Use marketplaces to expand into ecommerce

retail marketplaces

As the shape of retail continues to shift in the wake of the pandemic, businesses are facing increasing challenges as they look to grow sales and acquire new customers. Iain Coplans, founder of Stok.ly, discusses how retailers can expand into eCommerce and scale their operations through their choice of the right marketplaces, websites and frameworks.

We have seen a change in the configuration of UK retail during and post pandemic, most notably a stagnation of bricks and mortar expansion and the complete opposite online. Retailers are now looking to not only enhance their existing eCommerce offering, but adopt new eCommerce channels and grow the visibility of their products to millions of prospective customers.

The shift in focus towards eCommerce comes with a range of challenges for retailers. Over the last 18 months many have looked to expand their eCommerce offering, but adding new sales channels presents several difficult hurdles. Below is our guide to help you understand these and overcome them.

The three challenges for retailers moving online:

  1. How to identify the best marketplaces or eCommerce websites to support your business model
  2. How to scale your multichannel offering
  3. How to effectively manage sales order processing, picking, packing and dispatching

Which marketplaces or websites?

Your first task when looking to expand into eCommerce is to identify which marketplaces or websites will best support your business model.

The number of online marketplaces continues to grow, with Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping, Facebook, Onebuy, Etsy and Wayfair all being prominent, high-footfall options. Amazon for example in the UK alone receives 407 million visits per month and eBay 298 million visits per month. With that in mind, the question to ask yourself is which channels offer the greatest rewards and not, what impact will the fees they charge have on your profitability? 

Rather than focusing on the cost of selling, instead try to understand the benefits of selling and envisage these platforms as answers to customer acquisition and sales growth – every sale you make on these channels is a new customer. You have invested in stock which costs you working capital, why not put this investment to work and leverage it to acquire new customers through eCommerce marketplaces?

Your next steps will be to maximise the value of each new customer won on these marketplaces and assess how you retain them, turning them into profitable, loyal shoppers on your website. To do this, you need software. With the right software in place, you’ll be able to capture this sales and customer data automatically, personalise marketing communication and ultimately migrate this new, paid-for customer, towards your own website (where you enjoy selling for higher margins!)

The vast majority of online purchases occur on sites already visited by the purchaser, so making that first sale is a critical success factor in retaining customers and growing profitable sales in the long term. By using eCommerce marketplaces to attract new customers, then migrating customers towards your own website, you can generate loyal, profitable customers and achieve your goal of growing sales.

A framework to scale 

With the right eCommerce software in place, you’ll be able to begin automating your processes and streamlining logistics. In turn, these will provide you with a robust framework to scale your multichannel eCommerce business.

The importance of automating your processes as you expand the number of eCommerce channels you operate can’t be stressed enough. Managing inventory, updating product listings and updating new items can be time consuming and the cost of wages in having to employ more people to do these tasks can quickly erode profits. On top of this, human error problems caused by selling stock that you have run out of will cause headaches, leaving customers unhappy and your business at risk of poor reviews.

As you begin to create product listings, optimising these for the search algorithm of each marketplace is critical to success. What’s successful on eBay for example, will result in you being penalised by the Google search ranking algorithm.  Every product should be customised for the channel it’s listed to. Software which automates this process makes it easy to manage items across multiple channels, enabling you to update thousands of items in bulk and scale quickly.

The next thing to consider will be your real time inventory control – if done manually, this can be extremely time consuming and expensive. To address this, software can be implemented which automates the process and as an item is sold through Amazon for example, one unit of inventory will be deducted across all your channels in real time.

With real-time inventory management, you can avoid selling items you don’t have in stock and ensure all items in your warehouse are listed and available to sell. Your ability to offer real-time inventory control is possibly the most critical success factor in scaling your eCommerce business.

Effectively managing your sales order processing

As sales orders begin to flow in from your new eCommerce channels, there will be increased pressure to meet strict delivery deadlines imposed by the marketplaces – Amazon Prime for example.

These marketplaces rely on high levels of customer satisfaction to remain market leaders and as such, they place firm deadlines on dispatch times for sales orders and customer care post sale. As a business scaling across multiple eCommerce channels, these marketplace requirements can be extremely demanding and challenging to meet.

The automation of your sales order processing, picklist creation and updates to couriers will all contribute to a successful fulfilment strategy and there are many systems which can support your business with these things. Ideally however, when it comes to automating sales orders, your software should enable efficient, scheduled sales order processing. This means you can set up sales orders to be batch processed by the hour, ready for your team to pick and dispatch.

If you’re looking to achieve real efficiency, automating your pick lists is a solid way to do so. In an optimised workflow, pick lists can be automatically pushed to handheld PDA devices to optimise the picking and packing process. This in turn allows sales orders to be picked in batches or zones, matched with employee shift patterns or corresponded to courier collections.

Putting in place a great software framework to manage the logistical challenges of scaling, is a critical success factor for businesses who are looking to expand across multiple eCommerce channels.

Next Steps

With online growth showing no signs of stopping, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be an eCommerce retailer. If you’ve followed our guide, you’ll be in a strong place to acquire new customers, scale up your operation and take full advantage of the benefits offered by multichannel ecommerce. You can learn more about how your business can expand their eCommerce capabilities here.

About Iain Coplans

Iain Coplans is the founder and Managing Director of Stok.ly, a company which delivers seamless order and warehouse management solutions for retailers across multiple eCommerce channels.

Stok.ly supports businesses of all sizes, from those looking to grow online through the adoption of new channels through to sophisticated eCommerce enterprises considering optimising processes to achieve more.