Multichannel Retail: Understanding the Buyer’s Journey

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Modern consumers have modern expectations — something retailers worldwide know too well, even if they are unsure how to react. 

In fact, 95% of marketers say they know how important multichannel marketing is for targeting. However, only 73% say they have a multichannel strategy in place. 

The first step to crafting a successful multichannel retail strategy is understanding what multichannel retailing is and how it impacts the customer journey.

Multichannel retailing is the practice of selling merchandise on different sales channels.

Most online sellers begin their journey from one sales channel, setting up shop through a website or marketplace. On the other hand, buyers have many touchpoints and paths to purchase, making it necessary for offline and online retailers to branch out. 

Growing your retail business in the current landscape is all about moving beyond your website and exploring new channels such as marketplaces, social media, comparison shopping engines and more. With multichannel shoppers spending as much as three times more than single-channel shoppers and shopping in more locations than ever, there has never been a better time to take advantage of multichannel retailing.

Consumers Are Shopping in More Locations Than Ever

Channel loyalty has become a thing of the past as shoppers have many sites to choose from, online and offline.

According to a study of shopping behavior, the preferred offline retail stores among consumers has grown increasingly diverse, and now includes: 

Even Amazon, which dominates the online marketplace, isn’t exempt from their customer growing shopping habits. 

Let’s take Amazon Prime Day, for example. Most people would assume that only Amazon sellers would benefit from the traffic boost, given that the sales event is intended for Prime members.

However, according to a study by BazaarVoice, 76% of Prime Day shoppers plan to visit other channels before purchasing from Amazon.

They are looking at:

  • Walmart (46%).

  • Consumer electronics websites (45%).

  • Target (40%).

  • Home improvement websites (39%).

  • Brand websites (39%).

Multichannel retailers that implement an effective diversification strategy will maximize their reach and sales opportunities, while increasing customer loyalty and retention.

Types of Sales Channels

Today, consumers have become multichannel shoppers, and retailers must understand each channel type to determine its value since some channels work better for the buyer’s journey stages.

1. Social media channels.

Social media platforms are an excellent way for people to discover new products and stores. Influencers share their experiences every day, and sponsored posts could drive traffic, if not sales.

Sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest allow users to tag products for purchase — a trend already paying dividends — while others like TikTok and Twitter feature branded channels that advertise and interact with customers. 

With BigCommerce, you can increase brand awareness and drive both offline and online sales on the most popular social platforms like Meta, TikTok and more. Using our Feedonomics capabilities can ensure that your listings perfectly match the requirements of each social channel. 

Two out of three global shoppers have purchased through social media in the past year. Even if you are a reseller or distributor of branded merchandise, you’ll want to invest in social media to engage and build relationships with your audience.

2. Your website and shopping cart.

Web stores and built-in shopping carts are essential for retailers, primarily because it lets you customize and personalize the shopping experience. With a custom website, you can create educational content to solve user queries and attract new visitors. You can also use email marketing for lead nurturing and brand advocacy.

Building a mobile-friendly, intuitive site and application is critical in the modern world, allowing businesses to expand into a broader market and take advantage of the browsing habits of millions. 

For example, you can consider the leading shoppings mobile apps on the Apple Store in 2021:

The largest companies are well represented, as they've gotten full use out of the mobile market. The longer you wait to get involved, the more sales you have to lose. 

Through using BigCommerce’s intuitive site builder, organizations can tap into a powerful mobile commerce solution. With native support for accelerated mobile pages (AMP), our merchants can deliver near-instant page load times for mobile devices.

Tap Into the $100B Mobile Commerce Market

Offering a solid mobile ecommerce experience is no longer optional for retailers — it’s a must. Learn why BigCommerce is the best ecommerce platform in the industry for building a beautiful mobile store.

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3. Comparison shopping engines.

Price and convenience are the two of the most influential factors in purchasing decisions.

Search engines are part of this process, driving what customers search for and how easily they find what they want. 

Comparison shopping engines — such as Google Shopping, Shopzilla and PriceGrabber — understand this, giving fast and convenient pricing information to shoppers at their disposal.

As a seller, you can bid on traffic as part of your paid advertising strategy, leveraging the built-in convenience that customers have come to rely on.

When you use BigCommerce’s solution, you gain access to powerful enterprise integrations and ecommerce platforms, from Google Shopping to Storefeeder, all at the push of a button.

4. Marketplaces.

Online ecommerce stores are perhaps the best for buyers in the consideration and decision stages where shoppers intend to purchase and already have a brand or product in mind.

By selling from third-party vendors to consumers, these marketplaces are able to craft a centralized, though simple, buying experience. 

Ecommerce websites have soared past their competition, and the most popular include names most would recognize

BigCommerce provides its merchants with a way to tap into massive potential by integrating their store with companies as diverse as Amazon, Walmart, Mercado Libre, Ebay and Wish. 

Reach and sell to millions of new shoppers while processing and fulfilling orders from a single inventory.

5. Brick-and-mortar stores.

Of course, many shoppers still prefer going to brick-and-mortar locations as opposed to online shopping. It is essential that businesses not forget about their oldest, most reliant channel when constructing business models. 

By integrating both offline and online channels, organizations can gain the most of their products while giving their customers more options when making their purchasing decisions.

With BigCommerce, you can make multichannel ecommerce a simple, but natural extension of your brick-and-mortar business.

Advantages of Multichannel Retailing

Multichannel retailing helps ensure you reach your customer base wherever they are on their buyer’s journey, as well as their device preferences. It’s not just your existing audience, either. With more channels available, more people can gain access to your solution. 

By providing consumers with more places to buy, you open yourself up to more opportunities while giving your customers even greater flexibility.

Target consumers at different stages of the buyer’s journey.

Unless hit by an intense urgency, most shoppers who see your product for the first time are not ready to buy as many simply like to browse, read reviews and compare pricing.

In the age of free shipping, 2-day shipping and ship-to-store options, consumers can afford to wait.

This is why understanding the buyer’s journey and adopting a multichannel strategy can give you an edge over the competition.

At the top of the funnel, consumers might discover your product through social media, perhaps through an influencer they follow on Instagram or an image they liked on Pinterest.

Affiliate marketing and educational content that answers user queries can also drive new visitors to your shop.

Other shoppers might not be searching for a specific product, but they are looking for content to help them solve a problem, such as "How to clean a carpet stain?" or what to wear for a certain occasion.

Targeted SEO strategies on your site, blog or even product descriptions can help shoppers stuck in deliberations move to the purchasing stage.

Consumers intending to purchase will likely go directly to marketplaces or comparison shopping engines.

In fact, more than half of buyers start their product search on Amazon over Google. These platforms offer traffic and a trust factor through peer reviews.

Leverage the power of marketplaces and search engines.

Amazon, Walmart, eBay and even Google are all competing for ecommerce market share, and retailers are smack in the middle. 

A single-channel seller might suffer if one company overpowers the other, but multichannel sellers tend to have more freedom and flexibility.

These tech giants are all working on creating personalized shopping experiences, helping consumers find the right product at the right time. From marketplace algorithms to better search results, multichannel retailing lets you harness this technology, allowing your products to be found.

Trust is another significant factor, one that is used to its fullest effect by marketplaces and comparison shopping engines. Fake reviews aside, most shoppers go to these sites due to their reputation and the availability of product ratings and peer reviews.

In fact, 65% of consumers surveyed by DigitalCommerce360 said they felt comfortable purchasing from third-party sellers they had never heard of before on marketplaces.

Thus, we can see how online marketplaces and search engines have used trust and reviews in their favor. Instead of establishing positive word of mouth for an individual product, by allowing peer reviews — as well as comparison shopping — customers can make decisions in minutes that may have taken weeks before.

More revenue.

Successful multichannel selling involves selling products and solutions across multiple channels and platforms, thereby expanding your reach.

That seems simple enough, but how does that lead to greater revenue?

The answer, it would appear, is a resounding yes. According to a report by Stitch Labs, retailers who sell on two marketplaces see 190% more in revenue than those who only sell on a single marketplace. 

Some brick-and-mortar retailers have resisted the move to an online store partially out of a fear of costs and exorbitant fees. This data would appear to show that any potential fees actually pay for themselves

Disadvantages of Multichannel Retailing

While the opportunities for multichannel sellers are plenty, there are also risks and challenges. Sellers too eager to jump on the multichannel bandwagon could spread themselves too thin.

Brands must first do their research, perform a cost-benefit analysis and establish an infrastructure to support the multichannel growth.

1. Selling on the wrong channels.

While diversification is key to reaching a larger audience, launching on an irrelevant channel can do more damage than good. A spray and pray tactic will not work, as you risk promoting products to the wrong community, audience or industry.

Before selling on these sites, you’ll need to make sure you’re targeting the right market. Otherwise, you would waste resources and manpower.

Aside from the listing fees, your team will have to deal with varying category trees, rules and policies, and backend platforms that could change from time to time. Not to mention, it takes time to write, publish, optimize and reprice listings for each of these channels.

On top of this, the channel may already be crowded with competitors.

An excellent way to minimize this risk is to carefully evaluate each marketplace and experiment until you find a niche for your business.

2. The infrastructure required to maintain multichannel retailing.

Once you start selling on two or more platforms, you may begin to experience growing pains.

Listing on channels, maintaining inventory, processing orders and providing customer service can all take a toll on your business if you do not have good processes and foundations in place.

There are two ways to fix this: 

  1. By scaling your team.

  2. Using automation tools to support your growth.

Without doing one or the other, you risk creating a backlog of orders, tasks and refunds that could hurt your brand and marketplace score.

By investing in the right tools to streamline your logistics, you can help solve many of these issues before they harm your business irrevocably.

3. Sales attribution.

An unforeseen challenge that has arisen with multichannel retailing is sales attribution. If a company is selling on multiple platforms, it can be difficult to find out not where the sale was made — that can be easily seen — but which platform was the one that convinced the customer. 

If a customer goes into a physical store, reviews an item, but waits until they're home to purchase it online, where does the credit for the sale go? The salesman who spoke to the customer or the platform in which he bought the product?

It is a complex challenge to answer, especially for companies that don't have a system in place to monitor and track customer data and metrics.

Understanding Multichannel Inventory Management

Inventory management is easy if you sell on one or two channels. However, inventory tracking and forecasting become incredibly difficult once you scale the platforms you sell on.

When orders come in from disparate sources, real-time inventory syncing becomes necessary to achieve good fulfillment performance.

Poor scores and bad ratings can eventually lead to account suspension. Things get further complicated when you add more partners into the mix.

As a multichannel seller, you’ve probably explored new suppliers to increase product lines. Similarly, fulfillment options such as Amazon FBA, dropshipping and third-party logistics (3PLs) can help accelerate growth.

The challenge is how to develop an infrastructure that can support this growth while also maintaining a profit.

Managing stock through spreadsheets and outdated tracking systems will likely lead to overselling, understocking, and backorders, all of which lead to a negative customer experience.

On the other hand, overstocking and piling up dead inventory will tie up your cash flow, severely limiting your options.

This is where multichannel inventory software comes in.

These programs are designed to connect with various channels and partners through API or EDI so that you can have real-time stock levels across your channels, warehouses, and fulfillment providers.

BigCommerce is one of these solutions, providing a platform for organizations to centralize their store’s inventory management across multiple channels. With our solution, companies are able to: 

  • Sync your inventory to streamline multichannel sales.

  • Track inventory at a glance and make updates with ease.

  • Cut complexity with centrally processed orders. 

  • Provide customers the best shopping experience with automatically syncing inventory.

Multichannel Product Information Management

As you expand to additional channels, the product information you use to market effectively in one channel will likely need to be altered and optimized for different channels.

Tracking this information manually in a Google Doc or Spreadsheet is time-consuming and can create errors.

To alleviate this, many brands use a Product Information Management system (PIM) as a single source of product information truth across channels.

Many of these systems can also help you optimize your listings and provide automated updates.

Whether you are listing to marketplaces like Amazon and eBay or needing to launch international channels – or all of it — a PIM is how some of the world’s largest brands stay organized.

With BigCommerce, integrating with powerful PIM tools is a straightforward process, and the added scalability you’ll get through it will support your multichannel efforts.

By exporting product data easily through different channels— from social to marketplaces — you can streamline expansion to newer channels, all while ensuring consistent, correct data.

The Final Word

Social media, comparison shopping engines, marketplaces and your website all target different stages of the buyer's journey. 

By having a presence on each of these retail channels, you will be able to maximize your reach and expand the range of your company's capabilities. Do this effectively, and you'll get shoppers to keep coming back for more — no matter where they are on their journey. 

In the modern, plugged-in landscape, Multichannel retailing is a necessary strategy for growth, and it comes with its challenges and opportunities.

It, too, is part of the seller's journey — venturing out beyond your first sales channel –—and going where the buyers are.

FAQs About Multichannel Retail

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