Travis Romine suggests ways to set your business apart and raise the barriers to entry, and make it harder for competitors to copy you
This post is by Travis Romine, an ecommerce growth consultant at Sharp Commerce and previous owner of ParadiseFibers.com. He consults for online retailers throughout the US on building high performance ecommerce businesses, growth strategy and digital marketing.
Why would someone buy from you rather than your competition?
That’s an incredibly tough question even for some of the veteran online retailers that I review.
If you’re new to ecommerce, make sure you determine your differentiator before lifting a finger on your website. Doing this will help keep your business model relevant regardless of marketplace trends and Google algorithm changes.
It’s no coincidence that my most successful clients, who are doing over $25 million a year, all have a solid differentiator.
Could another website offer the same goods you offer… but better?
Most likely, yes. Make sure to unpack that scenario as you define what sets you apart. Could someone setup a drop ship Shopify site tomorrow and start gobbling up your customers? What would stop them from doing it? Start thinking about the ecommerce value that you are well positioned to deliver. Then figure out how your business can be unbeatable within that niche.
Are you selling products that have a required MAP? Are your product lines not allowed for sale on Amazon due to dealer restrictions? What unique value can you provide in these cases?
Oh, wait, your differentiator is amazing customer service or same day shipping? Sorry, that’s actually a current standard for survival and customer expectation. You’ll need to find a major through line for how you do business and what unique value you’re providing to the customer.
Here are a few ways to differentiate you from the rest of the pack for long term relevance. These are general ideas we’ve seen clients use. Brainstorm with your team or consultant to flush out even more, then choose those which match your business model the best.
- Content – Well curated catalog and “voice”, incredibly detailed product info and better images than your competitors.
- Are you heavily capitalized? Use your bulk buying power to increase margin and offer discount prices!
- Advanced tech promotions/gamification – BOGO, Free Product with X, Free Gift Card with X, Points Program, countdown deals, referral programs (Magento offers an extensive coupon system with priority).
- Sell unique products that you design and manufacture (private label).
- Advanced personalization experience and recommendations – The right voice and technology can offer added value and connection for customers.
- Provide real time inventory and accurate delivery time instantly based on Geo-IP.
- Strong general value proposition within your category – This includes a free shipping model (for all items, every day), free returns, having the best selection and offering two day shipping on all orders at a flat rate.
- Breaking down pre-bundled products for individual sale to create a unique product offering.
- Sell closeouts from major brands – For example, offer last year’s models at a significant discount.
- Highly knowledgeable staff for products that require application and compatibility.
These can of course be combined where applicable and are not a finite list. I encourage you to review your unique situation, and resources, and invest some time brainstorming thoroughly.
Do you manufacture a unique product?
One of my favorite examples of this is Bombas. Bombas is a sock company that reinvented the sock. It doesn’t sound exactly lucrative, right? However, they carefully branded their scrappy startup defining how they developed the perfect sock and added a philanthropic twist where they give a pair of socks to the needy every time you purchase a pair. They are absolutely killing it, and I personally love their socks, even though they are incredibly expensive.
Do you offer a product that requires advanced product knowledge?
Another example of a brand with a solid differentiator is Diesel Power Products. They offer high-end custom auto parts upgrades that require a great deal of technical knowledge to sell and install. They have an army of customer service techs that can answer any question about parts application and upgrades.
On top of that, they have a commercial shop in the same building where they do monster truck builds with their own parts and techs! They leverage this further by producing short videos on how they built out the trucks, along with unboxing videos. They have unmatched brand authority in their niche and do an excellent job of providing value through product support and expert advice.
A great example of how social media and blogging built an incredible empire is Beardbrand, founded by my friend Eric Bandholz. Starting out as a popular beard enthusiast blog, Eric worked hard to produce specific beard oils that are unique and high quality.
Along with being highly specialized with their offering, Beardbrand has an incredibly loyal following that was initially built by Eric’s blog. Eric was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2014 and today has distribution all over the world.
Defining a clear barrier to market entry
When defining your differentiator, consider what makes you, your product, and/or your situation, unique? How hard would it be for a competitor to recreate your business model? Because, the fact is, at some point someone will try.
- What hurdles exist for new entrepreneurs getting into your product or service niche?
- Do you have access to product lines that are exclusive or hard to get?
- Do you have a secret recipe? Hello Colonel Sanders!
- Do you and your staff have amazing product knowledge?
- Can you buy in bulk to get better pricing, and offer better pricing?
- Are you a factory that can sell direct at an amazing price?
- Do you have some amazing technology advantage, killer app, or exclusive improved way to shop?
- Do you have geo-location advantages in relation to purchasing and delivery?
Doing your diligence to research competitors and ensure you have a healthy differentiator will keep your ecommerce store relevant and prosperous for years to come.
This post is by Travis Romine, an ecommerce growth consultant at Sharp Commerce and previous owner of ParadiseFibers.com. He consults for online retailers throughout the US on building high performance ecommerce businesses, growth strategy and digital marketing. Sign up for Travis’s weekly ecommerce tips at sharpcommerce.com.