Making Marketing Services Work For Micro-Merchants

Photo: Jason Howie

Marketing services are extremely important to online merchants, and micro-merchants in particular. Etsy’s own survey data has revealed that marketing was a seller’s third-most time-consuming task, behind making and managing inventory. There are a number of marketing tech companies on solutions for SMBs, but there are some barriers to overcome before they’ll work well for smaller-scale sellers.

The best known marketing tech companies have long been focused on large enterprises, particularly B2B, because those clients have the most money to spend. About $23B, in fact. The good news for smaller companies is that a new crop of companies have popped up to serve SMBs, and they’re offering much cheaper pricing options and simpler products. Even Facebook has made great efforts to simplify their ad buying process to support companies that don’t have marketing teams or sophisticated tools. But most of these tools still aren’t really focused on the small- or micro-merchant component of “SMB.”

There are, however, some companies tackling the small- and micro-merchant segment, and they generally offer services that fall into two key categories: CRM (including email marketing), and social media marketing (both paid and unpaid):

  • SumAll: Although fundamentally an analytics platform designed to give merchants a view of sales across various sales channels, they are currently rebuilding the platform to focus almost exclusively on social media marketing.
  • Lumiary: Also a multi-channel sales platform, they focus on increasing sales via customer insights and email marketing.
  • Shopial: Formerly called Easy Social Shop, Shopial imports a shop to a new Facebook tab, then lets users run social media ads from directly within the platform
  • Boostable: Purely focused on social media advertising, they walk users through a step-by-step process to select products from an e-commerce storefront or marketplace and run product ads on social media platforms. Dandelion has a similar platform.
  • Kit: Billed as an intelligent CRM, Kit lets users send email marketing and social media ads via text messages that prompt you to take action.
  • Beeketing: A suite of marketing and CRM tools with integrations to e-commerce platforms.

Because small online sellers often rely on marketplaces for sales, these startups face two key challenges in their quest to provide effective marketing for micro-merchants. First, marketplaces, not the seller, own the relationship with the customer. This means sellers can’t easily collect an email list of previous customers for newsletters or other email marketing. Second, marketplaces also rarely share tracking pixels with third parties. This means that tools don’t know who completed checkout, which is critical to targeting ads or emails to specific users.

It is for these reasons that there’s much more activity in marketing services from e-commerce and payment platforms than from 3rd-party marketplace tools. Square clearly lays out marketing services as one of three pillars of services for merchants in their S-1, led by customer engagement (via email) and Caviar (their food discovery and delivery app). PayPal’s recent spin-off from eBay means they’ll have more freedom to offer such services, and their acquisition of e-commerce platform Modest could be a step in that direction. Shopify is tackling marketing via direct partnerships with Facebook and Pinterest to provide buy buttons and ad purchasing, while others like Bigcommerce have partnered with Boostable to have customers buy ads indirectly.

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