Ecommerce Channels: The Basics All E-Retailers Must Know

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December 30, 2020
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Ecommerce Channels: What They Are and How to Choose Them
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Knowing where and how to promote your products is paramount in ecommerce. When choosing which (and how many) ecommerce channels are the best for your online business, it’s wise to check some trends in customers’ behavior:

What are all these numbers about? Your target audience behavior may help you determine which ecommerce channel will work best for your online business.

But before we dive into a channel strategy, it’s important to understand what are ecommerce channels, what is the difference between sales and marketing channels, and why combining them may be the best idea for the development of your online business.

What are Ecommerce Channels?

Ecommerce channels refer to all online platforms and means through which you advertise and sell your product. These channels may include any website you’re selling and marketing your product through: 

  • websites built on headless ecommerce platforms, like Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify;
  • online marketplaces, like eBay or Amazon; 
  • social media networks, like Facebook or Instagram; 
  • retargeting methods, like Google Ads; 
  • mobile websites and application;
  • email and messaging platforms

…and any other sales and marketing activities a business may use! Basically, ecommerce channels are leveraging and expanding the sales and marketing possibilities of a business through digital means.

Marketing vs Sales: Are They the Same Ecommerce Channels?

Marketing and sales channels are not exactly the same since they serve different purposes. Marketing channels are there to get the customers’ eyes on your product, while sales channels mostly refer to the platforms where the purchase is made. They can overlap in functions on certain platforms, though; for instance, Amazon allows a vendor to sell an item and advertise it at the same time. 

Marketing Ecommerce Channels

Marketing channels for ecommerce are concerned with driving top-of-funnel traffic to your business that will later convert in customers and sales. They are not about building a website but rather about the actions you’re taking to build customer awareness and drive sales. 

Here are a few best marketing channels for you to consider in your ecommerce marketing plan.

PPC

With Pay-per-Click advertising (aka PPC), you pay an advertising brand to post your ad and receive revenue each time a user clicks on it. Google Ads is the most popular PPC channel, although Microsoft Ads and Amazon Advertising do not lag behind in terms of their marketing efficiency.

Example of PPC advertising when searching for 'solar panels'
Example of PPC advertising.

PPC is a popular way of retargeting or remarketing. Google Ads, in particular, offers several plans for the users to see your ads:

  • Paid Search: your ads appear on top of your search engine results.
  • Display Ads: your ads will be displayed based on the user’s recent search history and appear as banners on popular websites, in apps, and in games.
  • Product Listing Ads: your products appear within the search engine results.

PPC advertising comes at a price (it’s never free of charge) but is one of the most effective marketing channels for ecommerce. PPC visitors are 50% more likely to purchase a product and 80% more likely to remember your brand and interact than organic visitors. 

In short, PPC is good for generating instant results and generating visitors more quickly than any other marketing channel.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) refers to some best practices of managing a website and honestly earning a ranking in a search engine.

You don’t need to pay to maintain your website SEO-healthy; just build backlinks, conduct keyword search, and deliver quality content. You may hire a specialist too to take care of the technical part of SEO, like speeding up the loading of your website and optimizing your product images.

As various ecommerce platforms offer different SEO functionality, your choice of the platform will affect your marketing strategy. Why SEO is crucial for an online business and why Magento is one of the best platforms for eCommerce SEO – read more in our related article:
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What Is The Best Ecommerce Platform For SEO?

SEO marketing channels are mostly used to drive organic traffic to your store. They may not worth you a penny but will generate more leads and build trust with your future customer. After all, 86% of web searchers trust organic SEO listings more than sponsored/paid PPC listings. 

SEO marketing is much slower than PPC, but who said that you should limit yourself to one channel only? Combine SEO with PPC and develop the SEM campaign to the envy of your competitors.

SMM

SMM (aka social media marketing) is all about engaging with customers, creating brand awareness, and reaching out to new customers on social networks.

Popular social networks offer built-in tools for your ad campaigns. Facebook Dynamic Ads allows you to upload your product catalog. The system will automatically show it to the users who have ever expressed interest in your website – both on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet. Meanwhile, Pinterest Business focuses on visual-first formats automatically targeting the potential customers and reaching people based on the topics they like.

SMM is loved by marketers for being practical and effective. It can be both paid and free – depending on the purpose you’re pursuing – and helps to reach more customers.

Top social media platforms for advertising
Source: Visiture.

PPC, SEO, and SMM form an integral part of any marketing plan. Check our article on Ecommerce Marketing Costs — Creating a Budget From Scratch to see how to manage these marketing costs. 

Ecommerce Sales Channels

Ecommerce channels for ecommerce mostly have to do with platforms and websites through which you sell your products. They include but are not limited to the following.

Marketplaces

Marketplaces can be general (like Amazon or Alibaba) or auction (like eBay). Having started your online store on a marketplace, you get access to a large audience and gain credibility for your products. You also don’t have to think about the promotion of your items. For instance, Amazon’s algorithms recognize when your product converts well. The system starts recommending it to other users with similar purchases and places your product in ‘frequently bought together’ sections on other product pages.

The benefits come at the expense of the uniqueness of your brand. Because the platform restricts you from branding your online store, there’s little chance you’ll stand out from the crowd of your competitors. In the end, all products preserve the look and feel of Amazon, so even your most loyal customers will hardly identify your brand. 

Social Networks

As mentioned before, social media serve as a great platform for SMM campaigns and have much potential for selling products. As of April 2020, 37% of U.S. internet users between the ages of 18 to 34 years reported they had purchased something via social media before but did not do so regularly.

Indeed, social networks have made both shopping and starting an online store easy. Take Facebook, for instance: you can set up a Facebook Shop listing your items in a catalog; or sell on Marketplace along with other brands in your category; or only have a public page leading the users to your brand website.

The only drawback of social media sales channel is that it mostly works for small businesses. So if you plan to scale your business in the future, better choose social media as a secondary ecommerce sales channel.

Comparison Shopping Engines

Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) help to compare the items of different retailors selling in the same category. Over 40% of online shoppers use CSEs, which makes it a far-reaching ecommerce sales channel. With Google Shopping, you’ll see the average product price when your ad is shown, the benchmark product price, and the benchmark product price difference. Other CSEs following the same principle of work are Shopzilla, Bing Shopping, and Pricegrabber.

Example of a Comparison Shopping Engines – Google Shopping
Example of a CSE – Google Shopping.

Mind that if you’re selling luxury items and targeting high-end customers, CSEs will not be the best ecommerce channel for you. CSEs have been and will always remain the main channel for cost-conscious customers attracted by the price rather than the quality.

Online Store

A brand website is a perfect customizable ecommerce sales channel. With your own online store, you’re taking full control of the customers’ purchasing journey and can personalize your product listings for them or market directly via emails. You also get to show the uniqueness of your brand and enhance your online store with a blog, imaginative navigation, or dynamic pricing. 

Despite the rise of out-of-the-box ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce, you’ll still need to hire a team of developers to set up your own e-store. The costs of settling your own store may be the only disadvantage of this ecommerce channel as they may rise depending on the size of your project and your own whims.

The Dilemma of Multichannel vs Cross-Channel vs Omnichannel

With the pros and cons of different ecommerce channels, you can’t rely on a single channel to grow your sales and expand your market share. 

There are three types of channel marketing strategies:

Multichannel ecommerce revolves around selling and marketing a product on many channels, which operate separately from one another. You develop relationships with different customers on different platforms.

Example #1: Apple maintains consistent visual style and language but sends different messages on the company’s website, in apps and emails, and on social media.

Cross-channel ecommerce also revolves around many digital channels but, unlike in multichannel retail, they “communicate” and read the customers’ data from one another. You can pick up your marketing campaign on another channel from the exact point where it stopped on the first channel. 

Example #2: to mark Valentine’s Day 2017, the French brand Nina Ricci announced a #MyBestValentine social media contest, which was followed by a photo submission to their website and email follow-ups with the winners.

Omnichannel ecommerce is centered on multiple channels which interact and create a single unified customer experience. Omnichannel removes the boundaries between ecommerce channels – websites, emails, retargeted ads all read one another’s data and personalize customers’ experience with a brand.

Example #3: Starbucks introduced a mobile app which allows placing an order, paying for it online and picking it up in store. Similarly, Sephora allowed the users to scan their products in store and create their personal Beauty Bag accounts, which eventually led to a 100% increase in their online purchases.

Comparison of multi-channel, cross channel and omnichannel marketing
Source: Moengage.

It’s worth mentioning that omnichannel may become the new normal quite soon. The key lies in personalization. On the one hand, businesses harness customers’ data across multiple devices and platforms, thus, refining one’s shopping experience. On the other hand, customers themselves are willing to join bigger projects and will be happy to become your brand advocate as long as you interact with them on multiple channels. 

The point is not in going online because ecommerce channels are more effective than brick-and-mortar stores. Successful businesses must be able to operate in both worlds. In the words of Heikki Väänänen, the founder of HappyOrNot,

The future of retail isn’t physical vs online; it’s omnichannel”.

How Do I Decide On an Ecommerce Channel?

The truth is that the world is heading to omnichannel ecommerce. World-known brands strive to deliver integrated seamless user experience across as many platforms as possible.

But don’t worry if you’re only starting to sell online. As a small business, you might first take advantage of social media channels and promote your products with paid Instagram/Facebook ad campaigns. Or launch your own website and add a social network page later to generate more organic traffic to your website. Any ecommerce channel will work as long as it fulfills your business mission and doesn’t conflict with other platforms on which you market your product.

If you’re far ahead into your online business and really look forward to creating an omnichannel strategy for your brand, check out our article on headless ecommerce platforms that will allow you to get your products seen on multiple channels.
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Headless Ecommerce Platforms in 2021 – the Ultimate Guide

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