Business meeting - LINC

Building an online distribution channel

A business ‘channel’ is you how you find customers or the way they buy, and online channels are continually changing (almost daily it seems) as new technologies and trends hit the market. If you can find an online channel that resonates with your customers, it could be an opportunity to find new ways of delivering new products and services, and a chance to shake up the market. Or, online channels could potentially improve how you interact with customers and lock them in as a customer for life. If you are wanting to grow and are thinking about new ways of selling, there are a number of business channels for you to consider.

New ways of selling

It wasn’t very long ago when physically meeting and talking to someone (or mail order) were the only ways to make a purchase. The internet and online banking have changed the playing field; it’s possible to never see who you buy from or who you sell to.

Taking for granted traditional online shopping, other ways of selling now include:

  • drop shipping: another business holds the inventory and ships to your customer
  • affiliates: receives commission by recommending other businesses products
  • brokerage: connects buyers and sellers like real estate agents
  • renting short-term: such as using a scooter for 10 minutes
  • on-demand: delivering only when ordered, like printing and books
  • resource sharing: where Uber and Airbnb use the public to rent their services/products to end users

This list isn’t exhaustive as new ideas will come along all the time, but you should look at what is trending in your industry that you could take advantage of. Investigate if there is a new way of selling that opens up a new business channel to your customers. 

Online marketplaces

A business no longer needs its own channel to market. The growth of third-party marketplaces, like Amazon (who sells almost everything) or specialist global sites like Etsy (selling mainly art and homemade items), allow you to list goods or services which they promote to their database of customers. Those sites may require a fee to list your goods, but the benefits include low set up costs, easy product listings, access to their customers and payment processes set up for you, among others. Investigate your industry marketplace and decide if it’s worth trying this as a channel to new customers to complement your other selling strategies.

Subscription models

Paying a monthly fee is increasingly embedded into our way of buying, especially when consumers are willing to commit to recurring payments in exchange for continually updated products or services. Netflix, Disney, Neon, Apple are good media examples of this. But you don’t need to be a tech company to have customers subscribe or have your own payment system; digital payment platforms such as PayPal, Stripe and WePay, allow you to set up and process recurring payments yourself.

Other businesses charging a monthly fee include:

  • professional services, such as accountants and marketers
  • consumables 
  • health and wellness (gyms and supplements)
  • meal delivery 
  • leasing of vehicles
  • publications and exclusive content

What can you sell or provide and have your customers pay you monthly?

Giving stuff away for free

Some of the largest companies in the world, such as social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) and search (Google), have business models which offer the core product for users at no cost,. These users then post, blog, discuss, share and participate for free, and that traffic generated is monetized, usually from online advertising.

Online media and gaming sites also use this model to provide a certain amount of gaming/information for free, with upgrade options to purchase inside the product.

You, too, may be able to deliver parts of your business for free while creating alternate revenue streams, though your ‘giveaway’ doesn’t need to be product. It could be valuable content, information or services as a lead generating opportunity.

Check that the new ideas are feasible

There are many ways you can introduce new online services, products or channels to your business. If you do implement a new way to sell, make sure the business model is profitable and can stand alone if needed.

To help you choose the right channel:

  • stay informed about the best new business apps and what is relevant to your industry
  • evaluate any new software or channels introduced by your industry
  • safeguard your new online business from theft or fraud
  • use social media to identify how customers prefer to buy
  • ask your customers what they use and how they want to deal with you

To win new customers and provide reasons for your existing customers to stay, consider which existing online channels you could adopt and keep up-to-date on your industry trends to see what you may need to implement in the future.