Multichannel selling means making your product(s) available for purchase via more than one outlet. This includes both online — your ecommerce store, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, social media, etc. — and offline channels — your brick-and-mortar store, wholesale distributing to other stores, pop-up shops, etc.
As consumer behavior evolves, multichannel is more important than ever. Merchants can no longer focus their efforts entirely on offline or online sales — both are necessary. Retailers who don’t keep up risk missing out on the opportunity to capture additional sales. Only 7% of shoppers are online-only, compared to 73% who use multiple channels throughout their shopping experience. And what’s even more telling is that this year, 25% more consumers plan to buy online and pick up in-store during the holidays.
It’s no longer viable to be online-only or in-store-only. Not only do retailers need to have a presence on You need to have a cohesive experience across multiple channels to allow customers to buy anywhere, anytime.
Why Multichannel Sales Are Crucial
As noted above, consumer trends show that they’re increasingly using multiple channels throughout the purchase process.
But those aren’t the only numbers that are going up: Multichannel selling can also help you increase your bottom line. Retailers with two marketplaces for selling generate 190% more revenue than those with just one.
Despite this proven success, many retailers are slow to jump on multichannel sales. Almost two-thirds (73%) of retailers say multichannel is important to them, yet less than 40% have made it beyond the initial stages of creating the experience. This means there are plenty of opportunities for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition.
The success in multichannel selling lies in being where your customers are. 82% of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase — be the source for that research. Offer well-written product descriptions with lots of detailed specs. If you’re not sure what kind of information customers want to know, turn to Google related searches or forums like Quora to see what phrases and common questions pop up.
Show pictures of your products in use and from multiple angles, including zoom functionality, so shoppers can see the small details of your product. Get more customers reviews and then publish them throughout your site, especially on product pages themselves.
Half of consumers compare prices online first; so consider offering price comparison tools on your site. You can build your own price-comparison API, and there are also plug-ins — like Product Compare and Product Differentiator — that serve this very purpose. 90% of shoppers use their mobile phones while in-store, so it behooves retailers to create their own mobile experience.
Instead of pushing customers where you want them to be, meet them where they already are. More importantly, anticipate their needs during each stage of the buying journey, and help them meet those needs.
FURTHER READING: It’s easier to anticipate your customers’ needs when you understand their buying journey. Learn how to create a customer journey map for your retail business.
How to Start Multichannel Selling
Start With Strategy
Consider the channels you want to explore. Here’s a quick list to help get you started:
Offline Sales Channels
- Brick-and-mortar stores (these are still important — although customers like to research online, almost half prefer to purchase in-store)
- Pop-up shops
- In-person selling events (markets, fairs, festivals, etc.)
- Distributors/other retail stores that sell your product (i.e. wholesale)
- Print catalogs
Online Sales Channels
- Your online store/website
- Social media
- Third-party marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, or eBay (44% of consumers go directly to Amazon to search for a product, and Amazon has more average orders than any other third-party marketplace)
- Comparison-shopping sites
- Coupon sites
After you’ve nailed down what channels to explore, you’ll have to set a strategy and specific goals for each. Strategy helps you define goals against which you can measure success. Goals serve as the target towards which you’re working, and you can change those goals as new trends emerge or you see success on some channels rather than others.
Make sure you nail down your metrics for success (number of products sold, overall sales, engagement, clickthrough rates, site traffic, etc.) and set benchmarks to work toward for each channel. Document everything you want to accomplish, and how you plan to do it.
Understand Your Customers
Not all consumer groups are the same. It’s important to not only identify your target market, but to also understand their needs, how to talk to them, and how your brand and products serve them. From there, you can anticipate which channels your customers are using at different stages of their purchase process, as well as which audience segments are on which channels.
For example, Instagram users skew younger than Facebook users — so if you’re targeting 18–24-year-olds instead of consumers 60 years and above, Instagram would be the channel to prioritize of the two. Additionally, Amazon Prime members are typically wealthier, so if you have an affluent target market, consider making your products available for purchase through Prime.
Conducting some market research can help shed some light on your target customers, including their needs and preferences. From there, you can make informed decisions on which channels work best for your audience and your business.
Deliver a Consistent, Positive Experience
Multichannel selling isn’t just about generating new avenues to convert customers. It’s also about creating a consistent experience all of those channels. That means every channel should display consistent branding, offer a similar buying experience, and have cohesive customer service.
One survey found that almost 90% of companies plan to compete mostly on the customer experience alone. In fact, most consumers rank customer service as the No. 1 priority when purchasing from a brand, and poor customer service costs retailers $41 billion every year.
But what does it mean to deliver a consistent and positive experience? One way to approach it is the Golden Rule: Treat your customers as you would like to be treated by the brands you support. Remember that they are people, too, and when they’re treated as such, you have a better chance at capturing a loyal customer across multiple channels.
Take Michael Platco’s interaction with Warby Parker, for example. The Snapchat influencer shared to his public story about how his glasses broke while he was traveling. Warby Parker reached out with a researched solution (super glue would take around four hours to dry) plus a new pair of glasses. They were able to find his customer information and deliver a replacement of his exact prescription and style of glasses. That dedication to high-quality customer service started on Snapchat, moved to YouTube, and finally through fulfillment — but remained consistent across all of those channels.
Make Your Brand Stand Out
There are many ways to differentiate your brand. Having a strong brand identity gives consumers something to relate to. And when consumers have shared values with brands, 64% of consumers are more likely to build a relationship with you.
Want more guidance to get your brand to rise above the noise? Read our 4 tactics to difference your retail brand from the competition.
Implement the Right Tools
Expanding into multichannel selling means you have a lot more inventory to monitor, and sales to track, and data to analyze. Implement a point-of-sale system, inventory management, accounting, and other software that can not only fit your business needs now, but also your future needs.
Finding tools that can scale with your business and handle adding new (or removing old) selling channels is essential. The more you automate, the more time you can spend on growing your business.
Hire and Train the Right Team
With more selling channels also comes the need for more manpower. This comes in two main forms: In-house staff and outsourced contractors. For some business functions, such as accounting, you can hire experts. Retailers venturing into multichannel selling for the first time might look into hiring a tax professional to consider sales taxes and fees for each channel, as well as legal staff to understand any new legalities that come up with adding selling channels.
Internally, retailers need to have the right team in place to meet the needs of a growing and changing customer base. Warehouse and inventory management becomes more essential as retailers track sales for more than just their physical or online store.
Ensure your internal teams are communicating with one another, too. You don’t want the marketing team promoting a specific SKU when your warehouse team knows there are only a few left in stock.
For help hiring and training your employees, check out our article on retail staffing.
Perhaps the best piece of advice for the retailer looking to get started with multichannel selling is to approach it one channel at a time. Don’t be afraid of failure — every new channel is just another opportunity to learn more about your business and the market.
Which channels did you try selling on first? Which channels have generated the most sales in your business?