Can you profit by stocking hard to find categories?

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Understanding the actions of an online sex toy retailer could help increase your profits in wholesale. This may seem like a giant leap, but stay with me.

This is the tale of the power of a very specific piece of data that wholesalers can analyse, one that helped that sex toy company to win the exclusive global rights to manufacture and sell branded products for the world’s hottest new bestselling book and film franchise, before most people even knew its name.

Conventional wisdom says that if customers search for something on your website and find nothing, that’s bad. Actually, it’s an opportunity to learn. It’s only really bad when you don’t even know a customer searched for something and found nothing (of course, it’s even worse when lots are doing it).

Analysing search terms and the results they produce is one of the biggest keys to achieving higher sales online. Data concerning what customers type to find products is like gold dust. The reports you get from your online ordering partner that show search terms will help turn that gold dust into sales.

But knowing what your customers search for and cannot find is priceless. Look at those reports for searches that yielded zero results. I don’t mean because the searches had errors such as misspellings, but because they were for products you don’t stock or your search software isn’t great.

When you know the search terms that produced zero results and you track what your customers did next, you can feed that back into your search algorithm to stop it happening again. They can also inform your buying decisions.

The best search tools learn over time from the behaviour of all customers combined – the so-called wisdom of the crowd. That will enable a search that gives zero results today to give precisely the right results next week, keeping your customers engaged and buying while still ensuring you’re made aware of the zero results keywords.

It’s one reason we built our Biggest Shed online ordering system with unified search that behaves the same, regardless of whether you are using a phone, tablet or desktop, with all your customers’ searches privately connected. This means that it can instantly adapt one customer’s search results based on what other customers are doing.

Back to that retailer. Its ecommerce data guru analysed zero-result searches and discovered an emerging trend that none of its competitors had noticed. He looked at the other products those customers bought, spotted patterns and went to the book’s management armed with key data. The deal secured, web sales jumped 30% the following year off the back of that single insight.

There is plenty that wholesalers can learn from this astonishing fact as they venture online. Zero-results search data can help you to identify entire new product categories to stock.

You’ll find out when customers start searching for the latest on-trend item before you know it’s on-trend, helping you to beat your competition to the starting line. You can go to suppliers and together, you can build online marketing campaigns around those products that will give fantastic returns on investment.

Make sure you get to see and, as importantly, own your ordering platform’s search data.

Jason Finch is founder of sales technology company 443 AI

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Jason Finch is the co-founder of Port80. The UK's first business combining internet software development and direct-selling retail consultancy, Port80 now focuses on wholesale and is working closely with Palmer and Harvey and other wholesalers that want to benefit from real-time data and online technology.


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