The virtual High Street is just as challenging an arena as the real one, but it hasn’t deterred the myriad of independent firms that have strived to establish themselves online.
Simply Games is one of the online independent sector’s biggest success stories. The site itself rivals web giants such as Play.com and Amazon in terms of professional appearance, service and accessibility – not bad for something run by no more than eight full-time staff and a couple of freelancers.
More importantly, the site has proven to be one of the most financially successful independents, with its growth in recent years in direct contrast to the decline of some bricks and mortar indies. And the team is confident this will only improve further.
“We would hope to double the business of Simply Games this year,” says Simply Games owner Neil Muspratt. “We have doubled the business last year and we did it the year before as well – which was the year I took over. So every single year we have doubled the business and I can’t see a reason why we can’t do that again this year, despite the recent downturn.”
Of course, finding success online is never easy. In the relatively young world of internet retail, there are innumerable obstacles that face ambitious companies and even more competitors vying for the same goals. However, Simply Games focuses mostly on two threats.
“There are two key challenges that have developed over the last few years,” says Muspratt. “The first challenge is price, in terms of how aggressive the pricing is and how easy it is to get good price comparison.
“Added to that – and this is a compliment to all of our competitors – but even some of the independent websites are run extremely well. Therefore, it gives customers a broader range of shopping options and makes the whole internet environment even more competitive.
“But equally the online sector has grown significantly to support that. There is a bigger pie for us all to share.”
So how can Simply Games – or any online indie, for that matter – possibly hope to compete with the companies that dominate the web? Muspratt believes that the answers lies in the same place as High Street indies: the customers.
“Once we have recruited a customer, we try and keep them and encourage future purchases,” he explains. “There are more and more new people coming to online retailers all of the time.
“We drive our business through hardware, because once you have sold a customer a console then you have recruited a valuable person who will come back to buy further accessories and games.
“In terms of hardware sales, we shift tens of thousands of units every year – and the majority of them will be to new customers. By servicing that first sale well, then you can hope to have that customer come back to you.”
He also stresses that it’s important to create your own offering online, not to match that of your rivals. As with High Street stores, there are opportunities open to larger, more established companies that aren’t available to indies – the trick is to adapt and focus on what strengths an indie does have.
“Having had 20 years of experience in the games industry, it is very easy for me to spot when there is a particular deal going on between a particular retailer and a publisher,” says Muspratt. “Our policy is not to be the cheapest on everything all of the time. We select our fights carefully, and go aggressively on specific products if we know we can win.”
In fact, this is the single most important piece of advice Muspratt would give to fellow indies. As retail becomes increasingly crowded – both online and off – price matching on all products is no longer a surefire way to stay competitive or profitable.
“The most sensible, commercial thing for an indie to do is not to try and fight every fight,” he says. “We are extremely careful when selecting the fights we want to get involved with.
“There is little point in entering the arena with a product we are losing money on. We could build a volume business all day long and make no money. Our mantra is to try and make sure that everything we do we try and make money.”
Which, given the site’s rate of turnover growth, has clearly been working out well for Simply Games.
MCV and Nindie.com offer a rundown of the best indie game stores in the UK. Click here to see the full list.