Multi-Channel Marketing May be The Single Most Important Factor to Small Business Online
A Beginners Guide to Multi Channel Marketing from a Beginners Perspective
I started my first website in 2001. Things have changed a lot since then and they formula to marketing your small business online have to change too. As small business owners, we must continue to work within the system via Search Engine Optimization and Pay per Click, but competing with larger national competitors for front page space on the search engines is becoming more and more difficult. We have been utilizing Multi Channel Marketing such as Amazon for some time. Over the last few months, we have found some ways to make our efforts more effective. I’m no expert at Multi Channel marketing. These are just my experiences from some recent changes, while they are still fresh in our mind.
We tried ‘going it alone’ and our efforts were mostly limited to one or two sites. We had used multiple shopping cart integrations and programs, all geared at making the process ‘simple’. What we discovered is there is no simple way. If you patch all the information through from your cart, and you manage to make it work, you are placing duplicate content throughout the web and damaging the value of the content you have on your site. This is not to say the information from your cart is useless, but if you are planning on just linking your cart via a third party solution to the marketing channel of your choice, you are in for a very rude awakening. Ultimately, we decided to go with Channel Advisor for our Multi-Channel marketing. The transition was incredibly frustrating and what it comes down to is expectations, defining our needs up front, and from time to time being a little pushy about the help you need. Going through the process of being on Multi Channels will be difficult and there are days you will just want to pull the plug. But, the revenue stream is well worth it, and the fact of the matter is it forces you to do things you should be doing anyway. The purpose of this article is to get you as a business owner through the process with the right expectations, as few frustrations as possible and hopefully spending a little less money than you have to.
Before you consider a Multi-Channel campaign, these there are some things that you need to consider.
- You are going to spend 12-15% or perhaps more on referral fees. Some platforms also have monthly and per listing fees. Our internal math would say that this lines up very well with typical Google CPA combined with credit card fees.
- You will need to have a 30 Day return policy
- Feedback is king. Like you should do on your own site, you have to make the customer happy or your feedback will suffer and your sales will suffer.
- You need to have a grasp on your handling time. You will be graded on how quickly you get your orders out. We have some products that have a habit of going on backorder and we do not list them via multi-channel.
- Both the websites and customers are hesitant to trust you at first. Building Multi Channel sales take time.
- You have to be price competitive. Frankly, most often you need to be the cheapest.
The Next Step
Before you develop a plan with Channel Advisor, or whatever services you decide to use to integrate you need to make a couple of decisions. One of the first decisions we had to make was which platforms we were going to market our product. For us, that decision was easy. We started with Amazon, eBay, rakuten.com (buy.com) and Sears. Frankly, this decision was made before we ever decided to use Channel Advisor. Amazon and eBay were relatively easy to work with. Sears has been a lot of effort, but those efforts are paying off. eBay is perhaps the most difficult because they limit how much you can sell. If you are going to move forward, stop reading this article, go open an eBay account, list a handful of products manually and request a limit increase. Then come back.
Assuming you do not have active accounts with the companies now, it’s a good time to start contacting them. The main purpose for the initial contacts is to (a) get their category tree because you will need that and (b) start setting up your basic profile online. Before proceeding past this point, it is very helpful if you know where you are going to list your products in each platform. For example in Sears, most of our products are listed in a category number 3137. Amazon’s category codes are less cryptic. We use Home Improvement. For eBay we use two categories, separated by a ‘,’ 20604,300. For eBay, we have also defined our own ‘eBay Stores’ categories.
Depending on what you sell and where you sell it, determining the category or categories you will be listed under can be time consuming. The only place to get the information is directly from the channel you are considering. If you plan on using variations, one important consideration is finding a category that supports them.
Important Note for those with Existing Accounts:
Our SKU’s were not consistent from platform to platform which made integrations with Amazon slightly more difficult. If you decide to use your existing Amazon SKU you need to be careful to use it exactly with the ASIN and UPC code.
We decided to take the opportunity to create new SKUs and keep them consistent. We came up with a nomenclature that we have kept consistent. Typically it’s just the manufacturer’s part number. In the case variations, we use the base part # for the Parent and the full part number for the child. I WOULD USE VARIATIONS WHEREVER POSSIBLE.
Variation Note: We are trying to get in the habit of using the beauty shot image for the main SKU and then using the beauty shot image as the first image for the variation and the ‘color shot’ as the second image. This makes it easier when it comes time to map the images. With help from Channel Advisor we have the beauty shot show up as our main image and the customer physically clicks on the color to select it. This may not seem important but it is imperative to the success of a variation.
What Inventory to Sell: Be careful what inventory to choose to sell. We will not sell a product via Multi Channel Marketing unless the product has a perfect track record for inventory and customer satisfaction. We also take advantage of Fulfillment by Amazon services in cases where it costs us less to have them ship it then if we ship it ourselves. Our buy box percentages double.
Starting a Spreadsheet
Each platform has their own criteria so it is important to find the least common denominator, or what will make everyone happy. The better your inventory feed, the less time you spend getting help on the feed and the more time you spend learning the system of whoever it is you decide to use. There are a lot more fields you can use, but these are the ones we USE
Auction Title This is the name of the product itself. Try and keep it under 80 characters. Use keywords and be specific.
Inventory Number: This is your SKU.
Quantity Update Type: When you upload inventory does it add the number to the existing inventory or is that the current inventory number. We use Absolute
Quantity : The amount you tell the channels you have available
Weight: The Weight of the item
UPC: 12 Digit UPC Code. Note, in excel select the column (except header row), go to formatting >> custom >> and type 000000000000
ASIN: Directly from Amazon if you have existing listings
MPN: IMPORTANT: Use the actual part number from the manufacturer
Short Description: Keyword rich description of what the product is. We are trying to keep it under 2000 characters
Description: More in depth description. Use <BR><BR> to separate paragraphs
Manufacturer: Who makes the product
Brand: What Brand Name do you sell it under
Condition: We use New. Used is also an option
Warranty: Type a basic warranty description such as 5 Year Limited
Seller Cost: What the item costs you. Since we have free shipping we sometimes inflate this number to cover shipping costs. This is important for repricer features
Buy It Now Price: How much you want to sell it for
Retail Price: MSRP
Picture URL: The fully qualified address of a picture of the product on your website. Tips: Make sure it is at least 1000 pixels on at least one side. Create a directory for these images with a sub directory by manufacturer. For example /product/ca/blt/rib.jpg Product is the main directory. CA is for Channel Advisor. BLT is the manufacturer and rib is the product name. Use a ‘,’ between multiple images and see our variation note above
Relationship Name: We define these names in Channel Advisor. We keep them simple. For example ColorSize means it will vary by color and size. Size means it will vary by size and color means it will vary by color. You only use this with variations
Variation Parent SKU: If it’s a variation, for the Parent SKU we enter Parent. For the child SKU we enter the SKU assigned to the parent. So let’s say we have a shirt that comes in sizes and the main SKU is shirt. For Shirt-XL the parent SKU would be shirt.
Those are the main column headers. If you are listing on eBay add columns for Ad Template NamePosting Template Name , Schedule Name, Bay Category List, eBay Store Category Name and you can discuss what to but in there with your eBay launch manager or account rep.
Now the problem is there is other information you need to get into Channel Advisor or the company of your preference. Speaking for how we do things within Channel Advisor, we have Column headers like this:
Attribute1Name: Size This is for our variations
Attribute1Value: 5×10 This is the actual size for that specific SKU
Attribute2Name: Color. This is for our variations
Attribute2Value: Black This is for our variations
In the example above I have an item that is going to vary by size and color. If it was only size I would leave the second set blank. Your ParentSKu ties it all together so the customer gets a list of colors and sizes that are available.
Attribute3Value: US . Where it’s made
Attribute4Value: 3137 Category number we got from sears
Attribute5Value: 3. Number of days until it leaves to plant
Attribute6Value: Bullet points about the product. We separated by a | and used business rules to map out to Amazon.
Attribute10Value: Home Improvement. Where we want to be listed in Amazon
As you find additional information you need you can add it there. For example we are going to add one for web_url for the URL where the item can be purchased on our site and web_price with our price. We could call those Attribute11 and 12
Now it’s time to contact a salesperson with Channel Advisor or the Multi-Channel method of your choice. By doing it this way you reduce the amount of time you are paying for and not seeing any returns. You are all but ready to upload your inventory.
Channel Advisor Specifics
When you contact Channel Advisor, you are better off if you know what you want. Let them make the first offer and then negotiate from there. If I was contacting Channel Advisor today, I would ask for the following:
- 1 Year contract with 6 month Opt Out
- Product Launch (additional fee) on Amazon, eBay, New Egg (if applicable), Sears and Google Shopping. I left Google shopping off and I wish I hadn’t
- In conjunction with first launch, extensive hands on training on business rules. Do not overlook business rules. VERY IMPORTANT. Ask that they commit to writing the first 5 business rules for you.
- State that you have already compiled your spreadsheet and that you would like a commitment that prior to even your first upload each launch manager will review and see if any additional fields need added.
- State that you want one person overseeing the launch process as a whole to make sure settings do not conflict from market to market. Use inventory juggler as a suggestion.
- A trick for the Amazon Repricer. We have some products that have MAP pricing, but there are still cases where we want to use the repricer. The true manufacturer cost is not consistent with the MAP price. If you set your rules on a percentage you risk going under map. We reset our cost on items with map to .7 of the Map price. Then in repricer we can set the rule to never go below 30%
Channel Advisor, again, as an example was not cheap. It scared the daylights out of me as a small business owner. If you decide to go it alone or to use someone else, creating a single spreadsheet from which you map everything else is still beneficial.
That said, if you would have asked be day 30 I would have told you that I could not wait until month 6 to cancel. Now, and if I had known then what I knew now, the story is very different. The system started paying for itself about 2 months in and is now an asset to the company. There are still a lot of kinks to work out. Especially with Sears, but Multi Channel marketing is easily the quickest return on investment for garageflooringllc.com I have seen.
Had I known then what Column headers to use, what to ask for and some of the little tricks I mentioned above, the whole process would have been a lot less frustrating. The biggest key is making sure your spreadsheet covers all the bases up front.
About the Author:
Justin Krauss has been in the eCommerce field since 2001 and is the Co-Founder and President of Garage Flooring LLC.