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How to compete with discounters

By Jeff Mowatt

3594670-mainIf you manage a small- to medium-size business, chances are you encounter pricing pressures from some version of a large discounter. These competitors may have more money to spend to attract new customers, more buying power to undercut your prices, and more resources to outlast you in a price war. If they’re from overseas, they may also have cheaper labour.

That’s why when chambers of commerce and associations bring me in to speak to business owners on competing with price discounters, my advice is, “Don’t be better—be different.” In other words, don’t even try to beat their prices. Instead, be different in these three areas…

Target different customers

Don’t waste your time or money trying to attract bargain hunters—their only buying criteria is low price. You might attract them with a sale or discount, but they’ll leave you to save a nickel. Let your mega competitor have them. The good news is most people do not buy strictly on low price. If that were the case, everyone would live in the cheapest homes, drive the cheapest cars, wear the cheapest clothes, and only dine in fast-food restaurants. People typically buy on low price when they perceive no extra value. That leads us to our next area to make your business different.

Supply different offerings

By definition, mega-suppliers appeal to the masses. They supply stuff average customers buy. So don’t go there. Instead, position your business a notch above. Yours is the boutique experience that provides either different products, better quality, expert advice, or preferably all three. That’s where small businesses do well and make more money.

Provide different service

Remember your goal is to target customers who are smart and more interested in quality and value than just buying whatever is cheapest. Contrary to popular opinion, smart customers no longer value information. Before smart customers even contact your business, they’ve given their smartphones a shake or searched Google. It takes them less than a second for the search and the information is free. Free is worthless. That means if your employees are merely providing information to potential customers, they aren’t really creating any perceived value, at least not enough to warrant charging a premium.

When it comes to service, the question is, what are customers willing to pay a premium for? It isn’t friendliness. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly, but employees at your discounting competitor can also be friendly. More to the point, your customers already have friends. And they’re also free.

What customers do value when it comes to service are three things; analysis, interpretation, and advice. They want a genuine expert who has analyzed the plethora of options that are available. They also want that person to interpret which of these options might be best suited to that customer’s unique needs. And they want that expert to advise them on a few options. This requires that your employees need to not only know your products and services; they also need to know which questions to ask customers to clarify their unique needs. And they need to know how to position shortlisted options in a way that help customers make smarter, faster, decisions. These are easy techniques I teach in my seminars.

When it comes to customer service, remember, this is business. Customers don’t want a buddy. They don’t want an informer. They want a trusted advisor. For this, customers will pay a premium.

The bottom line is managers and business owners would do well to worry less about beating their competitors’ prices, and focus more on becoming a category-of-one.

This article is based on the book, Influence with Ease by customer service strategist and certified professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit or call toll free (800) JMowatt (566-9288).

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