December 9, 2022

A robust e-commerce ecosystem has become an integral strategy for all retail businesses to deploy. Be it the small local businesses down the street or multinational conglomerates, ensuring you are providing as many buying options as possible to customers is key.

Thanks to a thriving e-commerce market, brands can reach customers globally, 24/7, and with low maintenance costs. With this, however, comes higher competition and a crucial need for logistics on delivery and returns. Most importantly, brands must ensure that whichever route they take, they cultivate a healthy e-commerce ecosystem.

This year the global e-commerce market value climbed to $4.921 trillion, while it is estimated that 230.5 million Americans are online shoppers and have browsed products, compared prices, and bought merchandise online at least once. This positions the United States as one of the leading e-commerce markets globally. Despite this, however, a recent study has found that a staggering 80 percent of US small businesses are not taking full advantage of digital tools. This leaves a huge gap in the e-commerce ecosystem that businesses can learn to develop and ensure their continued viability.

So, how can businesses develop this e-commerce ecosystem and rest assured they are reaching all possible customers? There are three key options brands can consider, while the approach they take will depend largely on how digitally mature they are.

The Golden Direct-to-Consumer

This exclusively encompasses a brand’s own e-commerce platform, providing a direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach for a brand and enabling a direct line to customers. This approach gives full control to the brand over their own e-commerce but does not take into consideration other potentially valuable channels, be it online or offline.

Many shoppers, however, are more tempted to purchase directly from brands and retailers they trust to ensure product authenticity and customer warranty. Direct contact also provides brands with data required for them to discover new customer insights. DTC initiatives can also help innovate and assist with digital transformation, improving the overall speed and agility of the business. We often see a trend here where some brands try to go completely DTC without any other e-commerce options.

This strategy, however, does not come without its disadvantages as many brands soon realize that there is a large portion of channel sales they are missing out on and in turn lose potential customers. Shipping costs and logistics also need to be absorbed by the brand, which in some cases can prove less profitable. All the same, DTC is a popular route for brands today, depending on their priorities.

Retailers Only

A second option is to exclusively work with retailers or indirect channels to enable an e-commerce landscape, eliminating the brand’s own DTC approach. A downside to this is that it leaves a brand without a direct line to their customers, running the risk of incomplete data and insights. A retailers-only approach offers the brand a limited opportunity to improve the user journey or make changes to product presentation or customer discounts.

Nonetheless, this approach is great for brands that are just starting the business and have low brand awareness. This is also a popular alternative for those not ready to invest in building their own e-commerce channel.

Omnichannel is King

Omnichannel (a combination of both the above) is the most effective way to go about guaranteeing a robust e-commerce ecosystem for any brand and business. This strategy combines the strength of both D2C and a retailer or indirect channel-only approach. This will guarantee that, above all, you are serving the customer and providing them with buying options that are most convenient for them rather than losing a client to a competitor or not getting insights into the purchase path.

Many shoppers visit brand sites to learn more about the product, but often they prefer to buy the product from a retailer they have an account with, or maybe even a membership such as Amazon Prime.

Imagine a prospective customer visits your brand’s website but isn’t offered any buying options beyond the brand’s own e-commerce storefront. Whether it’s alternative online retailers or even local brick-and-mortar stores to choose from, the consumer often prefers to have the option to make their purchase elsewhere. Without that option and prefer to make a purchase from a trusted source, the shopper will subsequently leave the website, meaning the brand will be left not knowing what happened next. Did the customer opt to buy the product from their favorite retailer? Or, alternatively, did they decide to buy a competitor’s product instead? The brand is none the wiser, and this break in the customer journey is what causes frustration for both brands and consumers.

Not offering multiple channel options often means a brand misses out on both sales and valuable insights into where their customers like to do their shopping. Many brands avoid going fully omnichannel because they are worried about potential channel conflict, be it from their own channels, or retail partners. However, rather than causing channel conflict, adopting an omnichannel strategy is mutually beneficial for brands, retail partners, and customers. An omnichannel strategy facilitates the customer’s journey from touch-point to touch-point, ensuring they make their purchase from whichever channel suits them best. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Overall, in today’s retail landscape, brands need to focus less on which channel is best and look more at how these channels work together. Consumers want to be able to purchase products in the most convenient way– they are not interested in how each channel performs or the pros and cons of this to the brand. Following the current crest of e-commerce sales and continued growth set for 2022, there has never been a more important time to implement a successful e-commerce ecosystem and there is sufficient technology out there to make this omnichannel commerce possible.

There are pros and cons to each e-commerce approach, but I believe the future is in a streamlined omnichannel system combining the best attributes of e-commerce and retail, putting the ‘which is best’ debate to bed. While certain routes suit brands at different stages of their digital maturity, adopting an omnichannel strategy is a characteristic of fully grown and forward-thinking organizations.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of