5 Tips for Being a Multichannel Brand in 2021

Business strategy planning

It goes without saying that 2020 changed everything. Ecommerce adoption rates shot up 44% year over year—the greatest annual growth the U.S. has seen in at least two decades—and marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart saw their fair share of this increased business.

For sellers, this has meant a fundamental shift in priorities. Ecommerce is no longer a secondary revenue stream but a primary one, and the very definition of what it means to sell direct-to-consumer (DTC) has evolved.

Today, you must sell on multiple channels online. Simply selling through your website means forfeiting exposure to hundreds of millions of daily consumers already shopping on established marketplaces. In fact, you could hinder brand growth by refusing to sell on them; a recent study of Zentail users revealed that 63% of sellers saw at least 200% webstore growth within 10 months of expanding to one or more marketplace.

That said, there are some things you need to keep in mind as you look to sell on multiple marketplaces. Keep reading for five expert tips, inspired by lessons learned in 2020, when the world was turned upside down.

1. Avoid the Spray-and-Pray Approach

While you should be selling on multiple channels, you don’t need to be selling on every channel. There’s a common misconception that the best approach is the spray-and-pray approach until you find the channels that actually work for you.

This is far less effective than being selective from the beginning. You can avoid exhausting your resources, setting up your catalog and operations for each individual channel (only to pull the plug after a few months) or becoming jaded by half-baked, ineffective plans. Our advice is to take the same approach that we maintain as a software company: prioritize quality over quantity.

Sell on the channels that attract the right buyer personas and add true, long-term value to your business. Recognize that only a handful of marketplaces will actually help to build brand recognition with the right audience. Know the important audience demographics and nuances that come with each marketplace, and align this with your product/branding approach before you sign up and start selling. Adding a new channel also means making room for more inventory, more marketing/advertising budget and more complex operations overall.

Therefore, you’ll want to understand how you want your brand—not just your sales—to grow over time and pick the marketplaces that accelerate you towards that goal. Marketplaces are a means, not an end, to your business’s growth. Don’t lose your focus as you’re participating in them.

2. Don’t Wait to Automate

The internet moves way too fast for spreadsheets and manual processes. Your job only gets harder with every new sales channel you add.

Fortunately, there are various multichannel solutions at your disposal. They range from single-purpose tools to full-blown automation software. But when it comes to considering software, many sellers make one of several common mistakes:

  • Picking the cheapest option available without fully understanding what they’re giving up in terms of reliability, connectivity and overall benefit (read: all software is not created equal)
  • Defaulting to the solution that offers the most features or most sales channels, and prioritizing quantity over quality
  • Creating an in-house software that’s rigid, hard to maintain and harder to scale
  • Chalking up software as a ‘nice to have’ versus a ‘need to have’ even though your ability to grow often depends on having a flexible, scalable solution

Aside from simplifying your work, the best platforms protect your business from the unpredictable nature of ecommerce. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that things never stop changing. Demand can fluctuate violently. Supply chains can become clogged. Marketplaces can suspend services or alter their seller requirements overnight.

Software provides peace of mind. From speaking with thousands of sellers and developing our own Zentail platform to meet their needs, we know that the best solutions offer:

  • A central command center to manage operations that span all of your sales channels (listings, orders, inventory, forecasting and analytics)
  • Purpose-built tools bred from a deep understanding of each sales channel (beware of providers that try to woo you with a high number of features, many of which are only half-baked)
  • Proactive protection against overselling, listing errors and order defects
  • Ability to recognize and respond to sudden changes in marketplace requirements
  • Flexible pricing based on your business’s unique goals, plus no hidden fees
  • An attentive, easy-to-reach support team for when issues inevitably arise

3. Treat Each Marketplace as Its Own Channel

This seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, it’s often not. Sellers will usually start their ecommerce journey on Amazon. Then once they’ve experienced success, they’ll expand to a new channel and expect the same results using the same tactics. They’ll pick the same products to sell, copy and paste their listings or take the same approach to marketing, only to be disappointed when sales don’t pick up steam.

The reality is, each marketplace maintains a unique algorithm, user experience and advantage to your business. The sooner you identify the disparities, the more successful you’ll be. Too often, sellers throw in the towel wondering why a second marketplace isn’t performing up to par with another channel. These same sellers usually have their resources tied up in their “cash cow.” While they expect the same or similar results across the board, they’re actually putting in a fraction of the effort into their secondary channels. It’s a recipe for disaster from the get-go.

Also worth noting: aside from limiting your effectiveness, refusing to do your due diligence could get you in trouble with the channel itself. Each marketplace has its own rules of engagement that are strictly enforced. A prime example is Amazon FBA (no pun intended). FBA is prohibited on many of its competitors’ sites, and noncompliance could get you suspended.

The key takeaway here is to know what you’re signing up for when you plan to sell multichannel: a diverse approach to selling that requires a willingness to learn and adapt your strategies.

4. Never Underestimate the Power of a Quality Listing

Product listings are the unsung heroes of ecommerce, especially on marketplaces like Amazon, where 70% of consumers never make it past the first page. They have an impact on every part of the buyer journey, from product discovery to product satisfaction.

The quality of your listings depends on a variety of factors, some of which are specific to the channel. On Newegg, for instance, listings with A+ Content generate more page views, and more importantly conversions, than their non-A+ Content counterparts.

While they maintain slightly different rules, all channels value some of the same success practices: good SEO, images, price, fulfillment speed/method and complete product data. Among these, the latter is probably the most overlooked. Few sellers provide as many details as they should about their products; some will just fill out the minimally required attributes, while others may add a few extra details but miss out on other key components. As a consequence, their listings may get excluded from filtered search results or even normal search results if a buyer types in a specific search phrase.

You’ll therefore want to spend the extra time to double-check that your listings are as complete and accurate as possible. Or, search for a listing automation tool that can enrich them for you. By doing so, you can boost your chances of ranking as well as living up to customer expectations upon purchase. This means more sales, happier customers, fewer returns and more positive feedback: the perfect flywheel.

fly wheel of how listings impact e-commerce

5. Leverage Fulfillment as a Competitive Advantage

Fulfillment became a huge advantage in 2020, when an influx of online shoppers overwhelmed supply chains across the world.

While things have calmed down since then, the demand for fast and free shipping hasn’t. Two-day shipping is the new norm and the number of brands offering free shipping has increased 5.3% since the pandemic began. Those who are able to offer both fast and free shipping have the greatest advantage—but of course, that is a tough feat to pull off.

At the very least, consumers demand options. We saw this trend emerge at a time when buyers were forced to choose between fast or free. In response, more sellers began offering local pickup or subsidizing a portion of expedited shipping costs. Marketplaces themselves began partnering up with brick-and-mortar retailers to offer in-store returns.

Now, staying competitive on most marketplaces means participating (at least to some degree) in programs like Amazon FBA, Shipped by Newegg and Walmart Fulfillment Services. These services make fast delivery much more affordable, simultaneously increasing your rankings through fast-shipping badges and handling customer service for you.

See if these programs make sense for you. At the same time, remember another valuable lesson from 2020: don’t become over-reliant on any one program. Make sure you have other options to lean on in case one service is disrupted.

In Summary: Be Attentive

The devil is in the details when it comes to succeeding as a multichannel seller. Rising up above the competition requires developing a keen understanding of how each channel works and how to operate as a business most efficiently. Resist the urge to be like every other seller; do your due diligence, get your listings right and create a strong game plan that’s tailored to every channel.