From brick-and-mortar stores to the latest social media platform, the world of sales channels is wide and ever-changing. For some business owners, it can also be overwhelming. But your sales channels are your paths to customers, and they’re your customers’ way of engaging with you, so it’s important to find what works best for your business.
In the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer spending behaviours have shifted. Consumer insights from Square’s Future of Retail report suggest that Australian shoppers – especially among younger Gen Zs – value personalisation from retailers and expect seamless omnichannel experiences as they shop more regularly online.
Harnessing such trends, and getting your mix of sales channels right, is crucial for the success of any business. Here, we unpack some of the most common sales channels businesses use today.
The channel customers are most familiar with is the traditional brick-and-mortar store. Physical stores allow customers to browse products in one location and get a sensory experience with those products to help them make purchasing decisions. Importantly, a shopkeeper, business owner or product specialist is usually on hand to provide guidance and answer questions.
Traditionally, this has been a baseline channel for many businesses; while online sales are growing in popularity, physical stores are still the shopping channel of choice for most consumers. There are, however, many costs and other challenges associated with brick-and-mortar stores, including rent or property purchase costs, public safety and insurance costs, regulations and laws to adhere to, and rates, bills and other overheads.
In this day and age, eCommerce is a vital ingredient for most businesses. And with good reason. Australia Post research shows that more than 80% of Australian households bought something online in 2021. Ecommerce provides a growing opportunity for businesses starting out on their journeys, or those that are more established. For business operators, the biggest challenge can be understanding all the channels on offer and which is most relevant, their nuances and the trade-offs between mastering their use (meaning an investment in time) and outsourcing their management (an investment in money). Your business’s eCommerce landscape might include:
While there are alternative models (keep reading!), a website remains a key component of many successful businesses’ mix of online sales channels. A website allows you to reach customers globally, 24/7. Your website can also integrate with your other sales channels, with links to social media platforms or information about brick-and-mortar stores; it serves as a springboard to your other channels. It’s important your website is functional, visually appealing and updated when needed. With Square Online, you can launch a mobile-ready online store in just minutes.
Square Online accepts and manages orders, both online and in-store from social and mobile showroom to stockroom, for today and tomorrow.
While the printed trading post and classifieds in the newspaper might have declined in their reach, their concept is thriving online – and sales are booming! Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace and Alibaba are some of the most popular online marketplaces businesses use to sell their products. But depending on what you’re selling, you might go with a more niche marketplace, where you can sell anything from cars to musical instruments or plants. These platforms potentially expose your business to a wide audience, but there are often fees associated with using them. You may also lose an element of control of your brand, instead relying on the brand and reputation of the marketplace.
From Instagram to Facebook, TikTok to LinkedIn, there is a social media platform for every demographic. According to one study, there are more than 20 million active social media users in Australia. That’s a lot of potential customers! And the addition of in-app shopping has been a game-changer for many businesses.
But there’s also a lot for you to consider to ensure you’re using social media to its full potential. Depending on the platform, your business might need to invest in digital advertising, videos, audio, thought leadership articles or working with an influencer to sell your product or service.
Social media can be incredibly effective, allowing businesses to target an audience as wide or as niche as they choose in formats that encourage customer engagement. But be warned: trends can change quickly, so your business strategy across your channels will need to be nimble as you and your customers ride the changes together.
Mobile apps allow customers to shop, bank and pay bills from their phone. These sales have seen a huge increase in use over recent years as brands invest in dedicated mobile apps to allow them to target information at their customers and directly engage through push notifications on customers’ smartphones. Mobile shopping has grown over recent years and, according to one study, will be worth more than half a trillion US dollars by 2024.
If you’re looking to sell goods and services online, the eCommerce world is wide. With Square’s eCommerce platform, Square Online, your business can manage sales from across your channels with ease.
Some businesses use printed catalogues or other collateral to promote their products and services. These are different to advertisements and might be mailed to homes or available for customers to take home from stores. Often, catalogues will allow shoppers to place orders online, by phone or by mail, and they will sometimes be made available to subscribers or regular customers who wish to receive ongoing information about a certain business and its products.
Catalogues allow businesses to display a wide range of products in a simple format, give customers a longer chance to engage with the brand, and are easy to distribute through the mail, in newspapers and magazines or in-store. However, catalogues cost money to print and distribute, and the nature of catalogues as a channel make inventory management more complex, with a greater number of advertised products. There are also environmental impacts associated with printing that should be taken into account.
Door-to-door sales, trade shows, business-to-business presentations, telemarketing and in-home product parties are all examples of direct sales. Like commerce more generally, these business models have moved with the times. Even the famous Tupperware party now offers a virtual version.
Of the different types of direct sales techniques, a common thread is the company’s ability to engage directly with potential customers, building relationships without intermediaries. This often suits industry-specific B2B companies like those servicing the medical or enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) sectors, for example.
But direct sales – especially for businesses not reliant on multi-level marketing – often require sales teams and the associated costs of training and travel, and a reliance on representatives to make sales, which can be costly considering sales patterns might be unreliable.
Rather than selling to individual customers, businesses might choose to sell the products in bulk to other businesses. Wholesalers buy bulk products from one provider and sell the product to other businesses, such as retailers. Selling your product through wholesalers exposes your products to a much larger customer base and allows you to take a lump payment. However, B2B sales also often mean your margins will be much smaller than if you sold your products directly.
Measure your success
A diverse multichannel or a unified omnichannel approach can cater for a range of potential customers. But whether you leverage one channel, two channels or try your hand at all of them will come down to several factors. Before making any decisions, you should consider the kind of business you run and the products or services you sell, your target market and how those customers prefer to engage, the channels which you can manage in-house versus those which will require upskilling or outsourcing, and – of course – the funds you have available.
It’s important you have a solid grasp of where your business is at and the goals you’d like to reach. Whatever channels you decide to use, tracking performance and sales will be key to determining success. Square Marketing will help you drive customers to your online channels and physical stores and allow you to monitor the effectiveness of different campaigns from your Square dashboard. You’ll then be able to align each sales channel to best reach your business goals.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.