(This post was originally published on March 10, 2015. It has been updated for accuracy and completeness.)
You don’t have to sell all your products the same way on a single eCommerce site. You can (and some retailers should) diversify your brands or products by selling them on separate webstores.
Managing multiple webstores sites has distinct advantages, but also comes with added complexity. In this post we’ll dive into what you need to consider when operating multiple webstores and how to overcome challenges.
Why sell on multiple webstores?
You might be asking why you would even want multiple webstores. Why can’t you just put everything on a single webstore, making it easiest for you to manage?
While a multi-store strategy isn’t right for every retailer, there are some scenarios where it makes a lot of sense.
You want to sell your products to multiple geographies or in multiple languages.
Different regions of the world have different cultural norms and habits. You may need to tweak design and copy. To deal with those international differences, you may need completely different sites. If you need to set up your webstore in multiple languages, you may need multiple stores, too.
You want to sell products under differentiated brands.
This way you can focus the branding and design for each to the specific products being sold. If you sell direct to consumers and to other businesses, you may want to differentiate your brand across both channels. It’s another good candidate for separating into two webstores.
You sell product sets that just aren’t related.
It wouldn’t make sense to sell outdoor grilling equipment on the same website that sells women’s athletic clothing. Unless you are retailer going for that “one stop shop” brand, you may consider grouping your products and selling on separate webstores.
I’m not advocating that you must us multiple webstores for any of these scenarios. However, these are certainly a few situation where you might want to consider it.
Challenges With Managing Multiple Webstores
You may have legitimate reasons for setting up multiple webstores. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to sell across different webstores though. The following are some of the common challenges you’ll need to prepare for:
- Without a solution to manage orders centrally, you’ll have to manage orders out of each separate site.
- If you sell some products on both webstores, you need to keep inventory updated as customers buy or return items.
- Product data (like categories) is probably structured differently across webstores.
- If each store uses a different eCommerce platform, integrations with other systems become even more complicated.
I talked to Judd Franklin, lead eCommerce developer at Still Water Interactive, about the challenges with managing multiple webstores. He says that “keeping multiple stores distinct is a recipe for complexity.” You have to manage and maintain separate data and user experiences.
Franklin says, “The biggest risk in multiple stores is the division of data. Inventory, orders, refunds, returns, analytics, user data, and other key eCommerce datasets are already quite hard to manage, so keeping these ordered is essential.”
The biggest risk in multiple stores is the division of data. Inventory, orders, refunds, returns, analytics, user data, and other key eCommerce datasets are already quite hard to manage, so keeping these ordered is essential.
– Judd Franklin, Still Water Interactive
While there may be reasons for building multiple webstores, Franklin suggests that you consider a middle ground approach: Build out multiple media outlets on the same webstore. This allows you to differentiate brands without completely separating the architecture of the sites.
In other words, be very sure you actually require multiple webstores, before taking that approach. If that’s the direction you must go, you will need a strategy for managing the complexities that Franklin describes.
Tips for Managing Multiple Webstores
Managing multiple webstores can get a little tricky, if you don’t do it right. The following are a few tips for making it easier to build out a multi-store strategy:
Master your item data with a PIM.
A product information management (PIM) system is software that is specifically built to deal with product information. It’s a much more scalable solution than mastering your items in an eCommerce platform. Your product data is kept clean in a platform that stands independent of the sales channels to which it publishes.
This also helps you if you want to expand to additional sales channels, like Amazon or eBay. You’ll already be set up to push items to those marketplaces using the very specific product data points and categories they require.
Make sure your product data is optimized for search engines.
Perform keyword research to understand what words your customers are using in search queries. Make sure you are describing your products in the language your customers are using. But, be careful not to pit products in your multiple stores against one another. You don’t want to compete with yourself for search engine rankings.
Optimize each site for conversion.
Utilize A/B testing software to test variations of copy, design, and button text, to optimize your webstores’ conversion rates. But, be careful about assuming that a test result on webstore A will apply to webstore B.
If your stores represent different brands targeting different people or your stores are targeting different geographies/languages, you’ll probably want to optimize each store independent of the others.
Manage your inventory from a central location.
You may present multiple brands to different sets of customers, but “under the hood” you’re one company. Don’t segregate how you manage your inventory, just because your stores are separate. You’ll want to centralize where you manage inventory and make sure all inventory numbers are updated across your stores in real time.
In other words, don’t try to manage you inventory for each webstore within each webstore. Synchronize inventory to a central point, like an ERP, so that you maintain a true “master” set of information.
Centralize order management processes.
Just like with inventory management, you’ll want to centralize how you manage and fulfill orders. Keeping fulfillment, customer care, and drop shipping processes consistent across all your company’s brands will make it easier for you to manage them. Don’t deviate from your standard, unless you must.
Again, don’t try to manage orders within individual webstores. Push order data to a centralized system that can manage orders for all of your customer touchpoints.
Consider a retail system integration platform.
There are system integration providers, like nChannel, that are built to centralize and sync data among your eCommerce, marketplace, ERP, 3PL systems and more. This would give you a dedicated technology to handle the synchronization of inventory, orders, products, customers, and more among your multiple webstores and ERP.
Franklin offers some advice to eCommerce retailers as well:
Think of eCommerce not as the management of a store, but rather as the management of clientele. The website is merely a set of interfaces for facilitating transactions with your clientele. In the end, keeping your customer data current, keeping relationships active and well-documented, and keeping your interaction data well-maintained and indexed will allow you to make transactions painless and even enjoyable.”
If you’re looking to set up multiple webstores (or maybe you’re already doing it), you’ll find that it can get complicated.
Check out the eCommerce platform connections nChannel already has built: