Tag Archives: Brand

E-commerce brands and consumer review sites

Differentiating yourself as an e-commerce company is very challenging. The founder of Bonobos, Andy Dunn, which sold to Wal Mart for $310M, wrote as much here.

In that post, Andy identified four ways in which e-commerce sites can potentially compete with the largest horizontal players like Amazon:

  1. Proprietary pricing
  2. Proprietary selection
  3. Proprietary experience
  4. Proprietary merchandise

Bonobos is an example of the fourth.

However, even creating your own direct to consumer e-commerce brand, enabled by proprietary merchandise, isn’t necessarily defensible from competition. The reason is that, in the absence of intellectual property protection along an important product dimension, which most product categories do not have, your product features and resulting quality are likely to be replicated by competitors who discover and begin to work with your supply chain.

When the product features offered by different e-commerce brands begin to commoditize, branding becomes the key differentiator. And consumer review sites, which were initially designed to assess product features, become the target of e-commerce brands’ branding efforts.

This is a fascinating story of how mattress e-commerce brands used consumer review sites for their branding activities.

Defensibility

Entrepreneurs are doers by nature. They have ideas for what customers want, build teams to execute on these ideas, and execute.

Assuming that the entrepreneur has correctly identified a real customer want, this approach will likely produce a business that makes money in the short term. However, this isn’t enough for the business to survive in the long term.

The reason is that, if the customer want is really there, competition will either already be there or it will soon emerge. The bigger the customer want the entrepreneur identified, the greater the competition.

And for a business to survive in the face of competition, it needs to be defensible. In other words, it needs to have a characteristic, or a combination of characteristics, that stops its customers from moving to the competition.

Defensibility comes in many forms. It could be a very strong brand that has perhaps even given its name to a product category, like Coca Cola. It could be the lowest price provider due to a combination of economies of scale and the leveraging of an intrinsically low cost customer service channel, like Amazon. Or it could be a business with strong network effects that prevents users from having the same experience on an alternative network, like Facebook. Or it could be a combination of these characteristics.

Without a source of defensibility, a business’ initial growth will soon taper off and may even reverse into decline, thereby threatening the company’s survival.

As a result, you need to think about the defensibility of your business before jumping into execution. Your company’s survival, and thereby your return on the years of work that you’re going to put in, depends on it.