In-House vs. Agency: What’s the Right Move When Approaching Online Marketplaces?

By Alexandra Carmody, VP of Brand Strategy, Fortress

As online shopping continues to climb, having a strong digital storefront has become a necessity for today’s brands. While most D2C brands focus a great deal of attention on their websites — their core D2C channel — there is always a benefit to diversifying a brand’s channel mix and meeting customers where they are searching and shopping for products.

No matter how much traffic is being driven through those virtual doors, it’s often no match for what’s possible on the likes of Amazon, Walmart and other online marketplaces. Amazon alone accounted for 45% of online sales in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2022 and its market share consistently stays strong.

The thought of exploring an online marketplace like Amazon has probably crossed your mind, too — and was likely followed by the question: Where do I begin?

While these marketplaces may seem simple from a consumer standpoint, there is a lot to navigate on the seller side as a brand. Amazon, for example, is an ever-changing platform with continuous updates to rules and regulations, which can be daunting for small and large brands alike. Amazon is notably very “pay-to-play,” so it’s essential to understand how much time and resources can go into this channel’s management. Success in this space is rarely, if ever, one size fits all, which makes it more important than ever for brands to determine whether they should utilize an in-house team versus a dedicated agency that is well-seasoned in industry experience.

The Benefits of Working With an Online Marketplace Agency

By using an agency partner, a brand gains the collective expertise in the channel it is going after, as well as a wealth of knowledge to compete within the marketplace. Amazon specifically is an open marketplace, which means anyone can list or sell a brand’s items without ever needing that brand’s approval. Without proper management and control, these so-named resellers can always pop up and potentially cause harm to a brand’s reputation. An agency partner knows how to tackle these issues and provide tactics to keep arbitrage down.

As far as numbers go, an agency partner typically brings a team of subject matter experts, as opposed to building a team in-house, which can start lean and take a while to build — and that’s one of the biggest differences between working in-house versus with an agency. Not only does an agency provide a designated group focused on accelerating a brand’s growth but it can also offer hands-off solutions to more nuanced marketplace needs like case management, order fulfillment, logistics and more. Having an agency partner with robust data analytics tools will also provide brands with the marketplace insights and performance data they need to succeed on those platforms and strategize future planning.

A final benefit of working with a digital agency is the marketing expertise. The Amazon advertising console is unlike other channels — such as Google or Bing, for example — where a brand likely does not have the expertise at its disposal. Some agencies even have dedicated PPC managers to focus solely on navigating Amazon advertising and ensure all marketing efforts on the platform are tied back to the brand’s bigger picture.

Deciding Between In-House vs. Agency

The question then remains, should you source your online marketplace needs in-house or with an agency partner? The following can help with your decision:

1. Evaluate operational efficiencies.

Each online marketplace is an entirely different platform with completely different ranges of tools, processes and operations. It takes a certain skill set to promote a product properly — something you may well know if you’re utilizing a marketplace like Amazon already.

Track the time spent on servicing the account in-house. Review processes like case management, support ticketing and so on and determine where there might be room for process improvements. Perhaps automation could relieve your team of more mundane tasks to focus on other value-added projects.

2. Look for missed opportunities.

Brands have the biggest opportunity to optimize their performance by using an omnichannel marketing strategy. If a brand has not considered Amazon or an online marketplace channel in the past or if they are using it without much management or planning put into it, the brand is most likely not getting the results it could be getting if it invested the time into rethinking its Amazon seller marketing strategy.

Ask yourself, as a brand owner, how much is your brand growing year over year? Are you utilizing the platforms in your marketing channel mix to their fullest potential? Are there activations within the marketplace that you’re not aware of or using to their full advantage? Something as simple as “categorizing” can be a sales driver in a marketplace. What’s more, are your priorities shifting away from a given marketplace based on the time you have available?

3. Get the lay of the land.

As already mentioned, marketplaces generally have unique features and it can be daunting trying to figure out what’s best for each brand. The key to success will be understanding all the capabilities and making informed decisions about how to utilize them. It’s also equally important to have an understanding of what’s going on with your brand outside of your direct utilization of an online marketplace.

Do you, for example, have any product launches on the horizon? Have you noticed any resellers selling your product in the marketplace of choice? Are customers associating those resellers with your brand? If so, has their activity hurt your image or garnered negative feedback for your brand? Answers to these questions can help you decide between working in-house versus with an agency for an online marketplace.

4. Be selective with your choice of partner.

If you’ve decided to use an agency, ensure that the agency’s capabilities are aligned with your brand’s goals. An Amazon seller marketing strategy contains many moving parts. For example, content creation, campaign management, account health, fulfillment by Amazon (or FBA), inventory planning and shipping and brand registry are all nuances to consider. Brand registry is of utmost importance, as it opens up a suite of capabilities within the marketplace. With each piece being so time-intensive, finding a partner that fits those needs and understands those nuances should be the highest priority. Agency partners are also often closely connected with Amazon reps. This line of communication means they have expedited access to case escalations, new beta programs and more.

Ultimately, the decision to work with an agency or not should come down to your brand’s unique needs. By tasking an agency to manage the day to day on Amazon, brands can get a better understanding of the channel from experts while also focusing on growing their core D2C channel, among others.

About the Author

With over three years at Fortress BrandAlexandra Carmody oversees strategy across all of Fortress’s brand partners and leads her teams to offer best-in-class services and consultation to be successful on Amazon. Account strategy is nothing new to Alexandra, with 10 years of prior experience, primarily in health, wellness and supplements. In the past, she has worked with large Fortune 500 companies to build out wellness programs at the corporate level for employees. She’s also an accredited certified corporate wellness specialist (CCWS) and has had extensive training and enablement experience in public speaking.