Are vendors delivering better online experiences than multi-brand sellers?

Aug 28, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a survey from Astound Commerce, 55 percent of consumers prefer to shop directly at a brand manufacturer website rather than go to a retailer who may sell multiple brands.

Further, 54 percent believe brand manufacturer websites can deliver more comprehensive product information, in addition to enhanced customer service, better prices and more personalization options.

The survey is somewhat biased as it comes from 1,000 consumers who shop online and have visited a brand manufacturer’s website in the past six months. Two out of three had purchased at least three products on brand sites in the past six months.

The appeal of vendor websites is also contradicted by other results in the study. For instance, 72 percent indicated they prefer to shop at online retailers where multiple brand manufacturers are sold. The same 72 percent also agreed they prefer to shop at physical retailers where multiple brand manufacturers are sold.

In its study, Astound said it believes that shoppers admit to still preferring multiple brand retail experiences likely because it’s a “long entrenched behavior.” But the authors believe the “pendulum may be shifting” towards manufacturer websites in part because of vendors’ ability to provide a higher level of service and engagement as well as information for research.

Among the reasons consumers shop online with brand manufacturers were:

  • Assortment: 45 percent of respondents expect a broader assortment of the vendor’s brand versus retailers with multiple brands;
  • Information: 54 percent expect more comprehensive information and guides about the product and category at vendor websites;
  • Brand engagement: 37 percent expect a more engaging experience (video, social elements, etc.) on a brand manufacturer’s website than a retailer’s;
  • Competitive pricing: Half expected better prices on a brand manufacturer’s website than on a retailer’s website;
  • Customer service: 44 percent expect better customer service.

Stated Astound in a press release, “The multi-dimensional role of the brand manufacturer illustrates the value consumers place on information and channel consistency, especially as almost half of online shoppers have visited mobile and social channels along with digital and physical stores.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are vendors positioned to provide a higher level of online engagement, information and service to consumers versus websites of multi-brand sellers? What advantages do multi-brand selling websites have?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I’d be cautious about interpreting these responses to mean that brands’ own direct-to-consumer sites are a substitute for multi-brand retailers."
"...traditional retailers that survive will be those that either create their own brands that aren’t available elsewhere or offer value added services."
"Branded manufactures have a huge opportunity to provide a higher level of online engagement and an overall superior experience..."

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19 Comments on "Are vendors delivering better online experiences than multi-brand sellers?"

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Keith Anderson

I’d be cautious about interpreting these responses to mean that brands’ own direct-to-consumer sites are a substitute for multi-brand retailers.

If you’re going direct-to-consumer and you *don’t* provide a better experience and richer product information, you need to seriously question why anyone would bother visiting your site to begin with.

But even if you do, don’t expect D2C to substitute for retail; shoppers shop each for different reasons.

Ricardo Belmar

While brand manufacturers could have an advantage in delivering a better shopping experience for their products, few have done so. In fact, the brands that have successfully created a great online shopping experience are the ones who have opened their own retail stores. Having stores may have taught them a few things about merchandising that they translate to an online experience consumers want. For other brands, it doesn’t seem so clear. Yes, brands should be able to provide deep product information, but do they? The ones that do have such information because they have been providing it to retailers.

I think the manufacturer/retailer relationship is deeply entrenched and difficult to separate for many brands. Do consumers want to buy products direct from the manufacturers? Yes — most perceive this as a path to getting a better deal, but the reality is often different.

Phil Masiello
The basis of this discussion highlights how ineffective and outdated surveys have become. Primarily because people don’t do what they say they do. With the tools we have today, we can actually answer this question with one word — Amazon. 52 percent of all product searches begin on Amazon, a multi-brand seller. In fact the largest multi-brand seller. Combine Amazon, eBay and Walmart and you have almost 76 percent of all e-commerce sales in the U.S. All of which are multi-brand sellers. That said, single brand e-commerce sellers will always have an important place. When consumers hear about a new item or see it somewhere, they go to the site to determine the legitimacy of the company, get information about the product and make their decision. They may purchase the product on Amazon or somewhere else, because the risk of the unknown is minimized. But the real answer also depends on what the product is and how good the brand does at marketing. There are a lot of great brand sites that are successful without… Read more »
Charles Dimov

No. Although brands and vendors will typically have more concentrated information that has the potential for better online engagement, the multi-brand retailer is in a better position to more deeply engage consumers. Yes vendors are in the pole position to provide timelier and deeper information about the products. However, savvy multi-brand retailers should make sure their websites reflect this information too. Many brand and vendor sites limit customer interaction and comments. That’s where retailers can flourish and add more value to the buying journey — by both encouraging interaction and engaging consumers directly to draw in sales with good advice and a more neutral perspective.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The operative word in this discussion is “shop” versus purchase.

Shopping today is a customer journey across time, place and channels. For items of significant price the journey almost always begins online. The top two places to “shop” and gather information are Amazon for breadth of products and customer reviews, and brand sites for depth and quality of information.

Armed with information to narrow choices, the customer journey often continues to the physical store, especially things like apparel and technology where hands-on experience is an important part of the purchase decision.

Brand websites can play a critical role by giving the customer as much information and as many lifestyle use scenarios as possible. With the emergence of new distribution services, pop-up stores and kiosks with local pickup potential, there will be a lot more that brands can do to convert online shops into purchases.

John Karolefski

I don’t believe the results of the survey for one simple reason: People say one thing in a survey, but act differently in the real world. Anyway, with some exceptions, brands are not eager to enter the D2C channel.

Kiri Masters

This might be true for situations in which vendors have already invested in their direct-to-consumer shopping experience (and especially digitally-native brands like Warby Parker, Brooklinen etc), and for products with a high ticket price.

But consumables brands, for example, will probably never be able to lure customers directly to their site. Electronics and eye glasses? Yes. Cat food and socks? Probably not.

Given the contradictions in the findings, this seems to be another study which should have looked at actual consumer behavior rather than stated preferences.

Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 7 months ago

This is not a zero-sum game. Some people are more likely to shop manufacturer sites and that’s fine. The market is a rich market and the entire sense of omnichannel is that consumers want to buy where they want to buy.

The research conclusions appear to be over-reaching from the data — given that it’s inherently contradicted within the same survey.

That makes sense. Because there is one area where a brand site cannot compete with a retailer site — carrying a wide range of product types, categories and brands. In other words, real shopping.

If we were able to dig deep into the topic (which the survey doesn’t appear to do), there are likely specific product and category types where consumers put brand sites first (like buying a Canon camera when you already know the brand you want) and a far larger set of products and categories where consumers prefer a retailer site.

Sterling Hawkins

There’s definitely a range of applicability here depending on retail vertical. The experience is key across the board as a multi-brand retailer or manufacturer direct. Those that have a definitive brand image and experience will resonate more with certain shoppers.

There’s also a hybrid developing. Manufacturer sites that also sell other brands on their platform. Asos (apparel/fashion ecommerce) has their own label front and center and they also offer clothing from Diesel, Penguin, etc. that reasonably fits within their style. The combination of the image, experience and offering just works.

Peter Charness

Is a brand more trustworthy, will they have a better in-stock position, is it a lower risk transaction and do they have better return policies? I also question the “shop” vs. purchase aspects of this survey. But one thing I am sure of; some number of years down the road (and probably fewer than we think), if you don’t have a brand, why should a customer buy from you? If it’s a see it, click it, send it world then convenience will win every time. And of course with your credit card information already stored safely (we hope) and low-cost delivery, there’s a reason Amazon gets half of all transactions. That patented one-click buy has more power than most people realize.

Ryan Mathews

First, this is a highly selective sample — engineered to deliver a predictable result.

Second, to answer the question, it all depends on what brand we are talking about. If it is a high-end, high status brand — say Orvis — maybe the study’s findings are correct. But I don’t think anyone looking for Tide online is going to prefer to engage with Procter & Gamble rather than

The obvious advantage of multi-brand retailers is the ability to contrast and compare product attributes, prices and consumer reviews. I just think — again with notable exceptions — that that is what most shoppers are looking for.

Jackie Breen

Branded manufactures have a huge opportunity to provide a higher level of online engagement and an overall superior experience for their consumers vs. multi-brand sellers. However, providing this experience presents a wide variety of challenges that can be hard to overcome. Once a branded manufacturer has identified the experience they want to provide, they then must ensure they have the right technology in place to deliver on those experiences.

Lee Peterson

I’m with Keith on this. I can’t imagine a consumer buying some Pepsi from the Pepsi site, then going to all other manufacturer websites one at a time with various discount or pricing levels and then receiving 37 different boxes at their door at different times. Makes NO sense.

My takeaway from these results is that retailers need to step up their game in terms of online experience. Most are pretty clunky, thus the results.

Harley Feldman

Vendors have the opportunity to present their products on their websites in a light that varies from each retailer — more information about the products, videos and a strong brand message. This scenario works well especially if the shopper has already decided exactly what she wants. However, if the consumer is not sure about the product or brand, she is more likely to go to a multi-brand website for a composite of information about the competing products available. Both types of websites are important to the brand to get their message out and capture a sale.

Ralph Jacobson

I wouldn’t let this study sway any strategies, since none of the findings show a significant majority preference of one thing over another. The bottom line is that D2C manufacturer sites are definitely on the rise and for good reason. There is typically more product information available on the suppliers’ sites than on the retailer sites. However the multi-brand retailer sites have nothing to worry about anytime soon because price is still the primary driver, sadly.

Cynthia Holcomb

Several schools of thought. 1. Know exactly what you want to buy. Love a specific brand. Love the fit, look and feel of the brand’s products, why waste time self-filtering through hundreds of similar products on a multi-brand website? 2. Want to shop hundreds of brands for just the right dress? Multi-brand websites are inventoried with hundreds to thousands of dress choices. 3. Of course one can filter by brand on a multi-branded web site, results edited to the retailer’s point of view. Circular question! Variable by item, variable by the shopper, variable by brand, variable by the retailer.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
2 years 7 months ago

The disintermediation of retail is well underway and the only way to counteract this trend is for multi-brand retailers to create private labels that can’t be disintermediated and to provide extraordinary services. We are seeing many brand manufacturers extending into retail selling and it is definitely putting pressure on multi-brand retailers. This appears to be a growing trend as brand manufacturers look for ways to increase revenues and profits.

The traditional retailers that survive will be the ones that either create their own brands that aren’t available anywhere else or offer value added services above and beyond the competition, like curated product assortments; personalized recommendations, promotions and assistance; and same-day delivery. The other advantage multi-brand retailers have is a broader assortment from other brands. While they don’t have the depth of assortment of a specific brand like a manufacturer does, they offer their customers the option to shop and compare multiple brands from one site or store.

Jeff Miller

I am by the nature of my business firmly on the side that all quality brand manufacturers should invest and sell direct before any advantage they have by being a brand is destroyed by Amazon. However, I have a hard time believing these results when Amazon and Walmart dominate much of e-commerce based on people’s actual choices and not what they tell people in a poll.

However, I think that vendors have the greatest opportunity if they really commit to the channel and spend the time and effort on technology, customer service, media spend and most importantly creating an engaging customer-centric experiences that solves a shopper’s needs better than Amazon or other multi-brand retailers.

Julie Bernard
This study offers a compelling way to approach in-store retail. Almost every detail is a lesson for the brick-and-mortar sales scenario — and key among them is that inventory overload and mazes of options do not drive engagements. Developing the in-store experience as a space for focused exploration and inspiration, then expanding shoppers’ horizons with options they can’t get everywhere else — this is the path forward in an online-offline world. Unlike online vendor sites, however, brick-and-mortar innovators can curate inspirational and discovery-oriented experiences across several selected brands. The key is to hone and focus those selections to something truly meaningful. And then, look at the online shoppers’ stated affinity for engagements in a multimedia environment, via social-media, and for deep product knowledge. There are lessons there, too. Creating opportunities for consumers to engage with knowledgable associates and in-store digital moments via mobile — remember, the consumer is an always-connected shopper, in so many cases (and so are associates) — these approaches open even more avenues to incorporating the learning that Astound has brought to the table. A valuable… Read more »
"I’d be cautious about interpreting these responses to mean that brands’ own direct-to-consumer sites are a substitute for multi-brand retailers."
"...traditional retailers that survive will be those that either create their own brands that aren’t available elsewhere or offer value added services."
"Branded manufactures have a huge opportunity to provide a higher level of online engagement and an overall superior experience..."

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