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Multichannel retailing, or multichannel selling, is when you sell your products across more than one sales channel. From a neighborhood store to an Instagram Story, selling your products in multiple places dramatically increases the odds that you’ll make a sale.
Think about it — if your products can be seen, experienced, and purchased on more platforms and places customers enjoy, they’ll be more likely to add them to their physical and virtual shopping carts. While expanding to selling online was the biggest challenge for retailers in 2020, 88% of the 500 retailers we surveyed are now selling online, according to our Future of Retail report.
With multichannel retailing, you can set up shop on online and offline channels, and it’s more doable than you might think.
What is multichannel retailing?
Multichannel retailing is when customers have the ability to buy your items in multiple places, which could include channels like an online store, a social media site like TikTok, a marketplace like Etsy, or a physical pop-up shop.
Publishing your product catalog across channels doesn’t have to be a huge feat. Multichannel retailing starts with preparing your product lineup so you can easily start selling in the places your future customers are — whether that’s on your website, through social media channels, email, text, or in a physical location.
Using an inventory management system that connects your stock and orders in real time, and in one central place, can make multichannel selling seamless for both you and your customers.
“The sellers who have been most able to adapt are the ones who have the best handle on their inventory,” says Megan Karande, Product Marketing Manager for Square for Retail. “Getting your inventory counted, well photographed, and tagged with proper descriptions really affords you a lot of flexibility for selling online, in person, or on social media.”
Multichannel retailing example
Let’s look at a real-life example of multichannel retailing. Botanic and Luxe is a lifestyle retail store located in Santa Cruz, California. Co-founders and best friends Ariel Stirm and Leilani Zehnder sell laidback home goods, jewelry, and wellness items, a tribute to the beachy community they call home.
And they sell their popular goods across multiple channels: inside their physical store in downtown Santa Cruz, on their Instagram account with shoppable posts, and through their online store with the option of in-store pickup or delivery.
Product page from Botanic and Luxe’s online store
Each touch point is connected to the Botanic and Luxe brand. So no matter where customers shop, they know they’re getting that same earthy vibe as the physical store, yet custom for each platform.
What are the advantages of multichannel retailing?
Multichannel retailing allows your brand to show up on more sales channels, which can help your business accomplish a variety of things. Here are a few of the biggest advantages of multichannel retailing:
- Increases sales: The more channels you have a presence on, the more likely potential customers will find you — and buy your products.
- Diversifies your revenue streams: By spreading out your sales channels, you give yourself a buffer in case you ever need to pause or accelerate a certain strategy.
- Improves the customer experience: If customers can buy from you on the channel that’s most convenient for them, at the moment they’re ready to buy, it makes their shopping experience more enjoyable.
- Helps you scale your business: When you add a new sales channel to the mix, it makes scaling easier since you likely have some of the operational and fulfillment processes in place that supported your first channel. And if your new channel is online, you can lean on the eCommerce solution you’re using to help you sort out the logistics.
- It’s the first step to omnichannel: Omnichannel retail is when the buying experience is connected, while multichannel retail is when you sell on multiple channels, but the experience may not necessarily be tied together. The first step to creating a successful omnichannel strategy is to start selling your goods on an additional channel.
Those are just a few of the benefits of carrying your products on different channels. In this guide, you’ll learn how to get started with multichannel selling by preparing your products to sell in the places where customers are just waiting to be reached.
Multichannel retailing: How to sell products online and offline successfully
Whether you have a physical shop, an online store, both, or neither, there are some best practices to follow when selling items in person, online, and everywhere in between.
Select the best products to sell on different channels
If you have a large product catalog, you don’t need to get every item ready to sell online. Instead, focus on items that are your top sellers or set your business a part. Products that are unique, niche, and probably point to why you started a retail business in the first place can be a good place to start.
Niche products are purchased by a smaller group of people who are hungry to get their hands on them, and they’re sometimes made in small batches or runs. Examples of niche products include essential oils or T-shirts with sayings that apply to a particular geographic area. Going with niche products over broader products helps you narrow the competition.
To get a handle on exactly which products make sense to sell on different channels, go through the following exercise:
- Review your POS reports: See what’s selling well by channel, vendor, store, and time of year. What makes sense to double down on?
- Dig into seasonal trends: Staying current is key when it comes to identifying top-selling items. Pair the insights you get from your POS reports with seasonal trends in your business. Does back-to-school shopping mean you need to update your catalog to feature more distance learning supplies and in-person learning products?
- Dig into industry trends: Look into the trending products in your niche to see what might make sense to add to your catalog and sell in another way. For instance, you may see that certain home-oriented products are still selling strong but comfort apparel is dropping. Therefore, you may want to lean into offering more professional apparel.
- See if there are items you can brand: If you don’t manufacture the product yourself, is there an opportunity to brand it? Building a brand is essential when selling products, and depending on the item, putting it under your brand can help you start to establish it.
Once you know what could sell well on different channels, see if your current setup allows for expansion. For instance, if you produce the product on your own can you increase production? If you resell items, are your suppliers able to deliver more? These are a few of the questions to think about when determining the best products to feature on new channels.
Choose the best platforms to sell on
No matter your business, selling on a new channel can help bring your goods to an entirely new audience. You can go with an eCommerce platform, social media site, or a tool that allows you to sell over email. Depending on the type of business model you have, there are also various online marketplaces and apps where you can sell your products, along with listing software you can use to automate the process. Here’s a breakdown of the different channels to consider selling on.
- Sell with an online store: An online store allows you to take orders from your website, giving you more control compared with going with an online marketplace. It’s accessible, allows you to personalize your store and how you show up, and you can plug into other channels like your social media accounts. You can get set up quickly by using a trusted eCommerce provider like Square. Learn more about how to start a free online store from your Square account.
- Sell with a checkout button: If you already have a website, blog, or portfolio, you can add a buy button to your site to allow customers to easily purchase goods and services from you. Learn more about adding and creating buy buttons.
- Sell with a payment link: You don’t need a website to use free payment links. With Square Online Checkout, you can send a payment link over email or text or with a QR code. You can also include a payment link directly in a social media post, allowing customers to buy from you without leaving the platform they’re on. Learn more about creating pay links.
- Sell over social media: Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are not only popular social media platforms, but they allow you to sell products directly to consumers. If you use Square, you can connect to each of these platforms so customers can purchase items directly from social media. Learn more about selling on social media with Square.
- Sell in a brick-and-mortar location: Depending on what you sell and who you’re selling to, a physical store may help you reach more customers. According to our research, 92% of consumers still miss the in-person shopping experience. Some retailers are providing a physical location, like a pop-up shop or brick-and-mortar store, for customers to browse and test out their goods, even if customers make the purchase online.
- Sell on an online marketplace: An online marketplace enables you to tap into an existing customer base, however, that access typically cuts into your profit margins. It can also be harder to make your brand stand out in a marketplace. A few examples of popular online marketplaces are Amazon (including Amazon FBA), Etsy, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace.
Remember, you don’t have to try just one channel and you can easily pivot if it doesn’t work. Depending on your current audience and the customers you’re trying to reach, you may find that selling with an online store, a physical location, and through social media is your best bet. Or perhaps selling on social media alone fits your needs. These are your options at a glance, but select the collection of channels that work best for the goals of your business.
Set up your new channel with multichannel selling software
Once you decide on the channel you want to try out, the next step with multichannel retailing is to set it up with software that lets you sell across multiple sales channels. Here’s how to get started with some of the most popular eCommerce tools from Square:
- Set up an online store
- Add checkout links to your site
- Get started with payment links
- Sell over social media
You also want to make sure that the channel you choose either works with your existing systems or it comes with the tools you need to count inventory and fulfill orders. This is crucial to look into before orders start flowing in, because if you don’t have the systems set up you won’t be able to process and fulfill any orders. Keep an eye out for the following capabilities and features when looking for tools that help you sell in multiple ways:
- Inventory management
- Shipping capabilities
- Multiple fulfillment methods
- Integration with the tools you already use
Count your inventory
Once you figure out the channel to try, the next step is to get a read on how much inventory you have. Taking stock lets you see if you need to reorder, source from new suppliers or, if you create your own products, manufacture more. Having a real-time view across all your channels also makes it easier to manage, allowing you to create a better customer experience.
Inventory counting can be done once a year through a full physical inventory count or on a more regular basis through cycle counting, which can help you improve your inventory accuracy. A best practice for counting your inventory is to use inventory management software, which can streamline the labor-intensive process. For example, Square’s inventory management system can help you make it easier to conduct a count with a bar code scanner and real-time software.
Build your item profiles in your inventory management system
After taking stock, you’re ready to set up your listings. You’ll need to set up a product listing on whatever platform you decide to try, so look into the channel-specific resources to learn exactly how to create and manage items on the channel you go with.
In this section, we’ll cover how to create product listings that will make shoppers more likely to buy from you. As you go through this section, you may also want to check out product listings from competitors to see what’s working and identify opportunities where you can stand out.
Price your products
Trying out new sales channels is a good time to revisit your pricing strategy. When thinking about how to price your products, you want to ensure your prices are competitive, keep you profitable, and help shoppers feel like they’re getting value out of their purchase. There are also some considerations when pricing items online vs. in-store and pricing for eCommerce.
Here are a few pricing strategies to look into:
- Cost-plus pricing: This is when you calculate your costs (things like overhead, materials, labor) and then add the profit you want to make. This strategy can work, but it doesn’t address factors like supply and demand, competition, and your brand.
- Market penetration pricing: This is a short-term strategy to consider when you enter a new market with an in-demand product, and it aims to keep prices low to generate more sales.
- Price skimming: This is the opposite of market penetration pricing and is when you set high prices when you enter a market, basing it on the value of your items.
- Premium pricing: This is when you price your products higher than your competitors to show that your goods are better quality.
- Psychology pricing: Also called charm pricing or odd pricing, this is when you price items based on the perceived value, even though the difference is nominal. An example would be charging $19.99 instead of $20.
Keep in mind that you can always update the prices of your products, but it’s good to have an understanding of your options as you’re expanding into new channels.
Take quality product photography
Well-photographed products make customers feel more confident when making a purchase. Take a cue from The Mellow, an inventive plant store in San Francisco. Owner David Velasco creates an immersive experience through product photography, videos, and detailed descriptions on each product page.
“We have little videos, animated things, and optimizing beautiful images for sure was a must,” he shares on Talking Squarely. “And being descriptive with what the product is, because it’s a personal purchase. People want to look at this, to see how they feel about it, and then purchase it.”
Photographing your products doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. With Square Photo Studio, you can send in your items and receive retouched images that you can upload directly to the channels you’re selling on.
If you’re taking photos on your own, here are a few pointers:
- Use natural lighting: Natural lighting captures what your product looks like in real life. Stay away from lighting that casts shadows or could distort what your item actually looks or feels like.
- Choose a neutral background: Typically, white backgrounds let your product steal the stage, but solid colors can also provide contrast depending on the colors of your item. The color you go with should put your customers’ attention on your item, not the background.
- Consider using decorations or props if that helps put your product in context: For instance, if you want shoppers to see how large an item is, you can put it next to another object for comparison.
- Take photos with multiple angles: Multiple views give shoppers a better feel for what your product looks like. If you’re using Square Photo Studio, you can get interactive 360-degree photos that enable customers to rotate them.
When uploading your photos, make sure your photos are high resolution. You can also add alt text to each one, using a simple explanation with keywords that describe your product, which helps increase the odds that your product pages will appear on search. For instance, if you’re selling coconut wax candles, you can add “orange bergamot coconut wax candles” as your image alt tag.
Write compelling product descriptions that sell
Your product descriptions are a powerful way to help customers make more informed purchase decisions, and it can also help you minimize returns and customer service issues. Make your descriptions scannable with bullets so customers can quickly get what they need and make a purchase.
If you use Square for Retail, you can scan your items and it automatically populates a product description. Learn more about how the item creation process works with Square.
Ensure your product descriptions cover things like:
- What’s included
You also want your descriptions to answer common customer questions and include any keywords you’re trying to get your pages to rank for. Take a look at the product page from Briggs and Brighton, a custom bracelet company in South Carolina, listing out exactly what customers will get in their kits.
“I think about the information I would want to see as a customer,” says founder Bethany Dorn. “So I try to be as detailed as possible without overwhelming people.”
Think through your fulfillment options
When selling physical items across channels, fulfillment is a big piece of the puzzle since you need to figure out how to deliver products to your customers. And if you’re selling products online for the first time, that impacts both how you manage inventory and fulfill those orders. The size, weight, and packaging of your product will influence the fulfillment option that works best.
Here are a few fulfillment options to consider:
- BOPIS or in-store pickup: “Buy online, pick up in store” is a hybrid channel that allows customers to order online and then come to a physical location to retrieve the item. You may also see BOPIS referred to as “click and collect.”
- Curbside pickup: Curbside pickup is when customers buy items through online channels and then come to your physical store to get them, similar to BOPIS, although the pickup happens outside your store.
- Delivery: Delivery can be broken down into several options:
- On-demand delivery: This is when couriers automatically deliver items to customers.
- Same-day delivery: This is when items are delivered the same day as the customer places the order.
- Standard delivery: This is when items are shipped by a carrier or your own in-house delivery service, following standard shipping rates.
Depending on the fulfillment option you choose, that may require you to use a shipping carrier. With delivery, you could offer free shipping, discounted shipping, or a host of other options. If you’re just getting started, consider using the rates calculated by your shipping partner so you can ensure you’re setting a fair rate that doesn’t eat into your profits.
Double-check that your shipping provider also offers shipping speeds so it’s easy for customers to decide how they want to get their items. Read more about how to ship products to your customers, along with this overview on shipping with Square Online.
Upload your inventory
Once you have your photos, product descriptions, prices, and fulfillment methods, you can upload all those details to your inventory management system. An inventory management system that works across different channels is your hub, providing all your information in one place so you don’t have to use separate tools across the various channels you’re selling on.
After you upload your items, make sure you publish each one so they’re live on your new channel. Take a look to ensure that each listing shows up correctly once you hit publish.
Categorize your products so they’re easy to find
Depending on the channel, you want to make your products easy to find for shoppers who are casually browsing, wherever your products show up. If you use Square, you can add and edit categories in the Site Editor.
There are typically two ways to organize your products: through a flat or hierarchical taxonomy. A flat taxonomy puts all categories on the same level, while a hierarchical taxonomy divides categories into sub and sub-sub categories, helping visitors quickly see what’s more important.
To set up categories, go through the following exercise so you can easily translate your taxonomy to your online store, social media channels, and other channels you’re selling on. You could even use this exercise to help you organize your in-store merchandise and revisit your store layout design.
- Talk to customers: Think about how your customers typically ask for and refer to certain items. Use that as an input to start drawing out different categories, starting with the main ones and going deeper into the subcategories. Then think about the tags that describe each of those products. You may also want to ask some friendly customers to help you start.
- Organize your taxonomy: Add that information to a spreadsheet, doc, or somewhere you can easily access it. If you’re using this for a physical store, mapping it out based on your store layout can be helpful.
- Apply it to your new channel: Use your product organization sheet to easily apply it to your new channel. A sheet will also help if you have to go through the exercise more than once, depending on the platform.
- Adjust where needed: Monitor your sales to see if the taxonomy is helping or hurting your sales numbers. This may be harder to gauge when trying a new channel, but you can measure this qualitatively by talking to store associates about foot traffic and quantitatively with heat map tools that help you visualize where online visitors are going.
Publish your new store or page
Once all your items are uploaded, make sure you publish each one so they’re live on your new channel. Take a look to ensure that everything appears correctly once you hit publish.
See what’s working. Iterate.
Diversifying where you sell can be thrilling because it opens up your business to new possibilities. However, a surge in sales can also be hard to handle if you’re not set up to process and fulfill orders with increased demand. As you try out new channels with multichannel selling, use your POS system to help you measure how each channel is performing so you can quickly adapt where needed.
Think about what’s next
As you expand to selling on new channels, think about what else you can do to drive growth for your business. Here are a few areas to explore:
- Set up your marketing strategy and make sure it extends to each channel you show up on.
- Audit your suppliers: Find new suppliers or renegotiate your current contracts to stay up with consumer needs.
- Test new products: If you see that shoppers are craving a certain product, consider adding similar items to give them more options or accessories so you can create product bundles. Updating your product lineup will help you keep up with changing trends.
- Try out new tools: Once orders start piling up, you may realize that you need tools to support the way you’re selling on new channels. Rethink your inventory management software, eCommerce site, contracts or waiver forms, and social selling tools to ensure you stay competitive and make things easier on yourself.
- Bring on extra help: Whether you’re looking to train store associates to sell on social media or package and fulfill orders, trying out a new channel could make your hiring needs more urgent. Learn more about how to hire employees.
Getting your products ready to sell in different places gives your business a competitive edge. Now if you’re ready to try something new, you’ll already have done the prep work so you can easily get your goods into the hands of the customers that want them most, no matter where they shop.
FAQs about multichannel selling
How do I sell products online without a website?
You may be thinking you need a website to sell your product. In reality, you can sell your products without an online store using social media, a checkout link or payment button, or through online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon.
Which social media site is best for selling products online?
It really depends on what you sell and who your customers are. Some of the most popular social media platforms businesses use to sell products online include Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
How do I make items sell faster online?
There are a variety of tactics you can use to ensure your products sell faster. Some of the ways to increase online sales include setting a competitive price, offering a variety of fulfillment options, uploading multiple product photos, writing detailed product descriptions, and making sure your product listings are backed with customer reviews.
Listen to the Paying it Forward episode below for more guidance on multichannel selling and what to consider when pricing products for eCommerce.