So you’ve decided to expand beyond Amazon. Smart move. A seller’s secret weapon is a diversified channel mix that can get their business in front of a broader audience and prevent a whole revenue stream from disappearing if, say, Amazon were to wrongfully suspend your account one day.
But going multichannel isn’t as simple as creating a new seller account and hitting “publish.” It requires a strategic approach. You need to know what you’re diving into and set your operations up for success.
Here are six survival tips for multichannel ecommerce sellers.
1. Know the Specifics of Each Channel
Though diversification is key to your ecommerce success, you shouldn’t expand in vain.
Sellers will often add a new channel, only to become sorely disappointed because it doesn’t perform as well as Amazon. What they fail to realize is that comparing eBay to Amazon (as an example) isn’t a direct apples-to-apples comparison.
To name a few differences…
- Audience: eBay serves smaller, more specialized markets (think: hobbyists, collectors, and dealers), whereas Amazon serves a mass market customer base
- Business model: eBay facilitates the trading of goods between third-party buyers and sellers, whereas Amazon keeps a majority of its products in-house and acts as a direct provider of goods
- Seller vs. customer oriented: eBay is much more seller-oriented because it requires seller listings to generate revenue, whereas Amazon is buyer-oriented because it wants buyers to purchase from their own inventory
- Seller fees: The below chart from wheretosellonline.com gives an example of how fees may differ across the two platforms
Know the purpose of every new channel you add. Study their unique requirements and quirks. Know who shops there and why. Set specific expectations and processes per channel, as opposed to taking a blanket approach.
2. Invest in the Right Technology
When you go multichannel, you open the floodgates for more business and, conversely, potential operational challenges. The launch of Target Canada, for example, failed in 2015 after toys began to pile up in its distribution centers, in part because their barcodes didn’t match the numbers in the computer system. This led to empty shelves, frustrated customers—and a $2 billion mistake.
Moral of the story: your operations need to be able to scale with your growth. They must have the right checks and systems in place to keep up with the real-timeness of the internet, on top of the sheer vastness and 24/7 nature of your marketplaces.
- Centralizing your ecommerce operations and data
- Ensuring quality control and proper onboarding to new channels
- Automating tedious, repetitive or labor-intensive tasks, like listing, repricing, price overrides, order routing, reordering, etc.
- Increasing the accuracy of data mapping and categorization
- Accurately updating inventory across all your marketplaces to avoid overselling
- Swiftly Identifying channel errors and offering solutions
- Making sure you keep the sale, i.e., win the Buy Box or acknowledge orders on time, as channels like Walmart and Jet require acknowledgement within 15 minutes
- Making it possible to offer fast shipping
- Providing the analytics, reports and forecasting tools to make sound business decisions
3. Don’t Simply Rely on FBA
Most marketplaces outside of Amazon are biased against FBA. Take Walmart for example. Walmart Marketplace forbids using FBA as a fulfillment method and will suspend your account if you do. Others will not consider Amazon Logistics tracking numbers as valid tracking.
You also never want to be at the mercy of one fulfillment method in the same way that you don’t want to rely entirely on one channel, supplier, product, etc.
For these reasons, having a healthy mix of your own fulfillment capabilities and/or a third-party logistics (3PL) provider is paramount. It’ll not only safeguard you against getting delisted or running into errors on other channels, but give you more control over the packaging, shipment and overall flow of your orders. (Not to mention, you can regain more control of your inventory and related fees.)
4. Invest in Fast Shipping
Free, fast shipping is the norm. You need to be able to offer fast and competitively priced shipping to satisfy today’s customers—and to win the sale.
On Walmart Marketplace, the Buy Box functions similarly to Amazon in that it favors 2-day, free shipping. You can fortunately apply for its Free 2-Day Shipping program, though you’ll need to be able to ship orders yourself or via Walmart’s third-party fulfillment partner, Deliverr.
Remember that you don’t have to necessarily offer fast shipping nationwide. You can begin with a few key regions, then expand into more as you grow. Aside from enrolling in Walmart’s Free 2-Day Shipping program, you can strategically keep inventory in various fulfillment centers located by your customers and leverage ground shipping. With the proper technology and integrations in place, you can even make sure that only those who qualify for affordable one-day or two-day shipping (as determined by zip code) see that delivery option.
5. Develop Your Own Destination Site
Going multichannel is a means of growing your own brand. At the end of the day, the best-positioned sellers are the ones who can stand on their own two feet, without relying on third-party marketplaces as their sole money makers.
You should therefore maintain your own shopping experience with the help of a shopping cart like BigCommerce or Shopify, in addition to your own company brand and overall customer base. Some marketplaces like Amazon will notoriously dilute the visibility of your brand; you’re treated as just one of many sellers, and customers aren’t likely to remember the name of the exact seller they purchased from.
Other up-and-coming channels, such as Google Shopping Actions, show your brand more love. But the real takeaway here is that marketplaces should act as extensions of your brand, not the other way around. Don’t neglect promoting and sending traffic to your own site. Work towards educating customers on your own brand and different ways of finding you outside of your Amazon, eBay or other seller account.
6. Aim for Omnichannel
In the early days, ecommerce was said to be the demise of brick-and-mortar retailers because of their resistance to change. Rather than adjusting their organizational structures and supply chains, they simply cobbled together a website—failing to anticipate the large volumes of orders across multiples states (or countries) and time zones, along with heightened customer expectations.
In reality, your ecommerce store is an extension of your physical store. Your brick-and-mortar store may just be the first stop, acting a as a “showroom” where customers can see products that they’ll end up purchasing online. Gen-Z is also engaging with more ads and shopping platforms, spending more discretionary income and putting their money where a brand’s personality is, according to BigCommerce.
You must therefore be where your customers are digitally to remind them to complete their transactions from your brand. This means anticipating their next move: Will they go home and do some recon on Amazon for product reviews and competitors? Will they surf Walmart for the lowest price? Will they head to your webstore for more variations, special internet deals and/or other products to bundle into their purchase?
Jumping on the ecommerce bandwagon without a solid strategy has its consequences. Though the initial setup may require more time, planning ahead and creating the right blueprint for each channel that you enable will lend to a more seamless shopping experience for your customers.