31 Oct 2012

Multichannel Selling a Necessity

Selling products across multiple channels is a growing trend for ecommerce merchants. If you rely on a single online store, you will likely to be left behind, because consumer-shopping behaviors are changing rapidly.

This article examines sales and marketing channels that are now available for online retailers.

Sales Channels

  • Physical stores. Brick and mortar is thriving in some segments and dying out in others. Stores selling commodity products or electronics are the most challenged.
  • Online stores. Most resellers have at least one online store; even well known brands sell directly to consumers.
  • Mobile stores. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, it is becoming mandatory for your store to function well on those devices.
  • Mobile shopping apps. Dedicated apps will likely be the preferred way to shop for most consumers. How those apps become visible to search engines is yet to be determined.
  • Marketplaces. These are virtual malls like Amazon, eBay, Sears.com, Overstock.com, Buy.com, and more. How long before Google Shopping and Facebook join in?
  • Comparison-shopping engines. These are places to promote your products, not sell them. You need to support CSEs with the same content you do in other venues. Popular CSEs include Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Shopping.com, and TheFind.com.
  • Catalogs. Many observers thought printed catalogs would go away. But they are thriving for many multichannel retailers as a means of promoting their brands and creating customer loyalty.
  • Direct sales. Many companies still employ field and telesales forces for direct order taking. 
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Zoom Enlarge This Image Even Sears.com now offers a marketplace for third-party merchants. In this example, a lawnmower is offered for sale at Sears.com from an independent retailer, "D's Play Store."
Even Sears.com now offers a marketplace for third-party merchants. In this example, a lawnmower is offered for sale at Sears.com from an independent retailer, "D's Play Store."

Marketing Channels

  • SMS. "Short message service" — text messaging — is still more of a marketing channel, but it could lead to more transactional sales with the advent "near field communications," where smartphones communicate by touching or being physically close to each other.
  • Interactive advertising. This includes banner ads, pay-per-click ads, Facebook ads, and other online ad formats. The goals here are changing from click-throughs to sales conversions, with the use of more sophisticated ads and landing pages.
  • Mobile advertising. This is in its infancy and could drive huge direct revenue to merchants.
  • Social media. As with mobile advertising, we’ve barely scratched the surface with social media. 

What Does This Mean for Ecommerce Merchants?

Retailers need to support all the touch points where their customers are browsing and shopping. To the lists above, add traditional media such as magazines, newspapers, television, and radio — which some think of as brand advertising. You should support the entire customer lifecycle. I addressed this in my recent two-part series "Managing Your Ecommerce Sales Funnel."
Forrester blogger Brian Walker addressed the notion of touch points in his recent post, “Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce.” According to Walker, "agile commerce" refers to adapting commerce to where consumers are, and not focusing on channels. This makes sense to me.
In short, understand what your prospects are up to. Are they still using search engines to look for products, or do they go to Amazon? Are they using iPhones? Do they seek shopping apps because they are so user friendly, and then forget about shopping on their laptop? Do they research on Facebook, or Bing Shopping?
For example, if I find a product online that looks interesting, the store better have the level of content detail and reviews I am seeking, or I will go to Amazon and be assured of good technical content and many reviews to read. I likely will buy there, too.


Systems and Processes to Support Multiple Channels

Next, look at your environment and decide if you can support the required channels. At the very least, you need to reduce the number of silos you have to as few as possible. Don’t create a mobile website that is separate from your existing online store. You need to leverage content and product information in all your channels.
Face the reality that your marketing budgets are going to increase. You will likely need to (a) support social media, (b) create increasing amounts of content, (c) have a mobile app, and (d) utilize mobile advertising on various platforms. And competition will get more intense. Develop a mobile strategy now. That’s where the ecommerce action will likely be in the next three years.