Figures published last year in the Retail Gazette show that post-pandemic, the amount of high street retailers has increased by 1.3%, while the number of internet only retailers went up by 13.4% during the same period.
If all sectors are experiencing comparable trends, it seems there’s a whole lot of competition out there. Plus, at a time when consumers are looking to spend less, standing out from the crowd is more important than ever.
How to stand out from the competition
The rise of online commerce – with virtually every retailer now offering at least some form of digital interaction – has opened up huge opportunities for retailers to sell on a global basis. However, it also presents new challenges.
The first of these challenges is the sheer scale of the competition. Indeed, UK retailers are now competing with retailers on the other side of the world as well as those on their doorstep.
Another obstacle is making sure your retail and marketing cut through the digital noise to reach customers. Being very good – or even the best – at what you do is no longer enough, and the same is true for offering the best value or top-rated customer service. All of these are valuable selling points, but in order to win over potential customers, you first need to be able to grab and hold their attention. The following tips for standing out from the competition can help you do just that:
1. Know the competition
Take the time to research your direct competitors. Look at their branding and market positioning to see what they’re getting right and what you can take and adapt to your own business.
What social media channels do they use, and which are they having the most success on? Take a look at their website and see if they have any features which yours is lacking.
Ask yourself, honestly, whether you would choose their business or yours on the basis of their offering and branding. You might even spot things which aren’t reaping results, which will make it easier to avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
2. Know your audience
You can’t sell to everyone, so there’s no point in trying. Instead, identify the characteristics of your target audience. This could be age, gender, interests, income and shopping preferences. Build a detailed picture of your customer. This will be based on the customers who have shopped with you in the past and the data you’ve gathered from those interactions. Once you have a clear picture of who you’re selling to, it will be easier to tailor your marketing and services to them.
3. Personalise your offer
Once you know your audience, you can customise your offers to best meet their requirements and preferences. A customer-focused approach could be based on direct interaction with your customers, using information gathered by tools such as post-purchase surveys. You may find, for example, that customers would rather pay more for faster delivery, or that they value a flexible returns policy. Tweaking your offer to meet the personalised requirements of your customers will help to build loyalty and return custom, and a designated loyalty scheme could play the same role. Working with Square will mean you have easy access to a detailed customer directory, packed with the kind of data you need to create a genuinely personal service.
Strong branding will help your business stand out in a sea of competitors. It involves defining exactly what your business stands for and expressing that ethos in a clear and high-impact manner.
It could be that you occupy a particular niche of the market, selling luxury, expensive items. Alternatively, you might emphasise value for money and the chance for shoppers to grab a bargain. Whatever it is that makes your business unique, your branding should capture and showcase it.
If your business is doing well, it can be tempting to not rock the boat by trying new things. However, this kind of complacency will enable competitors to steal a march on you. The best time to try and innovate and refresh your business is when you’re in a position of strength as you can afford to experiment and introduce new products or features. If you regularly take your loyal customers by surprise (in a positive way), they’ll keep coming back to see what you’re offering next.
Ensure that your communication tone and style is consistent across all of the channels. This includes email marketing, brochures, social media and even something as simple as the signage in a bricks and mortar shop. Make sure your tone comes across in everything you write.
7. Social responsibility
Modern consumers expect the brands they use to exhibit a degree of social responsibility. This means having policies in place on issues such as sustainability. Younger consumers in particular tend to make purchasing decisions based on these factors. So, if you’ve invested in solar panels to power your premises, or operate with a zero-waste approach to resources, talk about it in a tasteful way so customers are aware.
Customers look for online reviews of businesses and can trust them in the same way they trust other peer review methods such as word-of-mouth. Make sure you have an option for customers to leave reviews on your website. You should also monitor the reviews left on popular sites such as Google and Trustpilot. Checking your reviews in this way will let you know what you’re getting right and what needs more attention.
Additionally, ensure that you handle negative reviews with grace. Reach out to customers that leave negative feedback and address the issues they raise by offering a solution. That way, you’ll not only win around a disappointed customer, but you’ll also turn a negative into a positive in the eyes of prospective customers.
9. Be an expert
No matter what sector you work in, you can use your online presence to position yourself as an expert and trusted voice. A business which sells building supplies, for example, could run a regular blog on DIY tips or post videos demonstrating how to perform home-improvement tasks. By building a reputation for having expertise, you’ll ensure that your business is the first port of call for prospective customers.
10. Target seasonal opportunities
At certain times of the year – such as Christmas or during the summer holidays – you can tweak the steps you take to make yourself stand out from the competition. At Christmas you could partner with a local charity, for example, donating a percentage of every purchase made or offering channels for customers to donate. At other times of the year, you should aim to take advantage of seasonal uplift by tracking and analysing the data from the same period 12 months previously.
Standing out from competitors often requires a decisive plan of action. Integrating some – if not all – of the above strategies, however, can give you a competitive edge.