This article is the third in a series designed to help eCommerce sellers navigate one of the most important decisions in the business cycle – finding reliable suppliers and vendors for your eCommerce business. The first article can be found here and the second article is available here.

Below are the most common technical considerations to keep in mind If you’ll be selling through an online marketplace.

What type of data feed methods does the vendor use?

The most common ones are FTP (File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol, API (Application Programming Interface), and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). Any of these will work with the top ecommerce marketplaces. Make sure that the prospective vendor can support at least one of these.

What types of files do they use when communicating inventory data?

Some examples of the most common file types for uploading inventory information are. XML (Extensible Markup Language),. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), Excel, CSV (Comma-Separated Values), and TSV (Tab-Separated Values) files. These will work when utilizing top online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and Jet. You’ll want to confirm that your vendor or choice can provide inventory files in one of these formats.

Do they include a UPC code in inventory files? If so, does it designate the correct country code?

If the vendor includes UPC codes in inventory files be sure that it designates the correct country code. A UPC for the U.S. will not be accepted in Europe and an EAN (European version of a UPC) will cause a file to be rejected for goods being sold in the U.S. To avoid this issue, don’t forget to check this detail. Please note that sometimes vendors may provide a file with UPC identification and EAN identifications in the same column. If that is the case, the online channels will reject the file. If your vendor sends you a list with both UPC and EAN identifications, you will need to separate them into 2 columns for marketplaces to accept your file. Please note that eBay will be transitioning its listings system from seller-based to product-based and sellers will need to have the UPC ID’s for their items.

Can vendors provide images with a URL?

It saves time and headaches if you can populate the Primary Image URL field with a valid URL that the online platform will read. This allows you to import images without fuss. It also saves time and helps you avoid doing it manually. This is a much simpler method for uploading images onto an ecommerce marketplace.

Do all the vendors’ products have product names?

Sometimes vendors just send a product with a UPC number and no product name. If so, you end up having to create a product name yourself. This makes uploading your inventory to your online platform more labor intensive.

Now that you’re armed with this information, you are ready to locate reputable vendors for your online store. Once you identify prospective vendors, request the information we have discussed as this will help you select the best vendors.

Does the vendor provide SKU numbers?

There are 2 ways of identifying your inventory:  Stock Keeping Units (SKU) or Universal Product Codes (UPC).  SKUs are product identifiers unique to each retailer to keep track of their items. UPCs are identifiers created by the manufacturer of a product. SKU management is critical for multichannel selling. Having SKU information from a supplier means that you do not need to recreate an entire SKU system for yourself. It makes it easier to manage and edit product listings as well as track sales and forecast re-order points at the variation level for each product. SKU management may seem like a tedious task, but it’s also an extremely important one. We’ve provided some more details on best practices in organizing SKUs.

Does the vendor provide quantity information in their feed?

Oftentimes sellers will manage their inventory on Amazon and other marketplace channels very closely. You may choose to have suppliers fulfil orders for you directly through drop shipping, or you may choose to use just-in-time practices to lower your working capital costs. Either way, having access to the inventory quantity will allow you to automate your operations to avoid overselling and risk customer dissatisfaction or Amazon account suspension.

Does the vendor make MAP information available?

“MAP” is short for “minimum advertised price” and it’s an important piece of information for any ecommerce seller to know. MAP is the lowest price at which resellers can advertise a product for sale without running afoul of their agreement with the supplier/manufacturer of the product.

For example, if a toy manufacturer sets a MAP of $55 for a specific toy, no seller of that toy –  including brick and mortar stores, all online stores, and marketplace sellers –  can advertise this product for less than $55.

It is important to note that MAP is not the lowest price at which a product can be sold, but only the lowest price that can be shown online or in an advertisement. Any seller may sell the toy for less than $55 if they choose.

MAP information is critical for your product listing and marketing decisions.

Conclusion

We hope that this series on researching and evaluating suppliers for inventory to sell on Amazon, eBay, and your website. It’s important to remember that each step from finding reputable vendors, to understanding the business considerations and evaluating the technical components of the relationship is critical. Remember, finding the right partner to supply your inventory is the foundation of a successful Amazon selling business. It is critical to put the time in up front to get this right. Happy selling!