Marketplaces are hyper-competitive and ultra-demanding. Is it time to protect your business by building your own independent brand?
There’s no question that marketplaces like Amazon and eBay are powerful sales machines. Offer the right products at the right price, while keeping your service levels high, and the orders will roll in.
But competition is always fierce. Buyers don’t know who you are, so they will trust the marketplace to guide them to the best seller each time they make a purchase. That usually means whoever happens to be the cheapest. The marketplaces don’t play favorites.
Nor do they look after you. If you falter and stumble, they don’t pick you up and dust you down – they kick you out. It doesn’t take many complaints from their customers – the buyers – for you to become persona non grata.
What’s an online seller to do? How can you rise above the endless mass of competing sellers, all fighting to reach the top? The only way is to strike out on your own. Build a real, recognizable brand. Sell through your own online store. Build your own social media following. Unlike your marketplace selling accounts, those things really belong to you. They can’t be taken away easily, and they are a powerful asset to build your business on.
In this post I’ll walk you through the Online Stores & Social Media category of the Web Retailer directory. It covers store platforms, tools for creating Facebook stores, tools for feeding existing listings through to social networks, and connector apps between marketplaces and store platforms.
Sellers are taking a huge unnecessary risk by selling solely through online marketplaces like Amazon. They are exposed to random account suspension, relevance issues, and paying high commission while building the marketplace’s customer base.
I advise my clients to treat Amazon and others as an ancillary market and encourage them to dedicate resources to develop their own brand via an independent ecommerce website.
Social media, particularly Facebook, has recently been an incredible sales driver for many of my clients. When using social media to sell products and build your brand, you want to drive traffic to your site not an online marketplace.
Travis Romine, Ecommerce Growth Consultant, Sharp Commerce
What tools and services are out there for online stores and social media?
In the Web Retailer directory, we cover the following categories:
Online Store Platforms
There are literally hundreds of online store platforms, or shopping carts, available. Some are cloud-based and can be signed-up for in minutes, while others need to be downloaded and installed on your own server.
Some are completely free and open source, others cost very little, and others are firmly in the price range of the world’s largest retailers.
Some are basic offerings, with simple browse-and-buy functionality. Others have every feature you can think of to cover store design, promotions, order management, email marketing, customer reviews, up-selling and much more.
Many Web Retailer readers make most of their sales through online marketplaces, and may not have an online store of their own. Even those that do may have failed to get it off the ground. So, in the directory, we cover just a selection of online platforms which are the best fit for those starting (or restarting) their independent ecommerce strategy.
We generally list cloud-based platforms, as those are much easier to get started. We also look for platforms which integrate with marketplaces, either directly or via popular channel management software. Our readers usually want to expand with their own store, not start again from scratch. Being able to link inventory and orders between store and marketplaces is crucial for running an efficient and error-free business.
If you have no web development skills, I recommend Shopify because of its smooth, super easy-to-use back-end interface and the templates provided. It’s the closest thing you can find to a Swiss army knife, since it has basic features for all stores, but you can also expand with hundreds of apps.
In case you want to go with a self-hosted, cheaper option, WooCommerce is completely open source and integrates with WordPress. You’ll need development skills, but the internet is your support team!
Catalin Zorzini, Founder of Mostash.com and ecomm.design
Browse the directory for Online Store Platforms, including reviews, news, related discussions, compatibility information and pricing.
Social Media Selling
Starting your own store is a great step to independence, but that’s all it is: a step. Yes, you can build it, but will the customers come? Unfortunately, they almost certainly will not – they won’t even know you exist.
Many marketplace sellers manage to design their store and fill it with stock, but they get completely stuck when it comes to building traffic. Working to generate traffic to your own website can be expensive, difficult and time-consuming, and may still fail.
It’s not surprising then, that sellers will often turn to social networks like Facebook to generate interest in their store. Potential customers are there en masse, to say the least, and it’s completely free to promote your brand and products to them.
In the directory we list a few different types of social media tools:
- Those which help sellers create stores within social networks, usually Facebook, such as StoreYa, Shopial and Social Store.
- Those which share marketplace or online store listings onto social networks, such as Around.io, Faab Multi Channel, Froo! Smart Social and Mento.
- Those which help create social network ad campaigns, like Mamaya.
- Those which make it easy to sell directly from your updates, like Bask.yt.
However, just because you promote your products on social media doesn’t mean that people will listen. Social networks aren’t shopping portals, and while software tools make it easier to share your products, you’ll probably need a more sophisticated approach to really succeed.
In a world of ever-changing technology we often get wrapped up in the latest and greatest that help us be more efficient. While this can be helpful for sellers, they must also be very careful. Too much automation can make your messages sound bland, robotic… automated. Remember to take the time to talk to your customers, not just blast new listings and sales.
A goal should be to set yourself apart from your competitors. Give your fans and followers a reason to “like” your pages, and to engage with you. Be sure you follow up each channel for questions or comments. The second worst thing to do (after not having any social media channels at all) is to not monitor them and use them as they were intended – to connect with customers.
Lanae Paaverud, Founder and Owner, Social Networking Nanny
Browse the directory for Social Media Selling tools, including reviews, news, related discussions, compatibility information and pricing.
The third category we cover under Online Stores & Social Media is Marketplace Connectors. The same tools are listed here as in Web Store Connectors under Multichannel Management.
These tools turn ecommerce platforms (like Magento or Prestashop) into full multichannel management systems, usually by adding a plugin or app which extends the core inventory management features of the platform.
Marketplace Connectors can be a compelling proposition for businesses who want to sell on both marketplaces and online stores, as they synchronize the different sales channels without needing a completely separate management system. The shopping cart becomes a central hub feeding product data out to marketplaces, and pulling customer orders back, as well as providing an independent sales channel.
One consideration when taking this approach, however, is that the core of the system – the ecommerce platform itself – is usually designed just as an independent webstore, not as a hub for multichannel selling. In contrast, inventory and channel management systems are built from the ground up to manage selling on multiple channels. The Marketplace Connector approach can certainly provide good results for some businesses, but it’s not for everyone.
Browse the directory for Marketplace Connectors, including reviews, news, related discussions, compatibility information and pricing.
Marketplaces offer an easy way to start selling online, and many businesses have been wildly successful trading on them. But the low barrier-to-entry has made competition intense, pushing prices down and costs up, sometimes to the point where it’s impossible to make a profit.
At the same time, the marketplaces (particularly Amazon) are demanding ever-higher performance standards and have become very quick to censure sellers for any lapses. Honest mistakes, malicious accusations, and even casual remarks from buyers can have severe consequences.
Running an independent web store and making smart use of social media have never looked more appealing to the marketplace seller.