I recently saw a Tweet to the effect of, “The Best Buy I’m in is jamming cell signals.”
I have no idea if Best Buy does that or not, and I would CERTAINLY not be making unfounded accusations about a giant retailer with an army of lawyers, but I felt vindicated when I read it.
From personal experience, I have noted that often my phone flat out won’t work inside many Best Buys. I always wondered if it had to do with their security system or the sheer number of electronics running in a single space. However, it’s been very frustrating to be standing in front of a 50″ LED television and wanting to read reviews on that model, only to discover that I had no signal.
Could I also have looked up what competitors, like Amazon, were charging for the same television? Of course, and people do. But often, I just want to know if a product is even WORTH BUYING, and if it is, I will happily purchase it from the brick-and-mortar store that has given me the opportunity to see it in action. Returns are one big reason to do so – have you ever had to wrap a 50″ screen and haul it to the UPS Store, and then pay to ship it back?
It’s no secret that Best Buy is struggling, and has been for some time. One reason, according to many analysts, is “showrooming,” which is the practice of using the retail store as a place to demo a product and then buying it for a cheaper price from an online competitor. We’ve all done that, from time to time.
I’m especially bad about doing it with books, but I have a hard time paying $8-10 more for a book in a store when I can have it shipped to me for free within 48 hours at a 30% to 40% savings. Every once in a while, I do try to suck it up and buy books from Barnes & Noble, to thank them for existing, but it always feels like making a donation.
Is what you’re selling a commodity?
This problem is especially prevalent when the item in question – a television, a book – is going to be identical no matter where you buy it. In that case, the ability of consumers to research the cheapest price is indeed your enemy, and this is the toughest obstacle to overcome.
However, even if your thing, meaning product – or service, as so many of us offer – ISN’T identical to that which others offer – we all have to overcome the perception that it is.
“One website is as good as another.”
“I just need somebody to sign this bankruptcy filing, so I want the cheapest lawyer.”
“Red paint is red paint, no matter what it says on the label.”
Since there’s nothing you can do to stop the signal – and keep people from researching the lowest price available, it’s your job to make it clear how your thing is DIFFERENT, and therefore BETTER, than the other, cheaper thing. You can’t just try to be cheaper – that way lies madness. There will ALWAYS be someone who can offer something cheaper than your thing. It may suck, but if people don’t realize that, it doesn’t matter until it’s too late and the other guy has the money that should have ended up in your wallet.
Here are 4 ways to differentiate your thing:
Add more goodies to your thing.
This one is especially useful if your thing is, despite your best efforts, really close to being a commodity. If you want people to purchase the nearly-identical thing from you, then give it an extra-shiny wrapper, throw in extra goodies, or an additional level of service.
Make sure more people know about your thing.
Large companies with large budgets know the value of ubiquity. If someone says “tissue,” and I think “Kleenex,” then they win. That’s why they spend millions making sure they put their thing in front of us again – and again – and again.
Who really needs to see another Coke commercial before the previews start at the movies? Clearly, it works or they wouldn’t be spending the big bucks on it. For that matter, if I have a busted electronic thingy and I absolutely positively MUST have another one TODAY to do my job, the first place I think of is Best Buy.
Those of us tiny businesses with little to no budget can leverage the Internet, social media, press releases, and word of mouth to make sure more people know about our thing than know about the other guy’s thing. If you’re not doing this, I guarantee you the other guy is.
Make it harder to get your thing, instead of easier.
This strategy requires confidence in your thing, and in yourself. Don’t compete on price at ALL. Create the best possible thing for your market, stand behind it 1000%, and charge a LOT of money for it. Don’t say yes to everyone who wants it – create barriers to entry. You can get to the office just as well in a Kia as you can a Bentley, but with the Bentley, basic function becomes irrelevant and not at all the reason for the purchase. Don’t assume people will only want your specific thing for its basic function.
Do a bang-up job of explaining why your thing is better.
So you’ve added sparklies to it, you’ve gotten publicity for it, and maybe you’ve even tripled the price – now comes the hardest part. You have to explain, in the clearest terms possible, why your thing is the best thing out there. This includes all that features vs benefits marketing education. Having a stellar website that makes it VERY EASY to discern the superiority of your thing is a must. A fabulous thing with a crappy website = FAIL.
If you suck at writing scintillating marketing copy, hire someone who’s awesome at it. If you need a public relations expert to get you and your thing on Good Morning Peoria, then do it.
And don’t choose the cheapest vendor – choose the one who explains their thing the best.
Go forth and prosper.