Grow Your Ecommerce Business
Following on from last week’s post, (which I hope provided a useful overview of the potential routes to market when starting out in ecommerce), some readers may have noticed one key consideration missing. That is of course, the question of “how will I compete in my market?” The reason for this is that such a fundamental and potentially open ended question deserves its own in depth analysis.
I will start by stating that you will find it hugely beneficial if you decide on how you plan to compete in your chosen market as early on as possible. Whilst many aspects of digital marketing are fortunately very flexible, a sound underlying strategy will help you to penetrate the market successfully and inform other business choices.
The options you have when it comes to differentiating yourself from your competitors fall under the generic headings of product, service and business. There is of course a fair amount of overlap and most strategies will involve a combination of decisions.
Product Based Competition
It may well be that what you are selling in itself is enough to make your business stand out. A fair number of merchants that I deal with have developed their own unique products, and whilst this is a harder route to market initially, it should help in getting your product to stand out from competitors.
This competitive strategy is well suited to small businesses and the differentiation is often based on altering the design (tapping into a popular aesthetic trend) or improving the quality (artisanal) of an existing product.
The options available here are more or less unlimited, however popular ideas often involve making a product greener / more ethical, healthier and if possible, gaining a celebrity endorsement.
The challenge with this kind of strategy is very much down to how you market your product and gain exposure, especially if it is a variation on a product that is already highly popular. For more advice on this, click here!
This differs from the previous point as much of creating a unique product boils down to how you get the public to perceive it. If you can also improve the way a product functions then you are giving people both a rational and emotional reason to buy from you.
This should in theory make your product easier to sell, however with ecommerce you need to offer compelling visual evidence of this improved functionality.
Service Based Competition
Whatever kind of product you are selling, if there are similar products readily available at a similar price then service can be a massive factor in persuading buyers to choose you.
A great way of providing a superior service is to offer a greater selection of products within your niche than your competitors. The idea behind this is that you will get plenty of repeat customers as they will see your website as a one stop shop within your category.
As a result, this works when a product has lots of complimentary items associated with it, (e.g. mini motorbike and parts & accessories) or when a product is purchased with some regularity. A good example that I’ve seen recently is a website selling T shirts from Britpop bands. The category is well defined enough to be confident on what products to stock, so by providing such a comprehensive selection, fans know exactly where to go back to when they next fancy buying a T shirt.
The obvious drawback with competing on selection is holding a large quantity of inventory required; therefore this strategy lends itself very well to drop shipping.
This is a method of competition that can sometimes be overlooked due to the sheer number of other considerations when starting your business; however it can really make the difference to your customers and help your business succeed in the long run.
Added value in ecommerce often means providing helpful content relating to what you are selling as a way of making the purchase experience more enjoyable, whilst at the same time positioning yourself as an expert within your field.
An example could be a business selling a downloadable information product offering some extra useful information for free to persuade people to purchase.
This strategy is well suited to products or services that are slightly complex; however products such as cosmetics where you could for example provide a video guide or look book can be an equally valuable to customers.
An obvious one here but quick and cheap order fulfilment, although unlikely to be the cornerstone of your strategy, is always going to be a winner with customers.
Understandably, it is unlikely that you will be able to make this your USP due to the large number of firms already offering it. How much you should compete on this depends somewhat on the market. In the fashion marketing for example, quick order fulfilment is industry standard, whereas someone buying a furniture item will probably not mind waiting a few days.
Business Based Competition
Whilst this category may appear all encompassing and therefore vague, deciding on the type of business you want to be is strategic way of winning and retaining customers.
The options here are rather open ended, ranging from differentiated branding and personality communicated through your website to offering customers more flexible ways to pay. Below are a couple of examples.
Your business is not just what you sell
Your business should aim to understand the values of your target market and demonstrate this through your website and other communications. This strategy is a more obvious fit if you are selling a unique product aimed at quite a specific audience.
Even if you are selling a product that is readily available elsewhere, if you can create a community and a conversion around what you are selling then you are also building an advantage that you competitors can’t match.
Approach your market from a fresh angle
A great way to differentiate your business from competitors is to research your market and find a new angle to promote your products that your competitors aren’t taking. This could be a creative decision such as a clever and novel marketing message, or it may be that you notice a fundamental gap in the market that you are able to fill, such as offering a no-frills approach in a high end market.
In conclusion, there is a whole plethora of ways that you can potentially carve out your share of the market. This post is meant to highlight the importance of having a plan to begin with, giving people an ongoing reason to buy from you and to ensure that you don’t get caught in a price war.
Of course planning is just the start of it. For more info on implementing your competitive strategy continue to read the blog and don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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