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The crucial difference between industry-specific and off-the-shelf software

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Industry specific vs off-the-shelf

As a merchant, you’ want the best value from all the tools you use to run your business. So when it comes to choosing your trading, order management and stock control software, it pays to be very careful about which option you choose.

There are loads of different ERP systems, order management and stock management systems out there in the market vying for your business (ours included). But it’s really important to understand the differences between different types of software so you can be sure you’re choosing a system that will be able to do what YOU need it to. Every merchant is different, and what suits one won’t always suit another.

There are loads of differences between industry-specific software and off-the-shelf options, and this blog doesn’t attempt to dive into all the details. But we wanted to highlight some of the more crucial differences if you're thinking of saving in the short term by opting for a simpler, off the shelf solution.

Very expensive software?

Watch out for false economy. Full scale, industry-specific software systems are not cheap. But that doesn’t mean they’re not great value.

Cutting fabric from plans

In most cases it’s the customisation, level of detail / accuracy and the tailored choice of functionality that makes it worthwhile – a great ERP system should not only pay for itself in performance, productivity and profitability, it should be able to actively make you more profitable and productive.

That said, in some instances, the off-the-shelf solutions can be very appealing. Often when a merchant starts out, an out-of-the-box system can do the trick, at least for a while. Some of the financials platforms like Sage, Xero and QuickBooks offer good solutions that suit smaller businesses which have a heavy focus on unit-based sales, as opposed to measured materials.

But if you want a system that can scale up with your growth, intelligently guide you through smarter decision-making and offer you the flexible functionality you need to deal with the complex nature of merchanting as a business model, the industry-specific solution is really the only viable way to go longer-term.

Because when it comes down to it, there is a fundamental fact that means merchants really do need specialist software:

Merchanting is complicated

Builders merchant yard

The fact is, merchanting is a lot more complicated than standard retailing. There are a number of crucial differences between the two business models.

Firstly, merchanting usually involves an element of trading in measured materials, rather than unit stock. That means packs, split packs, weights, lengths, combined measurements, certification requirements, milling, processing and finishing detail, as well as the in-depth product type differentiation between various types of timber, steel, aggregates and so on. Measured materials are much more complex to trade it and need easy metrics conversion and a very flexible functionality for customised purchase and sales order management.

Secondly, and perhaps even more crucially, merchanting does not always (or even often) involve immediate transactions. There is very often a delay between order, stock allocation, delivery and payment, factoring in delivery, forward contracting, imports, finishing or processing instructions and many more factors. Therefore the order and transaction management capability of your software needs to be able to cope with this staggered processing.

Merchanting made easy (or easier)

This is software that is built specifically to work the way merchants need it to work. It is designed from the ground up to be able to cope with the way that merchants trade and stock products, however complex those processes might be.

Merchanter allows for that stock handling element of the process, where you allocate stock before delivery, or order it in to send on later. It allows you to order, manage, process and analyse by length, weight, or whatever other metric you choose to suit your business and stock profile.

Crucially, it also allows for the evolution of an order from vague requirement to detailed, accurate order placement and fulfilment.

Let’s take timber as an example. A customer comes along, knowing they want to buy some timber; but they don’t necessarily know exactly how much, or what type, or what packs that might need to be split into. They might need approximately 500m; or they might need roughly 20 cube. Either way, at the start, it’s not necessarily that specific. As the order progresses, that can become much more detailed and specific, allowing for any reconfiguration, milling or processing that’s needed to suit the customer. But it’s all on the system, all accounted for in stock figures – and what’s more, it’s easy to manage because that’s what it’s designed to do.

While there is no such thing as a silver bullet for merchanting to suddenly make it incredibly easy, using software that is designed to cope with the nature of your business is a massive step in the right direction.

If you’d like to see Merchanter in action, why not try the free online demo for 30 days, have a play with it and take it from there. No pressure, no hidden costs, no credit card details – just a completely free, online demo system to let you see what you COULD be achieving.


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