4 factors to choosing a high-performing software implementation expert

Cin7 Experts are specialized consultants who are vetted by Cin7 and are committed to providing resources to help brands, retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers with a wide range of business needs. Experts can handle anything from data migration, technical training, ecommerce, process development and automation, and financial planning.

Since the Cin7 Expert directory went live, UK software integration company Bluehub has zoomed to the top of the rankings, spurred on by five-star reviews from enthused customers. We asked them how they ended up as the top-reviewed Cin7 Expert, and what customers should look out for when choosing a software implementation partner to help them on their inventory management software journey.

Here’s what they told us:

  • Take the time to understand where your customers are at
  • Specialize in top inventory management apps
  • The best experts hire from industry
  • Top experts build custom integrations and make use of APIs

Bluehub began as a Xero ecosystem consultancy and custom software development house, helping customers identify which apps would be right for their business, setting up those apps, and then providing ongoing support. But after a couple of years, they realized that the customers who needed the most help were almost always product-based businesses looking for an inventory solution — so they pivoted hard into that space.

“Over the last six years, we’ve been solely focused on helping product-based businesses,” says Bluehub founder Guy Earnshaw. “We help customers either build on a foundation of an existing cloud system — like Xero or QuickBooks — or we help people who are on legacy, server-based systems take that first step into the cloud with online accounting, plus one of the inventory apps.”

#1 Top Experts take the time to understand where customers are in their journey

Most of Bluehub’s clients fall into one of two categories. The first is established businesses that are looking to move online — to migrate from an existing ERP, or an offline inventory management solution (such as Sage, or even spreadsheets.) Others are those who have already begun their cloud journey, with accounting software like Xero or QuickBooks Online. Bluehub says it’s vital for Experts to understand where a customer is on their journey, what their current level of expertise is, and where they want to go.

“All the clients that we speak to have already started their own journey of looking at software,” Guy says. “So they’re coming to this with some level of education of what they want to do, the sort of problems they’re trying to fix and what their options might be in this space. So the way we describe ourselves to those people is that we are software consultants and developers who specialize in product based businesses going through this transition.”

From a platform of mutual understanding, Bluehub is well placed to help their clients transform their businesses for the better.

“We help with system selection and implementation, which includes everything like training, data migration, and a bit of support,” Guy says. “And then we have ongoing relationships with our clients where we provide basic user support to big integrations, too. So we’re an end-to-end service for businesses just like theirs looking to make exactly this transition.”

#2 The most effective Experts focus on just one or two inventory apps

Early in their journey, Bluehub supported all the inventory software solutions they could. But now they do most of their inventory management consulting work with just two apps: Cin7 and DEAR Systems. Why is that? Zeroing in on just a couple of best-of-breed apps means you can provide better services to customers, faster. There’s less overhead, and fewer learning requirements. You can just get on with the job, confident in the knowledge that your clients are on the best possible system for their needs.

“A big part of that shift is we’re working with more and more complex and larger businesses. From an accounting and a production perspective, DEAR is really quite advanced for products in this range,” Guy says.

Bluehub reckons that the partnership with DEAR is what helps drive great outcomes with their clients.

“[Partnership] gives us an incredible product that we get to sell to our clients and build on that.
Guy says. “And your service can only be as good as the system that you are implementing. Thankfully DEAR gives us a whole heap of tools in our hands that satisfy our clients — we have so many ‘wow’ moments when we’re giving demos or even when we’re working with clients during consultancy.”

#3 The best Experts hire staff from industry

All over the accounting, bookkeeping, software-coaching and implementation world, Experts are finding that one of the best ways to support customers in a particular industry is to hire from that industry. Hiring from industry confers a huge advantage for Experts — it builds credibility amongst their customer base, and enables them to either double down on support for a particular niche, or easily expand to related industries.

“In recent years we’ve hired more people that actually worked in our client’s industries,” Guy says. “We’re taking people out of the manufacturing sector, out of the wholesale and distribution sectors, who’ve worked in industry for over a decade.”

Usually, the industry professionals Bluehub has been hiring have experience in working with large, bespoke ERP implementations. This experience has proved invaluable, as they’re now able to help companies implement a much more nimble and yet highly extensible and inexpensive ERP, in the form of DEAR Systems.

“We’ve brought them into our team to help our clients transition their processes and really fully adapt to the system,” Guy says.

#4 High-performing Experts don’t implement unwieldy ERPs. Instead, they build bespoke integrations and make use of APIs

Top software implementation experts know that the best way to help small and medium businesses thrive is to get them online as soon as possible. For companies that ship physical products, inventory management software is a must-have. But even for SMEs with specialist requirements, they don’t recommend high-maintenance, expensive legacy ERPs.

Instead, they say to get on software like Cin7 or DEAR Systems, as a good Expert partner will be able to make use of APIs to build all the bespoke integrations and app bridges they could ever need.

Bluehub began as a software development house first and foremost, and that legacy comes to the fore when a customer needs something custom-built.

“We still have development at our core, and we build a lot of integrations — often with third party logistics (3PL) companies, but also with eCommerce websites, and a few custom apps for people who have unique requirements,” Guy says.

When a Bluehub client gets set up on DEAR, they end up with a fully-customized system, purpose-built for them out of off-the-shelf components. This app stack often beats the capability of a legacy ERP, at a fraction of the cost.

About Bluehub

Bluehub is a top-ranking software implementation company and DEAR Expert partner. They  provide innovative system integrations and solutions that support their client’s businesses operations and growth. From initial discovery into client needs, to set-up, training and roll-out, Bluehub provides a fully managed service from start to finish. 

About Cin7 Experts

Cin7 Experts experienced with DEAR are an essential part of the Cin7 inventory and order management community. No matter what kind of product business you’re running, where you’re located, or what you’re trying to achieve, there’s a Cin7 Expert on DEAR who can help you achieve your ambition while saving your money and time. 

What every fashion retailer can learn from Zara

If you’re running a fashion store, you need to keep up with the latest product and service trends in the market. Zara has been one of the most successful (and most copied) brands in the fashion industry, and companies can find both inspiration and business ideas by taking a closer look at how they operate. 

Zara is a leading Spanish fashion retail brand owned by the distribution group Inditex. Founded in 1975, Zara works in textile design, manufacturing, and distribution. With over 1,700 stores across 86 countries, Zara’s profitability is still among the highest in the industry.

So, what makes Zara so successful? What operational strategies do they use? And finally, what can other fashion retailers learn from Zara? The answers to these questions can help you as you make your way towards retail success. 

Zara capitalizes on fashion trends

For Zara, its competitive advantage is its supply chain. Zara designs fashionable products inspired by trade fairs, catwalks, magazines, and more. Their designs are unique, and they are able to meet the demands of fashion-centric customers from all age groups. Whenever a new style is seen in the market, the talented designers at Zara can move quickly and capitalize while trends are at their peak. 

This flexibility means that Zara is associated with new trends in the industry, and that recognition leads to higher demand. So, how do they move so quickly? It’s obvious that Zara’s processes are very efficient. They surely have a great inventory management system that helps them automate and streamline their processes. 

Zara has a clear, defined, and consistent system

Zara designs thousands of products every year, and they deliver new products to their stores twice a week. They have a precise inventory management tool that makes it easy for them to determine which products they have in stock, how many of those products are available, and which sizes need to be delivered to what stores. 

Looking at Zara, it’s clear that having an inventory optimization model in place is essential. Zara is able to make sure that each store receives only the products they need, and no more. This way, Zara is able to stay efficient and avoid wasteful over-stocking.

Zara can go from idea to shipped product in 15 days

Zara’s stores place two orders per week, and they do it on a scheduled date and time. The shipping carriers are scheduled to leave and deliver shipments at specific times. This level of attention to detail and organization allows Zara’s staff to have clear expectations and processes.

With an organized logistic system in place, Zara also has the ability to go from idea generation, to design, and finally stocked in stores in only 15 days. The industry standard, on the other hand, is 6 months.

Zara’s distribution process is extremely efficient, too.They’re able to deliver products to their European stores within a day, and to their American and Asian outlets in 2 days or less.

Zara’s supply management sets it up for success

Zara’s flexibility, efficiency, and organization make it an outstanding organization, and a great model for fashion retailers around the world. Their cross-functional operations strategy, efficient supply management, and organized distribution methods result in well-managed inventories, lower prices, higher profits, and fantastic brand value.

Want to get organized like Zara? Request a demo here and speak to a specialist who can discuss how Cin7 increases operational efficiency and overall productivity for all kinds of retailers and wholesalers.  

Traditional ERP systems vs cloud-based ecommerce software

Ecommerce, also called electronic commerce or internet commerce, is a business model that lets you buy and sell goods and services over the Internet. So, ecommerce software allows your online store to operate. The transaction of money (funds) is also a part of ecommerce.

ERP systems are a type of software used to manage enterprise data. ERP systems help different organizations in dealing with various departments of an enterprise. It takes care of departments like inventory management, customer order management, production planning, shipping, and accounting.

ERP systems combine all databases across the company into a single database and can be accessed by all employees of the enterprise. It helps you in the automation of the tasks involved to perform a business process.

We will learn about the fundamental differences between the two systems in this article to help you make a better choice.

What is an ERP system?

Running a business is all about juggling things from finance to operations, and sales to marketing. ERP systems aim to consolidate back-office processes into one system. They help you track, share and store information across various departments, and ensure that all the employees rely on the same data.

Popular ERPs like NetSuite, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft Dynamics are traditional business management systems with accounting at the core. To keep up with the changing tide of retail, there are many integrations for ecommerce solutions like:

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Order Management Systems (OMS)

Inventory Management Systems (IMS)

Supply Chain Management (SCM)

Product Information Management (PIM)

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Business Intelligence (BI)

Customer Experience Management (CX)

Human Resources Management (HRM)

Shopping carts like Shopify

Challenges of ERPs in ecommerce

ERP monoliths are not tailored to a specific industry or line of business, so the quality of ecommerce integrations often fall short of expectations. ERPs were built based on older technology and have not kept up with the ever-changing marketplace requirements or the level of innovation that ecommerce software regularly delivers.

Most ERPs are built for back-office purposes. They are not meant for customer-facing sites like a web store that require real-time transactions and analysis.

By hinging your whole multi-channel business on an inflexible system like this, you risk non-compliance, listing errors, and other mistakes. It could cost you the right to sell on marketplaces like Amazon.

ERPs require major financial and time investments. Apart from annual subscription fees, you may face up-front and support costs running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, it may take years to implement an ERP system fully and that could lead to disruptive changes to your business.

What is ecommerce software?

Ecommerce software is the system that allows your online store to operate. Ecommerce software may include business tools like inventory management, accounting, and email marketing.

Put simply, ecommerce software lets you list products for sale and accept payments online. But, most online businesses usually need more than the bare minimum, and ecommerce software adds other business management tools.

The best ecommerce software has all the basic tools you need to get started, with an ecosystem of upgraded tools and platforms that you can use as your business grows.

Types of ecommerce software

There are mainly three types of ecommerce software:

1# Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

Both of the above offer ecommerce solutions via the Internet. SaaS provides solutions through cloud-based software, and if adding hardware, it becomes a PaaS. These are both straightforward options for those who are not tech-savvy.

Additional design and custom features may require some developer skills. But, patches, updates, and new features are dealt with automatically.

These services charge on a monthly basis and may include transaction fees, but provide full support when required.

2# On-premise platforms

These solutions are hosted locally on servers by the retailer and managed by their IT department. On-site professionals are required to fix any problems as they occur, add new features, and do manual updates.

If you have your own internal IT team, then on-premise may be an excellent option for you. It allows firms to gain more control over their site and create their custom storefront solution.

ERP vs ecommerce software

Let’s compare ERP systems with inventory management software (an ecommerce software) as an example to get a better idea.

While researching inventory management software online, you may end up on a site that aggregates a list of providers like Capterra or GetApp that helps you compare features, benefits, and prices.

So, you can usually group your options into two main categories:

All-in-one platforms such as a supply chain management platform or an ERP

Dedicated warehouse and inventory management software

An all-in-one solution may sound enticing as it offers “full stock” in one place and can manage multiple systems and processes using one software solution. A dedicated inventory management software specializes in specific sales and accounting functions and integrates with a wide range of other software.

So, the choice depends on either using software that does everything but doesn’t specialize in a specific area or using a stack of specialized software with integrations to one another.

Conclusion

Businesses often choose to use an all-in-one or ERP as it offers the ability to manage all administrative tasks in one place. But, as all-in-ones are so focused on managing so many things at once, they often lack the level of granularity required to fully handle inventory and warehouse processes like ecommerce software can.

If the idea of a cloud-based SaaS solution for inventory and order management is one that appeals to you over an ERP, schedule a demo of Cin7 here and we’ll show you how it can be your centralized resource for managing sales, inventory, accounting, warehousing and fulfillment.

A complete guide to robotics and warehouse management

The word automation was first coined and used by Ford Motor Company then Vice President, Delmas Harder in 1948 when he commented that, “What we need is more automation.”

He realized that there was a need to improve material handling in-between the various production stages to compete in the market with companies like Chevrolet.

Why this is significant is because it was the first time anyone thought of automating a process in a manufacturing unit. This led to the creation of robots that are now used in the manufacturing plants, warehouses, to ease and quicken the processes.

Let’s dive into the history of how the robots came into existence.

History of robotics in warehouses

However, it was not until 1954 that George Dovel filed for a robotics patent when he created the first industrial robotic arm, Unimate.

This robot was capable of moving the materials around 12 feet away within the manufacturing unit. This also earned George Dovel the title – Grandfather of Robots.

It took until 1961 for a patent to be granted due to concerns about laborers losing their jobs.  General Motors was the first company to make use of the first of these robot arms in manufacturing at their New Jersey plant in 1962.

Then came the Stanford Arm in 1969 created by Victor Scheinman. It was technically a first of its kind, electrically-powered, an automated robot arm that could move around accurately. The arm was powerful enough to assemble the Ford water pump by itself with optical and contact sensors.

This marked the beginning of a new era of using robots in the manufacturing process for achieving higher efficiency and improving lead time in the production of items.

By 1990, the use of robots started in households as well with the advent of Roomba robots developed by iRobot. Roomba was a first-generation vacuum cleaning robot that became a huge success.

Since then, there has been no looking back and the usage of robotics has come a long way in a short span of time.

In 2003, Kiva systems started creating AMR (Automated mobile robots) which were used in moving goods around warehouse and distribution centers using a conveyor system or by forklifts.

Kiva robots were so effective that Amazon bought the company itself in 2012 and now uses them across all their distribution centers.

Amazon is at the forefront of warehouse robotics development with 100,000 robots operating in their fulfillment centers across the globe.

Types of robots

As mentioned earlier, there was no looking back once the Roomba robot and Kiva robots were introduced and hugely successful in the market. Various types of robots came into existence that served various purposes.

However, for the warehouse, 5 major types of robots are used:

#1 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)

The Kiva robot that we are so familiar with is actually an Automated Guided Vehicle robot. This robot helps in transporting products and materials from one place to another by using magnetic stripes, sensors, or a track embedded in the warehouse floor. They are the best alternative to the manually driven forklifts and picking carts.

#2 Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR)

AGVs have developed a lot over the years and now they can function without magnetic stripes or sensors. These are known as Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) loaded with warehouse maps and the location of all the inventory stored in it.

AGVs also have safety scanners embedded in it such as 3D cameras, lidar, infrared, front and rear sensors, etc. which allow them to navigate without any mishaps following maps and the established routes within the warehouse. These are also known as self-driving forklifts.

#3 Cobots or collaborative robots

As the name suggests, these are robots that work collaboratively with human workers at the warehouse. However, these are quite efficient as they are semi-autonomous mobile robots that can move around a warehouse with their human pickers.

Usually, these cobots follow the human pickers so that they can drop picked items in the bins carried by these robots. This improves efficiency amongst warehouse workers and also reduces or eliminates the effort of physically carrying products.

Cobots have sensors so that they can identify any obstacle or boxes in their way and enable them to navigate carefully through the warehouse. Cobots are picker staff best friends as they can speed up their order fulfillment capabilities.

#4 Automated storage and retrieval systems

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are automated technologies used in warehouses for speedy storing and retrieving of goods. This system consists of multiple technological machines such as shuttles, cranes, carousels, vertical lift modules, unit loads, and mini loads.

Since all AS/RS are computer-controlled systems, they are integrated with the warehouse management system so that it can process order fulfillment as soon as orders are received.  AS/RS systems are used for moving a high volume of loads from in and out of storage.

AS/RS systems save time and effort of picking staff since in this “Good to Person” order picking, the worker does not have to physically move from one place to another to pick items. A mini-load crane, shuttle or AMR retrieve the products as per order and deliver it directly to the worker for packing and shipping.

#5 Aerial drones

We have been fascinated with the idea of drones delivering packages to our doorstep ever since Amazon began this practice. Drones have greater capabilities and we still have not fully explored their usage.

Drones are already being used in warehouses for locating and tracking inventory. They make the work much easier, quicker and can reach any nook and corner easily. In addition, a drone can be easily integrated with your warehouse management system making it an effective technology for tracking inventory and also lifting lightweight products for easy picking and packing.

Drones are autonomous and customizable, and with their cameras and RFID, drones can easily scan products, do inventory checks, conduct tracking, and map inventory.

Benefits of using robots in the warehouse

“To be or not to be” is a challenge faced for the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the manufacturing industry. Some are uncomfortable with the overall implications of AI taking over manual tasks, but recent statistics of intelligent automation capabilities are gaining attention, and therefore, cannot just be ignored.

“85% usage of intelligent automation will be seen in Supply Chain Management by 2021,” as per an IBM Report.

It is essential to stay globally competent in today’s dynamic market and using robots and artificial intelligence in the warehouse is the way to go! Here are a few of the benefits of using robots in the warehouse.

Reduces manual labor

Robots can take over work that is dangerous or time-consuming and thereby help warehouse workers to stay safe while working in coordination with robots.

Robots also help save time and effort by replacing manual scanning, picking and packing, and inventory counting. Also, it can be a very strenuous activity for the warehouse workers to keep on moving one rack to the other to fetch items ordered by customers. But autonomous mobile robots can perform these physical tasks and help workers to focus more on other order fulfillment tasks that require human intervention.

Improves warehouse accuracy and efficiency

Artificial intelligence helps in reducing human error and improves the customer experience which is the key to success for any business.

Since robots are customizable and can be programmed for a specific purpose, there are few instances of mistakes. Robots are not prone to human error and thus they eliminate wasted time and effort in redoing an incorrect task.

Accuracy in tasks like product scanning, picking, storing, and transporting products positively affects the overall performance of the warehouse. Warehouse robots work with precision and allow operators to automate the most mundane and laborious tasks.

Reduces warehouse costs

As per U.S. Census Bureau data, an average warehouse worker spends almost seven weeks per year in unnecessary motion within the warehouse. The costs of such futile activity costs the industry more than $4.3 billion USD in annual revenue.

Also, robots perform dangerous tasks efficiently in the warehouse, resulting in reduced costs spent on worker’s compensation for safety issues. There are fewer chances of workers getting injured since robots are performing the tasks instead.

The number of workers required in the warehouse also decreases as robots can fulfill most of the tasks with accuracy, creating less wastage.

Efficient picking capabilities

One of the foremost usages of a robotic arm was to move materials from one place to another up to 12 feet away. But with the technical advancements, the robotic arm has now been developed into an autonomous mobile robot that can travel far and wide in the warehouse and pick items automatically.

Some well-known companies like IAM Robotics, 6 RiverSystems, and GreyOrange, have introduced their powerful mobile robotic picking solutions in the market increasing warehouse efficiency requiring limited human resources.

These machines are programmed to travel established routes and they typically carry carts in which the products can be stored and transported to human workers.

Conclusion

We hope this article has helped you understand how robots are changing the supply chain within warehouses. At this point in time, robot technology is just scratching the surface. In the future, robots will prove to be much more useful and advanced as technology advances.

To learn more about Cin7 inventory and order management software and to find out how our warehouse management system can help automate your operations, request a demo here.

7 core benefits of AI-powered supply chains

The global supply chain is filled with several variables that add to its complexity: government regulations, ever-changing customer demand, rising transportation costs, and international events such as pandemics. Any innovation that helps improve the supply chain’s efficiency can help increase your bottom-line profit.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one such innovation that helps optimize the supply chain by better forecasting customer preferences and cutting costs by automating some repetitive manual tasks.

IBM defines AI as, “leveraging computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” In common parlance, AI is a technology that can think like humans to solve problems.

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers New Zealand (PWC) suggests that AI-based applications could potentially contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030.

Artificial intelligence is soaring in popularity —  in fact, Gartner predicts that by 2023, 50% of IT leaders will move their AI projects from proof of concept to maturity.

Giant conglomerates such as Amazon already leverage AI to   better control   the supply chain. For example, Amazon has already transformed the ecommerce business through free shipping and 1-day delivery practices. It is now devising systems using AI and machine learning (ML) to automate its warehousing processes and drone delivery.

If you are considering AI-powered supply chains, here are seven benefits that could help transform and evolve your business:

#1 Warehouse automation

The warehouse should not be treated simply as a place to store goods. Furthermore, if the items in the warehouse are not properly stored, there could be difficulty in retrieving the items when required. This in turn can increase your fulfillment time, not to mention your customers’ frustration. Instead, the warehouse should be regarded as a strategic asset that can help with storage and faster fulfillment of goods, thanks to automation.

Automation can help with the timely retrieval of goods from the warehouse and facilitate a smoother fulfillment of orders. As you keep purchasing inventory, the algorithm continues to learn from the data, and – based on this purchase and supplier data – the AI can provide stocking recommendations.

Lack of real-time information can lead to inefficient warehousing. Using a warehouse management system can offer much-needed clarity and help in streamlining your operations. A warehouse manager can get real-time insights about the various parts, components, and finished inventory stored in the warehouse, since the technology takes virtually no time to process and analyze large swaths of data.

Drones are also helping to automate warehouse operations. In movies and wedding ceremonies, drones are often used for videography from a higher altitude. At the warehouse, drones scan and capture information from barcodes and RFID tags, as well as reconcile data with your warehousing software.

Apart from scanning, the drones can also pick up inventory and aid with quicker shipping. Using drones to fetch items from higher shelves also mitigates the risk of warehousing staff injuries caused by falling from height.

Helpful hint: Apart from speeding up the work and saving you time, AI automation can reduce the otherwise required number of warehousing staff and save money that would have been devoted to payroll.

#2 Minimize operational costs

Plant managers deal with several challenges in running business operations. There can be inventory shortages, unplanned machinery downtime, or a rise in raw material pricing. All these can increase overall operational costs. If you are operating on lean margins, any activity that helps with cost-cutting can be crucial for your success. To combat such supply-demand mismatches, businesses have started implementing AI technology, leading to cost minimization and delivering a better customer experience.

Research from McKinsey suggests that after introducing artificial intelligence in their supply chain, 44% of executives reported cost reduction, and 63% had increased their overall revenue.

Helpful hint: Unlike humans, technology can run 24/7 with maximum productivity. It is free of human error and reduces workplace accidents.

#3 Predicting trends

It can be challenging to plan for the supply chain due to globalization, competition, increasing product varieties, and varying customer preferences. Unplanned events such as pandemic-related lockdowns and logistical issues can fuel the fire.

When final production relies on the timely availability of several spare parts and critical components, their unavailability can create bottlenecks in the supply chain. With a robust AI-powered forecasting system, businesses are equipped with the necessary intelligence to prepare themselves before such events disrupt production.

Along the lines of AI, there is a buzzword called “Big Data” that is commonly used. As the name suggests, Big Data refers to data that is huge in volume and keeps compounding over time. For example, when customers purchase items from Amazon, they browse through many products that can yield insights into their consumption patterns.

Analyzing such a massive dataset may seem unfathomable by humans, but it can be done through AI-driven tools. Intelligent systems can analyze data and guide the forecasting of supply and demand. This can prevent your business from accumulating excessive stock. A study by McKinsey suggests that implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning can reduce supply chain forecasting errors by up to 50%.

Through machine learning, businesses can also leverage predictive analytics. This way, companies can spot patterns from historical data and current buying patterns for better forecasting.

#4 Better fleet management

The term, “fleet,” refers to a group of vehicles owned by businesses used for transportation. Fleet management is crucial for the smooth functioning of the supply chain as it links the manufacturer (supplier) to the customer. From rising fuel costs to labor shortages, fleet managers need to tackle many challenges. Managing a large fleet can be an arduous task if the necessary information is not available in a timely manner.

Using AI in logistics can offer real-time tracking and vital information for shipments. AIcan also assist in reducing the losses arising from fleet downtime and make the most of the fuel capacity.

AI-powered autonomous vehicles are also gaining popularity. Utilizing self-driving trucks can help reduce the cost of drivers and improve efficiency. Although it is a relatively new technology, the trend for autonomous trucks is gaining traction in the US logistics market, and it will continue to expand over the coming years.

#5 Improve inventory management

Inventory management lays the foundation of proper supply chain management. Effective inventory management can ensure a logical flow of goods in and out of the warehouse. With so many variables to consider – like order picking, packing and fulfillment – manual inventory management is time-consuming and prone to errors.

Inventory bottlenecks lead to delays and reductions in revenue. With the help of AI, businesses can gain complete visibility of supply chain variables and identify the processes that act as bottlenecks. Upon identifying bottlenecks, you can quickly eliminate them by strategically finding opportunities for improvement.

Apart from bottlenecks, understocking and overstocking are also issues that adversely affect your business. Understocking leads to losses arising from missed sales opportunities and risks reducing customer loyalty. Conversely, overstocking poses the risk of loss due to not being able to sell the inventory. Businesses can use demand forecasting (through AI) to avoid overstocking and accurately predict trends. Based on the data, the production and stock levels can be calibrated to maintain optimum inventory.

Cloud-based inventory management software can provide a centralized view of all inventory across multiple locations. With accurate information about their inventory, purchase managers can determine when to place new orders.

Thanks to technological advancements, even the purchase order process can be automated. By customizing quantity thresholds, a purchase order can be automatically generated and sent to  suppliers to avoid stockouts.

Helpful hint: Machine learning algorithms can also mitigate fraud by automating auditing and inspections. Audits help to spot any deviations from common product patterns. Privileged credential abuse is another challenge that causes a breach in the supply chain, but with the help of AI technology, such misfortunes can be prevented.

#6 Speedy shipping

What good is producing excellent products and services if you cannot deliver them to your customers in a timely fashion? Even after using state-of-the-art technology to improve your warehousing and operational processes, if you cannot ship products on time, your profitability will suffer.

Using AI in the supply chain can not only assist you with forecasting the products’ demand but can also lead to better shipping control. It factors in customer’ locations to deliver the products, along with the time it takes to ship them.

Your operations managers can get real-time information about the delivery schedules, and the team can be warned upon detection of a discrepancy. You should not overlook last-mile delivery as it constitutes around 28% of delivery costs.

#7 Enhance customer experience

Offering a stellar buying experience is essential to fostering a better relationship with your customers. Happy customers not only lead to repeated sales but also act as ambassadors to promote your brand through positive word-of-mouth.

It is plausible that your customers have questions about your product and will contact the company. If your support team makes them wait too long, the chances of them switching to your competitor are all but guaranteed to increase.

Implementing AI-based chatbots on your website can help you tackle such issues. Chatbots are available around the clock, and studies suggest they can answer up to 80% of routine questions. As the answers are already installed in the system, the bots can quickly solve the queries, allowing your support team to prioritize other projects.

Apart from answering questions, chatbots can also act as sales agents allowing potential customers to interact with and submit purchase orders.

Amazon has a fine example of machine learning to offer a better customer experience. Their algorithm helps them to provide better product recommendations based on previous orders and searches made by the customer. They also use chatbots to offer assistance regarding purchases, returns, and refunds.

In summary

Based on the benefits examined in this article, it is evident that AI can make a breakthrough impact on the supply chain. From reducing costs to optimizing operations, it can help your business outpace the competition.

As challenges in the supply chain increase, businesses will welcome the opportunity to upgrade their technology and better serve their customers. While external variables might accelerate the adoption of AI, it is already transforming from a nice-to-have to a must-have item that will help your business stay relevant and represent the standard in supply chain management.

Cin7 inventory and order management software should be your go-to solution as you pivot towards AI for your sales operations. Gain the same advantages as the top product sellers who have already discovered Cin7’s connected multichannel solution. Book a demo with one of our consultants and take a step closer to adopting the efficiencies that await.

Thanks to Intuit, your move to the cloud is easier, more rewarding, and costs less

What do product sellers feel when they move from desktop-based accounting and inventory management software to the cloud? Most business owners say they feel happiness and relief, but the next most common emotion reported is regret — that they didn’t do it sooner!

Happily, DEAR Systems and Intuit have worked together to make it easier than ever for product businesses to move online. Thanks to Intuit CEO Sasan K. Goodarzi’s commitment to moving product based businesses to the cloud, we’ve entered a close collaboration. We share a passion for solving product sellers’ most challenging and important problems. After working closely with Intuit’s QuickBooks’ leadership team for six months, we released our DEAR Advanced subscription plan on April 13th 2022.

The DEAR Advanced plan is a perfect pairing of DEAR and Intuit’s QuickBooks Online Advanced Edition in an all-inclusive, easily-affordable DEAR Advanced plan subscription.

The reason behind offering this bundle is simple. For more than 10 years, we’ve helped thousands of product sellers move their operations online. They run their businesses more efficiently, add new sales channels more easily, and eliminate costly operational mistakes. The happiness they experience is contagious, and it inspires our mission to make it easier than ever before for thousands of desktop-bound product sellers to start enjoying the benefits of modern accounting and inventory management software. The most rewarding thing? The gains are substantial, wide- reaching, customer-pleasing, and happen very quickly.

A sharp reduction in errors is the first big gain from moving to the cloud

Product sellers who move to online accounting and inventory management tell us it’s a huge leap from where they were pre-DEAR, when they tracked all pre-orders on a spreadsheet. Both the time to complete tasks and human error are vastly reduced. Automations and filters catch any issues that would have otherwise slipped through and are automatically flagged for attention from the right, responsible manager.

Simon Coward, at outdoor equipment retailer  AQ Outdoors, puts it this way: “Today, all the information is live, and all staff have access to it, and that’s been fantastic. In the last six weeks, there has been more progress in operating our business in the last nine or ten years combined. It’s pretty sick,” Simon grins.

“DEAR is a fully featured inventory software that’s simple to use – and with the right partnerships, it’s easy to make work for your particular use case,” Simon says. “Overall, the time that it saves you is way more than the price. It simplifies work processes, it automates things that otherwise can’t be automated, it reduces errors, and it’s simple for staff to use.” Simon learned a lot from moving to the cloud, and we’ve captured it for you to read.

Check out Simon’s AQ Outdoor story.

Seeing the big picture enables growth: the second big win from moving to the cloud

“Before DEAR, I was always just guessing – the number of boxes in front of me, what’s going to be used for production that day,” Hannah, co-founder of Royal Essence, says.

“After DEAR, the instant win for us was we were able to see the big picture. You can definitely see the movement of the raw materials, and I was able to do our reorders in time. That’s a really big thing for a small business, especially because during that time we were growing so fast.”

After Royal Essence migrated from spreadsheets and made sure their starting inventory information was correct and in sync with their online accounting, Royal Essence immediately gained confidence and efficiency. Things that had been excruciatingly difficult — like reordering in time for the next batch of production — were suddenly easy. With DEAR implemented and day-to-day inventory tracking enabled, things improved all across their business.

What’s more, Royal Essence could track their product through every stage of production and sales: from manufacturing, to freighting and landing, to selling and shipping. The increased transparency and reduced workload meant they could grow — and so they did.

To learn more about their process and the benefits of moving to the cloud, check out the Royal Essence story.

Leaving inefficient, time-consuming, manual inventory management behind: The third big gain from moving to the cloud

Before adopting DEAR Systems, Ovira had no effective inventory control. They had multiple sources of truth, relying on spreadsheets, warehousing partners, and emails to track inventory. “We were literally sending emails to order stock. We were manually tracking orders and spreadsheets. Everything was very much manual, in terms of the accounting backend as well. We were managing inventory in the most shallow way you possibly could,” Tyron Gyde, supply chain manager for Ovira, said.

After only three months with DEAR, Ovira assessed their operations were 75 percent more efficient as a result of DEAR’s automations and ability to be the definitive single-source-of-truth. And, thanks to DEAR’s accurate inventory control, Ovira has supercharged its growth ambitions. They’ve launched into the UK market with a new warehousing presence there, and at the same time, they’ve been able to launch a micro-fulfilment model in the US that offers same-day delivery. “If you’re a customer in central New York, we can get you your product within two hours,” Tyron says. “There’s a lot of other really valuable initiatives we’ve been able to really dedicate time to, just from the extra time we’ve got back from using DEAR.”

To learn more about removing inefficient manual work by moving to the cloud, check out Tyron’s Ovira story.

The fourth big gain from moving to the cloud: Everything is integrated, from shipping to payments to accounting

Before adopting DEAR Systems, Intalite was facing rapidly escalating supply change troubles and struggling to add new product lines and connect their systems.

“We didn’t have an ERP system at all, really — just an accounting program that we used pretty much to the limit of what it was able to do. And the vast majority of the actual business processes were all paperwork. So for every sales order we received, we then had an invoice pad, we wrote the invoice out and had a blind carbon copy to it,” says Luke Gaffey, IT Manager at Instalite UK.

Anywhere there was an inventory process, there was duplication of effort, multiple errors, and tedious manual labor at every step. “At one point, we had more people working in accounts than working in sales,” Luke said.

This sort of approach is far from uncommon at long-established companies, but it meant Intalite were operating at their limit. Just keeping up with the day-to-day was hard enough, let alone planning for the future. To make matters worse, their desktop accounting could not integrate with their online Shopify store or any of their other online solutions they needed to run their business. As a result, their operations were manual, time-consuming, and error-prone.

Like many other businesses moving from desktop to online, Intalite soon discovered that DEAR has comprehensive native cloud integrations for everything they needed. They also found that  DEAR is customizable to a remarkable degree, thanks to its comprehensive APIs.

Once DEAR was in place, Intalite hired a consultant to use DEAR’s APIs to create a script that completely automated a previously difficult and costly job. “We were able to automate that job, and save hours and hours and hours. It was someone’s full-time job at one point, just converting this particular manufacturer’s purchase orders.

Intalite many large positive impacts on the bottom line in their move online from desktop. To learn from Intalite and Luke’s experiences, check out Luke’s Intalite story.

With so much to gain from moving to the cloud, why do product sellers still use desktop accounting and outdated inventory management?

Many product sellers are fearful of change. They dread replacing their systems so much that they live on with painful, inefficient, outdated, and non-competitive ways of working. It’s only when confidence in the large gains from moving to modern online inventory management and online accounting outweigh the perceived costs of changing systems that people start moving to better technology.

As a result, for Intuit and Cin7 to help product-based businesses to experience the dramatic benefits — even life-changing benefits – of modern accounting and inventory management, we‘ve teamed up to:

  1. Make it easier to pick the best online solution to move to, and
  2. Increase awareness and confidence in the benefits of moving from desktop to online.

First, we need to reduce the perceived difficulty, uncertainty, and costs of moving to the cloud. Our collaboration with Intuit on the new DEAR Advanced plan provides a large step forward — by demonstrating DEAR and QuickBooks Online are so closely and well integrated that a bundle is a natural approach.

As one accountant said recently, “DEAR’s Advanced plan is like buying a car. Naturally, you expect a car to have tires. Before this DEAR + QuickBooks Advanced plan, people had to decide on which online accounting to use (which tires to buy) and what online inventory management to use (which car chassis to pick). It took weeks to make two separate decisions and increased the fear of something not working well. Now, DEAR and QuickBooks Online are together in one offering. One smart decision to move to the cloud which involves very little risk given the leading products and brands are together in the DEAR Advanced Plan.”

Second, we need to educate desktop-using product sellers about everyone who is already thriving, thanks to running their business on cloud accounting and online inventory management. The product seller comments in this blog are illustrative of what’s happening in the marketplace. We’re inspired by the success stories we hear everyday and will be doing more to share these desktop to cloud transformation success stories.

Who is the new DEAR Advanced plan for

The new DEAR Advanced plan is available for all product sellers in the United States interested in quickly boosting the success of their business. It’s available to anyone eager to try us or to jump in to get started moving to the cloud right away. Presently, the new DEAR Advanced with QuickBooks Online Advanced edition is not available outside the United States. Many product sellers outside the US are asking for it and we are collaborating with Intuit to make it available in the future.

What should product sellers outside of the United States do if they want to move to the cloud

You should move to the cloud now. You can easily do this by subscribing to QuickBooks Online or Xero. Then, sign up for DEAR or Cin7 separately. It’s that easy. We also have incredible DEAR Experts all over the world who can help you seamlessly move your operations online. Nearly 8,000 product sellers are already enjoying the many benefits of running their business in the cloud. Don’t hesitate — join the many successful product sellers who’ve already made the move today.

5 secrets to negotiating price with suppliers

In today’s market, the supply and demand environment is more volatile than ever before. To make sure that you are not paying more for your stock than necessary, you will have to negotiate with suppliers more effectively.

It is said that the more you negotiate, the better the outcome for your balance sheet – but this suggestion should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, anyone can negotiate, but to successfully do it, it should be understood that the concept of supply and demand is the foundation for any negotiation. Failing to keep this in mind may end up straining or fracturing your relationships with suppliers, diminishing your reputation within the ecommerce community and placing your business in peril. 

So how should you negotiate with suppliers for your ecommerce business? There are myriad negotiation hacks that will help you secure the deals you seek and build your reputation as a shrewd business owner. The experts at Cin7 have created a list of five negotiating tactics to help you get better deals with a win-win outcome. Let’s get started!

#1 Research before negotiating with suppliers

Before you begin negotiations with a potential supplier, you must first conduct comprehensive research. Since they are selling you the product(s), they will have a thorough understanding of its market costs, demand, importance in the product value chain, and they know about your competitors. You should have a fair understanding of these factors too so that you bring credibility to the negotiating table and have a productive discussion. 

Doing the due diligence in researching a supplier, as well as their competition, will help you get an idea of market prices while keeping the sales goal of the supplier in mind. Based on your research, your proposal could involve promising long-term business, a shorter credit cycle, or changing the frequency of payments. Therefore, it is important to do your homework in order to proffer potential suppliers a fair, tangible, and mutual benefit in doing business with you.

Helpful Hint: As you research, be sure to note industry-specific terminology. Using it will help enhance your credibility and may be the difference in reducing the chance of suppliers quoting inflated prices.

#2 Calculate your purchasing needs 

Once you have a better understanding of the supplier’s business and its needs, your next step is to make sure your proposal fits both their needs and yours. 

To construct that proposal, determine the quantity of what you want to purchase, the order frequency, and the total cost of the purchases you would make during a given year. Having this information handy will provide you with more negotiation leverage and give the supplier a better idea as to how much potential you have as a business opportunity for them. The more your proposal meets the needs of the supplier, the more likely they are to offer you the discounts you seek.

Helpful Hint: Ask for bulk discounts. If you have a large order, you are in a great position to negotiate prices. Request to see their discount grids, as most suppliers use them regularly to manage sales. Be sure to refer to data gathered from your  inventory management software when finalizing your tentative order size. 

#3 Offer partial advance payments and deferred discounts

The next tip is to offer a partial or full advance for the first order. This is one of the best ways to establish trust and help the supplier decide to start working with you. You can always switch to their standard credit cycle down the line.

This also presents an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to a mutually beneficial business arrangement. Specifically, when offering an advance payment, remember to ask for a discount on a total purchase volume after achieving a milestone, i.e., meeting a certain sales threshold. This is considered a deferred discounting mechanism, and it helps suppliers ensure that they are going to reach their sales goals before activating your agreed-upon discount. 

#4 Be honest and transparent

There are all sorts of reasons to seek a better price for products. For example, you might urgently need a product at a lower price to keep up with the competition or to have enough profit margin to meet your own sales goals. You might be a small business owner who needs a discount to remain profitable or a combination of any of these scenarios and yet not have much to offer in terms of value to the supplier. One thing you can offer, however, is full disclosure of your status. This is a gesture of good faith and will lay the foundation for a solid professional relationship. 

It is imperative that you do not use any deceitful tactics like negotiating under false pretenses or making hollow promises to get discounts from your potential suppliers. A business is only as good as the word of those who represent it, so make sure you are earnest in your negotiations. 

Helpful Hint: Sometimes a negotiation results in a stalemate. Don’t shy away from pausing a negotiation in the event of a failure to reach an agreement. Keep in mind that the number of sellers for the items you need may be limited based on your purchasing capacity and expected price range.

#5 Once an agreement is reached, get it in writing

One of the most important qualities of a good negotiator is to close the deal in writing. All too many businesspeople make the mistake of not signing agreements after they have completed the negotiation simply due to procrastination or lack of operational knowhow. This can lead to a situation where the other party forgets the details of your conversation, and hence, you may have difficulty reminding them. Also, if the decision-makers forget about certain details that you previously negotiated, you may miss out on the deal you thought you had secured. Therefore, it is in your best interest to finalize and ink the deal as quickly as possible.

Helpful Hint: You may use document signing tools available online to expedite the process and then email a copy of the signed agreement to the supplier. Place your first order reflecting the explicitly stated terms and conditions. 

With an inventory and order management system like Cin7, you have the option of connecting to your suppliers via a custom EDI connection streamlining future orders by placing them electronically.

In summary

Negotiating is a tough skill to master in any industry, but as an ecommerce business owner, you will put that skill into practice quite often, thanks to the shortening life cycles of various SKUs and sudden surges in demand for products. While you will naturally get better at negotiating over time, it is crucial that you apply the five tips to be a successful deal broker. Keep your eyes open for discount opportunities, negotiate your way into the best deals with your suppliers, and watch your ecommerce business thrive. 

Enter into supplier negotiations armed with accurate sales data gathered from a robust inventory and order management solution like Cin7 that updates in real time with your accounting software. Request a Cin7 demo today.

Open a no cost online store

The last two years have been very profitable for the online selling industry. The pandemic boosted ecommerce and made online shopping an integral part of all our lives. Most businesses finally made their transition online, and a lot of new online businesses were created, too. In fact, US ecommerce sales passed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in 2021. If you’re an entrepreneur, now’s a fantastic time to start an ecommerce store.

This guide will walk you through building your ecommerce business without paying a penny! Let’s jump right in.

Step #1 – Choose an ecommerce website platform

The first thing you should know is that ecommerce websites are significantly different from typical websites. That means you’ll need to put some extra effort into the setup process and opt for a specialized ecommerce website platform. If you already have a WordPress website, we recommend that you install the WooCommerce plugin to make a smooth, seamless transition.

Setting up your WooCommerce-based online store is pretty simple.  You can easily find a step-by-step tutorial on YouTube that will walk you through the entire process. WooCommerce is free to get started and you can run your business for a long time without needing to pay for any plugins or custom development. In just a few hours, you’ll be able to go live.

If you don’t want to use a WordPress-based website, you can go with a dedicated ecommerce website builder like Shopify, which provides you with all the necessary tools you need to build a professional online store. Shopify comes with a 90-day free trial — but you may have to shell out some money for third-party app integrations. Like WordPress, building a Shopify store is fairly simple and you can achieve great results without paying a developer.

Step #2 – Choose a social media tool to market your business

Next, you’ll need to get yourself a dedicated social media management tool for content distribution. A social media presence will help you build your audience and brand, and most platforms are providing new and exciting ways to monetize the attention you get there. A proper social media tool will allow you to save time and automate posting across different social media channels.

To get started, we recommend Hootsuite — which allows you to manage up to 10 channels for free. Hootsuite gives you access to their main features and is the perfect tool for new businesses. It’s easy to use and has tons of free resources — including troubleshooting — in case you face any problems.

While it can be a good practice to customize your marketing communications for each social media platform, there’s no need to worry about that in the beginning of your ecommerce journey.

Step #3 – Select an email marketing platform for high ROI

Email marketing is extremely important for ecommerce sellers. From cart abandonment emails to reactivation and retargeting campaigns, it’s essential to market directly to potential customers. In fact, email marketing delivers an impressive ROI of $42 for every dollar spent! That ROI is much better than any social media or paid marketing method. So, no matter what product you want to sell, or what your personal opinion is of email marketing, the fact is that it’s extremely important to collect as many email addresses as you can.

One great strategy for growing your email list involves offering a freebie or a discount in exchange for an email address. You can also choose to run referral campaigns, which we’ll discuss later in the article. For your email marketing needs, we recommend MailChimp. Not only is it the market leader, but it also has a bunch of free HTML email templates to choose from.

Mailchimp is a “freemium tool” – meaning you won’t have to pay a penny before crossing 2,000 contacts or 10,000 sends per month. It provides great marketing capabilities, an excellent drag-and-drop responsive email builder, and it integrates with your website, too.

Step #4 – Find a CRM tool to manage customer interactions

As your business grows, the challenge of keeping track of all your customers will become more complex. Disorganization will eventually lead to dissatisfied customers. Let’s face it: there’s no way for startup owners to check and respond to every social media comment, direct message, and email. On top of that, customers often reach out on multiple platforms, and keeping track of all the communication can be confusing. That’s exactly why you should be using a CRM tool to help you centralize your customer interactions.

HubSpot is a perfect place to start. It allows you to have a common dashboard to track conversations and automate future interactions. You can use HubSpot’s “free forever” plan to fuel your customer interactions with up to 1,000,000 contacts and no limit on data storage. Although many people find their pricing plans expensive, paying a premium in the future can be a great value add to your efforts. However, you can simply use the free version for now.

HubSpot also publishes a lot of courses on digital marketing and tutorials for getting the most out of the platform. Learning HubSpot is fairly straightforward, and we recommend that you brush up on the basics of your CRM to grow your business and knowledge base.

Step #5 – Get an accounting tool for your online store

Accounting can be a headache. But the worst thing you can do is ignore the need for accounting altogether. Accounting tools help you stay on top of your finances and in compliance, and it’s imperative to have one.

Xero is a great pick for ecommerce sellers. Xero offers you a 30-day free trial which is more than enough to test your ecommerce business idea — and it has very affordable prices if you do decide to continue. Integrating accounting software is a no-brainer for any business owner — so the sooner you take care of this, the better.

Step #6 – Use a payment gateway with a large user base

Now comes the best part: getting paid. You’ll need a payment gateway integration for accepting payments on your ecommerce site. There are more than 100 payment gateway providers, but we recommend you choose from those with the biggest reach in the industry: PayPal or Stripe.

Furthermore, you may also want to integrate your web store with Apple Pay and Amazon Pay, too. This will help increase your compatibility with popular payment methods. As a fledgling business, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for your hard-earned customers to pay you.

Step #7 – Add your referral and rewards software

Referrals and rewards are two of the best strategies you can implement to retain your most valuable customers. Not only do these tactics motivate your customers to return and spend more money — it also makes them feel special and valued.

The way it works is quite simple – existing customers invite new users to your store using referral links. When any new user signs up using an existing customer’s referral link, they both get rewarded. These rewards could be a discount promo code or a free voucher that they can redeem to buy an item of their choice from your store. Rewarding your customers for referrals is a great way to bring in new customers and get the existing ones to shop more frequently from your store.

There are plenty of good solutions available for both, but we would recommend starting with Referral Factory. It has a huge library of ready-to-use templates and comes with a trial period of 15 days. For rewards, you can try Marsello, which is one of the best-rated rewards software there is. Marsello also comes with a 30-day free trial, so you can try both without putting any money down.

You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference having these solutions make. They’ll also help your brand reputation and boost its value in your customers’ eyes.

Step #8 – Choose your inventory and order management software

The last, and perhaps most important step, is finding an inventory and order management software solution. If you want to be successful in ecommerce, this is absolutely essential. This software will automate your backend processes and allow you to seamlessly scale your business. When you manage inventory by hand, mistakes are almost inevitable. It’s important to avoid overordering, understocking, and losing track of inventory.

These are the kinds of mistakes that put your business in jeopardy. Frustrating customers ultimately costs you orders. On top of that, it’s important to keep customers updated on shipping status, order time, and operations. When done manually, all of these tasks add up to an unsustainable workload.

That’s where all-in-one solutions like Cin7 come in handy. You’ll be able to seamlessly manage your inventory, process your orders, facilitate your shipping, and more. The ability to automate workflows, integrate with hundreds of platforms, and access cutting-edge analytics is integral to your ecommerce store.

Step #9 – Get started!

Now it’s your turn to put what you’ve learned here to the test. You have most of the tools you’ll need to be successful in building your ecommerce store — with zero investment!

If you have any questions about the exciting journey you’re about to take, feel free to get in touch with the experts at Cin7. They’re more than happy to help you as you make your way towards ecommerce success.

Pure Commerce share four secrets that helped their clients achieve record growth in tough market conditions

  1. DEAR isn’t just for sorting your inventory or modernizing your business: it helps you keep your approach flexible

  2. You can afford your own, fully-customized, fully-integrated ERP (if it’s DEAR)

  3. Any product business can benefit from DEAR

  4. A great implementation partner will let you outsource the back-office

“We actually started out as a DEAR customer,” says Filipe Nicolau, owner and founder of Pure Commerce. “We were responsible for changing the entire inventory management process for a clothing company and taking the business online — and DEAR was the go-to choice of ERP. We took that knowledge, and started a business around eCommerce inventory management systems and ERPs, and DEAR was a natural fit.”

Pure Commerce is a DEAR implementation partner and digital agency that specialize in solutions for eCommerce businesses. Filipe has been helping businesses both large and small implement DEAR for a long time now, and he’s happy to recommend the software to product businesses of all kinds.

“DEAR is a.) user friendly and b.) well plugged into eCommerce titans like Shopify,” Filipe says. “Compared to competitors, it’s a tenth of the price, and yet it does everything you need it to do.”

No matter how big your company gets, DEAR can scale to meet your needs.

Clients range from blue-chip companies in South Africa that are running giant warehouses and massive eCommerce stores, to mid-market businesses with five or six shops, all the way to people with just one or sometimes no store,” Filipe says. What they all have in common is they need a proper system to function like an ERP and manage inventory for their eCommerce sites.

“Because of DEAR’s price tiers, the smaller businesses can purchase it just as easily as the blue-chip companies. It’s accessible to all our customers. And no matter what we throw at DEAR, it just keeps being able to do it.”

Any product business can benefit from DEAR

The industry you’re in, says Pure Commerce, doesn’t matter too much: so long as your business is moving product, it can benefit from DEAR.

“We’ve got clients in the clothing sector, in manufacturing, in pottery, in health and wellness — all running DEAR.”

The first benefit of DEAR for many customers is simply being able to tell where all their inventory is. But once that’s established, customers find their other requirements or pain points are taken care of as well.

“When we first started, we used DEAR just to run a warehouse — purely ERP, stock management, goods in and goods out. Not even for financials, just to track stock. That was it,” Filipe says. “But with our business expertise and the functionality offered by DEAR, we can create any system a customer requires.”

Customers find DEAR helpful for syncing inventory through to finances, using programs like QuickBooks Online or Xero, and adding inventory capability to eCommerce platforms like Shopify. They use it for manufacturing, retail Point of Sale (POS) and expanding sales channels, making it easy to add a D2C channel to a B2B business, or vice versa.

“DEAR’s B2B portal is, for a lot of our customers, something they find themselves wanting to add, and it’s super easy to implement,” Filipe says.

Pure Commerce tends to stay away from the accounting and bookkeeping side of things. Their job is to make sure the business elements are all connected up, and they make sure their customers are connected with great accounting teams who know how to make inventory systems work well with financial systems of record.

Get an implementation partner that allows you to outsource the back-office

“A lot of our customers come to us saying they don’t know where to start. They’re starting a business from scratch. Well, we’ve done that ourselves! So we give them a full implementation, top to bottom, and in a lot of cases, it’s really saved their bacon. One client was a clothing company — we helped them get online, and they’re now running an online store and just launching their third physical store.”

For these companies, Pure Commerce functions essentially as an outsourced back office.

“We act as their support team for all things, not only eCommerce, but everything related to DEAR, to the operational side of the business. We’re their go-to.”

Pure Commerce have had great successes among their clients, with a number taken from operating entirely using pen-and-paper to DEAR Systems, using a full modern ERP and software app stack.

“We’ve had companies who were in the dark ages. Now they’re walking around with tablets managing production lines and things like that,” Filipe says.

Other success stories include a blue-chip company that started 2019 with barely any online presence and thousands of physical stores — and we all know what happened next. The Covid-19 pandemic hit, the company was forced to close all its stores.

“We had the CEO call and say ‘Listen, you need to save our bacon. We need to be fully online in a minimum of four months,’” Filipe says. “We launched them all online with one DEAR ERP and stock management system. There’s a massive warehouse in Cape Town, five stories high, that’s running all the company’s brands, all on DEAR. DEAR is keeping track of everything and feeding each brand’s website with inventory information.”

The changes Pure Commerce and DEAR have brought have had huge effects on the company. “It’s definitely changed their lives. They’ve never looked back — they’re pumping out products online and they’re growing day by day,” Filipe says.

DEAR offers incredible opportunities for new directions — for both product companies and their advisors

A lot of consulting companies would be thrilled to find themselves in the same position as Pure Commerce. They have a steady business and happy clients, and over the period of turmoil wrought by Covid-19 they’ve found themselves busier than ever. But they’re not stopping there. Their experience with DEAR means they can now branch out in exciting new directions, quite different to what you’d normally expect from a self-described “outsourced back-office.”

“Last year we used DEAR to launch our own Pure Commerce third-party logistics warehouse,” Filipe says. “A lot of clients don’t have warehousing, so we offer the ability to keep their stock in ours. We have our own DEAR account, which plugs into the client’s Shopify sites, and we pull the orders through to the warehouse. We pick, pack and ship on their behalf.”

All this activity is supporting the growth of Pure Commerce’s clients, as well as Pure Commerce itself. In the last three years, they’ve quadrupled their business. “And it’s primarily due to lockdown, to the pandemic. Everyone has realized that they need to be online,” Filipe says.

You can afford your own custom ERP — if it’s DEAR

Pure Commerce says that any product company can benefit from the features DEAR offers, but the features aren’t the only factor that decision-makers weigh up when considering an inventory management system. The price is also hugely important — but here, too, DEAR is beating the competition.

“The value for money you get from DEAR is amazing. You can get a B2B portal, you can run your POS, your sales channels, integrate into Amazon or pretty much anything else, integrate your accounting systems,” Filipe says.

“It’s a cost-effective system, a one-stop shop that gives customers an ERP and that allows Experts to solve pretty much all your customers’ problems with one system. The unique thing about DEAR is it can be for selling anything — from potatoes, to clothing, to pottery. That’s why it appeals to such a wide range of implementation partners and customers.”

About Pure Commerce

Pure Commerce is a DEAR implementation partner and digital agency that specialize in solutions for eCommerce businesses. Here, they explain how product companies can benefit from implementing DEAR — and the right implementation partner.

About Cin7 Experts

Cin7 Experts experienced with DEAR are an essential part of the Cin7 inventory management community. No matter what kind of product business you’re running, where you’re located, or what you’re trying to achieve, there’s a Cin7 Expert on DEAR who can help you achieve your ambition while saving your money and time.

Cin7 study: Inflation fears causing consumers to change purchasing habits

Global crises and ongoing macroeconomic factors like supply chain disruptions, supply shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact consumers around the world.

With many unknowns still up in the air, fears and tensions are growing among consumers as prices of goods rise and threats of continued inflation loom. Are consumers concerned enough to change spending habits? If so, how will the threat of rising costs impact retailers and product sellers who have been managing challenge after challenge for more than two years?

According to a recent survey from Cin7, consumers are conclusively concerned about inflation, and they’re changing their preferences towards product sellers as a result. Their primary criterion for purchasing goods is now price by a wide margin, with the survey finding that the price of goods (45%) is the most impactful factor when choosing where to buy items, followed by quality of goods (18%), online ordering capabilities (12%), geographic location (9.5%), supporting a local or small business owner (9%) and lastly, speed of delivery (7%).

Consumer concerns and buying behavior

The vast majority of consumers (81%) state that they’re worried about inflation. Only 22% of consumers said they’re not reducing their spending right now, meaning that it’s doubly important for sellers whose products are not considered “essential” to make their value known and do everything in their power to keep demand up even when spending is being reduced.

Consumers consider buying on price in wide margins, at the expense of smaller and local product sellers and are instead gravitating towards big box retailers – with 49% stating they’d make purchases wherever is cheapest and 26% saying they’d purchase in-store from big box retailers. The survey results suggest that consumers don’t have major qualms about shopping at big box stores – and while they are still shopping online, a growing percentage of people would cut back if supply chain issues caused prices to rise.

Convenience and location matter, as 46% of respondents claim they’d purchase from locally-owned businesses if the price of goods were the same at different stores, followed by big box retailers (40%), and online from small businesses (14%). This signals trouble for online sellers as they’ll need to ensure their customers feel it’s just as simple and convenient to shop online from them, even if they can get the same product elsewhere. Otherwise, they risk losing out to local product sellers with brick and mortar presences, as well as big box retailers who have both online and in-store presences.

Buying behavior has already shifted as consumers look to reduce spending. The top two things they’re cutting back on – going out to eat at restaurants (67%) and purchasing non-essential items like clothes and toys (65%) – are not only detrimental to local and small businesses, but also signal challenging times ahead for two industries that have been hit hard during two years of the pandemic.

Adapting to shifting demand

As the price of goods increases globally and supply challenges continue, product sellers need to do everything they can to keep costs down. To do this, sellers must implement cloud-based technology to optimize operations to enable them to focus on better managing inventory and warehouse capabilities to keep up with fluctuating demand, accurately forecast and plan for the future, gain end-to-end visibility and more. This will be critical to fight the supply chain headwinds that are driving costs up and margins down.

Sellers also need to do everything they can to expand their sales channels with the help of integrated inventory and order management technologies – nearshoring product where it makes sense to get items into consumer hands quicker and outsourcing to third-party logistics (3PL) providers to compete with big box retailers who hold a lot of power in terms of addressing the warehouse and labor shortages impacting sellers today.

Find out how Cin7’s inventory and order management solution cuts operational overhead allowing you to price your products competitively. Let a Cin7 consultant show you how workflow automation and ready integrations with over 700 major retailers, online marketplaces, ecommerce sites, and 3PLs reduce costs. Request your free demo here.

7 considerations for EDI success

Technology has drastically improved how we interact with the world. Transportation has evolved from animal carts to fast cars; data transmission has changed from postal letters to instant emails. With the advent of the Internet, the world has turned into a connected village.

In such a connected world, your business needs to be able to share relevant information with stakeholders like suppliers. Thanks to technology, this process can be streamlined using EDI. You can electronically share information about purchase orders, invoices, and status information with your stakeholders using EDI.

In this article, we will discuss what EDI means and what challenges you may face while using EDI for your business. Let’s get started.

What is EDI?

EDI stands for Electronic Data Interchange, and it facilitates the computer-to-computer data transfer between two (or more) parties. In layman’s terms, EDI is similar to a chat messenger that delivers information from your device to your friend’s device.

The parties that exchange information through EDI are EDI trading partners. EDI software allows its users to create templates so that they can standardize documents shared with EDI trading partners.

Suppose you integrate EDI with your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) tool or inventory management system (IMS). Once complete, your EDI can automatically fetch the necessary documents from the ERP/IMS database and send it to trading partners as required. This way, you do not have to create documents from scratch.

In the absence of EDI, businesses had to rely on the postal service, faxing, or email all of which had drawbacks. Let us understand EDI better with the help of an example.

John runs an apparel business, and he replenishes the inventory by ordering goods from David – the manufacturer. In the past, his purchase manager would draft a purchase order, print it, and then postal mail to David to reorder stock. The order would be received by David’s sales representative, who would manually enter the items being ordered along with the respective quantity into the system to finalize the sale.

The process seems lengthy and time-consuming, right? With EDI, sending information takes seconds rather than its postal counterpart – which can take days (even weeks!).

John’s purchase manager simply needs to add order information – product specification, quantity – in his EDI software, which will be automatically forwarded to David’s (manufacturer) EDI software. David can easily integrate the EDI tool with his order management system, such that an order can be directly placed when John sends a purchase request through EDI.

(Image credits)

It is evident that EDI can streamline the purchase process which is better than doing it manually. The manual process also has room for many errors; for starters, the sales representative can enter incorrect order quantities into the system.

EDI not only saves your processing time, but it also helps in boosting the accuracy as it minimizes human error.

EDI also brings labor cost savings, as you do not need to incur the charges of printing the order details and the cost of postal handling/faxing/email the documents. Even the recipient does not need to endure the hassle of sorting and storing the physical copies for the record.

Common EDI challenges

Now that we are clear about the use and benefits of EDI let us also discuss the challenges faced while implementing EDI.

#1 Compatibility with trading partners

Deciding to implement an EDI system involves revamping your database. This challenge can multiply if you choose to create and administer the EDI in-house. Even after successful implementation from your end, the challenges do not end.

As EDI facilitates the transactions between trading partners in real-time, it is essential that your EDI system successfully synchronizes with their system for accurate data transfer.

Another hurdle could be that some of your suppliers may not be so keen to implement an EDI due to a lack of knowledge and hesitation about data sharing.

Apart from the stakeholders, it is also essential to train your internal staff to work with the EDI system. You do not want your purchase manager to order 1,000 items instead of 100 accidentally! The repercussions of mistakes can be huge, and thus it makes sense to fully acquaint your employees with the relevant features of the EDI.

As the stakes are high, it is advisable to consult an EDI expert rather than trying to figure things out on your own.

#2 Standardized formatting

The complexity of EDI integration can be challenging when your trading partners customize the formatting guidelines to cater to their unique needs. For instance, the invoicing transaction code is referred to as EDI 810.

Some invoice fields are common across all trading partners. However, the partner may likely add some additional EDI segments specific to their business.

In such scenarios, compatibility can be an issue that can lead to transaction errors. Here the experience and support of EDI providers become crucial as they are experienced with handling such issues.

While doing B2G (Business-to-government) transactions, your EDI should be compliant with the document formats legislated by the government. For example, Since 2020, the majority of European governments have been mandated to accept invoices electronically. Even the federal German public bodies have stopped accepting unstructured invoices – PDFs, printed documents – and only accept e-invoices.

As your business expands, it is essential to comply with government standards to avoid penalties. The standards can be region-specific – like the VDA format in the German automobile industry – or industry-wide.

These are some widely adopted standards in the EDI industry:

  • UN/EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange for Administration) was devised by the United Nations in 1987. It created standards for the syntax and structure of the messages to ensure that EDI is compatible with multi-industry transactions.
  • GS1 is essentially a subset of EDIFACT, and it is widely used to standardize product data. It uses GS1 identification numbers to help identify each product, location, and trading partner. The GS1 identification numbers are usually in barcode format, which can be scanned to add the physical products into the database, and movement can be tracked.

You must also ensure that your EDI can accommodate various transmission protocols such as FTP, HTTP, SFTP, and AS2. AS2 (Applicability Statement 2) has gained popularity in the retail and consumer goods industry since its adoption by Walmart. AS2 is used to transmit EDI messages quickly, safely, and cheaply!

#3 Security considerations

Despite its wide adoption across various industries, some partners may still be concerned about implementing EDI due to the nature of information sharing.

These concerns may arise from various factors such as lack of trust and risk of information leak due to security breaches. International laws can further add to the challenges by introducing legal frameworks and data protection rules.

You must ensure that the information is shared via encrypted transfer protocols. It is best to discuss your security measures with your partners, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and comfortable with your business practices.

It should be noted that the sensitivity of the information varies, like your order data may not be as sensitive as the invoices (which can contain vital billing information). You need to take extra precautions while dealing with highly sensitive data – as with healthcare customers, for example.

A value-added network (VAN) is a hosted private network that is used to offer connectivity between EDI trading partners. It acts as the gateway to sharing documents between parties – in other words; it is like a digital postal service. You need to check the security certifications of your VAN network, like ISO 27001 accreditation.

#4 Rising EDI cost

EDI helps lower your operational costs and optimizes logistics; however, you need to spend to get started. A substantial investment to purchase the necessary infrastructure – hardware and software – for EDI transactions will be required. If you decide to build an in-house EDI, you also need a dedicated IT team for its maintenance.

If your EDI implementation does not go well, it could also tarnish your reputation amongst your trading partners. Your manufacturing vendors may even penalize you for incorrect ordering as it can impact their production lines.

To lower your costs, you can outsource to a cloud-based EDI system provider. In this case, you won’t have to invest in a dedicated set-up and transactions run in the cloud, leading to cost savings.

Additionally, a provider updates the EDI automatically, so it saves you from any hassle when scaling up.

#5 Data errors

According to a study by the University of Tennessee, 60% of B2B transactions are suspended or declined due to some anomaly in the data. This makes it crucial to take necessary steps for data governance, to make the most of your EDI’s potential.

The report further suggests that 16% of the orders placed in a month contain an incorrect price and 20% of orders are for items that are either discontinued or not available in stock. Surprisingly, 8% include a duplicate purchase order.

Such situations can be dealt with by adding EDI rules that monitor transactions for variables like price differences and PO validity. This way, the system can send alerts to your team whenever a discrepancy is found.

There are times when a manufacturer needs to increase the price of a particular product. Needless to say, it is crucial to alert the buyers so that they can alter their order quantity.

For instance, the purchase manager gets a specific budget (say $100) to order a quantity of goods. Presently, the manufacturer sells each unit at $10, so the buyer can avail of ten units ($100 budget / $10).

However, if the manufacturer increases the price from $10 to $20, the purchase manager will need to reduce the quantity from ten units to five units ($100 budget / $20). But if the manufacturer does not promptly inform the buyer about the price change, it could lead to disputes and damage their relationship.

Price changes are inevitable; to solve such issues, businesses use EDI 845 – the price authorization acknowledgment document. Vendors use it to communicate price changes to resellers. EDI 845 is used primarily in the pharmaceutical industry, but manufacturers and distributors also utilize it.

As your business operations scale, so does the volume of your EDI transactions. With greater volume, it can become challenging to avoid errors or spot missing fields. Popular EDI formats such as EDIFACT were not meant for humans to comprehend, and that is why spotting errors can be tricky.

Even if you somehow manage to do that, manual error inspection is time-consuming. Thereby, automating the error detection process can help you save time and increase your profit margins.

#6 Integration with your inventory management system

EDI should be flexible to adapt to your way of doing business instead of the other way around. The technical integration should allow you to use the formats that you prefer or commonly used by your trading partners.

Many businesses already use an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system or inventory management solution to gain insights into their business processes. Look for an EDI that also integrates with your existing system so that you can directly process the EDI orders.

Instead of manually pulling the documents from EDI and then feeding them into your inventory system, you can do this in real-time by integrating them together. This helps you meet increased customer expectations.

#7 Offering transparency

As the complexities of the supply chain rise, the need for transparency between trading partners is more important than ever.

The functionality of EDI has evolved over the years. What started as a means to improve the B2B transaction process has now evolved into a tool that provides better inventory management.

You can adopt some EDI transactions that provide inventory information to boost transparency. EDI 846 can provide information about inventory levels, and EDI 214 offers buyers shipping status notifications.

With the right system, you can share alerts and notifications with your trading partners. Offering transparency ensures that information is not siloed and helps everyone to be on the same page.

Wrapping up

We live in a period where the supply chain is constantly getting disrupted by various factors – be it pandemics or political factors. During such a period, investing in technology that can help optimize your supply chain – such as EDI – seems an obvious choice.

Implementing EDI can be beneficial as it streamlines your B2B transactions and provides much-needed transparency. Choosing the right EDI that integrates with your ERP can do wonders for your organization.

Vetting the best EDI is also vital as it contains sensitive information that can affect your business’s overall profitability.

To learn more about Cin7’s built-in EDI capabilities, request a demo.

Posted in EDI