November 29, 2016, 7:56 PM

Opening up a marketplace’s black box of customer data

Classic Accessories, a manufacturer of outdoor equipment coverings, is uncovering what buyers want through a new e-marketplace.

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Selling through another company’s online marketplace can be a good way to build brand exposure and sales, and even more so when the marketplace provides sellers with data on sales volume across multiple products and categories.

“In many marketplaces, it’s a black box—a seller just gets an order and ships it out,” says Erin Magee, vice president of sales for Classic Accessories, a manufacturer of protective coverings for such things as patio furniture, outdoor grills and recreational vehicles.

But in the past year, as it started selling and later expanded its offerings of coverings through the BuildDirect.com marketplace to consumers as well as businesses, Classic Accessoriess has compiled data on customer demand that has enabled it to better plan its production and the product assortments it distributes to hundreds of wholesalers and retailers, Magee adds. As a result, the manufacturer’s total sales for 2016 are trending at a double-digit growth rate over 2015.

“We get strong sales forecasting data, can see who’s viewing products from where, what’s working and what’s not working” in product displays, says vice president of business development Shuyler Mowe. “Then we’re able to launch outside of BuildDirect products across various collections that appeal to other distribution channels.”

Outside of BuildDirect, Classic Accessories has traditionally distributed its products to channels ranging from mom-and-pop retailers to large garden centers, catalogers and wholesale clubs. It also designed products and planned assortments according to its forecasted demand from those channels.

Now, with more sales directly to end-customers through the BuildDirect portal—which also sells a wide range of furnishings and equipment for home and office—Classic Accessories can work with its own data on consumer demand as well as on how its coverings can be cross-sold in new product combinations. BuildDirect provides demand information through web analytics and customer surveys that have led Classic Accessories to expand offerings in such areas as car covers in the garage products category and coverings in various sizes to protect stacked patio furniture as well as individual pieces.

Aditi Sood, sales manager at Classic Accessories, says the BuildDirect marketplace is also designed to let sellers quickly upload their own product data and images. Classic Accessories so far has loaded about 500 products. “That lets us get more SKUs on the site to test products,” she says.

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