Faced with fierce competition from pure players (with Amazon leading the pack), brick-and-mortar brands cannot and should not attempt to compete in the digital space. They should instead focus on what sets them apart, namely their physical network and brand power. Building an online marketplace provides retailers with an opportunity to strengthen their DNA and offer customers a seamless and complementary product and service offering with limited risk.
Launching an online marketplace is often the final phase of a brick-and-mortar brand’s digital strategy. Justifiably, these brands often prefer to initially invest in the omni-channel nature of their e-commerce platform to sell their own products and meet the needs of their customers and network of physical stores. That said, given the financial, human or organizational investments involved in building an online marketplace, launching one by no means marks the end of the process. On the contrary, the marketplace should serve as a springboard for developing new opportunities to bolster customer experience.
Protecting the brand’s image
The online marketplace provides retailers with an opportunity to strengthen their DNA and offer customers a seamless and complementary product and service offering with limited risk. Assurances for tech products (replacements, refunds or extended warranties) naturally come to mind, such as those offered by the Fnac Darty Group, a European retailer of entertainment and leisure products, consumer electronics and household appliances, or even credit solutions for more expensive products. Product-wise, a sports apparel brand could, for instance, connect with a weight training equipment or sporting events organizer, and an interior furniture specialist could offer products from outdoor furniture or gardening suppliers to broaden its line and provide a complete home offering. Selecting the right third-party dealers therefore remains key to protecting the brand’s image in the eye of customers.
The entire partner value chain must also be measured (quality of offers, on-time delivery, efficient after-sales service, etc.) against brand standards to prevent the brand’s image from being altered. By offering a broader product line, retailers can attract new customers and keep existing ones.
Rolling out the in-store presence
The benefits of a virtual marketplace for a retailer should not be limited to the digital space. Extending the customer experience from the online platform to the physical store is vital for brands as customers are used to immediacy and product variety. It would be downright impossible and even absurd to display the online marketplace products in-store. To get around this, many brands equip their sales staff with tablets to access all online offers, including marketplace products. Sales reps can help customers search the store’s website and place orders, offering the options for home delivery or in-store pick-up and making payments via the tablet’s payment gateway, a service offered by brands such as Nature & Découvertes, a leading omni-channel retailer of products in the natural and well-being sector. Obviously, getting the sales team on board with these solutions is also a key factor. The roll-out must include staff training on the tools, and also on online marketplace mechanics so staff clearly understand that selling a product from a marketplace dealer still remains a transaction operated by the retailer.
Online marketplaces and brand loyalty
A brand can also blur its physical and digital boundaries by dedicating part of its retail space to “corners.” This enables very successful marketplace dealers to display and market their products with their own salesforce inside a store, either temporarily as part of a one-off campaign (which can be connected to the brand’s website) or in a more sustainable form—such as the Samsung and Apple corners at Fnac or the Darty corners in Carrefour hypermarkets. Let’s wager that in the near future highly complimentary brands will be in physical and digital symbiosis with each displaying one another’s products in the marketplace and occupying a corner of each other’s store.