As a retailer, there are really five dynamics that you can manage to attract and retain loyal shoppers:

    1. Convenience – Locations (Walgreens) or ease of shopping (Netflix)
    2. Assortment – Either the widest selection ( or a superbly targeted selection (Williams-Sonoma) or an exclusive selection (Disney stores.)
    3. Price – The lowest price is the only way to win the Price dynamic.
    4. Experience – Deliver a unique, sought after experience (M&M’s Flagship stores)
    5. Service – Personalized attention from knowledgable and friendly staff (Apple Store or Nordstroms)

    That’s it.  As a retailer – ANY SIZE RETAILER – you have to select one of these to be your absolute center pole for all of your strategic and tactical decisions, select two other secondary focuses that will support the first one and agree that the two remaining ones will be simply on par with competition.

    Let’s examine a few examples:

    When you walk into a Williams Sonoma store, you know you are going to get a very specific Assortment: high end (but not ridiculous) cookware and cooking accessories.  Items targeted to the home user who takes cooking seriously and likes the challenge of creating top flight food at home.  Or at least likes to imagine it is attainable. Selection is center pole.  You are going to be assisted by other cooking aficionados (Service) in an inspiring atmosphere (Experience.)  You are not there for low Prices nor Convenience.

    At the other end there is WalMart.  Clearly, Price is their center pole.  Next is Assortment.  They offer a very wide assortment (variety) of products – especially in their Super Centers.  Next, is Convenience.  They are trying to make it easy to condense all of your shopping into one stop.  Shoppers do not go to WalMart for the Experience nor the highly focused Service.

    Think of this whenever you are visiting stores in a market. Examine their strengths. If it is not clear, beware. Especially if you are an investor.  Or a prospective employee or partner. You should be able to see that the strategic goals of the company are shining down to the stores or website.  If it is trying to be everything to everyone, it is likely to fail on all accords.

    If  you are constantly prioritizing competing initiatives within your company, take a step back.  Look at every initiative and ask yourself which of these strengths it supports.  If it is not the center pole or the secondary strengths, put it on the back burner.  Get your company focused entirely at winning the strength game and you will live to fight the battle of the tertiary strengths another day.  Ignore this advice and your customers will ensure that you won’t have to make these kinds of decisions in the future.

    Next: A retailer pays the high price of losing its way.