August 12, 2013
No retailer wants to be “just another [your product] store.” But how can you stand out? Every business has at least competitive advantage, some positive quality that sets it apart in the marketplace. For example:
McDonald’s competitive advantage is convenience; a restaurant location is never far away and the food is inexpensive.
Keens Steakhouse’s competitive advantage is quality; its single Manhattan location isn’t convenient, and the prices aren’t low, but it’s consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the city.
So how do you determine your store’s competitive advantage?
First, you’ll need market intelligence. That includes discovering what your customers want, what they’re willing to pay, and what needs they have that aren’t being fulfilled. That information can be gathered from studies and trade magazines, or by directly surveying your customers.
Next comes competitive intelligence. What is the competition offering? What is attracting their customers to them instead of you? What are their strengths and weaknesses? These findings will help you determine what separates you from the rest of the marketplace; the positive differences can become your competitive advantages.
|“Investigate” your competition to determine your competitive advantages.
The strongest competitive advantages have these qualities:
Whether it’s unique merchandise or a fun policy (like The Disney Store’s “You break it, you don’t have to buy it” rule), a true advantage must be uncommon among your competitors.
Small differences don’t matter. If your competitive advantage saves customers money or makes their visit more pleasant, they’ll definitely notice.
Hard to Copy
If your competitors can easily duplicate what you’re doing, it won’t remain an advantage for very long.
“Buy One, Get Three Free” would probably result in customers rushing to your store. But then what? An offer like that can’t last long. Make sure your advantage is a true change in policy, procedure, or philosophy, and not a short-term gimmick.
Even if you can’t provide the finest products or the lowest price, there’s one simple and effective way to stand out: the customer experience. That means making the customer feel valued while in the store, handling complaints and returns with ease, and reaching out to the customers afterwards to get their feedback or offer discounts. Studies have shown that our happiest memories are tied to experiences, not possessions, so it’s possible that the experience of buying your products is more important than the products themselves.
|The customer experience includes tech support and customer service, too!
“Simple” doesn’t mean “easy,” however. Creating a great customer experience means training employees differently and offering them incentives for great service. It may mean operational changes to make sure complaints and exchanges are made as hassle-free as possible. It might also mean expanding the job responsibilities of your HR or marketing teams to oversee all these improvements.
How will you when you’ve succeeded? Luckily, it’s easy to measure your store’s competitive advantage. Sales volume, same-store sales, and customer traffic are all straightforward metrics. You may also see more chatter – or at lest more positive chatter – on social networks, as customers share their experiences and write happy reviews.
Your retail store is unique, with advantages over your competitors. Once you discover those advantages, emphasize them, and make them part of your brand, you’ll reap the benefits.
March 5, 2012
Fortune magazine just released its list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. But while many news outlets and job boards are covering the main list, the magazine’s researchers compiled some very detailed and segmented data. And I found some patterns emerging on why certain companies have created authentic employer brands as great places to work.
Keeping Employees Healthy Keeps Them Happy
Fourteen companies on the Fortune list pay 100% of their employees’ health care costs. Sure, that’s easy for giants like Microsoft, but a number of small firms do it, too, including Boston Consulting Group, NuStar Energy, the Everett Clinic, and Perkins Cole, which all have around 2,000 workers. As health insurance costs climb and the Affordable Care Act’s future becomes cloudy, health care should be part of every organization’s employer value proposition. How do you handle your employees’ health benefits?
Forty-four of the 100 companies have a workforce of at least 50% women. Twenty-three of the companies have a workforce of at least 40% minorities. Eighty-nine of the companies offer domestic partner benefits. We’ve long known that diversity brings fresh, new perspectives to an organization. Now we have the hard numbers to back it up. And don’t forget that “diversity” includes people with disabilities and older workers.
It’s Not Just About Money
Amazingly, 27 of the companies give hourly workers an average annual pay of under $40,000. That includes Men’s Wearhouse, CarMax, Aflac, and Starbucks. Five of the companies, including Nordstrom and General Mills, pay annual salaries of less than $50,000. And yet they beat out hundreds of other, better-paying firms to make Fortune’s list. Obviously these companies have great employer branding and are attracting and engaging employees in other ways. Which brings us to…
Uniting Employees in Unique Ways
One of the lists on the Fortune site is called Unusual Perks, naming some clever benefits that improve employee satisfaction. Among them is NetApp, which offers a basketball court, volleyball court, and massage rooms. Alston & Bird provides free Spanish classes. The Southern Ohio Medical Center features an employee-run vegetable garden. FactSet Research brings local food trucks to its offices, along with free lunches and weekly summer barbecues. And Pricewaterhouse Coopers offers a Mentor Moms program, pairing up expectant mothers with other moms at the company.
What do these top-10 perks have in common? For one, they all bring employees together. Whether they’re eating, learning, planting, or playing, all these perks have a communal aspect that helps build teamwork and camaraderie. Compare that to #4 Wegmans’ free holiday coupon books, which employees use to buy products on their own. Nice, but how does that improve the workplace?
More Perks That Employees Love
Not every company can put a basketball court in their office. Some of the more conventional benefits that the top companies offer include: an on-site child care center (31 companies), an on-site gym (69 companies) or off-site gym discounts (61 companies), telecommuting (85 companies), and the option for a year-round compressed workweek (80 companies).
The Secrets of the Top 100
My takeaway? These successful companies have brought in a broad array of workers with different backgrounds. They pay their employees well or offer substantial benefits, or both. They offer unique perks that allow workers to interact across departmental lines and to socialize before and after business hours. They also provide options for the busy 21st-century employees, such as telecommuting, child care, and a compressed workweek.
It doesn’t matter how large these companies are, how old they are, or what field they’re in. All these elements add to their employer brand as a destination of choice, building success at attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent. But what if your organization has already received honors as a great workplace or offers unique benefits, but your employees don’t know about them? Our corporate communications experts can help.