According to the New York Times article Websites Wage Holiday Price Wars (Nov. 19, 2008), small and large etailers alike are facing some tough choices this holiday season. It would seem that in the end, everything really does come down to price. And if you're not willing to fight the good fight--or if your bottom line simply can't survive the battle--your ecommerce business is doomed. Or is it?

The article paints a picture of once profitable, even flourishing, etailers engaging in drastic price cuts or worse, closing up shop entirely:

"Internet retailers, trying to navigate what is shaping up to be the first truly dreary holiday shopping season ever on the Web, are engaging in price-cutting and discounting so aggressive that it threatens their profit margins and, in some cases, their very survival.

I'm not so sure we're getting the whole story here, not to mention that such attention grabbing headlines feed an already dangerous zeitgeist of a nation paralyzed by economic uncertainty. Is this the right message to send to small etailers trying to survive a recession that not even Alan Greenspan could have predicted?

Doesn't matter. You're in business for yourself, and as such, you can make your own informed albeit a little shaky marketing decisions, thank you very much.

So, if you have the patience, and can secure enough cash flow, now is as good a time as any to reposition yourself in such a way that price is not a central component of your unique value proposition (UVP). Consider the following strategies:

  1. Checking your brand. Does your brand need tweaking or even a complete overhaul? Do the images and words on your website strike a chord with your target audience? Or do you come across as one choice of a seemingly homogeneous group of product offerings? If something makes you different--or if you just want to BE different--it's time to communicate that loud and clear.

  2. Strengthening your brand. Can you push your brand deeper into the psyche of your target audience? Are you leveraging the tools of online marketing to their fullest? For example, social media can be powerful when done right, and it's easy on the budget if you're willing to use an audience sensitive medium in creative ways.

  3. Adding value where there was previously none. Again, this doesn't have to break the bank to be effective. It could come down to something as simple as adding more educational content to your website (think blogging, article marketing and beefed up product specs and how-tos), or making customer service more readily available to prospective buyers (think Live Chat, email support, longer business hours).

  4. Diversifying or dumbing down your product lineup. You may not have to do as much price cutting if you think strategically about the choices you're offering. If you're best seller has high margins, then consider axing a number of low margin alternatives. They only serve as a distraction. Conversely, you may need to create variety to increase the perception of choice and one-stop shopping.

  5. Improve the ecommerce experience. Making people feel welcome isn't just for brick and mortar shops. You have to do the same and more with your online store. If people feel ignored (copy that's not audience sensitive) or frustrated (navigation that doesn't make sense or a feedback form that doesn't work), they'll leave and do so without asking for help first. The NY Times article was right in pointing out that web shoppers are impatient because they know your competition is just a click away. Have your website reviewed for usability issues and fix them as soon as possible.
I'm not an etailer myself but I work with a few. They are a hearty bunch who want to deliver value for their customers' money. The main thing in today's world is to make sure you're delivering what the people want the way they want it ... just don't let them (or a headline) convince you that all they care about is the cheapest price. Because the decision to buy is never, ever just about the price.

November 24, 2008

Karri Flatla is a business graduate of the University of Lethbridge and principal of snap! virtual associates inc., a virtual consulting firm providing business communications and Internet marketing services to the progressive entrepreneur. Karri also produces Outsmart, the email newsletter for small business with big purpose. Visit for more information. Click to follow Karri on Twitter.


I have been reading your articles and find they are very informative.. I have a fairly new online womens clothing store that I run as a part time business and am stuggling with sales due to lack of potential customers. I agree with the info in some of your articles about not running to the stockroom to get the pricing gun and drop prices as that will just throw away my investments in inventories.. Plus - I know my items are price competitive. Its tuff when you are not known. I have a blogsite, but its hard to keep it fresh as our products are not turning over.. and its hard to find new things to write about, plus it takes a lot of time..

I'm trying to get known out there and was wondering if you have any simple ways that might be good for me to try..

My store is at

Thanks for your time. !


Hi Melissa,

Be sure to link to your blog site from your online store, assuming of course the blog is directly related to fashion and/or what you're selling. I was at your site but didn't see the link. Coming up with fresh content is tough so I hear you there. I find that the more I'm online and interacting with "my market" and my colleagues, the more ideas I have for blog posts. That and I keep a running list of post ideas on my desk. Then if I'm stuck for something to write about I just check my list.

But here's the big thing: check your web stats. Are you getting enough traffic and if so, what kind of traffic are you getting? Then look at what that traffic is doing once they reach your site. Are they exploring your offerings or "bouncing" off to another shopping site? There could be usability issues, content issues, etc.

So you want to make sure you're identifying the problem before attempting a solution ;) Otherwise it's a crap shoot. You may have a very good mix of product and price but not the right content, SEO, navigation, or whatever.

Hope this helps and keep the questions coming!


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