Sites like MyHabit, One Kings Lane, GovX, and 3point5 use product selection, exclusivity, and good prices to build an audience of loyal, repeat customers. Applying these simple tactics, nearly any online seller can find a niche to serve.
Small and mid-sized ecommerce businesses may find success avoiding mass market products — and the mass market competition they bring with them — and focusing on niche products for a particular customer niche.
These niche sites may be organized around a particular target audience like members of the military; industries like fashion, or even around special pricing. But at core each of these models present shoppers with a collection of products that are in someway exclusive to them.
What follows are three tips to help identify profitable ecommerce niches.
1. Featured ‘Curated’ Products
Curation is the act of collecting, organizing, and looking after items. It brings to mind a museum curator who carefully manages works of art, ensuring that they are properly preserved and displayed.
This sense of care or at least care in selection is an important part of operating a niche, membership site. Often these sites feature products that may otherwise be difficult to find or are otherwise unusual.
Quarterly is one of the best examples of curated products. The site sells subscriptions to specific curators, like bestselling author Timothy Ferriss or musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams. These curators hand-pick items for subscribers and send them in a single package once every three months.
Although less overt, many other niche, membership sites also choose products carefully, either for their appeal to the target audience, their quality, or in some cases their price.
“When we founded GovX.com, we sought to offer a more personalized online shopping experience designed to address the needs of our honored community. As such, we sought to curate a network of the best tactical, lifestyle, and related brands that [our] special audience sought,” said Tony Farwell, executive chairman and co-founder of GovX, which sells exclusively to military personnel, police officers, firefighters, and other government employees. “We not only work with large, market leaders, but [also with] special emerging brands that incorporate unique features or tactical standards our audience especially appreciates.”
For businesses seeking to launch a niche, membership site, this may mean doing a bit of extra work locating products, but the unique catalog of items should pay off.
2. Make Offers Exclusive
Niche, membership stores are often very good at making customers feel like they are getting something special, such as specialized treatment, prices, or opportunity. That exclusivity can come in the form of registration for a membership or belonging to a special group.
Sites like MyHabit and One Kings Lane ask for simple membership, but others like 3point5 and GovX focus on serving a very specific community of customers.
Consider 3point5, which sells to folks employed in the retail industry. The site gives these retail employees up to 70 percent discounts on items when they watch training videos about the products. The idea is that folks who work in brick-and-mortar retail stores learn about the products their companies carry and can do a better job selling those items to customers. In exchange for watching the videos, these retail employees can purchase items at prices that are typically lower than the price they would pay at their own store even with an employee discount. Vendors and suppliers get a better-educated retail sales staff. Retailers have better trained employees without taking a loss on an employee sale, and the employee gets a first quality product at a low price.
As mentioned above, GovX does something similar, selling only to past and present government employees. In fact, the company has gone to great lengths to ensure that shoppers meet the qualification requirements to keep the site exclusive.
“In order to address identifying eligible members, we created a patent pending online verification system that interconnects with government institutions, unions, professional associations and other data sources, while employing special fraud detection systems. In layman’s terms, every single member goes through a thorough a verification process to confirm their eligibility to access GovX.com’s premium products and services,” said Farwell.
To use this tactic, look for specific customer segments that may be underserved in the mass market.
3. Offer Good Prices
A niche, membership store is almost certainly expected to have good prices, and there are at least a few strategies to offer the discounts that may be necessary on a niche, membership site.
First, niche, membership sites may have lower marketing costs. Consider One Kings Lane. Every member must provide an email address, and the company is not shy about emailing. Given that email is one of the most effective ways to drive sales, it is possible that One Kings Lane can spend significantly less on advertising, diverting dollars spent on pay-per-click ads to lowering retail prices.
Similarly, almost by definition, these sites are built to generate repeat sales, so that a niche, membership retailer may be able to work on slim margins, knowing that there will be more returning customers, who are statistically apt to spend as much as five times more than a new customer on each visit.
Finally, niche, membership merchants may be able to rely on special purchases or vendor relationships to get first quality items at a discount.