The contemporary world has never seen the likes of Amazon. Perhaps the closest historical parallel you’ll find is the British East India Company; that trading combine chartered in 1600 that grew into a global colossus that controlled vast swaths of the earth’s surface and governed entire nations with its own laws and courts. Standing up to Amazon today can be roughly akin to a small spice trader trying to carve out their own niche during the days when the East India Company controlled the mechanisms of global trade. In light of that fact, just how does a small brand succeed in a marketplace dominated by such a behemoth? Below we’ll provide some tips that should afford you a decent chance of success.
Accept the Situation
Railing against the presence of the giant isn’t going to make the giant go away. Nor is it going to result in an effective strategy for dealing with the giant. Before you can take on the giant, you must accept its existence. You must accept that you are at a disadvantage from the get-go and that the road won’t be easy. Once you’ve accepted that without qualification, you’re ready to step up to the challenges ahead.
You’re not Amazon but so what? You’re still pretty darn special in your own right. Embrace those things that make you who and what you are and make your product what it is and then focus on your strengths. Make sure the “about” page on your website tells a story that will click with users. Tout the first-class materials that go into your product, the world-class designers who have toiled long and hard to make it unique or the fact that your product is produced by people that earn a fair wage. If you have a feature that a user could never expect at Amazon or Ebay, flaunt it.
Here is an example. FineCigars is an e-commerce site retailing premium cigars in Australia and around the world. They started accepting Bitcoin as payment from 2014, and since then they have been experiencing a growing stream of revenue in the Bitcoin denomination. Better yet, most of these customers proved to be very loyal as FineCigars remains one of the very few cigars retailing sites accepting Bitcoins. The news (of them now accepting Bitcoin) itself received a lot of exposure as Fine Cigars got featured on many sites covering cryptocurrency and finance news.
Create a Personalized Experience
Amazon has the most boring website since Google. But it works because Amazon isn’t selling a high end ‘experience’. They’re selling variety, low prices, free shipping and no hassle returns. If you want to have any chance of tearing people away from all that practicality, you’ll need to offer them something they can’t get on Amazon. Part of that is your product to be sure, but the another part is about making the customer feel like they’re personally critical to the success of your business. Loyalty programs, personalized emails, and handwritten holiday cards go a long way toward offsetting free shipping.
It’s not Important to Beat Amazon on Price
Amazon has such clout, and as a result, companies are so desperate to take advantage of their millions of customers; they’ll cut margins right to the bone in the hope of winning “buy box” status. Because of this, it’s a foolish business owner indeed who tries to compete with Amazon by undercutting their prices. Instead of trying to out discount Amazon just offer the best price you can and earn the extra, you charge by providing those personal touches mentioned above.
Demonstrate Your Expertise
Demonstrating knowledge is a good way to build trust among customers that aren’t already familiar with you or your product. There are a number of ways to demonstrate expertise including frequent blog posts that cover different aspects of your product and/or process, an FAQ section that anticipates questions customers may have and provides clear answers that tout your depth of knowledge and soliciting questions through a contact form. (Just be sure you respond in a timely fashion or people will feel like they’re being played.)
Give Something Back
People appreciate when business entities give something back to the communities they serve. Such community engagement most often takes the form of supporting a charity. It’s helpful if you can find one that has some sort of connection to your product. For instance: if you sell bespoke shoes you may want to sponsor a shoe drive to provide footwear to the less fortunate. Whatever cause you choose you’ll need to be consistent in your support and provide regular updates on your website regarding your efforts and how your customers can get involved.
Don’t Stop Believing
Competing with behemoths, whether the British East India Company or Amazon, isn’t ever easy. There are likely to be as many setbacks as there are successes. Perhaps the most valuable tool you can have at your disposal than is an ironclad belief in yourself and your product. Find the fun in the challenge, take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.
Being small in the land of giants doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Even today there are plenty of seats at the table for those that really want them. By focusing on creating the best possible product and then cultivating robust customer engagement, you’ll be well on your way to long-term success.