How Retailers Can Unearth a Really Unique Selling Proposition

We recently read JCK’s retailer survey in the November issue. Among the useful information included in the survey, one particular question made us stop and ponder: “What best describes your retail brand’s unique selling proposition (USP)?” The responses fell into six categories:

Price/Value                   24%
Selection/Quality         16.8%
Customization             16.8%
Service                         31.6%
Ambience                      3.6%
Other                             7.2%

The problem: If one in six stores says the same thing as you, do you have a point of difference?

There will be jewelers, for example, who claim customization as their best feature, but also feel their service is excellent. By the time you ask around, you’ll find these categories even more crowded.

The Economist defines USP as “a description of the qualities that are unique to a particular product or service and that differentiate it in a way which will make customers purchase it rather than its rivals.” On that basis, can any of the aforementioned categories really be claimed as a bona fide unique selling proposition?

We often ask our audiences at seminars and workshops to suggest ideas for a USP. Once we get past the answers like the ones above, they all go quiet.

The biggest barrier seems to be fear. The truly audacious ideas appear to have too much risk, but it is the very nature of these out-on-a-limb notions that brings in business. We often cite Federal Express’ guarantee of overnight delivery as a fantastic example of how an entire corporation can be built on a single USP. Domino’s Pizza did it in the late 1970s with another delivery promise: “30 minutes or it’s free.” Of course, its competitors thought Domino’s was nuts! And although the company has since changed the slogan to “You got 30 minutes,” the core idea remains.

In our e-classes we explain that the starting point for any business has got to be this: “What do your customers fear the most when they make a purchase?” There’s no point offering a guarantee if it carries no value. You have to address customers’ fears and allay them by removing the risk completely and assuming it yourself. They need to know it’s you—not them—who suffers when things go wrong.

So if you’re seeking a USP that will really make a difference, first find out what your customers will truly value, then go out on a limb to give it to them. The braver you are, the better results you’ll get. (Email us for suggestions!)

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