How much is enough? – Channel Coverage in ecommerce
Monday July 13, 2015 | By Dan Hawkins
If you’re listing products on one channel, perhaps your website, or Amazon or eBay, you probably consider yourself to be an expert on that platform. You know its rules, how it operates and how to be successful on it. Unfortunately, you should be aware of what might happen if there’s a problem and it stops working for you. To avoid this scenario, you could look at making your stock available on a second ecommerce channel. You can spread your risk between the two channels and get some balance. That sounds easy, but this second channel is different. It works in a different way. You have to start from scratch to learn it, which takes time, money and sweat, all of which you could be expending on your single channel.
There are of course, many other channels, in many other regions and countries, each bringing their own effort and reward, depending on your business and the products you sell and the categories you list in. There are platforms that will manage your website or websites, global multi channel marketplaces, regional or national marketplaces, vertical marketplaces, price comparison sites, daily deal sites, flash sale sites, aggregators, B2B exchanges. The list is long, and doesn't even take into account traditional retail channels like bricks and mortar, telephone order and mail order. There are opportunities in all of them, and costs and risks too. What’s the right balance, the right channel coverage? How much is enough?
Multi channel ecommerce companies that are great at channel coverage have worked very hard to become great. They not only reap the benefits of spreading their risk across channels, but also within the channels. They have multiple seller IDs in the same channel, with each ID selling different – but complementary – sets of products. These great companies do the research into each channel to find out if it’s for them. How it works, how its categories are structured, what its policies are, its pricing, its rules, its requirements for joining, its terms and conditions, its market share, its attitude to sellers, its customer base, its ethos and so on. If they can’t get the answers themselves, they ask someone who can.
Once you've decided a channel is worth investing in, the next thing to figure out is how it will work with your existing channel. How can you get solid stock management across the channels? How will your multi channel listings work? How will you keep tabs on what you've sold where? How will you make sure you don’t oversell anywhere? How will you manage customer service? If you’re not careful, you might find that doubling your channels simply doubles the amount of work you have to do.
For many Volo customers, the addition of a second ecommerce channel proves too much for the company to rely on the mainly manual processes that have served them well so far. The opportunities of selling stock on a second channel far outweigh the costs of enlisting some outside expertise in the form of technology and know how. Companies find that trying to save money by taking a DIY approach means they can’t grow their sales and profits as quickly and steadily as they would like.
Volo’s mission is to transform your growth across key ecommerce channels and give you the technologies, knowledge and community to see your ecommerce business fly. There are a number of ‘levers’ you can pull to do this, and in this sense channel coverage is an absolutely critical lever. With that in mind, here are a few areas you should consider when you’re thinking about multi channel ecommerce selling.
We don’t recommend you keep a separate inventory for each channel, because then you can’t capitalise on the advantages of being a multi channel seller. We recommend you use a single inventory pool from which all your channels are updated. Volo’s channel profile, for example, allows you to push all your stock updates out across your channels, automatically, as you sell items on different channels and replenish your orders and stock availability.
We've already talked about doing the homework on each channel. It’s probably most important that you understand how the search capability works on each site, and how search enquiries are returned to potential buyers, what information is presented and how it’s presented. This will impact how you structure the information – also called data – on your products. The better you structure your data to the way the channel works, the better the chance of your product being selected for purchase. Again, it’s a question of effort and reward. Choose the channels where you get the best reward on your effort.
Be resilient across all channels
In the UK for example, there are three main channels, each of which can drive significant revenue for your business: Amazon, eBay and your website. You should diversify the channels you’re on to spread your risk. Better to have three channels providing you with about a third of your business than two, one of which brings you 70%, for example. This way, you’re better insured against a major incident taking out the main source of your income.
The better your data on your products is organised, the better your ecommerce business performs, because information is power, especially accurate information. You should use rules to structure your data in bulk, and this streamlined approach will give you major productivity gains over dealing individually with the data on each product item.
Make sure you pull your customer communications across your channels into one central place, as this is much easier to manage and a more productive use of your customer service staff time in the long run. Furthermore, add information to eBay's Smart FAQs pages to reduce questions from your customers. Pre-written responses to standard and frequently asked questions will buy your staff valuable time every time, and this aggregates up into impressive savings over hundreds and thousands of communications.
You should use your channels as an opportunity to build your brand online. You’re probably already remarketing to those customers who have bought from you via your website. Where rules allow, you can use marketplaces as additional acquisition channels. Once someone buys from you, you can send them an offer in the package to return directly to your website, where you can capture their data and turn them into delighted repeat buyers.