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Will Selling At A Major.com Help Me Get Into Major Retailer's Shelves?

Originally written: February 21, 2012, Updated Jul 27, 2015

The short answer is no, except in one unlikely situation.

The long answer is….

Major retailers are more concerned with the sales traction you have built in other brick and mortar stores.  And the more established those stores are, the more impressive your sales results.  It is important to note that how a product sells online does not directly transfer to how it will do in-store.  This is why selling in the .com channel doesn’t do much to win over the store buyer.  Even if it is Amazon.com.

However, selling in a .com environment may be helpful in the following case:

Many large stores have .com sides to their business.  For example, Target has Target.com and Walmart has Walmart.com.   In these situations, it can sometimes help to first get into the .com side of the business.  By doing so, you can prove – using Target as an example – that Target shoppers (at least the online Target shoppers) have an appetite for your product.  It’s a little easier to translate sales performance from Target.com to Target stores than it would be from Amazon.com to Target stores.

Once in a while, those Target or Walmart store buyers will scan the list of  their company’s .com products to find hot-selling items that are not being carried in stores.  In exceptional cases, they will bring those items into their store assortment.   Stores buyers are typically different than .com buyers, but they do communicate.  So in this scenario, it is conceivable that you can win a place at shelf by selling to .com first.  But this is more so the exception than the norm, so I would not recommend this as part of your sell-in strategy.  Your best sell-in strategy will always be to prove your sales in other stores first before approaching the top-tier stores.   

Ultimately, selling at .com will not hurt you – as it helps drive your company sales and profitability.  So why not do it?!   Just be smart about it and make good choices: 

  • Make sure your .com retail prices do not undercut your brick and mortar retailers.
  • Make sure not to over-proliferate your e-commerce presence. Spreading your brand across too many online retailers will only spread your sales thin. Funnel your online sales into 2 to 3 influential online retailers to ensure each one gets their share of strong sales. This helps avoid sales cannibalization which does no one any good! 
  • Retain as much control over pricing and your listing as possible, although this may be hard outside of Amazon and your own online store. 

Updated 7/27/15: Currently all retailers are working on integrating online, stores, mobile into one integrated experience called "omnichannel". Stores will develop workflows that mirror how consumers shop - beginning their shopping journey with mobile/online research and ending with in-store purchases. In some cases, consumers will purchase using online ordering and in-store pickup. As retailers' strategies change, you can expect to see more synergies between store buyers and their .com counterparts. 

Generally .com sales amount to anywhere from 3% to 10% of total online/store sales. So for example, if you sell $100,000 per year at Target and Target.com collectively, your Target.com portion of that may only account for $3,000. So .com sales really don't amount to much. And while online sales penetration is growing, it will never overtake the share of in-store sales. That's a fact, not an opinion. 

Walmart has loudly stated they plan to push their .com presence more heavily, but honestly I'm not seeing much from them other than lip service. Target, while typically slower-moving than Walmart, has demonstrated more progress on this front.