Common advice when deciding on a niche to sell in is to avoid entering a highly seasonal market with a very short selling period. Think: Christmas related products or Halloween costumes. I know it’s one of the 4 niche criteria in the Store Coach course – don’t pick a seasonal product – and it’s good advice (read my Store Coach review). Why go to all the effort of building a niche store around a product range that only sells for 1 or 2 months of the year, when you can sell something that has more steady demand year round?
This graph illustrates general search volume on Google for “artificial Christmas trees” over the last ten years. You would probably predict such a result. See how seasonal your niche is with Google Trends.
If you hadn’t even considered this, you definitely should! Many product sales are dictated by seasons – maybe they’re popular in the summer but not at all in winter – or maybe a product is closely related to some event that doesn’t happen year round, such as sports events, social events or national holidays. The demand in most niches will fluctuate somewhat throughout the year with most seeing a nice increase around Christmas, of course, but some are more even-keeled than others.
Arguably the best niches are those with a steady demand and online search volume year round.
Traffic and sales are steadier, it’s easier to predict future sales and growth, it’s easier to estimate stock levels (if you’re storing stock) and most importantly, you will have a much more consistent and predictable income month after month!
With that said, I’m going to throw a spanner in the works and tell you why owning a niche store with a very small selling season can actually be awesome, and why you may want to consider it after all! I wouldn’t advise it for your first or primary online business but for some supplemental income and a fun side project, consider what I have to say.
A Little Personal Story
Several years back, I decided to do this very thing and launched a website selling a Christmas related product, on a whim. I already had a couple of online stores making money that I was actively working and spending money on, so I didn’t want to take on something too intensive. But, at the same time, I saw the opportunity and thought it could be a bit of fun and wouldn’t require too much effort.
I won’t disclose the exact niche because I still have ties to it but it was an extremely Christmas related product. Think: Christmas trees. This product would not be used or purchased (in any significant volume) at any other time during the year other than maybe a month or two before Christmas Day. Shortly after the big day, it would be put away and forgotten about until another 11 months. Sounds like a great premise for a business, huh?
Anyway, I quickly launched the site. It was actually a simple affiliate website built to look like a regular online store. I have done this a couple of times in the past just to get a feel for a market, with the ultimate intention being to convert it to a regular e-commerce store if it shows potential. I found a retailer I could be an affiliate for, created the product descriptions and had a logo created. The site was up in a couple of days.
The aim was to rank the site on Google for some low volume, long tail keywords. I’ve always enjoyed and focused on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for my online projects so I did know what I was doing here, not that it was hard or complex. I had the site setup well structurally, made sure On-Page factors were in check and had some external links built to the site. Just a handful.
This was around September time so from here, I pretty much left the site and took my mind off Christmas again, much like everyone else. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the site – it was just a bit of fun – and I’d see where things were at come November.
Okay, This is Unexpected!
I remember checking the analytics for the site and being pleasantly surprised by the amount of traffic this small site was getting in early November. We’re talking around 100 or so visits per day from Search Engine traffic. Not a bad amount at all given the age of the site and how little effort it had required. And sure enough, it was generating some sales! I was chuffed. I nice bit of pocket money I thought and the site would more than pay for itself.
As November rolled on and the festive season became ever more apparent, I kept an eye on the site. Due to the product being a novelty item and everyone now getting excited about Christmas time, my site received quite a few social mentions: tweets, shares and likes, all from genuine people just liking the products of my store and wanting to share them with their friends. This sort of social activity isn’t common with a lot of online stores as most products bought and sold online are just regular, boring products. You’re not going to tell your friends on Facebook about the toilet brush you just purchased, are you? These products, on the other hand, were novelty items closely related to Christmas, so people got excited about them! I’d never experienced this sort of social activity on a site before, so it was just nice to see and sure enough, brought in some more traffic.
At one point in mid November I remember seeing a nice sudden spike in traffic. Whoah, 400 visitors in one day! That’s awesome! But even better, that traffic level remained and even started climbing each day. 440, 487, 512, 670! Now this is cool, I thought. Even cooler, of course, was the increased sales volume. My conversion rate remained consistent so more traffic simply meant more sales.
As the month went on, traffic only got higher. I learned that my site had actually hit a home run and was firmly in position 1 in Google for the main keyword search term for this product! And top 5 for many variants and long tail keywords. I wasn’t quite expecting this!
With the festive period firmly in motion, it became a lot more socially acceptable for people to start thinking, talking about and shopping for Christmas, so sure enough, traffic just kept on climbing all throughout December. Overall search volume on the Search Engines was increasing on a daily basis and I was in pole position to take advantage of it!
The traffic analytics for my site showed a truly impressive upward curve. I’d now long passed my first 1000 visitor day and was routinely getting as many as 5000, 6000 or more visitors per day! I couldn’t believe it.
My 5 Minutes of Fame
With the Christmas buzz taking firm hold of the nation, this little side project of mine had even more surprises for me. Traditional media were on the hunt for Christmas-related topics and products and it wasn’t long before my site caught their attention. With my high rankings and social presence, you would almost certainly stumble across my store if you made a search online for the products I was selling.
The local radio wanted to come and have a chat with me about my venture and two well-known, national newspapers asked me for some insights on the niche and products. Soon enough, I had one slightly nervous pre-recorded radio interview on air! The journalist came right out to my home where I was working from and until I clarified my business model, I could see him looking around, a little confused as to where I was storing my stock!
Shortly after that, two quotes of mine appeared in print and online for the newspapers in question and yes, that included a nice do-follow contextual link to my website from each! I was having a great time.
I was addicted to checking my website analytics during this time. I could literally keep clicking refresh and the numbers would change; the same for sales in my affiliate account. It was a real buzz.
As Christmas Day became ever closer, I knew this wouldn’t last forever. Seeing as customers would have to factor in shipping time, I anticipated sales would decrease significantly a few days before the 25th. But, considering how much my expectations had been exceeded already, I was totally cool with that!
Before this final day, however, traffic and sales kept going up and up with the mad rush to order in time for Christmas delivery. My highest visitor count in one day reached a cool 9,171!
A snapshot of my actual analytics for the store in question.
It was a good run but sure enough, traffic and sales dropped off a cliff on the 23rd. It was quite comical actually.
I wasn’t disappointed at all, quite the opposite in fact. This small site that I’d launched on a whim had exceeded my expectations considerably and had turned out to be a fun ride and a fruitful venture. I could forget about it now completely and enjoy the holiday with my family, with a nice big affiliate payout to look forward to.
Lessons and Observations
I hope you enjoyed my story, of what was merely an anecdote that I wanted to share. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to do the same thing yourself and there was most certainly some luck involved in my case. It’s quite likely I wouldn’t be able to replicate it. However, I think some of the things turned out the way they did very much because this was such a seasonal product. Here are some things I noticed:
Higher Conversions: I noticed a much higher conversion rate for sales on this website compared to other stores I own / have owned. This could have been down to a number of things but no doubt it was the urgency created simply by this being a Christmas related product. Customers needed to buy the product NOW before the season was over; it would be no use next month! A simple ‘sale’ can obviously create the same urgency, but with a defined selling season that the customer is well aware of, the urgency creates itself.
A Buying Frenzy: Christmas is obviously a very commercial period due to gift giving but many other periods and special events give people a similar desire to purchase something simply because it’s related to the current moment or thing. My product was a novelty item and an impulse buy. You know the situation: you hardly ever play tennis and you’re not even that good but hey, Wimbledon is on so you’re buying a high-end tennis racket!
Media Attention: When something has a close tie to a hot topic, holiday period or special event it will always be easier to get media attention. You usually need to have something newsworthy to get in the media but sometimes just being related to a current season can be enough.
Good Opportunities: Finally, some seasonal markets may be much easier to compete in. Year round demand might be better ultimately but by being a “better” niche in that sense, it can also bring greater competition. Many people pass up on the highly seasonal products and niches, making them great opportunities for the taking!
I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my online business career; it’s one of my most memorable ventures so far.
It was a unique experience to witness such a dramatic increase in traffic and sales followed by an equally dramatic drop at the end! It was a fun ride but it was also quite nice to have an end in sight.
Do I think you should create a business in a highly seasonal market like this? No. At least not for your first or primary online business.
If, however, you’ve got a stable income already and want to experience the potential huge highs and home runs that a highly seasonal market can offer, I’ll be the first to tell you it can pay off.