Merchandise continues to be at the forefront of many brand’s marketing strategy, in an effort to create awareness and brand recognition within their market, as well as building loyalty and retention with their current clients.

In fact, research from the BMPA suggests that brands are using and relying on promotional merchandise now more than ever in an effort to stand out from their competition and to generate leads and sales.

The branded merchandise industry in the UK grew by over 10% in 2018 to £1.1 billion, representing the 9th consecutive year of industry growth, and it shows no sign of slowing down!

Now more than ever, organisations are recognising the value in saying ‘thanks’ to their clients using a promotional gift!

As the use and importance of branded merchandise grows, brands continue to look for more from their merchandise partners, including…

  • Creative products ideas that set them apart.
  • Maintaining credibility of their brand through brand consistency.
  • A closer working relationship, and efficiently saving time.
  • Easy management of their merchandise requirements, to a national and often global scale.

Web stores are becoming increasing popular as a way to manage organisation and budgets, a growing number of companies are looking towards them to streamline their merchandise requirements.

What is a Branded Merchandise Web Store?

A web store can literally be defined as…

This is an application used for electronic commerce. It is called a WEBstore because the application is hosted on the web and the customer accesses the store and makes a purchase over the web.
Urban Dictionary

In the branded merchandise industry a merchandise web store can have many applications pending on on the requirements of the organisation but essentially it can be defined as follows…

A merchandise web store will allow a user (either internal or external to your organisation, or both) to purchase branded merchandise (where products are either stocked or produced on-demand) for delivery to a location of their choice, by paying a fee (if required).

Read on for a deep dive in to web stores and gain a better understanding of what they are all about!

As a side note, a web store can often also be referred to as a…

  • Merchandise eStore
  • Promo web store
  • Online store
  • Corporate merchandise web store
  • Web shop
  • Convenience store
  • Merchandise ecommerce solution

Amongst others, but they are all essentially reference the same thing.

Sometimes a web store will weight heavily as part of a tender agreement or contract, in which case they may be referred to as…

  • Corporate programs
  • Promotional programs
  • Corporate merchandise programs

They are often but not always paired with some kind of warehousing arrangement and a distribution solution (if you plan to stock products) which is offered by your merchandise partner to work in tandem with your store.

Why web stores?

So what’s all the hoo hah about? We know big brands are finding value in using web stores to manage their branded merchandise, but what are the main benefits to having a web store in place, and what if any, are the potential considerations what can arise. Below is a balanced view on what to consider when you decide is a web store is the right fit for your company.

Pros

Time saving and efficiency – this is the biggy. In a world where everything is expected JIT, inboxes are constantly full and there is never enough time in the day any efficiencies that can be put in place to save a bit of time are always welcomed with open arms! A webstore creates a central hub for all users to utilise when it comes to ordering / requesting branded merchandise.

This means no more hunting on Google for the same power bank that Dave ordered 6 months ago and trying to track it down. No waiting for quotes, no proofing and generally no back and forth. Jump on the store, track down the product, and easily reorder in an few clicks, simples!

Peace of mind – further to everything running silky smooth, your users and the scheme manager can be confident that they are ordering the correct product, with the correct branding, from a merchandise partner you trust. It may seem like a small thing, but once your order is placed you can relax knowing it’s in good hands and get on with your busy day, without worrying if that event packs are going to get to the venue on time…

Brand management – Brand consistency, policing, alignment, protection – call it what you will, one thing remains, it is important! Advertising and branding is prevalent in today’s society. Your customers will grow to trust your brand, and that’s something worth protecting. Web stores cater for this by allowing all your users to order from one central source, ordering products supplied by from a trusted source that knows you brand well and is hot on keeping your brand looking it best. The ability to consolidate a selection or pre-approved products to which your users have access to is also a big appeal.

Economies of scale – depending on the size of your merchandise requirements, having a web store in place can allow you to take advantage of lucrative economies of scale that can be found in ordering ‘en masse’. If you can forecast your requirements, you can generally save a good amount of money by ordering in bulk rather than placing a series of smaller orders, you’ll essentially get a lot more bang for your buck.

The consideration here is the storage costs that will be incurred to stock the goods. That said, with a cost effective warehousing solution, you should still end up in pocket financially.

Group buying is another great way of getting prices down, that you may want to consider.

Flexibility – most corporate web stores offer flexibility with regards to handling stocked and ‘on-demand’ (non stocked) products. This allows you to take advantage of the benefits associated with both options. ‘Core’ products or faster moving lines in your merchandise range can be produced and held in stock. Adhoc products can be listed and produced on a per order basis.

Shorter lead times – things move quickly in marketing, lead-times are getting shorter and requirements and becoming increasingly time critical. Stocking a range of products that your team may require at a moments notice takes the pressure off, knowing that their web store order can be with them the following day within the UK or sent to any location globally in a few clicks.

Clear Reporting – from a management perspective, knowing who is ordering what and when is invaluable. Especially when you can couple this with the knowledge that the merchandise being presented to clients and prospects is ordered from an approved catalogue and supplied by a trusted supplier.

Considerations

Stocking costs – stocking costs will be a consideration if you intend to order goods in advance to cover, say, a years worth of merchandise requirements. There could be a large up front cost that will need to be accounted for in your budgets. In some circumstances, generally where the you enter a contract with a merchandise supplier, there may be an agreement where the stock is fully or partially funded by the supplier.

Initial uptake of users – getting a store up and running and fully functional is just the start, getting people on board with using the store can make or break its success. It’s vital to be aware of this and make users (whether internal or external) very aware of the store and put measures in place to ensure that it is utilised. This may include implementing policy that all merchandise must be sourced from the web store or getting in place some marketing materials to help get users on board, a service which your merchandise partner may provide assistance with.

Setup and integration – always err on the side of caution when considering setup and integration of your new web store, and consider any possible pitfalls at the very beginning. Pending on your requirements, a web store should be painless to setup, often this process is handled by the provider. Always consider in advance any potential specific requirements and integrations with existing systems to avoid any surprises further down the line that can be both costly and time consuming.

Maintaining relationships – A web store should enhance your relationship with your merchandise partner as opposed to hindering it, read on to make sure you are getting the best from your web store and your account manger.

Cost – Cost is always a consideration and that’s no different here. Again, this is largely dependant on your requirements, however a web store can be very cost effective. Many solutions are changed on a subscription basis, keeping the initial outlay to a minimum or negating up front costs all together. If it suits your needs using an existing system can help to keep costs down, custom development and adjustments can often incur additional costs. If you merchandise requirement is sizeable enough you may be able to get a sizeable discount on a web store package or get it included for free as part of the overall arrangement.

Who should use a webstore / Who can benefit most from a webstore

With the uprising of the SAAS (Software as a Service) model where software is charged by way of a monthly subscription, the financial implications of launching and maintaining a branded merchandise web store are generally low. Therefore, a web store solution is really an option to anyone with a problem that it solves!

Whilst any company can find value in a web store, organisations that then to get most from what they have to offer are usually one of all of the following…

• Multi department – they may have multiple departments within the company all requiring merchandise. These could include, marketing, events, HR, facilities for example.

• Multi site – they may have multiple sites from where they operate, such as regional offices. Franchises are also a perfect example of this. These sites could be located nationally throughout the UK, across Europe or around the globe.

• Have central buying – organisations that have central buying (as opposed to each region, office or department handling their own procurement) tend to suit a corporate web store. The store offers the perfect means to buy in bulk and then distribute as necessary.

• Have a reasonably sized merchandise requirement – the larger the requirement for branded merchandise the larger the potential issues if not administered properly. A web store provides a handle on your merchandise activity.

Different types of organisations are using web stores in various ways to streamline their merchandise, some examples being…

• Merchandise distribution for marketing support – one of the most obvious applications and the most popular is distribution of merchandise for use as marketing collateral in large corporates. This could be for distribution to multiple sites as mentioned above, but could also encompass getting merchandise to field sales reps or sending merchandise to various events and shows.

• Franchise operations – The franchise business model lends itself perfectly to benefitting from a corporate webstore, where the Franchisor can handle procurement and control their buying. Each franchisee is then able to call off or purchase merchandise as required.

• Professional bodies providing member support – similarly to merchandise management in franchise operations, professional bodies offering member gifts either for free or at a charge can make use of web stores to aid fulfilment.

• Uniform distribution – common for retail and service based industries whereby staff may be working remotely. Also popular in education for allowing students to order uniform.

• Employee recognition and rewards – companies are using corporate web stores to incentivise employees and boost morale, allowing employees to either request or buy merchandise rewards.