In 1981, Howard Shultz walked into a little coffee shop in Seattle. He loved the coffee so much that he joined as an employee a year later. Five years later, he bought out the owners.

Today Starbucks has over 15,000 stores in 50 different countries and is one of the world’s most valuable companies.

Coffee has been around for centuries, and in every city in the world you can find a little cafe selling good coffee. So why did only Starbucks break out of the pack and grow into a $2.3 billion unicorn?

It was their Unique Selling Proposition. While every coffee shop says they make great coffee, Starbucks differentiated themselves by selling more than just great coffee. They made it an experience.

Our mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

I’ll be honest with you. I can’t tell the different between a $5 latte at Starbucks and a $1 latte at 7/11. And I’ll bet not many others can. But I still buy the $5 cup over the $1 because of Starbucks’ USP. I’m paying for the experience, not the coffee.

The story repeats itself in other industries. Google became a billion dollar unicorn even though there were established companies already doing search. Facebook did it to social networking. Apple did it to computers and then music and then phones.

These companies sell products that already exist, but because of their strong Unique Selling Proposition they were able to break free from the masses and “me-too” businesses and grow massively.

So What’s A Unique Selling Proposition

Call it whatever you want, Unique Selling Proposition, Unique Value Proposition, or Unique Market Proposition, it’s what sets you apart from other companies in your industry.

You see, it’s very rare that you find an entirely new industry with no competition. Whether you’re thinking about starting an online store, or already have one, your products are probably not that unique. You have competition, and it will grow.

And with all that competition, customers will be asking, “why should I buy from you?”

Your answer is your Unique Selling Proposition. As Jeremy Smith puts it –

The unique selling proposition explains how your product is different from the competition, and why this difference makes it the best solution to their problem.

Create a USP that sets you apart from the competition.

The Benefits Of A Strong Unique Selling Proposition

So, apart from explaining how you’re different, what else can a strong Unique Selling Proposition do for your eCommerce store?

It Helps Build Your Brand

In the simplest of terms, your brand is the way people think about you. With a strong unique selling proposition, consumers start to think of you differently. You’re not just a regular coffee shop, you’re a great place to hang out and meet people. You don’t just sell computers, you sell high-quality products that don’t crash on you. I don’t even need to tell you which companies I’m talking about here because their brands are so strong that you already know.

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It Saves You From Competing On Price

Again, look at the price of a coffee at Starbucks versus the corner shop. Or a MacBook versus a PC. They’re 4-5 times more expensive than the lower end of the market, but people still buy them because they’re unique.

If Starbucks was just another coffee shop, they’d have to try to undercut the competition just to get more customers in. What’s worse, if their competition undercut them again, they’d be in a price race to zero.

starbucks branding

It Increases Your Conversion Rates And Sales

Ultimately, this is what you care about. How do you make more money? Well, it starts with a strong unique selling proposition.

When customers visit your site and don’t immediately know why they should buy from you, they’re going to leave. You just spent all that time and money driving traffic to your store, but they’re not converting because you dropped the ball after that.

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Creating A Unique Selling Proposition

So now that you know what a unique selling proposition is, and why you need one, let’s get down to creating yours, shall we?

Step 1: Do Your Research

You can’t differentiate yourself without knowing what your competitors are doing. So the first thing you need to do is research them. Take your top 5 or 10 competitors and figure out what their unique selling proposition is if they have one.

Are they all claiming to be the cheapest product around, or the best product ever? Because if they are, you need to do the opposite. Also, see what their customers are saying about them. Do they have any complaints and how can you take advantage of that?

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Speaking of customers, you need to do some research on yours and develop a customer persona. This will help you identify what your customers really care about so that you can deliver it to them uniquely. Maybe they don’t care about low prices, in which case your claim to having the lowest price will be useless.

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Step 2: Extract Benefits

The benefit of visiting Starbucks is that you have a casual environment to meet friends or do work. You’re not buying the coffee, you’re buying an experience. The benefit of buying a MacBook is that you don’t have to worry about the blue screen of death. You’re not buying a computer, you’re buying productivity.

Consumers shop for benefits, not features. I don’t care how much RAM my computer has. If it keeps crashing on me, it’s useless.

You need to understand what benefits you deliver to your customers. Use your customer persona research to help you out.

[Tweet “The second step of creating a USP for your #eCommerce store is extracting benefits”]

Step 3: Find What’s Unique

While your product itself doesn’t need to be unique, your value proposition does. In the previous step, you may have identified several benefits that you provide customers. You may have the best products, deliver it faster than anyone, and have a 100% return policy. But if your competitors say the same thing, it doesn’t make you unique.

Using your competitor research, compare your benefits to theirs. It’s ok if they have certain benefits that you don’t. That’s what makes them unique, and it’s different from what makes you unique.

[Tweet “The third step of creating a USP for your #eCommerce store is finding what makes you unique”]

It could be anything from product quality to customer service. Look at Zappos to see how they’ve built a brand known for service. They sell shoes that you can buy anywhere else, but the real magic happens after you buy their shoes. Their customer support is legendary and it makes them unique in a sea of uncaring shoe stores.

Zappos unique selling proposition is service

Step 4: Keep It Simple

You have 7 seconds to make an impression on a visitor the moment they land on your store. Your unique selling proposition is one of the first things they see, so make it clear and concise. No one is going to read paragraphs of why you’re different right at the start.

Have a look at Toms’ unique selling proposition. They sell shoes, which is definitely not a unique product, but they’ve managed to stand out in a crowded market with this simple slogan: One for One.

Tom's unique selling proposition is simple

You see that right up front and it takes just a second or two to read, but it immediately makes an impression on you. And while they started out with shoes, they’ve been able to expand into other products while keeping their unique selling proposition.

[Tweet “The fourth step of creating a USP for your #eCommerce store is keeping it simple”]

Step 5: Give Evidence

“30 minutes or it’s free!”

Dominoes Pizza shot to fame with that slogan. They weren’t selling a new type of pizza, or even the best pizza. They sold regular pizza made with regular ingredients. Yet, they had a unique value proposition that they deliver in under 30 minutes, and they backed it up with a guarantee – free.

Dominos unique selling proposition

Toms has entire sections on their site dedicated to how they make good on their value proposition. They’ve got real stories and photos of them helping kids in developing countries.

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Step 6: Market It

Your unique selling proposition is at the core of your business, which means it needs to be everywhere. Put it in your website, definitely on the homepage, but possibly on other pages in the header. Put it on your social networks, your marketing materials, your packaging, and anywhere a consumer comes in contact with your brand.

Have a look at Toms again and you’ll see their One For One slogan is everywhere. It’s even in the profile pic on their twitter profile.

[Tweet “The final step of creating a USP for your #eCommerce store is making it pervasive”]

Stand Out From The Crowd

Nail your unique selling proposition and differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other stores in your industry. No one is going to give you a second thought if you’re just like everyone else. But show them what’s unique about you and they’ll never forget.

And remember, if you make a claim, deliver on it. If Dominos had no intention of giving away free pizza after 30 minutes, customers would have called them out and they’d have lost their reputation. You don’t want that happening to you.