Online Channels to Market

In the third in a series of e-commerce articles, John Debrincat talks about the different online sites you need to consider to maximise your sales

We are increasingly seeing the development of portals—online comparison shopping and online marketplaces in the Australian and New Zealand markets. This is not a new trend but one that started some time ago in Europe and North America.

Portals like Amazon and eBay have become huge multi-billion dollar businesses that attract all types of merchants with nearly anything for sale. Curiously Australia lags behind Europe and the US in the development and availability of these types of marketplaces so the trend is relatively new here.

So what place do portals have in an e-commerce strategy? According to IBM’s latest e-business study, 85 percent of businesses that adopt an e-commerce strategy do so to take up new market trends.

So going out and creating a website to represent and sell your products is a starting point. To be successful you need to define the channels that will work for you and implement those channels. Some channels to market include:

• your own physical shop that sells your products;

• an online shop that you run to sell your products;

• online markets like Amazon or Ferrit (www.ferrit.co.nz);

• eBay and other auction sites like Grays Online (www.graysonline.com.au);

• comparison shopping engines like Shopferret (www.shopferret.com.au), Getprice (www.getprice.com.au) or shopping.com (http://au.shopping.com): or

• a combination of all of these

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Research by Nielsen has found that when consumers go looking for products 79 percent search in the major search engines and price comparison engines first. So you vastly improve the opportunity of being found if you list in multiple portals.

Importantly, the shopping comparison sites are far more likely to rank highly in a search due to the nature of what they do and how they market.

Today the method of shopping research has changed dramatically. No longer will consumers walk from store to store and talk to the sales representatives. This is not to say consumers won’t go to the physical mall or store but by the time they do the decision to buy has often been made. Online shopping comparison allows consumers to search a greater range of providers across a greater geographical area. It can also happen any time of the day. Modern business trends put more pressure on the available time for personal activities and as a result consumers use any means to get back some of that time. Many consumers also throw out their telephone books and use the internet as a fast and convenient method of locating goods, services and their providers.

Owners of physical stores often miss the point of a e-store. More often consumers will use online search and may not come to the store, but then again they may. If you have an online presence that is a sales window to your physical store, you open a new channel and new opportunities.

So do you need to list all your products on these marketplaces? In general the key comparison engines provide a very easy mechanism to provide product feed from your website. There are some organisations that use crawlers or spiders, there are automated systems that search your site and build up a product feed. Mostly the crawlers work but there are some that cause major problems by blocking your website to other visitors. Your hosting company may block these automated systems completely. If you are in doubt you should ask your hosting provider before signing up to such a program.

Shopping portals (marketplaces) and comparison engines have different costs associated with them. Some will charge a fee for each product listed, some charge a cost-per-click while others might charge a commission on the sale of your product. You need to look at the terms and conditions closely so that you are not locked in, and track the results using a good web analytics system like etracker (www.etracker.com) or, at the free end, Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics/).

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The price comparison engines go part of the way to fulfilling consumer needs. The next levels are the marketplaces which have products from multiple sources, many categories and a shopping cart where you can buy products and pay online.

When selling online (or off line for that matter) you have to understand the demographic that you are selling to and how best to attract them to your website and have them buy. Multi-channel strategies allow you to do just that. By presenting your products in different portals you can get to different demographics in the very best ways.

Virtual Worlds like Second Life (www.secondlife.com) are becoming a new channel for the Gen-Y and a new challenge for merchants. Businesses are now starting to open virtual stores and marketplaces in the virtual worlds. These virtual communities have a real economy and are now starting to allow their inhabitants to browse virtual stores to buy real products. Yes, it is early days, but you must remember that the pace of change is rapid, so more on virtual worlds and Web 2.0 in the next article.

 

* John Debrincat is CEO of eCorner, www.ecorner.com.au

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of DYNAMICBUSINESS.com or the publishers.

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