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Using Shopify as a viable multichannel eCommerce platform

Shopify as a multichannel platform

For eCommerce business owners, it’s no secret that marketplaces are where a vast amount of online transactions are being conducted – according to WebRetailer, 47% of eCommerce sales around the world were made through marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay in 2020. 

And this isn’t exactly surprising – forget the fact that Amazon usually snaps up the top places in rankings for major shopping keywords (did we mention we’re hosting a webinar on this exact topic next month? More here), but they—along with the likes of eBay—also have the benefit of being front-of-mind for many shoppers. In fact, a report from last year stated that 63% of online shoppers start their journey with an Amazon search.

It should be fairly obvious by now that in addition to selling on their own individual websites, selling on marketplaces is more or less essential for many e-tailers. This has led many businesses to turn to multichannel platforms (MCPs), in which they can sync up their listings and manage their inventory and orders across channels (like Amazon and eBay) through a single interface.

But with the rate at which eCommerce services develop, even multichannel platforms are fast becoming outdated as their marketplace becomes overcrowded.

And this, in turn, has resulted in other eCommerce hosting platforms upping their game – namely, Shopify. 

The popular hosting platform now mirrors MCPs in a number of ways, offering businesses the ability to link their profiles with Amazon US and Canada as well as eBay just like other MCPs, and their offerings are only continuing to expand. Only this time, much of it is already included in Shopify’s hosting packages, which means if you’re an existing Shopify customer, you don’t have to pay for yet another platform or service.

But how does Shopify stack up against designated MCPs? Is it really a viable alternative?

In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into just that, speaking to eCommerce shop owners about their own experiences with MCPs and Shopify, and how their chosen platforms have not only worked for them but helped their businesses grow.

What are the benefits of selling across platforms?

Businesses sell across multiple platforms for a pretty straightforward reason – because not all audiences hang out in the same places, it makes sense to be (read: sell) where their audiences are.

For Anthony Dibble, owner of men’s accessory shop PickaPocket, that’s eBay and Amazon, as well as the brand’s own website. 

Anthony Dibble: We find selling returns or slightly damaged stock that isn’t 100% new works well selling on eBay as seconds. We’re very clear about that, and the customer loves to find a bargain – eBay still has its core customer who loves to find a car boot style, second-hand bargain.

On the other hand, Amazon proves better for our brand-new sunglasses sales. The products are the perfect size for FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) and we can sell high volumes for a highly-searched product.

But for businesses that sell products across multiple platforms—Amazon, eBay and Etsy, for example—like PickaPocket, it can be tricky juggling multiple profiles, stock and orders on a number of platforms at once. This is where multichannel platforms come in.

With MCPs, businesses can manage their stock and orders across platforms from one centralised hub rather than by having to juggle a range of platforms across different sites. The best MCPs will let you manage product listings and inventory, track orders, easily access shipping information and even speak with customers through a single interface.

They can take a lot of the headache out of selling across platforms – but they come at a cost.

Popular multichannel platforms

The good news is, for all the channels out there, there are just as many MCPs (roughly, at any rate). Which one that works best for you will depend entirely on your business and its needs.

Anthony: If you opt for an MCP, it’s critical to first understand how it works and what it will do. This is a must before you link up all your stores.

Firstly, if you’re looking simply to keep track of stock and keep all your platforms aligned, knowing what the MCP uses as its common stock keeping unit (SKU) is important. These will have to be aligned on all platforms you sell on. For example, most I’ve come across use the SKU as the common link between your listings, so if you have different SKUs for different locations, etc., then it’s important to understand how the system intends to track sales.

Not all businesses operate in the same way, so you’ll also have to ensure your supplier will work with you should your business not operate in the way the out-the-box software does. Do they have developers to hand that are willing to work with you? Will they ensure future updates to their software align with your working practice? It’s important to get this pinned down and understood before you connect.

To illustrate just what MCPs can offer, let’s take a look at some of the leading names.

ChannelGrabber

Packages from £110 per month

ChannelGrabber

ChannelGrabber is pretty standard in terms of multichannel platforms, offering users a single interface to manage inventory, orders, shipment, invoicing and customer messaging. It integrates with most eCommerce hosts (Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento) and shipping companies (Royal Mail, DPD, FedEx, UPS and Parcelforce), but most importantly can connect selling profiles from eBay, Amazon and Etsy all in one place.

That said, ChannelGrabber does have selling limits, and once you hit them you’re going to pay a premium for many services that are otherwise free from other channels.

Top features at a glance:

  • Connects product listings to eBay, Amazon and Etsy
  • Centralised inventory management system
  • One master product log for listing across platforms
  • Real time stock management
  • Print courier labels from single hub
  • Unlimited products, marketplaces, users and webstores across all packages

ChannelAdvisor

Packages priced per business

ChannelAdvisor

ChannelAdvisor has long been a leader in multichannel platforms, having been around since 2001. Through the platform, users can connect their products to more than 140 marketplaces around the world—including Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Facebook and Google—as well as access digital advertising features, brand analytics and inventory management all through a single platform.

They also offer (for an additional fee, of course) what they call “managed services,” in which designated account managers can help with a business’s strategy, moves to new platforms and basic account maintenance. Be advised though that the account managers will be ChannelAdvisor specialists and not necessarily experts on a specific business sector, so their knowledge will be limited.

It’s also worth noting that it’s next-to-impossible to find ChannelAdvisor’s pricing system, which leads us to believe their services are very pricey. They also require companies to commit to a one-year contract that’s notoriously difficult to get out of upon expiration.

Top features at a glance:

  • Connects products to an extensive number of marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, Google and Facebook
  • Centralised inventory management system
  • Simple fulfilment processes
  • Actionable shopping capabilities
  • Manage marketplace advertising through single interface
  • Consulting and management services

SellerActive

Packages from $79 per month

SellerActive

SellerActive is another in the canon of multichannel platforms and offers relatively similar services to the platforms we’ve mentioned above, but there’s something about SellerActive that feels a little more flexible.

They offer integration across all major platforms—Amazon, eBay, Google and Walmart—and stock management from a single interface, but they also offer flexible pricing that’s significantly more transparent than that of its competitors.

Their repricing tool is worth highlighting too, as it helps users analyse their product prices in how they stack up to competitors on platforms such as Amazon and Walmart, and allows them to adjust prices as necessary.   

Top features at a glance:

  • Bulk marketplace listing or individual listing available
  • Integration across Amazon, Amazon international, eBay, Google, Walmart and more
  • Inventory management software with automatic updates across channels
  • Low-stock notifications
  • A la carte software pricing
  • Integration with fulfilment companies like FBA
  • Centralised order management

All this seems pretty attractive, considering the alternative (i.e., trying to keep track of however many profiles, all the customers across those profiles and their individual orders). And while this is true, at their base, MCPs are yet another profile business owners will need to set up, monitor and, most importantly, pay for.

So is there an alternative that can achieve the same results but make the process a little simpler (and more cost-effective)?

Here’s where Shopify comes in

Packages from $29 per month

Shopify

Shopify has long been a leading name in eCommerce hosting platforms. 

It’s home to more than 130k webstores and offers incredibly reasonable pricing with its most basic packages, on which you can sell across a range of marketplaces and social media outlets. They currently allow businesses to link up with Amazon (in the US and Canada) and eBay, as well as major social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Shopify also has an advanced analytics section, which is particularly great for business strategy and stock management.

And if you’re already hosting with Shopify, this means you won’t need yet another account with a third-party MCP. You’ve already got everything set up on your own website.

Top features at a glance:

  • Channel integration with Amazon US and Canada and eBay
  • Social media integration with Facebook, Instagram and TikTok
  • APIs available to sync up with other channels
  • Manage website and adjoining channels all from one interface
  • Run Facebook and Google Ads through Shopify
  • Automated or personal customer chat through Shopify
  • Integrates with Facebook Chat and Apple Business Chat (Instagram coming soon)

All this combined has led business owners like Anthony at PickaPocket to make the switch to Shopify over a designated MCP.

Anthony: One of the sticking points for my business was the staged increases in pricing, and on certain MCPs it can be a huge difference in the plan. This is why as a business we decided to cut our MCP provider and move to Shopify as our central source.

We had earlier moved to Shopify as our preferred sales platform, being at the point where with our sales rates, it made sense to move to our own website over selling primarily on sales platforms such as eBay, Amazon and Etsy. 

Shopify interfaceShopify has several inbuilt APIs that link to sales platforms such as eBay, Amazon (USA and Canada only at present, the UK is coming soon) Facebook, Instagram (with product tagging) plus many more, so it’s amazing what you can connect to from day one. It’s not necessarily important to be everywhere, but it is important to place the right products where your customers are.

With Shopify, users can get many of the same benefits MCPs offer but that are already included in their hosting package, and without requiring businesses to add yet another website or account into the mix. Users can sync up with eBay, Google and Amazon US and Canada, as well as social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook Messenger and Pinterest. 

There are also integration apps available that can help businesses sync up to other channels not yet included in Shopify’s growing repertoire, like Etsy. Zoe Wongsam, owner of jewellery and cufflink business Hepburn & Hughes, originally started selling on Etsy and Not on the High Street, but soon after created her own website through Shopify.

 Zoe Wongsam: [We were] happy enough with Etsy but didn’t like the 30% commission on NOTHS, so we knew we needed our own website too – hence Shopify, especially as we do a lot of organic advertising through social media. If we’re putting the effort in, we didn’t want the online marketplaces to reap the benefits!

I use an app called Etsy Integration to sync stock on Shopify and Etsy and find it really easy. The process of using Shopify as a central hub is really simple, too – we just load the products on and then click on the products in the integration app that we want published on Etsy too…it saves so much time as we were manually adjusting stock on all platforms up until February this year!

Just like multichannel platforms, Shopify will track inventory and orders, and make updates all from a centralised hub. And the big bonus is, you already own the main channel, so any data you acquire is yours to keep. This is a huge advantage over MCPs, as technically with the latter, you’re just renting the space.

Shopify’s integrations with social media platforms also means syncing audiences is a lot easier, which is a big plus for businesses using Google and Facebook Ads.

Our verdict?

In our opinion, we’re with Anthony and Zoe – the wisest choice is Shopify.

Yes, it’s still developing and it has a long way to go in terms of integrations and available channels, but we’re always on the side of simplicity when it still does the same job as the more complicated counterparts – and if you can get it for cheaper, that’s a big bonus too.

Like other multichannel platforms, Shopify still has its quirks that need attention. We’ve found that most of this is around stock numbers, in which the channels don’t always update inventory numbers seamlessly, whereas this isn’t a big issue with MCPs. It can also be tricky using integration apps like the one Zoe uses with Etsy, as the stock numbers, variants and photos don’t always sync naturally.

But as Shopify grows this service, we expect these glitches to resolve and the channel integrations to expand.

We’ll be watching Shopify as its services develop, so keep an eye out for updates. And if you’ve been thinking about making the switch to Shopify but need a little guidance, don’t hesitate to get in touch – we love a good site migration, and are happy to offer any help we can.

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