Tue 26 Jun 2007
Expertise & specialization make their home in a niche
One of my favorite things about the Internet is the phenomenon of the long tail. Basically, the barriers are down and it’s led to an incredible explosion of content & commerce. Shelf space is no longer a consideration, so retailers can afford to either carry millions of SKUs (a la Amazon.com), able to stock nearly every book released or, like youtube.com, provide an endless expanse of content – something to satisfy every interest.
These are examples of the most commonly discussed side of the long tail, but there’s another one that’s just as interesting, and that’s specialization. I love going to New York because I can find some of the best Chinese, Italian, and Greek food within blocks of each other, each run by a family with a highly specialized skill set. The challenge to specialty businesses has always been mass market appeal, or their lack of it. That’s why big cities have specialties in so many things that little towns don’t – .01% of 11 million people who are into “insert specialty business here” translates to plenty of people, but not .01% of 10,000. The Internet has changed all that, at least for merchants who can convert to a e-business. I still can’t get a great NY street vendor hot dog out here in Oregon, but unperishables are just a click away.
So I came across Nine Seas Decor, just one of many examples of the Internet specialty shops that are springing up. Not only do the owners make regular trips to north Africa to find handmade art & other interesting finds, but they have the background & familiarity with the area & products, like Moroccan lamps & lanterns, wooden chests & mirror frames, and mosiac tile fountains.
As I get older I’ve found it’s time to start replacing the ‘furniture of convenience’ that typified my 20′s with a bunch of really interesting things that I’ve found along the way. Rather than be stuck picking the least boring lamp at the nearby chain store that sells thousands of the same thing, I can reach out across the information superhighway to find just the right velvet-lined treasure chest or whatever else fits my fancy.
Choice will be the best thing about shopping online and will only get more powerful. Of course there’s a dark side as well, as the dangers of information overload will soon encroach upon almost any conceivable online activity. It’s a technological arms race, as information processing tools like Google get smarter and better able to find those golden needles in the haystack that make the Internet so irreplaceable.