It is a cliché that customers don’t buy products they buy benefits. These benefits may be intangible i.e. they relate not to specific product features but to such things as image and reputation. Unless the product or service that we offer can be distinguished in some way from its competitors there is a strong likelihood that the marketplace will view it as a ‘commodity’ and so the sale will tend to go to the cheapest supplier. Value differentiation can be gained in numerous ways. When a company scrutinizes markets closely it frequently finds that there are distinct value segments. In other words different groups of customers attach different levels of importance to different benefits. The importance of such benefit segmentation lies in the fact that often there are substantial opportunities for creating differentiated appeals for specific segments. Adding value through differentiation is a powerful means of achieving a defensible advantage in the market. Equally powerful as a means of adding value is service. Increasingly it is the case that markets are becoming more service sensitive and this poses a challenge in management of logistics. It is important to seek differentiation through means other than technology. A number of companies have responded to this by focusing upon service as a means of gaining a competitive edge. Service in this context relates to the process of developing relationships with customers through the provision of an augmented offer. This augmentation can take many forms including delivery service, after sales service, financial packages, technical support and so on.

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This matrix is a useful way of examining the options available for value and productivity advantage:

 

SERVICE LEADER COST & SERVICE LEADER
 

COMMODITY MARKET

 

COST    LEADER

 

In commodity market situations where a company’s products are indistinguishable from their competitors’ offerings the only strategy is to move towards being a cost leader or towards being a service leader. Often the leadership route is not available. This particularly will be the case in a mature market where substantial market share gains are difficult to achieve.

 

Cost leadership strategies have been based upon the economies of scale, gained through greater volume of sales. This is why market share is considered to be so important in many industries. This cost advantage can be used strategically to assume a position of price leader and make it difficult for high cost competitors to survive. This cost advantage can come through effective logistics management. In many industries logistics cost represents such a large part of total costs that that it is possible to make major cost reductions through fundamentally reengineering logistics processes.

 

The other way to come out of the commodity quadrant of the matrix is to seek a strategy of differentiation through service excellence. Customers ion all industries are seeking greater responsiveness and reliability from suppliers; they are looking for reduced lead times, just-in-time delivery and value added services that help them do a better job of serving their customers.

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