If you’ve been selling products via a retail store for any length of time, you’ve probably heard sales and marketing experts recommend diversifying your sales strategy with a multichannel approach.
This term — “multichannel sales strategy” — simply refers to selling your products in other places besides a brick-and-mortar storefront or ecommerce website. When you sell across multiple channels — online, offline, and anywhere in between — you’re offering multiple touch points for customers to interact with your brand.
In addition to having your own physical and ecommerce store, there are several types of online marketplaces and platforms where you can sell your products to people who otherwise might not find you.
But not every channel is a good fit for every business; for instance, to provide a streamlined customer experience, many of these marketplaces will prioritize their own branding over yours. That can be difficult if your strategy relies on having a recognizable brand. And many online sales channels charge fees for product listings and/or sales commissions.
But the benefits of featuring your products on these websites can certainly outweigh any downsides, especially if your goal is to sell a high volume of products or cater to a niche audience. These product marketplaces (such as eBay, Etsy, and Amazon) are designed to make the process easy for the sellers and buyers alike with minimal technical knowledge required and built-in marketing to a large database of existing customers.
And while there are a variety of options for merchants to choose from, not every marketplace or channel is right for everyone. But here’s how you can narrow your focus to the right channels for you and your retail business.
How to Choose the Right Online Sales Channels
With dozens of websites and platforms offering advice on how to sell stuff online, getting started can feel pretty overwhelming. From Amazon to eBay, to Etsy, and even Facebook, there are innumerable opportunities to explore, and each has its own pros and cons. With such a variety of options to reach potential customers, it’s important to narrow your focus to that make the most sense for your business, products, audience, and brand.
So, how do you decide what online sales channels are right for you? That depends on a few factors, including:
- Your business model
- Do you manufacture your own products?
- Do you dropship?
- Do you make most of your money from wholesale?
- Your payment processing system and cashflow/revenue cycle
- Do you accept Paypal, Square, ApplePay, and/or Google Wallet?
- Do you know how these providers’ fees work with any potential sales channel you’re considering?
- Does it work for you cashflow-wise to sell in an auction format, where you have to wait for a period of time for the auction window to close and you don’t set a fixed price?
- Will your profit margin support paying a commission fee if needed?
- Your audience and their habits
- Do your audience spend a lot of their time and/or money shopping in a specific place, such as checking out on Amazon Prime with one-click, or bidding on eBay auctions?
- Is your product designed for mass appeal or specific interest groups?
- Your brand and its positioning in the market
- Are you positioned as:
- An upscale, luxury brand?
- Mass-produced functionality?
- Clever, niche products for certain specific groups of people?
- Hard-to-find unique items?
- Your business goals
- Do you want to scale your business? If so, how?
- The type of product(s) you sell
- Do you sell items which are popular for the average person?
- Do you sell products which are targeted at a specific niche?
- Do you sell unique, one-of-a-kind items, such as vintage or antique pieces, or custom built products?
- The strengths and weaknesses of each type of channel
Answering these questions will help you identify the pros and cons of the various sales channels you’re considering, in order to find the ones that are the best fit for you and your products.
11 Common Online Sales Channels for Retailers
To help you identify which digital sales channels are the best choice for you, let’s run down the 11 most common types of marketplaces and online sales channels,
- General marketplace (Amazon)
- Auction marketplace (eBay)
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram)
- Handmade and crafts marketplace (Etsy)
- On-demand production marketplace (Cafepress)
- Unique items marketplace (Bonanza)
- Niche marketplace (Not On The High Street)
- Subscription box service (Cratejoy)
- Classified listings website (Craigslist)
- Comparison shopping sites (Google Shopping)
- Daily deals sites (Groupon)
Each of these types of website offers different benefits and targets a different type of shopping behavior.
1. General Marketplace (Amazon)
A general marketplace like Amazon is a great place to sell products with mass appeal. Selling through Amazon or a similar marketplace gives your product a degree of credibility and offers a large audience. Typically Amazon is a great place to sell electronics, books, DVDs, and other general interest items.
The downside of using a site like Amazon is that the credibility comes from their streamlining of the branding. To the customer, it looks and feels like an “Amazon product” even when it’s sold via a third party seller. That means Amazon-type sites aren’t necessarily the best option for retailers that benefit from strong branding or unique, vintage items.
Fees will vary depending on the volume of items you sell.
2. Auction Marketplace (eBay)
eBay is one of the most well-known online marketplaces. Its differentiator is its auction-style approach to selling, making it a good fit for sellers who offer rare, vintage, and collectible items.
There are no listing fees unless you list more than 50 items per month, and they take a percentage of the total sale value as commission. Sellers with international customers can benefit from their Global Shipping Program, which takes your items to a U.S. warehouse and then prepares and ships items overseas.
One downside to the auction model is that it requires sellers to wait a certain amount of time for the sale, and you may not receive the full value of the item if bidding is low. But for retailers who spend the time to understand the model and test what works, it can prove to be a successful sales channel.
3. Social Media (Facebook, Instagram)
Facebook has an option to set up a Facebook Store, which can integrate with your ecommerce site to sell directly through your business’s Facebook page. This is a great way to simplify your sales process if you have a lot of Facebook followers or if you run Facebook ads as part of your marketing strategy.
Facebook also offers a feature called Facebook Marketplace, which is more like a classified listings site with localized listings. This is primarily used by individuals who wish to resell their own items (similar to Craigslist).
Pinterest and Instagram also offer shopping functionality if you prefer those platforms or if you currently have more customer engagement there.
4. Handmade and Crafts Marketplace (Etsy)
Etsy is one of the best-known marketplaces for handmade, vintage, and crafty products. This is a great option for merchants who make their own products or create quirky and unique items. And their audience tends to value their brand, which makes them a great platform to amplify your business and grow awareness of your offerings. They also offer a wholesale feature if you’re planning to scale your products.
Etsy charges a listing fee per item as well as a percentage of the sale price as a commission, and they integrate with 10 of the most common payment methods, including Paypal and Apple Wallet, making it easy for your customers to purchase.
5. On-Demand Production Marketplace (Cafepress)
CafePress enables retailers to design and sell products with a printed component, which are produced on-demand as customers order the items. This is a great model for businesses with a wide range of designs that want to outsource manufacturing and cut down on inventory storage and management costs.
CafePress also manages the payments, transactions, and order fulfillment. This makes it particularly useful for business owners whose offering is based on unique designs that can be printed on merchandise like stickers, mugs, and T-shirts, rather than other types of product.
Because they manufacture and fulfill the orders, CafePress treats the business owner as an artist/designer rather than the store owner — therefore, the platform pays royalties. There are no setup fees and you can receive commissions on sales. There is a monthly fee which can be deducted from royalties.
Similar sites are available for musicians, authors, and other artists who want to focus on the creation and leave the production and distribution to someone else.
6. Unique Items Marketplace (Bonanza)
Bonanza’s slogan is "Find everything but the ordinary," and that’s what you’ll find on their marketplace. This makes it a great place to sell if you specialize in distinctive or quirky products you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. It’s particularly good for sellers in the fashion and apparel industry.
Bonanza and other similar websites may lack some of the broader name recognition of Amazon and eBay, but they integrate with those sites if you want to import your product listings, and they offer a more targeted experience to shoppers who are looking for something a little less mainstream.
There are no listing or setup fees, but they take a percentage of the sale price as commission (the amount varies depending on the size of the transaction).
7. Niche Curated Marketplace (Not On The High Street)
It’s a little tricky to describe a “niche marketplace” as though it’s a single type of thing, since each one is unique. But generally speaking, these are marketplaces for unique, custom, unusual products, that are curated for this platform.
Not On The High Street (NOTHS) specializes in handpicked gift ideas which are unusual (e.g. you wouldn’t find them in your typical “high street” shop). This type of platform is great for more creative, quirky products. You’ll have to apply to sell through their website, and there is a one-time joining fee but no listing fees.
8. Subscription Box Service (Cratejoy)
If your business model is a subscription box service, you may want to consider selling through a platform like Cratejoy. They offer features and services for subscription box businesses at all stages, from those just starting out to established brands looking to expand and scale. And they feature your offerings along with their other sellers on a marketplace site.
9. Classified Listings Website (Craigslist)
Craigslist and other classified listings websites are more commonly used to sell items they no longer want rather than business owners selling products to customers. However, some people do earn a living selling items on Craigslist.
Craigslist is best for a business model of buying and re-selling common items such as appliances and electronics, or for selling one-off items. The good news is that listing items on Craigslist is free; but the downside is that using sites like Craigslist can be more risky, as there are fewer protections in place for buyers or sellers to avoid scams.
10. Comparison Shopping Engines (Google Shopping)
If you sell products that are also stocked by other merchants, you may want to consider getting your items listed in comparison shopping engines like Google Shopping. These sites are a first-stop for many price-conscious shoppers, so if you offer competitive prices, you
ll want to ensure that these customers see your offers.
With Google Shopping, the fees are basically advertising fees (similar to Google AdWords) so you’ll be bidding on ads with a PPC (pay-per-click) model.
The downside with this type of site is that it attracts customers who are primarily looking for the best price, so if you sell luxury, unique items, or compete more on quality than on price, it’s not the best channel for you. But if you’re planning to list your products with these engines and looking for some tips, check out this guide from Shopify about how to stand out on comparison shopping engines.
11. Daily Deals Sites (Groupon)
If you want to give people a taste of your product and expand your brand’s reach, consider partnering with a daily deals site like Groupon. It’s a similar model to paid ads, except that there’s no upfront cost — the deal site just takes a cut of the product revenue.
Groupon will promote your product to their email list and on their website in exchange for you offering their subscribers a substantial discount on the item (usually 50%+). Retailers reap the benefits of reach and brand awareness, since Groupon’s list is massive. The downside is that it’s not a great investment unless your product is the kind of item to generate a lot of repeat business, since the discount and commission significantly cut into your profit margin.
Moving Forward With Online Sales Channels
Regardless of the type of platform you’re looking for, the same key factors will remain important: business model, goals, brand, audience and product type. Use these as your criteria when you evaluate the above sales channels and you’ll be sure to find the ones that work best for your business.
And remember: Many of these common platforms can be integrated with your Shopify account to make it easy to get set up.