5 Steps to Stand Out From the Competition
In the ecommerce marketplace today, the key to gaining a competitive edge has less to do with your items and more to do with how you position them.
Consider two shops that make high-quality Muslimah hijabs. They both work hard to optimize their presence, take attractive photos, write engaging listings, and run marketing campaigns. Their shop statistics shows that they both attract traffic. However, Shop A just can’t seem to win much sales, while Shop B is busy fulfilling orders, entertaining repeat customers, and testing new designs. Shop A finds that the only way to generate business is by lowering prices, but soon has given away most of its profit and is now competing against lesser-quality hijabs made from inexpensive material. On the other hand, Shop B is already using its profit to expand its product line to handmade shawls.
What’s the difference between the two shops? It’s not the category — they both make high-quality hijabs. It’s not the way they’re using ecommerce Malaysia tools. It’s not even the number of visitors to their shops. Ultimately, Shop B has found some way to stand out in their customer’s mind that Shop A hasn’t.
In this marketplace of hundreds of active sellers, it’s easy to feel like Shop A. But being Shop B isn’t unreachable as it may seem. The key to gaining a competitive edge has less to do with the thing you sell, and more to do with the way you position it. In fact, most online sellers don’t achieve success by creating a new product category — they manage to carve out a piece of their existing category and dominate it. How?
In business school, it is known as “competitive positioning,” the process of finding one or more meaningful differences between you and your competitors and building a reputation around them. It may sound like business jargon, but you’d be surprised by just how common this concept is.
For example, say you’re shopping for a local Malaysian car. There are several brands and models to choose from. How do you decide which to buy? If you’re looking for luxury, you might consider a Proton Perdana. If you want value, the Proton Iriz or Perodua Myvi are reliable cars at affordable prices. Getting a new car to fit your growing family? The Perodua Alza or Proton Exora might be excellent options. Each of these models has found a set of consumer needs they’re best suited to satisfy and built a strategy around that identity.
And it’s important to note that competitive positioning isn’t just for big brands. This fundamental concept can be used in every industry and by every kind of business, from the biggest corporations to the smallest shops. But to be successful, there are five general steps.
1. Get to know your customers first
What are their needs and wants? What matters to them? Is it price and convenience or quality and service? Do they want a fancy trendy design or a piece from the past? Do they care about the story behind the item? Be as specific as you can and remember that your shop may be serving many kinds of customers with the same product. The more you know about your customers and their particular needs, the better prepared you’ll be able to resonate with them.
2. Research the competition
Who else is serving them? Who makes or sells the same thing as you? Don’t just stop at your direct competitors. Are there other products that satisfy your customer’s needs? Is there a need you identified above that’s not currently being met? Look for gaps in the market or areas where other shops are not meeting customer needs well — these are potential opportunities for sellers to tap into.
3. Determine your unique value
Now ask yourself, what are you really good at? Are you a perfectionist with high quality standards? Are you an idea generator? Do you enjoy working with clients on custom projects? Do you have vast knowledge about a very specialized market? Are you blessed to live in a place with great infrastructure or access to suppliers? These are all areas where you can leverage your natural abilities and stake out a unique winning position.
4. Choose a positioning strategy
This is the difficult part. You know your customers, you know your competitors, you know what you’re good at. Bind it all together by asking yourself, what’s the one thing you want to be known for? There’s almost no limit to the ways you can differentiate your shop, but some of the most common strategies are:
- Product Quality: Sourcing for excellent materials or exclusive, rare products.
- Design: Offering superior aesthetic or functional design.
- Service: Doing everything you can to exceed customer expectations.
- Innovation: Introducing new and unique variations of existing products.
- Niche Focus: Serving a subset of a product category.
- Authenticity: Establishing genuine credibility in a specific area.
You can also differentiate your shop on geography, personal story, breadth of product line, specialized technology or process, or the way you make the customer feel (fashionable, healthier, successful, confident, etc.). The sky’s the limit! But whichever direction you choose, there are a few general rules you should follow:
- It has to matter to the buyer.
- Customers will only associate you with a couple of factors (at most), so choose carefully.
- It should be difficult for competitors to copy.
And most importantly, be consistent. Test every new idea against your positioning strategy.
5. Align your business with your strategy
Having a positioning strategy is great, but it won’t get you anywhere until the rest of your business is aligned with it. Keep reminding yourself that you are known for, say, “organic eco-friendly products” and make sure every decision you make supports that position. Are you purchasing only the most organic materials? Do you use the traditional process? Are you constantly looking to discover and replicate unusual and original variations from your products? Reinforcing your positioning strategy across your business will tell a consistent story to customers and make you more likely to stand out.
One final note on competition: we sometimes think of “competition” as a dirty word. But being competitive doesn’t have to be ugly. Competition is what makes the ecommerce marketplace so vibrant — sellers of all kinds are continually trying to satisfy customer needs in innovative ways. Setting and following a positioning strategy allows you to focus on the things that make your shop unique; you compete in the areas you add the most value and, over time, build a distinctive reputation with customers. When done right, it also creates a competitive edge that’s sustainable and hard to copy.
The question is, what do you want to be known for?