Access to millions of customers, incredible brand exposure, a host of marketing tools—there’s no question that Amazon is one incredible selling channel.
However, it’s important to take a step back and remember it’s not the only one worth investing in.
When you put all of your ecommerce “eggs” in the Amazon basket, it’s important to remember it’s their basket. They own the customers, and they make the rules.
It’s not just an Amazon issue. It’s the same scenario if you only sell on eBay or even Etsy.
If you want your brand to grow and become more stable, the smartest thing you can do is adopt a multichannel retail strategy. Even more importantly, you should adopt the right strategy for your brand.
We sat down with Casey Armstrong, experienced startup leader and Director of Content and SEO Marketing at BigCommerce, to why a multichannel retailing strategy—sometimes known as omnichannel retail—matters and how to make it work for you.
What is Multichannel Retailing?
Pre-internet, “multichannel retailing” simply meant retailers use multiple selling channels (such as print catalogs, direct mail, and phone calls) to reach customers. Now, the term has expanded to include social media, marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, and Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) such as Google Shopping.
3 Reasons Why Amazon Sellers Should Adopt a Multichannel Retailing Strategy
The ecommerce world is simultaneously getting a lot smaller and a lot bigger, thanks to the internet. Competition on Amazon is fierce amongst legitimate sellers, not to mention listing hijackers and counterfeiters hoping to skim the top off your hard-earned profits.
Now, more than ever, it’s important for Amazon sellers to set themselves up for success.
“You’re always faced with new competition, so the question is how do you set yourself apart and how do you expand on different channels,” says Casey. “That’s why I think it’s important to start by owning your own ecommerce channel. That is the only way you can expand on other platforms at scale and repeatable processes.”
Here are the top three reasons to go multichannel now.
1. To Meet Your Audience Where They Are
The biggest thing to realize is that success isn’t usually based around one channel. Most successful brands have an offline and online presence, and they’re trying to optimize both.
“The era of Amazon OR Facebook OR brick-and-mortar—those days are over,” says Casey. “People want to be able to purchase at any time from anywhere on any device. We want to help brands make it easier for their customers to choose how they interact together. This way both the brands and their customers or community both win.”
The placement is only the first step of being where your customers truly are, Casey emphasizes. The second thing to consider is their emotional place. Are they buying something based on something deeper than a surface-level need?
The emotional connection with your buyer extends to where they’re shopping.
If they’re on Amazon, they may not be emotionally connected to your brand as much as they’re looking for the cheapest bowl on the market. If they’re buying a handmade ceramic bowl from your ecommerce store full price, based on a link they found via Instagram, it’s likely they have an emotional connection with your brand.
A lot of this has to do with knowing your audience and knowing your product offerings (more on that later).
2. To Compete Better in the Marketplace
As more sellers learn how to sell on Amazon, many sellers focus on various ways to get to the top of rankings to beat out the competitors. They do this by making sure content is optimized, customer service is faultless, and keywords are on point. However, as Casey points out, this may not be the best plan of action. The competition and financial stakes only get higher.
“Amazon’s a great platform, and if you run your own ecommerce shop, it is—no question—a great place where you should optimize and sell,” Casey says. “But as arguably the first thing you learn in finances, diversification is key for long-term success and mitigating risk. The same goes for growing your business online.”
3. To Gain More Control Over Your Brand’s Future (and Your Customers)
Wouldn’t it be nice to not dread Amazon TOS or algorithm updates? With a multichannel selling strategy, you’re not entirely reliant on one channel, so things like Amazon’s incentivized review ban can occur and it doesn’t dramatically affect your brand’s future.
And though you may have to rely on some of these channels to drive traffic to your ecommerce store, you’ll get an extra bonus—access to your own customer database.
“It’s very important to own and control your future,” says Casey. “When you’re using your own ecommerce platform, you have much more control and flexibility from design to internal data to pricing.
When someone purchases from you on your site, you can think of new ways to market to them, and you’ll have more control over your database. You still optimize and focus your different marketing channels that can drive huge business growth, such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google for search, but that’s why I’m a huge fan of email. You have much more control of your own database.”
Now for the big question—where should you start expanding your brand?
What’s the Best Place to Start Multichannel Retailing?
This depends a lot on the products you have: your vertical, audience, advantages, and experience. But Casey points out Amazon sellers are prime candidates (no pun intended) to start selling across multiple channels.
“If you’re already selling on Amazon, you’re already proving there’s a market for your goods, and you learn how to run an ecommerce business,” says Casey. “You learn how to ship, and handle fulfillment, and do all of the other things you should do as a retailer. The knowledge you get there is invaluable.”
This question doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, but let’s dive into several key places where Amazon sellers can succeed.
Ecommerce Website: Own Your Customer Data and Create a Destination
Before you can even test and sell on other channels such as Facebook, it’s important to create your own shop that you control. This will not only give you flexibility on promotions, but also for channels such as Google Shopping, Pinterest, Facebook—you can’t really expand into all of those until you have a place to direct people.
However, we’ll stand by what we said before. While ecommerce sites seem like the first best step for Amazon sellers looking to diversify, they won’t be for everyone. For instance, some resellers without a cohesive theme might have trouble succeeding with a website. Armstrong shares his experience:
I’ve spoken to resellers who are strictly in the arbitrage game. They ask me if they should set up their own BigCommerce shop. Of course, I want to give a “Yes!” immediately, but the first question is “Can you tell me about your business?” This one very smart group of sellers I met with happened to sell a random assortment of about 12 items—like a baby toy, one basketball, a picture frame, and a doorknob—and none of them had anything to do with the other.
That particular reseller is kind of an outlier, but if you do have a niche—maybe you’re a reseller in the diet foods space—you could have the opportunity to show social proof that you are a larger brand, and maybe that will help you with the brands you are reselling to improve your margins or buying capacity.
Bottom line? If you are a retailer with a cohesive brand story, it’s in your brand’s best interest to establish an ecommerce website first.
“I might be slightly biased, but owning or having as much control over your platform as possible is paramount to your long-term success,” says Casey. “It’s either that or you’re just playing by the rules of whatever business channel you’re on.”
CSEs: All About Margin
There are lots of CSE engines out there, but Google Shopping is by far the most powerful.
That’s why, Casey says, it’s a great place to focus on—but mainly for sellers who know how to navigate the competition and have a product with a great margin. Casey knows from experience:
I helped run a luxury watch ecommerce shop, and we grew from 0-7 figures monthly pretty quickly, and that was primarily built on Google Shopping. There was a ton of competition, but we were able to do that because we understood paid marketing very well and our cart size was very large.
When you’re selling items between 2-10,000, it’s a little different when you’re selling items with thin margins. When looking at different channels, one of the ways to prioritize is by assessing you, your team, or contractor’s skill sets, the competition in the space, the time to see ROI, and immediate ROI based on initial tests.
Again, know your product. If you have to lower the price on your products to compete with other listings so much that you’re losing a lot of money on every sale, it’s probably not the best place for you to expand right away.
Social Media: Target Customers in Your Niche
Facebook has always been a place for people to express who they are through quizzes, quotes, fill-ins, you name it. Ads for your products should reflect that personalization. This is especially true for brands with a very niche targeted product.
“If you’re selling something in the health space, or something like dog toys, Facebook would be great because you can get very specific who you’re targeting,” explains Casey. “You can hone in on what your customers like, and what they don’t. You can also use visuals really well and capture audiences.”
How to Get the Most Out of Your Multichannel Retailing Strategy
As in every selling platform, there’s no silver bullet to success—as a brand, you should be aiming for a plan that will work for you long-term. But here are a few ways you can get the most out of your expansion into multichannel retailing, whatever you sell.
Test and Verify
As we said, there’s no “go-to” answer for any particular type of ad or platform. What you have to do, according to Casey, is be willing to test and accept that not every test will result in a win, then take those “losses” and apply associated learnings to future tests.
“You don’t know until you try, but there are quite a few things you could do in advance,” says Casey. “First, make sure your ‘house’ is in order before inviting people, then make sure the buying experience on your website is smooth.
Check what the experience is like on desktop vs. mobile because you can target those specific channels on Google, Facebook, and other channels. Then, make sure you set up analytics so you can measure results. Those are the hard skills you need to have before you start testing.”
Know Your Customer
Let’s not underrate the soft skills.
We know buyer personas and journeys might seem overplayed at times, but they’re popular for a reason. Because when you understand your customer’s intent, it will totally alter the way you target them, from the ad creative to the platform. But don’t stick to the surface level. Even the simplest question—Why do your buyers want to buy your product?—can result in more meaningful questions, according to Casey:
Let’s say you sell dog toys. Why do those people buy dog toys in the first place? Why do they have a dog? Do they like to be active? Are they lonely? Did they grow up with animals? Do they love their dogs that much or are they lazy or do they want to look cool at the dog park because they are single?
Understanding those second-level questions is crucial to setting yourself apart in the marketplace, then use that knowledge to find them accordingly. The answers to those questions will change how you target them beyond age, location, and other common persona breakdowns.
Optimize Your Product Content Across the Board
Whether you’re a reseller or not, how are you describing the product in the description? Have you been copying and pasting content that everyone else uses to describe that type of product?
ModCloth does this well—all of their products feature on-brand descriptions that add personality and fun:
However, if you have thousands of products, this can be a challenge, Casey recognizes:
If you have 50-100,000 SKUs, you can’t necessarily write all of the content individually. But you can look into your best-selling items to add some color there, and differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, that item may look similar to other items you can get elsewhere, but give it a name and story, and you can draw the customer in. Prioritize based on your internal data.
Set Your Brand Apart by Providing an Amazing Customer Experience
Retail behemoths such as Zappos and Amazon were built on providing an exceptional customer experience, and it’s a big part of the reason they have such a loyal customer base.
But when you’re an Amazon seller, you don’t get to make the customer service rules, Armstrong points out. When you own your ecommerce platform, you set the standards and expectations, and you set the behavior the customer expects with your site. There are myriad benefits that come with this.
“Maybe people are abusing your return policy,” says Casey.”You get to decide what’s valid and what’s unacceptable, then provide the best customer experience possible.”
Another way to set your products apart from the competition? Packaging it or adding a unique quality you can’t get elsewhere. Man Crates is a great example, says Casey. Their themed gift packages are geared towards men, and include items such as beef jerky and mugs to zombie kits. However, what makes them truly interesting is the packaging.
Casey recently made a purchase for his own dad, and describes the experience:
Not only is Man Crates selling interesting items, but so is the experience you get with it. I got my dad one called the “College Pack“—so they had a couple mugs, corn nuts, peanuts, coasters—but the cool thing is that they wrapped it in a crate with some crazy glue and it came with a crowbar and no instructions. Plus, they had a genius upsell, too, so you can wrap the entire thing in a duct taped outer wrapper. When my dad got the gift, he had to use a saw to get through the duct tape, and he actually had to get a screwdriver and a hammer in addition to that crowbar to break into this gift box. And what did he do that night? He told everyone he knew.
That’s the other thing about providing an amazing experience with your product—your customers won’t be able to keep it to themselves.
Look for Non-Traditional Growth Opportunities
The options online are limitless, but if you’re selling on a channel that’s not working, don’t waste time on it. It could be time to move onto something even better. Casey has recent experience working with a friend on an alternative marketing strategy:
I had a friend who got his product in Whole Foods, and he was selling about 20 of those items a week in those stores. Getting into Whole Foods provides many opportunities beyond generating revenue there, but from an items sold perspective and growth rate, those numbers were not very significant.
At this site I used to own, we did a partnership where he said, “I’ll give you $x per product sold if you promote this successfully.” At the time, I had a pretty big email list—a little over 100,000 in the health and wellness space—and a really loyal audience I had built. We sent two emails out featuring his product, and sold 2,500 units in two weeks. As you test these other channels, think about the less obvious custom-built opportunities.
Use CRM Data to Remarket Customers
We’ve written before about how effective CRM can be for remarketing customers on Google and Facebook. In Casey’s view, the most important thing you can do with those CRM lists is segment them down to be more targeted:
- Newsletter signups
- People who made a purchase recently
- People who bought a high-value item
- People who bought a specific product
In addition, you can create “Lookalike Audiences” on Facebook or “Similar Audiences” on Google to expand your reach to new audiences that are most likely to buy your product.
Don’t Complicate It
As you start to grow and expand, it can be tempting to rely on old standbys to manage everything. However, Casey points out, you’ll introduce more problems when you rely on the good old spreadsheet to manage everything at the beginning:
You should find a platform or way to sell on all of those channels where you’re not working on a bunch of spreadsheets because you could introduce unnecessary complexity that could result in costly mistakes. When you do choose where to run your shop, you want to think about future-proofing your business.
You don’t want to create a ceiling as you grow your business, which is why an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce that integrates directly with marketing channels like Facebook, Google Shopping, Pinterest, and Amazon are the way of the future.
The Bottom Line
Will selling and marketing channels ever slow down? Probably not. But that shouldn’t discourage you from venturing out into new territories. Casey weighs in:
That’s the beauty and curse of these channels and what makes ecommerce and marketing so much fun– they all continue to grow and evolve. But then you wake up every day, and you’re in a new world, and you’re trying to figure out how to navigate those waters.
At the end of the day, it’s good to know that all of the channels and platforms out there are also trying to find more ways to make money, and they’ll always create options to help you sell more, because that allows them to make more money as well.
Yes, it can feel overwhelming to look at all of the multichannel retailing options out there. But if you follow these steps and have a strong grip on your brand’s story, you should be able expand on the right channels at the right time—and in the long run, you’ll benefit with more stability and growth opportunities.
Any questions for Casey? Please list them below!