What Is Multichannel Selling and How Can You Make It Work for You?

What does it mean to be a "multichannel" retailer? If you sell your product in more than one location, be it a brick-and-mortar store (or stores), your own website, eBay, Amazon, other marketplaces, to consumers or to other businesses, you are a multichannel seller. It is almost imperative in today's retail environment that you give your customers buying options; therefore most retailers are inherently multichannel merchants.

Simply giving customers options of where to buy isn't enough; you need to give them a reliable experience with your brand to build loyalty and drive repeat purchases. But this isn't easy to do. There are several hurdles you have to cross to make this happen, but sellers that do have the opportunity to get noticed and significantly grow their business.

Maintaining brand consistency
The most important aspect of selling across a variety of channels is consistency. Your brand must be represented in the same way across all platforms to give your customers a consistent experience whether they shop online or if they step into your store. Shoppers relate to your brand, not the channel on which they found it, so shoppers must gain a strong sense of your brand the minute they interact with it. The look, the feel, product descriptions, sizing choices, service level, etc. all have to be seamless no matter where the interaction occurs.

Apparel retailers often deal with multiple catalogs from suppliers. Merchandising those products through each specific channel creates its own set of challenges. Suppliers send data in varying formats and with different depths of information, but each requires some normalization and supplemental information in order to provide complete listings on Amazon, eBay, your website, or any other platform on which you're selling. 

Amazon and eBay require you to use their category structures and provide attributes by category.

On your website you need very specific product details to be available in separate fields to enable shoppers to search or filter their choices by size, color, style, fit, occasion, and much more.
In your stores you need UPC codes, tagging information, receipt descriptions and price.

Add in the complexity of managing variants and it's easy to see how convoluted, inconsistent, and extremely difficult it can be to manage product information effectively if you're trying to do so manually.

Utilizing a single, centralized product catalog to store and manage product information helps you manage various requirements by sales channel as well feed consistent product data across all sales outlets, creating a much better cross-channel experience for your shoppers. The industry refers to this concept as Product Information Management or PIM. PIM tools allow you to consolidate product data from multiple sources, enhance or edit it, then publish it to multiple sales channels.

Managing inventory
If you are receiving orders from multiple sales channels and fulfilling them from various stores, warehouses or even drop-ship suppliers, keeping track of inventory in real-time is extremely difficult. But experts agree that retail basics, such as having an item in stock, affect customer satisfaction and brand loyalty more than any other factor.

Sellers need to automate inventory management so that every channel has access to real-time inventory information, allowing you to present an accurate representation of product availability even as items are being sold through multiple outlets. This means knowing when an online customer is shopping for a size 7 gray, snake skin heel, and the last one available is on a shelf in your north side store, it can be pulled and shipped, and the inventory instantly updated across all of your sales platforms.

Utilizing the right technology
Making an investment in software that enables truly effective multichannel management is always worth it. It helps foster better customer service, eliminates tedious data management tasks, and diminishes errors and customer dissatisfaction – all of which will directly impact your ability to grow and your bottom line.

Creating and perpetuating a culture based on knowledge
With a market that is constantly changing, it pays to be curious. Retailers that fail do so because they rest. It should be part of your company's culture to always practice the following:
  • Know yourself – Know your brand and display it proudly across all channels. If you have a passion for outdoor apparel, be the expert. If you do dressy better than anyone else, flaunt it. But be consistent. Shoppers should have the same feeling and reactions to your website as they do when they step into your store.
  • Know your competition – Specifically online, study the leaders and competitors in your segment. See how they merchandise their products and what services they provide. Notice what they do well and do it better; note where they fail and make sure you don't make the same mistakes.
  • Know your customer – Collect as much information as possible on your customers. Get to know them personally. What are they searching for and what do they ultimately buy? How often do they come back? Use sales data to understand trends and in turn provide more of what your customers want. Clothing is personal so recommend items that suit their taste and preferences. Nothing turns off a shopper like ridiculous recommendations.
The bottom line is that to compete effectively, retailers must deliver a better buying experience across all channels to ensure customers can easily find you, shop when it's convenient, and ultimately, be enticed to keep coming back.

  • Steve Weber is the president & CEO nChannel, provider of multichannel management software that simplifies selling for retailers of all sizes. 
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