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How to become an ecommerce trend following ninja

Written by Spencer Durrant on March 30, 2016 in Strategies & Tips

6767371111_bb4781112b_b.jpgThe ecommerce world runs on trends. Retailers are constantly on the lookout for the next hot product, simply because you need top-selling products in order to be successful in the ecommerce world. 

According to research reported by Supply and Demand Chain Executive

"The top 10 percent of items generate 75 percent of sales, whereas the slowest moving 50 percent account for only 1 percent of volume."

We'll dive deeper into that article and the great information if offers, but that short excerpt shows that finding trending products is a beneficial process to engage in if you want to find success as an online retailer.

However, just because you know you need to follow trends, doing so isn't the easiest part of the job. 

This post will help you become an ecommerce trend following ninja by showing you a few tools to use to follow the market, gauge consumer interest, and get ahead of your competitors by offering the hottest products as soon as possible.  

Understand the power of top-selling products

If you're serious about becoming a trend following ninja, you need to really understand the power of top-selling products. 

Many retailers doing business online have a long-tail collection of products. If you're not familiar with that term, long-tail simply refers to the products you have in your catalog that, while they sell, they do so slowly over a longer period of time than your hotter items. 

Now, referring back to the above linked Supply and Demand Chain Executive article, author Robert Byrne makes a compelling case for culling, if not completely cutting, your long-tail assortment of products. 

"The average tail in consumer goods contains 81 percent of all items and continues to get longer each year. These are your slowest moving items that make up 20 percent of total sales volume. To put things in perspective, only 1 percent of items are top sellers." 

While that excerpt from Byrne's article may cause you to completely rethink your entire product assortment strategy, consider the following points he made:

"While everyone likes to think their next new launch is a winner, the reality is that 95 percent of new introductions end up in the tail and only one in a thousand start off as a top seller. This is pretty disheartening considering the importance placed on innovation.

"What’s more, items that start off in the tail tend to stay there. Only 4 percent manage to escape to become more successful and none turn into top sellers—it is almost like the tail is supply chain’s equivalent of a black hole. This underscores the importance of quickly culling introductions that fail to meet expectations."

Byrne simply makes the case, backed by solid research, that it pays to put more of an emphasis on finding and marketing products that are likely to sell well than it is to come up with a giant long-tail strategy with only a handful of top-selling products leading your store's charge into the ecommerce world.

Living off a long-tail strategy probably won't launch your online store to the next level, at least not to the point where you quit your day job to work in ecommerce full time. You will absolutely need hot products to accomplish that goal. 

How do I find hot products?

Now that you understand the importance of finding trending products, it's time to talk about how you actually find them. That's the tricky part. 

I wrote a post about a month ago detailing one of the best tools to use to track trends - Google Trends. Google's massive database of information is free to access, and you can track certain products throughout the year to see when searches through Google peak, and when that search volume falls.

But Google Trends is more useful for timing the sale of products, and optimizing SEO on your site, than it is for product discovery. I've listed a couple of ways to find products below. 

Message boards/blogs

An article from Vertical Response offers 10 tips on how to keep up with trends in whatever industry you operate in.  The bit of advice I thought was most pertinent for ecommerce store owners was one of the simplest points made in the article - participate in message boards in your industry, and read as many websites and blogs as you possibly can.

As author of the above Vertical Response article, Yael Grauer, wrote, 

"If you see the same topic on every site in your industry, such as the plethora of posts on making marketing mobile, then yes – it’s a trend you’ll want to follow closely."

The same logic goes for message boards. While they can be cumbersome to wade through if they're not moderated correctly, they often have hidden gems of information that can point you towards the next big trending product.

Reddit is probably the best example of a solid message board, and Grauer suggests reading through one subreddit per day that relates directly to your niche.

Listen to customers

One final tidbit from this article: Grauer also mentions another one of the most effective means to find hot products - ask your customers what they're interested in. 

Grauer wrote, 

"Got something that used to sell well that people are barely looking at now, let alone buying? Noticing clients and prospects asking specific questions that they never used to ask? Puzzling over these changes can help you predict potential threats – and opportunities."

Customers drive trends, and the more you engage with your shoppers, the more insight you'll gain into exactly what it is they're looking for in terms of product.

Create trends

An interesting article from the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur, Amy Cosper, talks about a different approach to following trends.

Cosper says that true entrepreneurs don't follow trends - they create them.

To back that claim up, she cites the example of Entrepreneur featuring surfers on the cover of their magazine in late 2015. Cosper wrote that,  

"Putting a surfer on our cover was not an easy choice. Because since when do surfers embody the spirit of entrepreneurship? Since they started making clothes, and realizing new ways of experiencing life. Just like Kelly Slater, whose company represents one of our trends of 2016 -- apparel brands making sustainable fashion.

"This issue celebrates both people and trends -- and the opportunities they create."

If you're struggling to find trending products before your competitors, or merchandise those products more effectively than other retailers in your niche, it may be time for you to take a step back and look at your industry as a whole. What kind of product could shake it up? What would really take off? And most importantly, is anyone else selling it?

Creating a trend may not be the most viable model for your store, but if you source from a dropship supplier, you can identify products that may sell well and have zero risk in listing those in your catalog. It's just a matter of taking the time to research potential products.

Becoming a trend following ninja in the ecommerce world takes a lot of time, but it ultimately boils down to research. With tools like Google Trends, countless blogs and subreddits that pertain to your industry, and your own ingenuity, you can either follow the trends or create your own. 

Shopify, one of ecommerce's biggest names, even recommends using Google Trends and tech trends to guide your research for hot products. You'll have to do a lot of the legwork on your own, but when you do discover the next top-selling item for your store, it'll have been worth the effort.

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Photo courtesy Scott Swigart.

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