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How To Build A Sales Channel Strategy Around Your Online Store Without Losing Customers

how-to-build-a-sales-channel-strategy-around-your-online-store-without-losing-customers

Implementing a multichannel sales channel strategy has become a requirement for every business. The strongest brands are the ones that meet customers where they already spend their time. 

These businesses offer exceptional commerce experiences and establish strong brand identities. They create resiliency by fully owning their customers and the customer experience, selling to them through an online store that they control.

Getting these elements right first will help you reach previously hard-to-access customers through different sales channels, but with the capability to maintain a strong relationship with them. 

We’ll take a deep look into the different types of sales channels and how you can set your business up to be more resilient in the long term. 

Types of sales channels

The different sales channels include: traditional and modern marketplaces, retail and wholesale, and through your own online store. All of these channels have their own pros and cons, which we’ll cover a little later on. For now, let’s get the overall options straight. 

Traditional marketplaces 

Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Walmart Marketplace, and Google Shopping are examples of traditional marketplaces. These channels feature a wide range of product offerings and, for the most part, customers search by the product they’d like to buy rather than the brand they’d like to purchase it from. While traditional marketplaces come with a preexisting customer base, these platforms require you to give up control of customer service and fulfillment speeds, and to compete on margins.

Modern marketplaces 

Modern marketplaces are content-driven platforms that enable commerce. This includes social media channels like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest. It also includes places like Spotify. One of the reasons these modern marketplaces are so successful as sales channels is because buyers are already there. Adding a Buy button allows you to meet buyers where they are. 

Retail 

The retail channel includes both permanent and pop-up shops, like a short-term rental in a mall, a booth at a craft fair, or a stall at a local farmers market. Retail channels provide the opportunity for you to build relationships with your customers in person and get real-time feedback. Retail is a powerful piece of the modern commerce playbook. 

Wholesale 

Wholesale involves selling your products to other businesses who then retail them. Some businesses choose to make wholesale their only sales channel; others use wholesaling as one leg of an omnichannel sales strategy. Wholesale is a great way to move a lot of inventory at once. 

The power of multiple sales channels 

A single sales channel limits your ability to engage with your customers on different mediums—and assumes they don’t like shopping anywhere else.

Adam, owner and founder of The Poster List, a poster, t-shirt, and sticker shop based in Long Beach, California, uses wholesale, in-person shows, and internet sales as the main three channels for his business. 

A turquoise poster with waffles on it

The Poster List focuses on three main sales channels: wholesale, in person shows, and its ecommerce shop. The Poster List 

Since starting the business in 2006, Adam found that some channels boom while others dip, an unpredictable ebb and flow influenced by outside factors like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Starting out, shows were definitely the majority of where the money was coming from and then, 2010 through 2015, it flipped and it became more wholesale,” says Adam. “In 2016, 2017, the apparel space got soft at retail and so we started doing shows again.” By building out multiple sales channels, The Poster List was able to adapt quickly to the changes happening in the larger market. Meeting your customers at the channels relevant to your brand helps you build a more resilient business.

A row of different colored bandanas
The founders of bandana shop Abracadana use both their Etsy shop and ecommerce site as sales channels. Abracadana 

 Using multiple sales channels is a common strategy shared by many entrepreneurs. Mary, co-founder and owner of Maryink/Abracadana, a shop selling screen-printed bandanas, agrees. 

“It’s good to have a couple of venues for selling,” she says. “Sometimes I feel like one is pulling me, like Etsy is pulling me away from Shopify, or if I’m working on updating Shopify, I’m not paying attention to Etsy. And I think that’s OK. You can cycle it. But try a couple of channels to see what works. You can’t have all of your eggs in one basket, that’s for sure.” 

Starting out with an ecommerce site first allows you to establish your brand, find footing as you develop your products, and set up a mission control center before you accelerate your success through other third-party sales channels.

Overall, all of your sales channels should work together, and inform and support each other. For example, you might do the bulk of your business on your ecommerce website, but run flash sales to get rid of excess inventory on Instagram Stories. Or, you might make a lot of sales on a traditional marketplace but plug it into your online store to track and fulfill orders. That’s why it’s essential to set up an ecommerce site as the “mission control” of your business. 

Using your ecommerce site as mission control 

All of the different sales channels organized by type, surrounding and connecting to your Shopify ecommerce store

You can think of each sales channel as a bolt with a different type of head. As you build your business, you might be tempted to craft one type of screwdriver to unlock one specific sales channel. But that’s only going to get you so far. 

Do you want to build a screwdriver or do you want to build a universal screwdriver? An ecommerce site like Shopify is the universal option, where you can remove and put in whatever kind of bit you need to unlock each channel individually. 

Starting out with an ecommerce site first allows you to establish your brand, find footing as you develop your products, and set up a mission control center before you accelerate your success through other third-party sales channels.

If you’re already using another type of sales channel to sell, like a traditional marketplace or social media, here’s why it might benefit you to set up an online store as well. 

1. Ease of use

Setting up and managing your online store on Shopify is less complex than using any one sales channel exclusively. Shopify lets you get up and running quickly, create and customize your site without any coding skills required, and allows integrations with many different sales channels. It’s also a great way to manage your orders and data in one central place, which will keep you organized. 

With Shopify, setting up pathways to additional sales channels is quick and easy—just navigate to the dashboard for your store and hit the plus sign next to Sales Channels. Then, select the sales channel you’d like to add. Don’t see it on the list? Visit our app store for more options. 

A screenshot illustrating that you should first select the green button next to the sales channel you'd like to add

Once you hit the plus button, you’ll see this screen, where you can confirm adding the channel. And then you’re off to the races. 

A screenshot illustrating that the second step is to select the button add sales channel

Tip: Shopify supports traditional marketplaces like Walmart Marketplace, eBay, and Google. That integration can help you do things like sync your products, inventory, and orders, or find new customers. 

As you get started, especially if you’re still developing your product, it can be easier to build your business on an ecommerce site first and plug into different sales channels once you’re ready to grow your business. 

The biggest barrier to entry for traditional marketplaces in particular is that they require high-quality and accurate product information upfront, even if you’re still developing and iterating on your product. For example, to even be approved to sell on a marketplace, you need to provide detailed information about your products. This includes unique product identifiers like SKU or ISBN numbers.

2. Building within a siloed ecosystem 

Customers follow trends, both in regards to what products they buy and which platforms they purchase from. Third-party platforms are susceptible to these shifts: policies change, algorithms shift, and users move on. Because you can’t control these changes, it’s best not to over-rely on one platform to make sales. 

Say you’ve created a business selling solely via Instagram Stories. If user sentiment changes and your customers move over to TikTok, you’re faced with a fundamental business risk in which you’ve built your business within a siloed ecosystem. 

That’s just one example—customer behavior can shift gradually, flow back and forth seasonally, or switch overnight. Events can influence it as well. 

The Poster List team experienced this type of shift during and after they hosted a booth at an in-person show in San Jose. 

“The orders that we got Friday and through the weekend and Monday were insane, and we did zero advertising for it,” says Adam, the shop’s owner. “And a lot of those orders were people within the general vicinity of San Jose.” 

These customers may not have been ready to purchase while they were at the event, wanted to browse inventory more online, or needed a size or color that was out of stock. The Poster List’s online store allowed the business to make sales once its customers were ready to make a purchase. If The Poster List didn’t have an online headquarters, it would have missed out on all of those sales.

Shopify lets you set up different entry points to your business via sales channels, but all roads lead home to your Shopify headquarters. You maintain reach and ownership, which means you can sell to your target audience on whatever platform, channel, or marketplace they’re on. 

A white t-shirt with an image of a shark eating a tropical island
The Poster List captures sales on its online shop during and after in-person shows, allowing it to maximize the amount of sales it can make online and in person during those weekends. The Poster List 

3. Seller restrictions 

When you sell through traditional marketplaces, those channels control branding and how you upload products, and they own the customer and your interactions with them. Customers will associate more with the product and the marketplace rather than with your brand, so it can be difficult to differentiate yourself from other shops that sell similar or the same products as you.

These marketplaces are built with buyers and sellers in mind. As a seller, you get a destination that buyers naturally want to visit, but you give up ownership over a lot of decisions. A marketplace might make decisions based on their average seller, or to improve the experience for buyers (at the expense of sellers), and you’re signing up for that in exchange for access to their audience.

Different marketplaces also attract different types of buyers. Not all products are a fit for Etsy, Walmart, or Amazon, given the type of buyer these platforms have attracted over time.

Overall, your relationship with a traditional marketplace is one of tradeoffs. You might acquire a built-in customer base, but risk losing your identity as a brand if you don’t build your own online presence before diving in. 

4 black and white patterned bandanas hang against a wooden wall
Maryink’s founders created a separate ecommerce store from their Etsy shop called Abracadana in order to establish a brand. Abracadana

4. Building a brand story 

While you can build a compelling brand on a social media platform or at a retail location, it’s not something you can do effectively on a traditional marketplace.

Maryink’s founder, Mary, built a separate Shopify store in order to differentiate and establish a new brand. “I wanted to break out of Maryink and develop a new brand that’s still associated with Maryink, but that brings about the imagery of a bandana,” Mary says. “So we came up with Abracadana, because we think bandanas are magical. They’re so simple and you can do so many things with them. We broke off and started our Shopify site because you can do a lot more with the design, and that was important to us.” 

Your owned website is a blank canvas to help fully realize your brand. In a marketplace, your brand has to fit within the provided requirements. You’re limited in how you can express your brand—which makes it significantly harder to leave a lasting impression.

Meeting buyers where they are with modern marketplaces

Modern marketplaces are content-driven sites with commerce functionality. These sites capture attention via content, but with Shopify you capitalize on that attention by providing a fluid commerce experience. As people discover content that features a product they like, it’s quick and easy to make the purchase within the platform, rather than having to hunt for the item or reach out to the content creator. On these channels, the place where people go for entertainment also becomes the place they make purchases. 

Data from this year’s Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) shows that the number of sales generated by social media integrations almost tripled in 2021 compared to 2020. The data suggests that customers prefer to make purchases within social media platforms. This could mean that the checkout experience is improving and customers are becoming more comfortable making purchases on these platforms.

An Instagram story shows a compass sticker in front of a cactus. Next to it shows the sticker available for purchase within Instagram
Integrating with the Instagram sales channels allows you to create shoppable posts. Here, The Poster List shares one of the stickers it has for sale. Instagram

On Instagram, for example, you can make posts and Stories shoppable. If a customer sees an item they like, all they have to do is tap the shopping bag symbol next to it. They’ll be directed to another page where they can see other images of the item and its price, and can tap a link to view it on your Shopify store and check out. That means an “Outfit of the Day” post on Instagram becomes instantly shoppable, or a vase used in a living room redesign is easy to add to your cart. 

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Customers experience products differently when they discover them on these marketplaces. They see them in context, rather than against a plain white background while scrolling through an online store. These are rich shopping experiences where both you and your customers benefit if they don’t have to come back later and remember a URL to get the item they want.

Spotify, the music streaming service, is another modern marketplace that’s transforming into an ecommerce platform. Now, listeners can scroll down to the bottom of a band’s profile to see offers and preorder albums or purchase vinyl records and merch. 

A screenshot of the Spotify platform showing the Jamestown Revival band page with merch for sale and concert dates
Spotify

For example, you can check out Jamestown Revival’s tour schedule and pre-order their newest album to get ready for an upcoming show.  

A screenshot of the Spotify platform shows a vinyl Jamestown Revival record for purchase
Spotify

Overall, setting up your business headquarters on Shopify will allow you to link your shop easily with all of these platforms, creating a better purchase experience for both you and your customers.

✨ Resources

Which sales channels are right for you?

Determining which sales channels are right for your business depends on quite a few factors. To get started, sit down and answer the following questions: 

  • What is your business model?
  • What are your overall business goals? 
  • What kind of payment processing system do you use?
  • What do your cash flow and revenue cycle look like? 
  • Who is your target audience, and where do they like to shop? 
  • How are you positioning your brand and products in the market? 
  • What types of products do you sell? 
  • What’s your social media presence like? Do you have a following? 

Once you pull together the answers to these questions, start testing out the different channels you think will work best for your business. 

Building a resilient business

By creating a headquarters for your business on an online store, you set yourself up for success in a few ways. You’ll be able to develop a unique brand and maintain ownership of your customers and your data.

Your sales channels help your brand reach customers in the places where they already spend their time and attention. With Shopify, commerce on these platforms can be more seamless, which is good for your customers. Plus, they’re integrated with your online store so you maintain access to order data, customer relationships, and your brand identity. 

Customer needs, marketplaces, social media, and the greater commerce market is constantly changing. Building a centralized ecommerce shop will allow you to be a more resilient business long term.

Sales channels FAQ

What is a sales channel?

A sales channel is the avenue through which you reach and sell to customers.

What is an example of a sales channel?

Amazon, Instagram, and an online ecommerce store are examples of sales channels. Amazon is considered a traditional marketplace, while Instagram is a modern marketplace. 

What are the most common sales channels?

The most common sales channels are: 

  • Online store
  • Traditional online marketplaces 
  • Social media 
  • Retail (both temporary and permanent) 
  • Wholesale

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Hero illustration by Mitch Blunt

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.

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