Managing Multichannel E-Commerce Sales Operations
Managing an extensive distribution network with many channels can be challenging. But increasing your presence and driving interest for your products will be for nothing if you can’t reliably turn potential buyers into customers when it matters.
Whether it’s a marketplace, a retailer or even a webstore, every channel requires three elements before sales can begin: product information and content, pricing and inventory levels. And, if everything goes according to plan, every channel should generate orders you must process.
Every channel will receive and send this information differently. As you expand your network, you want to make sure your systems can communicate with all channels and the need for manual intervention does not surge with your growth.
Product Information Tailored for Each Channel
Product information and product content are essential. In a 2021 survey conducted by Dynata for ChannelAdvisor, 34% of US e-commerce shoppers said they had already given up on a purchase because the page did not have enough information. More crucially, without the right information, the product will likely never emerge as visible to the appropriate pool of purchase-ready customers in the first place. Including content is the bare minimum, but constructing high-quality content has a massive impact on brand image and buyer conversion.
Product content has very different specifications for each channel. And even if there are common data points, such as title or description, the structure of that data point can vary widely based on the retailer. And each time you expand to a new site, there’s yet another template to follow.
We typically recommend a three-step strategy to manage content optimization:
- Streamline the source. Make sure you have a single source of truth for product content and ensure content makers know what the destinations will be.
- Audit regularly. Regularly compare your content against channel requirements to get a clear picture of what you need to change in your approach.
- Leverage automation. Automated content optimization, data transformation and uploads can help you save time, ensure your data is compliant and use existing product data to populate fields that are not available in your product data by default.
It is always possible to take content to the next level. Improving content is a multifaceted process. Here are a few strategies to upgrade product content:
- Research the demographics, preferences and purchase habits of the audience within each of your sales channels and tailor your content to appeal to that specific audience.
- Read customer reviews and adjust your content to set better expectations. For example, if customers complain that one of your products is smaller than they expected, add an image that gives perspective to demonstrate its size.
- A/B test key elements like product titles and hero images. You can A/B test on channels you control, like a brand website, but also on marketplaces and some retail channels.
Multichannel E-Commerce Pricing
Pricing is massively influential in e-commerce. With so much at stake, discounts, repricing and promotions have become the norm for most channels. Customers expect them. Managing a multichannel pricing strategy can prove demanding, especially when factoring in retail channels, which usually define their prices freely.
Repricing on Direct Channels
Pricing is a highly strategic matter for most brands. It is tied to many business-critical variables like demand, brand perception and profitability. And promotions are a great way to drive traffic, interest and conversations about your brands.
Brands selling on direct channels like marketplaces or brand websites usually have room to manage prices. But pricing for a brand website is very different from pricing for a competitive environment like a marketplace.
On marketplaces, the brand can’t ignore the competitive environment it is selling in. Odds are high that most shoppers are considering a few different brands before making a purchase. And in most cases, the cheaper option could gain an edge. This means brands have to consider the pricing and movements of their competitors. In some cases, lowering prices to capture extra sales may be prudent. When the competition is low, opportunities may arise to set higher prices and increase margins.
(Not) Managing Retailer Pricing
In most geographies worldwide, antitrust laws ensure that retailers can price their products however they want. While this is undoubtedly beneficial to customers, some brands can see it as a threat: Margins erode as retailers compete on price to capture sales. As a result, brands can face tougher negotiations or retailers dropping some unprofitable products entirely.
It’s also possible that in markets with few sales channels, some retailers abuse their monopoly situation by increasing resale prices above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (to capture extra margin, at the cost of overall sales volume and price consistency).
However, brands can take action to influence retail prices while abiding by local regulations:
- Synchronizing promotions. Quench your retailers’ thirst for promotions by planning and incentivizing market-wide discounts. Coordinating efforts within your network of retailers can help generate more sales for your brand compared to competitors, rather than simply generating more sales for one retailer compared to others.
- Keeping a close watch on price-matching dynamics. It has become common among retailers to leverage repricing algorithms. They use them to price match competitors, prevent sales losses and maximize margins. While you may not control these price fluctuations, you can learn from them. As a brand, staying up to date on the latest product repricing trends means you can plan your pricing strategies accordingly.
- Be creative in boosting retailer sales. At times, a retailer will become disappointed with the sales velocity of a particular product. Using “where to buy” technology to send qualified leads to the retailer’s website can help increase sales velocity in an organic and profitable way.
Find more creative ways to (not) manage retailer prices in this eBook: Creative Pricing Strategies for Brands: Proven Tips for Boosting Your E-Commerce Profitability.
Leveraging Off-Price Channels
Life cycle length varies tremendously between products. While some industries or brands have evergreen products, others have fast-rotating collections. For the latter, overstock can be a problem. How do you get rid of leftover inventory when the new collection arrives?
Retail channels usually deal with this problem with sales, clearances and discounts. But too many promotions will begin to erode the image of the brand. Third-party clearance channels are another option, although they often come at an image cost for the brand.
To manage excess inventory effectively, brands can consider a separate online channel that acts as an extension of their own ecosystem. This way, they can deliver a direct-to-consumer experience aligned to their existing e-commerce operation in an effective and scalable way, while remaining in control of brand equity.
In presenting off-price goods as prime-aged inventory, brands can also attract a new audience, some of whom may go on to become full-price customers.
Multichannel Inventory Consolidation
If a channel displays a product as in stock while it isn’t, consequences can include a very disappointed customer — and possible sanctions from the platform.
Keeping inventory updated across multiple direct channels (marketplaces, brand website) is hard work, especially during busy seasons when staff is already juggling multiple priorities. The more channels you list on, and the more SKUs you have, the more complicated the process can get.
But fail to take inventory updates seriously, and your company could soon find itself battling negative reviews, lost sales and high costs associated with warehousing surplus stock.
You know it’s time to revisit your process for updating inventory when you receive an order for an out-of-stock item. This scenario is a common one for brands actively expanding to new channels: each time you add another sales channel to your portfolio, the risk of overselling increases.
When that happens, the only solution is to leverage automation and ensure that your inventory remains permanently updated across all your channels.
Every Channel Can Be a Sales Channel
Always Offer a Direct Path to Purchase
As a brand manufacturer, if you don’t provide interested consumers with a seamless shopping experience or a clear path to purchase, you’ll likely lose them.
Think of all the touchpoints that a consumer may have with your brand. Do they all come with a “buy now” option? A common example is brands that do not sell products on their websites. Another would be awareness campaigns that aren’t tied to a specific checkout page.
While scoring some quick sales is usually not the goal for these websites and campaigns, it’s always worth considering that today’s consumers can cover the full funnel and become purchase-ready very quickly. But they can also get distracted very easily, increasing the likelihood of losing them due to the lack of an easy path to purchase.
No Webshop? No Problem
If you don’t have a D2C webshop, or if you just haven’t deployed that particular channel, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s still very important that your website does not become a funnel dead end.
Avoiding this significant hazard to sales requires opening your website to shoppable options. Ensure your website, especially its product pages, funnels visitors toward a channel where they can convert.
Level 1: Your website has links to your online retailer and marketplaces and lists potential brick-and-mortar channels where your products can be found.
Level 2: Each individual product page on your website links directly to retailer or marketplace product pages.
Level 3: Every product page on your website links to pages that have confirmed availability, and to brick-and-mortar locations near the shopper, with confirmed in-stock product.
ChannelAdvisor helps connect your products to hundreds of global channels, including marketplaces, digital marketing channels, retailers with whom you have a wholesale or drop ship relationship and your own webstore.