Amazon, in particular, has catered to the public’s desire for convenience — providing an almost inexhaustible range of products, at lower prices, delivered directly to the customer’s door quickly. This has resulted in a detrimental effect on the market in general. Even larger chain stores have been hit hard by Amazon’s brand and business model.
So how can local businesses hope to stand up against such a ubiquitous and aggressive competitor? The good news is there is still a place in commerce for small businesses to thrive. We’ll take a look at a few techniques to boost the success of your entrepreneurial venture.
Focus on Your Uniqueness
Problems start to arise when business owners try to compete with giants like Amazon head-on. That way madness lies; these big businesses have resources, contacts, and a market position that small business owners couldn’t hope to match, let alone surpass. A much more effective approach is leaning into what makes your business unique, what you can do that Amazon doesn’t.
If yours is a traditional brick-and-mortar store, you have the advantage of physicality that Amazon doesn’t have. Create a unique, pleasant atmosphere in your store that gives customers a reason to visit you rather than hop online. Pay attention to the impression customers receive when they walk through your door — the smells, the lighting, even the temperature. Make your store a place they want to spend time in, browsing, meeting with their friends, and talking to you about your product. Amazon provides a clinical, straightforward shopping experience; you don’t have to, so give it some personality.
Whether you’re a physical or purely online store, you also have the power to focus on a specific identity. You’re not shackled to ubiquity in the way that Amazon is, and you don’t have the pressure of being everything to everyone. Whether it’s a specific type of product or a style of service, narrow down your niche, commit to it, then set about dominating that particular area of the market.
Increase Your Search Power
Let’s face it, chances are whenever anyone searches for a particular product, one of the first listings will be an Amazon link. This plays into the idea of consumer convenience — the customer will see the product is available, they already know Amazon’s reputation for fast delivery, so there’s little reason for them to scroll any further. There’s no avoiding this problem, Amazon is right there at the top for a reason, but you do have the power to improve your company’s search rankings.
Firstly, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on the subject of search engine optimization (SEO). Sure, it might not be the most fascinating subject in the world, but it will help you make more informed choices. Learn about keywords and how to utilize them sparingly but effectively. Understand how best to embed meta descriptions to attract searchers to your content. One of the most valuable things you can do to improve your company’s search rankings is to provide quality content, such as including a blog on your website. Create interesting posts which support your position as an expert on the goods or services you provide.
You can also make use of Google’s Local Listings, which can improve your ranking on the search engine. This is essentially a way to optimize your position on the occasion that customers search Google for both product and location, e.g “Hot Dog Vendors in Chicago.” While the first step is to open an account with Google Business Center, it is equally important to ensure your business is paired with your location in places other than the search engine. Make sure you include your geographical information everywhere you have a presence online, such as social media, blogging platforms, and e-commerce stores.
Positive Customer Experiences
Amazon’s customer experience, as with much else, is centered around convenience. The aspects of personalization it provides are often based on products related to previous purchases, or items previously searched for. It remembers what we’re interested in, and even invites us to “treat ourselves.” While they make things very easy for us, it is rare that we feel there is a truly personal connection being made.
This is where local businesses can compete with Amazon — they have the potential to provide unique, memorable user experiences. You can create a loyalty program, providing interesting, tailored rewards for repeat custom. Offer subscription services, where customers can sign up to receive carefully curated collections of your niche product range regularly. Create a dialogue with your customers through your blog or social media. While blogs can be used as a venue for marketing and affiliate programs, it is primarily an opportunity for your customers to make a connection with you, to see the human side of your business.
It is of utmost importance that you pay careful attention to your approach to providing customer service. This is something Amazon actually does relatively well, but people genuinely value being helped by someone with expertise — and who knows your product better than you? Make your follow-ups personal, and engage with your consumers on a human level.
Setting out to directly compete with Amazon in its own marketplace could be considered something of a fool’s errand — they maintain dominance with a business model of ubiquitous, low-priced convenience. Small businesses enjoy advantages that the big players can’t replicate — unique products, specific expertise, and deeply personal experiences. Rather than trying to beat Amazon at its own game, local entrepreneurs can focus on creating something special and different.
Frankie Wallace is a recent graduate from the University of Montana. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho.