It’s a tricky balancing act, representing a brand online that sells both directly to consumers and wholesale, into stores. You want to support the business on all fronts, but it’s impossible to avoid the fact: you are now in direct competition with your own customers.
At first glance, it might seem like a no-brainer. You’re the manufacturer. If you’re selling directly, you’re cutting out the middle man – a whole level of markup. You can charge so much less! (Right?)
Well, if you’re selling the same (or very similar) products to those your retailers are carrying, this might be the quickest way to alienate them and lose what is, in many cases, the high-volume B2B side of your business. It’s easy to have e-commerce tunnel vision and forget that there is a big picture for the business.
This is a multi-faceted relationship. You’re engaged with wholesale customers in a codependent relationship. It’s complicated. They have buyers and development managers, merchandisers building floor displays, and marketing departments building promotional calendars. Everyone has an opinion – about what to carry, how to package it, and how to promote it.
On the other side, you are doing the same thing your wholesale customers are: trying to engage with the consumer, to sell your product. You want to build that recognition and move your product on its own merit, direct to consumers.
So what do you BOTH want? What’s the one thing that you can do that puts you both on the same side of this battle?
Build. Your. Brand.
When your brand is strong, it’s easier for you both to sell it. Signature designs are seen as statements, and are accepted by fans of your style. Co-branded lines (like Missoni for Target, or “Simply Vera” Vera Wang for Kohl’s) carry the authority of the brand with the value of the retailer. Trust and loyalty are fostered and both collaborators win.
So how can you build an online brand while minimizing channel conflict?
Top 5 Brand Building Basics for Brand Manufacturers in Online Retail
1. Decide not to directly compete. Don’t carry all the same ANYTHING as your retailers. When you do, don’t undercut them just because you can. Find ways to build value in your brand story and you won’t be so reliant on winning the price war to win the sale.
2. Create exclusive lines that no one else carries. It might generate a little bit of drama when a retailer wants to carry it and you say “no” but offer to design them an exclusive co-branded line instead. Keep your online-only special offerings exactly that, price them how you’d like, and enjoy the merits of designing for your own audience!
3. Get behind the brand, no matter who sold the product. Look at the websites and brands that offer the best, most comprehensive guarantees. Quality brands that do all they can to make it right for their consumers don’t discriminate based on the retailer. Whether items are purchased directly from your site or in a discount shop 8 months after its heyday on another retail shelf, it’s your product. Stand by it. When you allow consumers to contact you directly to be “made whole” when they are dissatisfied with your product, they feel better about your brand, your products, and the retailer they purchased them from.
4. Take customer comments seriously. If your retailers have reviews of your products on their sites, follow them. Contact your retailers regularly to meet about the feedback they receive on your products. Learn from it, improve, and follow up with retailers about the steps you’ve taken. Offer to contact especially unhappy consumers directly and do all you can to turn them into brand advocates. (Note that some review services are now offering the ability for brand manufacturers to directly comment on reviews of their products on retailers’ sites. This is very exciting! Everyone should take advantage of it!)
5. Find ways to benefit each other. Working with a small retailer that just wants to “try” a new line in miniscule quantities? Let them buy into some of your B2C inventory to get started. Retailers skittish about new colors/styles/lines? Test them yourself first and prove their viability. Tasked with changing things up? Poll your consumer audience for quick market research. Every retailer has different pain points. Look for them… and then look for ways you, as a peer retailer AND the brand manufacturer, can heal them.
When your focus is brand building, quality, and satisfaction at all levels, you and your retailers are rowing in the same direction. You own your space, and you become a resource and an authority, to the benefit of all channels.