This article originally appeared in Website Magazine.
It’s not worth it to try to beat Amazon in the world of ecommerce.
Amazon has all the money — the company generated $136.0 billion in revenue in 2016, up 27.1% from 2015.
Amazon has all the sales — 43% of ALL online retail sales in the US went through Amazon in 2016.
It seems like no matter what you do as an ecommerce retailer, Amazon is pushing into your space and taking over. But that doesn’t mean you should just give up and sell your products through Amazon, slashing prices and commoditizing your own products.
On the contrary, you have to stop trying to beat Amazon at their own game. You’re not going to beat them on price; you’re not going to beat them on product selection; and you’re definitely not going to beat them on shipping efficiency.
What you can do is build your own unique, powerful ecommerce brand that stands out from the crowd. Instead of thinking of Amazon as the only option for ecommerce distribution, take control of your own business. With the right ecommerce marketing strategy, you can build a loyal customer following without ever having to compete head-on with Amazon.
Offer a great customer experience
If you think about the top ecommerce brands today, they’re brands like Dollar Shave Club, Casper, and Warby Parker. The reason they’re successful is, in part, that they offer quality products at competitive prices. But it’s much more than that — these brands are all built on a fantastic customer experience. For example, customers can get a Casper mattress delivered to their door so they can sleep on it and make sure they really love it. If not, they’re guaranteed money back — with free shipping both ways. No wonder customers love the brand!
Amazon can’t always compete when it comes to a thoughtful customer experience tailored to your specific audience. Think about how your brand can offer your buyers something better, more exciting, and more relevant. One way is to invest in special touches for your customers. For example, use high quality packaging, or include a free sample gift, or offer one-on-one customer consultation with experts on your team. It depends on your product, but you can always come up with a way to better serve your customers.
Communicate with care
One of the biggest ways that Amazon takes control of your brand is through communication. They control how your products appear on a website, the category your products are placed in, and even the emails customers receive. If you want to remain competitive, you have to control your own customer communications across every channel. Every email, every ad, every page of your website should create a carefully crafted message for your buyers, showing them who you are and what you’re about. Even transactional emails can communicate your brand values if you put in the effort to personalize and customize all of your customer messages.
Shinola is one company that tells their story particularly well. The brand was formerly an old shoe polish business, but has been transformed into a high-end watch and apparel brand. More specifically, every product is made in Detroit, by the people of Detroit. Shinola focuses on the idea of reviving Detroit manufacturing and knows their buyers want to support a brand with a mission. They’ve even created an entire online publication called The Journal to tell those stories themselves.
Create a vibrant community
Amazon is a one-stop shop for everything from clothing to electronics. It is, by definition, massive and impersonal. That’s why many successful ecommerce businesses are focusing on building out communities for their customers, both online and in-person. A community is able to create a more personal connection between your buyers and your brand. This community could be something as small as honest reviews on your website or a complex as pop-up events across the country for your most loyal customers.
Grain Surfboards is a great example of building a vibrant community around a single, simple product. While you can buy a mass-produced, foam surfboard on Amazon for $100 right now, Grain Surfboards is bringing back the hand-crafted art of making a surfboard. The ecommerce company hosts events around the country where people can learn how to shape their own surfboard from wood. Buyers can also purchase handmade boards directly or buy a kit to make a board at home. But the in-person experience of learning to make a surfboard drives significant sales for the brand.
Build a trusted brand
What all of these brands have in common at their core is a strong brand identity. They each have a mission, a focus, a style, and a goal. That deep identity resonates with their buyers and builds trust over time. Shinola customers trust that the products are made in Detroit; Casper customers trust that they can return the mattress if they don’t like it; and Grain Surfboard customers trust that their products are all handmade.
The key to building a trusted brand — no matter what you sell — is always the same: consistency. In order to win your buyer’s trust and long-term loyalty, you have to do all of these things over and over again. You have to always offer a great customer experience, always communicate carefully, and always value your customer community.
None of this is as easy as putting up a page on Amazon, but nothing worth doing is easy! Focusing on your brand is far more powerful in the long run. If you have a strong brand that offers buyers something different and exciting, they’ll have no reason to even think of buying on Amazon in the first place. So stop worrying about the ecommerce monster under the bed — focus on building your own business.