Which Ecommerce Strategy is Winning During the Coronavirus?


March 28, 2020

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Multichannel vs. Amazon vs. Webstore

The coronavirus has created a shockwave that is upending our economy. In ecommerce, some merchants are hitting new sales records every day while others are unable to legally enter their warehouses. Marketplaces are reacting to fevered consumer demand and supply chain disruption by making urgent changes to their rules and processes. New updates are cropping up daily and uncertainty is high. During these unprecedented times, we analyzed which ecommerce strategy is weathering the changes well.

We’ll look at three different strategies in this blog: 

  • Multichannel. These sellers want to be everywhere their customers shop. They value diversification and maximizing sales. They may still consider Amazon and their webstores a big part of their strategy, but no single channel dominates their revenue stream.
  • Amazon Focused. These merchants value the scale and ease of selling on Amazon. They are likely dependent on FBA and find expanding to additional sales channels daunting, since diversification may require additional fulfillment solutions, software and business functions that Amazon usually takes care of. Their mindset is summarized as, “Why invest in expanding to new channels when I can invest in growing on Amazon”?
  • Webstore Focused. These merchants are focused on branding and building a deep relationship with their customers. They will sell on marketplaces but are apprehensive about playing by someone else’s rules. The marketplaces they sell on have a strong demographic overlap and minimal cannibalization on their direct efforts. But branding on marketplaces is of utmost importance to them, and marketplaces are only as valuable as the traffic they funnel back to their webstores.
comparison of different ecommerce selling strategies

Each of these strategies has strengths and weaknesses; there truly isn’t one correct strategy for all merchants. That being said, we’ve never experienced a situation like this before, so we analyzed how these strategies are stacking up against one another.

Webstore-Focused Ranks as the Worst...and the Best Strategy

There are two very interesting things happening among merchants who own a webstore (i.e., a Shopify, BigCommerce or Magento-powered transactional shopping site).

On one hand, webstore-focused merchants performed the worst across all the seller groups we examined.

chart showing GMV growth rates of webstore-focused ecommerce sellers during coronavirus

This could be for a few reasons:

  • Websites may not be able to fulfill orders with shelter-in-place mandates and/or their shipping speeds lag behind marketplaces, where consumers are flocking for faster delivery options
  • Marketplaces have more selection and inventory—things consumers need right now
  • Webstores do not centralize traffic and demand. I’m speculating that as consumers look for products that they may not buy normally, they’re shopping at a marketplace that is better for browsing. Marketplace Pulse made a case for Shopify to create their own marketplace to solve this problem.

However, not everything is grim for webstores!

Multichannel merchants who have webstores as part of their strategy are seeing the most gains of all. This chart shows GMV growth rates of multichannel merchants over the last two weeks compared to the the prior two weeks. It's organized by the total number of channels they sell on, including both marketplaces and webstores.

chart of gmv growth rates of multichannel sellers during coronavirus pandemic

In the above graph, we can see how the sweet spot is four total channels right now. Merchants who have three marketplaces and a webstore are experiencing a 73% growth rate on average!

Multichannel vs. Amazon Focused YoY

We took a look at the YoY growth change surrounding to these two strategies for each week since COVID-19 became public (end of 2019).

comparison of gmv growth rates between multichannel and amazon sellers during coronavirus

As shown above, Amazon merchants did slightly better through January, but trends began to deviate at the beginning of February.

Through February, average YoY sales were down for Amazon-focused merchants, while they were in the double digits for multichannel merchants. Curiously, the lines crossed the week of March 8 and then spiked in both segments last week.

Several events last week could have influenced this trend:

  • March 17 - Amazon suspends all non-essential shipments
  • March 22 - Prime delivery dates balloon to one month
  • March 23 - Amazon takes action against price gouging

The result of these changes will begin to reflect in next week's data. (Let us know if you’d like to see this.)

What's Causing a Spike for Multichannel Sellers?

U.S. marketplaces are seeing a high variance in growth rates, both naturally and as a result of how they’re responding to COVID-19. So far through the pandemic, a diversified multichannel strategy has been prevailing as the winner.

One interesting observation, however, is that the best success hasn’t come from merchants with the most marketplaces; merchants who seem to be picking the right marketplaces are seeing great returns.

This chart shows GMV growth rates of merchants over the last two weeks against the prior two weeks. This data excludes webstores. As mentioned before, merchants selling on three marketplaces are seeing the most growth.

gmv growth rates of marketplace sellers during coronavirus pandemic

In Summary

The "winning" strategy is a multichannel plan (including a webstore)! To be more specific, a thoughtful multichannel strategy is prevailing.

This isn’t too surprising—diversification is generally the best strategy for any economic markets experiencing high variance, and it holds true in ecommerce as well.

These results highlight the value of building customer relationships while also being where your customers are shopping.

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What You Can Do Now

  • Diversify your revenue but be thoughtful in your approach. Do your research! If you’re an Amazon-focused merchant, consider starting a webstore as well as expanding to additional marketplaces.
  • Centralize your operations. Scaling sales channels adds complexity to your business and requires a single source of truth for your products, workflows and reports.
  • Talk to us. We’re helping merchants navigate the current situation in real time. What are you dealing with right now?

Need Help with Multichannel?

Schedule time with a Zentail expert to see how we can transform your Ecommerce business.

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