In the past, multichannel commerce simply meant owning both a regular store and an online alternative – perhaps somewhere to order items that were not in stock. Now the digital world of ecommerce has really come into its own and with it a wide number of ways for customers to do their shopping on the internet.
True multichannel commerce can take place over several different channels, from offline sales to online marketplaces, social media and tailored ecommerce platforms.
If you’re looking to grow your business into a true multichannel offering, here are some pointers before you jump in.
#1 Make your Products Available Everywhere
When a potential customer is looking to make a purchase, ultimately they will choose just one retailer out of thousands of possibilities.
Every customer is different, and each has their preferred outlet – some prefer eBay or Amazon, some like the feel of a bespoke online store, others might see something that tickles their fancy on social media.
Only by making your products available on every platform do you have the best chance of reaching every single one of those potential customers.
Of course, this is a lot to take on all at once, and so many ecommerce businesses like to start with a single channel to get a feel for what sells before they expand.
It’s common for ecommerce startups to first make their mark on channels like Amazon or Etsy, where the audience is already present.
This is a safe way to hedge your bets and see whether the market for your products truly exists, as well as to get used to the practices of writing product descriptions and taking quality product imagery, before transferring those skills to a site of your own.
#2 Use Online Marketplaces, but Don’t Rely on them
There are four main online marketplaces that can be utilized for your ecommerce business, and whether you use all or just some of them depends on the kind of products you’re selling. These marketplaces are as follows:
The eBay marketplace is a great call for sellers who want to break into the international market.
While it’s used heavily throughout the US, it also draws in many more global customers than its Amazonian cousin. Sellers have to pay for their eBay listings, so consider whether this is worth the investment for you.
Amazon dominates the ecommerce marketplace, with approximately 85 million unique visitors to its name.
Through Amazon, shoppers can get their hands on almost anything, with the convenience of paying for everything together at the end.
It’s like the general store of the internet – but as with eBay, you will be charged for your sales depending on the product category.
Amazon is great, but it has its drawbacks. Your ability to differentiate yourself from other sellers is limited only to what content and imagery you use.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of using Amazon is that you’re unable to capture valuable user data. This is why a multichannel approach is so key for the health of your business as a whole.
Etsy offers a more niche range of products that are generally more exclusive – and often handmade.
If your ecommerce business sells products that are rare or artistic, you may do better with Etsy than with Amazon or eBay.
Customers are often willing to pay more for items that are personalized or made to order.
Jet is a fairly new online marketplace compared to the others listed above, but it’s very well marketed.
It offers plenty of juicy savings that bring in a lot of traffic, and there are lots of opportunities to advertise your wares on the site.
Give it a try – you don’t have too much to lose either way.
#3 Open your Own Online Store
Online marketplaces have a ready-made audience, but what they lack is the ability to build up your brand equity.
At the end of the day, Amazon is there to promote its own brand – not yours.
By creating an online store for yourself using an ecommerce platform, you have full control over the branding, marketing and sales. What’s more, you get to keep 100 percent of the profits.
There are lots of good ecommerce platforms out there, which can be divided into two categories: hosted and self-hosted.
With a hosted ecommerce platform, a separate company will manage the technical aspects of the website for you – the coding, security and server configuration – which is perfect if the idea of doing everything yourself brings you out in a cold sweat.
A hosted ecommerce platform removes the pressure of handling technical issues, and allows you to easily mess about with your store through a web browser.
There is usually a monthly fee involved, so it’s best to have a go using a free trial of a DIY online store builder before you make the commitment.
As you may have guessed, with a self-hosted platform you manage all of the coding and server hosting yourself.
Check out our previous post on which is the best web hosting company.
Self-hosted is not the best option for beginners, as you need a little experience with how websites work.
A good way around this is to pay a more experienced freelancer or agency to get everything set up for you, and then manage it yourself from there.
WordPress is a popular self-hosted option that allows for lots of customization and added functionality via plugins.
Both hosted and self-hosted options work well, so it’s really about figuring out what will be the best choice for you in the long term.
#4 Use a Robust Analytics Package
If your end goal is to be stood at the helm of a thriving multichannel ecommerce business, then you should certainly invest in a powerful ecommerce analytics solution – one that enables to you see all of your inventory, expenses and sales channels at a glance.
Your analytics solution will be your ultimate guide to improving performance and making more sales, helping you to analyze customer behavior, see which products are doing well and which are tanking, and optimize the conversion rate of your store.
Google Analytics is your basic package – everybody who owns a website should have this.
More ambitious ecommerce merchants should consider investing in data and inventory management programs or detailed user insight software.
Pay attention to what the results tell you. You should be able to get a holistic view of all the ins and outs of your ecommerce store – KPIs, ROI, etc. – which will help to guide your business decisions as you progress.
With certain CMSs such as Magento and Shopify, you can even get real-time data reporting to tell you what’s going on in your business as it happens.
#5 Make Sure your Business is Ready to Scale
Finally, ask yourself honestly whether your online business is ready to scale to a multichannel approach.
If it all turns out to be wildly successful, will you be able to keep up with the number of orders?
Make sure you have a good strategy in place before you start spreading your wings. Here are some areas to consider:
- Do you have enough inventory available to handle sales growth?
If more orders start flooding in, could this negatively impact your turnaround time for delivery, leaving customers waiting?
Many businesses choose to work with a drop shipping supplier to ensure that mass orders can be met in a timely manner.
At least in the beginning, it may be a case of trial and error to find out what works for you
- How will you fulfill your orders? If you currently manage your order fulfillment in-house, it may be a shock to the system when the orders start to increase.
Consider whether you need outside help from an order fulfillment company, or if you already use one, ask yourself whether they have the capacity to meet a jump in demand.
It’s better to know in advance than be caught short later and risk disappointing your customers
- Is your customer service team prepared for enquiries to double, perhaps even triple?
New sales channels inevitably lead to more calls and emails. If you’re selling internationally, you should also bear in mind that these enquiries could arrive at all sorts of times.
A possible solution is to consider using a live chat virtual assistant to handle common queries and complaints when a person is not available
- How will you keep everything organized? Scaling a business means there will be a lot of admin to stay on top of.
It’s worth investing in a good business software solution to keep track of everything, from inventory management to financial breakdowns.
Multichannel eCommerce is exciting, and the ideal way to ramp up your online business and generate more sales by reaching new customers.
Let your main takeaways be this: try a little of everything, and don’t rely too heavily on any one channel.
It’s all about experimentation and building a stable foundation for your business, so that if ever you are caught short in one market, you will always have others to back you up.
Whether you choose to explore online marketplaces, social selling, affiliates or your own branded store, all you need is good organization, a little investment and the right software to keep everything on track.
Guest Post By – Patrick Foster: Ecommerce Enthusiast & Business Coach. I write informative content and guides for ecommerce entrepreneurs, whether new or experienced. I hope to be able to shed some light on what works and what doesn’t, so that you can make the most of your business.