Finding your competitive advantage

A friend of mine recently relocated his retail business from one end of town to the other. Aside from relocating to street with more foot traffic, he explained that he wanted to get his store “as far away from Walmart as possible”. On the face of it, that seems like a smart move. But it doesn’t really matter if his shop is located across town or across the street from Walmart. While location is often an important factor in a retail business’ success, it’s the entrepreneur’s competitive advantage that will enable it to compete against big box stores with lots of choices and rock bottom prices.

So even across town from the Most Massive Mass Market Retailer, my friend realized he needs to find more than several city blocks of distance to delight his customers and have them return r

Use your competitive advantage

What is your company’s competitive advantage?

egularly to fill their shopping baskets, not just to grab one or two things and be on their way. If you’re a retailer, you have surely asked yourself how you might best compete against the big box competition.

The trick is to be to your customers what Walmart is not.

Walmart is the low price leader, offering an enormous breadth and depth of products, many of which are basic in design, mass produced, and often of low quality. Ok, great, what does that mean for you? Below are 7 ways to offer customers what mass market competition can’t:

  1. Service Is Key: If you’ve ever been to Walmart, you know that customer service is not Job #1 for this retailer. Not only should you and your staff be able to answer product-related questions knowledgably but also be quick to help find them what they need and speed them on their way through the checkout process. Show them you value their time as much as you do.
  2. Find Your Niche: Develop a Unique Selling Proposition, one that clearly marks you as different than your competition. As a housewares retailer, you may need to stock household cleaning products that do roughly the same job as the ones on the shelf at Walmart, but yours may all be eco-friendly, be made locally or be refillable to save your customers money.
  3. Offer Demonstrable Quality: Offer your customers quality they will appreciate. Stock durable products or those that work better than the ones for sale in the big box store. Communicate to your customers through signage what that quality means. If it is a thick cotton sweatshirt, make a shelf-talker that shouts, “Feel the difference!”
  4. Personalize It: Get to know your regular customers and have the staff greet them by name. SendOutCards.com offers retailers a convenient way to remember customers on holidays and birthdays with personalized greeting cards. Separately, with products, retailers might consider offering to personalize items with name stamps and embroidery. Or offer combining items to create gift baskets or themed gifts.
  5. Move Swiftly!: If you are a specialty retailer, maintain good relationships with your suppliers to be among the first to see new products. Visit trade shows and talk with exhibitors about what’s new in trends. Don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks with new product concepts, stocking items that mass merchants avoid. Publicize the fact that you are out in front with new products and retail concepts so that your customers will be talking about your business as the one with “all the coolest stuff”, something you don’t hear from Walmart shoppers very often.
  6. Stay Connected with Customers: Use social media. It’s inexpensive and effective but takes a regular commitment of time to work right. Set aside time each week to make engaging, thoughtful and entertaining posts to the social media platforms where your customers “hang out” to get their information. If you are not blogging, consider starting one and attaching it to your company web site. Many consumers read blogs to learn more about products they are considering purchasing. Show your expertise by posting a weekly blog or short e-mailed newsletter. A regular “drip” of thoughtful messages by you to your customers helps to establish your credibility and set your business in the front of your customers’ minds, helping to speed their return to your shop and making the connection between something they may need or want and the ability of your business to satisfy that need.
  7. Communicate the Value Your Business Offers: Consumers have been conditioned to expect an enormous amount of variety and rock bottom prices in the products they purchase. Because you don’t want to be in the Race to the Bottom on price, you need to communicate the value your products offer the customer. Don’t assume it’s readily apparent. Use visual merchandising in your store, on your web site and in your communications to customers to explain what makes your products different and better and that they are worth the extra price.