COMMENT: Why we turned our back on an ecommerce giant

Bicycle and triathlon apparel retailer Stolen Goat recently announced a move away from online marketplace Wiggle, citing how its business model is a detriment to smaller brands trying to grow in the industry. Stolen Goat's founder Tim Bland explains why.

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Stolen Goat online

We’ve entered the cycling industry at a time where a number of online retailers have rapidly risen to dominance, controlling pricing and visibility of many brands and going head-to-head competitively over price, leaving the high street retailers struggling to keep up. These online giants include ProBikeKit, Chain Reaction Cycles and cycling and triathlon retailer Wiggle.

I founded Stolen Goat in 2012, switching from the corporate world to focus on combining business and my main passion – riding a bike. The result: Stolen Goat – a cycling and triathlon apparel brand which focuses on striking designs in an industry where many often play it safe with colourways and look.

When I was approached by Wiggle after just three years of trading to discuss Stolen Goat being sold via their platform, it presented me with an interesting yet difficult decision. On one hand Wiggle is a well-oiled machine that will turnover a large volume of product at lower cost, at detriment to the high street. But Stolen Goat was at the time a young and relatively unknown company and Wiggle would open up the brand name to much wider audiences. So I took the view that from a marketing perspective this was a good opportunity – Wiggle has millions of visitors going through their website each week, equating to great exposure.

It was in this respect where, like many young brands without a physical retail presence to compare with, Wiggle was equipped to become the shop front for Stolen Goat and attract the passing trade of new customers via their established online store. They also have cheap shipping internationally so we could serve our worldwide customers almost as well as our customers closer to home.

“Wiggle was equipped to become the shop front for Stolen Goat”

If you ever visit the Wiggle or Chain Reaction websites, or if you ever receive one of their email newsletters you’ll probably notice something: a lot of the brands you see on the homepage and in the newsletters are the same mainstream brands you regularly see. These names often pay to be listed on the homepage, and then pay again to land in the inbox of the consumer. From a business perspective it makes sense to feature the brands which drive the largest revenue but with the same drop of the sword it also prices smaller brands out of Wiggle’s marketing efforts.

Homepage and email are just one part of the marketing puzzle, and there are of course other ways to discover new brands and products through the industry-leading online platform. The next two options are: searching for a specific product or brand, or scroll through the (almost endless) product listings. Option one’s obvious flaw is that if you’re searching for Stolen Goat here, then you already know the brand and any marketing value is therefore negated. Option two leaves the odds weighed heavily against you as to find Stolen Goat, you first had to scroll through masses of discounted products from mainstream competitor brands.

Although the high street possesses the ability to attract customers with the temptation of big discounts such as mid-season sales or even Boxing Day bargains, smaller independent brands are unable to employ the same tactic to produce similar purchase results. For Stolen Goat, the focus is set upon consistently pricing products appropriately, so consumers are able to see the value throughout the year and a loyal fanbase forms as a result. In our case, we then rewarded loyalty with a yearly Black Goat sale in November that is private to our subscribers and followers, something that breaks the norm within the wider industry.

Critically, whichever option brought you to Stolen Goat on Wiggle, the marketing benefits rapidly start to dwindle – and I strongly suspect that as a brand grows the marketing benefit switches heavily to the favour of Wiggle as customers see your own marketing and then head to Wiggle to fill a basket. And that’s not the only downside. Selling via Wiggle will switch off any interest from most independent shops, both high street and online, on a global scale.

“The high street is struggling – that’s clear to see – and this is in part due to the magnitude of the online giants.”

An Achilles heel shared by many innovators who rely entirely upon online sales is the challenge of providing potential buyers the chance to inspect kit first hand, where the ability to check aspects such as sizing or comfort often result in a purchase. Being born out of an online offering, we’re limited with getting our Stolen Goat products in the hands of consumers so they can feel the kit, try it on and see the designs in person. Despite serving our customers online as we currently do successfully, this is something we want to improve in 2019. The high street is struggling – that’s clear to see – and this is in part due to the magnitude of the online giants who can have much more of a say over margins and sale prices.

We, in what small way we can, want to try to level the playing field.

To come full circle, after three years of selling Stolen Goat with Wiggle, our newest collection is not available via the platform. We have experienced strong growth over the past few years, partly through Wiggle but mostly through our own online shop and partners, developing trusted audiences around the world. With new operational facilities opening in Canada and North America, and Australia in the pipeline too, we can start to replicate the cheaper and easier shipping solutions that Wiggle can offer and develop high street retail partnerships too.

It’s a big decision to make, but it’s one that we hope will allow us to grow in a way that works for us and our customers. Focus on developing operations and logistics internationally by finding strategic partners that can better service the needs of our international customers while we continue to take care of our customers in the UK. Oh, and remembering to have fun and still ride your bike as well.

Tim Bland is the founder and managing director of Stolen Goat

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2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a brilliant read Tim and gives a structured and intelligent insight into the struggle of growing a brand online without the traditional High-Street exposure and the dominance of the now infamous online giants shaping and controlling our retail landscape.
    I, for one, wish you the best of luck with your plans. All the best, John

  2. Sounds like they’re doomed to stay small and niche and go out of business when the owner realises all the effort is for nothing.

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