Retail Marketing For Ecommerce Marketplaces: How Retailers Can Solve the Chicken & Egg Problem

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By this time, you've heard multiple accounts from retailers about how the pandemic accelerated their shift into digital. You’ve devoured articles about how malls and department stores are “dead”.

And you've stared at graphs like Shopify’s rocketship growth with envy:

In order to keep up with this blistering pace of change, you might now be asking:

  • How can our digital transformation translate into a world-class customer experience?
  • How is marketing for a retail store different from ecommerce?
  • How can I leverage digital and offer a wide selection of modern brands for my customers?

You want solutions. You want real-time to help you move your customer experience and brand storytelling into the digital future.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The problem with traditional retail “4P’s” marketing model
  • Why retail marketing for a modern demographic is not just about social media
  • How retail businesses going into assortment-heavy marketplaces can solve the chicken-and-egg problem 

The problem with traditional retail marketing

Google “retail marketing” and you’ll soon learn all about the 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. 

If a retailer gets the “place” piece right, they get automatic traffic. By curating the right products for their shelves, they can have an assortment that their customers want and their competitors don’t have. Finally, even simple promotions – markdowns, BOGOs, or events – builds awareness and gets conversions from foot traffic.

This old model works because classic retail brands relied heavily on foot traffic. They attracted customers through floor displays, high quality product brands, or their own recognizable in-house brand label.

Traditional retail marketing puts a heavy emphasis on merchandising. For example, this is how sportswear company Under Armour defines retail marketing: 

The primary goal of our retail marketing strategy is to increase brand floor space dedicated to our products within our major retail accounts. The design and funding of Under Armour point of sale displays and concept shops within our major retail accounts has been a key initiative for securing prime floor space, educating the consumer and creating an exciting environment for the consumer to experience our brand. 

Retail marketing for ecommerce, however, is different for a number of reasons:

  1. The “place” is no longer a single store location. It’s wherever your target audience resides, whether online or offline. On top of this, while being accessible from anywhere in the world, new ecommerce stores do not have the luxury of automatic foot traffic; they have to generate this themselves.
  2. A wide “product” assortment is no longer a competitive advantage. Ecommerce shelves are no longer limited by space. Having the widest assortment in a world of endless aisles is now a race to the bottom.
  3. Without differentiation, product pricing and promotions, are also races to the bottom. Marketplaces like Walmart and Amazon both have powerful search engines. They allow customers to cross reference prices and discounts across the retail market, simply by opening a new browser tab. Without a differentiator other than pricing, retail marketers will be forced to compete with nothing more than mark down pricing strategies.

But there’s more to marketing for a digital world than meets the eye.

Omnichannel: Why modern retail marketing isn’t just about social media

Modern retail marketing is no longer just about floor displays, layouts, and merchandising. The retail industry is slowly but surely waking up to the reality that omnichannel marketing is the new retail marketing.

Omnichannel shouldn’t be about adding to your marketing mix, being on TikTok, or loyalty programs that convert and retain new customers. These are just tactics. Hailey Ho, a senior content marketing manager at Shopify Plus, says, “Omnichannel at Shopify Plus doesn’t mean you’re everywhere. It means you’re every where, wherever your customers are.” 

The overarching theme of an effective omnichannel marketing strategy should be about brand storytelling. 

The way you want your customers to feel when they walk into your physical store should be how they feel when they visit your website or browse your social media feeds. Brands should take full advantage of people’s desire for connection, shoppers want to walk into a store and see smiling faces greet them, the way the experience happened in pre-pandemic times. 

This requires asking:

  • What does it mean for your brand to be a person? 
  • What does it look like for a customer to come into your store to interact with you? 
  • How can you create that experience online, without them being in your store?

Take the chocolatier Lindt Canada, for example. They had never had any sort of ecommerce operations, until the pandemic forced them to close their 56 locations across Canada – just 5 days before the Easter holiday. Their team rapidly pivoted, built a Shopify Plus store, and designed a simple curbside pickup process for their customers.

In allowing their customers to enjoy their Easter traditions, the Lindt Canada team’s gave their customers a delicious, much-needed security blanket in a time of uncertainty.

Omnichannel is about using brand storytelling as your north star allows you to offer a congruent customer experience, throughout both your online retail store and physical storefront. Social media marketing campaigns, popup stores, brand collaborations and other touchpoints merely serve that overarching goal of reaching your target market, right where they are. 

What makes retail marketing for ecommerce marketplaces different

“This is a product year in the making that places our independent merchants on the same strategic footing as enterprise retailers and ecommerce giants. This is an offering that truly speaks to our mission as a company.”

That was what Lightspeed POS’s founder and CEO Dax Dasilva said in an earnings call announcing the launch of their B2B marketplace, Supplier Market

Lightspeed is a point of sale (POS) platform that over 100,000 retailers use to power their brick & mortar operations. They promise “cloud-based solutions for real businesses”. With Supplier Market, they democratize the supply chain, allowing merchants to order from any supplier who uses Lightspeed.

In order to successfully launch the marketplace however, the Lightspeed team needed a go to market strategy that attracted both prospective buyers and sellers to jumpstart their gross merchandise value (GMV).

This is the chicken-and-egg problem that makes building a marketplace so hard: 

  • How do you acquire customers if you don’t have the assortment or the sellers they want?
  • How do you convince sellers to list on your marketplace if you can’t guarantee sales?

"To solve the chicken and egg problem in a marketplace, you have to pinpoint which side has the buying power,” says Sheila Lina, Filipino ecommerce pioneer and founder of ecommerce platform Shopinas. “For our case, it was the corporate and government buyers that really made the difference.”

In most marketplaces, demand generation – customer acquisition, retention, and adoption – drives GMV. 

In Lightspeed's case, launching Supplier Market required them to encourage merchants and suppliers in their network to invite new partners to become Lightspeed customers. Here’s how they did it.

First, the team spent months talking to merchants and suppliers to understand their personas, success, and pain points. They knew they had to differentiate the messaging and value proposition for buyers and sellers.

They learned that merchants – the buyers in the marketplace – valued an improved inventory procurement process. On the other hand, suppliers – the sellers in the marketplace – wanted to increase their order volume, forecast inventory, and locate new retail outlets in order to increase their distribution and reach.

Both parties wanted a way to handle all the requisite portals, spreadsheets, and emails from one place.

Once they understood the messaging and finished testing, the team leveraged the reach of National Retail Federation 2021 to announce the launch of the network. They sent out a press release that was circulated on publications such as The Globe & Mail, Betakit, and Global News. They used targeted email and social campaigns in order to let their preexisting merchants and suppliers know about the new offering.

The Lightspeed team did all this in service of GMV. 

Kyle Baggs, Lightspeed’s product marketing manager who handled the marketplace launch, said, “The focus was and still is supplier and merchant adoption. As we continue to build on the product and involve more verticals, success would be viewed by:

  1. Are we providing the tools and features that both suppliers and merchants expect from us?
  2. Is Lightspeed Supplier Connect the primary (or only) marketplace they use to fulfill their inventory needs?”

Similarly, Lina gives the example of popular Singapore-based ecommerce shopping website Shopee. “Name a marketing campaign and Shoppee has tried it: billboards, influencers, subsidized delivery costs, official brand verification. They were willing to spend and lose money upfront since they launched their Philippines site in 2012, all in service of building GMV."

Omnichannel experiences: The key to solving the modern retail marketing flywheel

At its core, retail marketing (and its modern iteration of omnichannel marketing) is about understanding, meeting, and delivering what customers want. 

Increased GMV and online and offline sales come as a result of taking advantage of the democratization of retail and leveraging technology better than anyone else in your vertical. In fact, CommerceNext found that American retailers are putting more marketing dollars towards gathering and analyzing customer data.

If you’re a consumer-facing brand like Lindt, your retail sales will come as a direct result of how well you use the data your shoppers give you. 

If you’re a B2B marketplace like Lightspeed, then the ecommerce technology ecosystem has democratized access to tools. This allows you to better understand customer behaviour. 

Either way, modern retail marketing is no longer about visual displays and BOGO promotions. These days, it is about being able to execute an omnichannel strategy that meets your target audience wherever they spend their time, in a way that showcases how your brand adds value to the stories of their lives.

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