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17. Long Tail example in the Sunday Times

Some years ago I was reading the Sunday Times over the weekend and came across an article which was the perfect example of what I had been writing about the Long Tail, both as a reality and how the idea has become sufficiently established for it to help mould – or at least express – business views.

The article was in the small business section written by Andrew Stone with the headline: ‘Niche players profit online’. It focused on Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish and their business Notonthehighstreet.com which they set up two years before. Sales more than trebled the previous year and were forecast to hit £3.5m that year – a pretty successful small business. What is the secret of their success?

‘Notonthehighstreet sources good quality clothes, gifts and homewares from small producers who could never survive with their own retail outlets or by dealing with the big chains, said Tucker’ in the article. “We provide an opportunity for thousands of independent suppliers to sell their products…. Sites like ours are acting as a kind of shop window for the long tail of the internet”. Ideas that thinkers have developed to understand what is happening in our world in this way become part of the language and common understanding of a lot of us.

So there we have it: firstly a clear indication that Long Tail thinking has directly influenced current business; secondly, an example of how there is a market for the long tail of niche and specialist suppliers who are usually difficult to find and often in the past did not survive and thirdly the whole site is an example of the filters that Anderson talks about in the Long Tail, which drive demand down it – people use the site because it will contain the unusual items they rarely see elsewhere, and the search on the site will further refine this for them. Just as department store retailers such as John Lewis have developed a customer base by reliably supplying a range of offerings to reach a range of needs in the bricks and mortar world, so sites like notonthehighstreet.com are developing their own loyal following. (The article goes on to give examples of other comparable on-line aggregators and how they have developed their customer base).

On the second point above, the relevance of the Long Tail is not just for sites such as notonthehighstreet.com but for a wide range of small businesses. As a business advisor I have seen many enthusiasts with their particular product concept ready to invest every penny in what they believe in, but have had to inject some reality into the thinking – are there enough other people who are similarly devoted? Is there enough proven demand to convince a retailer to stock? Sites such as this exploiting the Long Tail have significantly increased the odds of survival and perhaps success for such specialists and niche players.

As well, of course, as making the fortunes of the creators of successful aggegators – at the very large end, such as Ebay down to the specialists.

Quality Assured Member