Price vs Point of Difference: The numbers are in

If sales are slow, how do you respond?

The favoured ‘marketing’ tactic of all retailers is discounting; and that includes top-end brands. I can say this without fear of contradiction.

Consultants often suggest that this is a short-term ‘strategy’ that does not address the underlying issue, yet retail operators persist.

I found some good research that addresses this question quite definitively. Unlike many studies, this was not a ‘survey of opinion’, but rather based on a modified Du Pont analysis, including all the fancy statistical safeguards on a large sample of retail businesses. (The only question mark may be whether the American market place is comparable to the Australian one, but I will leave that for you to decide.)

Conventional wisdom is that companies can devise successful competitive strategies around either profit margin or asset turnover. That is; you are either a high margin/low volume business or high volume/low margin business.

Cost leadership strategy attempts to achieve organisational goals by delivering a product or service comparable to competitors' at a lower cost to the customer.

A differentiation strategy, attempts to deliver to consumers some characteristic of product or service that will command a premium price.

In this research, a modified Du Pont model of financial ratio analysis was used to evaluate a large sample of retailers using a metric termed RONOA – return on Net Operating Assets.

The results were interesting to say the least.

Differentiation strategy

The RONOA ranged from 13.5% to about 58 % with a mean of about 29 %.

Cost leadership strategy

The RONOA ranged from -46 % to about 24 % with a mean of about 7 %.

What to make of this?

The results of this study suggest that retail firms that pursue a differentiation strategy outperform those retail firms that use a cost leadership strategy. By a long shot.

In fact, the best performing cost leader is still worse off than the ‘average’ differentiator.

But that does not mean that you can’t pursue a low-cost. You COULD be the one with a 24% return. Just recently JB Hi Fi announced their stellar results.

But the key point is that, when it comes to trying to be a cost leader, is that there can only be one leader (winner). And unless you are going to be that leader, it seems like a race to the bottom.

The better alternative (less risky and more rewarding) is to develop your point of difference. I have written previously about developing your proposition. (With extensive supporting templates – search for ‘mojo’ on this website.)

Sure it is harder than knee-jerk discounting. And it may take longer to get right. But eventually you will be the king of the hill, even if you have to build your own hill.

The perfect retail employee

Dan Ariely: Are we in control of our own decisions?

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