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Scratch that niche

  • Opinion
  • February 2, 2017
  • Juanita Neville-Te Rito
Scratch that niche
Image: Kerryn Smith

I think many of us can relate as customers and retailers to the significant upheaval in the world of retail.

Retail is cut-throat. Many retailers sell products and services that can be bought elsewhere and attention spans are shrinking. A recent study showed the average human attention span has fallen from twelve to eight seconds – that’s less than a goldfish. Time is becoming increasingly more valuable.

Retail today is no longer one dimensional. It comprises a whole ecosystem of virtual, digital and physical expressions of your offer. This means to really stand out in retail, you need to cut-through, stand for something and make an impact in order to capture a customer’s imagination.

So how do you do it? One way is to carve yourself a specific niche and be the best there is at it, or discover an unmet need and be the best at delivering on it.

Primarily, this relies on have a clear product and merchandise strategy, including injections of new so there are more reasons to continue to visit and re-visit. As a retailer, you may be selling brand products that can be bought elsewhere, so you need to think exclusives, new ranges and curated ranges.

AS Colour is a local New Zealand retailer who I am crackers about. Its goal is to make the best T-shirts in the world. AS Colour leaders in the design and manufacture of quality basics and streetwear. Through dedication in the design and manufacturing process, they deliver some of the most premium basics available: Fashion-forward cuts, high-quality cotton, innovative fabrics and consistent sizing every time.

It’s also developed a very strong following in the wholesale sector, where its basic tees are known as the best-quality products to purchase if you want to print a design, logo or emblem on them.

In a time where it is cool to wear no logos or labels, they are worn by the in-crowd, as well as those who are the ‘quality’ crowd. Or like my husband, the ‘make it as easy as possible’ crowd for whatever basics you need - singlets, sweatshirts, pants, shorts, caps, tanks, dresses and kidswear.

Hue is another homegrown success story who identified a niche opportunity and ran with it. A specialist colour salon who “don’t do ‘dos’”, this is a business proposition wrapped in their passion and philosophy of pure, gorgeous, fabulous colour. And that’s it.

With 90 percent of women colouring their hair in some shape or form, this is a category with a lot of demand but also a lot of competition. The team looked through a different lens to get a sense of an unmet need - the customer’s lens. They found that hair salon treatments often break the bank, so customers weren’t coming as often as they wanted. Also, gime was precious and there wasn’t space in customers’ lives for the salon visit that takes forever. (3) You pay extra for styling (eg. blow dry and straighten) and having this done to simply go home and cook was a waste of time and money. (4) Some customers experienced negative reactions to harsh commercial chemicals. (5) How to go about booking an appointment particularly when at home in the evening when the salon is closed.

It was these nuggets of understanding that Hue synthesised to carve a unique competitive advantage and positioning in the market. They addressed every touchpoint relating to the unmet needs and deliver an experience that exceeds customer’s expectations and by all accounts this has been incredibly successful with a strong, loyal following.

Shoppers can be irrational and unpredictable, but they do crave rich, engaging and authentic experiences. They want to know about the authenticity of the product and that buying from you is a good choice - or a damn great choice. They want to feel good about their purchase and that you didn’t ‘rip them off’ – whether that be in not giving the right curation of choice, quality or value.

What experience are they looking for? What are their pain points? How can you cut-through and create something that makes their lives better and easier? It might sound obvious, but looking at your offering through the lens of your customers might just unearth that little nugget of an unmet need. Go on. Scratch that niche.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 747 December 2016 / January 2017

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