EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 267 - July 25, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 8

For Online Sellers, Trends Hold the Key to Increased Sales

By Lisa Suttora

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Want to know what your customers will be buying 6 months, 12 months, 18 months down the road? Tired of marking down too many products that don't sell? Like to have the insider's insight into the next hot products in your niche? Then it's time to tap into the trends happening in your industry!

The Trend Is Your Friend
No matter what you sell or where you sell it, product trends impact your sales. One of the first rules of retail is "the trend is your friend." Pay close attention to trends upfront and watch your sales go up. Ignore trends and you'll find yourself marketing down unwanted merchandise on the backend.

From footwear to fashion, restaurant supplies to bathroom fixtures, wedding products to office furniture, there are trends in every industry.

Many people think that trends are about the products people buy. But nothing could be further from the truth. Trends are a manifestation of what is going on in the lives and minds of today's consumers.

What people purchase is influenced by what's happening with them at any given moment. Trends also have a social and economic component and are often shaped by innovation. There are ten trend drivers. The first four revolve around people's:

  • Wants

  • Needs

  • Problems

  • Dreams

Trends are also driven by:

  • Pop culture (what people are introduced to in the media)

  • Changing demographics (e.g. aging boomers, parents having children at a later age)

  • Technology (technology now impacts almost every product category)

  • Lifestyle options ( e.g. simplicity lifestyle, organic living)

  • Global needs (e.g. eco-friendly products)

  • Economics (e.g. credit rich lifestyles turned credit crunch lifestyles)

To better illustrate how trends drive billions of dollars in sales, let's take a look at some recent trends that have defined the ecommerce landscape:

  • Six years ago, the multi-billion dollar iPod accessory market was in its infancy. Fast forward to 2010, and the trend in mobile, digital sound is responsible for the birth of thousands upon thousands of new products. With the recent launch of the iPad, we're witnessing the dawn of another new trend that will spawn an entire new line of accessories.

  • The trend towards smart clothes (clothing and fabrics integrated with technology) is still in its early days. Four years ago, solar paneled briefcases were only prototype. Today they represent one of the hottest growing product lines in that market. And, as technology advances and as more and more manufacturers capitalize on this new trend, a plethora of opportunities for online sellers will emerge.

  • Eco-friendly products were once limited primarily to food. Green products were hard to find and very expensive. Today almost every mainstream product category has an eco-friendly option.

  • In 2001, the backyard was a simple place to hang out. Over the past several years we've seen the evolution of the basic backyard into a brand new niche called "outdoor living spaces." At first this trend was popular among homeowners with money to spare. People looking for a way to for a way to extend the luxury of their homes into the yard. Today the trend continues, but for different reasons. With the tightening of credit in the housing market, consumers who a few years ago would have remodeled the entire house are now looking for a less expensive way to expand their usable living spaces. This has made products like all weather furniture, outdoor kitchens and attractive outdoor heating and cooling appliances a hot commodity.

  • As a direct result of the massive buying power of the female consumer (recent studies show that women influence up to 80% of the household buying decisions), sales of products with "women specific design" are booming. Everything from bicycles to camping gear, desk accessories to motorcycle accessories now have women specific niche products as a result of this trend.

As you can clearly see, when you understand the trends in your market you hold the key to unlocking the mystery of what your customers will buy next.

Trends vs. Hot Lists
When online sellers look to see what's hot in their niche, they often check the latest hot list to see what people are buying. However hot lists only give you a snapshot of what is hot now. They don't tell you where the moment is going.

By the time something has reached top-ten status on a hot list, it's often peaked in popularity and a new or different version of the product is already making its way up the charts. This is one reason why sellers who source inventory based only on hot lists often find themselves stuck with merchandise that is on the downward side of trend.

Hot lists are a great starting point to spot the current trends. But from there you must use those clues to do your research and ferret out where that trend is headed.

Trends vs. Fads
One of the biggest misperceptions I find when helping people spot the trends in their industry is in understanding the difference between a trend and a fad.

A trend, as we discussed above, always has a reason behind it. Whether it's a lifestyle change or an economic one, you can always track a trend back to a reason. For example, more and more people are buying eco-friendly and organic products. The reasons are many. Health, preservation of the earth's resources, reducing carbon footprint are all key drivers behind this trend.

Fads on the other hand, spring up rapidly and without a reason. They catch fire fast and burn out just as quickly. One of the most famous fads in history was the Pet Rock. Created in 1975 by salesman Gary Dahl, the popularity of the Pet Rock spread like wildfire. The fad lasted six months and then died down. In that time five million Pet Rocks were sold.

Spotting and Tracking Trends
So how do you find about these all-important trends? Fortunately it doesn't require a crystal ball or a call to the psychic trends hotline to spot the latest trends. And you don't need to be trendy at all. You do however, need to be a bit of a detective and employ your powers of observation along with using the right tools. And it all starts by frequenting what I call Idea Hotspots.

Idea Hotspots are publications, places, even people where trend information abounds. When you frequent Idea Hotspots you'll tap into the trends as well as spot the clues that will help you piece together the next big trend.

Some of the most fruitful Idea Hotspots are:

  • Consumer magazines (these are what your customers are reading!)
  • Trade shows
  • Trade publications
  • Consumer shows
  • Trending articles on the Internet

For example, if you sell in the home decor, home appliance, or remodeling niche, your first stop should be HGTV, the Home & Garden Television website. As it says on their home page, "Inspiration Starts Here." But the inspiration is not only for the millions of visitors that love the website and watch the shows, the inspiration is also there for online sellers in this niche to spot the trends.

Sofa sales slow? How about introducing some new Game room products into your product line mix? Game rooms are one of the hottest trends in home decor and a category frequently featured on HGTV.

In order to spot trends in your industry you have to live where your buyers live. Read what they're reading. Watch what they're watching. Hang out where they are hanging out - online and off.

And when it comes to uncovering the latest trends in your product line, don't forget about your suppliers! They are often one of the best resources for finding out what the next "it" product will be.

In addition to frequenting Idea Hotspots, you'll also want to get the hard data as to what people are searching for and buying online. You can do this easily with both free and paid research tools.

1) Google Insights is my favorite tool for tracking the trends. With Google Insights you can track the trends on multiple keywords to see which searches are trending up and trending down.

2) The Google Keyword Tool will also help you gain clues to the latest trends by looking at the number of searches and related searches for a particular keyword.

3) Google Alerts is another free Google tool that will keep you abreast of the latest product trends. I call this your "free research employee." Set up a Google Alert for the specific keywords that you want to track the trends for and every time a new article is indexed for those keywords, Google will send you an email notification with a link to the article. This enables you to put some of your trend research on autopilot.

4) For eBay sellers, Terapeak offers excellent insight into what's trending on eBay. But don't limit your use of Terapeak to only your eBay sales. As one of the world's largest marketplaces, what sells on eBay is often representative of what's selling across the web.

5) Amazon now gives sellers a list of popular products in low supply (link).

Putting Together the Puzzle Pieces
It's important to note that tapping into the trends in your niche is not always a linear process. While you may get a line on a hot trend from your supplier or find the hottest trend in extreme sports products by reading reviews in an extreme sports magazine, the best trend spotters become adept at looking for clues and then putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

One day you might see utilitarian looking bicycle being ridden down the street and the next day recognize that same bike in a newspaper article on commuter bikes. Set up a Google Alert and a few days later an email from Google with article on the "Top 10 Commuter Bikes of 2010" arrives in your inbox.

Better pay attention, there's a trend brewing here! Six months down the road when your online store is stocked with the latest commuter bikes and your best selling style is at the top of the hot list, your non-trend tracking competitors will be reading the hot list wondering how you knew. The credit goes to you and your friend, the trend.

Keep Your Radar Turned On
You've spotted the trend. Stocked your store and are enjoying the great sales as a result. How long can you ride the wave of a trend? Because they are based on human nature, trends morph and change. The one thing that is constant with trends is change. A current trend will last until your market changes or until external conditions such as technology or economics intervene. Once you've started spotting trends, you'll never stop. And if you want to make sure that you're on the leading edge of trends in your industry, there's one way to guarantee your success,...always be looking.


About the author:

Lisa Suttora is an ecommerce expert and founder of WhatDoISell.com. Since 2004, Lisa has specialized in helping online entrepreneurs master the marketing and product sourcing skills they need to build unique, thriving businesses in today's top online marketplaces. WhatDoISell is one of 34 eBay Certified Providers worldwide. An author and nationally known speaker with more than 15 years of online and offline retail merchandising experience, Lisa brings a fresh approach to the topic of what to sell and how to sell it. Enjoy more business building tips and strategies for marketing your online business at http://whatdoisell.com/tips, keep your finger on the pulse of today's hot trends with the free Hot Trend Alerts newsletter, and visit Lisa's blog at lisasuttora.com.


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