In a world of ultimate price transparency, where the majority of shoppers go online to research products before buying them online or off, how can a retailer online succeed? You have to compete with a myriad of competing companies online, most importantly Amazon which has a broader product assortment (thanks to their marketplace), less stock outs, rated best customer service, and quick shipping. If you sell a product that can be found using a specific search like “sony hdr-cx160”, in other words, really easy to do price comparisons, than you’re in trouble. A strategy of selling average stuff to average people is not a sustainable one, it’s a race to who can do it the cheapest. In the early days of ecommerce you could get away with it, but now customers have the tools and have been trained on how to find the lowest price online.
Companies that have a protective barrier from their private label that only sell in their channel like Pottery Barn, Tiffanys and JCrew will survive. Companies that have sell stories, curate content and products worth talking about are the ones that will work. Businesses that cultivate a group of people with the same mission and then let the business be the symbol that those within the group use to identify themselves and identify each other will win.
No matter how savvy at search, display, attribution or analytics you are, I think that the real secret to success online in the future isn’t more unique ways of discounting but is a brand that means something.