Is Omnichannel for Small Biz or Just the Big Boxes?

The internet is supposed to be the great equalizer, scrappy small businesses can compete head to head with Goliath sized competitors if their willing to put in the work. To some extent that is the case, many small retailers have reported solid through ecommerce channels and all around the cost of doing business online is much lower than your standard bricks and mortar space, which allows SMBs to grow and expand in ways that were previously impossible. But as the Internet continues to mature and grow more complex is it still accessible to the little guy?

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Omnichannel is a word that has been showing up everywhere recently (it’s not necessarily new, but it has hit the realm of mainstream notoriety as of late). For those of you unfamiliar with the term is means essentially what it sound like, “omni” meaning “all” or “every” and channel referring to the various outlets through which you do business (for example distribution channels, marketing channels, communication channels and so forth). In the omnichannel world it’s all about providing one smooth service/experience for customers that interact with you across multiple channels.

The segmented landscape of Ecommerce
Over the years many new services have popped up to help small businesses drive more revenue online, most are low or no cost (in terms of dollar amounts but there are always time costs). This is great news for small businesses who generally need more exposure but have small budgets. As these industries have grown they have however, become more segmented and more complex to manage, below are some examples.

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Ecommerce Market Places
There was a time when web design was cost prohibitive for small businesses and that led to ecommerce market places (you’re probably most familiar with Amazon 3rd party sellers). The promise is great “don’t have a website? No problem sell on our website for a small fee and we’ll get your products in front of thousands (maybe millions) of potential customers. Sounds great (and it can be a great way to drive significant revenue). While Amazon is the clear leader in this field there are many other contenders that can boost your sales, in fact it seems like just about every big brand has jumped on this bandwagon.
You probably know Amazon, Ebay and Etsy, but what about Rakuten.com or overstock.com and did you know that WalMart, Sears and others allow 3rd parties to sell products on their website? You can see how all these are potentially great opportunities for additional distribution channels but managing them all could get a little overwhelming.

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Social Media
If you thought the segmentation in Ecommerce market places was confusing just take a look at the social media options. Social media since its inception has been hailed as a fantastic tool for small businesses. You can listen to customers talk about your brand, interact with fans directly, generate word of mouth, and so on. Best of all of course, is that participation in social media is free. There have been many great success stories on this front but again as the popularity grew so did the number of options. Think about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Stumbleupon and Google+ just for starters. All of them have massive audiences and great features that let you communicate directly with those most interested in your products, if you use them properly. But as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of articles available on how small businesses should use social media you can guess that this can be a tough nut to crack.

Ratings & Reviews
As social media becomes more popular with consumers so does social proof. People want to know if others like them had a good experience buying from you or not. This is great news for you because you spend a lot of time ensuring that you only sell the best products on the market and as a small business you absolutely provide better customer service then the big box retailers can even dream of. So what could be the downside to this, well given that this is a post about segmented channels you’ve probably already guessed it. You have to answer where are the reviews going to show up? On your website? On your Social media profiles? Local listings? Major review websites such as Yelp? The answer is they are probably already being collected is many of these places, and of course different places reach different audiences, so the big question is how to do I track it all?

This isn’t even scratching the surface of all the options available, customer service, performance based marketing, SaaS I could go on and on. There are also many more “Game changers” just over the horizon (for example what happens when Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all start adding buy buttons directly to products promoted on their websites?)

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OmniChannel Has it’s Challenges but it’s a World of Opportunities
Now that you’re thoroughly overwhelmed and discouraged (I hope not too much) I want to remind you that all of these fall into the “opportunities” category of your marketing SWOT analysis. Back when I was in business school we had to perform SWOT analyses constantly (SWOT standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). In general the opportunities section was filled with items that required a large commitment of capital and time, acquisitions, expanding to new markets, developing complementary product lines, R&D for new manufacturing technology etc. Those types of things are still important considerations for the healthy growth of your business, but they are not the only options available. You can start small and when you’re ready to expand your market share you can do so in a fairly low risk, cost effective manner, by simply adding another channel to your growing OmniChannel presence.

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