Last month, the unthinkable happened. Amazon shut an arm of its operations in China. While this was more in defeat against other giants like Alibaba, it got us thinking about the nature of the market in our digital world. How can smaller retailers compete with Amazon and the likes?
Let’s start with the basics first. Why Amazon? Why your own store?
Amazon accounts for 43% of all US online sales and it is easy to feel overwhelmed at this. It does have the customer numbers, the infrastructure, an ease of shopping that customers love, and a ready marketplace. On the other hand, you need high margins because of the fees you incur, your product needs to be able to stand out among several others which are similar and that’s more difficult if you are not a brand yourself.
But that does not mean there is no place for your own online store. Building it is easy enough. Ideally, you should be available on both platforms, but if your business size is really small, you may want to monetize on Amazon, which does have the necessary traffic and customer-base, for the first couple of years and then go solo.
The decision to open your store is based on several factors such as the product you sell, where you are selling it, how many other similar products are there in the market and so on. Assuming those check-boxes have been ticked, and you have decided to open your online store and invest in it, we give you some insight on how you can coexist and compete with Amazon.
1. Pick your product well
First things first, you need to sell what Amazon does not. Well, not literally. But because Amazon’s USP is the fact that it sells over 3 billion products globally, it is advantageous for your business to build a niche. If everyone is selling Marvel merchandise, you can pick some specific comics to target the same market.
Choose your product mix well, keep it limited but make sure that you offer unique, top quality products on your store. Focus initially on what you are offering, and if there is a niche you could target. To do this, scour Amazon and see the kinds of products sold under the same category as yours. This should give you a fair idea on what is being offered and what you could do differently.
2. Solve the shipping glitch
One of the big reasons Amazon is such a preferred site is because of its express and assured shipping strategy. Jeff Bezos has successfully made it almost as easy and quick to purchase online as it is to go to the store.
As a new or small online store, offering free shipping or even discounted shipping and express shipping may be difficult, but you can work around it.
First, include the shipping price in the cost of the product and provide a breakdown on the checkout page.
Second, ensure that even if you are not shipping immediately, you keep the customer updated about his shipment at all times. Send them an email as soon as the order is placed, the shipment collected, dispatched and on the way. Several shipping providers now allow customers to track their purchase too.
Lastly, allow for free shipping above a minimum cart total. Most customers (around 50%) will add products to their cart if they can qualify for free shipping.
3. It’s all about the customer, and keep it that way
This is perhaps the most important aspect of your business. The raison d’etre of creating your own online store is to build a community around your brand and use that force to drive sales and popularity. To that end, you have to offer them, and this is non-negotiable, a few incentives and options to choose from.
First, is of course, top-notch customer service, something even Amazon does not always provide. Work on this, and see how fast a one-time customer converts into a brand loyalist.
Second is a robust loyalty program. While this feature may come a little later, offering them reward points and allowing them to use it on your store will encourage them to make repeat purchases. You can easily set up such a feature on your WooCommerce store. To add to it, create a referral marketing program where customers can earn these points through referring their friends and family. This also helps build a more grass-root network, and takes care of a part of the offline promotion you would otherwise have spent money on.
Along the same lines, allow for customers to leave honest reviews and feedback. At the same time, from the very beginning of your business, begin to gather data – who is buying the product, how frequently, how much does a customer spend monthly on the store, the percentage of repeat visitors and more. And use tech to do so easily.
4. Create content. Create readership. Create engagement
Consuming content is the new drug. Everyone is reading, watching, listening (of course not in that order), something or the other online. You are reading this post, we are reading some others and yet other people might be watching something else. The point is, content is now the most essential part of a business, albeit one which brings indirect profits.
How to go about creating content? For instance, you are a boutique. You could have a blog about the various looks of the season and how your clothes fit into it. If you are a sports equipment seller, having posts on fitness and health and outdoor exercise routines would help.
5. Faster payments = Lesser time for them to change their minds
And lastly, money. You are online to earn, customers are online to spend and there is not transaction as straightforward.
The last thing customers want is to complicate this particular part. The easier the payment, the less likely they are to abandon the cart. One, pick a safe, secure way for customers to save their card information. Second, pick payment partners with lesser fees so the customer doe not meet any additional charges at checkout.
Third, tie-up with the likes of Amazon Pay, so that customers logged in to other platforms can simply pay without having to re-enter card information and other details each time.
There is never a perfect right or a perfect wrong. No matter what you choose to sell and how, remember that somethings are out of your control. Some carts will remain abandoned, some customers will not return. But that happens to Amazon, and Alibaba and others too. Your goal is to not topple them, or do better than them in every quantifiable aspect.
What you need is to build your niche. And work at that.