Selling on marketplaces is no longer an ‘if’ question, but has become about ‘when and how’. A deep dive into the structure of online marketplaces for fashion.
“We don’t want to sell online because we want to protect our brick & mortar stores.”
That’s a sentence I’ve heard over and over since I started working in the online sales business nine years ago. By now, however, I rarely hear it anymore in the fashion industry. But switch industry, and we’re back where fashion was when it began to embrace change a few years ago.
I’d call this a brave mindset for brick & mortar retailers. Have you ever considered what’s best for your end customer? They are the ones buying your products, after all. Are they able to get them where they want and where they usually buy?
I want to share my knowledge in online sales, give you ‘real talk’ about it, and provide you with insights and know-how. This article is the beginning of a new series about online sales that aims at deepening your understanding of this business.
I’ve experienced both sides of it: Amazon from the inside, brand sites from the inside, and other online shops from the outside, giving me a 360° view. I can also see that online sales as such is no longer that big of a question. It’s now more about the marketplace business, because there is a significant knowledge gap. Why? Because it remains a relatively new and complex topic.
“For me, online sales are no longer an ‘if’, but more of a ‘when and how’ question. Especially when it comes to online marketplaces.”
So, it’s time for a short deep-dive into the world of online marketplaces for fashion!
Online Distribution Channels Using Online Shops
Marketplaces for fashion are a sales channel for brands and retailers to sell their products online, via the big online shops like Amazon or Zalando. On the one hand, there is the wholesale business, which is still a B2B business model. You have a buyer who pre-orders your articles and sells them in the name of the online shop. At Amazon this is called Amazon Vendors, at Zalando it’s the conventional wholesale business.
In addition to the wholesale model, however, a brand can also sell directly via the online marketplace sales channel. As a brand, you use the online shop as a platform to sell your own products directly. You stock the product yourself, sell it via the online shop as a seller, and then ship it to your end customer. The advantage for a brand is that you can decide where you want to sell your products and at what retail price. In the wholesale model, the online shop will set the retail price, as they are the ones selling the product.
In Germany and Europe there are several marketplaces for fashion, also known as partner programmes, from online shops like Amazon, Zalando, About you, Otto, Klingel, Ebay, Sportscheck, mytoys, Limango, mirapodo, Galeria, La Redoute, Douglas, BOL, Allegro and many more. This small selection is primarily focused on fashion and lifestyle products.
Marketplaces for Fashion & Future Growth
Marketplaces have become the growth engines of the big online shops. In their 2019 annual report, Zalando announced an increase in the GMV share of their partner programme (marketplace) from 10% in 2018 to 40% in 2023-24, long-term even to 50%. They already increased the share from 10% to 15% in 2019. And according to estimates, Amazons marketplace sellers generated 60% of the overall turnover in 2019. These examples suggest that online sales via marketplaces for fashion will become even more significant in the near future.
“Marketplaces give you the opportunity to sell all the products you want, depending on your selection”
Let me give you a case example based on the graphic shown above. You are a retail brand who already sells products on Zalando via wholesale (marked dark blue).
- Your wholesale buyer orders 12 of your 20 bestseller styles (marked in dark blue)
- You add your 20 bestsellers via the marketplace, selling them yourself
- 8 of 20 bestsellers that haven’t been ordered wholesale (yet) are now available to consumers at Zalando too (marked in green)
- The 12 bestsellers that were ordered wholesale are sold directly by you as well, for example as soon as Zalando is out of stock, missing re-orders or late season (marked in light blue)
This hybrid wholesale and marketplace model gives you the opportunity to generate additional turnover with styles that weren’t ordered wholesale or have gone out of stock, further growing your online sales business in the process.
The past has shown that selling via partner programmes and the wholesale business are of mutual benefit. It supports you as a brand to sell new categories and styles the wholesale buyer didn’t choose or misjudged in terms of numbers. In my experience, you can add a minimum of +10% marketplace turnover, if you are already selling a wide selection of your assortment via wholesale.
I have also seen marketplace growth rates of +30% within three months of a new category being added to a marketplace. For the buyer this was a good test case, as they began to order the category in question wholesale too. Whether you want to continue selling your products wholesale if you are already selling via marketplaces is a different question. In my experience, however, wholesale and marketplace sales benefit from one another.
Marketplace Isn’t Marketplace: Open and Closed Marketplaces
Open marketplaces are open to anything and anyone
Open marketplaces are open for any product without restrictions or pre-selection. This means that anyone can sell anything on this type of marketplace. Amazon is a pretty good example here. There is an abundance of offers from all over the world, especially from Asia. At the same time, a single product (with the same EAN code) can be offered by multiple sellers. This results in price competition on the same product.
But with no entry barriers in place, you can enter the market and start selling immediately on such open marketplaces for fashion. You don’t even need to be a known brand. In addition to Amazon, ebay, BOL (NL) or Real are good examples of open marketplaces. Otto, who only operated a closed marketplace until now, is also launching an open marketplace this year.
Closed marketplaces are more exclusive and have less competition
Closed marketplaces, on the other hand, have entry restrictions and are more exclusive as a result. You need a sales permission to sell your products on closed marketplaces. Once you have this one-time permission, you can sell all your brand’s products on the marketplace.
As not just anyone is selling there, you can provide a good brand experience. At the same time, there is also less competition, because each EAN is only offered by one seller at a time. This means your recommended retail price is also more stable compared to open marketplaces. The barrier to enter a closed marketplace for fashion is also slightly higher than selling via open marketplaces. Good examples for closed marketplaces are Zalando, Otto, About you, Klingel, Sportscheck, mytoys and mirapodo.
What’s better now for my brand?
This heavily depends on your brand, products, price points and your strategy. I’ve helped many brands with their marketplace business, among others a well-known underwear brand. This brand faced several challenges. We were already wholesale partner to all the big online shops, and they wanted us to go for the marketplace model. We wanted to expand our selection and to be our own back-up, for example when products ran out of stock on the platform.
- Challenge number one was that our logistic headquarter in Hungary mainly focused on B2B orders.
- Challenge number two was a lack of capacity in the ecommerce team.
We took a long time to get a general overview of the marketplace market. I was the only sales person responsible for the online business (excluding the own online shop). And we came to a number of decisions:
- To start with marketplaces for fashion on Amazon, Zalando, About you, Klingel and Otto where we had permissions to sell our brand.
- We didn’t want to (and couldn’t) do B2C shipping from Hungary and needed a partner with consignment stock to do this for us in Germany
- We needed a full-service partner who is a marketplace expert and owns the main processes to save our team’s capacity
After we took these decisions and selected a full-service partner, we began four months later on all five marketplaces and ramped up online sales of our brand. We benefited from the mix between wholesale and marketplace business. It gave us the opportunity to widen our selection, to be our own stock back-up, and to boost sales.
I would highly recommend starting with marketplaces soon, as it is one important sales channel of the near future!
About the Author:
Valerie Dichtl has been responsible for fashion buying (Amazon), selling via marketplaces, and online wholesale for nine years. Combining her experience from brand site, online retail and consulting in the fashion industry, she supports brands in defining and implementing their online sales strategy. She helps brands sell independently from wholesale on online fashion marketplaces and enables the needed knowledge. Learn more about her here or connect with her on LinkedIn.