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January 4, 2022 by Daniel Gross

Multi-Channel eCommerce

What Is It? Why Does It Matter? And How Do I Get Started?

If you’re an eCommerce entrepreneur, you may have heard the term “Multi-Channel eCommerce,” particularly in the last few years. But you may be a little bit confused about what it is, why it matters, and how you can get started. 121eCommerce is here to help!

Multi-channel is the future of eCommerce – particularly as “social shopping” continues to grow, and the percentage of online sales is forecasted to continue to grow, compared to in-person shopping.

So sit back. Grab a coffee. And let us teach you a bit about the basics of multi-channel retailing and eCommerce. We’ll discuss what it is, the benefits it offers, and some simple steps to get started. Then, we’ll answer a few FAQs about multi-channel eCommerce that we see quite often. Ready? Good. Let’s jump in!

What Is Multi-Channel eCommerce? Understanding The Basics

Each way you sell products is considered to be a “channel.” Let’s say you have a BigCommerce website where you sell phone cases. That’s a channel! It’s really that simple. A “channel” is any platform, service, or store that you use to sell your products. Even in-store shopping is considered to be a “channel,” though that’s not really relevant to eCommerce.

That’s where the term “multi-channel” comes in. You’ve probably already guessed what this is – selling products or services on more than one channel. When it comes to multi-channel eCommerce, this specifically refers to using online sales channels.

So, for example, let’s say you sell phone cases on your own BigCommerce website, as mentioned in the above example. If you choose to also market and sell your phone cases directly on Amazon.com, that’s another sales channel! You’re officially a multi-channel eCommerce business. Congratulations!

There are a lot of different digital channels out there, so we won’t list them all. But to give you an idea, here are a few of the most commonly-used eCommerce digital channels.

  • Amazon.com
  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Instagram Shopping
  • Facebook Shopping
  • TikTok Shopping
  • Google Shopping
  • Wal-Mart Marketplace
  • Target Plus
  • AliExpress

There are many more. While they differ in type, features, and other specifics, they all broadly serve the same purpose – allowing eCommerce retailers to market and sell their products to more people, using some kind of digital sales and marketing platform.

By expanding the number of “channels” where you sell your products or services, you’ll be able to reach more customers. There’s a lot more to multi-channel eCommerce than this (and we’ll get into that in a minute), but that’s the basic idea. 

When you sell your products on multiple sales channels, you can get them in front of the largest possible customer base – which can help you outpace the competition and stand out within the crowded eCommerce world. So, for obvious reasons, more eCommerce companies are looking to expand into multiple online sales channels.

Why Does Multi-Channel eCommerce Matter? Explaining The Benefits

Multi-channel eCommerce does sound great. Who wouldn’t want to sell more products? It’s almost always a good idea to expand into more sales channels. Of course, that also means more work for you and/or your team.

More administration. More product management. More customer service requests. And more platforms to learn and work with. For multi-channel eCommerce to be worth it, it must have lots of great benefits, right? Right – and in this part of our guide, we’ll discuss just a few of them.

Expand visibility for your store and your products

The #1 benefit of multi-channel eCommerce – as we mentioned briefly in the previous section – is that it puts your products in front of more people. More customers will learn about your brand and your products. And once they do, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase.

If 1,000 people see your product and 10% of people buy it, you’ve made 100 sales. If 10,000 people see your product and 10% of people buy it, you’ve made 1,000 sales. The math really is that simple. If a customer doesn’t know about your product, you’ve already lost a sale.

So by expanding from your eCommerce store into multiple other digital channels, you can get your products in front of more customers. As long as you’re selling a competitive product at a good price, that will add up to higher sales.

Improve your conversion rate

In some cases, selling on a different website can help you increase your conversion rate. For example, if your products are listed on Amazon, an Amazon Prime member may be more likely to add them to their cart if they come across them when shopping – especially if they get free 2-day shipping on their purchase. They may also think that Amazon is more trustworthy than your own eCommerce website since they’re familiar with it and they won’t have to create a new account.

Or, if you’re selling with a “social shopping” tool like Instagram ads, you can use their targeting tools and user data to market your products to a certain type of customer – for example, college-educated females who are between the ages of 29-45 years old. If these customers are more likely to buy your products, you can improve your conversion rate and sell more products.

Diversify risk and maintain multiple income streams

This is a very important reason to think about switching to a multi-channel eCommerce strategy – if one of your accounts or platforms goes down, fails, or is even banned, you can continue selling products on your other sales platforms, and avoid serious financial problems.

There are real-world examples of entrepreneurs nearly being ruined by this kind of problem – one seller who used Amazon for 13 years was banned without warning, only getting his account reinstated once he wrote a blog post about it. eBay had a recent problem where they accidentally suspended some users without warning.

Or, consider if your eCommerce store is hit with a major cyberattack, or there’s some kind of problem with your store that requires long downtime to make repairs and relaunch it. If you still have your products listed on other channels like eBay or Amazon, you can redirect customers to these channels and keep selling – even if your main website is down.

Leverage more data about your customers

Depending on the platform you use, you may be able to gather more information and metrics about your customers. Social shopping platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are particularly good for this. That’s because social media platforms often have access to demographic information, details about your customer’s time zone, location, the devices they’re using, their past shopping behavior, and other information.

By combining this data with information from your own eCommerce store, you may be able to gain unique customer insights that will help you with branding, marketing, advertising, and even new product development. 

Make things more convenient for customers

Multi-channel makes things more convenient for customers. For example, let’s say a customer Googles your brand or your product. They could go to your website, browse your merchandise, add products to their cart, and check out, and place their order. That’s quite common! But it involves a lot of steps.

But with a platform like Instagram shopping, a customer can shop directly from the social media app on their phone – there’s no need to leave the platform, visit an external website, or create a new account. This can make things more convenient for customers – leading to higher overall conversion rates.

How Do I Get Started With Multi-Channel eCommerce?

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably pretty excited about multi-channel eCommerce – and you’re wondering how to get started. Here are a few basic tips that may help as you begin to transition to a multi-channel eCommerce model.

Start with the right eCommerce platform for your website

Building a successful multi-channel eCommerce program starts with using the right eCommerce platform as a foundation for your website. That’s one reason why we love BigCommerce at 121eCommerce. BigCommerce has tons of great tools that help you integrate multiple shopping channels into your website.

For example, they partner closely with Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Google, PayPal, and TikTok to provide powerful cross-platform features. These can be integrated quickly into your BigCommerce store – allowing you to seamlessly sell on these platforms.

Centralize your inventory management

This is another reason that we recommend a platform like BigCommerce. Using BigCommerce, you can keep your inventory management all in one place – and centralize your products as you sell on platforms like eBay, Amazon, Instagram, and your own eCommerce store.

Running out of products or accidentally overselling is a huge issue – and one you want to avoid at all costs. It can lead to massive shipping delays, customer dissatisfaction, refund requests, and tons of other headaches that you never want to deal with.

Centralizing your inventory management means that every sales channel will be drawing data from the same place – if an item is out of stock on your eCommerce store, you won’t be able to sell it on eBay, either.

Identify key customer touchpoints

Before you commit to a certain eCommerce channel, it’s a good thing to think about your customers – and which touchpoints they use before shopping for your products.

For example, do you get a lot of customers from your Instagram and Facebook ads? Do you get a lot of traffic from Google searches? Identifying these customer touchpoints can give you some insights into which channels you should expand into first. That also leads to our next point:

Use a phased approach to prioritize new sales channels

It’s tempting to try to expand to as many sales channels as possible – as quickly as possible. After all, you want more customers to see your products, right? And while that’s true, it’s also definitely possible to overstretch yourself.

For example, you may not have enough time or enough staff to oversee Amazon, eBay, and social sales all at once – so you may want to choose your top channel and integrate it into your sales strategy slowly, only expanding to other channels later on.

This also helps keep growth under control. If you expand into tons of sales channels and experience massive success, that’s great – but it could also lead to stockouts and backorders. In turn, that could lead to drops in customer satisfaction. Using a phased approach to multi-channel eCommerce means that you’ll be able to keep growth under control, and avoid these kinds of problems.

Find the right products to sell

Generally speaking, you’ll want to sell your most popular products on sales channels outside your website. By definition, these are the products that shoppers are the most likely to want. There’s nothing wrong with adding more products over time, but it pays to start with the heavy hitters!

Search volume is another good way to determine which products to sell. For example, if you find that customers are Googling a product or searching it on your website a lot, that’s a good indicator that you should sell it on other eCommerce channels, too.

Answering Common FAQs About Multi-Channel eCommerce

Multi-channel eCommerce is a big concept – and it’s one that you’ve probably got questions about. To help you get the guidance you need, 121eCommerce has put together a list of a few common FAQs about multi-channel eCommerce.

Can you sell the same product on different sites?

Of course! That’s the entire point of multi-channel eCommerce. It lets you sell the same product on different sites – which means that you can reach customers where they’re already shopping.

For example, selling your products on your own website is great! But hundreds of millions of people shop at Amazon – so creating an Amazon store and selling your most popular products on their platform means you’ll be able to benefit from a sales boost.

What is an example of multichannel eCommerce?

Let’s take Meta’s Oculus brand of Virtual Reality (VR) products as an example. First, they sell their products on their own website, at oculus.com. You can buy a VR headset directly from their webstore. 

But that’s not all. They also have their own store on Amazon.com, where they also sell their products to Amazon and Amazon Prime customers. There’s also a Certified Oculus Seller page on eBay, which sells directly to eBay customers.

By diversifying the platforms and places where their products are sold, Meta’s Oculus headsets can reach more customers – and they can reach them on the marketplaces where they’re already shopping, such as Amazon and eBay.

What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?

The difference is actually quite subtle. Omnichannel selling is usually used to mean that a store focuses on both online and brick-and-mortar sales. For example, Target has adopted an “omnichannel” strategy, allowing customers to shop fully online (that’s one channel), to buy online and pick up in-store, and to allow customers to shop the old-fashioned way at brick-and-mortar Target stores.

In contrast, “multi-channel” eCommerce typically refers to eCommerce companies that are using multiple digital platforms and marketplaces to sell their products, as we discussed earlier in this article. There is some overlap, though. So don’t be surprised if you hear someone using these terms interchangeably – not everyone uses them in the same way.

How much does it cost to use multi-channel retailing eCommerce strategies?

There’s no simple answer. You will likely incur some more administrative costs since you will need to administer multiple platforms and you may need more customer service support as you expand.

You will also pay a fee to platforms like eBay, Amazon, and Instagram Shopping to use their platform. These may vary. For example, Amazon may charge somewhere between 8% and 15% of the price, depending on your sales volume. We recommend doing your own research to learn more about these fees, and to determine which sales channels are right for your business.

Get Started With Multi-Channel eCommerce And Grow Your Business

We hope this guide has been helpful, and that you’ve learned a bit more about multi-channel eCommerce, how it works, and why it’s important for the future of online sales. If you’d like to learn more about eCommerce and how to set yourself up for success, we recommend reading our blog. We’ve written tons of articles about eCommerce, online marketing, and so many other related topics – so you’re sure to find some helpful information.

Or, if you’re interested in expanding into multi-channel eCommerce and need help with things like BigCommerce integration, we can also help! As experts in the BigCommerce platform, we’re always standing by to assist you. Contact us to schedule a free, no-commitment consultation with one of our team members.

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