The landscape of online retail has been completely transformed by Amazon (and that's not a hyperbolic statement). In 2018 alone, the company brought in $232 billion in revenue, a 30% increase from the year before at $178 billion. Plus, their recent Prime Day success yielded more sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
It's easy for small to medium businesses to feel dwarfed by the retail giant. The massive success makes it feel untouchable. All that being said, we all love an underdog. There are still ways for smaller retailers to compete (or rather coexist). Below we have some ideas for how to differentiate yourself from Amazon and leave its shadow.
1. Get Personal
Amazon's brand loyalty is built on convenience, not emotional attachment. According to a 2018 Mintel survey, only 25%, 20%, and 16% of internet users over age 18 find Amazon to be genuine, personal, and lovable. That leaves plenty of space in the hearts of consumers to be captured by you! Personalizing your messaging to customers will build trust and in turn, a more strong and loyal audience. When you create authentic moments with the customer that allows you to build a relationship, they'll respond enthusiastically. An added benefit of having control of your customer journey is that you can attend to customer service inquiries in a genuine way. Amazon's help page is a web of links and while it gets the job done, it's not a relationship building interaction. Taking care of your customer will reward you with a loyal base. Engaging with your audience and personalizing your customers' experience will create a bond that isn't currently being filled by Amazon.
2. Be Branded
Undoubtedly, you're able to speak to who you are, and what makes you stand out. Use that as a jumping off point to find ways that you can provide where Amazon can't. For example, Amazon doesn't offer much flexibility when it comes to brand management. You give up most brand control when you become a seller on Amazon, which makes it hard to show your customer who you really are. As anyone in marketing knows, so much thought goes into each logo, every color, font, word, and voice. This point is all about providing your products in a way Amazon can't. Branding is key here. People still shop Lululemon and Levi's via the company website or in the flagships because consumers relate to how the company presents itself. Even though Amazon sells branded products, consumers aren't quick to trust and prefer to receive their product straight from the trusted source. Your story is just as powerful as your product, if not more.
3. Drive Community Engagement
Small and medium e-Commerce retailers have an opportunity to support their close-knit communities. Amazon serves millions of customers all over the world, so it can be hard for them to build a sense of community. At a smaller scale, retailers can aid in causes that matter to them and their customers. According to a report by Nielsen Global, as many as 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from brands that demonstrate a commitment to social value. If you're based near a beach, host a plastic pickup. Are you selling activewear? How about a community run? Think your customers might just wanna meet? Cocktail hour it is! Build those relationships and rally people around your brand to show you are more than simply turning a profit. Your support will resonate with the customer and will keep you at the top of their list for retailers showing they care.
4. Integrate a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy
We've all heard the stories about Millennials and Gen Z taking on corporations for their sub-par standards. From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Greta Thunberg, consumers are demanding better practices by the companies they support. 63% of individuals from the Mintel study rated Amazon as below average for environmental responsibility but about 40% of Millennials and Gen Zs label climate change as an important issue. Smaller scale businesses can implement strategies that provide for their customers in the form of recycling and volunteer programs or giving and transparency. Small and medium businesses can connect with their customers and create engaging moments to show that they are truly invested in the concerns of their customers. Create cause marketing campaigns and take into consideration new technologies that can engage your customer in your CSR strategy. Your efforts in this space will outshine Amazon's avoidance of them in economic pursuit.
5. Embrace Your Lane
The final and most important thing to remember is that you can't fulfill the way Amazon can...but they can't offer the overall customer experience that you can. Instead of trying to replace Amazon in your customer's mind, offer a new ecommerce and product experience. When you support your community, build trust, and differentiate your product your customer will respond with loyalty and support.