We met eSellerPro at their office in Earl's Croome, Worcestershire, and spoke with Matthew Dean and Chris Farrelly about the company's past, present, and future.
Web Retailer: How did eSellerPro come about?
Chris Farrelly (Founder and Chief Technical Officer): I have had other software companies in the past, and stumbled across this area when I was working with someone using Marketworks, and they needed a back end into that system. Marketworks, which was later acquired by ChannelAdvisor, was mainly a listing and scheduling tool for eBay sellers - from what I saw of it.
So I built a product to integrate to Marketworks, and over time it ended up doing more than Marketworks because we added Amazon and website support. It didn't start as a big product; it was just a back end plug-in for Marketworks. It all built up from there.
WR: Matthew, you joined Sandbourne Systems in September 2006. How has eSellerPro changed in the two years since then?
Matthew Dean (UK Sales Manager): It has changed massively. In terms of staffing it's tripled. In terms of numbers of customers it's probably 500% to 600% growth, and in terms of development it's a vastly different product now compared to September 2006.
eSellerPro as a platform is just over three years old. It started from the back office and added the functions to link to eBay and Amazon. The product has internationalised so it can serve clients in all markets, and it has opened up niche marketplaces such as Play.com, Overstock, AbeBooks, and Alibris for our clients. The breadth of back office functions has increased, as has the numbers of couriers and accounting solutions we integrate to. It has really migrated to an end-to-end ecommerce solution, for the majority of our customers.
WR: You mentioned new features such as shipping and accounting integration. What else does eSellerPro do at the back end of the retail operations?
MD: It has a closed-loop process for returns management in the system. That's for product exchanges, as well as refunds and returns. The system will allow you to book in returns, reclassify stock, and effectively create a replacement purchase order for the shipping of replacement items to the customer.
eSellerPro can automate purchasing and place orders with suppliers Matthew Dean
It has supplier management features that can support multiple suppliers for single lines of products, and will allow lowest-cost selection based on the supply lines available. eSellerPro can automate purchasing based on rules, typically lowest price, and place orders with suppliers based again on those criteria. You might set a rule that says as back orders come in, you accumulate a purchase order up to a set value which gets cut to a supplier on specific days of the week.
There is also a drop-ship module within the platform so products that are shipped by third parties are passed through to the supplier for fulfilment.
CF: The main thing we are trying to do is bring the data from wherever it is to a central place, and manage it all across all channels, and all solutions. There's no export/import into different tools - it allows you to use one package to run all of your listing and back office functions. The only thing we don't try to do is accounting systems, instead we feed out to the different accounting systems.
Our clients do not have to go in and out of other systems, so they don't have to re-key data at all. What we try to achieve is a clean run-through; we don't touch the data. When an order comes in, it will print your labels, post to your accounts, do everything for you. You don't touch it, except where there's a query. It should be very straightforward and seamless, all the way through.
MD: I would just add it does this from a single source of inventory and therefore one stock count that it will list across as many channels as you want, and if you sell on one channel it will automatically adjust your stock on all of the others.
WR: How many sellers do you have on the system now and how much trade goes through eSellerPro?
MD: We have close to a hundred users on the platform. We don't, as a business, monitor total sales through the system yet. We have the data and I can imagine a future when there's a big plasma screen on the wall, showing us exactly what's going through eSellerPro on a second-by-second basis! All our priorities are customer-focused, and our own automated processes are second best until all clients have what they need. I haven't got my plasma on the wall just yet!
WR: You support eBay, Amazon and PlayTrade, as well as sellers' own storefronts. How should retailers allocate their resources between marketplace trading and selling on their own website?
MD: A challenging question for them and a challenging one for me. We came into this business through marketplace opportunities, primarily eBay and Amazon. I would certainly never ignore either of those marketplaces. They are vast entities - what I've described as cyber cities, where millions of people go to shop. The loyalty of buyers is to the cyber city, not to the retailer's brand, so I would say sellers who trade purely on marketplaces ought to look at building their own brand, outside the marketplaces they trade in.
To that end, we have constructed a website-front end capability in eSellerPro based on WAI and W3C standards. Having that, and the natural search visibility that comes with it, creates some of what you need to successfully build a visible website and therefore brand loyalty. In terms of how much time you then put into AdWords campaign management, into other Pay Per Click channels, into shopping feeds, and free promotion channels, is a hard one to call. It would vary business-by-business and product-by- product, but I would always recommend that customers look at as many channels as possible and certainly a brand-loyal channel - which would be their own ecommerce storefront.
WR: Some commentators see the financial crisis as an opportunity for online retailers. Has it affected you and your sellers?
I recommend that customers look at as many channels as possible Matthew Dean
CF: I don't think it has yet, but I'm sure it will. I'm sure people who offer quality products at a cheaper price will see sales pick up. Things are starting to ramp up for Christmas now so it's difficult to tell. I guess we are going to see an increase in online trade next year as the high street starts to suffer.
MD: I am seeing clients' revenues increasing. Those who sell returned stock from major high street retailers, are seeing acquisition costs going down for the goods that they're bringing in and selling in an online environment. They are getting much better buy prices for their products, enhancing their ability to sell those goods through the channels they use. It's definitely moving in the online direction and bringing the tipping point much closer in terms of where the split is between online and offline sales.
WR: Your customers have a choice between hosting eSellerPro with you or hosting the system themselves. Generally, how should retailers decide whether to go for self-hosting or software-as-a-service?
CF: If anyone wants to self-host, they need to be geared up for it - it cannot just be a PC stuck under a desk. It has to be hosted properly in a data centre because there's a lot of sensitive information there. People don't always think about what's involved, making sure backups are in place and databases are kept up to date. It is an option, but should really only be taken on by someone who's geared up with a data centre or computer room of some kind.
WR: What's next for eSellerPro? What features are you working on now?
CF: We recently added EPOS [Electronic Point of Sale - digital cash registers for offline retail] so people who have an EPOS system or a retail outlet can link to eSellerPro. So, if they sell something in their store, the system will take it off eBay and Amazon.
We've added CRM [Customer Relationship Management] recently so people can manage all their emails in one central place. We're extending that to have a workflow system for repeat customers so that as emails come in you can direct them to different work groups and can build in some rules as well. For example, you might want to forward enquiries about high-value orders to someone more senior. When they reply to that email you may want to route it through their supervisor. So more workflow options is the next step for our CRM module.
We're looking at new integrations. New couriers come along all of the time. We do about 15 couriers, and you say, "Well, that must be it", but another one comes along. We've got lots of ideas of where we want to go and just need to prioritise them.
WR: What new trends and innovations are the most important for retailers?
CF: Video is big at the moment; everyone wants it on their websites. We are always looking at new technologies that come along and how we can integrate them. Quite often new technology comes and goes quite quickly, so you don't want to put too much effort into something that's not going to be of any use. We're adding video to our websites for people if they want to do that.
Traffic is the value when you're starting up a website, because that is your customer exposure Matthew Dean
There are a lot of new things coming out that we are playing with and we'll add it when we think there's a good opportunity for our customers. There are search technologies coming up that we want to build in, business intelligence tools that we want to integrate too. Integrating into Facebook is a good thing, but some trends you need to let settle down and not spend too much time developing something that's going to disappear in a few weeks' time.
MD: For me there is no one big bang within the consumer environment. It is very much about having exposure to channels and buyers. For a retailer who sells purely on eBay, the big bang might be selling on Amazon. Typically we will see our eBay clients who had not previously sold on Amazon double their revenues. If it's an eBay and Amazon seller, the next big step might be to engage buyers with a website, which opens up huge opportunities in terms of how you bring traffic to that website. Traffic is the value when you're starting up a website, because that traffic is your customer exposure.
For clients who only trade domestically, the big opportunity might be to sell through eBay and Amazon internationally. The challenge for each of our customers might be different. From our perspective, it's to always be ahead of the game and be able to offer the customer any of those next steps in their particular development. For a business that's at that right level, it's a mixture of all of those things because that lowers risk and increases exposure to potentially hundreds of millions of buyers. As an ecommerce retailer, anybody can do that. The reach is there in eSellerPro.
Article Added: 11 November 2008
Last Updated: 11 November 2008