Whilst long lambasted as unsophisticated in both technique and patter, personally I think we have a lot to learn from the humble barrow boy.
If unsophisticated is substituted for simple, I think we can all agree that one thing the barrow boy or girl does well, is effectively communicate their message to their customer base. In the days when weekly markets were the hub of the community, you knew exactly where to find everything from groceries to meat, because barrow boys and girls would shout their wares and their prices from the top of their lungs, occupying the same stall week in, week out whatever the weather.
Another key component was their product range. They kept it simple, perhaps selling no more than half a dozen different items at once. The stock they carried might vary from season to season, but barrow boys and girls the length and breadth of the UK knew how to stick to what they were good at and make it work.
Whilst on-line sales continue to grow at an incredible rate, so does the number of providers. So how do you stand out from the crowd and get your message heard? Taking a leaf out of the barrow boys book, consistency (and volume!) is key.
Mixed messages can be the death of an on-line business. For sure, there are plenty of options to extend your product line thanks to the ability to drop ship and acquire huge catalogues of items from all over the world, but should you?
There is no easy answer, but with the likes of Tesco citing an investment in giant superstores as a reason for a slump in profits, it can be concluded that tyranny of choice offered when being ‘all things to all people’ can sometimes be off putting to customers, especially those who have just popped in for a loaf of bread on their way home from work, or who just want to rapidly click their way to a purchase without the hassle of scrolling through multiple pages to find what they want.
With supermarket aisles cluttered with not one, but twenty different varieties of potatoes, the idea of a back to basics shop has definite appeal.
So in my view there is a lot to be said for limited choice when paired with convenience. Perhaps this is why, in contrast to their bigger brothers, mini stores that offer a more basic range yet one that is delivered in the heart of the community, are thriving.
The design of your business is key. What is it, a provider of everything to everyone or a specialist? If an entire new line of products is at odds with your existing range or ethos, a separate yet linked brand is likely to have significant advantages over cluttering your website and confusing existing customers.
Separate branding for distinct products and services can yield several advantages, not least the ability to give your business depth and focus with PPC campaigns and SEO, written specifically to penetrate a particular community. This helps to increase the volume of your pitch if not quite with the language of the barrow boy, certainly with his effectiveness.
Fail to do so and you risk customer’s losing patience with your site and moving on, particularly if your Google tag line says one thing and your home page and product catalogue say something altogether different.
So think like a market trader. Set your stall out to be distinct, go with what you know and do better than anyone else, and offer an on-line experience free of clutter, dynamic and satisfying.
By sharing functionality and back office between your brands, you can even encourage existing customers to cross over with helpful links, landing pages and perhaps even a common user-interface to help them feel right at home.
So for happy customers and repeat business, adopt the On-line Barrow Boy’s mantra that simplicity, communication and community = sales.