Marketplace sites offer a great opportunity to get your brand in front of a larger audience, and serve as an additional sales channel. However it can be difficult to meaningfully engage with the customers who buy through these platforms, with very few opportunities to showcase your branding and experience. Not only that, you’ve spent time and money developing your own ecommerce store, so ideally you want customers to experience that instead of relying on a marketplace filled with direct competitors.
Today we’re going to look at the challenges that merchants face when selling through marketplaces, and some ways you can make the most of the few touch points you have to engage your customers.
We’ll be primarily focusing on Amazon, however much of the advice will also apply if you’re selling through other global and regional marketplace channels such as Etsy and Not On The High Street.
Marketplaces, merchants, and customer relationships
Selling through marketplace sites makes sense for many different reasons. In fact, the benefits at times may outweigh a brand’s desire not to sell through marketplaces like Amazon. Let’s look at what those reasons may be:
Acquisition costs for ecommerce merchants are high. In one survey, 85% of brands selling on Amazon said the most common motivator was acquisition. Selling through Amazon gives merchants an additional opportunity for brand discovery
In the same survey, 72% of respondents said that serving customers “where they are” was a primary motivator for selling through Amazon. Many customers placing an order through Amazon may have several brands in their cart at any given time, so this encourages brands to sell their products there to meet their customers’ needs.
Additional sales channel
Given marketplace sites’ power for brand discovery, they often make for a high potential additional source of sales for brands. Diversifying sales channels can give brands further reach than if they were to sell exclusively on their site.
If you’re a seller on Amazon, then using their fulfillment channels can be a good way for sellers to fulfill higher volumes without additional pressure on their internal teams. This means more product gets into the hands of customers, and brands can focus their own fulfillment efforts on the customers coming through their website.
While all these reasons are valid, the argument against selling is also strong. With seller fees, a lack of brand control, and limited access to data, it can be very difficult for brands to make meaningful connections with customers and turn a profit while remaining competitive on the platform. You’re also putting your brand right on the same pages as your competitors, meaning while customers may discover your brand more easily it also gives them equally easy access to discover your competitors. The nature of selling through a marketplace means you then cannot compete on experience, and are left instead to compete on price.
These downsides extend to your relationship with customers, as it’s unlikely that many merchants can truly compete with the convenience of marketplace sites like Amazon. These sites offer a sort of “virtual mall” experience allowing customers to order from multiple brands in the same cart with some marketplaces offering fast, free shipping. That being said, while Amazon’s customer base is vast, many still want to shop with independent brands. In one survey, 40% of total respondents said they’d like to reduce their reliance on Amazon - further broken down by age, 53% of Gen Z respondents and 49% of Millennials expressed this desire. Looking at Shopify’s 2020 BFCM data, 44 million customers chose to shop with independent businesses - a 50% increase from 2019.
The ideal scenario is to rely exclusively on your own storefront, but if you see a high volume of sales from marketplaces as well as high acquisition, then it’s a channel that you’ll likely want to keep open. The goal in this case would be to use the marketplace to lead on brand discovery, then at the very least to keep those customers loyal to your brand and ideally bring them over to your own ecommerce experience for their next purchase.
How to engage customers who buy through a marketplace
When selling through a marketplace, you don’t have many touch points through which you can engage with your customers. This is especially true if you’re also fulfilling orders through Amazon, which is frequently the case. Therefore you want to make the few touchpoints you do have as memorable and meaningful as possible.
Understand why they shop there
The first step in any exercise with your customers is to understand them. In order to best engage them when they shop through a marketplace, we first need to understand their motivations for shopping your brand through this channel.
Here are some of the primary reasons why consumers choose to shop with Amazon:
The most common reasons by a mile are shipping and selection closely followed by being Amazon Prime members. These all represent a desire for convenience. Other reasons include an easy returns process, a good digital experience, and unique items. Outside of Prime, these are all qualities which merchants can improve and deliver on within their own native store experience. That could be revising your shipping strategy to provide better or cheaper shipping options, or auditing your user experience to find opportunities for improvement.
These reasons represent a more general Amazon audience with many applying to other marketplaces, therefore you need to conduct further research into your own audience to get more specific answers. While it would be tricky to get feedback from your marketplace customers, you still have your existing store customers as a valuable resource. Conduct a survey, asking them how they discovered your store, why they shop through marketplaces, what they enjoy about your store experience and why they choose to shop direct. This information will allow you to better understand the motivations of your audience, and in which areas you could possibly make improvements in order to make your store experience more enticing to marketplace customers.
Use your packaging as brand engagement
While selling through a marketplace you won’t have many chances to make an impact with your brand, you still have one key opportunity - your packaging. Use your packaging to engage your customers, giving them additional information about your brand, your ecommerce store, social media channels, and any contact information.
Note that this advice is not specific to any one marketplace platform. Therefore you will need to look into the seller terms and conditions for the marketplace platform you are selling through to ensure you’re operating within their terms.
You can add to your packaging in order to boost brand engagement by:
Including flyers inside the packaging, offering an incentive to visit your store such as a discount or free shipping on their next order. (Note: This advice doesn’t apply to Amazon as it’s outside their seller terms.)
Including brand information on the packaging itself for stock due to be sent to marketplace customers, for example using swing tags.
Printing brand information on the packaging e.g. social media handles, website address, brand story.
- Making the product unboxing itself an experience with custom packaging and leaflets on product care or additional information.
Use these small opportunities to maximize your brand engagement with the customer, giving them more than just another product from a marketplace.
While you can’t control much of the post-purchase experience for your customers, you can still offer post-purchase support. Use the tools you have through your seller profile on marketplace sites to connect with customers, offering additional support should they need it. Use your packaging to give details on where customers can go for additional product information or customer care, taking them off the marketplace platform and onto your own store.
Marketplace customer service can often have long waiting times, and can be impersonal at times which is frustrating for customers. You also have no control over how marketplace customer service representatives deal with customers who are inquiring about your product, meaning if they deliver poor service then that may have an impact on the customer’s perception of their purchase and by proxy, your product. Directing them to your customer care team and additional resources will mean you then control their customer service experience and demonstrate how much better they’re served directly through your brand. This will then give them a more positive perception of your store and brand, and ultimately contribute to a potential repeat order as 96% of consumers globally say that customer service is a factor in their brand loyalties.
Encourage and respond to reviews on other platforms
Customers always read reviews, and often marketplaces will give them reviews right on the site itself. However we’ve already covered that marketplace searches will put your brand right beside your competitors, and therefore customers may want to do additional research.
Therefore you want to ensure that your reviews across other platforms showcase just how good your brand really is. Encourage your website customers to leave reviews on trusted sites such as Google and Trustpilot, as well as on your own store’s product pages. When a customer does leave a review, respond to it offering either thanks or additional support. Especially if there is a negative or average review, it’s important for you to follow up and show potential customers that you are proactive in supporting those customers. 77% of consumers say that they view a brand more favorably if they proactively invite and accept customer feedback, and 89% read responses to reviews.
By encouraging reviews and responding to them, you give potential marketplace customers additional reason to make a purchase. Even if they choose to do so on Amazon, it’s still a new customer who you can then work on bringing over to your site. They’ll also be more likely to shop with your brand, seeing not only positive reviews but also the level of care and engagement you give to customers.
By making the most of the customer touch points you have in your relationship with marketplace sites, you can start to foster a more personal connection with your customers who discover your brand through these platforms. This will allow you to sow the seeds of brand loyalty, and a stronger potential for moving newly acquired customers over to your own ecommerce experience.