Did you know that there are approximately 80 million Amazon Prime members and that Amazon accounts for 80% of the growth of online sales and $4 out of every $10 spent online is at Amazon.com? Those are depressing numbers depending on your perspective. I can’t even get my head wrapped around those numbers! Every day, I see several Amazon deliveries in the building lobby where I live. I was chatting with a friend the other day and she mentioned a store in town had been Amazoned. I had never heard the term before but it wasn’t hard to figure out the meaning; a store was closing because they couldn’t compete with Amazon.
I am passionate about small business and backing the underdog so I began to think about how small businesses could find a way to compete in the age of Amazon. Here are six ways that can help your small business can compete. They are either free or low cost and even if you don’t sell online, they can still help your business thrive.
Define Your Niche
You didn’t start your business so you could be like everyone else so concentrate on what makes you different and what value you provide that other businesses don’t. You have to differentiate your business from your competitors both big and small or you are going to blend in with the background and not get noticed. While there is no way you can compete with the breadth of Amazon’s product inventory, you can have a tight focus on the products your customers want. Having detailed buyer personas is helpful in targeting what to sell. A buyer persona is representation of your ideal customer and it can help to narrow down what products to carry or identify any opportunities to adjust your service offerings.
Find those customers who are most likely to buy from you, learn what their needs are and target them with the products or services that will help them. By carrying a curated product inventory, you will often avoid the need to price match your competitors. Products that aren’t widely available but are well liked, will create demand. Shoppers often assume it’s easier and less expensive to buy on-line, so if you have a physical store, there had better be a reason for them to come in and shop. Provide them an experience they can’t get online such as an in-store event along or personalized service from your knowledgeable staff. Learning the names of your regular customers will make them feel important and give them a good impression of your business. Our blog post How to be Competitive Without Going Broke will give you suggestions for how to help your business to stand out.
Use Content Marketing to Build Customer Relationships
This is one area that Amazon doesn’t utilize so use it to your advantage. What is content marketing? It is a strategy of producing and publishing information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers (another reason you should use buyer personas). Content marketing keeps your brand or service in front of customers and builds a better relationship with them. It also builds loyalty with customers and gives you the ability to get personal with them. You can market to customers via your website, email, printed material, a blog or on social media.
Content marketing will also help to build your follower base. Not just Facebook followers but followers of your business. This is where being small is an advantage. You can interact with followers directly on your social media pages and give them the personal attention that can turn them into a brand ambassador. Everything you do as a brand should have this personal and close-connected feel to it. When you form a bond with followers they are much more likely to do business with you. Interested in learning more about how content marketing can help your small business? Visit our Content Marketing page to find out.
Provide An Exceptional Customer Experience
While this may sound obvious, you have an opportunity at every touch point with your business to create a positive experience with your customers. What are those touch points? Your in-store sales people, your return policy, social media pages, live chat, even the way you present your store are all opportunities to create a great customer experience.
While you shouldn’t compete on price, you can compete on service. Do your best to make every customer experience with your business a pleasant one and if a customer is dissatisfied, do your best to resolve it to their satisfaction. It’s better to have the problem solved and at least have the customer happy that you cared about them then do nothing and have them leave a negative review or tell their friends not to buy from you. Have a flexible return policy including free returns and exchanges. Find ways to show customers how much you care about them. The biggest factor that drives customers away from your business? Feeling like you don’t care about them.
Have you looked at your website lately? Your website is one of the best ways to build and improve customer relationships. Treat it like a combination online storefront and most valuable employee and you’ll recognize the importance of first impressions. Think of it this way, if you pull into the parking lot of a store you want to visit and the storefront looks tired and worn down, that forms a negative first impression. Take it one step further and you go into the store and the sales person acts like you’re interrupting them, that’s another negative impression. Would you want to make a purchase or go back to that store? Probably not. If your website hasn’t been updated within the last two years you better get on it. It is well worth the investment. Read our blog post on What A Good Website Looks Like for help.
Create a seamless shopping experience between your online and brick and mortar sales. Customers shop 24/7 and if you don’t have an online shop, you are losing out on them. It increases your customer reach, can drive visitors to your brick and mortar store and enhance relationships. Having an online store isn’t just about online sales though. Offer customers the option to buy online and pick up in-store. Local customers enjoy the convenience of not having to wait for their shipment to arrive. While Amazon offers same-day shipping in some areas, they aren’t interacting with their customers. When a customer comes into your store to pick up their order, it’s another opportunity to create a good experience for them.
Offer Free Shipping
Before you throw your hands up in the air and say you can’t afford to have free shipping, hear me out. While you probably can’t beat the convenience of Amazon’s Prime shipping, you should at least reduce your shipping charge. While it may look like a big expense to absorb, customers routinely factor in the price of shipping when deciding where to purchase from. This is especially true when you are selling a widely available product. You should also aim to ship items the same day they are ordered or offer online ordering with in-store pick up. Another idea is to have an annual subscription, much like Amazon Prime, that offers expedited shipping for a discounted price or free for repeat purchases. This will help to subsidize shipping costs and it builds customer loyalty.
You can shop around to find the most cost effective shipping option for your business. Depending on where you ship to, USPS Priority Mail can be a good option, and it has quick delivery, but I would suggest including insurance, just in-case. If you do a large shipping volume, services such as UPS and FedEx offer discounts. If you can’t offer free shipping, offering flat rate shipping keeps things simple for your customer as they know up front what shipping costs, instead of learning this at checkout. It’s often a big turn off for customers to get to checkout to find out that shipping costs are based on price. It’s like punishing the customer for placing a large order. If your shopping cart abandonment rate is high, your shipping cost is a likely culprit.
Have a User Friendly Website
If you have an online store, make it easy for shoppers to find what they want. Minimize the number of clicks it will take to get to their destination so they don’t get frustrated. With so many products, Amazon’s website can require a lot of clicks and product sorting, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you want. Since shoppers on your website don’t have the ability to try on the product or touch it, it is imperative to have useful and detailed product descriptions. Take the time when writing your product descriptions to have as much information as possible including sizing and fit, but without overwhelming shoppers. Poor descriptions will drive customers to look elsewhere for the information they need and they will most likely not come back to purchase from you.
It’s very important to have high quality product images. Shoppers want to see multiple views of the product as well as have the ability to zoom in to see product details. If the shopper isn’t familiar with the product, they are not going to trust the quality of it if the only image they have to go on is a small thumbnail. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take your own product photos. It just takes a bit of creativity.
Allowing purchasers to post pictures of them using your products helps to demonstrate usability and build confidence in the product. Photos can be posted on your website or social media pages. Having a list of the most asked questions about a product is another way to instill confidence in shoppers.
Reviews and Testimonials
Today, customers frequently look to reviews and recommendations from friends when researching products or services. They are a very valuable selling tool, so be like Amazon and post reviews of your products or services . According to a survey by BrightLocal, 88% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation when making a purchase decision. But, make sure you post all reviews, not just the good ones or you risk losing credibility. If someone does leave a negative review, make sure you address it to the customer’s satisfaction and post your response below their review. This shows that you are accountable to your customers and that you care about them. It’s also another way to form a good impression.
How will this help you compete with Amazon? Having reviews on your website can boost your ranking in organic search results. While many shoppers choose Amazon as their default shopping site, there are many shoppers who are looking for something unique or want to support their local merchants. Having reviews on your website adds more unique content to it and makes those pages more relevant to shoppers. Both are components of Google’s ranking algorithm. Reviews left on external review sites like Yelp are also good for boosting your search rank and can even put you in Google’s local three pack, which appear just below paid ads. Having a high search ranking means more shoppers will find you.
The common thread in all of the above tips is your customer. Care for customers as though they are a rare gem because without them, you have nothing. Amazon doesn’t have to be the death knell to your business. You can compete with Amazon as well as your other competitors. The only requirement is to accept the fact that the face of selling is changing and that you either adjust or risk losing your customers and your business. I hope these tips will help your business thrive. If you have any tips you would like to share or have found success using these, please tell us in the comments. You’ll be helping other small businesses facing the same struggles, so thanks!