- Brennan Zelener
Happy 2019! As I write this, WholeCell has been live in production for just over a year. Harry and I began working on it in November 2017. We saw an opportunity to help device wholesalers manage and analyze their inventory, and we built WholeCell to be the platform for that.
Since signing on our first customer (🙌 Device Renew), we've been learning a lot about the device wholesale industry and what its businesses need. In speaking with 40+ wholesalers, we discovered that most share core similarities in how they operate, but have key operational differences that make them distinct (and make it challenging for them to use off-the-shelf software). With each new finding over our first year we've been adapting WholeCell's features and workflow to accomodate the different ways device wholesalers run their businesses.
I want to share some of those discoveries with you, and explain how they influenced our decisions in designing WholeCell's workflow.
Learning the basics
We've done interviews with companies processing anywhere from 200 to 20,000 devices per month. Some things across these businesses are consistent, and if you're in the industry they won't surprise you:
Most device wholesale businesses:
- Use A/B/C cosmetic grading
- Use QuickBooks for accounting
- Use Excel, Google Sheets, or a custom application to track inventory
- Sort devices in their warehouse by manufacturer, model, carrier, and GB capacity
- Advertise wholesale devices using spreadsheets, email, WhatsApp, and online trading boards
A few internal processes vary between wholesalers. They're usually based on the company's size or the preferred workflow founders chose early on. Here are a few we've discovered in our research:
- Quantity viewing: looking at inventory as quantity by model vs. one-by-one with ESN/IMEI listed
- Functional grading: using grouped categories like DOA, PGL, PBL vs. specific conditions like "cracked glass", "broken power button", etc.
- Testing: using diagnostic software vs. manual technician testing
- RMAs: returning devices for credit or replacements vs. keeping with partial refunds
In the first release of WholeCell (January 2018), you could only look at your inventory in tables one-by-one. Each row represented one individual product and showed its serial number. This worked for smaller businesses but caused an immediate headache for larger ones.
After showing WholeCell to a few larger wholesalers, we realized they needed be able to see products both listed individually for audits, and listed by their available quantity for easy viewing. To solve this, we added a Grouped/Individual button to all of the inventory tables in WholeCell.
Today you can see your inventory as products with quantities, and you can still switch to see them individually if you need to for an audit.
Some wholesalers (typically larger ones with high volume) will group their inventory into function-based grades like PBL (power up, bad LCD), PGL (power up, good LCD), and DOA (dead on arrival). Others (typically wholesalers with smaller volumes) will mark every issue with a phone like "cracked glass", "lcd blemish", "broken power button".
Since its introduction, WholeCell has given users unlimited grades and conditions to describe a phone's functionality. A product has a single grade and any number of conditions.
In WholeCell's first release you could only add inventory one-by-one. We assumed that technicians would be testing a phone while they added it to the system, so our one-by-one model might make sense. The page for adding inventory in our first release looked like this:
In reality, most operations teams want to add inventory in bulk to their system via spreadsheet. Some teams use diagnostic software to test their devices, and others test manually. Importing from a spreadsheet works no matter how you test. You can export your test results from PhoneCheck, Neva Systems, MCE, Phone Doctor Plus, or any other testing system, and import those results to WholeCell in bulk.
Now, WholeCell users can add thousands of devices in one spreadsheet upload.
Depending on what RMA options you give your customers, you'll need different workflows to track and process RMAs. Some wholesalers offer returns and replacements while others encourage their customers to keep problem devices by offering a partial refund.
As you can see in our January 2018 screenshots above, RMAs didn't even exist in WholeCell's first release. The first version of an RMA workflow in WholeCell launched in March 2018. In that release, adding devices to an RMA was only possible one-by-one and there was no option to add devices that the customer was keeping for a partial refund. It looked like this:
In practice, customers send you a list of IMEIs for an RMA and you want to be able to document it as quickly as possible. They may be willing to keep some for a partial refund and may want to return others. WholeCell's RMA workflow now allows for both partial refund RMAs and full return/replacement or return/credit RMAs. You can add devices in bulk, and describe the return reason quickly:
The common thread here is: bulk. Wholesalers need to operate efficiently, and therefore need to be able to view and interact with their inventory in bulk AND individually by serial number as they scale. We spent 2018 adding bulk management tools throughout WholeCell's workflows and there are many more new features coming down the pipe.
To our customers, thank you for your business in 2018. We've learned so much from you in only a year and we've enjoyed incorporating those findings in the version of WholeCell you use today. There's more coming and we're looking forward to sharing new features with you soon. Happy New Year!