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How do you stand out from your competitors?

What’s Your POD?

In our challenging market retailers need to be able to differentiate their offering from others.

Are you just another pea in the pod of retailers? Are you offering the same old green peas as your com-pea-titors? Are you green with envy that you see your competitors down the road are bringing in the customers while you are struggling even though your products are at a lower price point and discounted?

When retailers sell the same range of products as their competitors in the same shopping centre or location they then begin to compete with each other on price. Basing your offering on price is a sure-fire way to lose business. With the hikes in rent and utilities cutting prices to bring in more customers does seem the logical thing to do. But this may be short term thinking and may actually do more harm than good.

What’s Your POD?
In order to make a difference to your bottom line there are a number of factors that you have control over. The biggest thing that few people spend enough time on is thinking. Thinking and working ON their business, not just working IN their business. Most retailers are too busy working in their business to have the time to work on it. But that added effort can make all the difference. It’s difficult enough and the hours are long enough to not make that additional time and effort to work on your business, but this is what can make all the difference.
Do you regularly take stock of who your customer base is rather than trying to cater to everybody? Do you understand your customer base’s needs and wants? Do you know what your point of difference is that attracts people into your store? Do you have any clear strategies in place to always keep up with your customer base’s demand for ‘new’ and ‘different’?

Having a clear understanding of what is your POD (Point Of Difference) is vital. Once you know or know what you want your POD to be then the next step is to create a clear plan how your customers will be able to experience this POD.

Your POD may be a combination of things:

1. PODuct (I mean Product): You may source a unique and exciting range of products that are not found anywhere else, or at least, not in your customer’s locality. You may aim to create the reputation of ‘unique little shop that sells…’ that people in your area know and love.
Special Eyes: There are gift shops (said with a monotone voice) and their are SPECIALTY GIFT SHOPS (said with excitement and vigor). Just because you are a gift shop you may want to differentiate yourself in specialising in a particular product. You may be a gift shop that provides the public with the best range of unique and exciting greeting cards in your locality. You might stock an incredible range of teddy bears or personal stationery. When you specialise, all eyes see your store as ‘special’ and different.
Niche-tise: You may find that your particular area may contain a niche market. A niche market is a market that caters for the wants and/or needs of a particular sector of society, gender, interest group, social/economic group etc. A niche market may be quite small, ie, an inch wide, but they may also be a mile deep in the revenue that they can provide.
Destin-ise: By providing a point of difference with the range of product that you stock – by specialising and nichetising – your store becomes a destination for customers so that you are not just relying on passing traffic. You need to make your store so unique that people specifically go out of their way to shop in your store because they KNOW that they will find something different. Come on, tempt fate by making your store a destination for shoppers.

2. Service: Do your customers feel important and looked after when they enter your store? Are they warmly welcomed or are they ignored or harassed? Do you employ staff who want to be there? Do you have staff that are always welcoming and smiling? How many times have you been a shopper and experienced poor service and vowed never to go back to that shop? Do you and your staff have great product knowledge? Do your customers leave feeling great and want to come back again because they felt well looked after?

3. Price: I have included price as a POD for a good reason. A customer can feel like they are receiving incredible value if the other two factors above have been satisfied. Customers want to as though they are giving a unique and special gift to their loved ones and they want your reassurance, as well as an experience, that leaves them feeling good.
Value Adding: Value is much more than price. Can you add value by providing a complimentary or low cost gift wrapping service? Maybe you may want to go a step further for those customers who are time poor such as organising for their present to be wrapped and sent to the receiver. Maybe you can throw in a complimentary gift with their purchase. Do you have a frequent customer rewards system in place? Do you offer a regular newsletter to keep in contact with loyal customers? What about special promotional offers or additional services to your database of loyal customers?

Creating your POD
As an experienced retail designer for over 14 years,  it has been my job to help my clients to  attract customers into stores. As you know, you have only a split second to grab the attention of passing traffic. In order that you can attract passers by to enter your store and spend money they must instantly perceive what your POD is.
Customers shop with their eyes: Many of you may have heard of an elevator speech. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, it is essentially a 10 second summary of your business that you can deliver to someone. Within that 10 seconds the aim is to capture their attention so that they are interested in doing business with you. Your shop and shopfront is your ‘silent 1 second elevator speech’ – what does the look and layout of your store say about what you offer customers? Is it consistent to the POD you are trying to portray? Customers literally ‘shop with their eyes’ – within a fraction of a second they decide whether the image you portray of what you supply is congruent with their wants and the experience that they will get from entering. Signage, layout, display, stock, lighting levels, etc are all integral.
In with the NEW: Many retailers are concerned about the lack of business. It may be an opportunity to try new products. At trade gift fairs make an effort to check out new exhibitors and place small orders with these suppliers to test out their products in your store. You’re bound to find new, unique and fresh products that may just give your store the POD needed from your competitors who buy from the same old suppliers.
Customers shop with their heart in their wallet: While many people put their heart on their sleeve many customers shop with their heart in their wallets. That is, they frequent establishments that they can not only buy exciting products but have an experience at the same moment. They frequent places where the service is exceptional and they walk away feeling great. Service is more than serving a customer, it’s about showing genuine concern and interest in them. Make sure that you hire staff that leave your customers beaming. Shopping is more of an emotional ‘want’ based experience rather than a ration ‘need’ based one. When people feel good in your store they want to spend money at the source of this pleasure.
Become a Surveyor: If you don’t have a point of difference or don’t quite know what it is you may want to conduct simple surveys with customers that come into your store. They don’t have to be formal affairs -it may be as simple as asking every second customer a question about what they think of your store and what they look for when they go shopping for gifts. It may be asking them for what they would like to see more or less of. Don’t be shy asking customers questions, they will feel honoured to give their opinion – it makes them feel special and important, that their thoughts count. The knowledge you get from speaking with your customers may help to improve your business. You may find that your product selection or service lacking in some areas or you may discover really what your customers want and not what you think they want.

Don’t just be another pea in the retail pod. Find your POD, work on your POD, be the POD that makes the difference to your business.

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