We do love having guests. Today eCommerce expert Elliot Taylor joins us for a cup of very English tea and a choccy biccy or two. In this guest post, Elliot talks tools and strategy for managing multiple sales channels plus the benefits of creating your own marketplace using platforms such as WooCommerce.
Many online businesses start off on marketplace websites. They have a product and use Amazon, Etsy or Ebay to bring it to market.
It’s a fantastic, low cost, low risk platform to demonstrate the potential of your business. If you are selling, then you are on the right track. You’ve crossed a hurdle a lot of companies can’t get past.
You’ve demonstrated the business has legs. But it’s often hard to run in the marketplaces.
Problems with Marketplaces
The marketplace websites have problems. Who doesn’t!
I was at the London WooCommerce Meetup this week and had a chat with the director of a shoe company. He was frustrated with eBay and was looking at alternatives. It’s a problem I often hear. Marketplaces favour the customer over the seller.
He was being scammed and there was nothing he could do about it. The latest example was a return which was automatically refunded by eBay. The shoes hadn’t even been received back to him. When they did arrive, they were some stinky boots that were clearly junk (and not the ones that were sent).
He said this wheeze happened regularly and that eBay favoured the customer in pretty much every case. He wanted a hosted eCommerce platform he could manage. That put him in the driving seat.
It’s just one anecdote, but it does highlight the lack of control you have with marketplaces. You play by their rules.
Race to the bottom or climb to the top with your own brand
Some products are well suited for marketplaces. Usually they are products competing on price.
If your USP is more than price then the market might not be suitable for you. I’ve seen businesses find it hard to stand out from crowd on marketplaces. Consumers see 30 similar items and choose the cheapest. Price is a big influence in any circumstance, but even more so on the marketplaces.
Marketplaces also insulate the customer from the seller. For instance the seller will not receive marketing details of the customer. This means you aren’t the one with the relationship with the customer. The marketplace is.
Repeat customers are more valuable than newly acquired customers. It's generally cheaper to retain than acquire. Even better, with the proper relationship they can become strong brand ambassadors. Promoting your brand to their contacts in a targeted and effective way. But it’s not something you can develop and use with marketplaces.
When they purchase via the marketplace, they have the relationship with the marketplace and not your brand.
So there are some limits of the marketplaces. There are also some pro’s, such as being a ready made place to sell.
They are a good tool and like all tools have their place as well as their limitations. Once you reach these limitations the next step is to look at alternative eCommerce solutions.
I told the shoe store owner that you don’t have to completely replace one for another. At least not straight away. You don’t want to stop sales from your marketplace channel point blank. You might loose and confuse existing customers.
You can run an alternative eCommerce solution side by side with the marketplace. It’s what we call ‘multi-channel’ and there are tools that help you manage this.
Working with multi-channel
So, if our shoe company sets up their Woo store, how can they run it side by side their marketplace?
This is where an inventory management tool such as TradeGecko comes into play. The product inventory and all associated data such as price and description can be imported into TradeGecko. It can then synchronise with other channels. This means it can easily populate the products on your eCommerce store.
The really neat trick is that you can now manage all your product information in a single place. If you change the price for a product then this is pushed to both your marketplace and your eCommerce store. This means you have consistency across channels.
It also synchronises the stock levels and imports orders into a central place to manage. This reduces the time spent managing orders and reduces the chance for human error.
Living side by side
We have touched upon the benefits of a separate eCommerce platform over marketplaces. So why might you continue with your marketplace once you have managed to build up your customer base on your new WooCommerce store?
I think the best example here is to look at how UK retailer Argos have managed their eBay store. They don’t always synchronise their products pricing. Instead they use this sales channel in a way that doesn’t compete directly with their main site.
They don’t want to cannibalize sales from their main store from eBay sales. They use eBay exclusively for promotions, clearance and refurbished products.
The key with eCommerce is to test, test and test! We have all the data so experiment and see what works for you. Keep a close eye on margins and be sure to spot when low margin sales channels cannibalise higher margin channels.
Remember the old saying: "Profit is sanity, revenue is vanity". Tweet this!
About the author
Elliot has been working with WooCommerce since it was first launched. Before that he was involved in WordPress and eCommerce. Now he heads up digital agency Raison who are WooCommerce specialists based in Brighton, England. His team focus on building robust eCommerce sites and offering the strategy for them to grow.