How Smbs Can Efficiently Manage Omnichannel E-Commerce Channels

The pandemic induced lockdown has brought forward a retail paradigm that was globally believed to be about 5 years in the future. As social contact was reduced or completely curtailed to avoid infection, physical retail saw an unprecedented shift towards e-commerce. This was aided by the presence of nearly 750 million broadband users in India created mostly in the last few years. With the world now seemingly on its way out of the pandemic, physical retail is clawing back its market share. Nevertheless, physical retail is not expected to reach the pre-pandemic market share and will likely settle at a number that was expected in the future. Therefore, e-commerce will become even more important in the go-to-market strategy of all manufacturers whether they are B2B or B2C players or whether they are large organisations or SMBs.

This is borne out by the figures released by management consultancy RedSeer. According to them, the Indian e-commerce market is expected to see its biggest year-on-year growth of 45% from last year with the sector reaching almost $55 billion in sales in 2021. 20 million new e-commerce shoppers were added in 2020 and the year 2021 is likely to see further addition of 40 million new e-commerce shoppers.

Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) facing tremendous strain with the business impact of the pandemic see a ray of hope in this e-commerce revolution. They are therefore being forced to grapple with adding e-commerce channels to their market mix for the business upside and competitive advantage.

Depending on their business SMBs typically look to be present on at least 5 e-commerce channels if not more in addition to e-commerce enabling their website. These could include Amazon India, Flipkart, Shopclues, Myntra, Paytm Mall, Snapdeal, BigBasket, eBay, Pepperfry, Meesho, Firstcry, Tatacliq, Grofers, Limeroad, Craftsvilla, CraftFurnish, Quikr, OLX, Udaan, IndiaMART, Nykaa, Myntra, Zomato, Swiggy, UrbanClap etc. In addition, there exist industry-specific e-commerce channels.

Dealing with so many different e-commerce channels involve managing the complexities associated with multiple distribution channels with all their attached complexities and record-keeping system requirements and personalities. These challenges include:

SKU pricing, discounting, and compliance: A critical aspect of selling that needs to be managed within the context of different e-commerce channels. Keeping track of these and ensuring updation of compliance information and is mission-critical.

Cross-channel messaging & branding: This is essential for brand identity projection and protection. The issues being that messaging and images are always a work in progress and waterfalling the latest changes across multiple channels for multiple SKUs becomes a huge exercise.

Inventory management at channel’s warehouse: Requires extensive tracking and supply chain management and being out of inventory also creates seller penalties thus reducing the competitiveness within the channel. Supply chain partners who can deliver to different channels from a single inventory pool can help save time and money.

Overstocking & overselling: The inventory at the manufacturing site again needs to be guarded against miscalculations due to multiple inputs being received. The cost and reputation implications of inventory overstocking, and overselling cannot be taken lightly.

Visibility across multiple channels & multiple warehouses: Advertising and promotional campaigns need to be coordinated across the multiple channels to ensure optimal returns and efficiency in spends.

Customer support & experience: Ecommerce selling is critically dependent on the reviews received from customers. Thus, customer support and experience can become make or break situations. Investing in capacity for managing queries and support becomes essential

Shipping & Returns: Ecommerce in India is much more susceptible to returns compared to physical retail channels. This needs to be managed efficiently to avoid negative reviews and not face seller penalties. Shipping in time again becomes critical for the same reasons.

Managing across multiple e-commerce channels is a complex task and especially for an SMB. One needs to get the whole internal organisation, external partners and e-commerce relationship managers synchronised. Omnichannel management solutions are the technology that enables this choreography to be excelled time after time for each and every SKU. Some of the globally popular omnichannel solutions for e-commerce are NetSuite Suite Commerce, SAP Commerce and Shopify Plus.

A good, experienced implementation partner can easily help the SMB decide, roadmap, execute, operationalise, and troubleshoot omnichannel implementation with specific ROI goals. It is important to ensure the partner has the expertise and bandwidth to deliver 24x7. Thus, allowing SMBs to digitally compete with the biggest while having the least impact on their finances and management bandwidth.
The omnichannel implementation partner will also ensure that the SMB has access to:
1. Seamless integration of the omnichannel solution into existing accountancy and ERP systems of the organisation
2. Efficiency in aligning with regulation and government policies to avoid any penalties and freeing up valuable management bandwidth to focus on business growth plans
3. Improving customer services for better loyalty and customer lifetime value with implementation of the customer support team
4. Enabling management business insight for decision making and business planning
5. Ensuring business continuity and de-risking the business from loss of data
6. Reducing time-intensive manual work and improving personnel productivity

SMBs must remember that mastering e-commerce retailing is key to growth aspirations and a solid implementation partner can help the organisation stay the course despite the roadblocks that may be encountered.