Third-party selling can be a touchy subject among many traditional retailers, but it's also a retail reality that shouldn't be ignored.
With so much press about how third-party sellers such as Amazon, eBay, Overstock.com and the like are a threat to traditional retail, it's no wonder that businesses that could benefit from selling through these outlets are instead steering clear of them. Instead of looking at third-party sellers as looming threats, think of them as larger entities consisting of small business owners like you. Selling on these massive websites can assist retail companies — independent retailers in particular — in getting rid of excess inventory and leveraging stronger sales in general.
To build your brand through third-party sellers, consider your physical storefront as the "home base" for your inventory and look at your company's digital presence as an extension of your physical store. Selling through a third party then becomes a strategy to help move product and introduce your company to a new audience of customers.
To help ensure you have a solid foundation before diving onto Amazon, eBay or other sites, consider these points:
Know the Facts
If you're hesitant about working with a third-party seller, take the following study into account: In a May 2017study published on RetailWire, Amazon polled sellers on their website to find what percentage of each company's overall sales were made through Amazon. More than 60 percent of Amazon sellers reported that their sales on the site comprised more than three-fifths of their overall sales, and 50 percent of sellers said that Amazon made up 80 to 100 percent of sales for their company.
This means that retailers who don't sell on major third-party sites are missing out on an opportunity to increase sales. What this doesn't mean, however, is that you have to give up your traditional storefront to sell exclusively online.
Maintain Your Brand Identity
When selling on third-party websites you will learn quickly that they don't make it easy for brands and merchants to promote their own websites and other brand details. By prohibiting companies from leading traffic to their respective URLs, third-party sellers such as Amazon try to prevent businesses like yours from marketing themselves and building a loyal clientele. This can make it difficult to connect with your clientele on these third-party sites. However, understanding this reality positions you to market products on these sites from a different perspective than you may on your own website and other online channels. Be consistent in your customer communication and integrity of your brand when it comes to timely shipping, packaging and customer service — yet recognize that third-party sites will not allow you to truly brand your business the way you have aimed to on your website, Yelp page, social media channels and similar online outlets.
To help keep your business website prominent in Google searches, promote products similar to those you sell with third-party sellers through Google Shopping. This way when customers look for great prices on similar products, your website catalog will be the first thing to pop up — even if third-party sites that you sell on pop up as well. Remember, it's about positioning yourself at a variety of touchpoints so that customers ultimately make a purchase from you no matter where they may land.
Aim for Customer Reviews
Customers trust reviews from their peers much more than any type of brand-sponsored advertising. Additionally, reviews can determine your ranking with third-party sellers and, therefore, impact your overall visibility on third-party sites. Yet capturing reviews can be one of the hardest parts of starting to sell your inventory on a new platform. Most customers don't leave feedback on their product experiences, but it can be difficult to establish credibility without customer reviews.
Encourage existing customers to leave reviews on third-party websites. Enclose a reminder on your packing slip or use a post-purchase message to invite customers to share feedback. Be sure to consult the rules for each individual third-party site. Amazon, for example, prohibits marketing messages or links to your own store's website and may ban retailers who violate their policies.
- Make sure you're using the most effective keywords for your products and enlist an employee, friend or family member to help you edit your product descriptions by taking a look at them with a fresh set of eyes.
- Spending a little extra time taking great photos will put your company's inventory ahead of the competition.
- Don't let the third-party seller become your company's be-all and end-all or you'll run the risk of your brand going downmarket. Keep building your brand name with in-store events and through digital engagement with customers on your website and through social media.
With the approach outlined above, you can make these sites part of a strategic plan to supplement your overall retail business.
Find more ideas to strengthen your customer relationship in CNA's 2018 Guide to the New Realities of Small Retail.
From the Author
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of RetailMinded.com, an industry publication that has been recognized worldwide for its leading retail insight. With a core concentration on independent retailers and small businesses, Reyhle is a frequent guest and contributor to various media outlets that include The Today Show, Forbes and countless B2B publications. Additionally, Reyhle has been the spokesperson for American Express's Small Business Saturday since 2014 and is the author of the book Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business from McGraw-Hill. Reyhle writes regularly as a retail thought leader for various industry resources that include Entrepreuner.com, Fiverr.com, Forbes, IBM and more, as well as having taught Retail Management at Columbia College for eight years as part of their adjunct faculty. Reyhle is also the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Learn more about Reyhle at RetailMinded.com.
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