Many questions bedevil new Skincare Creators. Here’s one: Where should I market my products? On my own site, on a big retailer, in physical stores?
There is no one right answer.
When you’re drawing up your business plan, there are lots of things to consider. These include your starting point, realistic growth expectations, ability to invest up front in brand development costs, ability to hold out until your business turns a profit, and target clientele.
So as you get your product just right, make sure your branding is established and positive, and reach out to customers, you should have a clear idea where you will sell.
Where Will You Sell?
Some brands have their own sales channels all ready to go. Think the barbershop downtown, which has developed its own line of pomades and beard oils. Think the wellness spa up the block, with its privately-branded professional treatments.
These businesses already have established client bases who will see and buy products when they visit the premises or website. Many new market entrants don’t have that luxury.
Selling on Your Own Site
So where to sell? Let’s focus on online sales.
It can be tempting to focus completely on your own website, which you control totally. But if you don’t already have an established brand and presence to leverage for sales and marketing, then building one from scratch will take work.
- More control over branding, design, presentation, and basically everything else
- Taking home a greater percentage of sales (i.e., not having to give a cut to the retailer/marketplace)
- Building your own website, then optimizing it, can cost a surprising amount of money and time.
- You can partner with a vendor or vendors who handle the technical side of things, including designing, setting up, and running the website design, but this will cost money.
- Attracting visitors to your site is a slow process. It takes time to get to the top of the Google results that’s where search-engine optimization comes in.
We at Dynamic Blending can help you with building, optimizing and maintain your website.
Going Where the Customers Are: Established Shops
There are sites that specialize in selling products from a particular category, such as Sephora or Ulta for cosmetics. Beauty brands can partner with many of these sites, once they meet technical requirements and are approved as suppliers or sellers. (The particulars differ depending on the retailer.)
- You’ll see higher traffic than your own site would draw.
- More visitors may equal higher sales volume.
- The site handles many technical details that would otherwise be your responsibility.
- You pay a percentage of sales to the site.
- Loss of control of the brand experience; less flexibility than your own site.
There are also general-purpose retailers, like Target, that sell many categories of products via their online storefronts. Suppliers to these sites also go through an approval process, making them a sort of middle ground (from a Creator’s perspective) between the specialists and the big marketplaces that dominate the online shopping landscape.
The Big Marketplaces
We’ve all shopped on Amazon, eBay, and other sites that group together sellers under one digital umbrella. They’re like the mall, only online.
For consumers, the convenience of going to a single well-known website, typing in the thing you want, and immediately having seemingly endless choices cannot be beaten. This translates to more eyes on your products.
- Everybody uses these marketplaces, so the potential traffic is unbeatable.
- The site handles many technical details.
- The site will take a sizable cut of each sale, meaning you have to prioritize volume if you’re going to succeed there.
- Fierce price competition can mean pressure that lowers your profits.
- You’ll have less control over branding and the shopping experience.
- Your brand might be more vulnerable to copycats.
There are strategies for winning on Amazon, just like at the mall. These include paying for premium space (here, it’s in search results rather than for foot traffic, but the principle is the same), and making sure your marketing is as distinctive as it can be within the marketplace’s restrictions.
The repeating themes in the pro-and-con lists above are brand prestige, profit, convenience, and control. Gaining one might mean compromising on some of the others.
As we said, your own site gives you control over branding, which means you can theoretically build prestige, and you take home all the profit. But the legwork is considerably higher, and it can take longer to turn a profit as you wait for traffic to increase—not convenient.
Selling on other sites, either specialty or mass-market, can up the convenience by a lot, particularly by providing traffic to your store. In return, you’ll have to pay a cut, and you’ll lose control over aspects including branding. Just how much this will cost, both in profit and in brand prestige, depends on which sites you’re selling on.
Many brands reason that it’s not realistic for a new, niche website to expect the traffic that a large platform can deliver, so they partner. It is up to each brand owner to analyze the available channels and figure out the best solution for that brand.
A hybrid strategy?
Brand owners can also start by selling on one or several existing online platforms, then pivoting to a direct-to-consumer model when it makes sense for your business. This hybrid kind of strategy is also known as an “omni-channel” strategy.
Here’s an example: Since its 2012 founding, demand for products by luxury skin-care brand May Lindstrom has grown steadily. The brand has used this opportunity to focus on direct-to-consumer sales rather than expanding into more retailers. This focus only strengthened during the COVID-19 crisis: when health regulations placed limits on staff, May Lindstrom completely paused delivery to third-party retailers through at least 2021, in favor of selling only on its own website.
This strategy worked for May Lindstrom. It may be right for your business; it may not. You, as a Creator, have the freedom to work that out.
Coming back to brick-and-mortar boutiques: they can also be part of a broader hybrid strategy. Maybe it’s your goal to gain a foothold in established retailers, then pivot to establish a brick-and-mortar shop as a home base. (Commercial real estate is outside the scope of this article, but if you’re already establishing a shop dedicated to your brand, you’re probably past this stage already!)
Going to market
What do you think?
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Richard is an editorial jack-of-all-trades