U.K. Software Provider MNP Invades U.S. Market

While it’s not exactly a British invasion, in the past year two U.K.-based vendors of multichannel order management and fulfillment software, MNP and Omnica, have established beachheads in the U.S.

Each has proven its ability to create and maintain an “Americanized” version of its system with regard to address formats, currency (for payments and purchasing) and spellings. Terminology is covered as well, since many U.K. terms are more different than you might think (for instance, “dispatch note” vs. “packing slip”), as well as sales taxes and shipping/manifesting requirements.

In most other respects, however, there is a sharp contrast between the approaches that these vendors have taken.

MNP, a SQL/Server solution with about 100 users in the U.K., is setting up a separate U.S.-based division to manage the sales, marketing, and support side of the business in this country. The company’s first installation went live in the second half of 2010, supporting the catalog and ecommerce business of apparel merchant Body Central.

MNP itself provided support (on site or on U.S. Eastern time) directly to Body Central in the implementation and live environments.

In the Body Central implementation, MNP partnered with software provider American Eagle for the company’s ecommerce site, using its WebActive .NET application and capsule OMS Connect Web Services to link the platforms in real-time. MNP has since developed its own ecommerce platform, and has integration facilities for Amazon.com listings, as well. Having integrated to several dozen ecommerce solutions with its U.K. installed base, the company is well aware of what multichannel merchants are looking for in ecommerce functionality.

The ActiveSERIES

MNP’s suite, “the ActiveSeries,” consists of OrderActive (order management), WMSActive (inventory management and fulfillment), and PSMActive (purchase supply management) for product purchasing and procurement. Each of these is a mature platform that has been field-tested by MNP’s U.K. installed base.

PSMActive, for instance, allows buyers, merchandisers, and other designated associates and partners to review inventory status, item reorder levels, sales activity, open purchase orders, vendor terms and discounts, and vendor contracts and agreements to manage purchasing for pre/in/post-season procurement. It also keeps track of supplier’s stock information, allocations, pricing (in multiple currencies), pricing agreements, minimum purchase quantities, payment terms, lead times, performance/scorecards, and so forth.

A single product may have multiple suppliers, a supplier can have multiple contacts, and there is support for maintenance of detailed supplier profiles and responses to questionnaires. The system also verifies receipts against POs.

WMSActive, in use at several third-party fulfillment facilities in the U.K. as well as in many major U.K. multichannel warehouses, is robust enough to stand alone as a warehouse management system. The system supports a wide variety of picking strategies for user-defined location types (including virtual and staging locations), with granular/detailed user access rights and permissions.

The system naturally handles intelligent item put-away, back orders, future orders, split orders, kit management and assembly, gift shipments, returns (full or partial order), exchanges, and refunds. It can also manage bulk transfers for retail replenishment or wholesale distribution. There is full support for cycle counting, paperless picking, stock transfers, packing confirmations, and integration with virtually any manifesting solution.

OrderActive has been moving from strength to strength for several years in the U.K., with its broad range of functionality available in the U.S. version. The system includes more than enough warehouse management and fulfillment functionality for smaller businesses that don’t want or need the WMSActive module.

There is no limit to the number of attributes you can assign to a product (including HTML files), customer searches are based on search-engine algorithms for all customer data, and media codes can be assigned at item level. It provides support for gift wrapping (with separate charges as an option), and product personalization includes image management and proof approvals, as well as support for installment payments and continuity shipments.

OrderActive is compliant with the Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) (de facto, not de jure) and uses tokenization with revolving key sets and RSA encryption. If data communication is unavailable to secure the token when the transaction is sent, the RSA encryption engine will hold the encrypted data until communication is restored. Any order can be paid for with multiple tenders, including multiple credit cards.

Promotions (with start and end dates) can be for all channels or specified sales channels, triggered by product number and/or order value as well as promo code. You can track lost demand by value, and manage how the promotion is invoked (via a prompt, automatically, or selectively).

You can also manage promotions by product groupings, Web page displays, and similar aggregations. If there are multiple promotions that apply, the system can automatically select the best deal for the customer.

MNP has included all this functionality in its own web platform, but has also made it available through DLL codes to export into any ecommerce platform via an XML configuration file.

Managing these kinds of promotions is a major benefit of the system, according to Beth Angelo, president of Body Central. “Being able to easily do any kind of promotion, and suggest additional products anywhere during an order helps lift average order size,” she says. “It can range from accessories and layering pieces to similar products and items other people purchased with that product. And giving customers accurate information on back orders and order status is also a big plus for us.”

OrderActive includes a data analyzer module for evaluating, scoring, and aggregating customer behavior to create actionable customer segments, and a forecasting module with statistical modeling of demand by SKU, SKU in campaign and category.

MNP is priced for mid-size multichannel merchants; you can expect to spend in a broad mid-six-figure range for all licenses, fees, and services. But you’ll be receiving strong value for the money.

Next time, we’ll look at Omnica’s approach in the U.S. market.

Ernie Schell (ernie@schell.com) is director of the consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis in Ventnor, NJ.

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