Digital Marketing Book, Websites

Before you sell online, you better define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)


Your USP is your Unique Selling Proposition. In other words, what makes you different? What makes it unique and therefore valuable to buy from your business versus any other business?

What is your USP for selling online?

Why would I buy online from you? Seriously, stop reading right now. Close the book for one minute and think about why someone would buy online from your business.

If your thought is, “What does this guy mean? I am setting up an online store, people from all over the internet will buy from me,” then please do not waste your time and money on ecommerce.

Let me share advice, ecommerce is not simple. Growing a successful ecommerce website takes a lot of time, money and energy. 

Build it and they will not come

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a prospective pet store owner at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando. This individual had not opened his store yet. He was leaving his job as an insurance agent to open a pet store in a densely populated area. 

Before opening his store, he was going to build an ecommerce website. The idea was to get acclimated to online sales and retail before signing a lease. Not a terrible idea. However, after a simple line of questions, it became clear he had no plan.  No target market. No marketing plan or idea of an ideal buyer. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: “What is your budget to run your ecommerce site?

Pet Store Owner: “What do you mean? How much does one cost?”

Me: “Okay, you can license a good platform for fairly cheap, but you’ll still need to build a website, edit prices and do all the updates. That will take a fair amount of time. Who is your target market to sell to?

Pet Store Owner: “What do you mean? Everyone. It will be online so everyone in the country can buy from it.”

Me: “Okay, how do you plan to reach all these people? Are you going to sell on Amazon or are you going to pay for Google ads to be found nationally for pet products? What is your budget for national marketing?

Pet Store Owner: “Not sure, I could probably do some google ads or something. But I think people will just find the website once it is online.”

Me: “Okay, to put this in perspective, received about $451,000,000 in funding to start their ecommerce pet business. They used that to hire a team, build a logistics infrastructure, and pay for advertising to acquire customers. That doesn’t mean you cannot be successful too, but I think we’ll need to define a more specific plan.”

The Need for a Plan

I share these questions and answers to highlight the need for a plan. If you can’t answer these basic planning questions then you may want to rethink launching an ecommerce website. Targeting a niche and offering a unique reason to buy from you is essential. Competition online is rough. Sure, you can sell to anybody but you’re also competing with everybody.

Believe it or not, this conversation is not uncommon. A business plan for selling online requires the same due diligence as opening a retail store. There needs to be a plan and there needs to be a defined Unique Selling Proposition or USP. A Unique Selling Proposition is the reason that buying from your business is different and better than buying from a competitor. Let’s explore some reasons someone would buy online from an independent retail store.  

Defining a USP

What are the aspects of your business you can leverage online. For many retailers, their USP for selling online is related to the USP for their retail store.  

To arrive at your USP for selling online, begin with the reasons your store is so successful in the first place. What are you doing that results in customers choosing you over all other competitors. Let’s brainstorm some ideas. 


Your physical location is a huge advantage to your business. First off, your local market buys from you. This is due, in part, because of your convenient location in the community. How can you leverage this online? What about Buy Online, Pickup In-Store. Numerous retailers leverage their location this way. Customers are demanding an experience that is more convenient. You already have the brick & mortar infrastructure. Save your customers the time of shopping the shelves themselves. Allow them to buy online at 10pm and then come pick up their order during their lunch break the next day. People are busy. Help save them time with an ecommerce presence!


Do you have the cheapest prices on certain products? Can you compete on price with anyone else for certain brands? That is a huge advantage online. Many products race towards the lowest price online. If you can afford to sell at a steep discount and still be profitable it’s a big advantage.


You know what Amazon still cannot do all over the country? Do you know what the major e-retailer in your industry still can’t do at all? They can’t do same day delivery everywhere. But, you are right there in town. How wide of a radius can you deliver a product within the same day or even guarantee next day delivery? Ecommerce doesn’t just mean selling all over the country. It means using your advantages to reinforce customer relationships. Use an ecommerce website to grow sales in your own backyard.

Speciality Products

You may sell specialty products that few other retailers sell. Do you manufacture any of your own products? Do you import and sell a product that few other retailers sell? These may be opportunities to sell online. These products may be your best opportunity for selling online.


What is your expertise? As an independent retailer, your expertise matters. Why not leverage this on your website? Write detailed blogs about the products you’re selling on your website. Build a library of videos, blogs and suggestions about your products. Identify which products are best for specific needs. Build personal relationships with your ecommerce customers through expert content. 


Customers like to shop in different ways. Even though I buy products online, it doesn’t mean I always buy online. I also buy products in stores, but I don’t always buy products in stores. Omnichannel means meeting your customers where they are. With a brick & mortar location you have the opportunity to offer customers the choice between buying online or in-store. Customers can buy from you the way they want to. You’ll meet their needs on each specific purchasing occasion.

Final Thought on Developing a USP

Selling online requires a business plan. Make sure you can answer the question, “Why would I buy online from your business?” Remember that the ecommerce space is competitive. If you don’t have plans to serve a specific niche, or you don’t have a lot of capital to invest, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

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