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What Multichannel Sellers Can Learn from Niche Marketplaces

We’re entering a new era of online sales.

The rise of niche marketplaces has indicated a shift in today’s customers’ buying habits, which extend beyond marketplaces and into all sales channels.

We want to help multichannel sellers understand this shift to better target their products and services to the modern buyer. Below, we’ll summarize how customers started preferring quality over quantity, provide some examples, and share how multichannel brands can tap into those same trends.

From Broad to Niche

The swing towards niche marketplaces can be summed up with a fairly simple idea:

Many customers prioritize specialization and experience as much as or more than convenience.

Ryan Lee recently chronicled this change in an article for Forbes Magazine. He points out that the horizontal marketplaces like Craigslist and eBay gave way to a “bundled world headed by one-stop shops that reigned over one-size-fits-all monopolies.”

The Nautical Commerce founder and CEO says that “we’ve entered an era of ‘unbundling'” where niche marketplaces have less to offer but a greater degree of focus.

It’s not that Craigslist or eBay, or Amazon, for that matter, are irrelevant. It’s just that the “horizontal marketplaces unintentionally primed the market for vertical marketplaces” and that “purpose-built, niche marketplaces have an opportunity to take market share away from the one-stop shops and instead curate a marketplace experience that attracts specific shopping styles, vertical, and brands.”

Marketplaces, and ecommerce brands as a whole, are less focused on being all things to all people. Instead, they’re trying to become the right thing for the right people.

How Brands are Embracing the Shift

You can see this shift continuing in today’s marketplaces in two primary ways.

First, you have brands like Reverb that started as a niche marketplace and became one of the top destinations for sellers in the musical instrument vertical. Of course, musicians can still search on eBay or Craigslist to meet these needs, but focusing on one vertical allows Reverb to stand out as a more specialized option.

On the other hand are brands that started with some niche and have become even more specialized, like Wayfair. Though it began as and continues to operate as a furniture store, it has also added other platforms to cater to more specified customers.

Their brand AllModern is a standalone store specializing in contemporary furniture with a modern design. Another brand of theirs, Joss & Main, takes a more classic approach to their pieces, but Wayfair owns both brands. Both use the furniture marketplace as a sales channel. But both are tapping into their targeted audience in a unique and specific way that a larger company as horizontal as Wayfair can’t.

4 Ways Multichannel Sellers Can Narrow Their Scope While Widening Their Reach

A successful niche marketplace finds a way to make its customers feel like they are seen and appreciated.

It’s that same feeling you get when you meet someone that shares your same level of interest in a movie or band. There’s an immediate connection.

Multichannel sellers can create that same level of connection with and amongst their customers by following in the footsteps of these niche marketplaces. By doing this, your customers will become more loyal to your brand, which leads to:

  • Better retention rates
  • Greater customer lifetime value
  • More evangelistic customers

Here are a few ideas for how you can do that.

Identify the Audience You Want to Target

Everything you do will be affected by your audience. Knowing the intricacies of their likes and dislikes will help you with your:

  • Product positioning
  • Content marketing
  • Design
  • Channel selection

If you’ve been in the online sales game for a while, don’t worry; you don’t have to revamp your entire business for this to be successful. Look at your data, find out who you’re already selling to, and then strategize.

Maybe you’ll see that your target audience is older and want to find a brand they can trust. You can build your marketing material around that concept or identify the proper channels that they would likely be buying on.

Think about it this way: it’s better to meet your customers where they are than to make them come to you. But to do that, you first need to know where they like to be.

Foster The Right Kind of Community For All Channels

Community has become a bit of a buzzword around ecommerce. Everyone wants to build communities for their customers, but not everyone knows what that means (or how to do it).

Part of the challenge is that community can feel so broad and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create that sense of community in several ways.

Reverb appeals to their musician audience by generating discussion on their social posts where people can comment and reply to one another. This post about a scorpion-shaped bass guitar garnered over 100 comments, many of which included replies where users engaged with one another.

The social team didn’t even have to keep up with the comments or engage directly with users. The customers built the community themselves. Reverb simply provided a place to connect with others who fall under the same specific niche.

Here are a few ideas to build that sense of community on other channels, too:

  • Incentivize reviews and social proof on your website
  • Provide prompts or giveaways for user-generated content
  • Create a reason to gather like a special event in your physical store
  • Reply to comments and reviews on marketplace sites

Move Towards Creating Omnichannel Experiences

Customers have increasingly shown that they want consistent experiences across all channels. They might start shopping on their phone, visit the brick-and-mortar to try something on, and then make a purchase from their desktop.

In fact, most customers average 6 touchpoints for every purchase in ecommerce. 15 years ago, the average was 2.

Bringing each of these siloed interactions together is what omnichannel selling is all about.

Omnichannel allows you to offer consistency to your consumers no matter how they choose to engage with your brand. Accomplishing this requires sophisticated software that can track data across each channel so you can optimize and align each one, creating a standard experience for the customer.

Make Things Personal

Your customers aren’t buyer personas or avatars in a CRM. They’re real people with lives, goals, hobbies, and names.

The more you can make your interactions with your customers feel appropriately personal, the better your chance of making a lasting impact.

This goes beyond adding their name to an email opening (though that’s a fine start!). Having the right data in place should empower you to try things like:

  • Segmenting campaigns so customers don’t receive ads for products they already own
  • Suggesting products that pair well with their recent purchases (a throw pillow to go with a blanket, for instance)
  • Giving them a chance to offer feedback and implement it
  • Targeting content based on geography (i.e. don’t invite someone in Iowa to visit your storefront in Washington)

Make sure you don’t get too creepy with your personalization, though. Customers don’t want to feel like you’re looking over their shoulder while they shop. A simple “check out these socks to go with your new shoes” message reads much less desperately than “hey it’s been 167 days since your last order, where have you been?”

Closing Thoughts

Your brand doesn’t have to reach everyone. It just has to reach the right people. Niche marketplaces have accepted this fact, and they’ve learned to capitalize on it by catering specifically to their target audience in ways larger brands can’t.

As an online seller, you can do the same by knowing your audience deeply, fostering community, offering consistent experiences, and making things personal.

That’s how you build loyalty in the modern consumer.