Changes are inevitable in ecommerce. Heck, changes happen much faster in ecommerce than in many other industries. And if you’re ill-prepared for them, you could risk millions in sales—if not the main lifeline of your business.
This is where change management comes into play. Change management, as defined by most, is a structured approach for handling shifts within your organization (think: new company goals, budget cuts and/or new processes).
However, in this blog, we’ll talk about change management as it specifically relates to selling on ecommerce marketplaces.
When it comes to selling on channels like Amazon and Walmart Marketplaces, there are a host of unique factors to keep in mind. Your best bet is to expect changes at any time and to instill best practices that keep your team nimble and productive.
4 Types of Changes in Ecommerce
- Consumer Demand Changes - These include shifts in your audience’s purchase behaviors, needs and wants. Some of these are expected changes (like with seasonal products) but others are much more sudden and transformational (like the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors)
- Marketplace Requirement Changes - These involve changes initiated by the marketplace that you sell on. They can involve changes to listing requirements, pricing requirements, seller performance standards and more. The catalyst behind most of these changes is to improve the buyer experience and to help marketplaces stay competitive.
- Transitional/Growth Changes - When you add a new sales channel, product category or target audience into the mix, then your business is bound to undergo lots of internal shifts. As an example, you may find yourself needing to integrate with new technologies when you transition from a single-channel strategy to a more complex, multichannel ones.
- Competitive Changes - New competitors are cropping up all the time on marketplaces, ranging from at-home sellers to established brands. The arrival of a new competitor could force you to rethink your pricing strategy, ad strategy or the overall efficiency of your operations.
The Dangers of Poor Change Management
While conventional wisdom may say to wait to address changes until they breach the horizon, the stakes are high in ecommerce. Changes can occur overnight. Your best-selling products could suddenly lose steam. And the penalty you pay for being unprepared could be huge:
- Scenario #1: If you can’t keep up with consumer demand changes, you could wind up under- or over-selling your product, resulting in excess inventory (aka, cash tied up in storing slow-moving products) or canceled orders. Too many order cancelations could then trigger red flags on marketplaces, which could threaten to suspend your account.
- Scenario #2: Failure to keep up with marketplace changes could mean low rankings or listing suppression. Not to mention, if you don’t have a process for implementing changes across a series of SKUs, then you could waste a ton of hours manually entering data instead of making progress on strategic initiatives.
- Scenario #3: Failure to properly prepare for business growth and diversification could result in lots of inefficiencies, headaches and money left on the table. Rather than growing sales, you could be burning time stamping out issues and getting new systems to work with your old ones.
Case in Point: Amazon Stuns Sellers with New Listing Requirements
Amazon is a repeat offender when it comes to sudden, sweeping changes. Two of the most notorious cases are when Amazon released new shoe sizing standards, and when it launched new apparel sizing standards.
In both instances, sellers (*cough* except for those using Zentail) had to invest hundreds of hours revising their listings and entering dozens of new item attributes by hand, just to remain compliant. Amazon further warned that any inaccurate or incorrectly formatted ASIN would get removed from their results pages.
5 Ways Sellers Can Manage Change in Ecommerce
While it’s impossible to predict every—if not most—changes that will be thrown your way in ecommerce, there are certain steps you should take to safeguard your business.
1. Centrally Manage Your Operations
This is a critical step for brands that juggle multiple sales channels, apps and/or fulfillment solutions. Instead of logging into various seller accounts and managing your properties separately, find an operating system that brings them all together.
Shopify and BigCommerce offer some native integrations. However, if you’re looking for a more advanced and customizable solution, you’ll want to check out these multichannel ecommerce platforms.
By managing all of your SKUs, apps and channels in one place, you can ensure that your data remains synced across channels and make changes faster. A central operation system can also provide a bird’s eye view of your business. Rather than waiting for end-of-the-month reports—which instantly become outdated—you can view your cross-platform performance in real time and more immediately spot any shifts in consumer demand.
2. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Some of the most error-prone tasks are the ones that you do every day. For example, listing a new product involves a series of familiar tasks: enter your item details, create a catchy name, find the right product category and upload your images. Then, repeat if you’re looking to list your item on another marketplace.
Not only is this manual approach time-consuming, but it leaves you vulnerable when sudden changes arise. You’ll have to hit ‘pause’ on tasks that, while tedious, are critical to business growth. Or, you’ll have to split your attention between monitoring normal operations while juggling a major shift in your business.
To help, automated solutions like Zentail exist to simplify tasks like listing, inventory management, and more. Through AI, Zentail can automatically map your product data to each channel—eliminating redundant work—while routing orders and monitoring inventory levels 24/7.
"Product upload is simple with Zentail. I can upload 400 SKUs in less than 30 minutes with images, descriptions and categories all completed. HUGE WIN.” - Martin Mitchell, Online Sales Manager at DNW Outdoors
3. Assess Your Workflows
Efficiency is key to change management. In general, you leave yourself most vulnerable when you can’t afford to take your hands off the wheel and tend to new challenges.
That’s why you’ll want to take the time to document your current processes. Analyze everything from how you manage your listings to how you prep your items for delivery. Identify tasks that take too long to complete or regularly face issues.
Note that some inefficiencies may be due to how your team is organized. For instance, it’s not uncommon for businesses to assign a brand manager per sales channel, expecting the brand manager to become a channel expert. The danger of this approach is that it often causes team members to work in silos. The Amazon manager won’t talk to the Shopify manager, resulting in varying promo schedules, inconsistent listings and other incongruencies.
Similarly, you may need to strengthen your communications with third-party logistics partners, suppliers or tech partners. For example, if you’re planning to launch a new ad campaign, let your 3PL know so that they can prepare for a surge in orders around your advertised item.
Given that they’re experts in ecommerce, your partners may additionally catch wind of new industry or marketplace changes before the general public does. By staying in regular communication with them, you can get notified early and receive their help preparing.
4. Tap a Change Management Tool
Perhaps the most surefire way to manage changes is to lean on a tool specifically built to address them.
With this in mind, Zentail created the only change management solution available to multichannel sellers today. Zentail’s change management solution is built on top of its SMART Types technology, an AI-powered system for translating your product data to each marketplace.
SMART Types have already saved sellers hundreds of hours of manual work, e.g., when Amazon announced its new apparel standards, many sellers (as well as software providers) spent months cleaning out their data. Meanwhile, sellers on Zentail barely lifted a finger, leaning on SMART Types to auto-format their data according to new standards.
5. Research, Test and Measure Often
The worst thing you can do in ecommerce is to get too comfortable. You don’t want to succumb to the “sitting duck” syndrome, in which you assume that success will last longer than it does.
The reality is, marketplaces wield a lot of power—and becoming overly confident about any one channel, one fulfillment method, or one product can do a number on your business.
“As FBA started to say, ‘I can't ship your product,’ sellers got hit multiple times. They have lots of reasons to complain. But I do want to remind sellers that you made the choice to source everything out of one country. You made the choice to sell everything on one channel, and you made the choice to have only one company do fulfillment. So, if there's variance in any of those different systems, it creates a big problem.” - Buy Box Experts’ James Thomson when FBA temporarily banned non-essential products
Aim to diversify your assets. Understand the nuances of each marketplace and A/B test different strategies to increase conversions, maximize margins or grow AOV. Strive for little wins that don’t necessarily require lots of investment, but together help to build your brand up into a more defensible brand
Change management is a complex art but necessary to master. In ecommerce, changes are especially frequent and disruptive. However, if you exercise preparedness and arm yourself with the right tools, you can mitigate their negative effects.
If you need help building out a strategy or want to check out Zentail’s change management tools, schedule a free chat with us!
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