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What’s your store’s unfair advantage?


Jason Cohen over at A Smart Bear wrote an excellent article a while ago about why and how your startup busineses can have an unfair advantage.

Now, e-commerce  is not an original business idea at all. Of course this doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan to start an e-commerce website, as the e-commerce market is sized in the trillions of dollars so there’s plenty of space for you and you can already be certain the business model itself is sound. Plus, you can execute e-commerce in a myriad of ways.

Still, it’s good to think about what your unfair advantage is going to be. Some of the lessons in Jasons article are perfectly applicable to your web store.

First, let’s define an unfair advantage as:
A business advantage which cannot be copied and cannot be bought.

We’ll use the same unfair advantages defined in the article mentioned above, applied to e-commerce stores.

1. Insider information
Know something about an emerging product market that others don’t? Are you able to secure exclusivity for a specific geographic market for a product line though your network? Or maybe you know where potential customers hang out. Ask yourself what you know about your markets, what you can achieve through your network and how you can turn that knowledge into something that others can not copy.


2. Single-minded, uncompromising obsession with One Thing
Just sell one thing. You’ll get the deepest product knowledge, most space to present your product and be seen as the expert on that particular thing (see also the next point). It can be a single product or a product range, but keep it small. A good example of this is Dodocase. They only sell iPad cases and have highly unique, appealing designs. They can showcase their cases very well on their site as no screen real estate is wasted on all kinds of difficult website navigation and other clutter. By focusing so tighly on this one particular thing and executing on it 100%, they’ve generated millions of revenue in a very short time.

3. Personal authority
If you or your company is seen as the expert or as the go-to place for updates in a certain sector, you can bank heavily on free traffic. Becoming an authority takes a lot of work and a little luck. You can try to build this advantage in a number of ways, the most long-term way probably being blogging about your niche (for SEO purposes / building a reader base). Combine this with building a steady Twitter following and you’ll eventually be set for having your content snowball through to customers you would have had to pay dearly to market to, previously. This idea tightly related to an e-commerce approach we wrote about a while ago: content commerce.

4. The Dream Team
For an e-commerce site, you will need to have a team that knows how to handle product sourcing, marketing, on-site sales, administration, technology etc. Make sure to especially be able to execute well on marketing, on-site conversion, available products and customer service. If your starting team has some people who are kings in these areas, you have a solid unfair advantage over your competition.


5. Existing customers

Already have some customers? Ask them what they think! You can ask on-site questions through companies like Kampyle, or you could follow-up some customers who have ordered through telephone or e-mail. An important source of customer information is also implicit: on which pages do your customers enter your store, which products get ordered most, etc. Turn that information into a competitive advantage!

If you don’t have these advantages from the start, you can develop them. Keep an eye out for opportunities and actively try to create non-copyable benefits. In e-commerce, if you have the right product, for the right value, with the right customer service you should be able to become a viable business even without immediately having unfair advantages.

The Author of this post is sander

Versatile web enthusiast. Especially interested in user experience design and blogs about that on GraphicMania.

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