We often hear of retailers struggling with “competing in the Amazon era,” the current e-commerce market that includes the web-based giant. Amazon is, without question, a formidable competitor (or has the potential to be) for most e-commerce businesses. But, there is still plenty of room for other retailers and brands to succeed online. In fact, a large, aggressive market competitor can have some real benefit for those operating in the same arena, including companies of all sizes and types.
It’s very challenging for any one single company to succeed at everything to everyone, no matter how great it is. This includes Amazon and all other brands and retailers in e-commerce. There are also many ways to “ride the waves” that major companies generate in a category, much that can be learned from them, and most of all, ways to leverage what they’re doing to compete as well.
For online retailers and brands of any size or type, here’s how:
Keep making improvements to your customer experience. Amazon is a relatively plain-looking site, but it provides good product information, customer reviews, and the purchasing process that online customers are looking for. Its shopping experience is virtually effortless and easy to understand. Millions of customers have signed up for Amazon Prime because it provides value through a desired shopping experience. It’s another great example of how improving the customer experience can drive business.
Be ready for change. While a large company can boast that it has been successful with its existing strategy, all too often this mentality can lead to the company demise. Blockbuster was once a huge retailer for video rentals, yet has been replaced by the likes of Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and Netflix. Amazon started as a small business selling books at a time when Borders was one of largest book retailers. Borders filed for bankruptcy in 2011 because it had not been successful with the changing marketplace. Be willing to constantly review what you’re doing and open to making changes to stay ahead.
Diversify! After you are successful with your main product offering, expand and consider more opportunities for growth. Collect and use data from your store, social media efforts, website analytics, and other tools to help make decisions and identify or alleviate risks. Amazon has been well known for using data to determine where the company needs to go and how.
Don’t Reinvent The Wheel. While innovation is important, don't constantly reinvent the wheel. Find out what your most successful competitors are doing that works for them to find the easiest route to success. Look at non-competitors who are succeeding to see if there is anything you can learn from them. Then find a way to make it better or adapt it to your own products and customers. During a time when Amazon was selling CDs, they began offering music to download, which was in direct competition with the successful strategy of Apple iTunes music service. Unlike iTunes music that could only be played on Apple devices, Amazon took it a step further and even offered DRM-free music, which could be played on any device. Doing what’s working in the market a little differently can have solid results.
Keep it simple. Make your main product offering and its value easy to understand from the visitor's perspective. As a small business, a smaller scope means less division of resources, which maximizes user experience and will do the most for your brand. Amazon started their business by only selling books, then after a long-term strategy of growth and seeing profits in the early 2000s, they started to take on a larger scope.
Create A Customer Experience Your Way. Amazon meets a customer demand for variety, pricing, and ease. But consumers shop with a range of motives, needs, and demands beyond those that drive shoppers to Amazon. Study your customers and the broader marketplace to see what types of needs and demands might exist among consumer groups. Not all consumers operate the same way for the same reasons. Review all of the data you have access to for your store and customers to find anything they uniquely need or you can exclusively provide.
Lesson for all: try new things, measure the results, and constantly think about your customers’ needs. The marketplace is always changing, so don't get stuck in the habit of stagnation. Change can take so many forms and goes beyond innovation. Not everything new that a business tries will be successful. In fact, it's very likely that most changes will fail. However, with a high number of failures also comes considerable success. Knowing how results will be measured is key to determine how success and failure are defined. And by always thinking about the customer, your list of loyal customers will be sure to grow along with you.
Rene Kirschbaum is content marketing director at DealsPlus.com, a leading consumer shopping, coupon and deal site.