Remember the good old days of shopping?
Whether it was as a consumer or as a part of your business in procuring resources, shopping even just a decade ago was a different world. The customer journey was as complex as going to a single supplier you were already familiar with (or have been referred to by a trusted peer), make your purchase, and that was it!
…Those days are long behind us. As consumers, we’re now savvy enough to comparison shop, browse showrooms and buy online, or any number of alternate paths to purchase. As businesses, we’ve evolved in tandem with consumers to match needs at every turn. This ultimately gave rise to the omnichannel world we all now live and compete in: welcome to the age of decentralized consumption. The mutlichannel consumer mindset is matched with multi-and omni-channel corporate strategy in a complex and continuously evolving game of cat and mouse. Businesses are challenged to stay agile in their corporate and channel strategy at every moment of the day.
With the recent news of Amazon owning every $0.44 USD of every ecommerce dollar spent in the US (up from 38% the previous year), ecommerce marketplaces are the next frontier businesses are looking to incorporate into their channel mixes, and to dominate by creating a better mousetrap. But some businesses are overeager in adopting new sales channels without considering broader implications. It’s not as simple as submitting an application and being approved as a vendor on a marketplace and starting to rake in the sales; there are nuances of on boarding the channel, integrating it into your existing systems, that create pitfalls at every turn for the under-prepared business.
On boarding a new online marketplace, just like any other change to a business, is necessarily a strategic endeavour. Keep reading for advice from VL — data integrators with first-hand experience on integrating and automating marketplace data — on how to evaluate marketplace fit, incorporate it into your existing technology infrastructure, and optimize the effectiveness of each new channel as a portion of the larger whole of your business.
As a data integration company endorsed by many partners (including Shopify Plus) on the quality and effectiveness of our work, we get to see a variety of businesses from SMB to Enterprise at various stages of growth, agility, and channel strategy. With over 23 years of experience in the data integration space, and being challenged with keeping on the bleeding edge of omnichannel innovations, on behalf of our customers, we’ve become experts in strategic arrangement of sources of data that are matched to our customers’ business needs — applications and marketplaces included.
So if your business is looking at adopting an online marketplace as a new sales channel, here’s our advice based on years of integration experience:
1. Lay out business objectives and goals, and cross-evaluate with potential channels
The first step before any major business change should be cross-matching business objectives against the proposed additions or changes. If you have a goal, and you know where your business is today, then you need a map on how to get to your target.
When it comes to choosing an ecommerce marketplace to expand into, businesses should temper any excitement or hype about any one particular channel with realistic objectives and goals. Amazon may be the hot marketplace that everyone’s talking about today, but if you goal is to sell more to B2B targets on a specialty line of products for a specific segment, Amazon might not be the best fit. Pick the path to your goal that is attainable, matches existing frameworks, and makes sense to your business at the end of the day.
Businesses also need to consider what is possible in any shortlisted ecommerce marketplaces. Some marketplaces have limitations, rules, or conditions sellers must meet in order to sell through the platform that might not be immediately apparent. An informed decision is a smart decision; gather all pertinent information possible, and then compare pros and cons line item by line item. And word to the wise: when comparing line items, make sure they’re one-to-one and not just based on prices or general concepts!
2. Evaluate the strategic fit of the new channel against your target audience
Once you’ve narrowed down the list of potential marketplaces to add into your existing channel mix, and have done your due diligence on their fit against your business’ objectives and goals, one important litmus test every new channel addition should be exposed to is the fit against your target audience.
Even with Amazon taking a large chunk of every ecommerce dollar spent in the US, their audience might not necessarily be your business’ audience. Specialty products, B2B companies, and other niche products and services might be better served on a smaller, more targeted marketplace. Other items that should be considered include competition and over-saturation of verticals, and the potential to be green-field (or the first) in a new segment. BestBuy Marketplace was a prime example of the latter, with new product verticals being opened up to specific businesses selling through the platform. In the end, the marketplace you onboard should have strategic advantages for your business and not just picking the marketplace with the most buzz around it today.
Another thing to consider in cross-matching your audience against potential marketplaces includes shipping — a factor that often makes or breaks a customer’s experience with your brand. You should be able to deliver on promises made to customers via marketplace purchases in a timely manner, and warehousing factors heavily into this. Does your 3PL or logistics provider provide shipping to areas targeted by the marketplace? Does your business’ infrastructure mesh well with the logistics requirements many ecommerce marketplaces lay out in their seller requirements?
This brings us to our last point…
3. Put key infrastructure and technology in place first
Once you’ve settled on the best marketplaces to incorporate into your business’ sales channels and strategy, the last and arguably most important item to check off your list before hitting ‘GO’ is ensuring your technology and other back-end infrastructure is up to par. Not only are businesses tasked with meeting seller requirements laid out by the marketplaces themselves (check out some of our great ebooks on Amazon, Best Buy, Jet.com and more for more information on these requirements), but internal due diligence is also required to ensure all technology, applications, and key elements that make the business run are up to snuff.
For example, does your business move data in an automated way? If it does, is your solution scalable to work at high load values, data and orders included?
And then you need to consider how the data will move between your existing technology stack and the new marketplace addition(s). How will order data, shipping information, inventory, customer data and more be integrated into your existing systems? Do you have the right technology in place to have true, 100% data automation that takes business rules into account (meaning there is no need to manipulate data on the other end of the connector)? Does it need to move in real time, and do your current solutions allow for that?
There are many things to consider when evaluating a new marketplace to add into your channel mix, and the rewards your business can potentially reap are real. But putting strategy first and matching technology and data integration solutions in place to match are the only true way to set your business up for long-term success as you continue to grow.
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