Human beings invest more heavily in their offspring than any other animal on the planet. Our babies have a long gestation period inside the womb, are born completely dependent on their parents, and generally are given many years to grow up and develop before anything is expected of them. As a result it is quite devastating when an offspring does not lead a successful life.
Many animals have multiple offspring at one time. The survival of any one offspring is not that important, and many parents will intentionally starve or kill runts or babies with defects.
Fish can lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs per year. They are playing a numbers game. Each individual egg is inconsequential as long as a few offspring grow into viable adults to start the whole process over again.
Just like animals, ecommerce businesses can follow different models when it comes to creation of products. Some businesses are like humans and put incredible resources into each product, and the failure of one of those products will be quite painful and potentially even deal a death blow to the business.
Other businesses release products more frequently and put less resources into them, therefore the failure of any one product is expected and part of the process. It's a numbers game, but these businesses still try to stack the deck for their products because some level of investment is required.
The fish model businesses would be those that have thousands of products and often these businesses rely on manufacturer descriptions and pictures. They can not reasonably invest much time or money into developing great ecommerce content, ad campaigns, etc. for any one of their products.
All three models can lead to viable businesses, but the key is to understand what model your business follows and to make the appropriate business decisions. If you follow the fish model you better make sure to keep your costs per product really low. If you follow the human model you better validate that there is demand for your product before investing resources into it. And if you follow the litter model you should have systems in place for identifying the runts to starve or kill and the picks to invest more time and effort into.
At 80sTees.com we used to follow a hybrid fish/litter model. We would list tons of products and put a fair amount of effort into each one. Then we would sit and wait for customers to find us via our SEO efforts. This model worked great for us for a long time, but eventually was leading us to a death spiral. By spreading our efforts too thin we were just another "me too" customer for our vendors. We also invested too much effort in runts that no customers even wanted.
This led us to take the path of launching most of our new products (and even some of our old products that we need to go into production to restock our inventory on) via a crowdfunding mechanism. We no longer add every Star Wars shirt we can get our hands on, we built a process where we try to identify those most likely to succeed, and then we put a minimal investment into that product to get to the point where we can take pre-orders. We then market the products with a modest effort via email and social media to find out if the market likes our product. If we spend $20 on facebook and don't have any sales or much in the way of positive comments it's time to kill that runt. If the product takes off with great success now we try to get it in front of as many people as we can while maintaining profitability.
Our vendors like this model because they get as much or more revenue from us, but there are less purchase orders overall. Our customers now only see products that have been proven to have some demand, except for when we are testing new products. Plus, by selling more of fewer products our overall expenses are lower.
So the questions you need to answer for yourself are:
- What is my product model?
- Is that the appropriate model for my business?
- Can we be a better partner to our vendors if we switch models?
- Are we investing too much for our current model with not enough return?
- Is there a better way to validate products for your business?
- Do I have a clear "go to market" strategy for all of my products?
- How are we differentiating ourselves from our competition to both our customers and our vendors?