Friday, March 23, 2007

Hunting & Gathering & The Online Shopper

According to the same study cited in my previous blog post, Nielsen/NetRatings, Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Harris Interactive, another top reason why consumers prefer to shop the web these days is the wider selection of products available. 26% percent of respondents cited this as the reason they forego shopping in the brick and mortar stores of their respective towns and cities.

I think this is particularly true of the international online shopper. We are continuously told by our international customers from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, in particular, that the variety and selection of apparel and accessories available to them locally, in their country of origin, is paltry in comparison with the goods they can "source" from American e-tailers.

This global marketplace is one of the reasons why eBay has been so hugely profitable since its launch. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, 10% of the time Brits spend online, is spent on eBay. However, the global marketplace is rapidly evolving and shopping online is much more secure these days. In addition, eBay has continuously raised their fee structure over the past few years, causing many e-tailers to abandon eBay in favor of reaching the prospective search engine surfing customer.

What these "search engine surfing" customers have discovered is that there is a veritable cornucopia of varied and unique merchandise to be found in online stores these days. Sure, everyone knows about the big online stores. Search engines like to call these stores "Anchor Stores", just like your local mall has it's anchor department store. Yet what online shoppers are discovering in ever-increasing numbers every day is that there are online boutiques that carry a variety of hand-picked, hard-to-find, indie brands and labels. The discovery of these treasure troves by the internet shopper appeals to their genetically programmed hunting and gathering impulse. Let's face it, hunting and gathering was how our species survived for millennia before civilization.

The whole world is at your fingertips when you shop online. This is not only a boon to the international shopping community but to people who live in small towns across the Unites States. Having lived in a small town for 4-5 years myself in Southern Oregon, I can vouch from personal experience that the selection of goods available, particularly unique, interesting merchandise was dismal. In fact, this was the time period in which I started my first e-commerce site. It was called Vintage Jones, as in “jonesin’ for everything vintage”. (Don’t bother googling it, it doesn’t exist any longer) My goal at that time was to serve up a charming and unique selection of vintage-inspired home d├ęcor, gifts and accessories. I’ve been hooked on e-commerce ever since.

There are several wonderful shopping sites out there on the web. Big sites, small sites, sites that cater to particular socio-cultural groups, i.e., the greasers, kustom kulture crowd (centered as they are around their built-from-the-ground-up hot rods), the vintage pinup crowd, the gothling crowd (our affectionate term for people of a goth persuasion), rockers, jocks, the artists, the hippies, the hipsters, the yipsters (a terminological hybrid of the the words, "Hipster" and Yuppie), the geeks, the nerds…..Are you feeling like you are back in high school right about now?

Can you guess what social group I called home waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back then? Well, I think I took a turn through each at various points of time in my adolescence. As the main buyer for the store, I think our site reflects this eclectic, “Broad Minded” orientation and outlook, as many of you may have noticed by now.

Some marketing experts would discourage this approach and emphasize instead the importance of maintaining a consistent brand image. But then, there are people out there, like Madonna, who have branded themselves as ever-changing and transforming so that what you have grown to expect from Madonna is that she is always morphing her image into something new. If Madonna settled on one image for the remainder of her life, I think we would all be a little disappointed.

Until next time, kittens, "buy buy" :)