Redefining the way we sell online

Posted by James Borley on

As of today we will no longer be selling on any online marketplace platforms.

Since we started our store just over 4 years ago we have tried selling on a number of different platforms in a bid to supplement our own in-store and website sales.

As a small retailer you get hounded by countless companies offering you to be part of a platform that pledges to bring together independent retailers of all shapes and sizes and showcases the products they sell to a larger audience than any one of those retailers couldn’t reach on their own. More exposure to more people equates to more sales - it’s a simple and attractive idea. It is, unfortunately, also deeply flawed. 

The world of e-commerce is difficult. There’s a whole myriad of things to worry about - SEO, PPC, image tagging and size, site structure, naming conventions, product descriptions, GTINs and imagery to name just a few. Not only that, there are also literally thousands of competitors out there. Everyone vying for the same customers, offering the same or similar products. So, we try to one-up each other. We offer promotions, discounts, free shipping and loyalty schemes to keep people coming back. That, of course, is what retail is all about. Competition is good, and it is essential. If we didn’t need to compete, we would become lazy, complacent and lose the drive and determination we all need to succeed and run businesses that people care about and want to shop with.

So then, why did we decide to strip everything back and leave the marketplace platforms we were part of that aim to promote independent retailers and help boost their online sales? 

Competition

By this I don’t mean the friendly, equally-matched competition I mentioned above - the kind of competition where you’d happily send a customer to a competitor if you know you can’t help them, but that they can. This is unmatched competition. Heavyweight versus featherweight. Unbalanced David v Goliath. The simple truth is that these online marketplaces are all but desecrating the online marketplace for independent shops. Their budgets are exponentially bigger, they out-rank every other shop across the board on search rankings, SEO, adwords and basically any of the online avenues we have to market our products because they have poured venture capital by the bucket-load into online advertising and PR. 

Type a product into google and, I’ll wager you a tenner, one of the first results will be from a marketplace offering discounts and promotions. The result? Independent websites suffer, and they suffer big. If no-one is seeing your shop, no-one will buy from you. What’s more, if someone else is offering big discounts on the collective product-range of hundreds of shops, you have almost no hope of competing. It’s the same way giants like Amazon came to dominate their markets

The conceit of shopping local

There is a huge groundswell of support for ‘shopping local’ in this country - which is a fantastic thing. Campaigns like ‘Just a Card’ and ‘Small Business Saturday’ to name just a few are great and positive messages. Despite that, we are all also spending much more money online with giant retailers circumventing the small traders we claim to want to support. 

This is where these marketplace websites really cash in. They operate under the pretence of supporting small, local shops but the reality is that they’re slowly but surely dominating the marketplace and using these small retailers as drop-shipping outlets. We end up spending our time packaging orders for their customers and using their branding and promotional material. One marketplace in particular doesn’t even allow you to include your own promotional material in their orders meaning that customer might have no clue at all where their product came from; in fact, the chances are they think it has come from the marketplace website itself. 

And so begins the homogenisation of the market, everything starts to look the same and the marketplace websites have a product range and advertising budget that no-one else can match. It’s also worth noting that the risk for them is extremely low - they’re not buying any stock themselves, they’re relying on us to do that for them so all of their cash can go on boosting the performance of their websites whilst we put our money into stock to fulfil their orders. 

So what now?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about asking customers to lower their expectations. People shouldn’t have to wait for weeks to get a product, or have to deal with fiddly and antiquated websites and payment systems. The simple fact is customers have very high expectations when shopping online, and that’s just the landscape we have to play with. But, and there is a big but here, that does not mean that giving up upwards of 25% (or more) of your margin, losing customer data and letting your own website dwindle and die in exchange for an ‘easy alternative’ is the way to go. Long-term it will not be sustainable. 

So then, this is less of a ‘anti-marketplace’ message, and more of a ‘pro-indie’ message. We all need to pull our fingers out. Up our game. Build a better website. Start collecting customer email addresses (bearing in mind GDPR, of course). Host shopping events. Offer promotions and discounts. Make your store a destination. Try online advertising. Try social media marketing. Take things into your own hands and make your business succeed on your terms. It’ll be a slower more complicated road, but I truly believe the long-term benefits will far outweigh any short-term hype. 

Come with us!

All of this is probably quite a long-winded way of saying that from now on you’ll only find our carefully curated edit of products across clothing, homeware and accessories on our website or in our store in Frome. It’s also a way of us saying - we need your support! We’re going to be working our socks off to bring new and exciting products and experiences to you over the coming months and we want you along for the ride. So, please have a browse of our website if you haven’t in a while, check out the ‘new in’ section, our social media channels or pop into our store in Frome for a chat and a wander and help us carve out our own little corner on the high street.

 

James, Founder


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