Five things direct sellers need for a comprehensive internet strategy

business man hands show internet conceptThe internet age has clearly arrived. Internet retailing amounts to nearly US$1 trillion in activity and Amazon is now only second to Walmart in the list of top global retailers. Developing countries are quickly leapfrogging developed ones thanks to the growth of mobile internet networks. Already nearly half of China’s US$293 billion internet retailing sales originate from a mobile device. Take into account all of the non-commercial uses for the internet and its importance balloons even more. Direct sellers have been insulated from the internet as a threat thanks to their reliance on personal connections, but as customer habits change, the most competitive direct sellers will be those that keep pace, and a well-executed internet presence will be an integral component of that.

Which online trends are the most important?

Direct sellers with a mind for the future should look into incorporating the follow components to more closely mirror consumer demand for:

  1. Credible Information: The internet is now an omnipresent research tool and social media makes for a super-powered megaphone for detractors and promoters alike. In a world where information can come from anywhere, the difference between peddling knowledge and information is legitimacy. Items and brands with a scientific backing and plenty of proof will appeal to sceptical generations. Rodan & Fields is a good example due to expertise its dermatologist founders impart while a number of positive testimonials also support their products’ efficacy.
  2. Personalisation: Big data, the quantified self, and the self-selecting nature of the internet will help move products that appear personalised and treat an individual’s needs. Herbalife already suggests various products based on favoured activities, but a more robust recommendation engine that depends on user input (like data from a Fitbit) would integrate users more directly and deeply with the products that they use.
  3. Convenience: The internet has enabled choice and it’s the absence of choice that often drives currently unsatisfied shoppers to competitors that can fulfil their demands immediately. People that buy from direct selling distributors often do so because they care for those people, but the process could certainly be made more convenient. A system to easily search by distributor online and via mobile allows shoppers to support their friend’s business even if they don’t see them often. This should be a comparable process across devices.
  4. Engagement: The internet (mobile in particular) offers avenues for escape and entertainment. Brands that make interaction fun benefit. Direct sellers could turn parties and in-person sales visits into photo-ops and live videos to encourage sharing via social media and reach people where they congregate now—the internet. Direct sellers could then track their distributors’ engagement levels with the most active rewarded similarly to how those with the most sales are.
  5. Communication: Communities are increasingly congregating online. The ubiquity of social networks allows people to communicate more easily than ever. Companies that hope to maintain a personable reputation would be best served to keep the lines of communication open online as well. Resources for salespeople like website templates and detailed information for prospective customers proves that direct sellers are equally engaged with the community.

The internet is not an existential threat to direct sellers, but it is too important to ignore.

Direct Selling Growth by Region: Current vs Forecast

euromonitor

Thankfully, the internet is not the threat to direct sellers that it is to some channels. It is not predicted to devour whole portions of direct selling like it has been doing for store-based electronics specialists or book stores. As can be seen above, sales are only predicted to get better for the industry on a global level. Smart direct sellers will instead use the internet to differentiate themselves amongst their competitors, making their companies the most attractive to the best salespeople. The internet merely allows them to better support potential distributors and customers. The main tenants of the direct selling model may not be in need an overhaul, but consumer habits are changing regardless. Direct sellers that recognise this and respond in kind will be those that connect to the new class of consumers worldwide.

Tim Barrett is a retailing analyst at Euromonitor International. Connect with Tim on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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