When it comes to e-commerce, size matters. So how can smaller online stores compete with Amazon and the other global players?
Feeling small? Struggling to compete with big e-commerce brands with their big budgets, big teams, and big inventories? Then this article is for you.
A handful of powerful online retailers dominate the world of e-commerce. Ubiquitous brands like Amazon, Alibaba, and eBay are so deeply entrenched in the global online marketplace, that many smaller, independent stores feel squeezed out of the market and unable to compete.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Lea Backhurst, Managing Director Nordics at Summa Linguæ Technologies. “By focusing on the things they do well, smaller brands can build a distinctive and lucrative niche in the global e-commerce landscape.”
“E-commerce is a great leveler”, he continues, “where every trader is allotted the same online real estate on which to build their online store. What they do with it is up to them.”
The facts speak for themselves. Independent e-commerce stores are finding ways to compete and prosper. For instance, there’s Newegg.com (technology), Zappos.com (clothing and accessories), Overstock.com (surplus goods from other sites), plus many more success stories.
So how can your brand emulate that online success?
Branding: Be Yourself
Branding is not always about glossy commercials from expensive ad agencies. A brand with innate authenticity in everything it does will, sooner or later, make an impact with consumers—and this is something that comes more naturally to small independents than it does to large corporates.
Too many smaller e-commerce sites try to emulate their larger rivals and, inevitably, come across as inferior. Being independent gives you a great opportunity to break free from their familiar blueprint and make a virtue of your independence by letting your personality shine bright.
Your brand defines the way you relate to the world—from your landing page to the checkout, from the blog posts to the way you respond to customer contact. For independent online retailers, the brand may be built around family values, expert knowledge, or personal attention to detail, for instance.
This remains true no matter how far-reaching your customer base. For example, a shopper in America may prefer to purchase their ancestral Scottish tartan kilt from a traditional manufacturer in the highlands of Scotland, rather than a China-manufactured version sold on Amazon.
Product Choice: Be Agile
Independent online retailers can jump on a trend before it becomes a bandwagon. Take advantage of your innate agility to keep one step ahead of your larger competitors. Always be on the lookout for changing tastes, try out new products with small stock levels, and build a reputation with customers as the go-to site for the latest thing.
In terms of product range, smaller retailers sometimes worry that their virtual shelves may appear somewhat empty, compared to the extensively stocked aisles of the online megastores. However, there is nothing to stop independent stores collaborating with others to provide customers with a combined site offering goods from all those involved.
By joining forces with e-commerce retailers in the same or similar field, it is possible to create a hub of independent retail specialists based around a common theme, such as childcare, health and well being, or sports.
Pricing: Be Different
Small online retailers cannot compete on price against large organizations with deep pockets. If they try to, they will soon find themselves squeezed out of the market completely. Instead, they should put on their poker face, resist the urge to follow suit, and focus on the parts of their business where they can beat the big players.
This is where building customer loyalty is crucial. If a shopper appreciates the personal attention they receive from a smaller retailer and feels part of their community, they will be more likely to remain loyal, even if the price comparison sites offer a cheaper alternative. Recent research reveals that 80 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience—and it is big business that often falls short in this regard.
The response to a price war is clear: let the others battle it out and endure the consequences for their bottom line. As you continue your laser-like focus on articulating your unique selling proposition in everything you do, you will have something distinct and attractive to offer customers that will take the price element out of the equation.
Social Media: Be Friendly
Social media provides an inexpensive opportunity for smaller brands to share their unique personality and build a community among potential customers. It is much easier for smaller companies to have an authentic, meaningful conversation with their target market via social media than the huge online stores.
Social media is all about being friendly, and the harder the big e-com retailers try, the more they risk appearing disingenuous.
An effective social media campaign doesn’t require a dedicated social media manager to devise complex cross-media strategies. Simply hang out online where your customers hang out, answer questions, share ‘behind the scenes’ news, and reward followers with privileged information, such as upcoming discounts, and your brand will soon become part of your community’s daily lives.
Globalization: Be Local
Even e-commerce giants were once like you, working hard to build a relationship with their local market. With success and growth, however, comes a risk of losing the personal connection that brought the commercial success in the first place.
At Summa Linguæ Technologies, we help companies like yours grow globally without losing that unique bond with your target audience.
The e-commerce industry is huge, and it’s continuing to expand. But don’t worry, there’s still room for you, whatever the size and nature of your business.
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