Multi-Channel Ecommerce: How to Create Anywhere Commerce

Multi-Channel Ecommerce: How to Create Anywhere Commerce

The buzz words are all around us. Cross-platform touchpoints. Multi-device optimization. Experiential ecommerce.

Every brand wants to capture its market in totality, to reach customers new and old through mediums familiar and not. Today if your company doesn’t have a multi-channel ecommerce strategy … good luck keeping up.

And yet, defining and optimizing a multi-channel strategy is no easy task. If you’re not prepared, wasted time, wasted capital, and uneven results can find you long before profit ever will.

The way forward is marked by five stages that culminate in a principle that’s anything but new …
  1. Definition: What Is a Multi-Channel Ecommerce Strategy?
  2. Identification: Where Does a Multi-Channel Strategy Start?
  3. Model: How to Track Multi-Channel Ecommerce?
  4. Unity: Who Should a Multi-Channel Strategy Serve?
  5. Value: Why Is Multi-Channel Ecommerce Not Enough?
Shopify Flow

Are you selling everywhere your customers buy?

Keep reading to discover the stages of a true multi-channel strategy, but if you’d like an executive guide distilling everything, download The Enterprise Guide to Multi-Channel Ecommerce.

Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …

  • Comprehensive data on the opportunities and threats
  • Merchant spotlights for insights on top channels
  • A checklist for selecting the right multi-channel platform

Access the guide today

What Is a Multi-Channel Ecommerce Strategy?

Definition: multi-channel ecommerce is marketing and selling anywhere your customers buy. Beyond advertising, it brings commerce to various channels — namely, marketplaces, social media, messaging apps, and online communities — where your target market already spends their time.

A true multi-channel ecommerce strategy does this natively in a way that honors …

  1. Consumer choice
  2. Purchase patterns
  3. Platform usage

Even for large online retailers, growth stalls when a website and direct-response advertising are your only means of reaching shoppers.

The best brands sell to their customers wherever they consume content, whether that is through buyable Pins, shoppable Instagram posts, a native Facebook store, or marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Houzz, BuzzFeed, etc.

When you create natural purchase paths on those channels, multi-channel ecommerce comes to life:

A multi-channel ecommerce strategy acts as a hub around which all your channels orbit

Although sometimes used interchangeably, omni-channel retailing goes beyond multi-channel by harmonizing those touchpoints with a single view of each customer, thereby delivering a tailored and interlocking experience:

Omni-channel is similar to a multi-channel strategy but supercharged, all your channels working together in harmony for the optimal selling experience.

In an omni-channel retail strategy, everything works together seamlessly:

  • Abandoned carts lead to email coupon codes
  • Retargeting ads remind prospects of those discounts
  • Completed orders result in cross-sells and even financing options for other products

Whether a business chooses to sell through omni-channel vs multi-channel, the most successful companies don’t just spread out and hope for the best.

Marc Weisinger — Director Merchant Revenue Acceleration at Shopify —described this pitfall in a recent webinar:

“We’re doing Facebook marketing. We’re doing Google marketing. We’re doing customer relationship management marketing through Gmail. We’re doing Pinterest advertising.

“When you think about all of those campaigns, there's going to be a lot of crossover in terms of how many different marketing channels the same consumers actually will interact with you on.

“Multi-channel [strategy] at its core is understanding how those channels interact.”

In other words, simply listing your products all across the web, on every social network and marketplace, creates neither an omni-channel nor a multi-channel strategy.

Instead, companies must understand where their most-valuable audiences exist and how to harness that data for growth.

To do this demands establishing your off-site strategy upon on-site insight …

Where Does a Multi-Channel Strategy Start?

Even though multi-channel ecommerce lives off-site, it’s foundations reside within. Whether visitors are coming to your site through organic search, social media, or paid advertising – each channel tells a slightly different story.

Through a people-based strategy you can start building your strategy around identifying customer intent via their traffic source.

The best course is to serve up custom content so that a visitor’s first impression aligns with where they came from.

For instance, if Pinterest is how they got to your page, you can queue up a scroll-delayed overlay with a message like:

It’s a welcome and relevant personal touch. But offering customized experiences based on channel source won’t allow you to unmask the people your multi-channel strategy is designed to serve.

What will? Email.

Capturing a visitor’s email address is the Holy Grail and organizing principle around which a multi-channel strategy turns.

“Let’s make sure that you are getting as little anonymous traffic on your site as possible,” Weisinger drove home. “So, when you’re looking at an attribution model, one of the main conversion goals you can possibly have is grabbing that email address. And once you have that, it opens up a whole world of testing and understanding someone's complete user journey across your website.”

The way to do this is through triggered overlays built on a visitor’s real-time behavior. Entry overlays have been an online staple for years, but that doesn’t mean they need to be bland:

Using BounceX, Knockaround gamifies their entry overlay to make the experience interactive that fits their brand perfectly

Pura Vida Bracelets’ “Spin to Win” wheel boasts a submission rate of 24.10% across devices

Alternatively, when an anonymous visitor moves their cursor to close a window, an exit-intent box ought to appear:

But rather than give those existing the same treatment as those entering, the incentive and urgency of an offer need to be turned up — especially if something has been added to cart:

From the entry discount of 15%, Knockaround increases the exit overlay to 20%

However, exit and entry overlays are just the beginning.

A behavioral-based approach to capturing a visitors email address would also rely on overlays triggered by …

  1. Scroll depth or time on page
  2. Multiple page views of products or collections
  3. Out of stock items or sizes
  4. Returning visitors who have yet to identify themselves
  5. Contextual overlays based on product types
  6. Popular on-site search terms
  7. Interactive content: i.e., quizzes
  8. FAQ clicks, like size, customer reviews, and onsite chat

Unbounce’s “Maybe Later” combines an overlay, an unobtrusive opt-out, and a sticky bar in the footer for later targeting

Of course, not all visitors will respond. That’s why your on-site multi-channel strategy should also be augmented through:

(1) User-IDs

Within Google Analytics, user-ID enables near-comprehensive identification so that a visitor’s browsing sessions on desktop, mobile, and elsewhere are logged under the same umbrella.

“If you’re a retailer,” says Peter Northrop Jr. — New Media and Content Marketing Manager at BounceX — “there’s zero reason not to implement User-ID. Zero. Absolutely none. There are no privacy issues, and you could use that information to essentially do a lot of amazing things from a measurement, and then the testing, perspective.”

(2) UTMs

UTM parameters are a staple of smart ecommerce: tags added to URLs so that, when a link is clicked offsite, a trackable note is sent to your Google Analytics dashboard.

“We add this tracking on all our links so when someone actually comes to our site, we know what drove them there,” explained Weisinger. “This was the campaign that they came from, so if that was a branded search campaign and they know our name beforehand, that tells us a lot of information about someone.”

Only by identifying visitors are you then able to enter the next stage …

    How to Track Multi-Channel Ecommerce?

    With the right multi-channel identification in place comes a wealth of customer data, and it’s up to the merchant to know what to do with it.

    Take the recently launched Amazon Go. No cashiers. No checkouts. No lines. You just walk in, pick out what you want, and everything else takes place via your smartphone:

    It’s about as close to a genuinely omni-channel experience as you can get. Luckily, the multi-channel backbone of Amazon Go isn’t beyond the reach of other retailers.

    “They know your email, they know who you are, so how does Amazon then use that data to change what you actually see on” Weisinger asked. “By getting an input and changing an output. It’s about finding the right experimental model that works.”

    For most multi-channel ecommerce strategies, the website will be the hub that channels unify around. Channel unity hinges on proper branding, focused and dedicated messaging that broadcasts consistency across all your sales channels, yet that is not a company’s only hope to ensure cohesion across all its sales platforms.

    To make channels work together, technology is your friend.

    Multi-channel ecommerce software can be used to organize and manage channels all through one dashboard, where you can edit listings, change item descriptions, and — above all — measure bottom-line effectiveness.

    On Shopify Plus, this can be done through the Sales by channel report or Sales by traffic referrer (including custom coupon codes to track specific campaigns):

    In Google Analytics, we’ve written extensively about various attribution models and how to demystify your multi-channel traffic and sales:

    Google Analytics offers insightful visualizations to simplify multi-channel attribution

    Our own Data Analysis Course contains custom Google Data Studio dashboards and detailed instructions on how to track and optimize conversion metrics throughout your online funnel:

    Full access to the Data Analysis Course — including multiple Google Data Studio dashboards — is available exclusively to Shopify Plus merchants

    Using the pre-built Google Data Studio dashboards, you can measure (1) new visitors versus returning visitors as well as (2) how different channels perform

    In addition, Shopify apps — like Sellbrite — can also be used to track the big and small picture alike:

    With each, if your inputs aren’t optimized, the output won’t lie. You’ll know exactly which channels need improvement and which to invest your resources for maximum ROI.

    Once tracking is in place, the next question becomes …

    Who Should a Multi-Channel Strategy Serve?

    A multi-channel strategy may span far and wide, but it must be brought home under one, simple ethos: convenience.

    That means streamlined checkouts could not be more important. More ways to pay. Fewer fields to fill out. Less friction, greater conversion.

    “It's going to be the convenience revolution,” said Weisinger. “That's going to be the thing that makes brands win the most. So, checkout has to be as quick as possible, mobile checkout has to have as few forms as possible, and as many different payment options as possible.”

    To ensure no wasted movement or repeated communication, the smartest companies will be able to segment their customers based on their previous interaction with a product.

    Identify who is getting your ads first, then deploy content-specific messaging so your retargeting efforts do not go in vain. On Facebook, for instance, you might create separate ads or campaigns to retarget:

    1. Recent visitors to product or category pages (0-7 days)
    2. Non-recent visitors to product or category pages (8-30 days)
    3. First-time customers to recommended products
    4. Recurring customers to new releases
    5. Long-term customers to loyalty programs

    Convenience for a customer means making your product the right product for them to buy in that moment. Each buying journey may not be the same, but — for your customers — it should feel like an intuitive process every time.

    Why Is Multi-Channel Ecommerce Not Enough?

    In principle, a multi-channel strategy makes sense. It plays to new buying behaviors, it honors customer choice, and it leads to deeper, more profitable relationships.

    In practice, it can a big task: a tall, wide-reaching order the likes of which may forecast how your business fares in a hyper-competitive ecommerce space.

    But we end here with a reminder that no ecommerce company survives without one thing, what every business must remember at its heart.

    When your core is right – that means branding, messaging, product, and customer fit – expanding outward will have a solid foundation to build upon. An “anywhere” experience should only be created when your product and enterprise ecommerce platform ready.

    “Have a good product,” said Weisinger. “Provide value for people.”

    Shopify Flow

    Want an executive summary of multi-channel ecommerce?

    That’s exactly why we created The Enterprise Guide to Multi-Channel Ecommerce.

    Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …

    • Comprehensive data on the opportunities and threats
    • Merchant spotlights for insights on top channels
    • A checklist for selecting the right multi-channel platform

    Access the guide today

    About the Author

    Aaron Orendorff is the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.