Now is not the time to think single. With the global economy facing some of its biggest challenges, retailers of all shapes and sizes need to think diversely to survive. Right now, it’s sensible to not rely on a single delivery provider, single marketplace, single overseas market, single supplier, or single payment provider. Now is the time to get diverse. So, what does that mean in the real world of retail and how can you actually make it happen?
No single market...
No, not a call to back Brexit, but more it is time to look at what you sell and where – and diversify. Many smaller traders on marketplaces and beyond often sell one kind of thing. You may be a t-shirt vendor that prints a wide array of designs, but you basically sell a single product, t-shirts.
That makes you more prone to competition and the battle for the buy box could well scupper your carefully created business model.
But taking those designs and the ethos of what you do to a wider range of products will help balance that out. For any retailer, adding new ranges of goods that augment existing products and tap into the ‘lifestyle’ of your core consumers can build loyalty and should, in theory at least, help shift more of everything you sell.
The key thing when looking to do this is to assess what your audience like and tap into it. According to digital experience company Systemix, researching your audience – and your potential audience – will help you work out what else you can sell them.
It will also help you focus on how to market to them: understand what they want and you can tell them the story they want to hear about it. Systemix’s biggest tip here is to focus on what the customer wants, not what the business wants. Get the customer’s needs met and the business takes care of itself.
...and no single marketplace
To reach a wider audience online, you need to reach as many people as possible. While it is tempting to think that Amazon surely reaches everyone, everywhere, sticking to just one marketplace to sell is extremely limiting.
As with diversifying your products, diversifying where you sell is also essential – but it can be challenging.
For starters, analysing which marketplaces are attracting the potential customers you are looking to reach is key. This should be a core part of any current and potential customer research you undertake to assess all forms of diversification.
While eBay and Amazon are the default marketplaces that most online retailers are aware of, many new and in some locations, more popular marketplaces exist, and are emerging. As an example, if you’re selling in Latin America, Mercado Libre has much greater market penetration than eBay and Amazon. And in China, Alibaba, Taobao and Tmall lead the pack.
If your focus is increasing sales in numerous markets, OnBuy already provides buyers and sellers with a viable alternative to the other major marketplaces in the UK - and this is just the start of a fantastic journey of growth. Already the fastest-growing marketplace in the world, OnBuy is set to launch into over 140 new countries to give sellers access to a world of buyers, all from one site.
However, the biggest challenge with looking at multiple marketplaces is how to manage the listings and inventory for them all. Selling through a single marketplace, especially for smaller retailers, offers the opportunity to let the marketplace handle inventory management, the delivery and returns. But doing that across multiple, unconnected marketplaces is a real challenge.
As you scale SKUs and customers, that becomes more difficult still. The answer lies in software that can manage the whole process. Systems such as Linnworks and Brightpearl allow the retailer to upload all their product data and the system will list it across all sites where it needs to be.
More importantly, it will update inventory across all these sites whenever a sale is made, no matter where it is sold.
Use all the channels
While there are multiple marketplaces and your own site through which to sell, there are an increasing variety of channels where customers are looking to do their research and their buying.
And where it used to be a matter of online, in-store and perhaps mobile, now it is across all three of those channels, as well as social media, smart TVs and hybrids of them all – such as online kiosks in stores, shoppable WhatsApp and Rich Communications Services (RCS) messages and many others yet to be thought of.
The move to eCommerce among consumers has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, but much of that has seen more of both newbie and ‘old school’ shoppers picking up their mobiles to shop.
Today it is essential that merchants look to have a website that is mobile-optimised and a transactional app. Marketplaces will give merchants some ‘app access’, but to be truly diverse in terms of channels, you need to have your own presence.
It can look costly, but the cost of the business you will lose quickly outweighs that spend.
The switch to online and mobile has also generated an explosion in social media use, which canny merchants have been quick to jump on.
Even before the lockdown, many retailers were starting to look at how to make their Instagram and Facebook feeds shoppable. Now Facebook – which owns the ’gram –has extended and developed its marketplace offering to allow small businesses to sell direct from its platform and app.
The new format allows retailers and merchants to create a single online selling presence on the Facebook platform and to sell directly from user’s feeds. It also will be closely allied to the company’s other social media selling tools on Instagram, which it launched last year.
Cross those borders
Any etailer looking for growth is naturally looking at new markets in new territories. With Brexit looming, overseas expansion – into Europe and elsewhere – has never been more imperative, nor more challenging.
Many online retailers may already have a feel for which new markets to enter, since they may well already be seeing traffic and search coming from those markets.
The challenge comes in how to successfully open up those markets. While language and culture can be the most obvious factors many may consider, it is also important to look at payments, taxes and tariffs, and of course, delivery. Returns, too, are often what can make or break overseas expansion.
Prior to Brexit, selling into the EU was relatively straightforward: taxes and tariffs didn’t apply in the single market. The only things that did matter were logistics, as well as culture.
In Germany, for instance, people tend to pay on delivery and don’t use credit cards. They also want to be sold to in their own language. The same with the French.
Post-Brexit, these challenges are going to be exacerbated by there potentially being customs clearance checks that delay shipping, tariffs that up the price of the goods/lower their profitability, as well as possibly an anti-British sentiment that may hit sales.
That said, Brexit also could usher in much more favourable ways of selling to lucrative markets beyond the EU. China has a hunger for British goods and, with a good trade deal with China, it could suddenly be a huge market to diversify into.
Marketplaces are an ideal way in to new territories, offering to cover the language, culture and, with some of them, the logistical issues too. OnBuy, for example are gearing up to launch into 142 countries, starting with 40 initial sites this year. Further to introducing new marketplaces to increase sales, think about how you may want to build your brand beyond these channels and look at how to work in your own site into the equation.
Multiply your supply
Perhaps the most obvious diversification that any business can make is in diversifying its suppliers. Relying on a single supplier for goods is always a risk. As many merchants found during the Coronavirus pandemic, suddenly their suppliers were not able to supply anything as their workforce was furloughed, the company was closed, or goods couldn't be shipped.
This has focused the mind on how to make sure that you have many suppliers. Expanding your product range, your channel coverage and your overseas sales all make diversification of supply even more vital.
But supplier diversification is more than just a back-up plan. Having a range of suppliers can up the amount of goods you have and can, through reverse auction tendering, potentially drive your supply costs down.
Having a range of suppliers spread geographically can also help with delivery speed and the servicing of local overseas markets as you expand.
The key challenge lies in finding suppliers that can make and supply goods that match those of other suppliers and that will not compromise your brand values.
It is also important to work out how to manage the supply of goods, especially as demand rises and falls through seasonal changes or even other factors such as pandemics, natural disasters or even just unseasonal weather patterns.
The one thing that underpins all this diversification is delivery. From a consumer point of view, the more they have been forced to try eCommerce by lockdown, the more they are wanting delivery options to suit their (new) lifestyle.
Back in the day (before coronavirus), there was a growing move toward consumers wanting next-day delivery at the very least, same-day if possible. Under lockdown this has changed again. In the early days of the pandemic, delivery was pretty much curtailed on all but essential goods. Grocery delivery – which for many was their first experience of the new eCommerce world they were living in – was nigh on impossible to secure.
Now things have settled down, what has become clear is that there is an even more diverse array of delivery demands. The likes of Deliveroo, working with Aldi, and even Uber have grasped the nettle and have started to apply their takeaway and taxi systems to be able to drop shopping within two hours or order – initiating a very much on-demand eCommerce model.
Similarly, there has been a push by consumers to want to be able to control their delivery times around their home working timetable. Not necessarily demanding same or next day, but a specific day and specific time.
Like all things eCommerce, these habits are likely to stick no matter how the pandemic and lockdown-lifting progresses.
To meet these challenges, marketplace sellers and eCommerce players need to look at a diversified delivery strategy themselves. Employing a range of carriers – perhaps including Uber and Deliveroo among the mix of more familiar names – allows them to offer the range and flexibility of delivery that consumers demand.
Managing this diversification of delivery, to match the even more varied and specific demands of the customer with the available delivery options needs technology. Here, as with multiple marketplace trading, software that can handle the mixing and matching of deliveries with carriers is vital. Companies such as Parcelhub combine multi-carrier flexibility with a proactive approach to minimising delivery failures.
Expanding into selling new products, in new markets, using a range of marketplaces and your own website, across multiple channels is now what eCommerce means.
To tap into international sales too, diversification across marketplaces is also essential to gain a toe hold and test the water.
Diversification, too, in delivery is also key. In many ways, delivery is what underpins all the diversification in eCommerce that is taking place at an accelerated pace around us as we ease out of global lockdown. Making sure that goods can get to where they need to go – and perhaps more importantly – exactly when the customer wants them is going to be what merchants stand or fall by.
No one says it is going to be easy, but going it alone is no longer an option. Say goodbye to being single.
Parcelhub is a bespoke multi-carrier delivery management and proactive tracking support solution. Flexible and scalable, its unique portfolio of services integrate seamlessly with marketplaces, eCommerce platforms and order management systems, providing hundreds of multi-channel retailers, global brands and wholesalers with one access point to 20+ carriers and 600+ delivery options.