In an age of startup companies and entrepreneurs on every corner, eCommerce sites are both a standard necessity for businesses and an area of very high competition. With giants like Amazon dominating sales all over the world, it can feel like a losing battle to try to funnel traffic and sales into your independent business.
Understanding what these companies have done right, wrong, and how you can optimize your business to take advantage of both of these can help you move towards eCommerce website success.
What Amazon Does Well, and What it Doesn’t
Whether it is supplementing a physical store, or functioning as the base of operations for an online business, Amazon and other large corporate retailers is an immediate concern when it comes to evaluating the competition. This is understandable, as the eCommerce giant has control of almost half of online sales worldwide, and it can be challenging to feel as if you have any chance of competing against them.
It’s important to remember that while Amazon has many advantages, but they also have their weaknesses when competing with independent businesses, even in eCommerce.
A large part of Amazon’s strength lies in how far they have managed to extend their product reach and marketing. They can supply more products to more people in more places, and deliver them faster than most other websites, especially as they have shifted to offering one day or same-day shipping with Prime accounts in 2019. These advantages make them a formidable adversary in the eCommerce world, but it is vital to recognize the areas in which Amazon has not excelled.
Over the last few years, there has been continuing speculation about Amazon’s customer service, as many portions of it have been automated or have been found unsatisfactory by users. The apparent emphasis on keeping the cost that Amazon incurs from customer service interactions low has become very apparent, and the lack of human touch is being noticed throughout the company’s infrastructure. This trend towards automation is a factor being considered in the issue of stolen artwork being sold on Amazon’s site.
With an apparent lack of remorse on the part of the company, the ongoing shift away from human contact and involvement is a long-standing sore point for Amazon and many other large online retailers. These ongoing customer interaction issues can be used as a roadmap for where independent companies can focus their efforts and exceed Amazon.
Find Your eCommerce Niche
As noted above, Amazon owns almost half of all U.S. online retail sales, and this alone can be incredibly intimidating when first looking into building an eCommerce site that has to compete with the online giant. The critical thing to remember is that Amazon has cast a wide net with a massive inventory, something that you, presumably, are not doing.
Instead of trying to match Amazon’s vast range of products, find a specific niche you can serve. Someone may go to Amazon to order a new set of paints, but what if they are looking for locally sourced supplies?
Or, if they want to ensure their materials are all-natural? While they may be able to find what they are looking for eventually, by narrowing your focus from supplying all artists with supplies, you can focus on building an online business that supplies a specific set of painters with a set of priorities that you both support and can personally identify with.
Defining your focus area is the first step in competing with Amazon, and it will help inform all areas of your eCommerce world, from layout to banner style to marketing. It will also help you allocate your budget and resources in more effective ways.
By narrowing your focus, you are not only better defining the group of people that you want to market to, but ensuring that those advertisements and marketing strategies you create for them are more effective.
The marketing strategy may sound intimidating, but even small businesses have resources for learning and employing marketing tactics. Learning these tactics will then let your audience know that you are ready and willing to help. Whether it is hiring a new web designer or having your current eCommerce expert search out some additional education, investing in targeted marketing can be the first step in establishing an excellent user experience.
Craft Your Online User Experience
Like its inventory, large retailers have aimed for mass-market user experience, and while this often works, there are many pitfalls that you can learn from.
The user experience of eCommerce is just as crucial for online businesses as to how you display a product and whether or not the floor is mopped when a customer walks into a brick-and-mortar store. User experience is another area where having a distinct idea of who your target clientele is will help you compete.
Brick-and-mortar businesses that have expanded to include an online presence have the opportunity to expand an already solid relationship that they have built with their customers. Creating an eCommerce experience that coincides with the experience you provide in-person can be instrumental in retaining and expanding your clientele.
One of Amazon’s disadvantages is that to find something specific, customers still have to dig through pages upon pages of things that they aren’t looking for, and suggestions for unrelated items. Make sure that your product categories are clearly marked and easily navigable, that you have a smooth checkout procedure, and that customers can quickly locate a way to contact your customer service department directly.
Another major challenge in the user experience for large corporations is that if something goes wrong, or even if there is just a question that customers can’t answer themselves, it can be challenging to get in contact with a flesh-and-blood person. This lack of connection can often cause customers to feel like they aren’t cared for, that the company isn’t interested in their experience on an individual level. Your customers must have direct and easy access to you for support to let the value of personalized customer service shine through.
Personalize Your Customer Service
Amazon has many things going for it. Its inventory is unmatched, and it can deliver most items in two days, some even the same day that they are ordered. But as an online giant, their customer service is somewhere where clients have universally suffered. In this case, whether you primarily respond to your customers through email, phone, or live chat, a direct connection with your clientele is a crucial area where you have the chance to excel past the reach of Amazon.
Where large companies have to focus on servicing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, you have the opportunity to tailor your customer service experience to your particular clientele and to each individual customer.
Once you have found your niche market and have crafted your website, it is time to consider your customers’ interactions when they need to contact you directly. Backing up streamlined, enjoyable user experience with excellent customer service that is smooth and personalized will make you stand out as an online retailer. It is this ability to craft a personal connection with your clientele that will put you above and beyond.
Research has shown that the main reason that customers stop using a company is that they believe that the company doesn’t care about them, something that is often caused by a lack of direct personal connection and timely complaint resolution.
Customer service is your chance to retain customers and show them that you are not a faceless corporation and they are not an anonymous customer. Focus on having a small team of people who are invested in your company’s vision available to answer customer service inquiries, and who are able to use technology to connect with your clients directly. This can translate to any area of your business, from your shipping practices to your email responses, and will not only help you retain customers but will give your established client base something to rave about to their own network.
Be Conscious of Your Culture
Many businesses boast a positive office culture that champions work-life balance, or any number of buzzwords that they feel will attract a millennial workforce that is interested in working for smaller companies over the larger competitors.
In order to attract and retain employees who believe in your company, and who will provide the type of experience to your clients that will keep them coming back, you should be conscious of the choices that are made in establishing the personality of your company. It is rooted not only in marketing and business strategies but made visible through causes you support, your customer policies, and the culture that pervades your workplace. With the current saturation of eCommerce, shoppers can choose a different company if they disagree with their business practices or the causes that they support.
As Amazon has grown, so has the scrutiny around the causes they support, their methods of manufacturing, and their treatment of employees. That scrutiny has caused many people to look for other eCommerce alternatives that are in line with their ethical concerns. By being transparent about the culture of your business, you can appeal to the desire of consumers to support organizations that align with their own economic and ethical consumption goals.
Additionally, by defining your customer base, narrowing your focus, ensuring the quality user experience, and developing a relationship of honest communication with your customer base, you are poised to build a business that will compete against Amazon and other e-commerce giants.