Selling to Micro-Niches Online

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WARNING: If you are prone to addiction, DO NOT READ THIS POST!!!

But if you’re interested in selling (or buying) online, and claim a modicum of self-control, take a look at a couple of sites we’ve been spending time on recently:

http://www.steepandcheap.com/

http://www.chainlove.com/

http://www.whiskeymilitia.com/

Each site is targeted at a very specific consumer: outdoor enthusiasts, bicyclists, and skaters/surfers respectively, all with a proclivity for adolescent slang. And each sells only one item at a time, at a bargain-basement price, until (they claim) that item is sold out. Then it’s on to the next. And that’s it.

They use the oldest sales trick in the book – scarcity – and illustrate it with counters showing just how few items are left at any given time (the founders must have watched their fair share of QVC and HSN growing up). That’s been enough to push this blogger into several non-spouse-approved purchases over the last few months.

They build suspense by not telling you what’s next – it might be just the thing you’ve been dreaming of. And if it’s not, then maybe the next will be…

They pay it off with communications that are as much fun as their sites are. Take a look at the fine print on this receipt!

In fairness, they’re not the only ones doing this. Woot doesn’t just attract customers – they’ve built a lively and vocal community of fans as well. But what’s interesting is that all three sites above are run by the same online retailer: Backcountry.com.

It’s an interesting online retail model. Backcountry wants to be the Amazon.com of outdoor gear (according to the About Us, they “boast the biggest catalog of top of the line outdoor gear on the web”), but at the same time they’re creating micro-sites that couldn’t be less Amazon. From a brand architecture perspective, they’re making no effort to tie the parent brand to its progeny, or vice versa.

Why? Maybe the micro-sites are an experiment for testing buying behaviors. Maybe they feel that the parent brand will hinder the specialty sites’ chances to build a cult-like following. Maybe Backcountry’s webmaster is hosting these sites on a server executives don’t know about. It’s not yet clear what the rationale or the prospects are for sites like this, but it is clear that they’re having a hell of a good time. Now if … uh-oh, gotta go – the next item is up for sale…

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