Marketplace Mania, Part 4: Leveraging Technology
This is “Part 4″ in a four-part series on using marketplaces to help your ecommerce business. In “Part 1: Reviewing the Buying Experience” and “Part 2: Buying Unique, Niche Items,” I examined marketplaces from a buyer’s perspective. In “Part 3: Choosing the Right Marketplace,” I focused on choosing the right marketplace to fit your business strategies as a seller.
In this final “Part 4″ installment, I’ll address the technology challenges in selling on multiple channels.
Once you have determined which marketplaces are best suited for reaching your target consumers, you’ll need to ensure that your ecommerce platform will support marketing, selling, and fulfilling orders to multiple channels.
The various marketplaces will impose different requirements and challenges. For example, if you sell on Amazon Marketplace, you will need to follow its rules: no backlinks or promotions that take customers to your website; all customer correspondence is through Amazon; minimum response requirements for customer inquiries; minimum shipping turnaround times; and more. You should also consider dynamic pricing strategies.
Other marketplaces will allow you to manage orders within your own system, promote your other products to customers, and ultimately take ownership of the customer relationship. I almost all cases, payments are received from your channel partner rather than your customers, so refunds may become a consideration.
To support multi-channel selling, you will likely need solutions for:
- Single data feed. Producing a single product catalog feed to all channels along with any customized data fields required by specific marketplaces;
- Pricing updates. Managing and updating pricing across all channels, and with dynamic pricing options;
- Inventory management. Managing inventory across multiple channels;
- Order management. Accepting and managing orders from the various channels, and fulfilling orders and confirming shipments with both your channel partners and customers;
- Customer service. Managing customer service inquires from all customers;
- Analysis. Analyzing data on orders, returns, and conversion rates from all channels.
For this article, I will not be going into detail about technical solutions, though I will mention a few options. The technology that will work best for your business will largely depend on the capabilities of your current platform, your budget, and the marketplaces you choose.
Instead, I will look at the various processes you will want to automate, and why. I’ve broken them into three primary areas: (a) product catalog and feeds, (b) order management, and (c) pricing.
Product Catalogs and Feeds
In the early days of ecommerce, merchants typically had their own website with its own shopping cart — or they sold products on eBay or other online stores or marketplaces. Over time, most shopping carts added the capability to export a product data feed to support comparison-shopping engines and marketplaces. As a result, the best method today is to maintain a single product catalog and to export tailored data feeds to all marketing and sales channels.
At the heart of this is the product catalog. This includes all the content for every item that you wish to sell. Images, metadata, descriptive content, part information, pricing data, inventory levels, shipping weights and options, and all other bits of data about a given product should be included in your catalog. You may also include data that is supported by business rules so that it can be extracted in different manners for selling in various marketplaces.
Ideally, you will maintain a single product catalog. If you already run an ecommerce store, then you will want to simply use the content management system in your shopping cart or platform. Ideally, you will be able to create the required custom fields for various data feeds or manipulate the data feed in other tools like Excel or other data feed tools.
Many shopping carts and most enterprise-level solutions — like those from NetSuite, Oracle E-Business Suite, SAP, IBM WebSphere, and Microsoft Dynamics — offer the required level of product catalog capabilities. Even then, you may need to make some content adjustments to your data feed for different heading names or data fields that may be required.
In addition, products from Monsoon Commerce, SalesWarp, Jagged Peak, Channel Intelligence, and ShopVisible also have robust product catalog and content management capabilities, in addition to other benefits.
The data feed has become the standard way of uploading products into advertising channels, affiliates, marketplaces, comparison-shopping engines from hosted shopping carts. Robust systems are now available that allow you to extract data from ecommerce platforms, and then manipulate and add content that may be required for specific data feeds.
Because inventory information is frequently uploaded in your data feeds, you will need frequent updates — no less than every day. For high turnover items, you may want to provide more frequent feeds, or to invest in a direct integration with your target platform.
Since there is no standard data feed for every target platform, you may also want to invest in tools that help modify your data feed to meet the needs of the various platforms. GoDataFeed and SingleFeed offer affordable solutions for this task.
Once you have received an order, you will need to capture the details from the marketplace partner and import that into you own order management system. For smaller sales volumes, you may be able to do this manually, but when you start to receive dozens of orders per day, this will not functional.
If you support drop shipping or multiple warehouses, order management becomes crucial as you will need to track the fulfillments and shipping information from all sources and upload that to your own platform as well as your marketplace partners in most cases.
Many carts and platforms have fully integrated, multi-channel order management. Order management tools also support this capability.
Dynamic pricing simply means automatically adjusting your prices to meet the market expectations. It is becoming increasingly important. In the airline industry, this is has been a daily strategy for many years. With solutions that support dynamic pricing, retailers can enter robust business rules to determine their products’ prices based on, say, a price check on Amazon.
This allows you to bid aggressively, or not at all, for the buy box. For example, you can set a rule to check every hour for the prices on categories or specific products. If the current prices are lower than your price, you can adjust your prices automatically to be a specific percentage below the current price. These capabilities have led to a new pricing paradigm on Amazon with prices changing hourly on tens of thousands of items.
Beyond Amazon, you will need to keep all your channels in sync. This is a challenge since some marketplaces are not as quick to change prices. Remember that if you decide to pursue a dynamic pricing strategy on Amazon.
Depending your business, you may also want to integrate customer service inquires into a single response system. Whether that integration is cost efficient will depend on the number of inquires as well as the platforms you use for customer service.
Finally, utilize all analytics systems that are available. By tracking your traffic and conversions rates in various marketplaces — using their tools — and comparing that with the performance of your own website and other marketplaces, you can determine the optimal product selection for each channel.