;
    Shouldn’t a service stand on it’s own merit, think about it, if it works and does the job ? you’ll continue using it. I understand there can be setup costs in taking on new clients, so i would expect two or three months upfront as a cost, then monthly rolling after that.

    If it’s any good, why would there be a minimum term contract length?
    Here’s a hint, once they have suckered you in, they don’t care your under contract and will keep paying them ( or the debt collectors ) until you give notice and wait until your year is up. Wave goodbye to that $20,000.

    Things that work well ?
    Linnworks , ChannelUnity , M2Epro

    Things that don’t work well?
    ChannelAdvisor This dinosaur is losing ground to other providers due to a failing platform, lack of any tech. support, very slow to release new marketplace features.
    In general their overall system is so old and slow, they are their in desperate need of a do-over.

  9. Most of my work is helping sellers cope and use multichannel tools to build on their success. I find that a big bit of kit like Channeladvisor can really boost your business if set up and used correctly. To be honest, unless you have set up, ran and seen success using these tools it is a really tough and costly path to enlightenment.

    Support however fantastic is NOT enough. Someone needs to sit beside you understand your business and help you integrate. You need to not just ‘replicate’ your business using a multichannel tool but expand and better your business.

    I think when businesses just ‘replicate what they already have’ into XYZ multichannel tool they soon realise they are paying money for keeping their business kinda the same. Yeah, you may get integrated labels…that saves time…you now have a solid inventory system….great! Multichannel systems can help you save time, automate tasks but it is still humans that develop business.

  10. We have been using eSellerPro for 7 years and broadly I would say I am happy with them. Of course there are problems with it, but I fully suspect that all the other systems have their own issues which will be similar in nature. The system which these tools are trying to integrate with are complex, constantly evolving and also not perfect either, so it is only natural that they will also be imperfect.

    I was massively annoyed with ESP a while back and decided to look around. At the time (2 years ago now), I came to the following conclusions

    1. ESP is a very powerful tool, much more than I had realised e.g It can support multiple eBay IDs, Amazon IDs, seller internationally. Not all the tools can do this.

    2. Its breath is a strength. ESP offers a full solution and naturally some of its parts are more developed than others. However, the fact that it has an all in 1 offering means that we can take our time finding the right solution to enhance the offering instead of having to do lots of intergration from day one. This was one of the reasons I didn’t move to channel advisor as the cost of the warehousing (Peoplevox) + courier (metapak) + CA fee was making it all really expensive

    3. In many cases where ESP has clunky functionality, other tools don’t have any functionality at all.

    4. On the whole I think you get what you pay for. ESP is one of the more expensive tools, but I think it is also one of the best. The only one I thought was comparable was Channel advisor and that was even more expensive.

    These points on top of the epic effort of moving meant we stayed put and have tried to enhance ESP offering by integrating with Magento.

    ESP allows allows us to sell on 7 Amazon Marketplaces, 7 eBay Marketplaces + Magento website. I have no idea how we would do this without a management tool but I believe some people manage it. Good luck to them as they are going to need it.

  11. Great post, questions and discussion Andy. And thanks so much for mentioning our company as one of the many options out there. We’re thrilled to work in this fast-changing industry and offer an affordable solution.

    Matthew’s comment was excellent. What we’ve noticed over time is very similar…every ecommerce business is slightly different. Since many start small and have made-their-own way to success – making decisions fast to keep up with changing marketplace technologies and developing processes on-the-fly – we rarely see two businesses with exactly the same needs (once we get down deep into the real details of their business).

    In that same respect, I also believe Elizabeth is on point as well. Without learning a new, faster or potentially better way to manage workflow, etc., merchants may put themselves in a situation where they “don’t know what they’re missing” per se. They may get “stuck” in their own processes (what got them where they are) and miss big opportunities for growth. This is the “what got you here may not get you where you want to go” conundrum.

    My thoughts around your (first/main) specific question…

    Why are there so many tools to choose from? Our customers tell us they’ve researched 30+ systems before connecting with us. This is an overwhelming shopping experience; but there’s really no way around the hard work (today) – review sites like yours are a big help for sure. Of course, we hope that a couple of well-done and carefully supported solutions rise to the top and handle 99% of what every omnichannel business might need/want (and we hope that’s us at the end of the day). From my perspective, this space is very attractive right now simply because of the massive and growing market, the expanding availability of APIs and demand for open-source, plus the real and immediate business need for an all-in-one solution. The company that gets it right for most and creates real results to support the customers’ goals will win. It certainly feels like a race to the top…and I think you’re right about the first generation solutions being more of a patch-work of fixes to a problem instead of a carefully designed solution, built-from-scratch specifically for the omnichannel retailer.

  12. The real reason it is such a difficult problem to solve is that most marketplaces really do not want to support these efforts. They want to be a unique marketplace and could care less that you sell on Amazon, Ebay and other places. Some marketplaces don’t even offer a way to automate your updates short of manually (literally click an upload button) uploading a CSV file. While eCrater is not a marketplace, it functions like one, and offers no way to update anything short of editing your listings one at a time or cancelling all listings and reloading. Of course, they don’t charge any money. I ended up writing my own inventory synchronizer but still use SixBit for listing on eBay, spreadsheets for loading new inventory on Amazon, New Egg and other places, and using Shipworks for shipping. An integrated solution is too difficult to do right.

  13. My core business Crucial Vacuum is now a multi-million dollar e-commerce business selling on multiple marketplaces and channels, and over the past 6 years, has had a major pain point of needing a affordable end-to-end solution (inventory management, order processing, purchase order management et al). We’ve developed Skubana (skubana.com), an e-commerce acceleration platform that will very shortly not only disrupt the market, but invent a categorically new breed of product: an scalable enterprise-grade, all-in-one cloud portal end-to-end solution enough to accommodate small, medium AND enterprise e-commerce companies, all for a fraction of the cost of what is out there. Message me for details.

    1. Some multichannel companies have done that but the store platforms they create tend to be poorly received.

      My take is that inventory and sales channel management is about data, integration, synchronization etc. while a storefront platform is about design, usability, marketing etc. and they are two very different skill sets.

  14. Selling now on probably 90% of all marketplaces worldwide, the issue I see is that none of these 3rd parties, are really created by sellers for sellers, but by IT people for sellers and there is the disconnect. While most of the 3rd parties overlap somewhere, each of them seems to be lacking something. Sometimes it is a marketplace, sometimes a possible country, sometimes decent reporting, email automation, you name it.

  15. It does not seem to me (or maybe I have not been lucky enough to have found one….) but an adequate tool for listing to several sites with fully integrated services does not seem to exist! So new ones pop up trying to fill the gaps….but they are all lacking in one way or another…I dont have a cmplex selling program…I have under 100 items on etsy, under 10 on ebay, tried to sell on yahoo sites, but that is the most aweful system i have ever seen ever in my life! i would like to open my own web site, and have that intergrate with no glitches or problems with ebay and etsy, and also go daddy book keeping and with pay pal…i would like inventory sync across all the sites and a single listing tool to list to every site that updates when add item or sell item…invoicing estimates, supplie tracking, customer info…all this from one simple to use deal…maybe one with some add ons or someithg….and not for hundreds of bucks a month! come on…i sell maybe 500 a month some times 1500….i can afford about 30 a month after i pay off ebay etsy, paypal, go daddy, and the tax collectors….i have spent hours trying to find a system tht can handle all this for me…it does not exsist…not at all! please if someone knows of something that is a real all in one…and has all these things in one package…i would love to know about it and jump on it!

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