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Sell More When You Offer Less

A lean, focused product selection can help shoppers decide to buy.

The online marketplace offers a virtual plethora of goods and services! Whatever you might be looking for, you can likely find it at your fingertips, but not all in one place. Yet, many online sellers have fallen into the trap of believing they need to offer more goods to ensure they’ll have something for everyone.

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, when you offer too much, you typically reduce your buyer conversion rate. Here’s why streamlining—that is, limiting—your online product line can work in your favor, ensuring you’ll deliver well and sell more.

Breaking the paradigm that ‘more is better’

There was a time when consumers were challenged to find the sorts of products they wanted or needed. In the brick-and-mortar world, they might need to drive around the city to different stores to find specific items. This was time consuming, fuel consuming and often frustrating if shoppers couldn’t find the goods they sought.

This created an opening for the “one-stop shopping” solution, where stores became larger, offered aisles and aisles of goods, allowing shoppers the ease and convenience of finding everything they needed in one place.

But when the online marketplace emerged, that notion of “everything in one place” got out of control when stores began to offer so many goods that shoppers simply couldn’t navigate the onslaught of offerings. As an example, early eBay shoppers used to be able to literally browse each listing within eBay’s categories. Today, such an attempt would take hours (or days), prompting shoppers to rely on keyword searching rather than scouring pages and pages of category listings.

With so many options thrust at today’s shoppers, making a purchasing decision has become work

The message was clear: “More” is fine, but shoppers want a fast and efficient shopping experience. They no longer want everything under the sun, under one roof. They want to find shopping destinations they know are already honed on the sorts of goods a focused shopper wants.

“Focus” is the keyword here—shoppers have become focused and are seeking sellers who can provide a focused product line.

Focus helps shoppers make buying decisions

With so many purchasing options thrust at today’s shoppers, making a purchasing decision has become work. Whether shopping for cars, appliances, shoes or even peanut butter, shoppers have to compare so many brands, styles and features. For many, it becomes so overwhelming that they simply give up and elect to not buy.

While they’re agonizing over different products of different styles or qualities from different manufacturers, indecision opens the door to reconsidering their buying impulse. When that happens, they often rationalize that maybe now isn’t a good time to buy. Whoops!

As an antidote to a buyer’s decision-making dilemma, smart sellers are finding it beneficial to pare down the list of offerings before the customer arrives. A lean product line makes it easier for a shopper to assess and decide.

Successful sellers indicate that they’ve already sifted out the best of the best, offering the buyer choices, but not so many that they become overwhelmed. How many choices? Well, current data indicates that shoppers should be offered between three and six choices. The moment a customer has to spend more than 15 seconds reviewing a selection of peanut butters, they’ll likely make an uninformed selection (they’ll just grab whatever), or decide a bologna sandwich suddenly sounds better.

You get the idea. Sift out all the noise on behalf of the customer, and provide them a selection of just the best items (and that could be a selection based on highest quality, best value, lowest price, locality and so on).

Target your customers then target your offerings to them

Explain your approach to selecting the products in your offering, and how your refined offering directly caters to their wants

Here’s the usual reason sellers offer too many choices: They either don’t know their product line or, worse, they don’t know their customers. It’s safe to say that a one-stop shop is no longer a top draw these days, what with all the shopping and selection options available at our fingertips (and that’s from a stationary computer or from a mobile on-the-go device).

Now is the time to hone the focus and sharpen the sales message, electing to establish your store as the place to find a particular sort of product or tightly related assortment of products. Explain your approach to selecting the products in your offering by understanding what your customers want, and how your refined offering directly caters to their wants.

It’s safe to say that offering a simple and swift shopping experience is rising higher on shoppers’ criteria when selecting where they’ll buy. If you can help them feel confident in their purchase, through a contained list of offerings, they’ll develop a trust in you, seeing how you’ve done much of the winnowing-out work for them.

Fewer offerings can mean more for you, too!

Finally, when you narrow your product line, you reduce your risk as a seller. If you’d been driven to offer more, more, more in hopes of having something for everyone, you’d have also invested heavily in a large inventory that you hope will sell.

Visit any one-stop type of retail store and see how many items in that expansive inventory seem to be dusty or otherwise out-of-date. That would be the proprietor’s cash assets that are tied up in inventory that still hasn’t sold. Sure, that one buyer might arrive one day to proclaim it’s exactly what he was looking for, but who can say when that buyer will finally pay a visit?

Reduce your inventory, reduce your risk and reduce the decision-making anguish for your customers. Target your product line to your shoppers, show them how you’ve already thinned the offerings to just the best (based on their wants and needs), and convert more sales to a customer base that sees your store as simple and sensible place to shop.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • If I have $100,000.00 worth of inventory, how am I supposed to hone it down and still sell it?
    I thought different items with different search words was a good thing. Mary



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