Remember when big box stores like Walmart were seen as the threat to small businesses? Those almost seem like the good old days.
Today, the big bogeyman as we all know is Amazon.
Amazon has all the benefits of a one-stop shop like Walmart, but even lower prices on many things, and a larger selection, and one big bonus: it’s all just a click away. Amazon
makes up approximately 50 percent of the e-commerce market– astounding, until you remember that there are about 95 million Amazon Prime users in the U.S. alone. Amazon
is a formidable competitor for any small business.
I get this question from small business owners all the time:“What can I do to compete with Amazon?” My answer always is the same: “You can’t.”
This does not need to be bad news, however.
No, you can’t compete with Amazon and its size and prices and selection, but the good news, the important news, is that Amazon can’t compete with you either, with your personal touch and attention to detail. There are lots of things your business can do that Amazon cannot.
That is the secret.
Here are a few tips for competing withAmazon – not against – in a way that is to your best advantage.
Do what Amazon cannot.
This step is our secret weapon. There are so many things Amazon cannot provide – a comfortable in-store experience, personal service, individual attention, the ability to look a customer in the eye and crack a joke, to name a few. The way to compete with Amazon is to play to these strengths – your strengths – and not theirs.
Another way to do what Amazon cannot is to sell things not easily found on Amazon, like local or handmade goods.
Something else to consider: Amazon sells everything, right? This might make it seem like they have a monopoly on every possible market. However, what it also means is that they do not have a specialized niche. Amazon is not the leading expert in fabrics, for example. This could be an opportunity. If you dig in and work to make your business a leader in all-things-fabric, then, when someone needs a particular type of fabric, Amazon just may not be the first place they turn to.
Market your business as local.
Back in the day, this was one of the best ways to combat the big boxes. And it is still effective perhaps more so. Especially today, people tend to be very responsive to the idea of supporting locally operated businesses. Marketing your business as “locally owned and operated” or a “family business” can make a huge difference, and one that Amazon cannot compete with.
Also, make sure your business is listed in directories of local businesses.
Learn from Amazon.
If your business can afford free shipping, do it. Or, what about 2-day shipping? A new service called Ware2Gomakes this option much more feasible for small businesses.
Here’s another trick to take from the Amazon playbook: Think about what people love about Amazon. What usually first comes to mind are low prices and convenience. Those are two things (almost) all small businesses should already excel at. Convenience for your business could mean many things – an easily navigable website or online store, friendly and knowledgeable in-house staff ready to help, good signage, a central location with parking, responsive social media, great selection, etc. Amazon can’t compete with those things.
Like Google, Amazon has even become a part of our colloquial vernacular: “Just buy it on Amazon” and “I’m sure you can find that on Amazon.” Yes, that is scary, but take a look around and notice all the small businesses still thriving today. “Shop local” is also a thing now too.
Last thought: Humans are social creatures. We love, nay crave, personal interaction. Small businesses help fill that need. Can Amazon?
Tell us how you compete with Amazon in the comments section below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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