As a merchandise buyer, I’ve met with A LOT of vendors. Some good, some bad and some that had great product, but were kind of a mess.
So what sets one apart from another?
There were a lot of factors, but the one that always stood out the most was in how they presented their product line up. So today I’m spilling the beans so you can use this information to your advantage when starting your online store!
May sound counterintuitive, but start your online shop with a narrow + focused product line. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) carry anything your customer *might* possibly like or everything you’re creating this month.
The best part about this thought process is that it works whether you’re trying to attract new customers or targeting new wholesale accounts. So let’s look at 4 reasons this strategy works.
This is part 1 of 6 of the Retail 101 Beginner Series
Part 1: One Simple Product Strategy to Help You Get Started
Part 2: How to Market your Retail Business on a Small Budget
Part 3: Retail Math 101 (ya know, how to make money)
Part 4: Customer Service Tips to Treat Yo’ Customer
Part 5: Why Your Online Shop Needs a Blog (plus 12 ideas to get started)
Part 6: 21 Strategies to Grow Your Business in 90 Days
5 Reasons to Start Your Online Shop with a Narrow + Focused Product Line:
1. Be the expert
By focusing on a narrow assortment, you’re fully ingrained and knowledgeable in that category. You’ll know the in’s + out’s of care tips, what to look for, how to market and who your ideal customer is.
Think from your customer’s point of view:
If you were looking for wedding jewelry for your big day, would you shop at a store that offers anything from costume jewelry to inexpensive jewelry up to high end jewels and metals? Or would you prefer to browse from a shop that focuses on weddings only and shares photography tips for your jewelry (ex. ‘Be sure to ask your photographer for ring pictures!’ or How to Choose Bridemaid Jewelry), suggestions on neckline or hair pairings depending on your necklace + earring choices, etc. etc.
As another example, ceramic shops are everywhere on Etsy! Instead of selling all.the.ceramics. you could focus your shop on vases only and provide plant care tips, best size of vase for succulents, potting tips, shelf arrangements to incorporate into your home, etc.
2. Become the go-to shop
It can be hard to stand out in the retail space. There are thousands of shops competing in your similar space, so why add to the confusion?
You could either be the shop that has a little bit of everything I sometimes like, or that one shop I’d absolutely recommend to any friend asking where I buy my delicate dainty gold rings.
As a consumer, I prefer to know I’ll like a majority of what a shop has to offer. It’s that consistency that keeps me interested + coming back to see what’s new! When I know what to expect (ie. I know that I’ll like something there), I WANT to come back to your shop and check it out frequently. You don’t even have to ask!
There is no other way to put this. When I had vendors come in and pitch everything under the sun, I had to wonder what they’re really about. Are they selling just anything that’ll potentially make them money?
And that’s exactly how your customers may feel. How can one store possibly be knowledgable in so many areas? Do they really have the best of the best in each category? Why are they carrying xyz items, they don’t fit with what I thought they offered.
WHOLESALE TIP: If you’re targeting retail accounts – don’t pitch a store everything in your line (especially if you have a fairly broad line).
Why? Well, first of all, it’s overwhelming for the buyer.
But most importantly, it’s likely not possible that EVERYTHING you make will be a fit for my shop. I’d much prefer you narrow your assortment to the few items you feel would make an absolute impression in my shop for MY customer, than pitch everything and hope I like it all. (Let me tell YOU that I want it all!)
Coming from an intentional, thoughtful place led more often to line expansions, than when a vendor came in and said “I recommend any of these pieces. Our products would be a perfect fit for your store.”
4. Less overhead on supplies/materials
When you’re narrow and focused, you are using the same supplies again and again. This allows you to buy in larger quantities which saves you cash + time; plus adds a little security layer – if you over bought supplies and the sales didn’t quite come through, you know you’ll still be using them next month.
5. Eliminates decision fatigue
As the buyer (or maker) your job is to eliminate decision overwhelm and curate a refined assortment for your customer. They come to your shop for your specific point of view and curated style.
While you think offering “all the choices” is good for them… greater selection, you can choose exactly the color you want!, 7 customization options… it just leaves your shopper overwhelmed and confused on what they want. Make the choice simple for them by putting your viewpoint into your shop and having a specific focus.
Selection is good, too many choices is paralyzingly.
Now what does it really mean when I say “narrow + focused”?
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to carry 2 products and call it a day. Or one product in 10 colors.
What I want you to focus on is addressing one ideal customer. Create a shop just for her.
That may mean by lifestyle: She doesn’t need 25 choices for wall hangings, 17 planters, and 20 pillow designs. Instead 12 wall hangings, 9 planters, and 10 pillows that coordinate + complement one another would make a bigger impact.
That may mean by category: If she’s crazy plant, gold, or coffee obsessed – create her favorite space. Like in the ceramics example above, focus on a narrow product category with varied options, so you become “the shop for x product”.
That may mean by pricing: By this I mean pricing level and who that would attract. It’s difficult to sell both inexpensive + high end pieces when trying to attract one ideal customer. While you should hit a few different price points, the range should still remain tight and reasonable. If I went to a shop for jewelry, it would be confusing to find rings for $10 – all the way up to $110. I’d feel scattered as I viewed your shop as there would constantly be items I’m interested in, only to find they’re out of my price range.
Of course as you grow, there will be natural line extensions and ways to broaden your assortment. But if you want to stand out quickly when new: start small, start focus, start with one customer in mind.
I just open a retail e-commerce store for dog products. Are you telling me that an e-commerce store with a variety of products isn’t marketable because it leaves the customer over-whelmed in decision making?
No, not that it’s not marketable – but as you’re getting started it can be harder for your customer to grasp exactly what you have to offer that is *different* or stands out from other “dog shops”. So having a narrow focus can help cement in their mind why they’d go to you for a certain item over another shop.
So looking at the 3 categories – lifestyle, category, pricing – does your shop offer a point of view. There’s obviously successful pet shops that offer anything + everything at all various prices/styles/aesthetics, but the suggestion I’m making here is that wide of an assortment can be difficult for a small shop to support + make an impression with new customers.
As an example – Shop #1 could offer a full run of dog supplies, food, outdoor clothing, toys, etc at all various styles and price point ranges.
And Shop #2 decided to focus on toys + clothing in only neutral colors (to better match their “ideal customers” homes) and carry items in the mid-high end.
Both can be successful, but I think the second more focused one can make a bigger splash as a new shop (that could eventually grow to carrying a wider assortment); whereas the first example is kind of “another dog shop” and it’s harder to differentiate why they might want to shop there versus a Pet Supply or from Chewy.com,etc.