Multichannel storefronts way to go for e-commerce success

Facebook alone won't cut it if your small company hopes to make a sales impact online.

Less than one year ago, the small business world was atwitter (pun intended) with the possibilities associated with Facebook commerce -- even though larger retailers clearly were reporting mixed results with their own efforts.

At the time, close to 90 percent of the small retailers and merchants using the Goodsie platform, for example, had switched on Facebook storefronts.

For some current perspective, I spoke several weeks ago with Spreadshirt, a retailer that has a big ecommerce presence pretty much everywhere you would expect.

Spreadshirt's fastest growing businesses is working with teams, charities and other organizations that are using storefronts to sell cause t-shirts with custom slogans, phrases, logos and such. Many are flocking first to Facebook, because of the high numbers of followers that they have amassed there, said the company's CEO Philip Rooke.

While having a Facebook presence is super important, Rooke said smaller retailers and companies shouldn't expect much out of it when it comes to transactions. That's primarily because of the high volume of users that interact with the social network using smartphones or tablets, he said.

"Facebook shops really don't work on the mobile level," Rooke said."It really highlights that you have to support the simplest transaction mechanism that you can."

I thought about what Rooke said when I received a recent release from e-commerce platform provider Volusion, touting its new ability to integrate with Amazon. The new capability means that Volusion merchants can now sell their products via Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google Merchant Center and comparison shopping engines. The integration is free for small retailers that use the Volusion Gold plan (or higher).

"Empowering our customers to become the most successful merchants selling online is what drives us to be at the forefront of e-commerce solutions, especially as it relates to the increased need for multi-channel commerce in today's environment," said Clay Olivier, Volusion's CEO, in a statement.

Moving forward, it's clear small businesses banking on e-commerce shouldn't rely too heavily on one channel to make their presence known. Based on what I've been reading and hearing during my interviews with small-business owners, here are 5 questions I would ask when evaluating the evolution of your strategy.

  1. Am I represented on the social networks where my customers congregate? Increasingly, it won't be just Facebook where you should exposure your store, especially if you are targeting millennials.
  2. Will my platform allow me to add more storefronts over time, including eBay, Etsy and other marketplaces that might be relevant for my business?
  3. Can I build my international presence if I want, with services that help my business figure out shipping, customs and international currency conversions?
  4. How well does my e-commerce engine integrate with my tablet point-of-sale (POS) system, so that inventories are always synchronized?
  5. Is mobility supported, in the form of an optimized site that encourages prospects to complete a transaction either in cyberspace or in person?

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