There have never been more opportunities for brands and merchants to sell online—that almost goes without saying. In fact, more than 263 million Americans shop online, which is 80% of our country’s entire population. Additionally, 74% of shoppers search online before they even set foot in a brick and mortar store—if they do at all.
It’s clear that brands must have a hearty online presence to attract customers, but setting up a store in Amazon Marketplace or Shopify is not enough to get brands ahead or even keep up. The industry trends are all pointing to one thing: increasing the number of sales channels is the best way to build and maintain a strong, competitive business.
And the stats back that up—94% of retail companies now use multiple channels to engage with customers; 73% of customers prefer shopping through multiple channels; and customer satisfaction is 23x higher in companies that run omnichannel strategies. These statistics are significant and their message is clear: if eCommerce retailers are to survive these days, they must reach their customers through multiple sales channels, a strategy that has been neatly summed up in one word—omnichannel.
But what exactly is omnichannel? A buzzword? A fad? A quick fix? A fancy word to toss around at the next company meeting?
Actually omnichannel is the closest thing to a silver bullet for brands looking to increase sales immediately and massively—brands that use 3+ channels have seen a 494% increase in order rates. That is not a typo. I doubt there is any brand who would scoff at seeing a nearly 500% increase in their order rates.
But before we get into the good stuff, let’s take a moment to define and understand what we mean by single, multi, and omnichannel sales channels.
The Basics: What Are Sales Channels?
When brands want to sell their products, they use one or more sales channels to do so. Most ecommerce brands use both direct sales channels (website, ecommerce store) and indirect sales channels (online marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and Shopify). It’s helpful to think of sales channels as the direct touchpoints between your brand and your customers; they are the conduit by which you sell your products to your customers.
Single channel refers to brands that sell their products to their customers through one (single) sales channel.
Let’s start with something easy—remember the lemonade stands we had as kids? In that scenario, the kid (retailer) wants to sell their lemonade to passersby (customers). This was before the days of influencer marketing and TikTok, so the only option we had to sell our lemonade was through the stand itself (sales channel). The lemonade could only be purchased from seller to buyer via the stand, case closed.
Omnichannel refers to brands that use a variety of sales channels to sell their products.
To continue our metaphor of the lemonade stand, let’s say we’re looking to find new customers beyond our neighbors and passersby and want to become an omnichannel lemonade brand. So, instead of only selling through the stand, we decide to bottle our lemonade and sell it on Facebook Marketplace as well as through our branded Instagram account. By adding Facebook Marketplace and a social media platform to our original stand, we are now officially an omnichannel retailer.
Although these terms are often used synonymously, multichannel is not the same as omnichannel. The difference between the two comes down to the purpose of the strategy. The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel is that omnichannel refers to the sales channels through which you sell your product to your customers, while multichannel is a marketing strategy that employs multiple channels to promote your product and build the reputation of your brand.
Now that our lemonade stand is blossoming as an omnichannel brand, multichannel strategies can add value to the buying experience. Let’s say we had a customer who changed their mind and didn’t buy a case of our amazing lemonade. But we’re not too concerned because we’ve used a retargeting tool on Shopify so the customer automatically received a reminder about their cart.
And to promote our Valentine’s Day-themed, “Lemonade for Lovers” product, we’re offering discounts to our current customers for referrals and signed on with Facebook Marketplace to be a part of their Valentine’s Day sales event.
Adopting a multichannel strategy has shifted our focus to how wonderful our lemonade is, not finding the channels to sell it on.
Becoming an Omnichannel Brand Is More Than Just Setting Up an Amazon Store
As previously discussed, the world has moved beyond the lemonade stand-style business plan—there are now numerous sales channels waiting to be explored, with more popping up every day. Amazon is the default sales channel most brands use, but that’s changing—rapidly. In fact, this year, Shopify’s Black Friday sales jumped up 17% from last year and a new study shows that more than half of Gen Z say they would like to avoid Amazon entirely.
So for now, Amazon is still king—but the number of potential usurpers is increasing. Selling on Amazon is undoubtedly the tried-and-true strategy to reach more customers, but for many brands, quality far outweighs quantity, so while you might be reaching more customers, you can’t guarantee that you’re reaching the right customers for you and your product.
Is Amazon Right for Your Business?
Let’s say you’re an independent artist who sells quilts—and not just any old quilt you can pick up at Target. Your quilts use ethically and organically sourced alpaca wool, heirloom patterns from your great grandma’s wicker basket, and old world quilting needles that were smuggled into the US in the pockets of your cousins. They are painstakingly hand sewn by your aunties in a candlelit, temperature-controlled workshop and your customers can submit their own materials and fabric to be woven into the design of their customized quilt.
Now, put yourself in your target customer’s shoes for a moment: if they type “quilts” into Amazon search, it will return 6,000+ results—will your illustrious quilts organically rise to the top of the results page? Hardly. Chances are they will be buried under sponsored and promoted Amazon Prime entries so most customers will never even see your quilts, much less buy them. But it’s Amazon, so it’s the best channel, right?
Actually, no, not always. Your quilts would fare much better on a site like Etsy, a global online marketplace supporting independent creators selling unique, often customized and personalized items. And Etsy is hardly small potatoes—while it may not have as many users as Amazon, Etsy has around 90.1 million and is exponentially growing their customer base. And according to the annual report of Statista, more than 10 million shoppers joined Etsy in 2021 alone.
What Sales Channels Will Help You Become an Omnichannel Ecommerce Business?
Social Media Channels
Using Social Media Channels to sell—also referred to as Social Commerce—leverages social interaction and user contributions to help you reach a wide ranging, but targeted audience who are passionate about the brands they support. You can now reach everyone from young, tech savvy customers looking for something different to the coveted “mommy” influencers who can spread the word of your new line of baby quilts. Social media channels can get your products out there at lightning speed.
Major players: Facebook Marketplace, YouTube, Twitter
Worth exploring: Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn (for B2B sales)
Shopping carts and ecommerce platforms offer options to customize your online store and build your brand through easy-to-use features and integrations including payment systems, returns processing, fulfillment options, and customer reviews. Most of them offer customer support and expert advice you can use to maximize the benefits of selling on these platforms.
- Major players: Shopify, WooCommerce, Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)
- Worth exploring: Volition, Wix, PrestaShop
Often considered the next evolution in digital shopping, metaverse platforms blur the line between the real and virtual worlds using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and artificial reality (AI) technologies to emphasize social connection. This is a developing strategy that needs advanced technology and personnel to employ, but digital storefronts could be an excellent opportunity to establish your brand’s footprint in this developing landscape.
- Major players: Meta, Decentraland, Bloktopia
- Worth exploring: Roblox, Gather, Active Theory, AWS
Online Auction Marketplaces
Digital auction marketplaces offer sellers efficient and effective methods to help brands reach millions of users looking for convenience, bargains, hard-to-find items, and collectibles. You will need to carefully research the guidelines and qualifications for each auction marketplace, but it’s an immense opportunity to sell your products quickly.
- Major players: eBay, eBid, Sotheby’s
- Worth exploring: AuctionZip, BidSpotter
Niche and Alternative Platforms
These niche sales platforms can be a goldmine for brands selling to a targeted audience looking for unique items including clothing, jewelry, customized home products, vintage items, and antiques. Customers are on these sites solely because they want something homemade or one-of-a-kind, so there is little need to convince them to buy—they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t already interested.
- Homemade/Craft/Artistic: Etsy, ArtFire, IndieCart, Folksy, Charish
- Vintage, Jewelry, Antiques: Ruby Lane, Bonanza, 1st Dibs, Artsy
- Small Brands and Independent Artists: Zibbet, ArtPal, Fine Art America
- Wholesale: BigCommerce, Handshake (Shopify), NuORDER, Bulletin
Thinking About Expanding Your Sales Channels?
Becoming an omnichannel brand is not a bandwagon to jump on blindly; the best way to get started is to take the time to figure out which ones will help you reach your goals. The suggested sales channels we’ve highlighted are just that—suggestions. To really dial down into what will and won't work for your particular eCommerce business, here are some things to keep in mind as you get started:
Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
There will always be a hot new channel to sell through, so it’s tempting to try them all, but before you join TikTok, Instagram, Decentraland, and Etsy, etc., make sure you and/or your staff have the resources, skills, and bandwidth to manage multiple channels. It takes more than just a general knowledge of the platform to be successful and truly harness the potential in this omnichannel strategy.
Know—Really Know—Your Audience
You did it! You’ve set up your virtual store in the Metaverse … great job? Perhaps, but if you had reviewed your historical data, you would have noticed that your products are skewing toward an older base that are still grasping how to use Facebook, much less Meta. Your eBay auction might be ready to go, but if you didn’t factor in that the majority of buyers for your products live in Canada and Great Britain when you offered free shipping, it’s obvious where your profits will suffer.
Create Continuity Across Your Channels
A recent study noted that only 9% of marketers are consistent on their marketing channels. If you don’t make your channel listings congruous and on-brand, you can’t guarantee that your customers will have a seamless experience across all of your channels. Many customers might start their search on their phone, but will ultimately purchase items from their home computers. Setting up and configuring shopping cart settings across all of your platforms so a customer can pick up where they left off is a simple, but meaningful way to stand out among your competitors.
To learn more about becoming an omnichannel brand, check out our Definitive Guide to Building an Omnichannel Fulfillment Strategy.