How Your Boutique Could Do Multichannel Commerce As Well As JCPenney

4 minute read

It was the very early days of e-commerce when Manish Chowdhary and a few of his fellow University of Bridgeport computer engineering majors began earning income building custom business websites in their dorm rooms. Many of the features they were developing could be re-used, so they put them into an off-the-shelf software package to save customers time and money on setting up an e-commerce platform. In 2000, that was GoECart’s first product.

“Back then, Yahoo was one of the few turnkey e-commerce solutions available where a merchant or retailer could sell online without being a full fledged Webmaster or having a computer science degree,” Chowdhary says. “We felt business owners needed a simple solution. We started out as an e-commerce shopping cart and platform that enabled businesses to be found on search engines and make easy and secure sales.”

In the 14 years since, Chowdhary’s business has evolved with the e-commerce era, and GoECart has grown to serve hundreds of businesses worldwide and employ 30 people. Today GoECart specializes in supporting multi-channel-order management for retailers in all markets, from apparel to accessories, b2b to beauty and health, gifts to flowers.

In this first of a two-part interview, Yahoo spoke with Chowdhary about the challenges facing small e-commerce businesses today and what any startup needs to know about managing multichannel commerce. In part two of our interview, Chowdhary talks about how GoECart solves the problems of modern merchants.

Yahoo Small Business: First, could you explain the challenges that small e-commerce businesses face?

Chowdhary: Selling on multiple channels is the new reality of e-commerce. Nowadays we can’t differentiate between e-commerce and brick and mortar. A small business’s customers walk into the store and say, “I bought it online, why should I not be able to return it here?” Customers used to expect that level of sophistication from Fortune 500s, from Macy’s and Nordstrom. But now, even small stores can’t say, “Sorry I can’t do that because the order was placed online.”

YSB: How else have the challenges of doing e-commerce changed in recent years?

Chowdhary: Back when we started, the challenge was, “How do we get online?” There wasn’t a lot of competition; it was about being easy, cost effective, and secure. Since then we have moved up to solve a different challenge, which is the challenge of multichannel or omni-channel commerce. The definition we use for that is “the ability to sell and service customers across every touch point.”

The popularity of online marketplaces is forcing businesses to look at sales and marketing channels outside their own websites. Even Sony and Canon are selling through indirect channels. That is forcing everyone to reconsider where they should be selling. They need to be where the eyeballs and customers are.

YSB: Explain more about the challenges of multichannel commerce.

Chowdhary: Multichannel is about selling from multiple branded storefronts. Old Navy and Banana Republic are two separate brands from the same company, for instance. Or you might have a wholesale retail promotions catalogue. So you have one or more store fronts: a brick and mortar point of sale, a call center, and you sell from online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, Sears, or Etsy. Additionally, you may be on comparison-shopping engines like Google Shopping. On the supply side, you may have a ship-from-store program, or you may have a warehouse and fulfillment centers that are self-owned and self-managed, or third party logistics—outsourced fulfillment, as well as drop-shipped vendors and suppliers.

Just imagine managing all those parts of your business, from selling, returning, and shipping from any combination of these channels. That is where the complexity comes in.

The market trends are all about capitalizing on the various marketplaces. Retailers can pick any number of these channels. They don’t have to do them all; it depends on the business model.

But you want to give first-come-first-serve access to your customers and you don’t want to restrict your inventory on any channel because you’re afraid of overselling. Say you had one last piece of apparel in one size remaining. You want that item to be available simultaneously at all your channels, but the minute an order arrives you want to automatically notify all your other channels immediately that the item is no longer available. Most small and midsize retailers are not ready for that.

Or, say you want to make a pricing update. If you have five channels, how are you going to do that? To do it manually is very time consuming. If it happens over the weekend, you end up with a lot of backorders and you may disappoint many customers and hurt your ratings everywhere.

With GoECart a business owner doesn’t have to manage inventory on these channels separately.

YSB: What does an entrepreneur looking to launch an e-commerce business need to know about this world?

Chowdhary: They need to take a good look at the competition before they start and do a strategic evaluation of the market. Know and prove your value proposition before trying to build your business around that, especially if you’re selling commoditized goods. Try to identify the niches that have not already been served or are underserved.

There’s a lot of competition online and you really need to prove the model, test the market before jumping in with both feet, and constantly reinvent. Trying to beat existing players at their own game might be harder than they think.