Many smaller merchants have the same initial reaction when thinking about venturing into the world of eCommerce. It is phrased something like this:
“How do I compete with Amazon!?!?”
The short answer is, you don’t. Amazon is a beast, why would you want to compete with them? That would be like putting your store next to Walmart and attempting to compete against them on price alone. You wouldn’t do it in physical retail, so why would you do it in online retail?
The long answer has more to do with the fact that even Amazon doesn’t own every customer on the planet. Zappos went toe-to-toe with the big boys and eventually became a big boy themselves. They did this by building a loyal customer base something akin to Apple. Their customer experience was so mind-blowing that people just kept going back for more. Zappos wasn’t necessarily the cheapest, but boy they were the best at making customers happy. So much so that their founder wrote a book about it!
The answer to competing with larger companies isn’t just to offer better customer service.
In 2012, you don’t have a choice but to love your customers. Business is finally returning to a point where it’s truly a two way street. I have always imagined that business in the early 1900’s was something like it is today. Your local baker knew who you were. You knew your baker. You knew each others kids and their whole life story. You were invested in each other beyond the simple transaction. This is where business is and where it will continue to move in the future.
The answer to competing with larger companies is about finding things that they are not great at, then provide a product or service that is superior at that one thing. In the Zappos case above, it was customer loyalty. In many of our merchants it also comes down to delivering great customer experiences. In the case of the Beach Mint companies it is all about personalized & curated shopping.
I think the opportunity lies in building amazing customer experiences that go beyond just online vs. offline. The way you compete with Amazon is to get personal. Get intimate with your customers. Offer them something that Amazon cannot. Show them a face. Be the domain expert. These are just a few among many methods I’ve seen work in growing successful eCommerce businesses.