Multi-Channel Ecommerce

Multi-Channel Retailing and the Buyer’s Journey: Opportunities and Challenges

Albert Ong / 6 min read

Most online sellers begin their journey from one sales channel, setting up shop through a website or marketplace.

Buyers, on the other hand, have many touchpoints and paths to purchase, so it becomes necessary for retailers to branch out.

Multi-channel retailing is the practice of selling merchandise on more than one sales channel.

It’s all about moving beyond your website and exploring channels such as marketplaces, social media, and comparison shopping engines.

Consumers Are Shopping in More Locations Than Ever

Shoppers have many sites to choose from, online and offline.

A report by BigCommerce confirms that buyers across several age groups are shopping from multiple sales channels.

According to the survey of American shoppers:

  • 74% shopped at large retailers.
  • 54% shopped at ecommerce marketplaces.
  • 44% shopped at web stores.
  • 36% shopped at category-specific online retailers.

Channel loyalty has become a thing of the past.

Let’s take Amazon Prime Day, for example.

Most people would assume that only Amazon sellers would benefit from the traffic boost, given that the sales event is intended for Prime members.

But according to a study by BazaarVoice, 76% of Prime Day shoppers plan to visit other channels before purchasing from Amazon.

Even Amazon shoppers compare pricing and reviews on various sites. They are looking at:

  • Walmart (46%)
  • Consumer electronics websites (45%)
  • Target (40%)
  • Home improvement websites (39%)
  • Brand websites (39%).

Multi-channel retailers that implement an effective diversification strategy will not only maximize reach but also sales opportunity.

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Advantages of Multi-Channel Retailing

Multi-channel retailing helps ensure you reach your audience wherever they are on their buyer’s journey, as well as their device preferences.

With mobile devices handy, there’s no limit to where shoppers can discover and purchase items.

1. Target consumers at different stages of the buyer’s journey.

Multi-Channel Retailing channel buyers journey

Unless hit by a strong urgency, most shoppers who see your product for the first time are not ready to buy.

Most people like to browse, read reviews, and compare pricing.

In the age of free shipping, 2-day shipping, and ship-to-store options, consumers can afford to wait.

This is why understanding the buyer’s journey and adopting a multi-channel strategy can give you an edge over the competition.

On the top of the funnel, consumers might discover your product through social media, perhaps through an influencer they follow on Instagram or an image on Pinterest.

Affiliate marketing and educational content that answers user queries can also drive new visitors to your shop.

Other shoppers might not be searching for a specific product, but they are looking for content to help them solve a problem, such as how to clean a carpet stain or what to wear for a certain occasion.

Great SEO on your site, blog or product descriptions will help shoppers in the consideration stage.

Consumers with an intent to purchase will likely go directly to marketplaces or comparison shopping engines.

In fact, more than half of buyers start their product search on Amazon over Google.

These platforms offer not only traffic but also a trust factor through peer reviews.

2. Leverage the power of marketplaces and search engines.

Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and even Google are all competing for ecommerce market share, and retailers are smack in the middle. A single-channel seller might suffer if one company overpowers the other, but multi-channel sellers tend to have more freedom and flexibility.

Multi-Channel Retailing customer insights

The most important feature to look out for is artificial intelligence.

These tech giants are all working on creating personalized shopping experiences, helping consumers find the right product at the right time.

From marketplace algorithms to better search results, multi-channel retailing lets you harness this technology, allowing your products to be found.

The trust factor is also another reason to consider marketplaces and comparison shopping engines.

Fake reviews aside, most shoppers go to these sites due to their reputation and the availability of product ratings and peer reviews.

In fact, 65% of consumers surveyed by DigitalCommerce360 said that they felt comfortable purchasing from third-party sellers they never heard of before on marketplaces.

Disadvantages of Multi-Channel Retailing

While the opportunities for multi-channel sellers are plenty, there are also risks and challenges. Sellers too eager to jump on the multi-channel bandwagon could spread themselves too thin.

Brands must first do their research, do a cost–benefit analysis, and establish an infrastructure to support the multi-channel growth.

1. Selling on the wrong channels.

While diversification is key to reaching a larger audience, launching on an irrelevant channel can do more damage than good.

A spray and pray tactic will not work, as you risk promoting products to the wrong community, audience or industry.

If you’re selling computer parts, for instance, Newegg would be a better choice than Jet.

Before selling on these sites, you’ll need to make sure you’re targeting the right market, otherwise, you would just waste resources and manpower.

Aside from the listing fees, your team will have to deal with varying category trees, rules and policies, and backend platforms that could change from time to time. Not to mention, it takes time to write, publish, optimize and reprice listings for each of these channels.

On top of this, the channel may already be crowded with competitors.

A good way to minimize this risk is to carefully evaluate each marketplace and experiment until you find a niche for your business.

2. An infrastructure required to maintain multi-channel retailing.

Once you start selling on two or more platforms, you might start experiencing growth pains.

Listing on channels, maintaining inventory, processing orders, and providing customer service can all take a toll on your business if you do not have good processes and foundations in place.

There are two ways to fix this: scale your team or use automation tools to support your growth.

Without doing one or the other, you risk creating a backlog of orders, tasks, and refunds that could really hurt your brand and marketplace score.

Types of Sales Channels

Consumers today have become multi-channel shoppers, and retailers today must understand each channel type to determine its value.

Some channels work better for different stages of the buyer’s journey.

1. Social media channels.

Social media is a great way for people to discover new products and stores.

Influencers share their experiences every day and sponsored posts could drive traffic, if not sales.

Instagram and Pinterest allow you to tag products for purchase, and this trend only growing.

Even if you are a reseller or distributor of branded merchandise, you’ll want to invest in social media to engage and build relationships with your audience.

2. Your website and shopping cart.

A web store is an essential channel for all kinds of retailers, primarily because it lets you customize and personalize the shopping experience.

With a website, you can create educational content to solve user queries and attract new visitors.

You can also take advantage of email marketing for lead nurturing and brand advocacy.

3. Comparison shopping engines.

Price and convenience are the two most influential factors in purchasing decisions.

Multi-Channel Retailing shopper influences

Comparison shopping engines such as Google Shopping, Shopzilla, and PriceGrabber give fast pricing information to shoppers at their disposal.

As a seller, you can bid on traffic as part of your paid advertising strategy.

4. Marketplaces.

Marketplaces are best for buyers in the consideration and decision stages where shoppers have the intent to purchase and tend to already have a brand or product in mind.

There are three kinds of marketplaces: vertical, horizontal, and global ones, each with varying category and assortment levels.

Understanding Multi-Channel Inventory Management

Multi-Channel Retailing inventory management

Inventory management is easy if you sell on one or two channels. But when you scale the platforms you sell on, inventory tracking and forecasting become incredibly difficult.

When orders come in from disparate sources, real-time inventory syncing becomes necessary to achieve good fulfillment performance.

Multi-Channel Retailing-inventory-management

Poor scores and bad ratings can eventually lead to account suspension.

Things get further complicated when you add more partners into the mix.

As a multi-channel seller, you’ve probably explored new suppliers to increase product lines.

Similarly, fulfillment options such as Amazon FBA, drop shipping, and third-party logistics (3PLs) help accelerate growth.

The challenge is how to develop an infrastructure that can support this growth while also maintaining profit.

Managing stock through spreadsheets and outdated tracking systems will likely lead to overselling, understocking, and backorders, all of which lead to a negative customer experience.

On the other hand, overstocking and piling up dead inventory will tie up your cash flow, severely limiting your options.

This is where multi-channel inventory software comes in.

These programs are designed to connect with various channels and partners through API or EDI, so you can have real-time stock levels across your channels, warehouses, and fulfillment providers.

Multi-Channel Product Information Management

Multi-Channel Retailing PIM

As you expand to additional channels, the product information you use to market effectively in one channel will likely need to be altered and optimized for another channel.

Tracking this information and copy and pasting it from a Google Doc or Spreadsheet in manual, and can create errors.

Many brands use a Product Information Management system (PIM) as a single source of product information truth across channels.

Many of these systems can also help you to optimize your listings, as well as automate updates.

Whether you are listing to marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, or needing to launching international channels – or all of it, a PIM is how some of the world’s largest brand stay organized.

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Executive Summary

Social media, comparison shopping engines, marketplaces, and your website all target different stages of the buyer’s journey. By having a presence on all these channels, you’ll achieve maximum reach.

Do this effectively, and you’ll get shoppers to keep coming back for more.

Multi-channel retailing is a necessary strategy for growth, and it comes with its own challenges and opportunities.

It, too, is part of the seller’s journey – venturing out beyond your first sales channel – and going where the buyers are.

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