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5 Ways to Overcome Long Tail
Commerce Obstacles

Want to buy a “non-stick and dishwasher safe 2-basket rapid cooker and air fryer?” Or “wood core and progressive sidecut men’s skis 170?” What about a “clear bubble umbrella for kids?”

Head to Amazon. The web giant features long, descriptive names attached to the goods for sale. Shoppers put in the keywords to explain what they are looking for. The search drives results tailored to their preference.

Enter today’s world of ecommerce, and you’ll find sites that mirror Amazon’s keyword-driven sales. Ebay, Etsy, and Netflix boast ample product offerings. Shoppers can narrow their search by keying in a string of adjectives. If they aren’t sure what they want, they can use the words as a guide. They’ll look at what appears on the screen. They’ll either click on an item and make a purchase or refine their search and keep looking.

Detailed descriptions are a sign of the long tail commerce strategy. This concept encompasses less popular goods with a lower demand. The term “long tail” dates to 2004, when Chris Anderson, a British-American writer and editor, coined the phrase. He wrote about the idea in Wired Magazine that year. In 2006, he published a book titled The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.

Long tail strategies are becoming increasingly accessible, due in large part to changing consumer trends. In the past, before online shopping became mainstream, retailers would carefully divide their shelf space. They might stock up on popular items that were in high demand. This left only a small amount for less popular goods that would sell lower volume.

Given this, if a shopper entered a store asking for a very specific item, there was less chance it would be available. The consumer might change their mind and buy a popular, high demand good as a substitute. Or the shopper may decide to not buy anything.

Today, however, the buyer can browse online from their phone to see if the item they want is available. An ecommerce site might have it. If so, the shopper merely needs to click on the good, make a payment, and wait for it to arrive outside their door.

Ecommerce sites greatly benefit from the flexibility that the online space provides. They can take a different approach to shelves and stocking goods. Physical inventory might be stored in warehouses. Digital goods don’t require massive amounts of space, making them simple to hold and distribute.

The thought of selling specialized items to a niche market often holds appeal. With the connectivity available today, it is possible to reach a global audience from anywhere. If done well, the long tail strategy has the potential to outperform a marketing campaign centered on just a few high demand goods.

However, there are barriers that often surface in the long tail space. Overcoming them is essential to maintaining and increasing profitability. Following is a look that looks at best practices for implementing long tail strategies.

1. Use Enough Keywords

The highest quality kitchen mixers won’t sell if customers can’t find them on your site. Putting in descriptors that accurately portray an item can be a bit of an art. When adding keywords to merchandise, take the time needed to make sure it is right. “Kitchen mixer” might have so many results that it will be difficult to find a particular one. “White kitchen mixer with bowl, attachments, 10 speed” may catch the attention of customers.

Taking this technique one step further involves building content around the merchandise. This might include videos, articles, or pictures that portray information about the product. Customers are drawn to information and a place to learn. If they engage with a site that caters to their needs, they may be more receptive to the merchandise offered through it.

2. Break Through Cultural Walls

The lure of reaching a global market is enticing. However, it’s important to recognize that different regions have a unique perspective on the world. The phrases used in Canada may not be the same as those used in the United Kingdom or Australia. Certain segments of the world have eating preferences too. A sweeping campaign for a pork-based product in Israel may not have the desired effect, as many of the population avoids that food group.

From an online perspective, being sensitive to cultural issues will vary by region. If setting up a local shop in an area, it’s often helpful to bring in local resources. Personnel from the surrounding neighborhood can speak to what type of merchandise is acceptable—and what is not.

3. Make it Personal

Before online shopping, adding initials to merchandise was often not easy. It might have involved taking orders from customers, waiting for the supplies to be manufactured, and then sending the products to them. With the extra steps involved, the price typically rose.

Now, customers can type their preferences for personalization online. That is, if the feature is available. Giving shoppers the chance to add their name to a necklace could potentially increase sales. Those who are looking for a customized look might be drawn to the product.

In addition, there are ample ways to offer customization features. If a consumer is picking out a snowboard, they might be interested in choosing a color, adding a design, and including their name. After they purchase the item, they might want to go back and see what they ordered. If they find the information that they originally entered is still stored, they will likely feel valued.

4. Set Financial Figures

Unlike mass production, long tail campaigns focus on smaller amounts of less common goods. Yet the goal to make a profit remains the same. For each product, it will still be essential to carry out a cost analysis. A minimum threshold is typically set. This defines the number of goods that will need to be sold to cover production expenses. Any amount over the threshold will be considered profit.

In some cases, it may not be cost effective to produce lower quantities of goods. In other instances, it might be feasible to produce some low demand goods and some high demand items. The two can complement each other. The key is to carry out research and set a goal before beginning the sales process.

5. Add it on to Current Strategies

Giant e-tailer sites have sparked interest in recent years, based on the high volumes of sales they generate. At the same time, there is still a purpose for stores to be open. Similar trends appear in the long tail space. There are opportunities that exist; however, retailers will need to evaluate their current product mix to see if adding long tail items will be effective.

When starting out, a sampling can serve to gain feedback. Producing a small amount of a niche product could help shine light on changes that should be made. Once the product is refined, it can be put into the mainstream.

Ecommerce opportunities present new ways to sell merchandise. Over time, with the long tail approach, you may find you’re adding more targeted products to your mix. You can then watch customers from around the world jump at the chance to buy them.

Gerard Szatvanyi

Author: Gerard Szatvanyi

As a founding member and CEO of OSF Digital, Gerry has more than 15 years of experience managing start-ups and medium-size IT businesses and driving them to peak performance. With background in Enterprise Applications, IT Services and Consultancy, Gerry's impressive client and business portfolio sets him in the new breed for global entrepreneurship.