When I started my wholesale business back in 2013, I quickly realized I needed a software solution that will help me keep track of the inventory, orders and payments as well as enabling my customers to know the latest prices, product availability and shipping details. I also noticed that most of my clients preferred to text their questions/order details and were placing orders using their phones, not desktop computers. This made me realize what I need is a website that worked on mobile as well as it does on desktop. This website had to have two sides, the back office to give me easy-to-use & full control of the entire operation and a virtual storefront that enabled my customer to easily place orders, make payments and track shipments.
I started looking into possible solutions and even if at first glance it looked like there is a million alternative eCommerce solutions to choose from, once I started diving into the details I noticed that my choices got quickly narrowed down to maybe less than 10. I will not go into details of how each alternative solution did not fit my needs but instead, I will list the features that were very important for me to have in a website.
1-Cost: I thought about this factor towards the end of this blog post but I had to list it all the way up because even if it wasn’t the first thing to come to mind when thinking about why I built CartSpark, cost is the most important factor for business owners when choosing a solution that they will use for years to come. It’s important because most advanced solutions on the market today, charge thousands of dollars per month and cost tens of thousands to set up. As a small business owner, I could not afford 2-3 thousand dollars per month in payments and I knew a decent alternative should be available for a reasonable price. In my case the ideal price would be a few hundred dollars a month with preferably no setup costs because if the solution did not work and I chose to move on to something else, I would have wasted the money spent on setup fees.
2-Hosted Solution: I am somewhat tech savvy but I did not want the responsibility of renting out my own server and installing an open source or some other alternative on my server. This was going to be an online store with a lot of sensitive address and payment details of business customers was going to be stored in it. I wanted to be able to focus on the business side of things and not worry about the technology, its security and compliance. Neither did I want the responsibility of having to make sure the whole setup is secure and protected from hackers stealing it because if someone hacks in and steals all that sensitive information, I would be looking at millions of dollars in liability. I would prefer to pay a little higher monthly fee for a hosted solution where maintenance, reliability and security would be handled by industry professionals.
3-Custom Price Lists: When doing wholesale, you get all kind of clients, big and small. B2B clients are business owners and they like to negotiate deals for themselves. Its common in the industry to approach a vendor asking for a certain discount in return for a guaranteed monthly purchase amounts. I had customers who made offers and I liked them but I also needed a website that will let me display different prices to different clients. I also needed product privacy, I wanted ability to hide certain products from certain customers. This combination was hard to find in most of the popular solutions and became one of the first features we built.
4-Shipping Details: I will have to write a separate detailed post about shipping just by itself in general since it’s such an extremely detailed and very crucial part of any B2B ecommerce operation but here I will try show most important aspects in short. The most popular question your customers will ask you will be ‘When is the soonest we receive it and how much will that cost?’ I needed a shipping solution that showed my clients when they can receive the order, how much it will cost, which orders are free shipping and by what time of the day they have to place an order to make sure they get it on time. And for my disappointment, almost all the prepackaged solutions available on the market address this issue very poorly. They are not flexible enough and usually fail to cover unusual shipping scenarios such as shipping items of irregular size, items that have to be shipped in multiple boxes, etc.
5-Stock Replenishment (Receiving): In certain industries the cost of products changes regularly and businesses don’t keep unnecessarily large quantities of product in stock. They want to keep in stock just enough so they can supply their clients while not being left with large quantity of overpriced product when the product price suddenly goes down. Price fluctuation, usually downwards, was very common in smartphone replacement parts and accessories industry, which is what we do and I needed something that will suggest me the right quantities to reorder until the next shipment arrives and would enable my clients to know when the next batch of that product is coming. Again, unfortunately almost no solutions on the market have this feature in a easy to use form.
6-Multiple Warehousing: This was referred to as the most unusual feature request when I spoke to ecommerce solution providers. They said they don’t have this feature since most business operate out of just 1 warehouse that’slocated on the same premises with their main office building. This still maybe the case for most businesses but since Amazon has changed the way consumers see shipping, anything that takes longer than 2-3 days to deliver is not acceptable anymore and you need your products stored in multiple warehouses strategically located in different parts of the country within reasonable proximity. Ground shipping is the most reasonably priced option offered by UPS or Fedex but at the same time it’s also the slowest. They cost 7 dollars and up per package, depending on weight, and can take 5-6 days to ship from New York to California and vice versa. Or you will have to pay 40 dollars and up, depending on weight for overnight or 2 day shipping. Both options are not acceptable for most customers and that makes businesses lose their potential clients located on the opposite coasts. The only ecommerce solutions provider who said they can arrange something like this said it will cost me 15-20 thousand dollars to setup and will charge a little more than 2000 dollars per month to use. That was the moment I decided multiple warehouse support has to be a part of this solution we are building and our clients should be able to serve their customers from a warehouses that’s located the closest to their delivery address. (BTW, we are still finishing up this feature and its available to beta testers only.)
I tried to keep it short but looks like this post ended up longer than I was thinking it will be. The purpose of this post was to reflect on my journey, how I went from needing a reasonably priced and decently functional ecommerce solution to deciding to build one myself and offering it to business owners in similar position with me. Businesses who felt like the choices available on the market are either complicated and overpriced or cheap but incompetent of meeting needs of a small/medium sized B2B Wholesale operation.