By Lexie Lu, Design Roast
January 23, 2019

Your small business cannot stock, sell and ship faster or better than Amazon. But, here’s how you can still improve your ecommerce game.

One cannot hope to compete in a monopolized market or niche, and yet, in the world of ecommerce, that is what we all must do. Every business, big or small, is essentially going head-to-head with the giant of the industry: Amazon.

Did you know that 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. come from Amazon? Furthermore, 49 percent of all product searches favor Amazon’s site. It means that not only is the company dominating in sales and revenue, but they hold a significant portion of market share in shopping and search. When you search Google for a product or brand, most likely an Amazon store listing will be right at the top.

How do you compete with such an unstoppable force — especially one that continues to grow day-in and day-out?

The answer is, you don’t — at least not directly. You cannot hope to compete with Amazon simply because the organization holds sheer numbers of dominance. Logistically, they can provide much more, for faster and cheaper. Sure, these are all important elements of a successful online business, but they are not the only ones that matter.

To make a dent in the market and gain some reputation or attribution, you’ll need to focus on improving other areas of your business — many outside of conventional practice. It all services the idea of over-delivery or pure, optimal customer satisfaction. You cannot stock, sell and ship faster or better than Amazon, but you can still improve.

  1. Honor Personalization

Modern technologies have made product personalization and niche support more likely, especially for capable organizations like Amazon. However, personalization is still not the focus of such providers. A shipped package only has a customer’s name on it because it was provided via a rather sterile, online form or purchase process — also because it has their address.

What does this mean exactly? For a small business, the term “personalized service” is rather straightforward, as it should be. You know your customers, and you know them well — especially your regulars. A coffee shop owner might know what a particular customer likes to drink every day. A food provider might know a customer’s standard order. Any other business owner might know their regular customers by name.

In essence, this is all part of personalized service. It’s something customers cannot and will not receive elsewhere and that only your business does best.

Find ways to improve the overall personalization of your customer experience, and invest both time, money and effort into perfecting it. You will soon find a swath of new yet regular customers. It’s not confined to a brick-and-mortar business, either. You can also do such a thing for online-only platforms as well.

  1. Support Your Local Community

Small and medium-sized businesses can only stretch their influence so far. That is improved considerably by online platforms and servicing — it’s possible to sell and ship to international customers, for instance. However, the bulk of your reputation and goodwill remains within your local community. Make use of that because it’s definitely something larger organizations like Amazon do not have access to.

There are many social, economic and environmental reasons to support a small business over a big one. You can take advantage of this by providing reputable support for your local community. Get out there and participate — get involved yourself, provide sponsorship or encourage your employees to participate.

If you’re exclusively an online business, you can still have a local presence. Branch out and sponsor sports teams, events or even show up at activities with community-oriented goodies and support. Giving back to the community — often through philanthropy efforts — definitely pays off.

  1. Focus on Cross-Platform Experiences

As a small or mid-sized business, you have a lot of local influence. You can also use this to your advantage to provide modern, cross-platform experiences that span multiple channels and locations. It sounds complex written out, but it’s really quite simple.

Allowing customers to buy goods or products online and then pick them up at a local store is an excellent example. You could also do the opposite by allowing customers to purchase goods in-store, but ship them to their home at a discounted cost, or even for free.

Consider the kind of meshed experiences you can provide, which online-only providers cannot. Amazon does this through their Treasure Truck, which offers a single, discounted item that customers can pick up locally. Similar campaigns could see you rise to favor within your local community and can even build stronger relationships with your most loyal customers.

  1. Embrace Your Niche

Believe it or not, there is a downside to focusing your efforts on such a huge selection of products like Amazon does. You can buy just about anything and everything on the site. While that’s certainly convenient, because you can always go to one place, it doesn’t mean you’re always getting the best quality and service.

In fact, Amazon and Walmart don’t always offer their own products. They make use of third-party sellers to bolster their inventories. That makes tracking product quality and satisfaction even more difficult.

Lean into your niche because it’s what makes your business so viable and attractive. It’s okay to focus on a single product or group of them, especially when you’re dedicated to providing better quality and experiences.

This also means certain strategies might be outside your budget or capability, and that’s okay. You can’t always afford to offer free two-day shipping like Amazon — you don’t have the same capital. But you can offset this by holding various promotions and campaigns throughout the year, designed to entice your loyal customers. Maybe free shipping during the summer months is a good idea? Or, perhaps during the holidays when your sales are higher?

Above all, honor what makes your business, well, what it is. Don’t be concerned with amassing the same levels of growth that Amazon does. Instead, focus on perfecting your niche services and products. They’re what your customers crave in the first place.

  1. Optimize Convenience

Keeping up with customer expectations is not just difficult. It’s a monumental challenge, especially in today’s economy. It grows even more challenging with every product, service and opportunity you add to your arsenal. Stretch your efforts too thin, and you’ll be looking at failure, as opposed to success. Instead of bolstering your offerings, aim to optimize convenience. How can you provide the best experience and opportunity to your customers? What can you do to improve the buying process and all that comes after?

The Nowait app, for example, allows customers to put their name on a waiting list for local restaurants. By the time you arrive, your table is already waiting for you. How’s that for convenience?

  1. Don’t Fret About Price

You cannot compete with large organizations like Walmart or Amazon when it comes to price, so don’t try. Instead, focus on providing customers the most bang-for-their-buck. People will realize right away they are paying for higher-quality and better-supported goods, and that translates to steady revenues. Price should also reflect the quality of said goods, which means a higher price is warranted for exceptional items.

  1. Customer Service Is Vital

The most revered companies and business are those that go above and beyond for their customers, treating them like family or one of their own. In reality, you really have no other option as a small or medium-sized business. Treat your customers poorly, and they will not return. Treat them well, and you’ve made a loyal brand advocate that will sing praises to friends, family and more.

Go above and beyond for your customers when they seek your guidance or help. It will always pay off, and you’ll earn free marketing in the process.

  1. Get Social

Social media is a miracle. You can use it to communicate and respond to any number of people, organizations, entities and beyond. It’s an endless, always-on platform for marketing and communication.

If a customer has a question, after hours, they could pose it to your social media team to receive near-instant responses.

If you haven’t already, start developing your social media presence to provide improved customer support, grow your brand’s reputation and also to interact with your loyal audience.

Do These Things Not Because You Have To, but Because You Love To

You must inject love and dedication into everything you do because you can. Anything short of that, and you’ll find yourself — and your business — struggling to keep up with what is happening around you. Many of the tips discussed here service that idea, and so should you.

Running a small or medium-sized business is a labor of love. Frankly, it’s one of the best ways to compete with such large and powerful organizations as Amazon since they tend to be much more removed from conventional human experience. When is the last time someone from Amazon reached out to check if you enjoyed your last purchase, or even asked how your family was doing?