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  1. Death of E-Tailing: Myth or Fact?
  2. Building Your USP: Four P's
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Building Your USP: Four P's

A recent article of mine for InformIT (called "What's Your USP?") covered what a USP is and how to create one. I explained that a business must know what they offer a customer—something other than general statements like "Buy from us because we're the best." What makes the company unique in the marketplace and in the eyes of a potential customer? In other words, what gives your company a unique advantage over your competition and consumers a distinct reason to buy from you? A well-thought-out USP and its execution can portray in the consumer's mind a compelling image of what your business will do for them that others cannot.

A good USP is specific, measurable, and conveys a customer benefit. In particular, it defines and creates a niche market.

So how do you create a good USP? By keeping the 4 P's in mind:

  • Pricing
  • Positioning
  • Packaging
  • Promotion

Here are some examples from e-tailers in my database of recommended links that use one of the 4Ps to differentiate themselves from the competition and create a niche market.

Pricing

Let's take pricing first as a niche market. Next to personal web pages, the second most popular type of web site on the Net is the gift basket store. In the e-commerce world, it's hard not to point your mouse and hit one of these gift sites. Now, if you're in the market for a gift basket, looking for the right one for the right person at the right price can be quite a challenge. You can quickly become confused by the thousands of gift baskets from the hundreds of online stores available to you.

Search Gift Baskets.com was created to alleviate that problem and hours of surfing the Internet looking for gifts baskets at the price you want to pay. The site makes it easier to locate a company nearest your delivery destination so you can save money on shipping costs to your out-of-town family, friends, or business associates—or find one in your own home town for your local gift-giving needs. At the site, you can search for gift sites by state, town, or zip code, or by company name.

An e-tailer that chose price as their differentiator is Quality Brand Outlet.com. They're a liquidator for several of the largest mail order footwear companies in America. They sell famous-name brands as well as regular and hard-to-find sizes and widths—at up to 60% off the original retail price. Here's another example. SalesHound tracks advertised deals at more than 140,000 stores nationwide, with more than 22,000 sales every week. The SalesHound staff sniffs out sale information from all over the continental U.S., seven days a week. Advertised sales are collected not from online but from newspapers and/or advertising/promotional material submitted directly by retailers.

Positioning

Our next USP tactic is positioning. Using positioning, a business focuses on one particular market niche or a unique segment of the population. Here are some examples from my web site that position themselves superbly.

One of the small annoyances in life is when a light bulb goes out—then you have to find a replacement. That's where Bulbs.com have positioned themselves. At Bulbs.com, you can buy all kinds of light bulbs. Little ones, fat ones, tall ones, blinky ones—and at all kinds of wattages. And if you have questions about light bulbs, you can ask "Dr. Bulb."

Another e-tailer positioned in a niche market is e2u. Their USP? They get down to basics. They sell three-dimensional underwear, ergonomically engineered to accommodate a man's contours. Their back-to-basics underwear is designed for active businessmen and athletes, and engineered to specifications developed by a team of doctors and sports medicine specialists to provide one thing—support and comfort.

You don't even have to sell a product to position your company in a market niche. You can build a USP off of someone else's product. That's what David Wilson did. D. Wilson's Vinyl & Resin Model Kits sells both completed models and services to assemble and paint models (vinyl or resin) that others have bought but don't have the tools or desire to put together. As Wilson notes on his home page, "Whether you want Superman on your shelf, or Barb Wire in your shop," he'll bring the model kits to life.

Two other small mom-and-pop shops that position themselves in a unique market niche:

  • BunnyLuv offers a nice selection of rabbit care supplies, toys, hay, food, and grooming tools.

  • Houndz in the Hood sells coats for dachshunds, whippets, miniatures, and Italian greyhounds.

As you can see, you can run with the big dogs of e-commerce if you choose your product or service well and position yourself properly in that category.

Packaging

Packaging involves taking a product that others sell and repackaging it in a new way. Here are some examples from my web site.

With the dot-coms continuing to watch their pennies, free shipping is getting harder to find. But Freeshipping.com offers a single, convenient location where consumers and businesses can shop for top brand-name products exclusively with free shipping and handling. As an online shopping portal dedicated to 100% free shipping, Freeshipping.com provides access to more than 1,200 online stores with exclusive free shipping deals.

Another example is DigiCHOICE. This small e-tailer offers a wide selection of products that you can personalize to your taste. Want to personally design apparel? You can do it here. Want to create your own wine label? That too. They cover the gamut. Categories of personalized products include musical instruments, sports accessories, gifts, games, home and garden products, and more.

Promotion

Finally, there's promotion. E-tailers who use this method as their USP look for the promotional possibilities of their product or service or tie them in with a season or holiday where they can benefit from the promotional activities and mind share of consumers that already exist at that time of year.

Waving the American flag has become very popular these days, and some e-tailers are capitalizing on the trend. At American Flag & Gift, you can buy any size American flag or banner you want—and flagpoles, too, as well as other patriotic items. And at Flags-etc.com, you can buy both outdoor and indoor American flags, banners, windsocks, and accessories.

And here's a good example of using promotion to set a business apart from the competition. Love the get-up that Britney Spears wore at her last concert? Or maybe that retro male necklace of Austin Powers? Want to buy them? At asSeenonScreen.com, you can actually buy what they're wearing. asSeenonScreen.com features TV and film memorabilia that you can buy from their site. You can search by film title, TV title, or by a celebrity's name.

One final thought: Whatever you promise in your unique selling position, be sure you deliver on it. Don't make the mistake of adopting a USP that you can't fulfill.

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