Posts Tagged ‘differentiation’

Why don’t Aussie retailers hookup with DIY upstarts?

January 5, 2010

Happy New Year all. Over the break I was wandering around a great website for seeing new business ideas at work – Springwise and came across an idea screaming for local adaptation to the Australian market.

This post of from August last year highlights the hook-up between US fashion retailer Urban Outfitters and a custom bike builder Republic Bike.

Urban Outfitters are allowing their online customers to order custom-designed bikes (>500 combinations of those trendy fixed gear types) that are then delivered by Republic Bike.

There would appear to little risk for either party here. Republic Bike get a big boost to customer awareness and presumably gain more from economies of scale than they lose in a cut of the revenue to the retailer. Urban Outfitters get a nifty new offering that they wouldn’t be able to produce themselves (thus differentiating themselves further from other youth fashion houses – something they’d started by offering op-shop style homewares).

Presumably it wouldn’t be hard for Urban Outfitters to also offer the bikes in-store (or at least the ordering process).

Surely there is scope for such hook-ups in the Australian retail space? While not many Aussie retailers have a strong e-commerce interface (probably reflective of our terrible broadband and our highly urbanised population compared to the US), there should still scope for innovative folks like Crumpler and Haul to offer design-your-own while tapping into an existing but underutilised customer base of a more generalist retailer.

Who else would be a candidate? As producers? Retailers?


Retail reflections from the Road – part one

June 24, 2009

Blogging hasn’t been front of mind for me over the past 10 days of so.  Indeed, I have been fixated on consuming burgers, seeing sights, reading roadsigns and booking hotel/motel rooms as I traipse down through California towards San Diego.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relate my an early experience in my travels to previous posts on this here Blog.

In San Francisco I had the opportunity to experience Aussie shopping centre giant Westfield‘s US expansion.  They had done a fine job of branding and delivering a suitably slick real estate and retail offering.

There were a couple of Aussie retailers on display (Napoleon Perdis and courier-bagsters Crumpler), as well as the expected mix of US and international chains.  I was disappointed by Zara and H&M‘s offerings (their clothes didn’t seem quite as flashy yet utilitarian as they do in Europe).

I was more impressed by the offerings of Martin+Osa, a fashion house that it turns out is a brand extension from the more ubiquitous and mainstream American Eagle Outfitters.  These two brands serve as a strong reminder of the sheer size and scale of the US market and the limited need for US retailers to internationalise.  American Eagle is yet to spread its wings beyond Canada, while Martin+Osa only has stores in 17 states.  Nevertheless they are able to offer decent quality clothing at their respective (surprisingly low) price points.  Australia-only fashion retailers would simply not be able to compete at that level.

The presence of Perdis and Crumpler remind us that Aussie retailers really do need a neat point of difference to justify tackling the US scene (and beyond).

More on retail in the coming days…

Squeezing some value out of Twitter…

May 13, 2009

I have been avoiding mentioning Twitter on here on the basis it may well prove to be a passing fad. My chief concern with the businesses attempting to network or communicate via 140 character messages (other than the sheer time-wasting aspect), was that I couldn’t see much value in it from a competitive advantage perspective.

wine glass twitterThis story about small-scale wine-makers does shed light on one potential productive use. Several wineries have found it a very effective mechanism to connect with wine-buffs, and open up new markets and retail channels.

Making such connections is crucial for differentiating oneself in this very noisy and overcrowded marketplace. Trying to communicate a message about the subtle points of difference of your wines can be expensive and time-consuming if it requires engagement with the wine media (let alone broader mainstream media). This scenario represents a considerable barrier to expansion for new entrants and smaller players.

Twitter may serve to break down this barrier. It LW VV HANGING SNAKES_200x500seems especially promising with respect to connecting independent retailers and small wineries. The former have a strong incentive to find less accessible but marketable wines (as a point of differentiation from bigger chains and their buying power). If small wineries can communicate consistently about the progress of their winemaking, about successes, customer feedback, special deals etc, this can only help.

Twitter will work best for any business when it reduces the costs of doing business, increases information flows and learning, and if it can serve to replicate (or capture sufficient elements of) existing selling points in that market.

I just spent a couple of days visiting cellar doors in the Barossa. Engaging directly with the winemakers (and the wines of course) is a huge bonding mechanism. Regular tweets could go some way towards simulating that experience.

What other businesses could benefit from this sort of customer engagement?



Expectations and competitive advantage

May 1, 2009

I’ve been a bit of a slack blogger of late. My excuses lie in two domains – (i) travel for work, and (ii) real estate transacting. Both of these experiences have served to highlight an interesting set of issues around the nature of competitive advantage and its interaction with consumer expectations.

emirates-window-gifemirates-windowemiratesTurning to travel first, I flew to the UK and back on an unnamed Middle Eastern airline. In a fit of absence-mindedness I managed to leave my almost brand new laptop behind at a Gatwick Airport security screening point. The laptop had no clear identifying label linking it to me, and I was unable to alert the airline to my error until I got back to Melbourne. Yet they embarked on an incredibly courteous and Herculean effort to recover said item and return it to me at no cost. They bent to my increasingly idiosyncratic requests (e.g. “can I pick it up at 7pm at Tullamarine on a Wednesday night when I land from Brisbane?”) without ever resorting to “sorry, we don’t do it that way”. Their flexibility and good nature has won me over and I am now a happy champion of their business to anyone who asks. That translates to competitive advantage.

In contrast I flew with our national carrier back and forth to Brisbane. I was stunned to get a hot meal for a change on both legs (indicating I must be flying in the very narrow window in which such service is bequeathed). My colleague flying in from Sydney was equally surprised. Now, unfortunately, that is only meeting my minimum expectation. The fact the firm has wound down service levels to such an extent in recent years does not make it something I’ll be lauding to friends and family. The firm has, at best, made up an inch of lost ground.

apartmentOn the real estate side, we had a fantastic set of transactions with a particular agent. He found us the perfect house (in Fitzroy), made us feel unpressed yet lucky, facilitated our purchase with ease, and then also listed and sold our apartment  (in Collingwood) with great results and also integrity. He defied the stereotype of the shonky agent. As such, we have been proselytising on his behalf to all who will listen. Of course, folks are stunned to hear such praise. Being so out of the ordinary no doubt serves to differentiate this agent (and presumably his firm) from competitors (i.e. it represents an advantage).

Alas, these transactions meant we had to go talk with a bank. We begrudgingly are sticked with our current lender, despite negigible service over the past five years. The personal banker we dealt with this time was surprisingly efficient and pleasant to deal with. But, I say this only because we were expecting the complete runaround and much frustration. Does this make me like the bank? No, I’m just not whinging quite as much as before. Again, this is merely enough to stay in the race.

Firms need to have a stronger awareness and responsiveness to consumer expectations. Maintaining them at a high level is great. But in instances were they have been lowered industry-wide, you will make the biggest gains by massively exceeding the norm is the biggest win.

Talking up tea

November 24, 2008

A key business strategy challenge is raising consumers’ willingness to pay. There are huge gains to be made if you can persuade customers that your product offers much greater benefits. Several authors have spoken about the idea of Trading Up, whereby seemingly unglamourous product markets are altered by the emergence of high-end, boutique-style brands.

This article explores the experience of just such a firm – Mighty Leaf, a firm based in San Francisco who have developed a wide range of exotic sounding and attractively packaged teas. They appear to have ticked off all the required boxes so as to appeal to their target consumers: biodegradable materials, obscure flavours to request (pu-erh anyone?), and ample theatre at purchase.

The economics for their major customers (i.e. restaurants) looks very, very appealing also:

Mighty Leaf spends 20 cents on an average tea bag – the couple contracts out the production of the bags. It then sells its bags at an average 40 cents. Is the restaurant going to complain about the price? No. The theatrics enable it to sell the resulting beverage for up to $7.

This is a clear example of effective differentiation. As the article notes, Might Leaf’s success is attracting the attention of the big tea brands. In many ways, this is comparable to the attempts by large scale beer brewers to elbow in on the microbrewing (or craftbrewing) niche. The challenge for the big players is gaining legitimacy in the eyes of consumers who are paying not just for the product itself but also for the experience of engaging in something distinct or exclusive. Of course, the larger firms often have huge cost advantages spring from economies of scale and scope (for example, you would imagine they could dramatically reduce the costs of getting the teabags to the restaurants, and also target a lot more restaurants through their existing distribution networks).