Commerce blog | Merchandising
Even Generalists Can Specialise
February 29, 2016
This past week, designer Tommy Hilfiger received kudos with the launch, in collaboration with nonprofit Runway of Dreams, of a collection of adaptive clothing for kids. The clothes look just like the other items in the Hilfiger line (and cost the same to boot), but their simpler closures, adjustable openings, and other features make them accessible to differently abled kids.
image: Tommy Hilfiger screen grab
It's a plaudit-worthy move—and a savvy business decision too. Because not only is this an underserved market, but Hilfiger was also able to reap invaluable positive media attention with the launch, which should cast a halo effect on the brand as a whole. All that, and the line extension helps differentiate Hilfiger from all those other preppy-inspired apparel brands.
Although targeting a much different audience, Uniqlo's Hana Tajima collection provides the apparel brand with many of the same benefits. Consisting of traditional and modest women's clothing including hajibs and kibayas, the range appeals to a growing but underserved market, is sure to engender brand loyalty even among Muslims who don't dress modestly, and shines a positive spotlight on Uniqlo as a responsive, forward-thinking brand.
image: Uniqlo screen grab
Especially for retailers with a solid online component that enables them to reach a broader audience and take advantage of the "long tail," incorporating a niche collection within their merchandise mix can provide an all-important unique selling proposition to differentiate them from the competition.
For instance, when my daughter was younger, we had the devil of a time finding dolls with Asian features, even though we lived in a racially diverse city. I ended up resorting to a specialty catalogue, Asia for Kids, to find a doll that resembled her. If our local toy store had offered that option, you can be sure I would have purchased not only this particular doll from it but also all my daughter's other playthings, from craft supplies to blocks—even if it meant paying a few dollars more than buying the same items at Amazon or Toys 'R' Us. When members of a niche audience find a business that takes their special requirements into consideration, they tend to be impressively loyal... not only as a way of saying thank you but also to ensure that the company stays in business.
The beauty part is that targeting a niche market within your larger audience doesn't necessarily require much of an investment. Best Buy relies on little more than SEO to target the growing small-home sector: with When you search Google for "small space appliances" or "appliances for small spaces," the first nonpaid result is a link to a Best Buy page listing 116 compact appliances. (Oddly, though, when you search "small space appliances" on the Best Buy website itself, it turns up 697 results—hmmm....)
image: Best Buy screen grab
Along similar lines, why don't home decor retailers devote a section of their stores, catalogues, or websites to pet-friendly (and kid-friendly, and klutz-friendly) furnishings? Much of their existing merchandise—microfiber and faux-leather upholstery, for example—would already qualify for this niche. By creating a capsule collection of these products, a retailer could then reach out to publications, blogs, and associations catering to pet owners and families to promote the offering and position itself as an authority. Given that nearly half of all households own at least one pet, this target market barely qualifies as a niche at all—yet a search on Google shows that hardly anyone is addressing these consumers' special needs. As someone with two dogs (one of whom is a champion shedder) and a husband with a talent for spillage, I'd rush to a website that offered an assortment of damage-resistance decor.
What consultancy 4i calls "foresight analytics" can help you determine potential niches to target. In the meantime, I think my klutz-friendly—errr, pet-friendly—home furnishings idea is a winner. If you decide to go for it, let me know; I just may become a frequent buyer.