Once you have a successful ecommerce site and the orders are flowing, by all means congratulate yourself for achieving what many do not. But do not rest there. The most important thing is change. You have to keep reviewing what you sell and whom you sell it too. Failure to do this will mean the decline and failure of your business.

In the last few years a number of huge household retailers have failed in England. These mighty giants took a long time to die, but they all had one thing in common: They failed to adapt.

In ecommerce, unlike the high street, there are two main areas where the retailer has to stay ahead. The first one, the obvious one, is the technology of the Internet. The changes in the Internet determine how a consumer finds your site, and her experience in your site. There is a general trend for more people browsing using mobile devices — comparing prices on their phones, purchasing from their tablets. There have been numerous articles regarding this, especially recommending that sites utilize responsive design that adjusts to smaller screens. Further recommendations come regarding changes to the design itself, the current trend being more flat design. Again these technical changes are necessary to keep your site ahead of the competition and maintain decent conversion rates.

But the best designed and most fabulous website will still fail if it does not sell what your shoppers want. In the real world, technology is moving fast and some new things have the potential for completely changing what we sell and how we sell it.

For example, I recently visited the New York Toy Fair to see what are the likely forthcoming toys and gadgets, to see what new things I could stock and sell. In one stall there was a young couple trying to sell their new business idea to U.S. toy retailers. Their idea was to sell bespoke bobble heads. Customers would get their faces (or their children’s faces) scanned in and the resulting pictures sent to headquarters, where a head matching that face was produced, painted, and then mailed to the customer. It all takes just a couple of days. They had lots of samples and they looked lovely.

The next stall was the dinosaur killer: A firm selling its 3D printer for $1,300. Their demonstration was cruelly effective. You scanned in an object and it printed it. A few minutes latter you had it in your hands. The cost of the materials was less than a dollar. You could then paint it yourself. This one stall could mark the end for so many toy manufacturers. It certainly overshadowed the bobble-head stall.

Most of what I sell is action figures, made from injection molded plastic. The huge cost of setting up the mold and tooling up means that the toy manufacturer has to make thousands of a particular figure, and cannot make every character that it would want. With a 3D printer the dynamics change. What is to stop the license holders creating a 3D design image of the less popular characters and selling them digitally? Then the customers who want their favorite, but obscure character, can print their own figure.

There are thousands of other potential uses. There is no way of predicting what will take off and what will not take off, but the potential is there. In my youth I remember watching Star Trek, with all its future gadgets. How right they have been with mobile phones and tablets. I particularly remember the replicator, which as if by magic created an object. In the New York toy fair I saw its descendant.

Now I don’t expect the action figure market to change overnight. Indeed it may not change at all, but the chance is there. Look at the CD and DVD market. Both have been decimated by digital downloads. Those retailers who did not change and expand their range, but instead just concentrated on DVDs and CDs, have gone bust. Now some toys and figures could likewise be decimated by digital downloads.

Whilst these examples may not be universally relevant, the point is clear. It is a good idea to go to the occasional show or trade fair to see what is trending. It is a good idea to expand and adjust your niche, to see what might be the consumer demand in the future. The key point is to ensure you are not left concentrating on a dying market, that your product offering is sufficiently varied that you can safely weather any sudden change.

In expanding, it is important to do it in a carefully measured way. Not to suddenly grow and take on too much. One of the key factors that make us independents successful is knowing our niche. By being experts in our stock, we can and should present it better. We can produce knowledgeable and different content that stands out from the crowd of sites that just copy and paste the manufacturer’s descriptions. Thus any expansion should follow this route and not be a randomly selected market.

In short, always be aware of what is happening. And be prepared to adapt.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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