Guard Against The Flea Market Mentality To Selling Online

Flea markets aren’t as popular as they used to be (thanks in part to eBay), but they are a great place to find all sorts of items. Online though, as a small to medium sized merchant, it can be tough to be a “virtual flea market”. It can also be dangerous to the power of your brand name…

It’s competitive out there

The online ecommerce arena is full of competition. You can almost always find someone selling your items for less, or offering more selection. It can be quite tempting to offer drop-ship products or carry non-related merchandise to expand your product line and reach a wider base.

Sometimes this makes sense. Many times it can spell disaster.

Dilution is NOT the Solution

Your brand name carries with it an image in your customers’ eyes. When they think of your company, they have an idea of what you offer (hopefully) and where you fit in the grid of “their needs and wants”. This is a good thing, as it helps you compete with the bigger retailers out there.

However, if you start offering chainsaws and lilacs for sale (but you’re a shoe company), that brand name becomes diluted. Your visitors and customers are now confused as to what your primary focus is. They do not have a clear image of your company.

Translation: Dilute your brand too much, and people will not think of you when they have a specific want or need. That is a BAD thing.

Think vertical, not horizontal

A great way to compete and succeed as on online merchant is to be a leader in your niche.  This means choosing a segment of the market (shoes for large footed individuals, rare flower seeds, vintage wooden tennis rackets, etc…) that is somewhat narrow, and offering the best items, service, or range of widgets in that category. This allows your business to compete (and many times beat) the larger, more broad online e-tailers.

The depth of your product line or service offering *within* your niche is what makes you an outstanding merchant. It’s not how many different non-related (i.e. horizontal) items you have that counts. It’s how many items or the level of your expertise in your field that matters.

Amazon and eBay are just better at it

It’s near impossible to go up against the Goliaths of the ecommerce world and try to beat them at their own game. They have deeper pcokets, more resources, and better connections. Don’t try to offer everything under the sun like these companies.

Focus on what you’re good at

For us,this means being the best small to medium sized business web host we can be (sounds so cliche, I know). However, it does give us focus. We do not cater to the hobby hosting market. We run Linux servers, so no Microsoft hosting. We specialize in ecommerce hosting (especially ShopSite ®). This helps us stand out in the crowded, ultra competitive hosting market.

Apply this focus to your online store.

Drop ship selectively

If you can find products that compliment your existing ones (i.e. cross-sell / up-sell that make sense), then adding drop ship items to your online store can be a huge plus. But only do this when it adds to your value/niche offering. Do not pollute your brand and site with nonsensical products that do not jive with your image.

Dell is excellent at this technique. I recently bought a new laptop, and I added a wireless mouse from Logitech. The non-Dell product was a perfect fit for my new purchase. It made my shopping experience better.

That is the goal for your store – Your complimentary products should make sense, and enhance a shopper’s experience. Make that your focus when evaluating new product lines or drop ship offerings.

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6 Comments

  1. James Nyari says:

    “Flea market mentality”
    For most people/business owners, it can be tough not to lower your prices to match the competition. This is where your unique selling proposition comes in – businesses need to have a competitive edge/slant that makes them unique to their target market.

    And you’re quite right in saying “be a leader in your niche”. There are probably thousands of ecommerce sites selling tennis rackets, probably hundreds selling wooden ones, and you could be the only one selling vintage wooden tennis rackets (of you might have a few competitors, although you’ve seriously narrowed it down)

    Two things: Differentiation and specialization!

    Bear that in mind and you’ll succeed!

  2. Treasa S. Williams says:

    Great post! Everyone starting on e-commerce should brush up on these fundamental truths on selling online. For beginners, one should establish the selling point of their product, sell something unique and build up its credibility. May I also point out that one should also sell through all available e-commerce sites to obtain more exposure and faster at that.

  3. Isabel says:

    You’re all right, if you don’t leave your own unique stamp on your selling niche, you’re just going to fall into the crowd of the many others offering online sales. Brush up on your e-commerce skills as these are so valuable when starting out in e-commerce – there’s so many leading market analysts out there with e-zine tips etc on how to carve out your niche market with unique markting ideas to draw your clients in and then retain them. And whilst it can be difficult to match competitor’s lower prices at times, if your customer service and follow up retention program is fantastic then you’ll have no problems keeping customers. It’s one thing to get a client, but retention is the key, and powerful marketing strategies is what you need to do that.

  4. Danny says:

    I do agree that having a specific product and specializing on it is better than being a jack of all trades, master of not. Diluting your brand name too much would just spell disaster. Selling other products other than your niche is not really that bad if it is somehow connected to your main product. If it compliments it, then the better. But one should always keep in mind that the main priority will always be your main product

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