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Internet Retailing Strategies: Niche Marketing v. Vertical Marketing

Posted on August 14, 2008 by Zach

Recently a fellow coworker sent me a blog about multi channel selling which was basically a "pro niche" piece.

"A highly effective strategy in ecommerce is multiple channel selling. This involves having several niche websites targeting different demographics, displaying specific product ranges. This allows you to create completely focused websites with a high sales conversion rate."

While I understand the niche v. mega site argument (and I also may have my mind set on which I like best both from a customer and retailer perspective) I thought this was an interesting article which highlighted all of the great things about niche websites and none of the bad. I know people say they are great because of the niche SEO value, the ability to really hone in on your marketing campaigns and the ability to focus on a particular product niche. And I agree, those are some great reasons to sell via niche websites. However, I see even more reasons to avoid buying or selling via a niche website. Developing niche SEO campaigns and polishing marketing strategies can be done on a large scale, in a similar fashion to that of niche retailers, by focusing on categories and product types.

I would even go so far as to say that I think that SEO, in particular, can go much further for larger sites.  I say this because a larger site can draw more links, have more authority within an industry and create a community built around an entire market instead of a niche. My next step in the conversation or thought process then usually turns to the ability to cross sell, up sell and convert repeat buyers which is much harder and far less effective on a niche website.  Think about it, how much harder would it be to convince a consumer to buy just one more barstool on a website that only sells barstools, as opposed to a website that sells outdoor furniture who can then up sell on the matching tables, chairs, accessories, and more?

The next thing that goes through my mind, or the next thing I would bring up in a conversation regarding niche v. vertical is operating costs.  Depending on the retailer's level of technological prowess, I also like to bring up the level of overhead with operating several websites v. one. Don't let me convince you, though; several retailers are moving away from niche websites. The Gap recently combined their web properties so that shoppers can simply visit the gap website and shop at all of their stores by means of one shopping cart. There are also several mega sites like, Amazon, QVC, etc. which continue to do well. So, while I lean on the anti-niche selling side of the fence, I believe it can be done in a scalable and profitable fashion. However, both as a buyer and seller, I prefer the larger non-niche sites.

This also brings up a nomenclature issue. I would consider "multi-channel selling" to be either selling through different means (i.e. as a physical store, catalog and online) or through different marketing channels such as shopping engines, marketplaces, and search engine marketing. So the verbiage of the article is also confusing in and of itself. I might consider the means through which products are listed and categorized on a site a "selling channel", but I would probably classify niche websites as a "selling strategy" based upon how the business has decided to sell online.

 

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