Brightpearl: Bringing automation to the masses

In a world of ever-changing technology and evolving retail channels, it is no surprise that the landscape of retail is shifting at perhaps its greatest rate yet. Now, as we emerge from a pandemic, how can merchants continue to keep afloat as they grow through these changing times? According to Brightpearl, automation is key. We sat down with CEO Derek O’Carroll to discuss what exactly Brightpearl can offer retailers, and its plans for the year ahead.

The pandemic has undoubtedly changed almost all facets to modern life, and retail is no exception. After a year of lockdowns and restrictions, more people than ever before are turning to e-commerce and eschewing the traditional shopping experience, and retailers need to keep up. This shift was already in the making long before the Covid struck, however. With technology evolving at a rapid rate, alongside the continuing rise of platforms such as Amazon and eBay, many have already sought to bolster their online customer experience. With different platforms, channels, currencies and markets to contend with, how can retailers best keep on top of the many complexities of online retail? That’s where Brightpearl steps in. 

A platform that forms the backbone of many thriving merchants, Brightpearl helps retailers by automating complexities that arise. In simple terms, it “handles everything after the buy button”. Its CEO Derek O’Carroll says: “For these customers, we manage all the complexity that follows their own customer’s purchase, and we automate that complexity. This means the merchant can go and focus on product development and marketing, for example, while our system looks after all of the challenges that arise in the backoffice. It essentially means you get the product to the customer in time, from whatever channel they purchased through.” 

Bringing automation to the masses 

The company was started in 2008 by a retailer named Chris Tanner, who at the time sold skateboards and surfboards in Bristol. “Back then, he set up a website like a lot of people did and started selling his products, and did very well”, explains O’Carroll. “But he soon became aware, especially as he scaled his business beyond $1m, of all of the complexities that arise when it comes to moving products or cash in multiple currencies and multiple channels.” 

Tanner therefore set about looking for a solution for how to orchestrate and manage these complexities, but he could not yet find one on the market. “He was a technologist and therefore decided to build one, and that’s how Brightpearl was started,” O’Carroll notes. 

The platform was initially built as a self-service solution that could be downloaded and installed yourself for a monthly fee. “The self-service model did really well for a number of years, and then with the evolution of technology, markets moved on very quickly.” explains O’Carroll. “As time went on, that set of tools that he built became very applicable to much larger companies.” Since joining the company in 2016, O’Carroll has taken Brightpearl on its second phase of development which was “to solve those challenges for much larger customers”. In the last four years, Brightpearl’s customer size that it supports has “increased hugely”.

“Order management, inventory management, automation and financial management. Those are all the crucial functions of Brightpearl, all wrapped up in one solution,” explains O’Carroll. As company sales reach the multi-millions, Brightpearl helps automate the process of dealing with the sheer number of orders, and the many decisions that follow. “People don’t have to make those decisions as Brightpearl makes it for them, based on the rules that the merchant sets up. By bringing automation, we remove human error from the equation, as that is the number one reason why a problem occurs when placing an order.” 

According to O’Carroll, a recurring challenge that people face before coming to Brightpearl is to ensure that as individual orders are placed, in each individual channel, stock is maintained to ensure a satisfying customer experience. “You could have a shop, and people buy products in the shop, but you could also have a warehouse where you have the same product. And then you start getting in orders from Amazon, from your website, from Etsy, from Ebay – from wherever the orders come in. What you need to do is to make sure that you don’t run out of stock, and that is something we help manage.”

While stock-outs are a high priority for retailers, O’Carroll discusses further complexities that occur for growing online merchants, and how exactly Brightpearl manages this. “As a company scales, you then have to deal with different countries, different currencies and different warehouses. Then, as orders come in from all these differing channels, you need to think: ‘Where is that order going to be shipped from? And in which country, and in which currency? And how are we going to account for the tax, or the shipping, and who’s going to choose the carrier?’ All of the decisions that are made in the back office to manage these queries and get the product to the customer on time is essentially what we at Brightpearl do.” 

Catering to all

Customers approach Brightpearl from a number of different profiles, according to O’Carroll. “One of the main profiles is companies that have historical channels, such as physical stores, who are reducing the number of stores in favour of expanding their online business,” he says. “They find that the technology that they put in place 10 or 15 years ago to run those stores and warehouses is no longer capable of handling the high throughput and automation requirements of today’s technology stack.” 

The second profile is typically digital natives – especially Direct-to-Consumer brands. “These companies have done a brilliant job around a simple product set that has sold very successfully online, but they’ve been using a combination of separate products, stitched together by an excel spreadsheet for example, and they realise they need to productise that. They come to us looking for an integrated solution that can handle the benefit of automation.” 

Brightpearl has also seen a rise in customers from those who previously used legacy ERPs. O’Carroll says: “They come to us as all of the tools that we offer are configured, but not customisable. You log onto Brightpearl and you set it up using dropdown menus and drag and drop, so it’s a very easy system to operate and navigate. ERPs, however, require engineers to write scripts and customise it for the retailer. The problem for the merchant is that there are then a lot of bills associated with that. If you want a new feature, you have to hire your own engineer to build you the code – which takes time and is costly. The code is built and customised just for you, which sounds great on paper, but then you have the ongoing maintenance cost of that.”

Choose technology that gives you choice

As Covid has accelerated the “inevitable” move to online, the group has seen a surge across the board in those looking for solutions like Brightpearl, as businesses handle the astronomical rise of e-commerce. “For businesses to survive Covid, boards started approving IT budgets or projects to change their IT stacks, accelerating change that may have happened in three or four years without the pandemic. Covid made it a priority project to move quickly over onto new technology stacks, and the reason why was to get flexibility.” 

He explains: “Brightpearl ultimately gives a merchant flexibility so that they can survive any changes. It allows you to act very quickly. It can take two minutes to set up a new Amazon channel in Germany if you’re a Brightpearl customer, for example, or a matter of minutes to set up a Shopify store in another language. You can operate direct-to-consumer if you’re a manufacturer with a brand, or you can operate business-to-business, all on the same platform. Flexibility is crucial.” 

As businesses sought to engineer for maximum flexibility when the pandemic struck, both sales and growth effectively doubled for Brightpearl. “Starting in May of last year, when people got over the initial shock of the pandemic, we just saw an explosion in demand which has not gone away. It’s continuing to manifest itself in growth. We were already an extremely high-growth company, and this has really doubled amid the pandemic,” says O’Carroll.  

The pandemic has not just had a notable effect on growth, however. “Covid ultimately compressed many things in the retail landscape. What would have once happened in 10 years, in terms of technology and developments in e-commerce, will now happen in three.” 

Nonetheless, O’Carroll does believe we see people go back to the stores as the world begins to open up. “I do believe we’ll see an initial rise in in-store purchases, as people do crave that personal experience. However, people will still go online but now expect the same level of personalised experience online, whether it’s on a website or whether it’s on Etsy or Ebay or Amazon. The merchant who can recognize that customer and know what that customer wants, is the merchant that’s going to really thrive over the next few years.”

Putting the spotlight on retail heroes

In the last 12 months, Brightpearl has processed over £5bn worth of sales on behalf of its customers, helping savvy start-ups grow exponentially as they scale their online operations. In light of this, Brightpearl is now launching the ‘Lightning 50 League Table’, a table that charts those who have soared to new heights of success in the past year. “The league table is about recognising our customers that are growing really quickly, but growing in a manner where they are really ‘best in class’ and offering amazing customer service,” says O’Carroll. 

“These people are focused on what they’re really good at, the customer service and bringing new products to the table, and the back office looks after itself,” he says. “What the Lightning 50 competition is about is assessing the health of a merchant’s backoffice capability, and how good they are at offering amazing customer experiences because of that, and how flexible they are in terms of different business models.” 

“It’s essentially an opportunity for us to recognise these fast growing retail heroes that are out there in the market trailblazing the use of technology to further businesses and offer great customer service and customer experience, which is what it’s all about at the end of the day,” he adds. 

According to O’Carroll, it is “very obvious to us when we see a merchant who has the right knowledge and skill sets in order to be able to use technology to the best of its ability, and those are the people we’re trying to recognise in the Lightning 50”. Brightpearl is running the table for the first ever time this year, with the table now in the nomination stage. Customers can nominate themselves as well as other operators within the market. The closing date to enter the 2021 league table is 16th July, with publication on 23rd September 2021.

The future is Bright

Looking ahead, Brightpearl is set to put a renewed focus on scaling the group, with plans to expand its team across the board, with exciting new plans set to be unveiled in the coming year. In the meantime, however, we asked O’Carroll if he had any parting advice for retailers in the fast-moving world of e-commerce.  

“I think the successful merchants I know have used Covid to break down and understand the buying experience they want their customers to have, and that’s quite an aspirational exercise,” he says. “It’s not looking at technology, it’s not looking at your existing businesses. It’s saying ‘What are the experiences we want our customers to have?’ Those that have taken the time to map that journey out and link it back to what technology stack they need to enable that vision of amazing customer service, are the ones that are going to choose the right tech for their needs, not only for today, but for tomorrow.’ 

Brightpearl is there to help these retailers achieve exactly this. “It is crucial to have the technology in place that allows a merchant to leverage automation and automate the mundane,” concludes O’Carroll. 

“The freedom factor that you get out of that automation is huge and shouldn’t be underestimated. You can take that time and deploy it in much more important things like the next product design phase or new releases. So many customers are stuck that come to us looking for new technology. The number one reason is they spend so much time stuck in the mundane, knee-deep in processes which could easily just be automated. Automation is absolutely the future of retail.”

Ready to embrace automation in your business? 

Registration is now open for Brightpearl’s Life Is Short, Let’s Automate webinar – where you can hear directly from Shopify about why businesses like yours need to automate post-purchase operations. Don’t miss it!


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