The business landscape is looking better and better for businesses that want to sell online. Morgan Stanley predicts that the global e-commerce market could reach $5.4 trillion by 2026. If it does, that would represent a nearly 64% increase from 2022 figures—in just four years’ time.
This should make you take notice if you’re involved in e-commerce or want to be soon. It’s an enormous pie. Yet getting a slice isn’t as easy as it might seem. There are many obstacles and challenges involved with trying to gain momentum as an online seller. Perhaps the biggest of all is cutting through the noise and getting your organic and paid content seen.
It can be very difficult to work your way up to the top of search engine results. Even if your company already has a little visibility and traction, you may want to take a proven tactic to break into the mix: Move to a third-party selling strategy.
Third-party selling is exactly what it sounds like. Your company sells merchandise via a third-party site rather than on your own site. (Certainly, you can still sell on your own site, too.) The benefits can be huge, but only if you take a little time to plan your approach. Below are several tips to keep in mind.
- Study potential third-party seller sites.
Before assuming that any third-party seller is the right fit for your products, get to know what it’s like to partner with the seller. Go on a full-blown investigation, right down to making a list of pros and cons. The more educated you are upfront, the fewer surprises you’ll experience later.
For instance, say you want to get involved with Amazon. It’s a great choice, given that Amazon is the largest third-party selling platform on the planet. Unless you do a deep dive on everything from distributor costs to listings and catalogs, you can’t create a well-informed Amazon marketing strategy first draft. Or, if you can’t spare the time, hire a consultant to help you get a fast education on your top third-party sellers.
- Decide how much e-commerce control you want.
Third-party sellers can provide you with a ton of services such as warehousing and drop-shipping capabilities. However, the more services you need, the lower your profit margins are likely to go. Therefore, you’ll want to start thinking about how much control you want to keep. Even if a third-party seller promises lots of add-ons, you may still prefer to keep some processes in-house.
Let’s say you sell a boutique line of women’s clothing. It may be important for you to keep all the packaging and shipping on-site. In that case, you want your third-party to take care of nearly everything up until the fulfillment. From that point on, your team takes over.
- Upgrade all dated visual content.
Unless you have superb images of your content, set aside money for better photos. You don’t need to hire an agency or professional photographer, but make sure your products look amazing. People scroll quickly when they’re shopping digitally. You want them to be captivated by what they see.
Some third-party sellers allow you to upload both traditional images and videos. Take advantage of this opportunity. Wyzowl research from 2021 shows nearly eight out of 10 marketers have found a link between video and increased sales. Video gives you the chance to show the product in action, answer common questions, and build some branding. Nothing brings merchandise to life faster than a short but memorable marketing video.
- Ensure a third-party platform can sell your products where you want.
You can’t gain as much from e-commerce if you can’t sell to anyone, anywhere. Never assume that a third-party seller can automatically sell your product across international lines. Many companies have ended up surprised by how few places they could sell their products.
Along these lines, be sure your products are even allowed to be sold abroad. Case in point: If your product is made of wood, you may have to jump through hoops to sell it to Australian consumers. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but you have to be aware of possible hurdles.
- Factor in all the “fine print.”
E-commerce can be extraordinarily effective in ramping up your revenue streams. Unfortunately, countless companies have ended up selling millions of dollars’ worth of products online—only to see very little in terms of profit. Frequently, the underlying reason was that they failed to factor in all the “fine print” costs.
When budgeting as part of your e-commerce third-party selling strategy, always include all the obvious and hidden costs. These costs could be anything from third-party logistics to advertising. Make sure that you’re folding returns into the mix. Touting free shipping and free returns may make people buy but plenty of businesses have found out the hard way that paying for refunds can wipe out margins.
- Protect the name of your brand.
Not all companies that sell on third-party sites offer consumers branded merchandise. If you do, plan to protect your brand. Otherwise, nefarious sellers may try to besmirch your brand name through a variety of means, including posting fake negative reviews or flagging your product content. (This is another reason to work with a third-party selling consultant if you anticipate selling millions in merchandise online each year.)
Software programs can help you keep tabs on your brand across digital channels. The more you know about what’s happening with your brand, the easier it will be to shut down issues. In addition to protecting your brand, construct a brand personality and branded content guidelines. That way, everything you put online will have a sense of alignment.
- Watch your data in real time.
Watching the real-time developments of your e-commerce sales can feel a lot like watching the stock market ticker. Though you shouldn’t get too scared by dips, you should find a way to stay on top of any anomalies. Those anomalies might not be anything important, but you never know.
You don’t need to ask a team member to stay glued to digital reports. However, you should set up analytics software that can be monitored 24/7. Choose your top KPIs and track them to get a baseline. Once you have your baseline, you can note any variations quickly and, if desired, take action.
Before you think you need to turn your website into an e-commerce store, think again. Third-party sellers have done all the hard work for you. Yes, you’ll pay for their expertise and “real estate.” But with the right planning, you’ll recover your investment in the form of global sales.
Jason Streiff is president of Streiff Marketing, which has deep roots in the Amazon seller and vendor space and helps brands succeed on Amazon Retail and Amazon Marketplace.